Bad luck.  I seriously had the strangest two days getting from Vancouver to Lisbon.  Partly my fault, if truth be told.

I really thought I had booked a Vancouver, BC train to Seattle, which was my reality, but reality reality told me I had booked a Vancouver, Washington train.  Whoops.  All that meant was it left me literally an hour or so to make it to Seatac and board my American Airlines (AA) flight to Dallas.

Once to Dallas, I had a long stopover, and thought, hey – work time!  I’ll get tons done.  DFW doesn’t offer  wi-fi, unless you pay and the arctic air-conditioning nearly left my extremities unusable. The only way I could warm up was by going outside!  Weirdness.

After muttering expletives under my breath about the lack of wi-fi, I noticed an Ethernet outlet at the business work stations, so I caved in and bought an Ethernet  cable for the free hardwire Internet.  It was glorious.  Travelers – get one of these!  But, no free wi-fi?  Dallas, stop remaking the damn show and come back to the 21st century.

By the time I hit London, I had planned to do some errands and pick up our Wi-Fi Pocket Devices courtesy of tep.  But, noooo, the universe had other plans for me.  I went to grab my backpack and noticed the top compartment was gaping open, mocking me.  They at least left me one item – a quick dry towel.  I have no idea if I was officially robbed and should be enraged or it was simply an accident.

Cynicism calls for the former, but nevertheless, I then had to stand in line at the AA baggage counter and complete a claim.  Lost: Steripen, plus filter.  A Kindle cord I bought for Michael (he asked me to), all my converter plugs, batteries… I could go on.  So, baby travelers, take it from this baby traveler, always secure the top with a small padlock.

Let’s call it done and luckily I can drink water from the tap in Europe, when I make it to Southeast Asia, I’ll worry about it then.  Onwards!

Day One

Before I get into Day One, I have a small comment on Lisbon: GOOOOOO!

Absolutely loved it!

The hostel! Thanks to HostelBookers.

Rossio Patio Hostel - a working train station!

Chill out area - Rossio Patio Hostel

The architecture!

Jeronimos Monastery

The food!

Pastéis de nata or by the other name, pastéis de belem

The people I was with.

My train crew!

There will be more on Lisbon, but it was a fortuitous start and indicator to let the past two days drip off me.

If you’ve been reading the UTC website, and older posts, you’ll know by now I planned to target Seville for flamenco.

Really, the Eurail pass is ridiculously easy.  You can go to any train station, inquire and book.  The only thing you might pay for is a reservation, which is anywhere from €7 to €9.  An overnight train offers sleeping berths go for about €30.

I booked my first train from Lisbon to Madrid (long haul), which connects to Seville the next morning.

Remember when I whined about needing sleep?  I booked a 2nd class seat ticket for Lisbon to Madrid, an 11-hour time frame.

What the hell, try it right?  Can’t be any different than sleeping on a bus or airplane, both I’ve done often.

Yeah, until you factor in the annoying guy who watches a movie full blast on his laptop without wearing earphones, or the doors between cars sliding back and forth as people enter/exit the washrooms.

Even earplugs didn’t help as much as I guessed.  The seats are definitely not comfortable with a hard plastic armrest jutting into my back.  I probably slept a total of 3 hours.

Meanwhile, Nora and Michael were bundling up comfortably in their berths.  Bastards.

If you’ve read my antics for a while, washrooms are my life.  The bladder calls, I go. Often.  Every hour.

I’ll refrain from posting a pic of the bathroom on this train, but it was like someone brought an elephant inside and offered a year’s supply of peanuts if it sprayed water everywhere.  Was it even water?? Dare I dream?

By 9 am of the second day, bleary-eyed and barely conscious, I re-met up with Nora, who intended to take that train and Michael, who didn’t. I almost felt sorry for my fearless leader.  Almost.  I mean, the point is to kick someone’s arse here.  We shared breakfast, coffee and stories from the previous night’s journey.

Day Two

Things improved on Day Two, as my train from Madrid to Seville was shorter, the seats more comfortable and the scenery left me breathless, aching for more.

The train I took from Madrid to Seville is the AVE high-speed line.  I sank in the plush seats; there was a movie on the overhead television, solid worktables and the pièce de résistance  for me?  The washroom.

Automatic water spouts.

Intelligent hand dryers.

The décor?  A wooden seat!

It felt luxurious.  It didn’t smell.  Best of all, no pools of suspect water.

Sure, laugh.  But, you can assess a lot about a country by its washrooms.

The only glitch I’m discovering as I go along has to do with overhead luggage storage.  My pack doesn’t look far away in this pic, but trust, I had to ask a Spanish man to help me.  Same case on the Lisbon to Madrid train.

I’m a shrimp, can’t reach them! Kind of frustrating.

Andalusia  (cover your children’s ears, not suitable for work) is the FUCKING bomb.  I’ve been attracted to Spain for years, probably in a former life, so thus far the south is fulfilling all my unfounded desires.

I got my beer.

Tapas.

Most relevant, I got my flamenco at La Carboneria.

Then I walked the streets of Triana late at night and felt the stirrings of infatuation.  The narrow, cobble stone streets that seem to lead nowhere, until you gaze up and drink in the  lines of the buildings.  Rich, baroque layers, which an eager observer can grab easily in Seville.  The small, picturesque windows, that don’t feel utilitarian, but a set of prettily dressed eyes, staring back with curiosity and wonder.  I wanted to pause under the gaslights, mold my body against a building, make love to the entire city.

Whatever gripes you have about Spain, Europe in general, this continent is omnipresent with beauty, the kind that invokes more questions than answers, it has to influence the people and culture around it.  And it does.  All the way from the cute little doges who come up to greet me, down to the sophisticated style of the citizens.

I warned on my Facebook that once I got here, I might not leave.

As sad as I am to go, the Challenge couldn’t have started any more perfectly.  Next up: a short stop in Barcelona and then Nice!

Photo of Santa Apolónia station in Lisbon:  Feliciano Guimarães

Photo of Ultimate Train Challenge team: Célia Pedroso