Trainrides are good for letting things digest a bit, letting the memories saturate, and mentally transitioning yourself to the next destination before you get there. At least that's what I think they're supposed to be about. I'm very good at the first two, but I didn't quite do that last bit on March 16th, a day dedicated entirely to trainrides as we made our way into Spain. Having just parted ways with Julien, and soon France, I was a little out of sorts. It has a lot to do with my being overly sentimental and having a hard time with goodbyes, whether it's goodbye to a city, a routine, a particular bakery, or just a good friend. In this case it was all of the above. The thing is, the basic act of going from one place to another facilitates this idea that you're forcing yourself to move on, and a kind of survival mode kicks in. And I hadn't realized at the time how terrible I am coping with all that kicking.
See, I enjoy dwelling on things, and because of this it was taking me a while to warm up to the next leg of our journey. Alex, on the other hand, whether it's by her nature or her previous travels through Europe, excelled at switching gears. She'd be the one to read up on all the things to do in the next town, suggest restaurants, find interesting bits of history, while I'd absentmindly nod away... what a handheld baby I could be! I think this dynamic in our relationship as travellers made me a lot more aware of how lonely travelling could possibly be if I were, in fact, alone. And it made me more keenly aware of those who were alone around me. However, despite our polarized circumstances, I found myself very capable of relating to their isolation as I channeled my own feelings onto paper.
Then again, maybe that's what trainrides are good for. A little isolated introspection. It's a place where it's perfectly acceptable to stare longingly out the window, the same way we all do when the vast countryside is laid out before you and you cannot help but take in brief glimpses of life as it darts by in fleeting snapshots, the grassy green fields speckled with sheep, ponds, shadows from clouds, a wall of trees planted years ago (and who planted them anyway?), endlessly stretching fencelines tipping over the horizon border, winding dirt paths, crops and crows, an old woman sitting on a bench on the crest of a hill looking down on the tracks and - for a moment - you, a collective hunk of iron, steel, plastic, and glass shattering the silence with a thundering boom and the high sun bouncing off of everything, yet in spite of it all, you pretend she sees you staring back at her in admiration of her soon-to-be-restored peace, as you continue on through sleepy towns, busy cities, alongside motorways, industrial parks, and lumberyards (and who cut them down anyway?), to a darkness that robs it all from you as you pierce a tunnel through some mountain, so that when you surface at exactly sea level, with motionless waters on either side of the train, the sun hanging low, you feel as though the train itself is gliding on the sea, and an audible sigh is perfectly acceptable.
It was after dark when we eventually crossed into Spain. As border patrol passed through our car asking for passports, Alex and I learned who the English speaking passengers were. We got to talking as we arrived in Barcelona. One girl, in particular, was a New Zealander who worked for a travel agency. Her assignment was to review transportation systems in various cities throughout Europe. She usually spent two days in each location, which meant all travelling and nothing else. She was not at all ashamed to admit in just the few minutes we knew her that she was terribly lonely and wished she could make some friends along the way. Sadly, Alex and I couldn't help. We were staying on the other side of town for just a night before taking a weekend getaway an hour and a half away. We, of course, did not flaunt these plans to the girl who looked more lost and confused by the moment, but she did leave me feeling a lot more grateful for my journey ahead with Alex, who held my hand as we sat in our cab leaving the train station.
Next: Barcelona, A Medieval Village, and Crime Fighting