To date the journey from Hendaye to San Sebastian (12 stops/€1.70) was short but a very necessary way to cross the border. While borders no longer exist in any practical form for most travellers within Europe, they exist in the past. Huge and slightly forbidding customs buildings crumbling aside the main roads; offices of long-forgotten customs brokers and currency exchangers offer testament to a previous existence. No more, however, for the European voyager, now the simplicity of the EuskoTren service, thoughtfully extended the one stop across the bridge for those of us needing to enter Spain.
And then the journey began. From San Sebastian to Santander (36 stops/€5.25) was, frankly dull in the most part. It is one of Spain’s few economically active regions, and as such, full of factories, chemical plants, new and extremely uninspiring apartments, and the weeping concrete of thirty-year-old crumbling buildings. With nothing quite finished, and drizzle to boot it was a touch dreary It must be said, however, that behind the industrial foreground, the backdrop of rugged peaks, wild woodlands and painted from a deep-green palate, it did trigger the odd sharp-intake of breath. The varied trainscape did, however, an instrumental exhibition of Spain’s recent past.
Then came the Euro and the binge of credit that we see collapsing today, and here it is evidenced by the endless construction of both housing stock, with a large number of “For Sale” signs in evidence and massive infrastructure projects; interesting, but barely scenic.
Frankly uninspiring, at least from our cursory, overnight glance, Santander is a major centre of banking, fishing and a regional distribution centre. After San Sebastian, its nightlife, although late as is the tradition in these parts, was dull. The tapas were boring, the cider unremarkable and more cafes than the more convivial bars that we sought. We did, however, have the first bottle (and second, one has to admit) of Albariῆo, the delicious white wine of northern Spain.
Truly stunning; verdant greens, rugged peaks, crashing rivers and tidy, solid villages offering an obviously warm welcome to the tourists who come to explore this region. It was the scenery that I had wanted; the luxury of sitting in a train, watching the world pass by and simply having time to think is precious to me, and today is proving to be wonderful.
More than time, I would imagine, to find some suitable sustenance and a decent place to sleep.