Great Continental Railway Journeys Series 7 Part 1: Salamanca to Canfranc
Michael Portillo sports a strikingly modern edition of his Bradshaw’s Continental Handbook, dated 1936. His destination lies close to his heart: the ancient kingdom of Spain and land of his father, recommended in Michael’s guidebook for its exceptional climate and glorious history.
1936 was a turbulent time in Spain, with political upheaval descending into a brutal civil war. Michael begins an emotional rail journey, which takes him deep into his family’s past and reveals the tentacles of the regime which forced his father into exile.
Michael begins in the beautiful golden city of Salamanca, where his father was happy as a young, left-wing professor. He visits the university to hear of opposition to the fascist takeover of Spain by General Francisco Franco and gains access to the general’s archive of enemies of the state.
In the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, Michael hears how the bombing of a small town in the Basque region in 1937 inspired one of the 20th century’s most shocking works of art.
Zaragoza’s modern tram network takes Michael to a factory, where he is invited to test-drive new rolling stock destined for Britain. In the shadow of the city’s splendid cathedral, Michael learns to dance the jota.
In the northern town of Huesca, Michael meets the son of author George Orwell, who fought against Franco on what was the front line during the Civil War between Nationalist and Republican forces. Together, they visit the preserved trenches, and Michael finds out how Orwell’s experiences shaped his novels.
Michael’s final stop is on the border with France at Canfranc station. At the time of his guidebook, it was a magnificent terminus, yet today it is ruined and derelict. Michael learns of the role it played in the evacuation of Jews during the Second World War and hears about its forthcoming new lease of life.