We woke up at 6 today to make sure we could get to the station for our train at 7.40. We only pitched the outer tent let night, and it was so good to be cool all night, I think we both slept really well for the first time in days! We got on the cycle track that we’d been told about last night and zipped along by the river as the sun came up over the trees and startled ducks flapped away from us across the water.
We came to a crossroads and were a bit stuck as the GPS wasn’t working, but of course, within 20 seconds a car pulled up and offered us directions to the station. Aaaah, Spain!
We got to the station in good time and spent a leisurely 15 minutes loading the bikes. Now I’m not a train geek, but I am starting to be a bike geek, and the bike rack on this train got me a bit excited!
We had been mocking the Spanish system where you can only put three bikes on a train, but once we’d settled down into the roomy comfy seats and plugged our devices into the handy armrest plug sockets it all started to make sense. As long as you book early you’re guaranteed space for your bike and you can chill out about the whole thing. Compare the UK where you never know whether you’ll be fighting for space with pushchairs and other cyclists, or having to constantly apologise while wrestling your bike past 20 standing passengers to park it unsupported near the toilet!
Our train was going from Salamanca to Madrid, which takes about 3 hours on the Media Distancia train. Anna took the chance to have a snooze while I enjoyed a bit of Don Quixote – never read it before and thought it would be a topical time! I’m really enjoying it – I always assumed it would be inaccessible to an ignoramus such as myself, but like Candide, it’s really easy to read, and is still funny several hundred years after it was written.
When we arrived in Madrid we checked our onward travel options. We wanted to end up in Lleida in Catalonia, but we assumed it would take a few journeys to get there. It turned out that there was one direct train from Madrid per day, but it left at 3.45 pm and arrived at 10.40 pm. We decided to go for it and booked our tickets (luckily there were bike spaces available), then we retired to a cafe to try and find accommodation for the evening in Lleida. It seemed there was nothing available, even the Hostelling International hostel was full – we suspected correctly that it was ANOTHER festival day. Eventually we found a cheap hotel, but with no booking options available I had to phone up and do my best in very token Spanish to book a room for the night. Even though the guy spoke little English eventually he got tired of listening to me coming out with sentences such as “Dos personas, hoy….eleven pm….Si, hoy……” and asked me to tell him in English. I was a bit unsure by the end of the conversation whether we’d booked a room or not, but we decided to hope for the best!
We went out to explore Madrid and get some food for the day. Once again we hadn’t really researched the city, so we were just biking around hoping to find somewhere nice. In the end we bought lunch from Lidl and ate it in a small park surrounded by roads. Oh well… After that we rode off and found another park to have a rest in the shade.
It was soon time to head back for the train and start the next leg of the journey. We turned up expecting more space age bike racks, but this time we were on a Regoinal train, which I think is basically a stopping service. The bike car here was just a normal carriage with fold down seats along each side. I stacked the bikes as best I could, but within five minutes of setting off I could see they were moving around a lot. I went back to check it our and realised Anna’s pannier rack had made a deep scratch into my frame. What an idiot. So I ignored the conductors previous instructions and re-arranged them separately, taking up more space but hopefully saving further paint damage.
So we spent 7 hours on a train. It was fun, we ate a lot of messy food, played cards and enjoyed the landscape. There were loads of weird hills, valleys and castles, and we occasionally had vague envy that we weren’t riding. When we saw the GPS dot eating up the miles to Catalonia though we felt justified in our choice!
We popped out into Lleida in the darkness and prepared for a ride through the city. As it turned out though the road we needed was pretty much straight, with a bus lane and went along beside the beautiful river. There were people wandering the streets and sitting at cafes and the air was cool and refreshing. The hotel was also super easy to find. It was lovely after the predicted stress!
The receptionist at the hotel was super friendly. He helped us carry both bikes, fully laden, up the stairs. I think he got more than he bargained for, he was breathing quite heavily for a few minutes after! We found out that today is s festival day, and we had booked the last available room. We saw another couple arrive just after us and get turned away. I was suddenly very glad of the nightmare phone conversation earlier on! The Receptionist said he was off for dinner, and gave us both a free can of beer! What a hero. The hotel was pretty basic but it was clean and quiet, and when we got into bed we were both out like lights after a non-active but somehow very exhausting day!