This train ain’t bound for no glory 

May 18, 2023

The 12:00 to Madrid 

Some train stations try to mimic the airline experience, and Barcelona Sants is one of them. There is a TSA-type bag and security check prior to entering a “gate” area, where you line up before passing through a boarding pass check. Then, an escalator down to the platform, where you stand and wait for the train to chug in. Well, as long as we don’t encounter any unruly passengers causing a ruckus with seat backs or storming the engineer’s compartment…

This time, the destination was the destination

   The seat reservations provided by the Barcelona ticket agent put Carol and I side by side opposite the direction of train in a facing four-seat configuration – the least desirable way I prefer to ride the rails. Then, I crossed my fingers as the voices of two loud Americans with cries of “So, where’s y’alls club car?” filled our carriage. When a woman took her seat opposite me at our first stop, in the middle of a phone conversation that continued unabated for quite some time, my comfort zone had already dwindled to something akin to being in the umiddle seat of a Southwest flight to Dallas. But wait, it gets worse.

“I feared I’d joined a live version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

   I’m going to sound narrow-minded and insensitive here, but when a large group of Special Ed passengers came aboard and filled our carriage, I feared I’d joined a live version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But the Group, except for one who was either on a phone call or thought he was, and was drowning out my seat mate’s own conversation by many decibels, was overall quiet and well-mannered. Only the group leader, who apparently couldn’t read the seating assignment sheet, maintained a steady pace of disturbing the calm by constantly reseating her charges, sometimes in seats belonging to other passengers who’d only left to go to the bathroom.

Not a bad train station to kill an hour a half…yeah, right

   The train’s customer service personnel entered with hot towels for its first class passengers. All except for passengers with discounted tickets such as Eurail passes. Same thing when the dinner cart rolled by, distributing hot meals only to the full-freight paying customers. This was very different from my solo experience aboard this very train route back in 2018, when my hot meal included a small bottle of red and dessert. (Following this trip, I would begin dividing the luxuries of European train travel into Before Covid and After Covid.)

   Finally, the Eurail service that allows you to book your seat reservations online does not, apparently, apply to Spanish trains. This means taking a number at a station ticket office, and waiting behind people trying to book a four-train transfer from Madrid to Malaga on three separate days. When we arrived in Madrid, Carol wanted to get our reservations settled so we wouldn’t have to make a separate trip back to the station during our stay. Smart move, but we were there for an hour and a half waiting our turn, a wait somewhat modified by a bottle of wine I was able to obtain from a take-away bar in the station’s main lobby. After all that, the only train to Seville available to us Eurail immigrants was an 8:00 a.m. departure the following Friday.

Proof that anything – even a ticket office- goes better with wine

   On our way to the taxi stand, we took a wrong turn, and wound up on an exit ramp from the station’s parking lot, cars whizzing by, motorists wildly gesturing that we were in the middle of an exit ramp. We had to hop a retaining barrier to safety. (I tumbled like a roly-poly in my effort.)

I still prefer train stations to airports

   We finally arrived at our apartment wrung out and feeling just the way we would had we actually flown Southwest to Dallas.

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