Three capital cities! In three days no less!! MADRID! PARIS! BERLIN!
Thanks for clicking through to read about this great journey, about an express trip across three major European capital cities.
That’s actually a little bit of click bait. This journey is EPIC, but it actually includes FOUR cities!
After 20 years in Manchester, I’m done with winter. The one winter in Berlin was enough. I now stay in Málaga in winter, and in summer I live in Berlin!
So, in spring I return to Berlin. You can follow the planning and preparation for this journey, and then the subsequent travel via #SpringMigration22 on Twitter.
I left Málaga on 4th April, and arrived in Berlin on the 7th. To some this sounds like a long time? “Why don’t you just fly, Ian?” – I can hear 90% of people saying. “The train is slow!!!” And well, I’ve been subtle in the past.
However, I must say I find the ability to ignore the climate emergency to be one of humanity’s greatest successes. Global warming/weirding has been a known thing for 20 years. Or more. And it’s only recently that I decided ‘hoping for change’ wasn’t enough. We NEED to be the change we want to see.
I’m not rich, but I’m willing to invest in this way of travelling to avoid winter, and travel on a more sustainable low-carbon mode of transport. I won’t be spending on heating in Málaga, after all! I hope to inspire people to try this way of travelling, and write about the issues. If you want to do that on this site, then I can help 🙂
So. DAY 1. Leaving Málaga… :/
Málaga to Barcelona
Distance – 923km (417 km + 506 km)
Train 1 – Renfe AVE 10:28 Málaga -> 13:09 Madrid (417km)
Train 2 – Renfe AVE 14:25 Madrid -> 17:21 Barcelona (506 km)
Cost – 65.50 Euros via Renfe.com. I searched Málaga to Madrid, rather than individual trains to achieve the fare. Generally, OuiGo is cheaper from Madrid to Barcelona.
I left Málaga having experienced a mild winter once again. Though I must admit there was dreadful weather in March, which included much-needed reservoir-filling rain, and also some crazy sky dust from Algeria, Morocco and the Sahara known as “clima” in Spain.
On the fun side, it was like being in a dystopian sci-fi film. On the downside, if we don’t figure out how to solve the climate emergency Southern Europe faces much more drought potential, and many more sand storms. We can also plant more native trees to help solve this problem in Málaga, Algeria and Morocco, and travel by low-carbon means.
CAPITAL CITY 1: MADRID.
We had time to visit the tropical gardens for lunch here. Kinda nice really, as it was a little cold today. A 5-minute walk from the platforms, you easily have time to find lunch and eat it when you have an hour or more between trains – no problemo!
3rd City Of The Day: BARCELONA.
Here I stopped over-night. And with an early departure I was very keen to stay near the station – I’m really NOT a morning person. I found a quiet AirBnB and would stay again there. I’m in for 20 minutes, before I get the metro to Barceloneta, a touristy area I missed on my way south. But I got sunset on the rooftop of the history museum – with truffles, as tapas was crazy expensive. Not surprising given the amazing views, tbh. Then I got a proper tapas meal in my favourite Barceloneta tapas bar, and a drink in another bar, before walking back through the Gothic Quarter to my AirBnB.
You could easily stay longer in Barcelona. It has much going on. But this is an express journey, with some fun on the way home to Berlin ASAP.
DAY 2: BARCELONA TO PARIS
Barcelona To Paris
Trains – 1.
Barcelona Sants to Paris Gare De Lyon
A high speed double-decker train from SNCF, but operated by Renfe in a joint agreement, which basically meant TGV quality, but Spanish food in the cafe. It’s reported this collaboration will end in December 2022. Hopefully this allows an increase of the service frequency.
Cost – 117 Euros. (Varies from 138 Euros on the day of travel, to 69 Euros in 2 months)
Distance – 831 km
The morning was basically waking up, fleeing my AirBnB to the nearest coffee place, and jumping on a bus to Barcelona Sants about 10 minutes away before finding the security queue for the train (allow at least 20 minutes for this) and jumping on. I noted I could have had an extra 10 minutes in bed as we pulled out of the station with a minor delay 😉
I’d got a regular seat. I hadn’t upgraded to first despite the length of the journey, as it cost quite a bit already. Regretted this immediately in our 2×2 seat setup where I hogged the table with laptop, whilst 2 definitely still drunk tall Dutch guys tried to wrap themselves in, talking loudly.
WORK ON A TRAIN?
YEAH. You can. Just. However, there was no internet on the Spanish side. Clearly the joint partnership could have put a little more effort into that. As soon as we crossed into France, this problem was solved. Also I felt more than a little guilty for being the only person who could use the tiny side table, with my laptop on it!
