Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dinner in Paris, Breakfast in Barcelona

I have very fond memories of traveling by train as a child, especially overnight trains. White linen tablecloths with china and glassware in the dining cars, and “club cars” where I invariably met other children to play cards with or I-Spy as we stared out of the windows. My memories do not include gross bathrooms splattered with urine, nor miniscule compartments too small for luggage. Since I was smaller then it may be that indeed the compartments were tiny and I just didn’t notice, but I do believe the bathrooms were much cleaner. 

Train travel is still my preferred form of transport, although I will admit to being disappointed on many trains since I hold a high standard from my youth. Certainly a pet peeve of mine is the condition and lack of toilets, especially on overnight trains. Why are they gross now and not forty years ago? People frequented them just as much I am sure.

That said I am happy to report that the overnight train between Paris and Barcelona (and Madrid) is still alive and busy even with dirt-cheap flights available on low-cost airlines. I suspect that if you can afford to travel in Grand Class or First class that the compartment size and toilet facilities are better than those in tourist class.

A word of warning, if you are traveling in tourist class you will be four people to a “room”, which is the size of a large closet. Whoever designed these train cars forgot that people traveling twelve hours or more between major cities might be accompanied with large luggage. There is no luggage storage in the “rooms” or on the train car, so the four people must navigate around the luggage that takes up what limited space there is between the fold-down beds. The toilets are abysmal and inevitably at least one ends up unusable - flooded or plugged.

You might think that these complaints would make it so that I would never travel by overnight train. Not so. I still love the train the best, but simply pine for a slightly more comfortable experience. 

The Paris Barcelona route (there is a separate Paris-Madrid route) runs every night, and the timing of it is such that you can have dinner in Paris, albeit a not too late dinner, and breakfast in Barcelona. I did just that, having gone to Paris for the weekend. I had an early dinner at a favorite organic foods restaurant in the St. Germain area of Paris consisting of a wonderful salad, and then rosemary roasted organic chicken leg with vegetables. Fortunately the Phtyo-Bar is open every day from noon to 11:30 pm so it doesn’t matter what day you are traveling. My meal was followed by a lovely stroll along the Seine and by Notre Dame, then onto the Metro to take me to Gare Paris-Austerlitz for the 8:30 pm (20:30) train to Barcelona. Gare Austerlitz is not far from the Paris Grand Mosque and that is a wonderful place to have tea.

For novices to overnight train travel, you may be surprised when the steward asks you to hand over not only your ticket but also your passport or residence card - this is to avoid having to wake everyone up at 5 am for the border check. As unnerving as it is to hand over your most significant form of identification, everyone does it and there never seems to be a problem.

The train arrives at Barcelona Estacio de Franca at 8:24 am - or close to then. If Barcelona is merely a layover you will likely have to make your way to the other train station in Barcelona, Estacio Sants -- this can be done by train or metro (metro stop is the yellow line Barceloneta around the corner from the train station -take one stop to Jaume 1 for the old part).

In any case, if you are eager for breakfast you can walk or take the metro to the old part of Barcelona - El Raval and Barri Gotic areas. Stroll through La Boqueria market and pick up some delicious fresh pressed fruit juice - there is a wide variety to choose from: Kiwi, Coconut, Mango (my favorite), orange, strawberry, and more.

There are any number of cafes and restaurants to eat at near or along Las Ramblas. A fun and airy restaurant with outdoor seating just one block west of Las Ramblas, north of La Boqueria is Bar Lobo. Here you can order organic coffee or tea, fresh fruit, juices and  smoothies, as well as the “Jane Fonda” breakfast (yogurt, muesli, fruit and organic tea), the “Churchill” (bacon, eggs & cafĂ© con leche (coffee with milk)), or little sandwiches made on baguette bread. The restaurant has the feel of a loft and much of the food prep is done in the center so visible to all patrons. Bar Lobo, c/ Xucla 8 (on the corner of c/ Pintor Fortuny), Barcelona; open Monday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.

If you are not in the mood for a full on breakfast you can walk three blocks west on Pintor Fortuny and then up the street Doctor Dou to the Reykjavik Bakery - see Searching for Good Breads post. If you want non-bakery goods you can cross the street and find one of the Veritas natural food stores with produce and other groceries. Barcelona Reykjavik Bakery, Doctor Dou, 12 (Raval), open Monday to Saturday 10:00 am to 9:30 pm.

If you are indeed continuing on to Estacio Sants you can pick up the green line metro at Liceu (no switching) on Las Ramblas or the red line at Plaza Catalunya (you will need to switch at Espanya for the green line).

And enjoy being able to have dinner in Paris and breakfast in Barcelona!
Bon appetit, ¡buen apetito!

A Las Ramblas note: If you take pictures of any of the Living Statues along Las Ramblas please leave money in their containers - this is how they earn their living and some will chase you down if you don’t.

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