Regular readers will have noticed a haitus in posts over the past ten days. This is explained by my visit to Lisbon for an EU research meeting - five days of meeting plus another two of travel, since I went by train in both directions. Using the excellent website The Man in Seat 61 the practicalities of land travel can be a pleasure; the problem is the social consequences of walking apart from the herd. Many people read my choice of transport mode as a deliberate affront to their lifestyle.
The main advantage of slow travel is that you actually have a sense of your progress across the globe - yes it is slow, but that is the point. Your understand the reality of travelling a long way. Drizzly hedgerows make way for flat plains and the occasional chateau, and eventually cork trees and olive groves. And in January field after field of beautiful bright citrus trees, with orange and yellow fruit contrasting with lush dark green leaves.
I mentioned to several friends the ease and comfort of the sleeper train. I was lucky enough to have a whole carriage to myself in both directions - presumably the benefit of travelling as a lone woman in the middle of winter. I told them that I felt like James Bond - the height of sixties romance somewhat punctured by the retort that James Bond did not carry his own herbal tea-bags with him.
After leaving Paris on the TGV I began to wonder whether I was living in the wrong country. It was the train that was slow, of course, it was the pace of life. By the time I reached Portugal people had time to spend a whole evening in the dining car with table-cloths, wine glasses and three course meals. The contrast between this and the seedy buffet with its 'selection of hot and cold snacks' one encounters on British trains made me wonder about our proud boasts of a successful economy. Successful for whom?