Coffee In Catalonia Part 4: The Englishman That Went Up A Hill Then Got On Some Fast Trains

The end was upon us and we knew it… We had just a few hours left in Barcelona and although our holiday would soon be over at least our trip would continue when we headed over the border to France that afternoon on a super speedy AVE train.

We started the morning by returning to Granja La Pasarella for churros, coffee and their ridiculously good hot chocolate to fuel up for the trek up to the top of Montjuïc.
After finishing our healthy breakfast of sugar and chocolate we got the metro to Paral-lel followed by the funicular to Parc de Montjuïc and finally the cable car up to the castle at the summit.
The view from the cable car was stunning in the mid-day sun, with such amazing weather we got to enjoy views over Barcelona from the opposite side of the city to Park Guell the previous evening.
Looking back at the neo-classical styled Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.
And the Gaudi inspired Montjuïc Communications Tower, part of the 1992 Olympic complex.

Despite it being October the Barcelona sun was beating down hard on us from up on the hill top.

The trip downhill was not without incident as I got us horribly lost trying to find a restaurant from our guide book that didn’t seem to exist in real life. We decided to call it quits and instead returned to the neighbourhood near our hotel for lunch. In the end this proved to be an inspired choice as we found a small tapas bar, Taberna A Lareira which included a menu featuring a frighteningly literal English translation of the dishes.

We settled down and luckily for us Anne-So’s Spanish skills kicked in and she got us up and running with our order.
We were soon served up some icy cold drinks, in fact possibly the iciest, coldest drinks we’d ever seen, it was like they’d read our minds.
Then came some olives floating deliciously in their salty brine.
A steaming hot plate of patatas bravas with a spicy sauce tempered by the creamy aioli.
A portion of crisp fried croquettes.
Some deliciously piquant chorizo that went down so well I only managed to photograph the final piece!
And finally, enough crisp fried chicken wings to fill up till dinner.
Before you ask, of course we rounded off the meal with one last perfect cup of coffee in Catalonia!

We headed back to the hotel to check out which thankfully was a lot friendlier than our check in experience. After my mishap with the suitcase and its now broken wheel we decided to take a taxi to Sants station for our onward train journey to France.

Train: RENFE AVE 34333
Depart: Barcelona Sants 16:15
Arrive: Figueres-Vilafant
Seats: Coach 8, Seats 5A & 5B (Turista – Standard Class)
Locomotive: AVE Class 103 (Siemens Velaro – Top Speed 310 km/h)

Following a brief conversation with our taxi driver we pulled into Sants Station and looked for our platform. It was easy to find and after a quick security check which involved our bags being put through x-ray scanners we waited for boarding. A short while later we had our tickets checked and headed down to the platform awaiting our train.

It was finally time to get on board and I was pleasantly surprised by my first impressions of the train’s interior.

We quickly found luggage space and our reserved seats then watched the train fill up. All the announcements onboard were in Catalan, Spanish, French and English and there were digital displays as well as an eye-catching Concorde style speedometer on view. Thankfully we did not breach the speed of sound but the train was certainly fast.

As we slowly accelerated out of town and began to whizz through the country side I really enjoyed the view, though sadly just an hour later this part of the journey came to an end.

Overall I found the seats comfortable, leg room decent and I felt that the AVE more than held its own against any of the TGV variants I’ve tried. Though it hurts me to say it, maybe the AVE was even a little bit nicer. I don’t think either hold up to my gold standard of high speed train, the Italo AGV in Italy and Japan’s iconic N700 Shinkansen Bullet Train.

Train: TGV 9706
Depart: Figueres-Vilafant 17:20
Arrive: Montpellier Saint Roch
Seats: Coach 18, Seats 95 & 96 (Standard Class)
Locomotive: TGV Duplex (Top Speed 320 km/h)

I had loaded up some music on my phone and with my headphones plugged in I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

After getting out at Figueres we walked down to the far end of the platform and onward again to the far end of the Duplex TGV that would carry us over the border and in to France. We took our window seat on the near empty upper deck which was the perfect spot to see the sunset from. I hope the videos below offer you a glimpse of the majestic view as we sped along the coast, albeit the youngest passenger in our carriage didn’t seem particularly impressed!

