10 Nov 2009

Off the Rails

PRESSED against the tinny fuselage of train number two – the Metro – we darted under Paris from the elegant Gare du Nord to jagged-looking, ‘Fritz Lang’ like hell, Gare Montparnasse. Our next transport, announced by a hectic, tick-ticking departures board, would cut to Basque border town, Irun, best known for a festival which recreates the Peninsula War. With perfect timing, the TGV slipped the platform. Under disapproving glances which persisted for the full six-hour journey, we reached into Andrew’s holdall and released Taittinger from its cocoon of two cooler jackets.

After a spectacular sunset, we docked at the border. Bedraggled guards wandered our luggage through what looked like a prototype photocopier, scarcely watching the monitor. Another ushered us towards a tall old coach which smelt of moss and oil. It was ambitiously titled, ‘Sud Express’...
Crouching in our tiny, formica-coated cabin, we liberated Les Climats ’04 from Jadot alongside the remnants of sweaty Manchego. Fitful bouts of sleep were snatched between the din of buffeting tunnels, noxious Diesel fumes, cheese nightmares and the recurrent fear of falling ten feet to broken bones from the top bunk. To replace my cold sweats, Andrew was unhappy when I sated my thirst by stealing his water.
The following day, mist clung Portugal’s hills like condensed breath on a pane. Gradually, we rolled towards the capital, signalled by the sight of clean washing clinging ropes between balconies.
After 24-hours of travelling, lecture theatre discussions of ‘Social Wine Brands’, ‘Top Down Messaging’ (?) and a ‘bouncy, racy’ session moderated by Bibendum Wine’s Dan Coward, loomed large...