It’s early. These Renfe sleepers are so tiny that they don’t have any pull down seats in the corridors. There’s a restaurant car. It’s got seats, and big windows, and coffee. How civilised. Out of the window we pass ramshackle villages in ravines. The place names invariably include an X and no obvious way to pronounce them. We are in Basque country.
We wind our way up the East side of the Northern Pyrenees, before bursting into an Alpine landscape. Despite witnessing just about every European mountain range worth seeing in the last 2 weeks, this is still a remarkable and delightful start to the day. The towns start to look more affluent, and eventually we arrive in Hendaye, France.
We are required to show passports to change platform. Our TGV to Paris is waiting for us on the other side of the station. There are, yet again, loads of school kids. One of them appears to be smoking a fag with his mother. A bunch more with their teacher. Grief!, what is the world coming to ?.
The usual coffee, pastries and sarnies detail is dispatched. I make a vain attempt to score a bottle of decent brandy for the final leg this evening. I return with a tarte de basque or some such. It’s a sort of Pays Basque Bakewell tart. The kids smoking fags on the platform (you can get busted for that in Slovakia you know) extinguish and we are allowed to depart on our journey through Aquitaine and homeward.
The landscape is generally flat, which is almost a relief in itself. I think one more gob smacking thousand metre rock-face and we’ll all explode. On the second half of the journey we hit the high speed track, and whoosh, straight up to 280+ kmh and we are in Paris before you know it.
One last city traversal. My back is now shot to pieces. We are all emotionally and physically trashed. At one stage I think the French haven’t got a metro at all, just tunnels you walk along between stations. We arrive at . We have 20 minutes to play with. I am now firmly in the red zone but with my final reserves of stamina and showing devotion to the cause worthy of decoration, I hurtle off to source a decent bottle of cognac for the last hurrah. Back at the station and after way too much unnecessary hoo hah and irritating queuing, making Eurostar the most difficult train in Europe to actually get on, we board. The brandy is cracked open and is demolished in two rounds, the second as we emerge onto home soil.
At St Pancras we have a welcoming committee, including mothers and fathers, wives and girlfriends and even an avid fan. We climb up to the John Betjeman pub where we had convened two weeks last Saturday. Drinks are drunk, and hugs are given with what strength I have left. And we are shooed away from whence we began 17 days ago ? It feels more like half a lifetime. I will reflect on the impact of all this tomorrow in the final post of this blog.
Start: Basque country
Train 44 continued sleeper from Lisbon
Train 45 – 12:36 Hendaye to Paris
Train 46 – 20:13 Paris to London
Finish: The John Betjeman Arm’s, St Pancras Station, London
Also on this day
Paul’s Photos http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/sets/72157634765568655/
Lloyd’s Blog http://www.lloydshepherd.com/2013/07/23/day-18-back-to-the-island/
Darren’s Blog http://blog.darrenf.org/2013/07/home-stretch.html
Dave’s Blog http://disorientateddave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/they-think-it-all-over.html