Romancing the rail

May 3, 2023

The 14:54 to Barcelona 

   Judging by how full our first class carriage was, we were smart to roll the dice and reserve our seats for the TGV to Barcelona back in the states before we were sure we had seats on the plane to Paris and a confirmed hotel there. Even that early, however, the more ideal 9:38 train was already sold out. The afternoon train would give us three hours to kill that morning, and with the rain falling, we’d have to kill all of them in the station. No problem for me with my Kindle, but Carol would get antsy sitting around for so long, and I felt bad about that. But at least and at last, I would deliver on Barcelona.        

“There’s a lot to unpack here, but I’ll let it go. Much as the dog did pretty much all the way to Montpelier before he settled himself down.”

   The big lesson I would learn on this and subsequent rail journeys is that you can pick your class of travel, but you can’t pick the class of the passengers you’ll  be traveling with. First class on a European train might be about the plush seat, but it has nothing to do with the plushness of your rail mates. And that includes both human and animal mates.

The wine was cold, so was the quiche.

   Carol didn’t notice the large German Shepherd that boarded our carriage, along with its support humans. But she sure noticed the first fart he’d let out shortly after our departure.

   “Is that you?” Carol said, turning to me, pinching her nose as her face turned green.

   “No, I think it’s the dog,” I answered sharply.

   “There’s a dog in this car?”


   “Yeah, that’s a dog fart, all right.”

   “Then why did you accuse me?”

   There’s a lot to unpack here, but I’ll let it go. Much as the dog did pretty much all the way to Montpelier before he settled himself down. A couple of chatty tweens and a fussy baby rounded out the background score for this one sweet ride, but things eventually calmed down into the thrumm of steel at 150mph.

Somewhere there are flamingoes. (Photo: Piqsels CC0)

   Carol was impressed with my local knowledge when I pointed to the flocks of flamingos that suddenly appeared in the marshes north of Perpignan. I immediately realized the mistake I was making, and I hastened to add that, like most of what I know, I got it from a book (by the travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux) – lest she believe I’m some sort of amateur ornithologist, and I’d be asked to identify every bird between here and Lisbon. (“But why don’t you know what that is, Reid? You knew about the flamingos near Perpignan.”)

Café Alphonso (around the corner) was historic and rightfully so.

   Enjoyed lunch and rosé during the trip, and arrived fresh and relaxed in Barcelona six and a half hours after departing Paris. Compare that to the way you feel after a six and a half hour flight, and the luxury and comfort of first class rail travel are self-evident. We slid into a cab, got settled into a spacious two-bedroom, two bath apartment with a balcony overlooking a pastry shop, metro station and cab stand. A grocery and a wonderful tapas bar was just around the corner. There’ll be some obligatory sightseeing (Gaudi’s mother-of-all architectural Incompletes for one) that will detract from this near perfect accommodation setup, but that’ll be a small price to pay for having a bathroom all to myself.

   One additional and lasting perk from this train trip is that from here on, I’ll be able to blame my farting on the nearest dog.

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