Friday, March 11, 2011

A Civilized Way to Travel

In North America, we have become dependent upon our cars to get around, but in much of the world owning  car is a luxury, or simply not really necessary. In many areas of the world people depend on trains and mass transit systems to get them around. When we researched a place to rent in Spain one of the important criteria was that we would not need to rent a car. We found that we could fly into Madrid from North America and then take a train to El Campello where the apartment was located, and from there we could get up and down the coast on local trains.

In Canada, our train system has been slowly downgraded from a National transportation system to at best a regional system that is really not essential and not used much. The trains the stations and the tracks are old, and although you can travel by train, it is not really convenient, or efficient and so people have neglected it for their cars. Here in Europe the trains are modern fast and convenient, and in many cases the preferred way of transport.

We knew we were taking the train from Madrid, so we booked a hotel that was close to the Metro and the train stations. The Train station is a massive place with a continuous stream of trains coming and going. The trains are coming in from all over the country and so the station is centrally located and people can come in on the train and walk to the Metro to get around the city easily.

We arrived at the train station in the morning, passed through a security gate where our luggage was X-rayed and we found a large waiting area full of people waiting with us for trains leading out of the city. Our train to Alicante was scheduled for exactly 9:25 am, and it we were told that the platform would be announced 20 minutes prior to departure. These times were completely accurate, and we were able to board the train about 15 minutes early.

The train was clean, modern with large comfortable seats with folding trays, foot rests and audio outlets. The car was full and people settled in all around us. The lady across from us fell asleep, the young woman behind her pulled out a stack of work sheets and started marking them with a red pen (Those teachers are the same all over the world), a young man across the isle set up his computer and started working while listening to music, and the two fellows behind us started chatting in Spanish. These people obviously are used to this way to travel.

The train pulled out of the station at exactly 9:25, and after slowly making it's way out of the city, sped up to 250 kph, smoothly and quietly. We were given a pair of earphones, and a movie started on the TV monitor in the ceiling. You could also choose to listen to various choices in music if you did not want to watch the movie (In Spanish only). There was a car behind us with a little cafe which was constantly full of people having a coffee or a snack. There was a washroom in each car and a little sign in the front of the car informed you if it was occupied. There was a nice area to store your luggage and plenty of room over your seat for smaller items.

Travelling by train is different than flying or driving. In a plane you get scenery for a few minutes as you take off or land, but looking at the top of clouds is rather boring after a bit. In your car you get lots of scenery, but you are strapped into a small area, and cannot move around easily. As well you have to be constantly watching for signs and other vehicles even if you are the passenger. In the train, someone else is driving and you can relax. It is quiet and comfortable; I spent my time paying some attention to the movie while watching the Spanish country side go by, while Regis listened to music and slept. We were following the highway for a while and rapidly passed the cars and trucks using this way to move around Spain.

The ride from Madrid to Alicante took 3 hours and 10 minutes exactly. We stopped at four stations along the way where passengers quickly got off and on and the train quickly continued on it's way. We were scheduled to arrive at 12:35 and the train actually stopped for 6 minutes outside of the city so that we pulled into the station at exactly 12:35. The teacher packed up her papers, the napping lady woke up,  stretched and put on her jacket, the young man put away his computer and his Iphone, and the two guys behind up continued chatting in Spanish. We arrived in Alicante relaxed and rested and the people who owned the apartment were waiting for us in the station to drive us to El Campello about 20 minutes away. As we crammed our luggage into their trunk, belted our seatbelts and pulled out into a traffic jam through road construction, it was really easy to realize that this train system really is a very civilized way to travel.    

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