Yesterday I took the train from Madrid to A Coruña, a six hour trip that caused a fair bit of consternation among the GNOME people who brought me here. I’ve been telling anyone who asks that I’m not in a hurry, I like to see the countryside, that I’d rather not have the environmental guilt of an unnecessary flight, and that I just like trains. All this is true, but people seem incredulous til I tell them that after this conference I’ll be spending another two months taking trains all around Europe. At that point I guess they put me into the “mildly eccentric tourist” box rather than the “bizarrely idiosyncratic business traveller” one.
When you take long-haul trains, it’s always a toss-up whether the scenery’s going to be interesting or whether you’ll end up going through boring farmland and the semi-industrial back-lots of small towns. This trip had a bit of both, but there were enough cute villages, medieval churches and old buildings in various states of ruin to keep me watching out the window.
The land west of Madrid is mostly flat with dry, yellowing grass and plantations of trees (mostly some kind of conifer? I couldn’t place it) and, delightfully, sunflowers. I was on the sunward side of the train for most of the trip, so the sunflowers on my side were facing away from me, otherwise I would have attempted a photo out the window. It was actually a bit strange to pass through a Mediterranean landscape without seeing Australian flora. I found myself looking out the window for eucalyptus trees or familiar scrub along the railway tracks, but there was nothing I recognised.
Heading into Galicia, the land got greener and hillier, and when I arrived in A Coruña the weather was mild and damp, compared to the blasting furnace of Madrid. At A Coruña, I ran into some other GUADEC people and got a ride to the conference accommodation, which is a university residence up in the hills. Driving up there along winding roads through the university campus, with the car windows open, I got a sudden whiff of something. I looked around but couldn’t find the source. Then we rounded a corner, and I found a whole bank of eucalypts planted along the road, letting off their scent as if after rain. I don’t like to think of myself as one of those people who is always looking for the familiar when travelling in foreign places, but I guess I am one. I suppose being pleased at the presence of Australian native plants is a fairly mild version; I’ll reassure myself that I’m not one of those tourists who eats at McDonalds all round the world.
Anyway, after meeting some people at the pre-reg and reception, a restless night’s sleep, and a pretty decent breakfast (so glad there were decent protein options! I’d been worried), I’m now at the conference itself, about to watch Jacob Appelbaum’s Tor keynote. Onward!