Crouchended

Life in Crouch End, bikes, trying to be green and other randomness

The train in Spain goes mainly on the plain

London to Seville by train (via the Paris – Madrid “trenhotel”)

We wanted to get away from the misery of the  never ending English winter – and we thought the ideal way to do this would be to get away to Seville for a week. It’s not the only hottest part of Europe this time of the year (March), the Canaries and Crete have similar climates – but critically Seville is the one place you can reach from the UK without having to fly – or undertake a mammoth odyssey by rail or road.

We were inspired by the excellent Man in Seat 61 website that has a wealth of information about how to travel around Europe by train, and a page specifically on how to get to Seville

It’s certainly an adventure, and I really enjoyed Seville – but the journey is not quite the easy trip that many newspapers, with their sudden surge of green travel writing would have you believe.

London to Paris

We left early on the second Eurostar to leave London, and got to Paris with good time to explore and enjoy the best part of a days sightseeing before the evening connection at Austerlitz. The connection is easy, taking Metro line 5 from Gare du Nord straight to Gare D’Austerlitz. There’s a left luggage office with automatic lockers, staffed until midnight which we managed to fit two sizable rucksacks into for around €7. No cash points though so be sure to draw your Euros before you arrive at Austerlitz.

We spent the day in Paris sightseeing and taking a leisurely lunch. In the Moroais i spotted some interesting sculpture with LED lights in a workshop [link]

The train leaves at 7.45 – which actually gives plenty of time for an early supper in Paris. There’s no fuss getting on the train. About 30 minutes before the departure of the train it appears on the electronic board, and then the guards appear to help people on to the train. Boarding is a matter of finding the car on your ticket (ours started at 65, and our car was 69) the guard checks your ticket and takes you to your cabin. Entry to the cabin is by key card, you get one for the pair. The guard will take your passports for the duration of the journey. Until departure the train cabin is yours. We travelled standard plus, where as a couple travelling together you get your own room with 2 beds that fold out of the wall, a sink, a mirror and behind the mirror some towels, a little bag containing a toothbrush, paste, soap, ans earplugs. Note – take your own earplugs, these were not adequate for the midnight noise of the train – more on that in a moment. Once the train is going the train guard comes to ask if you’d like to eat and when. There are 2 sittings, 8pm and 10pm – we chose neither at the start, we were trying to economise and took a picnic of goodies from around Paris, and a bottle of bargainously nice [Beaujolais].

At some point the guard came round the train to ask if you want the beds lowered from the wall, because it is impossible to lower them yourself without the correct key. We asked to delay as we were eating, but this was an error as the guard then vanished for 2 hours, by which time we were tired and in need of a good place to rest our weary heads,. We located the guard eventually and asked him (queremos bajar las camas)to put the beds down. On the way back we missed the guard again because we were eating. On the subject of eating – the restaurant car is not great value. There’s a decent choice of main courses and even a couple of vegetarian things. but cost wise, it doesn’t represent decent value, especially compared to the tapas bars of Sevilla, maybe we’d just been spoilt.

Sleeping was a different experience going out to coming back. The track coming out of Paris is smooth and quiet, and then after two hours or so the track becomes a bit noisier, the train stops at a few stations to let stray passengers on, and at other stations where the train seemingly waits at ghostly half lit platforms for the track infront to clear. Some advice, the rooms come with a complimentary pair of earplugs, but these are not enough to completely block out the noise of the train as it creaks over the Pyrenees, Noisy, as the carriages twist, turn, plummet and swing over the mountains, on the little bunk beds you slide across the bunk with the movement. It’s hard not to wake up – although i was fairly sure that better earplugs would do it.

The return leg from Madrid to Paris seems to be noisier than the other way around, i think that is because you hit some mountains straight out of Madrid. The guard wakes you up an hour before the train gets in with a phone call. Breakfast was included in our ticket, the first time it was fairly routine, the second time the coffee was abysmal.

Would we do this again? Yes – but we’d definately go first class if we could afford to – for the shower, space and possible quieter coach. It may be worth taking the ferry to Santander and traveling south from Northern Spain as an alertnative.

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