It is fairly easy to travel to Spain by train back. This trip opened opportunities a flight never could have: I re-connected with an “old” friend, fulfilled a childhood dream and discovered that I found myself on Dalìs life trail. I met local people, saw the landscapes change and had time to finish my audio book.
Berlin to Palencia in Spain by Train
The first day was just a very ordinary trainride from Berlin to Cologne / Leverkusen where spent some time with my parents. The next morning at 6:44 I boarded the Thalys to Paris Garde du Nord. Since my train to Hendaye, the last city in France before the Spanish border, departed from Gare de Montparnasse I had to cross the city either by metro or bus. Luckily the travel agency provided me with instructions and a ticket. I decided to take the bus to see something of the winterly Paris: loads of traffic, people sleeping in tents under bridges and suddenly, when I turned around a corner – the Eiffel Tower!
Montparnasse – a Haunted House
Gare de Montparnasse, completely undergrund, felt like a ghost house in an amusement park. A creepy guy rushed people to the trains telling them at 12:15 that the 12:27 train would leave in 5 minutes. He even pushed the giant green packpack (that I happened to be attached to) out of the way so people could run better. I think he enjoyed the power of making people run with just a few magic words from his mouth. Would he be able to take off his head and toss it around passengers ears?
Everyone has to scan their tickets before entering the track. The screen of the machine announces in all due DSGVO privacy every passengers full name and seat number. When the gate opened, a guy behind me tried to push himself against me to get to the track without paying. He got caught though. Then I had to climb down some narrow iron stairs drippin with moist. Hopefully there was some other way for wheelchairs or baby strollers. The underground track was wrapped in a yellow foggy light and while I was looking for my mandatory seat reservation I was wondering if Harry Potter would be among the passengers. Would he travel by train to Spain?
The double-decker train was quite comfortable with internet, baby changing rooms and an overpriced on-board restaurant. I spent the entire evening listening to Edward Snowden’s amazing life story. The sky became clearer and suddenly I saw an old acquaintance I had been missing for months: the sun!
Across the Border by Foot
Around 6 pm I arrived in Hendaye. To Irun, the next city in Spain, you can walk across the border or follow the blue foot prints to a train. Since it is private it doesn’t accept the interrail pass but the fare is below 2 Euros. From Irun I could have gone straight to Palencia where I would have arrived shortly before midnight. However, I wanted to meet my friend Jesús in Santander. Five years ago, when we said good bye after a lovely dinner, I knew that was not my last supper with Jesús. I was back just in time for a Spanish supper. The next day we visited a small organic farm and celebrated my birthday at the Atlantic coast with coffee and cake. Later I took a three hours train straight to Palencia.
Random Window Shots
X-Rays & Metal Detectors
After two intensive weeks of bio economy summer school and two wonderful weeks of relaxation in the spring sun of Andalusia I had to return to Berlin to start my new job in an environmental NGO. At 7 am I boarded the train in Granada, Spain. Luckily I got to the station early because a long line had formed in front of the two x-ray machines. Bye-bye green backpack. Hello metal detector woman! Before entering the tracks they check the tickets of all passengers. Finally I sat in the train and joyfully started to spread peanut butter on corn crackers for breakfast. Why did the x-ray guy not complain about my giant French pocket knife? Let alone my 1 liter tea flask? In fact he did non reject any passenger’s luggage. Wow, great to be so safe!
Tropical Jungle and Art in Madrid
Around 11 am I arrived in Madrid. The Puerta Atocha station looks like a jungle! With palm trees, understory, water vapors and all. I just didn’t see any bees, butterflies or other insects. Luckily also no mice or doves. I went straight to the Reina Sofia Museum of Modern Art. More or less only the exhibition I could see was the one with Picasso and Dalì since three hours total (including luggage storage) were not enough to visit the exhibitions on all five floors. The museum offers luggage storage which was quite handy since the train stations’ was “totalmente completo”.
Spain’s Train Wifi & Play Time
Around 1:30 pm I boarded the train to Perpignan. For the last time I had to figure out how to access the Wifi on a train in Spain. It requires a ticket number and passport number and takes ages to connect. How I yearned for the easy Wifi access in German trains! No questions asked. Well, luckily the little boy in the seat in front of me prevented me from wasting my time on social media. We played with flying animals from modeling clay, found games with (hiding) eye contact or rubber bands. Although my Spanish is rather basic we kept busy all the way till 6 pm when I arrived in Perpignan. After checking into my small room near the station I took a night walk along the canal. Wow! One of my childhood dreams has come true. Ever since I had to write a tourist guide for the South of France in French class I’ve been wanting to visit. Here I am. First time in South of France!
Perpignan’s Last Sun Beams
The center of Perpignan is extremely beautiful with an old church, the Palace of the Kings of Majorca, and a café in which Dalì used to drink his coffee. However, there are also narrow run-down alley ways. Garbage, doves and dog poo on the ground. Drying clothes in front of every window. Women chatting with each other across houses and floors. My main aim was to stay in the sun and enjoy the sight of palm trees swaying under a blue sky. In a café I talked to an old man who used to be an overland bus driver. He knew all the cities in Germany because many times he had taken passengers from Germany to Morocco! 48 hours. 100 Euros. Mostly Moroccan passengers. According to him people enjoyed the long trip because they got to leave the bus every four hours for half an hour, eat, chat, stretch… How lucky I am to take the train to Spain and back.
A Non-Romantic Night Train
When the last sun beams left Perpignan I had to leave, too. At 8 pm my night train started its journey to Paris. I had been looking forward to the night train since the beginning of my trip. To celebrate the end of wonderful month in Spain I thought it would be really romantic to drink a beer before going to sleep. But when I climbed on the upper bed of my 6-bed all female compartment I realized I couldn’t even sit up straight, so how to drink from a bottle? I remained closed in my bag. The train was extremely old with foot-operated toilets and sinks, no plugs except for men’s shavers on the aisle. Both the compartment and the rail car had basically no space for luggage except for small suitcases under the lowest bunk bead and bigger bags over the door. Most people took their suitcase into their bed.
The End is Not the End
We arrived in Paris Gare d’Austerlitz shortly before 7 am. Hello cold darkness! Same procedure: Metro to Gare du Nord. Thalys to Cologne. Arrival 11:16 am. Hello clouds! Hello parents! I had lunch with my my parents near the train station before I continued my journey to Berlin and Ebeswalde where I arrived at 7 pm. Hello shower, my dear frind! Would I do it again? For sure! Travelling to Spain by train is a great opportunity to connect with local people and landscapes, revitalize old friendships and experience new adventures.
Financial and Carbon Expenses
For a more detailed look into the monetary costs of interrail and a calculation on carbon emissions by train vs. plane please read my post on Interrail Preparations.