26 June 2017

Through the Pyrenees

Through the Pyrenees! By train!

Yesterday, we took "The Yellow Train" (le train jaune) up, up, up into the Pyrenees! This is the mountain range that forms the border between France and Spain. The train starts out at Villefranche-de-Conflent, at an elevation of about 400 meters (~1300 feet), and climbs along cliffs and across river gorges to the highest train station in France at about 1,593 meters (5,226 feet) - yep, just under a mile high. It keeps going (and so did we) along mountain meadows to Bourg-madame, a short walk to Spain :-). Then it goes on (without us) to Letour-de-carol, where it connects with lines to Toulouse and Barcelona.

It's definitely an unwritten rule (until now, LOL) that you have to yell while in the tunnels. This worked just fine, until one long one. The 300 meter tunnel won...

Here she is (click on the photo album link to see more):
Le Train Jaune (photo album)
Starting to go up!

Sneaky Photo Op...

Even higher...

Mont-Louis (elevation 1511 meters), where a lot of people get off

Mountain meadows

Bourg-madame, where we got off for a late lunch, and a quick walk into Spain (no passport control, in case you were wondering)

Starting back (I got a little braver, and actually leaned out the window)

The highest train station in France

Sod roofed houses

More leaning!

I honestly can't believe I took this picture...

(Doesn't this road look like it's floating off into never-never land?)

Yep, took this one too!

Details and advice:
We bought our tickets well in advance (not as important in June as it is in high Summer) via the SNCF website. We ordered a single ticket from Perpignan (where we were staying), to Bourg-madame. This automatically generated tickets for Perpignan to Villefranche-de-Conflent, and the yellow train ticket to Bourg-madame (much easier than trying to find them separately).
There are no toilets on board; toilets in the stations are free (you may have to show your ticket), and you can't count on toilet paper or soap.
The train runs on one shared track, with pull-outs at certain stations. The driving end of the train changes. At Villefranche-de-Conflent, you walk all the way to the far end of the platform to get to the front.
In June (or maybe because the weather forecast was for a storm), there was only one open car; the rest were enclosed (no AC, windows open). Again, in June, it wasn't crowded - anyone who wanted the open car could fit; we wanted enclosed, and had a car all to ourselves the entire way. The best view in a closed car is to sit at the back of the driver's car - you can see straight through the front, and you have a lot of windows open to the forward side view.
The train is slow, no faster than a runner - in a short race, a sprinter would win :-D
The "view" side changes. It starts out with a view on either side, then starts climbing, with the views on the right. After Carança, it crosses a bridge, and the view is on the left. It switches again at the Planés bridge. After Mont-Louis (1511 m), it's fairly flat, with mountains and meadows on either side.

What I would do next time:
- ideally, make this a one-way trip as part of a longer voyage to Andorra
- for a one-day trip, bring a sandwich, stop at Mont-Louis, dash to the bathroom, then take the waiting train back down. This makes it a much shorter trip, and you get all the "exciting" elements. Of course, there're no mountain meadow views...

If you're like me...
And have issues with heights (getting within 3 feet of a cliff edge makes my hands and feet weak and sweaty)
And have claustrophobia,
You may very well think you'd be crazy to take this trip! (And you might be, but that's not for me to say).

What helped me (notice how many other people are involved?) :

  1. I bought the tickets in advance (I don't like to cancel a perceived commitment)
  2. I decided this would count as a challenge, issued by blogger "The Anthrotorian" to "get out of your comfort zone." OK!
  3. When I tried to use the forecasted thunderstorm to "modify" our plans, Rick sort of called me on it. We decided we could stand to get wet. (AND! It was a lovely, sunny day all the way up, and *most* of the way back!)
  4. I sat inside, in the middle. On the way up, I switched sides so I was always on the "wall" side. Going down was easier, because I knew what to expect (no, I don't have control issues; why do you ask?)
  5. Hearing the kids yell in the tunnel the first time brought me back to good Monterey-honking-in-the-tunnel memories, and provided enough fun distraction that no claustrophobia kicked in!
  6. The train was so slow, it really didn't feel very dangerous. And the first part was pretty tame, so I got used to the feeling before we hit the "exciting" bit.
  7. I thought "if not now, when?"
  8. I told myself "I'm investigating this option for when my Andorra-wish-list sister comes to visit
  9. Most of all - I told myself to trust the physics and the engineering that went into this amazing line! (Design started in 1883, and the line was finished in 1927)

1 comment:

Lindsay | The Anthrotorian Travel Blog said...

This adventure sounds amazing! I am so excited that you took my "get out of your comfort zone" challenge and made it your own. Traveling by train is an incredible experience and the views you get are unlike anything that you can see anywhere else.

Even someone who isn't afraid of heights would be unsettled by how high up you were at times!

Amazing photos! Keep having adventures!