Traveling From London to Granada by Train
Granada the relaxed way, or put it another way, 'let the train take the strain'
I really enjoy travelling by train to other parts of Europe. You don't have to turn up hours before your departure time, you usually arrive in the city you're visiting and you don't have the schlep in from some out-of-the way airport.
Your luggage stays with you and, best of all in this case, getting to Granada by train is so much easier than you think! You also get to feel rather "worthy" as you can reduce your carbon footprint by not flying and taking the greener option.
London to Paris is easy, if a little boring, but the real travelling starts once you board the Francisco de Goya from Paris to Madrid. For those of you, like me, who have done the Caledonian Sleeper from Euston to Fort William, read on as this should restore your faith in "proper" train travel.
On this lovely "train hotel" you get a comfy bed and you don't get charged loads of money for the pleasure of being served something resembling a cow pat. If you travel Gran Class, like we did, the cabins are clean, spacious and (best of all) you have your own loo and shower.
No padding, (dressed in a combination of PJ's, trainers with a modesty-covering fleece) down draughty corridors in the middle of the night to have a pee on this train! Another huge plus for Gran Class is that your meals and drinks are included in the price of your train ticket.
We got a great deal by booking through the Spanish Rail Service in London who gave us a 40% discount for 2 people travelling together, sharing a cabin. If you factor in what the flights would have been, plus meals and drinks, the difference cost-wise between the train and flying was not that much.
A quick change of clothes and off we went to the dining car. A word of advice here - book the first sitting if you can and then promptly plonk yourself down and gaze out of the window or into each other's eyes.
Our train was pretty full and there were some rather disgruntled travellers (part of an English tour group) who were most miffed to have the party split into 2 separate sittings. One particularly tenacious elderly lady told us that "Hyacinth Bouquet has nothing on me" - she was right, I wouldn't have asked her to vacate her seat and wait for the second sitting! Once seated the waiters offered us Cava or Fino and this arrived promptly with some nice little nibbles.
The tables were smartly dressed with crisp white linen and the cutlery reassuringly weighty. The courses arrived nicely served and were well cooked, the wine arrived without any fuss and the scenery passed very pleasantly - all in all a very pleasurable experience.
We were left musing on how, if they can get it this right on this train, how does Scot Rail get it so badly wrong? (particularly when the scenery travelling through Scotland can be jaw-droppingly beautiful!) We ambled back to the cabin, ever-so-slightly merry and full of praise for the train and it's staff.
A restful night's sleep, a shower (large and plentiful towels) and a rather nice breakfast later and we arrived in Madrid. As we were travelling on to Granada, we opted for a taxi to the bus station. We could have chosen to go by tube to catch the connecting train to Granada, but the journey is slower, it takes longer and it's much more expensive. Plus the overnight train arrived just in time to just miss the day train down to Granada and the only other one left much later in the day. We plumped for the coach.
It was comfy, air-conditioned and played films most of the way (not that useful to us however, as neither of us speak or understand Spanish!) We passed the time "testing" each other from our Spanish phrase book and watching the temperature climb as we got nearer to our home for the next week.
We passed through some stunning scenery on the way and the roads were pretty empty. The road-side stops on the coach took in great places to eat and buy water; this journey really was pretty painless and very enjoyable.
The big pay-off was arriving in Granada. Granada is a beautiful city, stunningly situated which is (cliched though it may sound) steeped in history. We stayed in the Albaicin.
The guidebooks cautioned against wandering around this area as muggings have increased and tourists have been targeted. Personally, I think this is a great part of the city. It's atmospheric, the views of the Alhambra and the mountains are to die for and there are some great places to explore.
As with all cities, I would avoid wandering around the dark, unlit alleys at night and I wouldn't display bags and cameras prominently. If you do head back to accommodation in the city late at night, go by cab or the zippy little (very frequent) minibuses.
If you do all of this, there can be no better place to sit and watch the sun set (with a glass of something cold in your hand!) than the small square, high in the Albaicin opposite the Alhambra - it was quite simply, magical. This felt like "real" Spain.
[ Written by Fran Johnson - London ]
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