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Telephones

If you don't speak Spanish, you'll find it easier to telephone from your hotel, but remember that this is often very expensive because hotels impose a surcharge on every operator-assisted call. In some cases, it can be as high as 40% or more. On the street, phone booths (known as cabinas) have dialing instructions in English; you can make local calls by inserting a .25€ coin for 3 minutes.

To call Madrid: If you're calling Madrid from abroad:

1. Dial the international access code: 011 from the U.S. and Canada; 00 from the U.K., Ireland, or New Zealand; or 0011 from Australia.

2. Dial the country code for Spain: 34.

3. Dial 91 for Madrid and then the number. So, the entire number you'd dial (from the U.S.) would be 011-34-91-000-0000.

In 1998, all telephone numbers in Spain changed to a nine-digit system instead of the six- or seven-digit method used previously. Each number is now preceded by its provincial code for local, national, and international calls. For example, when calling Madrid from Madrid or another province within Spain, telephone customers must dial 91-000-00-00. Similarly, when calling Valladolid from within or outside the province, dial 979-000-00-00.

To make international calls from Madrid: Dial 00 and then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1; U.K. 44; Ireland 353; Australia 61; New Zealand 64).

Dial the area code and number. For example, if you wanted to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., you would dial 00-1-202-588-7800.

For directory assistance: Dial tel. 11818 if you're looking for a number inside Spain, and dial tel. 11825 for numbers to all other countries.

For operator assistance: If you need operator assistance in making an international call, dial tel. 1008 (for Europe, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and Turkey) or 1005 (for the U.S. and all other countries), and tel. 1009 if you want to call a number in Spain.

Toll-free numbers: Numbers beginning with 900 in Spain are toll-free, but calling a 1-800 number in your home country from Spain is not toll-free. In fact, it costs the same as an overseas call.

In Madrid some smaller establishments, especially bars, discos, and a few informal restaurants, don't have phones. Further, many summer-only bars and discos secure a phone for the season only, and then get a new number the next season. Many attractions, such as small churches or even minor museums, have no staff to receive inquiries from the public.

When in Spain, the access number for an AT&T calling card is tel. 800/CALL-ATT (2255-288). The access number for Sprint is tel. 800/888-0013.

Cellphones

The three letters that define much of the world's wireless capabilities are GSM (Global System for Mobiles), a big, seamless network that makes for easy cross-border cellphone use throughout Europe and dozens of other countries worldwide. In the U.S., T-Mobile, AT&T Wireless, and Cingular use this quasi-universal system; in Canada, Microcell and some Rogers customers are GSM; and all Europeans and most Australians use GSM. If your cellphone is on a GSM system, and you have a world-capable multiband phone, such as many Sony Ericsson, Motorola, or Samsung models, you can make and receive calls across civilized areas around much of the globe. Just call your wireless operator and ask for "international roaming" to be activated on your account.

For many, renting a phone is a good idea. (Even World Phone owners will have to rent new phones if they're traveling to non-GSM regions, such as Japan or Korea.) While you can rent a phone from any number of overseas sites, including kiosks at airports and at car-rental agencies, I suggest renting the phone before you leave home. North Americans can rent one before leaving home from InTouch USA (tel. 800/872-7626; www.intouchglobal.com) or RoadPost (tel. 888/290-1606 or 905/272-5665; www.roadpost.com). InTouch will also, for free, advise you on whether your existing phone will work overseas; simply call tel. 703/222-7161 between 9am and 4pm EST, or go to http://intouchglobal.com/travel.htm.

The Spanish Cell Phone Company provides short- and long-term mobile phone rentals, with low rates for outgoing calls and free incoming calls. For details, phone tel. 68-755-85-29, or check www.puertademadrid.es/rentacellphone. On Spanish Time Cellphone Rental (tel. 91-547-85-75 or 65-626-68-44; www.onspanishtime.com) will deliver a phone to your hotel.

Buying a phone can be economically attractive, especially if you are on an extended vacation. Once you arrive, stop by a local cellphone shop and get the cheapest package. Local calls may be as low as 10¢ per minute, and in many countries, incoming calls are free.

The major Spanish cellphone companies are Movistar -- owned by Spain's largest telephone company Telefónica -- Orange, and Vodaphone. All three have dozens of offices all over Madrid where you can rent or buy a mobile phone and SIM card. Information on their websites is in Spanish. Movistar (www.movistar.es) provides the best coverage in Spain and is linked with international providers, allowing you easy access to voice mail as you're traveling. Orange (http://tiendamovil.orange.es) is the most economical of the three, with some rates as low as 3¢ a minute, though, in general, their system has less reliable coverage than Movistar. Vodaphone (www.grupolidertel.com) is from the U.K. and offers mobile service throughout Europe. Vodaphone is ideal if you're thinking of visiting other European countries after Madrid.

Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

If you have Web access while traveling, consider a broadband-based telephone service (in technical terms, Voice-over Internet Protocol, or VoIP) such as Skype (www.skype.com) or Vonage (www.vonage.com), which allow you to make free international calls from your laptop or in a cybercafe. Neither service requires the people you're calling to also have that service (though there are fees if they do not). Check the websites for details.

