Well! We actually aren’t even to Salamanca yet; assuming I can find a Wi-Fi connection in Madrid, this will post a few hours before we get there! But it’s been an exciting day so far and there’s a lot to say about our journey into Spain.
We started off at the Toulouse train station, eating breakfast at Paul. This is somewhat similar to like a French Panara – it’s a big chain that sells sandwiches, other small things to eat and coffee. Of course, we’re in France, so a lot of Paul’s fare is things like croissants, but that makes a lovely breakfast!
Here’s something you don’t see in the States, even though it’s really cool – self-powered charging stations! Imagine you’re getting ready to hop on a long train ride and you realize you forgot to charge your phone or mp3 player. You can’t find an open wall outlet, or your train is leaving too soon for the walk outlet to do much good. In the States, you normally ate just stuck, but in France, you hop onto one of these stations. Behind the sign is a stationary bike where you plug in your device and start pedaling. It’s surprisingly efficient and fun! You can charge your device much faster this way (not to mention get all the other useful benefits from riding a bike for a while).
The train to Narbonne was uneventful. It was a much smaller train, but very similar to the TGV setup. The real excitement began on the second train to Madrid! We knew we were in first class (normally we travel second class, but they were sold out of those tickets) but couldn’t find our seats. I asked an employee for help and showed him the tickets; he immediately shook his head and told me “c’est pas normal” (“this isn’t normal”). Ack! Not words I wanted to hear!
But then he led us here…
The reason we couldn’t find our seats was because they weren’t in the normal train car. Nope, somehow the train station in Toulouse sold us tickets to a very special VIP car normally reserved for celebrities and kings!! We had to go through a door marked “passage interdit” (“entry forbidden”) to find a much smaller car with 8 plush leather seats in it. There is a large, surprisingly comfortable bathroom and a space for our luggage at the front of the car. Further in, there are two outlets per seat to charge any electronic device you want, and folding tables that tuck away into the armrests if you want to work or spread out a bit. There are also 4 wooden end tables with little lamps on them if you need more light, and 4 TV screens showing movies. Just plug in your headphones (also at your seat) to listen. There’s even a spot on the wall to plug in your own laptop if you want to play your own movie on the screens.
It took us a while to realize these really were our seats and no one was going to come kick us out! The only thing we miss are the bigger windows in the other cars. The ride here is beautiful! We followed the Mediterranean coastline for a while (the picture at the top of the post is one such view from the French side of the border – please forgive the blur; is hard to take clear photos from a moving train!) and now we’re well into Spain. The landscapes here are substantially hiller and there are a lot more reds and browns than in France, which tends towards the greens and grays. Hopefully I can get some good pictures in Madrid and on the way to Salamanca!