Wednesday, 9 April 2008

London to Morocco by train

To celebrate the end of the 90@90 project, my partner and I decided a holiday was in order. We wanted to go somewhere far and interesting (translate: hot and sunny!) but I’ve been very aware of my ever growing tally of air miles as of late and with two international weddings in the next year, I just can’t bring myself to allow all my efforts at reducing my carbon footprint to be blown away on another flight. It was going to have to be by train.

We decided on Morocco as destination of choice and laughed upon discovering it’s actually cheaper to take trains and boats all the way to Marrakech than it is to the Scottish highlands!! Gordon, are you listening to this…?

Seat 61 website has already done all the hard work, train travel to (almost) anywhere from London, you just need to log on and sort out your itinerary. It takes 48 hours from central London to Marrakech, but we decided to draw it out over a few days to make the most of our holiday and enjoy not just one destination, but 3 or 4. We started out on the early train from the shiny new St Pancras station (London to Paris is 2:15 min, 186mph, or whatever the new marketing slogan is). We spent one day walking around Paris, enjoying the springtime air, drinking wine and watching people walk by our pavement bistro before catching the night train to Madrid.

Waking up in a moving train and watching the Spanish landscape passing by is a good way to wake up! Since neither of us had been to Madrid, we took two days to explore the city’s museums, gardens and plazas before boarding a morning train to Algeciras (caught out by the clocks moving forward and almost missed the train - my fault!). Upon arriving in Algeciras we made our way straight to the port and bought tickets for the next ferry to Tangier. Watching Morocco approach in the sunny distance was one of the highlights of the trip. We just kept saying “I can’t believe we’ve come all the way from London over land – and now water – and there’s North Africa!”

We actually arrived in Tangier ahead of schedule and because of this, had the opportunity to explore the coast for the afternoon before making our way to the train station for the final leg of our journey to Marrakech. This night train had a four bed cabin which we shared with a friendly German couple. Another night sleeping on the train meant another morning waking up to different landscape passing us by.

The four days we spent in Morocco, (including Tangier, Marrakech and a trek in the Atlas Mountains) was meant to be the “far and interesting” part of the trip, but by the time we arrived, we had already explored so many exciting places that our final destination was actually just one of many memorable places we travelled through. There are more than just carbon benefits to overland travel, you get to eat many different types of wonderful food, watch landscapes unfold around you and meet fascinating people, while actually enjoying the time it takes to reach your final destination.

We decided to fly back to London for two reasons; firstly, we were running out of annual leave days, and secondly, this was an experimental trip and we didn’t know if it would actually work, so we didn’t want to be committed to train both ways in case it was a disaster. But it wasn’t, far from it. The flight home was the worst part of the whole trip. Queues for check-in, passport control, small confined spaces with people behind you kicking your seat, delays on the runway, stale food, waiting for baggage and then the journey all the way back into London.

So why not take your next holiday by train?

Emily Boost

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