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Spanish Street Dogs; the other Waifs and Strays.

Spanish Street Dogs; the other Waifs and Strays is about the many and varied dogs that we find around our village. Many are abandonados, some are just plain lost, all are real characters, mostly streetwise but occasionally foolhardy.
These are some of the stories...

NOT Waifs and Strays... My Eurolines Experience...
27 July 2013

I recently had to make a very short notice trip back to the UK, my first return since arriving in Spain in 2006. Being such short notice I had to carefully consider the costs involved. What with having to put the housepack (which currently numbers 7 dogs) in kennels for 17 days which would have cost an arm and a leg using normal privately run boarding kennel facilities (typically 1200€)... funds were very tight.

I approached my friends at animalessinsuerte and amigosdelosanimales Granada, two Spanish run rescue and rehoming organisations with whom I work closely  and they found an 'overflow' facility prepared to take the pack at a nominal cost of just under 275€ + food.

Even this relatively low cost was a burden I could have done without... Air Fares to/from Malaga to Gatwick or Southampton, linked with the associated taxi fares to Portsmouth put this mode of transport out of reach. Even using Ryanair or Easyjet brought in a combined cost approaching £500. Its that time of year... I considered going by train as an alternative using RENFE, SNCF and Eurostar but the return fare came to even more than the airfare without the ongoing connections at both ends. Little option then but to use Eurolines, the Inter- European Coach services between Granada and London. Literally door to door service, no taxis required because of ideal local coach and bus connections at both ends, altogether do-able at a bargain price of less than 250 Euros door to door return. Heres my review of the bum numbing journey...

Eurolines is a company based on loosely linked European Long haul coach companies and the system works by directing these different routes through common interchange points. From a Spanish and English standpoint these are essentially, ALSA and  Arriaga and National Express. Portugal also supplies routes and coaches through various private companies.

My journey in its entirety uses coaches sub contracted or supplied via ALSA and Nat.Ex. (It should not be forgotten that ALSA is in fact a part of the Nat Ex Group.) I made the online booking through website and the trip breaks down into a few different routes which combine at various points in Spain France and the UK. Drivers compulsory rest stops and pax ‘comfort’ breaks are built into the schedules and a 20-30 minute stop occurs every 3 to 4 hours.

My door to door itinerary worked out as follows...

Tues June 25th depart my village by local bus to Granada at 0715 arriving Granada at 0900. and then depart Granada at 1030 to Bailen north Of Jaen; Granada is an intermediate stop on a feeder service which originates in Almeria, calling at Guadix, Granada and Jaen. The first coach change occurs at Bailen when pax from this feeder service transfer to a another coach whose journey originates in Malaga and calls at Lucena and Cordoba. This coach then continues northward calling at Madrid, to the next intermediate interchange station at Suco which is halfway between Madrid and Burgos.

Suco is a nightmare... coaches arrive from all over Spain and Portugal, all with dedicated destinations throughout Europe. At Suco, staff and drivers are on hand to ensure that the interchange of pax from one coach to another goes off without a hitch, but pax being pax, 'without a hitch' is a bit of a misnomer... its chaotic. There can be as many as 14 coaches at the Interchange point and a lot of pax wandering around willy-nilly unable or afraid to ask for help. The interchange can thus take anything up to an hour to accomplish. It's not helped by conflicting infomation on the tickets supplied by the issuing companies which bears little resemblance to the actual coach numbering system.

Once the interchange has been accomplished, the coaches then set off for their next interchange point, which in my case was Paris... Now, its’ a long way from Granada to Paris and little wonder therefore that Paris isn't reached until 11am the following day.

(Note for Eurolines…  From a pax point of view, a Setra-Kassbohrer S417GT-HD is NOT the best choice of coach for this long haul leg… the-HD stands for High Density (or should that be High Discomfort?) Limited legroom especially if the pax in front decides to recline his seat… coupled with seat cushions that are well past their best, the combination makes for a very rapid onset of numb bum syndrome…)

Another note for Eurolines… One thing that the various companies do not inform the passengers about is the need to re-check-in on arrival in Paris...our coach arrived some 30 minutes late and the onward connection to London was supposed to leave at 1200.

