Express
to the Pyrenees

 

 

       

At the map, the Pyrenees is the mountainous chain which separate France from Spain, like a rocky wall. But from the ground, and for people who inhabit these valleys, the border has never existed. For Basques or Catalans these heights unite their little nations scattered for both sides of the chain. They have been crossing these peaks constantly since thousands of years ago.

 

The great challenge of the Pyrenees has been for engineers and architects: try to link by roads and railways both sides. These mountains are a terrible beast to tame.


This is the chronicle of a zigzagging trip crossing these mountains by rail from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean sea

     

 

 

 

Two hundred years ago the first train suitable for passengers linked Manchester with Liverpool. Since then, we have tarred roads either in sandy and frozen deserts, we have crossed the world in one day, we have catapulted men into the Space and we made them walk along the Moon, even we have seen the deepest entrails of our body. But, still nowadays, travel by rail across the Pyrenees is epic.


Neither in 150 years, nor with the force of a thousand kilometers of iron, we have not been able to tame the wild beast of the Pyrenees. Architects and engineers have tried to tame these mountains with iron lashes, but it has been useless. Tracks, catenaries and bridges stands up over the Pyrenees as if they were over the back of enormous saurian. Knowing that with a small shake of this beast they will be removed. The Pyrenees are barely tracked by trains.


Here, ways and roads are only governed by the law of this broken, rough and wild landscape. The few existing rail tracks draw their paths following the devious courses of the rivers or getting some distance away from the great peaks.


The imaginary line which tries to baste the Pyrenees from West to East was opened between 1855 and 1870. In 1855, Bayonne’s railway station received its first convoy from neighbor city of Bordeaux. This was the first attempt of approaching the rail to the mountains. There, in the French Basque country we will start our trip across these mountains.

This is the only place where this mountainous chain meets his match: Only the violence of the Atlantic Ocean and his roars can hold these mountains, which here fold up over themselves in front of the big bite of the Gulf of Biscay.


Further on, we will find legendary places like the Canfranc’s international station, the biggest deserted building in Spain. This building work tried to face up the Pyrenees with a 7 km tunnel. The Spanish King Alfonso XII opened it in 1928 with the brave sentence of “¡There are no Pyrenees!”. But it worked for a few decades. Later, in 2000 hidden between rubble and rats, a French citizen found thousands of letters from Nazis abandoned here which certified the traffic of 86 tons of gold across these mountains. The gold of the Nazis.


The platform of St. Jean de Pied de Port (Donibane Garazi, in Basque) is quite more pleasant. Here starts the Pilgrim's way to Santiago.

Next to here we catch the train to the deepest Bearnese landscapes, castles and the tiny funicular of Pau. The capital of Bearn has an eye-catching boulevard which lets have a view over 83 mountain peaks.


Later, we will clatter in a decadent old coach to Lourdes, in a lovely stale glamorous atmosphere: the old fashioned yellow leather seats remind me a 60s dentist clinic. If you sweat a bit, you'll get glued to the seat.

 

 

In this coach: some youths with clerical collars, a couple of hindu ladys wearing bindis (the red spot at the front), a mom using her PDA and her little five year-old son playing with a video game. All of them engrossed in their faiths. From the window: rugby fields, meadows with cows and sheeps and mists at the top of the peaks.


We continue to the West with Tolouse’s urban rhythm, the emblematic battlements and towers of Foix, rappers and graffiti artists traveling to Pamiers, a curly-haired and pretty French-African mom breastfeeding her baby during the trip, stop-over cities crowded by spas, climbers, cyclists or retired people. Finally appears the border of Andorra, a country without a built centimeter of railway.


Close to Catalunya, we found a tiny train from 1910 which climbs up to 1.500 meters of altitude and spent two and a half hours to cover 63 kilometers. This marvelous treasure from the past is linked to Major Giscard’s tragic story, the engineer who spent his life building this line and died in a derailment without seen his work completed. In his honor, a huge suspension bridge took his name, it is hanged over one of the deep and winded gorges of Cerdanya's valley.


From Perpinyá to Coillure our train meets the sea again. Along this stretch, the locomotive nearly sails, the rails run at the edge of the cliff, parallel to a sea of quiet and turquoise waters. The Mediterranean Sea, at the end.



     

 

 

 

 

 

 





       
 
     

 

 

 

 

 





       
 
     

 

 

 

 

 





       
 
     

 

 

 

 

 





       
 
     

 

 

 

 

 





       
 
     

 

 

 

 

 





       
 
     

 

 

 

 

 





       
 
     

 

 

 

 

All content copyright © 2012 Daniel Burgui Iguzkiza