Nom de Plumage

April 6, 2013

Farewell Barcelona and Hello Cordoba


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I leave Barcelona with grey clouds hanging low and impending rain. Maybe the sun does not always shine in Barcelona and the inevitable winter slowly and surely approaches. Onwards to Cordoba and what would become, the best train journey of my travels.

When I purchased my three-month travel pass back home in Australia, I asked for economy class and never even checked the ticket to see otherwise. It was only when I first needed to validate my ticket back in Switzerland that I quickly realised that I had in fact received a first class ticket. I cannot write how shocked and yet grateful to the Euro Pass Company for their kindness for updating my ticket and charging me still economy class. Train travel in general through Europe is wonderful, but trains can be crowded in economy class and have limited space for luggage. Three months travelling by train is not easy. At times it would be lonely, but most times it offered salvation and peace; giving me time to reflect, enjoy the scenery and the ride. To travel first class, was a stroke of luck and I cannot help but smile when I think of the opportunity given to me to criss-cross through Europe in comfort and style, all with my daggy travel clothes and big back-pack (class all the way), but at least I had my smile.

Spanish trains and stations completely surprised me.

Barcelona’s Sants Station is very modern and looks more like an airport. I walk to the platform where passengers have to go through a security check and once through, there is a waiting area. Here I await the stewards to announce boarding. Passengers need to pass through a gate, have tickets verified and then down escalators to the train waiting along the platform. The train itself is very modern, comfortable, extremely clean, very fast and efficient, and very friendly service. And if I may add, the cleanest, self disinfectant toilet that I have had the privilege to use. Only three passengers shared the carriage and the five-and-a-half hour journey through the heart of Spain, was both extremely comfortable and picturesque.

The landscape never stayed the same for long. Vast expanse of dry barren land; a scene typical from a ‘spaghetti western’ movie, was endless and yet so very beautiful at the same time. Hacienda’s lay in the middle of nowhere, some lived-in, others derelict and slowly claimed by mother-nature. Small villages passed by so quickly, tantalising glimpses of the old way of life. But as the train travels further south into Andalusia, the scenery changes. Dry land turns green with open meadows and olive plantations dominate the landscape. Snow-capped mountains lay in the background and the melting snow produces rivers that flow freely through parched land.

Lunch served at midday and both the food and service is excellent. Let me whet your appetite! The steward comes and lowers my table and cleans it and comes back with a tray laden with food. First course is chicken consommé (a clear soup), followed by a fresh salad of egg, tuna, lettuce, olives and red peppers. Main course is a delicious ravioli filled with meat and coated in a mushroom and basil sauce. Dessert is a simple fresh fruit salad. Once I have finished, the steward comes and takes the tray away, cleans the table again and comes back with coffee and chocolates. The best service and food on any train that I have travelled through Europe.

Something to make you smile; during my train travel a large billboard appears in the distance with a very innocent advertisement (if you are Spanish), but very naughty (if you are a westerner). “Concrete vibrator’s – the biggest and best in the world”. OUCH!

I arrive in Cordoba exactly on time. To get to my hostel, proved a little difficult and it all came down to language barrier. I eventually find the bus that I need and when I buy my ticket, the driver speaks no English and my Spanish is very poor. But, we somehow communicate and I get my ticket and ask directions to my hostel. The driver must have understood me because he does let know me when my stop arrives and wishes me well. Once off the bus, there is no directions and so I go to another hostel to ask for directions. Again, the woman speaks little English, but understands my question and produces a map and highlights my route. The distance to my hostel is not so great, but the streets are uneven and so my progress is slow. My hostel appears, but because it looks nothing like a hostel, more like an art gallery, and so I walk by. Ask for directions at a nearby café and sure enough, they direct me back to the very modern looking ‘art gallery’.

Cordoba is a very beautiful city. It’s divided into a modern city, dominated by business, shops and the everyday life and then the old city, that looks something straight out of a Greek Island. White-washed stone houses, narrow streets, uneven  stone roads, only pedestrian traffic and souvenir shops and tourist traps. The old towns main attraction is the ‘Mezquita Mosque’ and my hostel is just metres away from this ancient and very beautiful place of worship. The sun is slowly setting and I leave my exploration of the city until tomorrow.

 

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