Having lived in Thailand for a while, I found myself once again falling in love with train travel. The fast, modern Skytrain network is an experience every visitor should have. There’s also the extreme opposite outer-city trains, which are by no means European standard, but being able to hang out of the door and marvel at the view (and smell) of rice paddies and sunsets over coconut plantations, was the most genuine local travel experience I’ve had.
I recently travelled to Barcelona for a business trip, and taking into account that I would be flying for over 14 hours, I decided to extend my trip to see Lisbon, but this time take the train instead.
I used Seat61 to plan my travel as it is a really useful platform for finding train stations, stops, connections and routes around the world. When I needed a reliable, English source to book tickets, Loco2 was the answer. The site lets you register for e-mail reminders when tickets for future dates become available, a handy feature for planning journeys in advance and getting cheap tickets.
As I discovered, there are no direct trains to Lisbon from Barcelona so I connected to Madrid on the high-speed AVE train in under 3 hours, and managed to enjoy a weekend exploring a new city. Probably the best part of train travel is – due to logistics and connections – the en route train stops allow you to visit cities you wouldn’t have otherwise gone to. My overnight journey from Madrid to Lisbon cost only €34, and there was the option of a 2 berth cabin, or a carriage with seats only for budget-travellers.
My cabin was equipped with a small basin and four bunk beds, each bed with its own reading light and power socket. Safety is no worry– the cabin door can be locked from the inside and passengers are allocated cabins based on gender (no mixed sharing is allowed unless you’re a family or group who’s reserved the entire cabin). We were even given a polite reminder about our arrival time as we crossed time-zones, and were reassured that we’d be given a wake-up call before reaching our destination.
Each carriage has maybe five of these cabins with shared toilet facilities at the end of the passage. There’s a restaurant car attached too, providing basic meals (sandwiches & microwave meals), soft drinks, beers and coffee. It’s good to note that there’s limited space to move around in your cabin , so it’s best to either go straight to bed, or to the restaurant. If you decide to stay in your cabin, buy some food or drinks to share with your bunkmates – it’s a great way to get a conversation going!
I remember once reading that school teaches you to know, and travel teaches you to learn. Any traveller will understand this. By being out of your comfort zone in a new location, you learn from the culture, you learn from the people, and you even learn to read a map! Try stepping away from what you know – take a train and learn something on your next trip!