Diddle de dum, diddle de dum, diddle de dee. Its
time to tell you about getting to Ibiza by train (or, at least, getting to Barcelona
by train because youve not got a Mediterranean tunnel). But dont scoff,
because Ive just been reading about a sort of Perspex train that goes over
the sea from Norway to Sweden or somewhere.
you are starting from the Northwest of England for no better reason than thats
where the best football teams are based. Here we go then.
start with VIRGIN TRAINS (www.virgintrains.co.uk) from Manchester. Ive
been three times in the past few months from Manchester to London on the 10:27am
and each time its been late (on the way to Ibiza, it was actually cancelled).
So Ill rephrase that. By next year, when all the work on the track has been
done, you will be able to set off at 10:27am.
For an extra
twenty Euros or so (thats £15 to our friends up North) you get to
go First Class and that means you have luxurious free lounges both here and at
Euston. You get free tea, coffee, ice-cold water, apples and oranges and crunchy
biscuits including delicious Scottish shortbread. You can fax from here and someone
will tell you when your trains due.
You can get a
proper drink, but you seem to have to pay and anyway the businessmen aboard seem
to think alcohol is politically incorrect, unlike in my day.
on the train theyll give you a drink or two and a baked potato with tuna
and sweet corn spooned over it and more fruit or a scrumptious chunk of poppy
seed cake to follow. If you go earlier in the day they do a very good cooked English
breakfast, but it will cost lots more for the fare.
Euston to Waterloo is effortless. Buy a one-way underground tube ticket and just
follow the signs and keep going, because before you know it youve shown
your passport and are heading for France in your smart, new EUROSTAR (www.eurostar.com)
Its the last time you need your passport
until you set off home from what only the English call the Continent.
rang home from the mobile and said Im just going into this tunnel
and the phone went dead and all the lights were on in the carriage but you couldnt
see anything out there except a bright light every few seconds and twenty minutes
later I reconnected and said: Hello, Im in France. It
was oddly exciting, like undertaking a big adventure.
no time we were in Paris and checked into a scruffy, but convenient little hotel
within a hundred metres of the Gar Du Nord, that grand, imposing railway station
youve seen lots of times in films.
It was time for
le stroll and there was a bar on the corner where you could get pastis from an
optic and in my case the first of a hundred espressos during the ensuing two weeks.
You could choose a quick trip on the Paris Metro and come up for a view of the
Eiffel Tower, but we opted for a steak and salad in the local bistro and went
to bed, excited to be on le Continong.
We each took
a thousand Euros in cash (about £640) and it was our first time to try them
out and attempt to figure the change. There were, we discovered, eight different
coins, the same as in old English money - or should that be real money?
was a small but spectacular French food market opposite our hotel, open from 08:00am.
Its been said before, but Spain reserves for fish its grandest affection
in terms of market display. Here were ribs of beef, hung for a month and cuts
of veal and sweetbreads and hand-carved hams and all manner of sausages, vegetables
still fresh with the morning dew and
the only thing I could permit in my
small case, a big bouquet garni with sticks of cinnamon tied into a bundle
of dried thyme and garnished with bay leaves. It looked like a feast all by itself
and cost a couple of Euros. Weeks later it infused a big pot of pea and ham soup
and I swear I can still catch the aroma in Meadow Lane two months since.
at the train station, we joined the late French commuters downing espressos and
water with big chocolate cakes and croissants some of which were also daubed with
apricot jam as well as being stuffed with chocolate.
clickety clack, etc. The RAILEUROPE (www.raileurope.com) train to Barcelona,
well timed at 10:30am, was equipped with what looked like comfortable, familiar
and well-worn armchairs and bags of room. One lovely old man hauled a hunk of
cheese and a penknife from his pocket and cheerfully whittled away as we tackled
a baguette filled with some sort of stringy, Parma ham. Now we were really travelling.