Having established the need for this re-check-in procedure the check in desks were besieged by pax, including myself, speaking a variety of languages; the check-in staff however, typically, either cannot or will not speak any language other than French. By the time I reached the check-in desk the time was 1210 and I was informed that despite being through booked to London on the 1200 service it had departed FULL... and that all pax from Spain and Portugal were now booked on the 1500 hrs service; this despite the fact that most of these pax had onward journeys booked from London Victoria.

What followed can best be described as a Victor Meldrew moment; my protests however about having to make onward connections from London were met with a typically Gallic shrug of the shoulders and a much repeated phrase that roughly translated to ‘Tough Shit…’  In making my onward reservation I had allowed myself a 3 hour 'just in case' 'security blanket' in London... in the event I was going to need every minute of it...

Another thing that can screw things up completely is the need to undergo passport and customs checks twice in the space of 200 metres when the coaches board the Channel Tunnel trains; it is necessary to officially leave France and officially arrive in the UK at Calais... so visits to the French Immigration Service and the UK's Borders Agency are required before the coaches board the train. The coaches are also checked by French and UK Customs using dogs (so don’t even think about trying to use this method as a means of transporting dodgy substances)... The trains run every 30 minutes and it was just our luck that after clearing Customs and Immigration we had just missed one; my 3 hour security blanket had now disappeared and I was cursing everything to do with French and British bureaucracy, be it public or private...

The tunnel trip takes about 35 minutes and we entered Folkestone at around 2030. Thanks to a spirited run up to London (in our strangely enough Spanish registered coach and Spanish driver) we arrived at Victoria Coach Station at 2145, just 15 minutes before my Portsmouth connection was due to leave. One thing to bear in mind about Victoria is that arrivals and departures do not occur in the same building... it is necessary to retrieve ones hold baggage and then scurry across the street to the departures building, find out which gate ones coach is leaving from and get there 5 minutes before departure as the access doors are closed promptly to allow coaches to leave on time. I achieved all of this but was frankly knackered after the journey and totally peed off that the French and Brit bureaucracy both public and private had managed to destroy my timing ‘security blanket’ and add a great deal of totally unnecessary stress. My coach arrived in Portsmouth at 2345, exactly on schedule. Total journey time 40.5 hours price just 125 Euros door to door.  All in all, by coach It’s a bum numbing trip, full of little ‘gotchas’

The return trip...

My return to Granada was scheduled to occur on the 9th/10th of July and as with the outbound trip I had booked my seat reservations well in advance. The only big difference was that the coach from London departs at 8am and one has to check in at Victoria at 7am. The only connection from Portsmouth I could find left at 0145 and involved a 90 minute layover in Southampton.

Nat Ex’s coach station at Southampton leaves a lot to be desired… it’s a simple 3 bay station with a combined ticket office, waiting room and cafeteria;that closes at 5.30pm. It’s a draughty nasty little hole where the wind blows in straight off Southampton Water; there are no loos, no seats and no facilities whatsoever outside of office hours. By the time my London bound coach arrived at 0400 I was freezing, chilled literally to the bone and this in July; I dread to think what it must be like when the weather is seasonably cold... Not an auspicious start…

As befits an organisation that has been doing this for years the International check-in formalities at Victoria are quick and simple; one’s passport and pre-printed E-ticket are checked against the expected pre-booked pax list, and boarding cards and baggage tags are issued along with departure gate information. As with airline check-in procedures, designated windows deal with each separate coach route. The 3 check-in desks are located opposite Gate 19 in the departures building and the staff appear to be multi-lingual.

