The trains of Spain whistle on the plains

September 6, 2017 - Málaga, Spain

Because we reckon we now have the measure of the metro, we didn’t need to get a taxi to Barcelona Sants for our train to Malaga. We checked out of the hotel just before 7am (goodness knows what time Max got up) and wandered up Calle Sant Pau in the gloom of early morning – you can always tell when the arrival of autumn beats the end of daylight saving because the mornings, at least the few that I see, are half dark

Anyway, the usual battle with the machine yielded (after one missed train – no panic: only 4 minutes to wait) our tickets from Liceu to Sants, luckily on the same line, although from the Metro to the inter-city requires a walk through kms of tunnels, up escalators which is fine, or stairs which requires rearrangement of bags and back packs. Of course, we had an hour to wait for our 8.30 train to Malaga, so plenty of time to line up at the cafeteria for a croissant each (hang the calories) and an extra one for Max along with some good coffee, notwithstanding it was a railway station caff. Sants is a fabulous station, huge, airy, easy to navigate and enclosing a number of quite high-class shops. Because it is a 6 hour trip, we decided to get some food to take with us – if you are in ‘preferente’ you get free food on the train, but in ‘turista plus’ as we were you get the first class seats but not the food. So we bought a cheese and Iberian ham baguette each. Spanish baguettes are smaller and thinner than French ones, but the bread is just as delicious. It would be worth living in Europe for the bread alone. One of us bought an extra sandwich and the other one bought an orange. There will be a small prize for anyone who guesses which was which.

I had booked and printed our train tickets as soon as they became available - 3 months ago online, but there is still an element of anxiety in case it really was tooooo easy. We lined up in the queue for the right train – Malaga to the left (coaches 1-12) Seville to the right (coaches 12 to 32), our tickets were scanned without any problem and we checked our bags through security. ‘Where’s your handbag?’ asked Max and I practically had a heart attack before he handed it to me. Mean! It took the whole trip down the escalator onto the platform before I recovered.

I’m not sure exactly how many carriages the train consisted of, but the walk down the platform seemed to take about 10 minutes. Just as we were almost at the door to coach 3, a large woman ahead of us, dragging a suitcase which must have weighed 100 kg, and another elaborate trolley arrangement with a few more bags weighing about the same, lost control of her burden, and Max leapt to her assistance before going ahead into the carriage. I found myself shouldered out of the way by this ungrateful woman and presumably her entire household effects, but eventually we found our way to our luxurious seats. We have sung the praises before of Spanish trains, so won’t go into it again, but they take train travel to a whole new level.

No sooner had we settled ourselves than a young but rather scruffy man of definite Spanish appearance entered our carriage from the door in front of us, and began trying to stow his luggage in the overhead rack. The first piece looked as if it could have been a motorbike wrapped in numerous green garbage bags strapped with packing tape. Sticking out at the corner were two or three unidentifiable very sharp spikes. Anyone sitting in the seat underneath would have suffered instant death if this object had fallen – the owner obviously wasn’t going to sit there, as he had already stowed a smaller package on the rack opposite. We stared fascinated as he tried to lift another 100kg suitcase onto the rack next to the garbage bags, but it fell down almost as soon as he got it there. This was too much for the man behind who got up and gestured to the owner to take at least the suitcase outside. By this time an official had turned up, the concerned traveller pointed out the garbage bags, the official asked for the owner’s ticket, and the upshot was that the suitcase and garbage bags ended up in the entrance lobby and the owner presumably in the next carriage.

We had expected to go through Madrid, but didn’t. I took a note of the stations we stopped at – Tarragona, Llieda, Zaragoza, Ciudad Real, Puertollano, Cordoba, Puente Genil- Herrera, Antequera-Santa Ana and Malaga at 14.29 (actually 5 minutes late!). The speed of the train was 300 km p.h., give or take a bit here and there. Max took some brilliant photos from the window.

Yesterday I had started reading ‘Homage to Catalonia’ by George Orwell, an account of his time spent in the militia during the Spanish civil war. I found it really moving that I happened to be reading about the time his unit spent in the hills around Zaragoza just as our train was going through Zaragoza.

Maria Zambrano is another beautiful inter-city station, and we easily found our way out to the taxi rank. In fact it isn’t really a rank, but about four parallel rows of taxis stretching back into the distance, organised brilliantly by the drivers themselves. We wove our way to about the third row, and our driver put our bags in the boot but when Max asked for the Molina Lario Hotel he groaned, sighed, slapped his forehead and generally kept up this kind of passive-aggressive commentary on his bad luck at having drawn us as his short straws for the day. What did he expect? A lucrative fare to, say, Madrid, instead of 1.5 km round the corner? He offloaded us at the end of the square and pointed out with a grunt where the hotel was. ‘Have you got my wallet?’ asked Max as the taxi pulled away, but without waiting for an answer he rushed after it and banged on the window. Luckily the driver had been stopped by the traffic from whizzing out into the main street, so the wallet was safely retrieved. Whew! Glad it was him and not me this time.

We checked in to the hotel which had been booked for us by Kim at Flight Centre, and found our way to our nice but fairly small room on the 2nd floor. I was a bit disappointed that it looked out into the atrium – although this time a large, light and airy one – rather than having a view from, say, the 6th floor over the harbour, but it is still pretty nice.

It was a beautiful warm afternoon so we decided to go for a walk along the waterfront. This is also the wharf for cruise boats, and there is a recently refurbished wide covered walkway which runs beside the harbour for a few hundred metres. At one end is what looks like a commercial port area, and at the end towards which we walked there are high rise apartment blocks.

We walked to this end, then crossed over into a lovely park, planted with all sorts of trees; lots of palms of course as well as cyprus and others. There are paths, gardens and hedges, and several permanent stalls selling drinks. We recognised where we had sat at one of these when Kevan, our photo tutor, brought us to Malaga during our last trip to Torrox.

We came back to the hotel and decided to have drink on the 8th floor with its rooftop pool and bar. The view is great, over the harbour in one direction, and very close to the cathedral in the other. It was quite busy, and despite the view, we felt nostalgic for Alaire in Barclona. After a beer, we had a bit of a rest before dinner.

We decided to have dinner at the hotel, in the pleasant El Café de Bolsa restaurant on the ground floor and spreading out into the atrium. We had a seat outside, and almost had the entire restaurant to ourselves. We had an entrée of tostas con tomate, toasted bread with olive oil and a kind of tomato salsa. I’m going to have a shot at making something like it when we get home, as it is very simple and delicious. Unfortunately I don’t think the bread will be as good. Max then had sirloin steak, and I had entrecote. His was really good, but mine was a little tough and gristly although the sauce, and the layered potato slice with it, were nice. Double espresso for Max and a single for me.

Back to the room about 9.30 to do battle with the shower. The control is under the shower head so you get cold water on your hair when you turn it on. The shower is over the bath and the plastic bath has a bulge in the bottom so you tend to slide around with soap on your feet. But the worst thing is the mixer control. I think for any setting it ranges from 46°C to 20°C with the average about 35°C so it is almost always too cold but very occasionally it is too hot, passing with great rapidity through the right range. 'Just another continental shower', says Max.


Somewhere between Barcelona and Malaga
Somewhere between Barcelona and Malaga
Somewhere between Barcelona and Malaga
Somewhere between Barcelona and Malaga

1 Comment

September 17, 2017
I think you bought the orange and Max the sandwich?

Sounds like you are having some great Spanish adventures:-)
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