YES, the eating experience was VERY good. Though the food wasn’t the highlight, and was actually confusing. Despite the internet being SNCF’s, and pointing at their own catering website, the menu was actually Renfe’s. Which I only found by joining the queue with the view in the buffet car. BUT….oh what a view….eating lunch, looking out onto snow capped mountains from the upper deck of a TGV whilst going 300km/h….beans on toast could well have been the best meal of my life!
We arrived, not in Texas, but the original Paris! It was grey, indicating that the northern European Spring had been delayed. However, we were here. In rush hour. And I started sneezing, so some effect of Spring was here. A pit-stop in a pharmacy to get about 8 tablets of not-very-effective French antihistamine and I was off on the metro for a few stops to where my friend lived.
Then to the Seine, and with the ever present Eiffel towering above I boarded a tourist ferry with 200 Dutch school children. I was very tired, but wrapped up warm I enjoyed the boat trip around the main island of Paris.
So, I thought, let’s go and have a crepe with Eiffel. There were plenty of obvious options, but it was not so obvious that the full side-street cafes had my desired food, so I ended up at a food van under the tower.
Out again away from the tourism, I met my friend in a Corsican bar with great beer, a pizza-like food, and the guy who influenced the founding of Once Upon A Train. He’d actually been all the way to Japan by rail. I was soo tired, but it was really nice to meet Anna too.
I woke under a homage to Manchester’s music scene, and it was time to continue my journey, tired but happy.
This was a considerably longer visit than my previous one aged 8 or so, where our family spent an eternity in a traffic jam to get into the centre before having to leave after a few minutes (my memory says) to go on to the south.
I will return to Paris, but the goal here was to have fun, whilst getting to Berlin ASAP. And I’d maximised the tourism, and also had a drink/food where the locals go. Excellent.
Day 3: Paris To Berlin.
Paris To Berlin
Trains – 2
DB ICE 13:08 Paris Gare de l’Est to 16:17 Mannheim Hbf (450 km)
DB ICE 16:32 Mannheim Hbf to Berlin Hbf (482 km)
Distance – 932km (450km + 482km)
Cost – €69.90 (including 4 euro seat reservation fee, and 3 euro service fee for Omio)
Unluckily I have this habit of finding the right road, and walking along it with determination in exactly the wrong direction. This is what I had done the day before, and found Gare Du Nord, which is very close to Gare de l’Est. I really wish I could have stopped for one of the amazing-smelling curries – something unexpected in Paris. But I had been lazy, and was just about on time for my Frankfurt-bound train.
I did love how shortly after departure I was thinking a coffee would be good, and then a ‘waiter’ appeared with one. Brilliant.
I changed at Mannheim for the Berlin train. A simple change, which was literally walking to the other side of the platform. I had 25 minutes or so, so I guess I wouldn’t have had time to meet with Frankfurt friends as I had on the southbound trip and bag another known city.
The scenery was flat, and unremarkable. I chatted with a French lady opposite me, who was struggling with the mask thing. I felt happy enough wearing mine, but could understand the frustration. Generally it feels like Covid precautions are reducing, and for me, I will probably continue when it is optional, but for those struggling with masks, I am sure the end cannot come soon enough.
As we entered Germany, our high speed train became a plod-along-train. I’m not sure what this old medieval part of Germany can do, but it really needs to do something to speed up the infrastructure. Having a high speed train running at nearly half speed seems quite a waste!
Luckily for me, I got hit in the face by a bag as we were getting off the Paris train. Not the usual sort of luck! But one that happens on travels. And the person who accidentally did this turned out to be one of the chattiest people I’ve met on trains ever. Fantastic.
Approaching Berlin in the dark, the train announcer played some music to wish us on our way. Unusual, and great. I wished that there was a carriage like this all the way on the train. It would have greatly reduced the slight panic of me phoning to confirm the hotel arrival time, and them telling me they’d cancelled the reservation, “but not to worry, as there would be no charge.” The jokers. Booking dot com was no help, and I turned up tired to a friend’s and fell asleep.
So, 3 Cities In 3 Days Is Possible….By Train?
Málaga to Berlin. 3 days. Very possible. You can have fun on the way. A bit of an adventure. You can see new places, and familiar places. You can make new friends. And see more familiar faces.
You can of course do a few different variations on this, although currently stopping in Barcelona feels mandatory because of the train times. But going north you could go across to Lyon or Avignon, then pick up the Frankfurt train.
In the future, I hope that there is a night train that covers part of this route. Maybe Berlin to Paris or Lyon by day train, or all the way to Barcelona by night train, then onwards to Málaga on the high-speed. Let’s see. There are announcements about new services coming out all the time now, proving that whilst there are still issues with the train, it can be a viable way to travel and save significant amounts of carbon over flying.