Where we had a great night in Madrid, we changed train and boarded a new and bigger Connecting Europe Express, had a citizens dialogue on board, and arrived in Bordeaux.
Madrid did not disappoint, as usual. What a beautiful city with a beautiful vibe. I am amazed each time I end up visiting it.
Despite the early rise waiting for us, we managed to walk around the city centre, check out the magnificent Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol, a huge hub for all weekend party-goers. Most importantly, we received a suggestion for a really great place for some special tapas and Spanish wine. After two days full of events, speeches, and a tight schedule it was really nice to be only with a couple of people having a relaxed drink and a laugh. We all need to charge the batteries for the long journey ahead. If you are wondering about the name and address of the place… well get in touch and I’ll tell you personally 😉
Then after a very short night sleep, at 6 AM sharp, off we go. We say goodbye to Madrid and we ride towards the border with France. In Hendaye, a crucial moment of the whole journey is taking place. We are changing the train.
Indeed, the Connecting Europe Express isn’t one train only, it is three. The reason is that the whole of the EU does not make use of the same gauge, which is the spacing of the rails on a railway track. In other words, trains don’t run on the same measure of rails. There are three gauges the Connecting Europe Express will ride on: the Iberian which we have just left, covering Portugal and Spain; the so-called standard, covering most of EU countries; and the Baltic.
The different measure of gauges is a historical heritage of course. The standardization by most European countries already happened a long time ago, but not for all of them. It goes without saying that the final goal is to gradually upgrade the Iberian and Baltic networks to the standard gauge. That would definitely make it much easier to travel back and forth between these geographical areas, and literally connect more European countries.
The second Connecting Europe Express train is super exciting. It has more coaches than the first one, and they are all there for different purposes.
There’s a beautiful conference coach, where, right as I speak, as we approach Bordeaux, a citizen’s dialogue is taking place. Lots of young guys and girls, all between 18 and 35 years old, are discussing among themselves and with some of the experts on the train about the future of rail, its sustainability and desirability as a means of transport. Citizens can and do board the Connecting Europe Express, although not by buying a ticket from the station. It is a kind of a special ride after all.
Then we have a couple of passengers coaches. The first, accessible by people with reduced mobility, was provided by DB, Germany. The other one, provided by SBB from Switzerland, has an incredible glass view. I am looking forward to spending time there, look at the horizon as I did so many times in the past for other train travels, and take pictures and short videos of whatever I will see rolling in front of my eyes while crossing all 26 EU countries.
By the way, from today’s journey, I have one word for you: San Sebastian! Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to take a photo, you’ll have to go and see for yourself 😉
FS from Italy provided the dining room and bar coach. Nothing fancy, but hey, I am Italian, I would have not agreed to this if there wasn’t at least the possibility to get some coffee on the train. And who better than FS could take care of this.
At the head of the train, there is an exhibition coach, kindly provided by MAV, Hungary. Instead, the last one is a sleeping coach for those few like myself that are going through the whole journey. OBB from Austria organized this.
Beautiful private cabins, they are certainly a place where to sleep on the 5 overnight journeys that will take place later on in this trip. However, it is also a small private space where I can go to hide, take a nap, or just be on my own from time to time. Very much needed on such a long and socially committing journey.
So, perhaps to me the most striking feature of this second Connecting Europe Express is that it is the result of the cooperation of several companies and many other players of the railway sector around Europe. A real European feat and a perfect match for the spirit of this journey.
Now we are really set. It feels like the real journey is starting today. Tomorrow, in only one day, we’ll get to my country, Italy, in Turin.