I think this topic is going to evolve into discussion of rail travel experiences in Spain.
I wish I could share Mr. Benton's "positive" thoughts, but I simply cannot. In fact, I think my experiences on RENFE during May 1990, did much to influence my present "policy' of no longer taking "trips for trips sake'. In fact, I have not been back to Europe since then. It is not a boycott and I'm not afraid to fly, It is simply 'no reason".
I'll be the first to acknowledge that I am "not exactly" into "roughing it' when traveling. No doubt those who have reviewed my postings over the years to this and its predecessor Forums have surmised so much. My travels on this trip were simply being made as a result of flying into Frankfurt, as American and Lufthansa were having a "fare war" at that time from Chicago into that market. This was a trip to visit American friends, both in Berlin (military) and in Sevilla (expats; teachers). The rails were simply a means to an end - to get to and from the destinations and the "price advantageous" aerial port. But this posting is to focus on my RENFE experiences.
My first experience was aboard a Talgo from the frontier through Bilbao to Madrid Sants. In an effort to see the world, I guess I changed seats "once or twice". Unknown to me, Northern Spain is the "hotbed" of the Basque separatist movement. I was apparently "suspect". Fortunately at Bilbao, a "well heeled" English speaking lady (professor) who frequently traveled to "the States" came to my "rescue", and mollified the Conductor. She explained about the separatist movement and for the balance of the trip, she was happy to chat with me.
My thoughts on the Talgo; just as well the New Haven got rid of 'em before I got to ride.
Next, I was going to use the all-Sleeper overnight "Estrella" Madrid-Sevilla. It didn't take too long to learn (head shaking is a pretty universal term) that my single occupancy Wagon Lit room simply "wasn't". After about an hour of sitting atop luggage in the W-L vistibule (in hope of a no-show), the Attendant finally led me back to a four-man (First Class, I guess) Couchette. Without any idea who the other (presumed) male travelers were, I saddled up into the Upper, placed my valuables in a back pocket, my luggage between my legs, and "attempted" to sleep; suffice to say wthout too much success.
In the morning, I quickly learned any "fears" I may have had were unfounded. One of the guys was a Dutchman and quite fluent in all requisite languages ("we are a small country, we have to speak all languages, as no one can really speak ours". At Sevilla Place 'd Armas, we all parted with handshakes and well wishes.
I was completely "zombied' throughout my two full day stay in Sevilla. My friends dilligently tried to show me examples of the Muslim/Moorish influence as well as the castle inspiring Bizet's "Carmen". It was for naught.
Now, time for the return to Barcelona, with a connection to Avignon aboard the Catalin Talgo. This time, my Single occupancy Wagon Lit was there (booked and paid for on the spot at Sevilla), but guess what wasn't - the caternary. Somehow a piece came down and the resulting delays caused a missconnect with the Talgo (depriving me an observation of the unique "bogey change' at the frontier), and use of a commuter train that eerily resembled those in all too many news clips at present.
At such time there is to be another trip (I have nephews soon to be joined by a niece living overseas in the UK), in the absence of a "point to point" trip, I think I'll just fly.