The Lusitania: Riding the Rails on the fabulous overnight train from Lisbon to Madrid

“The Lusitania”, the overnight train from Lisbon to Madrid

Overnight train, Lisbon to Madrid, Lusitania
Lisbon Sta Apolonia Station

The Train

It would help to be very small, which I most certainly am not, but I still like travelling by overnight trains. The Lusitania operates daily from Lisbon to Madrid, and although I had travelled on it before, I wanted to repeat the performance.

Sleeping compartments are a little like dolls’ houses for grown-ups; they store a remarkable amount of stuff in a terribly compact space. They offer secret compartments, hidden staircases, cunningly designed bunks and an atmosphere of intrigue; although that might be a little too much Agatha Christie.

Lusitania, Lisbon to Madrid, Overnight Train
A sleeping cabin on the Lisbon to Madrid Overnight Train

They also offer insufficient pillows, no room to turn around; a night spent wondering which direction you are travelling in and a cacophony of rattles and squeals as the train hurtles towards its destination.

It is a toss-up. One that, I will admit, I usually come down on the side of travelling by train, but as my eyes shake about in their sockets at three o’clock in the morning, I wonder. Principally what on earth I am doing here when there are perfectly good aeroplanes that will cover this distance in an hour or so.

And then, of course, I remember the hassles of getting to the airport, the loss of a reservation code and the concomitant shrug from an airline employee.

I recall the joys of security as they ponderously determine if my shoe-horn violates some unspecified regulation, the delays of the flight, the endless elbow-jousting until we land.

Then, of course, the joys of describing your suitcase to a luggage agent who promises that it will be returned soon ….. ah, the joys of flying.

I travelled last night from Lisbon to Madrid on the RENFE Trenhotel; for reference, a one way single-cabin in Gran Class costs €177, a double €240 and a simple reclining seat €35).

Lisbon to Madrid, Overnight Train, The Lusitania
The Lusitania waiting to depart from Lisbon to Madrid

Overnight Train

I should, of course, have taken the hint. When the conductor asked if I wanted the top or bottom bunk made up into my bed, I chose the top, a choice that seemed to fleetingly surprise him. It was, of course, as it always is, a flash back to boyhood, excitement and derring do.

It was also a mistake; the sort of error that parents always allow their boys to make because as everyone who thinks knows, the top bunk will sway around far more.

It is marginally better insulated from the shattering noise as the train careers through a set of points, but this is only marginally comforting as one hangs on for dear life as we take corners at suspiciously large speeds.

Suspicious only because it is a Spanish train, and I have a good memory.

Overnight Train, Lisbon to Madrid, Lusitania
Sleeping berths on The Lusitania

“Never mind”, I tell myself, “This is a great way to travel”. I wonder again which way I am going, but can’t quite figure it out without reference to the window (actually, to add to my confusion, when I awoke, we were travelling in the opposite direction to the one that we were engaged in when I fell asleep).

Lusitania, Lisbon to Madrid, Overnight Train
The Dining Car on The Lusitania

I must have slept, thought, because before I knew it the conductor was banging on the door and advising that Madrid was only thirty minutes into our future; time to figure out the shower.

I was travelling is a very nice cabin – the top of RENFE’s line; it had seen better days, but then again, so has quite a bit of Spain, so I won’t be churlish.

I will say, however, that a good scrubbing would do a power of good, as would new seat covers; or even, in this age of austerity, the application of a darning mushroom.

The shower, took some figuring out, and only by a process of elimination of what knobs and other protuberances could (or even might) do what, I found out the secret of the water supply.

Finally: Lisbon to Madrid

And so, refreshed, still a little confused, I tumbled onto the platform at Madrid’s Charmatin station at 8.30 on a Saturday morning, never a time to visit a normally busy fifteen-platform station, wondering where on earth I might find my car.

I do like trains.