The coach (a Van Hool Altano T918) and driver designated for the London-Paris leg of the trip were the same as had handled the inbound trip… he adopted the same aggressive techniques as any London bus driver when handling the peak morning traffic chaos at Vauxhall Cross and the Elephant and Castle roundabouts, simply put… Pushy and best not to watch! Not quite sure of the age of this vehicle but of all the coaches involved in this round trip this had to be the most comfortable and best suited to the purpose… has to be said though that the on-board loo was something else… full to almost overflowing and smelly, but if you are desperate anything goes, the pre-trip medium latte at Victoria went through me like a diuretic… the loo door would not lock… and kept swinging open to the embarrassment of the users and the young lady sitting directly opposite the door…

We reached Paris on time and again went through the re-check-in procedures with Eurolines France, no hitches this time… I was at the front of the queue when the desk opened. On then to the second Eurolines coach this time for the overnight long haul leg to Suco; again it was the same coach that had handled the trip in the opposite direction and the same comments regarding leg room and tired seat cushions apply. Departure from Paris is at 1800 and the planned arrival time at Suco is 0800 the following morning 14 hours of discomfort… nuff said!

The Suco Interchange was the same organised (?) chaos as on the outbound trip with the added bonus of a very late arrival of one of the connecting coaches which coincidentally had pax on board for Granada so we had to wait for its arrival, then our coach, a sub-contracted coach owned by Autocares Munoz(again the same coach as on the outbound trip) threw up a tech snag that couldn’t be fixed in situ; the front passenger door stuck locked in the closed position.

We left Suco with the dodgy door unfixed about 90 minutes late. Again my onward connection from Granada looked a little dubious. We were due into Granada at 1830 so vthere was very little  leeway in my schedule this time because the connecting coach to my village is the last bus of the day departing at 2000hrs.

There is some recovery time built into the schedule and a degree of operating latitude in the drivers schedule so having established that there were no passengers wanting to terminate the trip in Madrid our driver decided to bypass the normally compulsory stop there and take a drivers rest break further down the route. These two actions won back for us 1 hour, so our arrival at Bailen for the final coach change was only slightly delayed. When one is watching the clock the road-speed always seems slow and it appeared to be a very leisurely run down to Granada, no pax for Jaen so no need for a stop there and we arrived in Granada at 1900hrs a full hour before my connecting coach for the run home.

One final irony… our village bus is berthed overnight and weekends in our village, it is always the same bus, and any necessary routine maintenance is carried out during the day in one of the layover periods. In five years I have never known this coach to breakdown or fail… until that night!  Our bus pulled out of it’s layover parking slot at 1950 and drove into the bay platform to start boarding passengers. He switched off the engine and did his normal pre-run inspection. This done he boarded his passengers including me… it’s just my guess but I think the engines EGR valve failed, no smooth tick-over, no positive engine acceleration, loads of dense smoke from the exhaust, cough, cought, then engine stalled and wouldn't restart. Our village bus driver is normally in charge this ALSA Setra 12 metre coach and the allocated spare coach was a 14.9 metre version, another Setra S417GT-HD, not exactly the best choice given the tight curves and corners involved in the journey from Granada to our village; the increased length of the coach can lead to possibly embarrassing situations… Our driver had a brief Victor Meldrew moment, because the ticket machine is programmed to a specific trip and a specific vehicle and so has to be manually updated if any of the parameters change. Thirty minutes late in starting away from Granada. It’s a busy run on this last bus, but unlike England where a 30 minute late running bus driver would be the subject of many complaints, comments and verbal abuse, passengers picked up en route were quite sympathetic…We arrived back in my village a few minutes late; obviously I had no food in the house so it was off to the village bar restaurant for a steak supper and a couple of beers.

Anyway… that’s my experience of Eurolines… 250 euros round trip door to door… Would I do it again? Maybe, but I would travel better prepared with some form of Numb Bum Protection! 

I collected the housepack from the kennels the following day, and apart from one of the dogs having a couple of  pressure sores from having lost some weight and his habit of prefering to sleep on hard ground, and the rest developing a bad case of the squits for a couple of days, they were non the worse of for their holiday. All are now back to their normal routine... long periods of sleep interspersed with high levels of rambunctiousness....



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