The experience was absolutely outstanding and certainly lived up to its billing as one of Europe’s great rail journeys.

Day had turned to night when we finally arrived two hours later into Montpellier Saint-Roch where we would change onto another TGV for the final leg of our journey to Valence TGV.

Train: TGV 6856
Depart: Montpellier Saint-Roch 20:00
Arrive: Valence TGV 21:15
Seats: Coach 6, Seats 37 & 38 (Standard Class)
Locomotive: TGV Réseau (Top Speed 320km/h)

We had a short wait of around forty minutes which thanks to delays became an hour, so we grabbed a sandwich and a drink from Paul for a make shift dinner. It still mystifies me that somehow the food from a Paul in France always tastes nicer than the equivalent in the UK. I enjoyed a chicken curry baguette in honour of our upcoming trip to India in 2014.

We then went down to the platform to wait for our train.

This time we were on one of the older style single deck TGVs that would speed us the final hour and a quarter to Valence where it was just a short drive to my in-law’s house.

To be honest the next few days were spent doing very little of note apart from a visit to a small, typically picturesque French village of Dieulefit an hours drive from Valence.

Our first port of call was lunch and we visited a restaurant called La Barigoule. I thought that the food was amazing and made for a nice contrast from the Spanish food we’d enjoyed earlier in the week.

I found Dieulefit was a beautiful place to spend an hour or two before we drove back to Valence even if there wasn’t exactly much to see or do. The artist’s residence with its mosaic covered exterior certainly brought back memories of Barcelona from earlier in the week. I guess we couldn’t escape that Mordernisme feeling.

It was finally time to return home to the UK and like the previous days at the in-laws I’m certain this one started with some kind of argument about absolutely nothing. Though perhaps on that particular morning it was as least justified because the rain had leaked through our bedroom ceiling during the night and on to our thankfully closed suitcase. The weather that morning was a wonderful mix of high winds and torrential rain and with the chance of any respite in the conditions unlikely we decided it was safer to take the TGV to Lyon Airport for our flight home rather than be driven. The downside would be having to kill around four hours once we got there.

Train: TGV TBC
Depart: Valence Ville
Arrive: Lyon St Exupery
Seats: Carriage 8, Seats Unknown
Locomotive: TGV Réseau (Top Speed 320km/h)

As mentioned in previous reports the fare is actually quite high on this route, though thanks to the speed of the TGV and the distance covered it is perhaps not as poor value as it initially feels.

For once we were actually glad that our train was delayed because it ate up some time that would have otherwise been spent doing very little at the airport.

On board we had to store our luggage in the goods section of the train as all the racks were full, thankfully neither of our cases fell or broke open. In what had now become something of a long running joke someone was also sat in our seats, though thankfully he soon vanished until just prior to our arrival at the airport. Before we knew it we had entered the giant armadillo masquerading as a train station that is Lyon St Exupery and clambered up through the magnificent station concourse to departures.

We looked to see if we could change our ticket for one on an earlier flight as it was still checking in when we arrived but after consulting with the ticket desk the kind lady said that for the cost of the change fee it was not worth our money as it was about ten times more than we paid for our ticket. Thankfully since BA changed their ticketing policy a few years ago all but the cheapest hand baggage only fares on short-haul flights allow for same day changes.

Instead of paying over the odds to change our tickets we decided to patrol the airport in search of paying over the odds for our food instead. With the fancy looking Atelier des 2 Rives restaurant closed on weekends and everywhere else offering a sandwich it was a toss-up between Pizza Hut and OL Brasserie (As in Olympic Lyonais the football team).

In the end we decided to try a football themed lunch.
I went for a set menu featuring a speciality Andouillette AAAAA grade sausage made out of various bits of pig insides with a tangy mustard sauce and some chips.
Washed down with a beer and finished off with an espresso it was pretty pleasant as far as airport fare went.

Anne-So had a football themed salad which clearly didn’t make the grade to be photographed!

With an hour to kill before check in opened we found a seat in the baking summer heat that left us wondering what happened to the storm? Our thoughts concluded that it was entirely localised over my in-law’s house. I hooked my iPad up to the WiFi and Anne-So continued to read the excellent book Quiet, about being an introvert in a society that loves the opposite.

