It rattles over the old track by the coast. On the right white horses on the Mediterranean. On the left, apartments, second homes, shopping centres, car dealerships, cranes standing sentinel, the Catalan section of the almost continual urban strip from Cadiz to the Albanian border. After the brilliant and beautiful chemical works of Tarragona we move inland through vineyards, forests and hills. Before Lerida we stop to change to the semi-high speed track. From here its 199 kilometres an hour to Madrid .
We glide smoothly through the gypsum hills and plains of the Monegros. They take their name from the dark juniper forests that once cloaked this bleak, beautiful landscape. Now all is bare. The trees were felled for charcoal burning and goats overgrazed what was left. The soil was washed down the Ebro, where it turned the modest natural delta into the huge Ebro Delta of today. El Cierzo wind rips down from the Pyrenees, barely visible in the cold haze. Vultures, sheep, stone huts, a single tree. Not a cloud.
After Zaragoza the new train stops at Calatayud. It's a sensible choice. A potential pole of regional development in a dry land. More cranes stand in their dozens over the new blocks. The crane seems now as essential an element of the Spanish landscape as the Osborne bulls, the cotos de caza signs and the roadside bars and brothels. Behind the town the old cave homes lie long abandoned. We continue through the mountains of the Sistema Central. To the right Moncayo is covered in snow. Outside it's below zero. Three nights ago it was minus twenty centigrade. Frozen streams cut along the track. Nothing moves. We come out of the mountains and through undulating hunting estates and dehesas. The soil is red.
We stop at a station. It says Guadalajara-Yerbes. The town is 20 km away over a tortuous road through the sierra. Yerbes is a hamlet. Here the cranes stand over olives, almonds and stones. The land has been neatly divided up into thousands of parcels. They're building what will become Valdeluz, but most people call it Avelandia. There are to be more than 9000 homes. The station was diverted here by unknown forces and the last government.
We reach Madrid . The journey takes 4 hours and 45 minutes. You can no longer take a bike. They doubled the price of the ticket overnight when the service came in, and now costs 96 euros, about the same as flying. Or you can get the coach: it takes 9 hours.