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Spain by Train

There's no better way to reach the nation's favourite holiday destination than by relaxing on a train, as Olga Gomez-Cash discovers.

FlightFree UK
16 Feb 2022 3 min read

Ever since I heard of Greta Thunberg sailing to New York, I have been inspired to ditch the plane.

When I discovered there was a whole flight free movement, I joined the pledge to go flight free in 2020, and in April 2020 I had planned to travel from my home in Lancashire (where I live) to my home in the southernmost tip of Spain (where I was born) by train and bus. 

I had done plenty of overland journeys in my youth, taking trains across Europe and buses from France to the UK or to visit my family in Spain. Time and energy seemed more on my side back then.

But this was by far a much (much!) longer and more significant journey. I admit I wondered if I had it in me.

For obvious reasons I couldn't take the trip (the flight free 2020 pledge was easy to keep in the end!), so by summer 2021, my plan was well formed, and overdue. My anxiety about Covid-secure travel was more than matched by my commitment to sustainability and my excitement to make it home at last, both of which had only deepened with time. I had been dreaming of this trip for a long time and my heart was totally in it.

"My commitment to sustainability had only deepened with time. I had been dreaming of this trip for a long time."

Even though a trip like this is undoubtedly more expensive than flying, I didn’t look too closely at the financial cost, because I was making a journey that would cost the earth less than a flight. I was actually more concerned about travelling overland in Covid times, and was nervous as I stood in line to show the Covid paperwork at St Pancras. I needn’t have worried: once on the fiercely-ventilated Eurostar, the familiar joy of adventure, of seeing places I love again and of discovering new ones, took over.

"The familiar joy of adventure, of seeing places I love again and of discovering new ones, took over."

By the time I had transferred to the TGV at Gare de Lyon in Paris, I was deep into the wonder and ‘thick experience’ of overland travel. I had already made a fun experience of it, staying a couple of nights with family in Birmingham and another couple of nights with a friend in London, and the transfer across Paris had brought back plenty of wonderful memories of when I used to live there. From the top deck of the TGV I could relax and watch the changing scenery go by.

My favourite moment was recognising the mountains south of Lyon. Decades before, I had been part of a group renovating a medieval tower in a little village in the mountains, and it was joyous to see this part of the world again. As the Mediterranean pines appeared, the light changed into that luminous warm glow that told me we were passing into beautiful Provence.

I was looking forward to seeing the Mediterranean and the first proof of being near home, but I was not prepared for the marvel of crossing the salt flats around Perpignan and seeing the Pyrenees glowing in sunset.

As we journeyed across northern Spain on day two, I took photos of the stations I recognised and sent them to friends who had lived or come from there – it blew us away and drove home that I was really doing this!

"The real magic of this kind of travel is finding yourself sitting next to a stranger with whom you have loads in common."

Then came the real magic of this kind of travel – finding yourself sitting next to a stranger with whom you have loads in common, and having the luxury of time for a wide-ranging, multiple-hour chat. 

Eventually we reached the olive trees and the dry rolling landscapes of my home. From Malaga I caught a bus, recognising more and more with each mile of closeness. And when I walked home along the sea front, nothing could compare to the mixture of disbelief, exhilaration, joy and relief I felt that I had done it!

"Slow travel is a journey and adventure that widens the scope of the holiday."

Slow travel is a journey and adventure that widens the scope of the holiday. I enjoyed and savoured every second on the fast, smooth, elegant European high-speed trains. Each mile was thrilling and empowering. I felt a deeper bond to the earth as I watched the landscapes change.

Whenever my friends at home told people how I had travelled there, it was fun to watch the curiosity over their faces as they asked me about cost, time, etc and as they started to believe that such a thing could be possible. 

All travel changes you. As an EU citizen living in the UK, I visit family two to three times a year. I am now determined to continue to keep my bilingual and bicultural life alive as sustainably as I can as I travel back and forth between my homes.

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