Train Ride on a Blue Moon

Goodbye Spain, goodbye Hrach as Jo Magpie heads north on her own...


Today is a blue moon, which seems a fitting time to begin my journey to England. I’m cheating by taking a night train to Barcelona, to avoid hitchhiking through Spain. To me, a train is always an adventure in itself.

I kiss Hrach goodbye at the station, his face reflecting sunset hues. Naively, I had thought my discount train ticket might get me a bed on-board El Tren Hotel, but the conductor directs me past all the bed carriages to one with seats, albeit—to be honest—pretty plush ones.

Loud beeps emanate rhythmically from a seat across from mine, where a young boy sits mesmerized by a screen twice the size of his head. “Have fun!” Hrach had grinned, when he came on-board to take a look.

Fortunately, the beeps stop as El Tren Hotel glides out of the station and Granada begins to recede. The windows blacken quickly as the last daylight evaporates and I realise that my favourite train pass-time of gazing out the window will be fruitless. The last minute goodbye scotch is still buzzing gently in my veins and my thoughts turn to the bottle of sangria wedged into the top of my backpack.

People around me are mostly occupied with gazing into various sizes of screens—as I’m sure I would be if my smartphone hadn’t died in Granada’s perpetual oven-like heat. There are some exceptions: a grown woman with a magazine called Pronto that looks like it’s marketed for teenage girls; a man and woman very quietly, but insistently, arguing over a crossword book. She has a small hand fan, typical of Andalusians, that she opens and beats at her face between questions, despite this intense air-conditioning. One man reads a book.

The engine hums. The smell reminds me of the gym I took Hrach to for his birthday the day before; slightly musty. It feels cold on my skin: a feeling I have missed, yet still don’t quite welcome. I begin to worry that I’m going to be cold in my new tent in France. We slide along the rails with barely a judder. My window reflects the woman opposite and her teenagers’ magazine. Los Secretos Inconfesables de Clan Pantoja, it says, above a picture of a moody-looking 20 year old in blue denim cut-off dungarees.

I finish the last gulp of sangria in my little cup and pour another. It’s going to be a long night. At least, I hope it is. I’ve pretty much always loved trains. If I could afford them, I’d take them all the time for regular to-and-fro journeys, and save hitchhiking for adventures. When I was around 15, I would take the train between the West Country, where I lived, and Birmingham, where my mum was. I would listen to 80’s metal on my headphones: songs about running away and living a wild life of freedom. I preferred crouching in the corridor with the window open—you can’t do that now—the wind rushing in, the chugging train and clunking grinding metal as the carriages swung together and apart. Nowadays I only take the train once in a blue moon, like today.

I drain my last drop of sangria and push my seat back to get some sleep. I have a long day of hitchhiking and plenty of adventures ahead of me.