Iberia, Better Than Siberia

These post titles get worse and worse I know, only a few more to go.

Once we get to Geneva we have over an hour and a half to walk the few hundred metres to view the Jet d’Eau, and then it’s off to bed in our sleeper train for the night, the Pau Casals (named after Pablo Casals, one of Catalunya’s most celebrated musicians) . Our Elipsos TrenHotel actually set off from Zurich, where we were a few hours ago, but then we wouldn’t have got the fountain, or been able to at least step onto the platform at Bern. It’s not cheap either, only just weighing in less than the Norway night train. Leaving the capital of the Canton and Republic of Geneva at 23:05, it will present us in Barcelona at 10:30 the following morning. Along the way we will travel through the beautiful  Rhône-Alpes, but of course it will be pitch black and we will be dead to the world anyway.

The sun will come up again on Day 15 somewhere along the French coast round about Port-la-Nouvelle, north of Perpignan. In order to then get past the Pyrenees there is now a new high speed tunnel through the mountains,  the 5.2 mile long Perthus Tunnel, opened in 2009. We appear to have been kicked off this (last year’s timetable implied we went through it) as we’re just a sleepy sleeper train, so we get to wind our way along the coast instead. At the border, the twin stations of Cerbère in France and Port Bou in Catalunya are separated by the 1km long Belitres tunnel.  Before entering the tunnel we undergo something rather cute from a train nutter’s perspective, gauge transformation. Our Taglo carriages can actually change the width of the axles. Some of us will be so intrigued by this we’d like to get off and watch, but this isn’t going to be possible (it should be). There’s an authoritative technical account of what goes on  in Cerbère here http://www.bueker.net/trainspotting/stations_cerbere.php.

Once we have expanded from Stephens Standard Gauge of  56½ inches to Iberian Broad Gauge of 65⅔ inches, we pass through the tunnel into Spain and head inland for Figueres (which means “Fig trees” in Catalan fyi). We then run south west, through Girona and to Estació de França in Barcelona  for 10:30.

After 4½ hours in the Catalunyan capital, at 3pm we set off again for Madrid from Barcelona Sants Estacio on another European super train, the AVE Class 103. The high speed network in Spain is called the Alta Velocidad Española , or AVE (which is also a play on the latin for bird). It runs on standard gauge, which is perverse as the wider gauge ought to be more suitable for high speeds. It takes 2 hours 45 minutes to cover the 621 km to Madrid, making it one of the fastest rail service on the planet.

AVE 103 “bullet” photo by The Reeler

The route takes us west to Zaragoza, the only intermediate stop, then south west onto the Meseta Central Plateaux, and the Spanish capital at Puerta de Atocha station.

We get a full 6½ hours here before we board our sleeper for the night, The Lusitania night train to Lisbon at 22:25 from Chamartin Station. This is another flashy night train. It’s got a bar and a restaurant but we should be nicely fortified after our evening in Madrid. We arrive in Lisboa Santa Apolonia station bright and early at twenty to eight in the morning.

Here’s a Spanish video about the Lusitania


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