Friday, January 7, 2011

Trains in Spain (or the best of India part I)

From Madrid we took the train to Barcelona. I had bought the tickets ahead of time and was surprised to find that there was a €4 difference between "turista" class and "preferente". The cost of the train was also similar to a night's hotel, and there were fast train options (3 hours) or overnight (cheaper, 9 hours). Based on the India train experiences I decided to buy overnight tickets to save on hotel and splurge a bit getting "preferente" (supposedly each compartment had just 2 beds and a washbasin) instead of "turista" (AC 2 tier in India, meaning 4 beds in each compartment). I told A. about the tickets and we were super excited about the trip. Traveling by train was new for me in India and I quite like it. For A. it is reminiscent of childhood travels with his family and his favorite form of travel.
What I had imagined...

We find our coach and get in, just to find compartment with 6 seats each! I wonder whether we got something wrong, but wait for a second. Soon a family of 4 Brazilians settles into the other 4 seats and it is pretty crammed. We are all disappointed and A. decides to take a look at what other compartments look like. He comes back chuckling... saying that there is another "preferente" coach with 8 seats in each compartment and finally the "turista" coach with resembles an airplane setup so we should not complain. Oh well... not much we could do, we were tired from walking around all day and there was no one to ask questions around.

And what we got (minus the vintage look and the stuffy seats, ours were plastic covered).

We then realize that the seats slide down to form beds... but the other half of the bed is the seat in front of you!  That means that there could be 3 beds in a compartment... A. and I switch seats with the Brazilians so we can face each other and turn our seats into a "bed" and try to both fit in. To say it was uncomfortable is the least... not just the complete lack of space but also smelling A.'s socks right in my nose :P Soon the Brazilian family realized that we were blocking the exit (to the bathroom) and asked us to move to the window seats... some more shuffling around and repositioning ourselves later, we try to sleep. Not easy. 

Finally at some point late into the night the ticket collector came, checked our tickets and I asked him if we could move to a compartment next door which was empty. He said ok, but he did not know if anyone else would come to take those seats in the 9 stops the train made throughout the night. The risk was worth taking and we quickly shifted again (to the relief of the family and our own). Having the compartment to ourselves allowed us to have a bed each and we fell asleep. Next thing we hear is the alarm clock telling us it is almost arrival time in Barcelona. This means no one needed our seats... which begs the question of why would they fill a compartment if several others are empty in the same coach!

Oh I missed you!
And for the price we paid, I missed this one!

Indian trains may be sometimes late, not so tidy but at least you can sleep flat on your back! (Plus get nice meals!!)


  1. I've been to the Netherlands and trains there are pretty good. I must say I was surprised to read your account of train travel in Spain. Also, is English easily understood there or do you know Spanish? Did the 4 Brazilians know that you could understand every word of their conversation? :)

    Your post brought back childhood memories of train travel in India. Traveling by train in India is so different than here in the US. Here it is antiseptic, clean and thoroughly boring whereas back there it can range from dirty to extremely dirty (believe me, north India is way more dirtier than the south in every aspect and that reflects in their trains). Having said all that, I've yet to see the kind of free entertainment you can enjoy traveling there. Plus a lot more easily accessible food options.

    On a different note, I am flying to India in two days from now. Not sure if I'll get to ride trains there as it is a short, 2 week trip but if I get the option, I sure will take it instead of the so-called "luxury Volvo" buses. I've never liked bus travel. How about you?

  2. Hi Dsylexic,
    Trains in other European countries such as Norway and France are great too. The Spanish trains were the exception, I guess.

    I do speak Spanish and I helped the Brazilian family find their coach by talking to them in Portuguese so they did know that I was Brazilian too.

    Brazil has no trains (actually very few) but has excellent buses. The same feeling you and A. get from traveling by train is what I get from bus travels. I wrote about it here:

    Safe travels and enjoy India!

  3. These look that old night trains in Switzerland which no longer run as night ones, as a kid I used to love pulling al lthe seats into bed and jumb on the giant "mattress"
    Trains in India ROCK I LOVE train travel there, we generally travel AC 2 tier or AC 3rd if there is nothing else, AC 3rd is a bit crammed but at least everybody has their own bed.

  4. Ah, how I miss the train travels in India, specially in 'sleeper class' (non AC). These were even more enjoyable when we were young adults - opening the train door and sitting on the ledge with legs hanging out, playing cards all night long or just sitting near the window and letting the wind wash all over the face and hair.

  5. Hi jestingjousts,
    Nice to see you are back!
    I also prefer non AC trains in India. The glass on the windows on AC coaches just takes the sharpness of the passing landscape and people off...