05 Aug

1,200 miles by train

I’m in Europe, and just finished a 1,200 mile journey by train.

That’s like going from Omaha, Nebraska to New York.

Or, as we went North to South, like me going from Bluffton, OH to Miami Florida.

Anyway. The original plan was to fly into London and then take the high speed train to Paris. It is just a couple of hours. Transfer in Paris to take the high speed to Barcelona. That’s a long haul in a single day, but it would let us spend a couple days in Barcelona. Then high speed rail from Barcelona to Madrid and Toledo, where we would spend our time in Toledo before heading up for London Worldcon.

Here are the complainy bits, which all have to do with Delta Airlines. Skip if you don’t want to hear the whining of someone lucky enough to be able to fly to another country!

======Delta related complainy bits======

The buffer time I put into the plan to make the train to Paris was eaten up by Delta Airlines, who had us sitting on the runway for a few hours (the plane that loaded and taxied after us got there two hours earlier).

Delta in general was a shit experience. The commuter hop from DC to JFK was bumped back, and we had to run to make our connection (I wish I hadn’t). We got yelled at about our (very small) bags because the plane was so small. Then told we could take them aboard by another Delta worker. Then they didn’t fit (yeller was right, to be fair, but not very friendly).

The actual plane to London was also shit. I was promised we’d have power connection, and paid to have Economy plus for extra room as well as the power. I’ve been in coach flights on Air Canada that had power for gadgets, and British Air also had power for gadgets. I lost a ton of freelance work time that I’d planned on being able to use.

Also, the food was crap as well. Also, narrowest Economy Plus seats ever. I really, really wish I’d sucked it up and spent the extra to go British Airways for us both in Traveler Plus.

So, way behind on work, tired, cramped despite paying extra money to not be so cramped, and ill-fed, and landing right about when our train was leaving London for Paris, we arrived in London. Plans up in the air, we decided to wing it anyway. Emily spent time studying in Toledo, Spain, so dammit, we were going to figure out how to get there.

I considered snagging a plane from Heathrow on the spot, but I really wanted to use rail while here because I write about it a lot. And it is cool. I figured the worst thing that could happen is that we spend a night in Paris and pay out the nose for getting new train tickets.

Let’s do it.

======48 hours of train travel begins======

We began by catching the tube into London to get to St. Pancras. There a Eurostar agent helped us catch the next train to London, swapping our tickets for new ones. We had a nice meal while watching the countryside whiz past us at almost 180 miles per hour.

And then under sea as we passed under the Channel!

It didn’t take long before we arrived in Paris at the Gare Lyon. From there we went to the Gare Nord to grab a bite to eat and then talk about our tickets to Barcelona. We found the SNCF ticket office that pertained to our tickets and waited in line. Someone shouted in French that the line would be closed. We weren’t sure if we would get to see a human about the tickets. I started looking for hotels to stay in for the night, assuming I’d buy us brand new set of tickets for Barcelona in the morning, and we’d have just a day there, not two.

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However the SNCF agent managed to get us a sleeper car, first class, leaving Austerlitz. “You’re a wonderful human being!” I said. And we caught a taxi to Austerlitz, where we waited in crowds of people (some playing a piano just sitting out there by the platform). I got to use my first pay-bathroom. I considered using the pay shower, but I didn’t have a towel.

Note to self…

At this point, I made one small mistake. I didn’t hunt down a French/Spanish power adaptor for my devices while at any of the big stations there. Once aboard the sleeper, I realized I had a power problem. We needed to use my phone to change bookings and figure things out, too. So in addition to the lack of laptop usage aboard the plane, I’d get little laptop usage on the trip through France and Spain as well.

Yikes. My plans to keep up with work while in transit had just plain evaporated.

But no worries. I was so tired after flying for 7 hours + sitting on tarmac for 3 (Delta, boo) that climbing into a bed on a slower sleeper train leaving Austerlitz was bliss. I canceled our hotel room in Barcelona for two nights, and we hunted down a room in Toledo and just planned to extend our stay there. Sorry Barcelona, another time perhaps?

Taking off shoes, and locking the door, we watched night-time France slide by as the train rocked us to sleep.

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We woke up crazy early the next morning. I got up a bit earlier and just lay there, watching the dawn light up and old southern French countryside roll by and then eventually start misting over.

As we headed west and approached the coast, the buildings became gleaming white and capped with red tile roofs. Saint-Jean in particular I made a note of. Sea-side, cute buildings. I’d like to explore there someday.

The train eventually deposited us in Irun, Spain somewhere around 10 in the morning-ish. Close to Bilbao. We got tickets for Madrid, and had to run to catch the train leaving in just minutes.

I’m not supposed to run, but what the fuck, right? We’re having an adventure.

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We made that train, and were off. It was supposed to be a seven or more hour ride, but I realized if we got off at Valladolid we could use the bathroom, grab a bite to eat, and catch high speed rail from there into Madrid and pass the train we were on, and shave nearly 2 hours off the ride.

We got into Madrid at 4-ish.

By now, we’d been in a plane or on a train for a long, long time. By Madrid, I was starting to get tired of traveling. Toledo started to seem a magical, magical end point that wasn’t moving.

But. More travel. We hopped down into the Metra (Madrid’s subway) and caught a beautiful modern subway train to Atocha station. From there, tickets to Toledo proved problematic because every damn machine I tried had trouble printing. I finally got tickets, and then my credit card’s fraud protection team locked the card out due to my six or so attempts to buy a ticket.

Sad trumpet sound.

Madrid to Toledo featured a short pause due to a train delay, but it was still at least as fast as a bus, and then we caught a taxi up the tight, winding cobblestone streets and between the walls of Toledo to our hotel.

And now I am on stable land. Swaying a little, still.

Oh, I showered like three times. I kinda want to take one again. It’s amazing how quickly you miss one after 48 hours walking, running, sitting in hot places…

I said on twitter that doing a train trip like this was on my bucket list. I just didn’t expect two days of it. I’d planned one intense day of high speed travel. But oh well! I’ve always wanted to try a sleeper car! And I got to snack outside in a plaza in Paris. And go through the chunnel. And get to come.

It’s our first vacation in a long time. And even though I’m having to do freelance work through it due to not having power on the Delta flight or for most of the train travel, I’m grateful to be here.

We just had amazing tapas for dinner at this place:

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Afterwards we stood and looked out over some of Toledo’s city walls.

It’s a good life.