We had caught a train in a foreign country! Theres something different about
the train tickets from here on in. There are lots of them; one for each way and
one for upgrading to First Class and another pointing out youve got one
of each. Then theres another set for when you reach the Spanish border.
Ive gone on about this before, but you have to change trains because the
tracks widen in width. Sort of los clickety claak.
fellow passengers are interesting: a mixture of Spaniards going home and former
members of the Resistance puffing Gauloises and still looking full of intrigue.
Everybody smokes and the few American tourists on board were required to
just shut up moaning, which is what they should be told all the time anyway.
took all day, but was very pleasant. As Martins father pointed out, you
just lounge back and let the driver, er, do the driving.
was getting warmer by the hour as untidy towns and valleys and sleepy railway
stations passed by. There were televisions everywhere on the train and we watched
in awe as a map with an arrow blinked us in the right direction all the way south.
There was a film too, with Spanish dubbing on the free headphones.
really just get off one train, walk up a platform and down some stairs and onto
another, and just take in the fact that no-one speaks English anymore as you put
your cases up on a rack again. And then you spend the latter part of the afternoon
and the early evening heading towards the big city, the housing telling the countrys
I had a few magazines and even the London Evening
Standard with me, but they were forgotten as we journeyed on. It had been
Tuesday morning when I caught the 204 bus from the end of Meadow Lane and now
it was 09:00pm on Wednesday night and we were in the Ramblas with thousands of
partying holidaymakers sitting at pavement cafes with giants goblets of
sangria. It was remarkably easy to find a marble-staired hotel (about thirty
Euros a night, including a choice of pastries in the breakfast room) and lo and
behold we awoke to find we were on the next block to La Boqueria, probably the
best food market in the world.
You can wander around the
market admiring mounds of baby artichokes and strange things from the bottom of
the sea and then sit at one of the bars around the old stone building and get
them to cook them for you. Right there in front of you. An awful lot of people
seemed to be drinking liquids other than coffee whilst chain-smoking and gabbling
away ten to the dozen at a hundred miles an hour, even though they have kilos
rather than dozens and whatever it is that kilometres are.
time to visit anywhere you like in Barcelona and theres anything - and I
do mean anything - you would like to see. You can see half-finished Cathedrals
amidst some astoundingly brave architecture and city centre parks full of young
people hanging out and enjoying being alive and well. But I have to say I thought
it was a bit touristy and there were too many Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets for
me. We did find a cool, wind-kissed square with an Irish theme pub though, forgoing
the tapas bars for when we would get to Madrid and there were people drinking
pints of Guinness in the salt-tanged air. For some reason I found the English
editor of the Spanish edition of the Independent sitting at the next table and
we talked about days gone by when we would have been downing large Soberanos
Theyve moved the ferry terminus since I was
there, so you turn right at the Christopher Columbus statue and walk for what
seems like miles before clambering onto the Ibiza ferry. If only they could put
lifts on these ships! By the way, the hotel found no problem in letting us leave
our baggage there throughout the day and it was safely locked into a cupboard
until we were ready to go.
This next bit of the journey
is the worst. Its exciting when you pull out of the harbour and into the
dark, dark, coal-black sea, but after that it just all smells of oil and the cabin
was stuffy and noisy. I finished up wandering around the ship at some ungodly
hour, gulping little bottles of iced water at the rate of three an hour and stepping
over students on gap years with gaping mouths as they slept on the floor of the
The restaurant was all right though. I had
a big fish, which seemed appropriate as I was sailing over them. I think it was
a dorada and it came naturally with its head on and some ubiquitous chips and
not a bad salad.
I have no doubt it will always be a surprise
to get off a ship at 07:00am in Ibiza (by now it was Thursday) and see people
strolling home from a nightclub, but there you are and there they were, with matching
tartan hair-dos and tattoos. Im not sure about that apostrophe there,
by the way, but - like Ibiza - it just felt right. It was time for the apartment,
a shower and some daytime sleep.