Flight: BA363 Lyon to London
Depart: LYS 19:20
Arrive: LHR 20:00
Seats: 5A and 5B (Euro Traveller – Economy)
Aircraft: Airbus A319-200 (G-DBCC First Flight 10/03/2004)

Soon enough it was time to check in and for once there was hardly a queue. Security at this time of day was often a bit of a scrum as this flight to London was scheduled shortly after a couple of flights to North Africa that were often filled with every semi-frequent travellers favourite stereotypical nightmare combination of families containing young children and people who have probably not passed airport security before. Despite an idiotic man (who judging by his accent and passport cover was most likely on our flight) doing his best to delay all and everyone with his pointless complaining we quickly passed through the necessary formalities. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to fly on a regular basis and it takes more than one or two trips to be familiar with the ever changing rules of the airport.

At our time of travel the contract lounge, Salon Hegoya no longer took Priority Pass and my CX Gold status would not get us in either so we just sat by the gate and waited. Not that having no lounge access was necessarily a bad thing. The only real differences since the lounge changed from the minuscule Salon Mont Blanc to the Salon Hegoya was a more convenient move from land side to air side and a slight increase in the volume of food on offer. I have to say from previous visits to these lounges we didn’t really feel we were missing out.

As we sat waiting at the gate our flight posted its customary delay. This along side the occupied seats on the TGV have become regular rituals on our trips to France. As our scheduled boarding time came and went people were becoming increasingly irritable and one confused lady who thought she was late tried to storm her way down the jet bridge before boarding was called. By the time we were finally ready to board it was like someone taking a red flag to wave a bull into a china shop as the crowd surged forward at the mere mention of priority boarding. The poor gate agents did their best, trying but failing to send back those not entitled as everyone piled in towards the gate entrance.

We were soon on board our aircraft for the short hop over the channel and thankfully the usual friendly BA service kicked in.

With a G & T in one hand and a salty, fatty wrap in the other, time flew by and although they were never really necessary the service elements that have now been removed from BA flights in short haul economy definitely helped eat up the duration of these flights. We were soon coming into land at Heathrow where our aircraft made a short taxi over to the thankfully now defunct Terminal 1 where we faced the long, long walk from plane to border controls and the zoo that was just about to open at baggage reclaim. After about fifteen minutes of waiting with no sign of the baggage from our flight, I remarked to Anne-So, “I wonder if someone’s pulled a sickie?” Sure enough ten minutes later a faux apologetic announcement about staff shortages was made and told us our baggage would be another twenty minutes or so. With nothing to do but stare aimlessly at the monitors and wait we did just that and some forty-five minutes or so after arriving in the baggage hall the luggage from our flight started to show up.

We were soon on our way to the Heathrow Express platform for our overpriced journey home into West London, but even the usually reliable HEX was late that evening. The platform gradually filled up, the train got further and further away and when it did eventually turn up we were told only one half would be working, the half already stuffed with passengers and their luggage from Terminal 5. Luckily at the last minute someone took pity on us and allowed the front half of the train to be used. We sprinted down the platform and I forcefully dragged our poor broken case behind me happily finding a nice empty refurbished carriage on the Heathrow Express bound for London Paddington.

Fifteen minutes later we pulled into Paddington and a short bus journey later we were finally home. It was late, we were both tired and definitely not at all ready for work the next day!

Final Thoughts

We loved our time in Barcelona and having had the time to reflect deeply on why that was I have one simple conclusion, the staggeringly trippy Modernisme architecture. It’s the theme that ties this trip report to my favourite Barcelona movies. Whether you’re taking selfies from the top of La Pedrera, seeking answers from God at the Sagrada Família or have just accidentally escaped from yourself into one of Gaudi’s beautiful houses there is no way that you won’t feel inspired. Art may not always imitate life that imitates art that imitates life. You may not feel the deep need to take on someone else’s identity and you probably won’t fall deeply in love with an adulterous artist whilst walking through Park Güell. I do think that you’ll probably still have a whale of a time though and if Modernisme is not your thing there’s always the delicious food, a stroll along the golden sands or that gorgeous bright sun that shines its warming rays well into the Autumn months. Whether your fly or take the train it’s a cheap and easy city to reach from the UK (oh, and the coffee is not bad either).


Coffee In Catalonia

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