Day 17 – from France into Spain, during a transport strike

Avignon Centre – Perpignan – Perpignan Bus Station – Barcelona Nord Bus Station – Barcelona Arc de Triomf – Barcelona Sants -Madrid Puerta De Atocha

I was up early for another look around Avignon. The morning light is gorgeous, even so early in the year and as the mist slowly burned, off the colours in the town changed with it. I headed for the high ground by the Cathedral for a look down to the bridge and river, then went down through one of the turrets to see it all from ground level.

I walked around the town for a while. The place was just waking up, nothing seems to happen in a hurry here. Some of the food on offer looked wonderful, but I resisted the temptation, just as I had resisted the offer of three different types of cake at breakfast.

A thing I’ve noticed is the number of streets and squares in Avignon named after famous people, but who have no obvious connection with the town. I’ve put street names onto the captions where I can. I’d posted one yesterday named after Edmond Halley. There are more in the next set.

I’m maybe going a bit over the top on photos of Avignon, really the loveliest place I’ve been to in a very long time. The fifth photo in the next set is of the Halles d’Avignon, a market seemingly with a garden growing up the front wall. What this picture does not show is that it is a multi-storey car park. Very well done.

All to soon it was time to leave, so I grabbed my bags and headed for the station. When I got onto my first train I noticed something odd. It had been marked up correctly on the boards as going to Portbou, which is marginally over the border into Spain. From there I would swap to a local RENFE service to Barcelona. However on the train itself, the sign said it went to Perpignan. I asked the train manager when she came past, and she told me that because of the transport strike that day, we would have to swap to a bus to cross the border.

This part of the journey passes through Le Parc naturel régional de la Narbonnaise en Méditerranée a stunning coastal lowland area where the railway picks its way between lakes on both sides, and sometimes goes along the edge of the beach. The town of Port-la-Nouvelle is passed in the middle of this section. I saw several groups of storks, apparently the word is a “mustering” of storks (and yes I looked it up.) I had to increase the contrast on the photo to show them, but this was only one of maybe a dozen groups.

At Perpignan we all disembarked and those who were going into Spain headed off to find the coach. Three problems were immediately obvious. Firstly there was no coach for over 2 hours, secondly there were far more people than would fit onto a coach, and thirdly it was only going to the last station in France, not the first one in Spain, so a taxi would be needed to get over the border. I wasn’t going to give up that easily and headed out of the station to the adjacent bus station. There I found that Flixbus run regular coaches to Barcelona. For peace of mind I forked out £18 for the 2½ hour journey, and was back on my way within half an hour.

The coach stopped at two service areas on the way. Once, briefly, I think to change crew and the other for nearly half an hour for people to stretch their legs while they topped up with fuel. We were about 20 minutes late into Barcelona, but there was still a chance to make the last leg of the journey.

It seems that local RENFE services in Barcelona are not covered by my Interrail pass so I bought a €2.40 ticket to Sants. Once there I needed to make a reservation to get onto the train to Madrid. For some reason this can only be done in person, not online like every other country. After waiting half an hour in the queue, I’d missed the 7:30pm train but just about made the 8pm. There was a surcharge as it is a premium journey – tickets normally cost over €110 for walk up passengers – so the €20 reservation didn’t sound so bad after all. I was just glad to have made it.

My first job once I was on the train was to book a hotel. How I would have done this trip without mobile technology I’ve no idea! As I was confirming the booking a member of the train crew asked whether I would like dinner! On this route part of the deal is complimentary food and drink. I’ve been offered a bottle of water or a hot drink on a few trains but never anything more, and this was quite delicious, and frankly just what I needed as with all the disruption earlier I’d eaten very little all day.

Complimentary dinner with wine on Barcelona - Madrid service
Complimentary dinner with wine on Barcelona – Madrid service

After this a plate of chocolates was brought around and I was asked if I’d like a second ¼ bottle of wine. It would be rude to refuse, obviously!

We arrived in Madrid just before 11:30pm and I wandered up to my hotel. A difficult day but I’m properly back on track now, though a day later than originally planned.

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1 Comment

  1. Celia Lyon

    Sounds like a challenging day Steve. You’re certainly covering the miles. What’s the weather like, is it hot yet??

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