All in all, I would say
it was a journey of a lifetime for most English people and Im being the
opposite of patronising, whatever that is. Its easy to get a lift to the
airport and jump on a plane to Ibiza. Lots of people spend longer than that getting
to work every morning, though I must say that had it been me I would have taken
days to get home.
But we had seen and smelled Paris and
the way they swill the gutters every morning with a strange water system that
must date back to the Ark.
We had mingled with a million
people and I have to say that travelling like this does give you some idea of
the size of that little bit of the world they call Western Europe.
the downside, I think it took a day and a night of virtually doing nothing except
looking out at the sea and to recover properly and stop hearing those diddly-clack
noises. At least we never heard anyone shouting All aboard!
a moment of madness, I had suddenly said to Rick: Why dont we go
back via Madrid. Look, its only a few inches to the left on my old School
Atlas. (Im still strangely amused by the way I used an early version
of what became the felt-tipped pen and made it say Oxpobd Schooe Atease, by
And so a week later there we were on a different
train out of Barcelona and from a different station. Easy though. You are off
the ferry in time for a stroll up the Ramblas (at least, it would have been a
gentle stroll if they hadnt moved the terminal, unless its the Ramblas
theyve moved). You can get churros and hot chocolate, that days edition
of the Independent with the changes that bloke we met last week had made (not
many, by the look of it) and have plenty of time to jump in a cab for the RailEurope
What a journey! You feel as though you are an
extra in all the off-takes for a movie. Its actually a bit like the look
of those Spaghetti Westerns. You go through sensational scenery, mountains and
cliffs and adobe villages and its as if you are watching a film through
the carriage window rather than where you really are. Ill never forget that
journey. We should have got off. We should have just got off anywhere. Next time
I will and Im sure therell be a next time.
then you get to see Madrid and it makes you wonder why you didnt just fly
there direct in the first place. Now this really is a city. I have to say I regret
going to the bullfight, but I honestly thought it was only going to be a pretend
bullfight, like not where they actually torture young bulls and then stab them
Anyway, the big flea market on the Sunday morning
was good fun too. I discovered that theres a strangely original way of queuing
at a Madrid flea market. You ask something or other in Spanish, which means Whos
next? and then wait to be served after whomsoever answers. Neat, eh? I bought
a Jimi Hendrix flag for a reggae friend of mine that I could probably have got
anywhere in the world, but I was in Madrid. Whats more? Theres a cheap,
open-topped bus that goes round and round the city and gives you a headphone commentary
in any language you like. It seemed a short way from Maine Road and Old Trafford
as we passed the legendary Real Madrid Bernabeau stadium.
was a sardine bar in the middle of all the open-air market mayhem. You got a plate
of freshly grilled sardines with a glass of sherry and thought you were already
in Heaven, never mind having to atone and die.
found for by us by a manic taxi driver who wouldnt say whatever the Spanish
is for No, was less than three hundred Euros for the entire weekend and then we
were off to Paris and back to London and back up North in Meadow Lane and it was
all a dream. Except there was this bouquet garni and a little tin of paprika
in my case and I was a wiser and happier man.
Oh, and there
was the pastis glass the French barman had given me, though Im not sure
what to put in it, and a little espresso cup and saucer the waiter insisted I
had in a little café in Madrid where the tapas were slices off a freshly
boiled ham, still steaming, with a few anchovies on the side and a couple of salted
capers if you wanted them.
I suppose I could have flown
and had memories of the oafs at the airport rather than the charming couple I
met on a train somewhere who said they were from Ohio and had come to Spain because
theyd heard there was going to be a war in Gibraltar. And I could have had
souvenirs of the little packets of salt and pepper you get with your airline chicken.
The airhostesses never offer you one of the plastic glasses to go because they
know you wouldnt them and your memories dont include the sights and
the sounds and the aromas of travelling abroad. I feel Colonial, as though Ive
been travelling rather than just going on holiday and isnt that interesting?