This year every Tuesday I will be recounting an overseas train journey. It could be a short hop or a long-distance overnighter. Every journey is special to me – the greatest way to travel by far.
In 2012 Mrs Wilbur and I undertook a mini train tour of Spain taking in Santiago de Compostela, Córdoba, Cadiz and Seville.
We pre-booked an overnight train journey from atmospheric Santiago to Madrid, leaving at 22.35 and arriving at rush hour – not the greatest timing for having to cross Madrid from Chamartin to Atocha stations with a heavy suitcase, and to then purchase southbound tickets.
It is said that the journey we were undertaking is one of the most picturesque in Europe, although we of course were hoping to sleep through most of it.
This was to be a landmark train journey as it was Mrs Wilbur’s first sleeper experience and the first time that I had ever booked a compartment complete with shower.
Before embarking, we thought we should eat so gorged on delicious tapas Galicia style with an accompanying bottle of Rioja.
Our mobile hotel arrived on cue and we soon found our compartment on the stylish AVE. I had done many overnight journeys before, but had very rarely if ever pre-booked.
Booking a shower proved to be an error of judgement as rather than having a bigger compartment to accommodate the small bathroom, it was merely crammed into a standard size one so that we were extremely cramped and had to plan and communicate every movement so as to avoid any painful collisions with each other.
In a departure from my well practised custom when doing such journeys with my mate Hamish, I was assigned the top bunk. I would have to be extra careful in the ‘not needing the toilet in the early hours’ department.
We decided to wander off to the restaurant carriage for a nightcap and were soon sat on bar stools drinking G&Ts and munching on green olives. Soon after came a surprise…..
A man in railway uniform came up to us to ask our names. Oh no, what had we done? When we confirmed our details, the guard advised that our dinner table was ready!
I had thought the train ticket rather expensive but put that down to the shower supplement. We had in fact paid for dinner and breakfast too.
Although not hungry in the slightest, we naturally could not turn down what was rightfully ours, so followed the gentleman to our table which was looking very tempting with its crisp white tablecloth & napkins and silver cutlery.
Our meal plan was for three courses and half a bottle of wine! A salmon mousse, grilled salted cod, tiramisu and three large glasses of Pinot Noir later and we were definitely ready for bed.
Being a seasoned overnighter and having consumed a fair amount of alcohol, I went out like a light and did not stir at all until the early morning alarm.
Unfortunately for Mrs Wilbur, she had a fitful sleep. She found it impossible to attune to the noise and motion of the train and had felt every bump being so close to the tracks.
Me stating that it was she who had chosen the bottom bunk did not go down that well!
Despite the shower being only slightly bigger than our suitcase, I was determined to use it.
Not only had I paid for it but I had never had a shower on a train before. The whole series of manoeuvres were troublesome in the extreme meaning that I got at least a couple of bumps and bruises for my trouble and managed to smack the bathroom door onto Mrs Wilbur’s person.
I think “never again” may have emanated from my good lady wife’s lips!
There was just time for a quick croissant, juice and coffee before we found ourselves on the platform, me slightly hungover and Mrs W tired and understandably irritable. It was my duty to work out the metro system, buy tickets and guide us seamlessly to Atocha Station.
We arrived hot, sweaty and me now equally as irritable as Mrs W. “Who’s idea was it to arrive at rush hour?” I knew the answer but remained silent!