In case any of you think I'm just making up stories to have something to write about now, let me say right from the start that what you are about to read is the truth, swear to God, this really happened to me today.
Today is a hybrid, a lot of train first to San Vicente de la Bequera to get east, away from the bad weather, where I also plan to have a menu del dia, followed by a shortish cycle to Camillas to the swanky hotel to finish off and stay overnight, and be within striking distance of Santander for Sunday, with a bit more cycling.
There's only one train of the day that works, so I can't afford to miss it. Leaves Oviedo at 0757.
I can get breakfast in the hotel from 7am, which given it's just 6 euro, I assume is a coffee and a bit of bread, so good, won't take long to eat.
I set alarms on both phones to go off at 6am, as it would be a disaster to over-sleep. I'm completely sorted and packed at 6.30am. Now what do I do for 30 minutes?
Downstairs at 7am sharp and blow me, there's quite a buffet spread. Muesli with banana and yoghurt to start. Have you ever tried to eat muesli quickly? The faster you try and chew it, it seems to turn into wet concrete. Now getting stressed. From the hotel to the station appears a short distance, but it's seriously uphill, so takes ages. Get to the station and take on the escalators. Had run through test cases in the hotel room of having the panniers wrapped round my neck, rather than on the bike, but decided that could be fatal so went for the loaded bike in one go and hope for the best method. It was marginal, but successful.
I'm the first one on the platform, 30 minutes early. So far so good, remember this.
Train pulls out on time. It's pitch black, feels like the middle of the night.
Time passes, the day dawns, all going well, we're well in the middle of nowhere and suddenly all the train lights go out.
A few seconds later just a few lights come on - you know, like an emergency lighting arrangement.
Hmmm, the train is making a different sound, I'm sure it's just coasting along. It's flat at this point, so the train keeps going for a while, but I'm sure it's slowing down. You know when you feel in your boots all is not well. We broke down yesterday, it's not possible it's happening again.
We finally come to a halt. All the lights go out, there is no sound.
There's then an almighty bang under the train. Silence. Then a few lights come on, then more. Finally it's all back in action and the train sets off. What's gone on?
We seem to be doing all right, but not long after we stop at a tiny station in the middle of nowhere.
Driver comes out of his cab - I've seen this before, oh no, I can't believe it, not again!!
There's a really narrow platform to stand out on with the 1m drop to the adjacent line. It's far narrower than the length of my bike so I'm sideways on. If I lose it, and the bike is forever wanting to lose it, I'll be over the edge. Driver is with us on the platform and keeps consulting his phone. We're there about 20 minutes before a replacement train turns up for us. Me and my bike have now had so much experience swapping from broken trains we take it in our stride. New train has comfier seats and a loo - bonus!
We're off again. I decide to make use of the loo. The loo bit is fine, but you know how the sink and water for washing your hands never works as you expect, and the result is I get splashed all down my shorts with the water. I'm walking back to my seat at the other end of the train and there's this austere lady half way down giving me the glares. I wondered if she was just very unfriendly and then realised she probably thought I'd wee'd all over my shorts. Didn't have the Spanish to explain so just smiled.
We're now going through Asturias and the Picos mountains and the scenery is stunning.
We're going very slowly in a narrow cutting and come to a stop for no obvious reason. I think I can see someone walking on the track.
Camino walker fed up with walking on the motorway perhaps?
Oh no, driver comes out of his cab. This can only be bad news. OK, get ready, a tree has just fallen down on to the line. Yes, really!!
The driver goes in to the cab at the other end of the train and we start reversing, getting back to the previous station. All off!!
I'm standing there on the platform and make eye contact with the driver. There's a telepathic communication. I tell him "this is going to be great for my blog, they're never going to believe it". I receive back "you'd be far better off cycling that bike than putting it on this train".
The conductor has been making phone calls and tells everyone (except me, he uses google translate on his smartphone to communicate with me) that he's ordered taxis for everyone. I point at my bike. He gets back on his phone.
We walk down to the road and hang around. I consult google. It's over 40km to San Vicente de la Bequera, my lunch destination. If it had been 20km, I'd just pedal off, 30km, touch and go, over 40km, I've bought a ticket to San V, so you can damn well take me there.
A transit minibus taxi finally turns up. I can see immediately that while a good try, the bike's not going in.
The conductor and the taxi driver, neither of whom speak English start pointing at the bike wheels. No, I'm not taking the bike apart.
