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Chasing Rainbows

On Sunday, we took the train from Zaragoza, Spain, to Pau, France, through the Pyrenees. Actually, we took two trains, waited an hour, took a bus, another train, and a funicular. We got cold, rained on, ignored, and confused. It was a marvelous day.

We'd had enough of pilgrims and cities closed down for holidays, so we decided to move on from Zaragoza. We didn't want to go to Marseille yet, because something was going on in Marseille which had so filled the city that we couldn't find a single hotel room for Tuesday night, and we had planned to stay in Marseille through this coming Sunday. We looked at the map. What's between Zaragoza and Marseille?

Well, Toulouse for one. We had no idea what to do in Toulouse, but we'd had no idea what to do in Zaragoza, and found it interesting. There was a line on our railroad map going from Zaragoza to Toulouse through Marseille. But we couldn't find a schedule on line, and in Bilbao, the train information office had told us there was no train to Toulouse from Spain.

The man in Zaragoza was more helpful. "Do you want a pretty route?" he asked. "Oh, yes," we replied. He told us about a train through the Pyrenees to Toulouse. "It's slow," he warned. A bridge fell down 30 years ago, and it hasn't been fixed yet, so you have to transfer to a bus for an hour. There used to be a 7.9 kilometer railroad tunnel, but since the rail line is closed, you have to go higher. That sounded just fine to us.

It was cold and raining with a biting wind as we left the hotel for the train station before dawn on Sunday. We headed out of Zaragoza onto the Spanish plains on a tiny little train: one diesel rail car. As light came into the sky, we headed towards a patch of blue, and broke into the sun as the mountains were beginning to rise in the north. There was track work and thus no passing track, so at one point we waited for the southbound train and traded cars. The storm caught up with us, and then we passed the storm, and so on. Every time we changed places with the storm there was a rainbow. Everytime we passed the storm for a few minutes, there was a view of new mountains, rising higher and higher, with snow fields going up into the sky.

In Canfranc, Spain, a few miles from the French border, we changed to a bus. The station there is huge and beautiful, but has absolutely no services, not even a portapotty, and barely any shelter from the wind. Until the bridge fell, Canfran was an important international station on the route from Paris to Madrid. Then it was abandoned, but now is being restored in anticipation of reopening the rail line. We had an hour till our bus was supposed to leave, but our bus driver was on his break, and did not open the door. That's okay; it gave us more time to enjoy the spectacular view.

Our bus went up and up and up through snow and rainbows, and then down, down, to the train the last few kilometers to Pau. The last stage of our journey was the free funicular from the train station up to the Boulevard des Pyrenees and the tourist office. What a wonderful day.


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