Recently I flew home from a 24-day solo trip to Lisbon, Porto, Madrid, Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Seville, and Lisbon again. If you like, you can start from the beginning here.
Day Eighteen - Train from Bilbao to Madrid; Train from Madrid to Seville
Again, the scenery. The scenery astounds. We rumbled along the side of a mountain: rock on one side and a basin of cloud on the other. The hills just drop away and we see the next of clouds so low, as if still asleep, gathered there. I've noticed that on this trip and from the bus to Bilbao that the terrain is much more green here in the north. The autoroute even seemed to take us through forests. Or was that the train to San Sebastian? Oy. The days blur.
But here are mountains of rock, mostly treed with what looks like a type of pine or fir. And deep, deep, green. I don't know why I've been so surprised to see fog here in the mornings. It seems to have burned off by now (by 10) but in the early a.m. it's thick, grey.
(Train to Seville)
I am in the party car! I am sitting beside a well-dressed older gentleman who is, thankfully, not a part of the party. But the rest of the car seems to be a group of well-off, very well made-up and clothed men and women between the ages of 35 - 55 and they all know each other. The sound of their many overlapping conversations is a fugue punctuated by grace notes of women's laughter, and since they're all speaking much too quickly for me to understand it's a little nice...a wash of language - impenetrable, or at least difficult to parse into individual speakers except for the odd, louder Ola! or Que tal?! that jumps out, up and over.
Another thing that adds to the hubbub is that my car, car number 5, is right next to the bar car, car number 4. There was, as soon as the train started rolling, an unimaginable and unending stream of voyagers headed there for a little canita. I can't really see the size of the bar car from where I'm sitting, but it's starting to remind me of the ol' how many clowns can you fit into a volkswagen bit. NOT that these lovely Spanish folk resemble clowns in any way. Far too many of them are in heels.
The land got flat this morning around the 3rd hour of travel and flat it stays. We're in serious farm country now, and the soil is more exposed. You can see its terra cotta colour - some patches striped with crops, some patches just bare.
Have I mentioned that turtles live inside the Madrid Atocha train station? They were so still that at first I just thought they were statues. And then one of them moved its little flipper. The funny thing is that they perch themselves on top of other turtles, some perfectly centred - a little turtle podium - and others half-on, half-under others, some bigger, some very small, like a messy cheerleading pyramid. And every once in a while one would fall off a log. That killed a good 20 minutes of my 2-hour wait for the train.
I don't know why this is, but I always, always turn the wrong way at the very first. I had an extremely hard time navigating my way to the hostel. But the best part was, after finally finding the hostel office and paying and getting the keys, they handed me a map and told to go find the pensione. Like, away from here. The very hostel that took me nearly an hour to find. The people at the front desk just waved vaguely to the left, so off to the left I went. Of course, it wasn't just "to the left" and the map they gave me was illegible (if you're going to print a web map, please check your resolution!) and the handy map I had downloaded to my iPod? The very street I needed to find, I realized later, was mislabeled as FIXME. Amazing!
Anyway, I did finally find the room - lovely tilework, dimensions of a minumum-security prison cell - and went out into the night to eat Sevillian tapas. I was lucky to stumble across this fantastic little restaurant called Bar Europa. I figured that if a place has award-winning tapas, you should probably try them, and the Iberian ham croquettes, deer stew with apples, and hake with champagne sauce did not disappoint! Hello Seville!