The other passengers at this point are clearly getting agitated as I'm holding up proceedings. The conductor has got his head down at my forks, because he's expecting a quick release, but there isn't one on my bike. If I'd had the nouse, I'd have just said at this point, look, I almost got to Portugal, I'll just cycle off. But instead I kind of got sucked in to the situation. Even I could see that one of the wheels was going to have to come off and neither would be good news. Went for the rear, as it had a quick release. Trouble is, that involves the chain and gearing, which is covered in black, mucky oil. We're trying to manhandle the bike and the other passengers decide for goodness sake, come on and start getting involved. As soon as each person touches the bike they get covered in black oil. Lots of expletives in Spanish and now I'm even less popular. We get the bike into the back and we're off. Just the taxi driver and the train passengers, the train driver and conductor have decided to run for it.
Have you ever been in a taxi in a foreign country and you're pretty sure the driver isn't taking you where you want to go?
It started off OK. He went on to the motorway - right, no tolls, that's why the main road is so empty - so he's making good progress, doing 130km/hour. I already knew we'd stopped about 40km short of San Vic, so this wasn't going to take long. A couple of passengers got dropped off at an earlier station, fair enough, and we're back on the motorway. I'm watching the signs. We pass a San Vic exit. Alarm bells start ringing. I'm sat right in the back with now one other lady passenger. I shout out San Vicente de la Berquera in my best Spanish. The taxi driver waves his arms around and spurts out a load of Spanish. I have no idea what he's saying. Still he must now know where I'm expecting to go. We're going further and further on the motorway. I had hoped maybe San Vic had more than one motorway exit, perhaps the station is a little out of the town. We're doing 130km/hour and heading for the Italian border.
We finally arrive at some more distant station and I check google. San Vic is now 40km in the opposite direction. I wonder if behaving like a sulking child will help. I show the taxi driver my rail ticket which says San Vic as my destination. Get a load of Spanish garbage in reply. He goes back to his phone. I'm thinking I'm losing this fight and start lifting the bike out - which involves getting covered in more black oil. I've got it out and on the ground. The driver comes over and gestures put the bike back in the taxi, saying San Vic.
More black oil. Just in case you're wondering, the other elderly lady in the taxi at the end was clearly not happy with where she was being left, but didn't go for the sulking look, so just got left. Seriously.
Finally I'm dropped off at San Vic. It's 1.15pm. An hour and half later than the train was meant to arrive. I've got the bike back in one piece and impressed myself by cleaning off all the black oil with a combination of tree leaves, of which there are many all around, as it's blowing a gale, plus finding some toilets in the coach station. So I'm ready for my menu del dia and a large beer.
San Vic is a stunning place. And it's sunny. I'm far enough east I'm away from the crap weather. at least for now.
I settle myself in for lunch. Main highlight is that the biggest bug you can imagine, looks like a mutant cross between a wasp and a bee, but it's literally the length of your finger, decides it fancies my beer. I'm trying to shoo it away, unsuccessfully. I notice all the other restaurant customers sat at tables on the terrace have got up and moved away and the waitresses have found an excuse to be inside. I'm not good with bugs, this thing looks lethal. Fortunately it's now got lots of other tables to check out so clears off. Phew!
I could have had several beers. This has proved a very stressful day and we're only at lunchtime, but sitting in the unexpected sunshine has a calming effect along with a nice pudding and cafe con leche.
The cycle to Camillas is only around 15km, so I decide to only use leg power. Thighs are willing after the pudding.
The rest of the day goes smoothly.
Thank god that's the train journeys are over. I can't believe I had so much bad luck using the trains. I did notice there was a big sign at one of the stations announcing a big project to electrify the line, part funded by guess who, yes the Brussels men.
I was thinking that as this north coast train service is so bad, and used by so few, it must be costing Renfe, the Spanish state owned operator a fortune. There must be as many staff as passengers. I remember hearing on TV when the Greek financial crisis was going on, that if everyone who used a train in Greece was given the money to take a taxi instead, however long the journey, it would cost the Greek government less. I imagine it must be the same for this line. I had thought how great it was they allowed bikes on the train at no charge. Now I understand. It's because you will probably need the bike to get to your destination. Made me wonder, if I had unloaded the panniers, could I have taken a few other passengers to where they were going. Perhaps I could have saved a damsel in distress.
I've since had a wonder thought. This line is absolutely amazing. There's countless tunnels and bridges to keep it as flat as possible and it follows the coast. Ditch the train idea and turn it into a cycle track. Could even keep all the staff employed to cycle the old folk about like Chinese rickshaws. I did think even if they didn't want to lose the trains, bicycles could still share the track as there was no chance of coming across a moving train anyway. Have to email that idea in to Brussels.
Distance today 13km
Total distance so far 1905 km