Monday 3 June 2013
It was with a tinge of sadness that we packed up and left our apartment in Barcelona. As a new working week began for the locals, we caught the metro to Sants Station and boarded a train to Valencia. As usual, our experience of RENFE was absolutely seamless. The trains have smartly-dressed hostesses who wear scarves, knee-length blue skirts and short-sleeved shirts, and give out earphones for the on-board movies, which are invariably B-grade American productions dubbed into Catalan and subtitled in Spanish. Susie sensibly retreated into her iPod.
We headed south on the high-speed train, although this leg of the journey was somewhat slower at only 200 km/h. We hugged the flat, blue Mediterranean coastline with its waveless beaches, holiday resorts, caravan parks, marinas, shipping terminals, grain silos, fuel depots, chemical plants and amusement parks, with a range of high mountains following us to the west. The fact that the coast is populated for such a long way south of Barcelona is testimony to the current population of Spain—47 million and rising, or more than twice the population of Australia concentrated into an area equivalent to only 6.56% of Australia’s landmass.
At around 15:50 the mountains drew closer, and dry stone walls and olive groves increasingly featured in the vista. By 16:00 we were finally travelling through what looked like rural areas where the valleys were cultivated with vineyards and fruit trees and groves of palm trees. There were fields full of stakes bound together in bunches, and the odd ruined castle teetering atop a hill. At 16:30 we were still not far from the sea. We sped past stone houses with roofs made of orange terracotta tiles, vast high-density housing developments, marinas and seawalls. As the mountains grew nearer they revealed their rugged slopes, and occasionally the train would hurtle into the sudden darkness of a tunnel. The woman sitting across the aisle from me ate biscuits constantly, and as we approached Valencia, the scenery shifted from crumbling stone houses with caved-in roofs to giant ceramic factories and container terminals, railway marshalling yards, electricity substations, and freeway flyovers.
The train station in Valencia was a long way from our accommodation. We set out on foot in search of a metro station, but by the time we found one, we were within striking distance of the old city. The very last stage of the arrival proved to be complicated (i.e. how do you get into the building?) But with some patience—and after a well-earned cerveza in the local café—we were duly installed in our rooftop penthouse apartment. After some snooping in a diminutive local shop, I cooked dinner with the limited provisions that were available at that hour. We ate on a balcony that overlooked the rooftops of Valencia’s old city.
Ah, how sweet it is to arrive!