Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Trains, culture and city life

I had a lot of trouble getting a job when I was a young man. One day in the 70s after another disastrous interview I was on the milk train back from London to Halifax. It was early morning when the train made an unscheduled stop in my home town of Elland presumably waiting for the signals or somesuch. Beeching had done for Elland as an official stop. I jumped out of the train (no conductor controlled doors in those days) and despite the protestations of the British Rail staff legged it over the semi derelict platforms and pushed through a hole in the wire that I knew from my boyhood adventures. It saved me the four mile hike back from the official stop in Halifax.

Yesterday we decided to travel to Valencia for one last outing before I go back to work on Monday. We agreed to use  the train. Quite by chance we'd been in the station at Villena a couple of days before. That's where I got the idea. It was interesting looking at the routes of the slower trains that run on the wider traditional gauge of Spanish railways. The train we got from Elda for instance had come from Cartagena and had passed through Murcia, Elche and Alicante. From Elda/Petrer it went on to Villena, Xátiva, Valencia and then up through Teruel and on to Zaragoza. Plenty of interesting stops there, Plenty of places that I had never thought of as train destinations. As well as our route there was another that went up to Barcelona and a third went through Castilla La Mancha taking in Campo de Criptana (one of the places with lots of white windmills) on its way to Ciudad Real - a town I haven't visited for years.

One of the reasons that the very fast Spanish AVE trains cover the ground so quickly is not just because they can travel at over 300 kph but because they don't stop. Between Alicante and Madrid for instance, a distance of just over 420kms, they stop just twice to keep the time to around two hours and ten minutes. It adds fifteen minutes to put in another couple of stops. I think I've got used to thinking of trains as long distance services rather than considering their routes through lots of interesting towns.

Spanish trains are usually clean and prompt and generally it's allocated seats too. So even if there are suitcases all over the place on the crowded routes you still get a seat. Prices seem reasonable to me. The 290km round trip cost 31€ for full price tickets or a tad under 25 quid. Covering the 450 kms from Madrid to Cartagena in January of this year on a special ticket (no passes or cards - just an offer) cost me 15€.

So we got off the train into the modernist Estación del Norte built in 1917 and we were plunged into Valencia city. There were back packer type tourists everywhere, a variation on the tourist families of the Costa Blanca, and lots of lots of ordinary people just going about their lives. Valencia is the third largest city in Spain and even on a Saturday it was obvious that we were a long way from Culebrón.

I always like to take in an exhibition when I'm in a town. To be honest I'm not a good gallery goer. I soon get bored of looking at pictures or sculptures or installations or whatever but I just love going to galleries. Places full of ideas, the effervescence of human endeavour. Maggie suggested the Cathedral. That sounded good to me too as it's years since I've been inside. The entrance price (wasn't there a story about Jesus and people doing business in a temple?) included a surprisingly interesting audio guide despite lots of references to polychrome figures and retables. And, unlike the Monty Python crowd we didn't have any trouble finding the Holy Grail. It's stop 20 on the audio guide.

We got to a gallery too, though they are always termed museums in Spanish, with the IVAM, the Valencia Institute of Modern Art. To get there we wandered through the bohemian Barrio Carmen which is full of bars, eateries, antique clothes shops and bike hire places. We even found time to down a jug of Agua de Valencia, a sparkling wine, orange juice, gin and vodka combo before heading back to a Talgo train to whip us back to Petrer and the waiting Mini.

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