Internet & E-mail

With Your Own Computer -- Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) is the buzzword in computer access, and more and more hotels, cafes, and retailers are signing on as wireless "hotspots," where you can get high-speed connection without cable wires, networking hardware, or a phone line . The two hotel chains in Madrid that have taken most advantage of this innovative move in communications are Room Mate and High Tech/Petit Palace -- who have, between them, over 28 hotels in the city. New Wi-Fi bring-your-own-computer cafes, too, are appearing, such as Antipodes (cafe and sushi bar) at Calle San Agustin 18 (tel. 91-429-21-57), in the Huertas district; and the Argüelles branch of VIPs, at Calle Princesa 5 (tel. 91-542-15-78), just west of the Plaza España. (These are not to be confused with the profusion of cybercafes, which provide the computers but don't let you bring your own. See the next section.) The 50-odd Starbucks that have sprung up since 2005 in Madrid unfortunately do not have this capability at the time of writing.

Boingo (www.boingo.com) and Wayport (www.wayport.com) have set up networks in airports and high-class hotel lobbies. iPass providers also give you access to a few hundred wireless hotel lobby setups. You sign up for wireless access service much as you do cellphone service, through a plan offered by one of several commercial companies that have made wireless service available in airports, hotel lobbies, and coffee shops, primarily in the U.S. (followed by the U.K. and Japan). Best of all, you don't need to be staying at, say, the Four Seasons to use the hotel's network; just set yourself up on a nice couch in the lobby. The companies' pricing policies can be byzantine, with a variety of monthly, per-connection, and per-minute plans, but in general you pay around $35 a month for limited access -- and as more and more companies jump on the wireless bandwagon, prices are likely to get even more competitive.

You can get Wi-Fi connection one of several ways. Many laptops have built-in Wi-Fi capability (an 802.11b wireless Ethernet connection). Mac owners have their own networking technology, Apple AirPort.

For those with older computers, an 802.11b/Wi-Fi card (around $60) can be plugged into your laptop. Vincci, another hotel chain, provides this service, charging around 40€ for a card, which you buy in reception and can use with your laptop -- till your time runs out -- in the lounge (not the bedroom, though you can, in fact, also connect free of charge there if you have an Ethernet connection).

For dial-up access, most business-class hotels throughout the world offer dataports for laptop modems, and a few thousand hotels in the U.S. and Europe now offer free high-speed Internet access. In addition, major Internet service providers (ISPs) have local access numbers, allowing you to go online by placing a local call. The iPass network also has dial-up numbers around the world. You'll have to sign up with an iPass provider, who will then tell you how to set up your computer for your destination(s). For a list of iPass providers, go to www.ipass.com and click on "Individuals Buy Now." One solid provider is i2roam (tel. 866/811-6209 or 920/235-0475; www.i2roam.com).

Wherever you go, bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests.

Without Your Own Computer -- As access to portable connection sources such as Blackberry becomes more commonly used among today's media-wise travelers and more and more hotels -- and not just the High Tech and Petit Palace Chains -- automatically feature Wi-Fi connections, the number of cybercafes where you can use on-the-spot computers has actually decreased in central Madrid in the past few years. Their boom years were fruitful but short.

Probably the best of those still operating is Work Center, which has a variety of Internet branches spread throughout the city. The most central branch is at Plaza Canalejas, Calle Principe 1 (tel. 91-360-13-95; www.workcenter.es), open 8am to 10pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 2:30pm and 5 to 8:30pm Saturday and Sunday.

To find more cybercafes, check www.cybercaptive.com and www.cybercafe.com.

To retrieve your e-mail, ask your Internet service provider (ISP) if it has a Web-based interface tied to your existing e-mail account. If your ISP doesn't have such an interface, you can use the free mail2web service (www.mail2web.com) to view and reply to your home e-mail. For more flexibility, you may want to open a free, Web-based e-mail account with Yahoo! Mail (http://mail.yahoo.com). Your home ISP may be able to forward your e-mail to the Web-based account automatically.

If you need to access files on your office computer, look into a service called GoToMyPC (www.gotomypc.com). The service provides a Web-based interface for you to access and manipulate a distant PC from anywhere -- even a cybercafe -- provided your "target" PC is on and has an always-on connection to the Internet (such as with Road Runner cable). The service offers top-quality security; but if you're worried about hackers, use your own laptop rather than a cybercafe computer to access the GoToMyPC system.

Online Traveler's Toolbox

Veteran travelers usually carry some essential items to make their trips easier. Following is a selection of handy online tools to bookmark and use.

  • www.madridman.com provides chatty background information on where to stay and what to do once in Madrid, as told by American resident Scott Martin.
  • www.spain.info (Tourism Board of Spain) has a good section on Madrid attractions, especially eating spots.
  • www.elmundo.es (Spanish only), the Metropolí section of El Mundo newspaper, on Fridays, has the most comprehensive summary of everything going on in the capital.
  • www.madaboutmadrid.com gives you a further rundown on city events, in English.
  • www.timeout.com, www.softguides.com, and www.webmadrid.com each provide extensive cultural, entertainment, and dining listings, written by savvy locals.
  • www.turismomadrid.es is the site of the Madrid Tourist Board.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.