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Saturday, 1 May 2010

Into Another Country

I took my passport. But there was no check, no fanfare, and not even a sign that a national border had been crossed. That’s how it is inside the Schengen Zone, and yesterday that was how I arrived in Spain.

There are four rail crossings from Portugal into Spain, but until recently only one of them enjoyed a daytime service. A few months ago, one train each way was extended from the station near the ancient fortified town of Elvas across into Spain at Badajoz.

I presented myself in good time for the 0845 departure from Entroncamento, where the announcer insisted on pronouncing the train’s destination Portuguese style (which sounds strange). Our refurbished but very old technology railmotor spent much of the trip rolling along at a stately 40 km/h, because of the state of the track: very little passes this way.

And then we arrived at Badajoz, where the provision of lift access to the far platform, at present used only by the one train a day to and from Portugal, is surely excessive. In fact, there are only six other departures a day, half of them to Madrid, which is often the point of the railway being there in the first place.

Was it a worthwhile destination? Yes, very much so: few Brits will have Badajoz on their tourist radar, which is a pity. The old town is well kept, with the usual crop of identikit shops, but also lots of restaurants and tapas bars. There are open spaces and nicely preserved buildings. And a city wall, something that would have been essential once upon a time.

And then it was time to return, and as this was Spain, the dispatcher had to put his hat on before raising the flag-on-stick and whistling us off onto the single track. The railmotor’s engines were powered up and away we went: those engines were built in the UK, and yes, the builder went out of business decades ago.

Thoughts from home intervene, even this far from that madding crowd.

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