Trip Report: Salamanca to Valencia, with a stop at Renfe's Sala Club lounge at Madrid Atocha train station
Returning to Valencia was basically just the same as the trip coming up to Salamanca, only in reverse.
First, there was the Alvia train from Salamanca to Madrid Chamartín station.
On this trip, since I booked so last minute, there were only aisle seats traveling backwards left. I was not looking forward to traveling backwards, because I was still nauseous from my stomach bug (and hadn’t eaten all day because of it). But somehow, the car got flipped around, and I was sitting in the half of the car that was facing forwards! This left those who had reserved a forward-facing seat disappointed…
In Chamartín station, more than half of the Renfe machines where you normally exchange your Alvia or AVE ticket for the free Cercanías commuter rail ticket were malfunctioning, and the lines for the remaining functioning machines were just ridiculous. So I went to see an agent, where there was still a line but was much faster. Plus agents generally are faster than machines when issuing simple tickets like these free connector tickets.
Once at Madrid Atocha station, I found that I had about 10 minutes extra time before boarding, so I decided to check out the Sala Club (Club Lounge) for the very first time!
While I’ve traveled in Preferente (first class) many a time before, I’ve never actually arrived at the station before boarding began. In fact, it’s often a rush just to make it on before the doors close 2 minutes prior to departure! Sala Club lounge access is available for those traveling in Preferente class on Promo+ or higher fares (everything except Promo), and higher elite members of Renfe’s frequent traveler program.
I read that there are actually two lounges in Atocha station, but on Sundays, one of them is closed. To get to the remaining open one, I had to go upstairs after I passed through security. The AVE trains to Valencia always board from the lower level, but the lounge was in the upper level where other destinations boarded. To go upstairs after security, I walked to the far end of the waiting hall, where there was a small sign and an arrow pointing towards the Sala Club.
Once upstairs, the lounge is easy to locate.
Inside, the lounge actually wasn’t super pleasant. It was quite crowded, with people circling about for a good place to sit among the mix of furniture.
There were just a few snacks on offer: nuts, some cookies, and some potato chips. The chips that I saw other people eating looked good, and while they were on a cart in cardboard boxes, waiting to be put out on the counter, they actually weren’t replenished during the time I was in the lounge.
I took some water and cookies.
Then to go back downstairs, I just went back towards the end of the hall for the stairs near the door for track 15.
The AVE train from Madrid to Valencia had these cushy leather seats in 1-2 configuration in Preferente. They all switch to face forwards in the direction of travel, except for the first row. Unluckily, I was auto-assigned one of these seats, but I asked the conductor to let me switch to the opposite seat, and he was happy to let me do so.
After newspapers and printed menus were handed out, we had dinner service. This was actually my first meal of the day, since I was feeling a bit better from my stomach bug. The appetizer was a salad with breaded chicken cubes, cheese, cherry tomatoes, and lettuce. The main course were albondigas (meatballs) in a creamy sauce with rice, and dessert was a Danone Vitalinea (diet) chocolate mousse. At your seat, they offer a choice of white or wheat bread, and they also ask if you’d like consomme. In the wintertime, they serve consomme from an insulated jug, and I suppose in the summertime they serve gazpacho according to the menu.
After dinner, they come around with chocolates and another round of drinks, and i chose mint tea - probably my third or fourth of the day.
It’s always a pleasure to travel in Preferente class. I think that Renfe really makes an effort to provide nice touches like a printed menu, choice of rolls, and after dinner beverages. It’s certainly worth it to book, especially for this last AVE train from Madrid to Valencia which is usually the cheapest service, but also takes place smack in the middle of dinner hours.