The Sud Express, Lisbon to Paris, and Back to Blighty

We have almost 9 hours in Lisbon, though we will spend much of that on two tracks. Initially travelling to Cascais, the westernmost point of the European mainland rail network. Note that Tralee station in Ireland is actually very slightly further west, but I’ve just detected a currently not operational tram from Sintra, 6 miles north of Cascais, to Praia das Maçãs right on the west facing coast, which easily beats Cascias. We lost our original GCIRC inspired ideal of extremes of latitude and longitude quite some time ago. Murmansk is further north than the iron ore line in the Norwegian Arctic, we cant do Istanbul, Greece don’t do international trains any more either, Sicily was deemed too daft, and Yekatnburg even less feasible,  and now this tram has turned up. What we are now claiming as “The Big Idea” is covering 23 capitals in 17 days, and actually spending a little time in any of them that have anything so blatantly famous that we’ll have to see it as part of the plan. So we may just focus on visiting Belem and covering some of the many famous funicular trams. I’ll cover the plans for this, and all the other city stops, in more details at a later stage.

After the Pau Casals to Barcelona and then the Lusitania to Lisbon, we now catch our 3rd flashy Iberian sleeper in 3 days, The Sud Express, which like the Lusitania is run by the national Spanish operator Renfe.  This train historically went all the way on a 2 day trip up to Paris. It now just takes us to the gauge change at Irun/Henday on the Spanish/French border.

We begin the ride at 16:38 from the outstanding Gare do Oriente station with it’s beautiful webbed canopy. OK, it isn’t going to look quite like this cos it will be day time, but this picture sums up the artistic architectural splendour of this building.

The route takes us back up the Tagus river valley, at 1,000 km the longest river on the Iberian peninsula  (I lied before when I claimed the only repeated tracks were from London to the Calais and Copenhagen to Malmö). We leave the river valley as it goes dark and head north west. The sun will rise just before we reach the French border at Hendaye about 7am, where we change trains.

We now board a TGV Altlantique to Paris. The route travels up along as yet not upgraded track through Aqcuitane  to Bordeaux, and then via Poitiers and Tours, where we finally pick up the LGV Atlantique high speed line, arriving at Gare Montparnasse at 13:50.

A TGV Atlantique, perhaps our very train, waiting in the morning sunlight at Hendaye for take-off.
Picture copyright of H.H. González

We then have 8 hours in the Paris before we catch our final train which of course is The Eurostar back to dear old blighty. The train leaves Gare du Nord at 20:13, arriving 2¼ hours later at 21:29 local time. The route takes us along LGV Nord to the coast, back under La Manche, and then zooms through the Kent countryside at 300 km/h along HS1. We will travel through the 2 mile long North Down Tunnel, but not at the full whack of 186 mph as their are no pressure relief shafts in the tunnel. We then travel over the Medway Viaduct, which contains the longest high speed bridge span in the world (note that China now has a high speed bridge that is actually over 100 miles long!).  At Ebbsfleet we dive under the Thames for 2km at the point of the last bend in the river. At Stratford we reduce to a sedate pace along the North London Line and round into St Pancras.

We will have visited some amazing and beautiful stations along our trip, The Berlin Hauptbahnhof and Lison’s Oriente being two spectacular modern examples. The arches of Milan Centrale and the interior of Le Train Bleu at Gare du Lyon will both take the breath away.  But, as an Englishman, I will make the claim that George Gilbert Scott’s Gothic extravaganza is indeed the finest in all our lands.  We will terminate, after just about 17,000 kilometres of track, and a couple of extra bits to boot, where we pulled out 16½ days ago, at The Betjeman Arms in the station.   (cue post about Europe’s great stations and how many of them we will be visiting).

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