Elipsos 477: The Overnight Trainhotel To Spain

We both found out about the Elipsos in May. Before then we both believed that travelers would get a train pass that allowed for travel all over the European Union. This pass does exist with some very important exclusions. France has a wonderful train system ran by SNCF and trains leaving France are considered apart of the TGV system. However, France's train systems do not have to play nice with other countries regardless of the pass. When going to the SCNF and Eurorail websites, which coordinate tickets for international purchasers you will find a short video about the stipulations. Spain has Renfre/Adif and Italy has Italo so there is no way to interconnect from France even with a pass. The video explained how there was only the Elipsos for travel from France to Spain and alternate means like ferries and flights to Italy. This is why we had to reverse our plans from Italy first to Spain. We also had to forgo the global or Eurail pass and stick to individual train tickets. We would head out to Barcelona, use Renfe within Spain to travel Costa Del Sol figuring out Italy later.

Hello From The Distance Future ... The Elipsos/Trenhotel took its final journey that December in 2013. If you want to do anything remotely like it there is now a friendly six hour train connection between SCNF and Renfre. You can also take a Flix Bus or fly. 

When visiting the site for Elipsos there were immediate delusions of grandeur. I expected to be whisked away on the Orient Express (the other direction of course). I wanted to be consumed by this elaborate train, eating lavish meals, sleeping under silk sheets and waking among elite Spanish families and businessmen. Instead, the train was divided by classes and priced for the right caste. Grand sleepers with showers were indeed for French families on holidays. Grouped suites were for American frat boys sowing their oats. The "Super Reclining Seats" were made for vagabonds like us. The cabin looked alright in the diagram. The cabin was also priced fairly decent for what you appeared to get. We would travel overnight for nearly nine hours only to be roused at the border for passports. We were excited and awaited new passport stamps and actual summer weather. We'd both been gypped in the passport stamp department having flown into London and trained through France so stamps were in high order.

We arrived at the train station with plenty of time to rummage brochures. The booklets showed these digital mockups of a modern train. I recall purple scapes of long hallways and dining cars. Our cabin was pretty small and there was only one car with seats like ours. After waiting for nearly four hours, we heard the call and quickly went to validate the tickets. There were two very long lines looking at an even longer train. The Elipsos was the titanic of trans continental train travel. It was long enough to curve beyond the station. There were so many children and families in the lines. They we're all overly prepared with pillows and blankets. Meanwhile, we just had our standard luggage and big totes full of snacks and toiletries. While waiting there was finally something new. There was an entirely new language, well two rather - Spanish and Catalan. We finally got onto our car and realized the Elipsos was no fine establishment. The car itself was quite vintage and that is putting it nicely. The damn thing was falling apart from the seat backs to the overhead compartments. Yet no one else seemed to mind. We did have some favors including a decent pillow, blanket, eye mask, ear plugs, toothbrush and toothpaste. Everything was also put in a lovely reusable bag. Our car was full of Americans - students, backpackers, football players and Asian girls. On the single seating side there were plenty of Spanish women traveling alone. Behind us were two white boys, gay and probably from Texas. Their first order of business was to find the bar car and get drunk. Alcohol was probably the only way to tolerate the dilapidated train and voluntarily fall asleep on it.

So in eavesdropping, shock and horror we followed them to the bar car. We took turns traveling the now moving rickety train for these cute liter bottles of Spanish wine. There really wasn't a great variety and only one bartender who also took orders for cafes, sandwiches and snacks. I honestly thought we could manage off one bottle but Torres wine is like Crystal Light. Seriously, every single wine made by the Torres winery is for bitches. In ordering it we both learned something. She learned that her Spanish doesn't fly with a staff that exclusively spoke Catalan. I learned that colored wines i.e red or rosé is considered tinto a.k.a. tinted with color. I also noticed the first anti-baguette appropriately named the bikini. We we're totally headed to another world. We toasted to new beginnings, beach days and balmy nights. We drank a tintos and then some white, two bottles later we were open to sleeping. The boys were not and the entire car pretty much drank into the early morning. When we were experiencing stops at daylight the football players were just reclining their seats. Those first glimmers of the French-Spanish border were beguiling. I finally saw warm colors, palm trees and mountains. Then out of nowhere water just appeared like an oasis. I've rode trains through the midwest and shed tears at the caverns of red clay in New Mexico and snow caps in Colorado. There is absolutely nothing like riding the outskirts of Spain and seeing things only described as paradise in story books.

Once we were both awake we saw things from all sides of the train. With most people sleep or dining we could run from seat to seat to get the best views. Some Asian guy pulled out his DSLR, one girl woke with her camera around her wrists to snap photos and I couldn't get my camera out fast enough for everything I was seeing. There were rustic villages of homes on hills and fisherman towns full of isolated bays. Then we would sweep up the side of a mountain, through a dark tunnel and out to what appeared to be the Mediterranean but was actually the Balearic Sea. Contrary to travel blogs discussing the border process there really was none. Early in the trip a train attendant viewed our passports but never took them away. Also, we were never woke at crossings. The train did have several stops but there was no interruption to its passengers. Again, with no passport interrogation there was no stamps and that became the norm for all future train travel. We were also given water, headphones and a movie did play in Catalan with Spanish subtitles. All the goodies we got to comfort us except the headphones were to keep. I didn't keep my blanket or pillow but did take everything else even things I didn't use. My friend actually tossed her bag and two cities later asked me did I know what she did with it. Trust you want to keep things like that because they could come in handy. 

There are also several trains in the line so we just got a bad one. The same goes for all train companies in Europe. After a few stations you will notice older trains, new trains, short trains and huge ones all being utilized. The Elipsos also has several city stops so depending on the popularity of that route the train may vary.The voyage is considered to be better than most regardless of the train because it offers mostly sleepers and dining. There are trains that don't even offer a bar or snack car. Also, the Elipsos is a nice icebreaker into train travel considering the trips we took between London, Paris and Nantes were commuter trains and quite different. Our class car also reinforced decisions to ride in better classes for the remainder of the trip. Sleepers were never an option because most required at least four to six passengers. Surely, we could have paid extra for beds but others would have been able to board at any time to fill the cabin. That means no locked doors and being sleep in the middle of the night someone new could enter or someone could make a lot of noise leaving. It was safer and more cost effective to do individual or group seats. The only catch is having to monitor bags behind or in-front of you. Again, for the price we had decent seats that did lay back for sleep and great viewing windows. There were also no children in our car because most families chose sleepers and suites. We didn't opt for dining packages and there really is no need. Overall, the experience of taking the Elipsos was perfect for what it was.

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