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FM Edition:

For a taste of how things were in times past, when international travel used to be fun, I would recommend a trip on the superb high-speed train system that operates in Spain linking Madrid to the country’s other major cities.

In my humble opinion the "fun travel" period was from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. This was before the full-on advent of mass budget air travel, the benefit of which has been affordable flights to wherever you want to go in the world. But it has come at what I would term high "personal costs". These include being shoehorned into ever diminishing seat space.

To experience what the standard airplane seat used to be like you now have to fork out more than double the normal economy fare to pay for a "premium economy" seat.

Then there’s the frustration of being subjected to ever tightening security measures imposed in airports by robot-like officials operating on a "zero tolerance" policy. Interact with them as humans at your very real peril.

So it was a "blast from the past" when, on a recent trip to Spain, I rediscovered how pleasant travelling used to be when I used that country’s AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) trains, operated by the national rail network, Renfe.

These run on Europe’s most extensive high-speed rail network, which covers more than 3,000km, at speeds of up to 300km/h, making journeys between Spain’s cities so swift that you don’t need to fly; and you get to experience all the other benefits of travelling by rail instead of air.

Those benefits start with only having to be at the station 15 minutes before departure time, instead of the usual two to three hours ahead of domestic or international flights.

Also the station, which in the case of Madrid is the magnificent Atocha complex, is usually located in the centre of the city, so you save on the time and the traffic paranoia normally involved in getting to the airport.

As I quickly discovered, there was no point arriving at Atocha more than about 20 minutes ahead of the scheduled departure time, as the notice saying which platform the train will leave from is put up only about 15 minutes ahead of departure.

Security measures? Yes, they have them, but it’s your luggage that is put through scanners and not you, which speeds up the entire boarding process. None of this "shoes and belts off, pockets emptied, separate your computer" and all the rest that you are subjected to at airports.

Once on board, the pleasures continue, with, first and foremost, all the leg-room in the world and the freedom to walk around at will. There are even leather seats in "preferente" (first class).

Did I mention these trains are fast? It’s 700km odd from Madrid to Barcelona and the AVE train does it in just over three hours. Madrid to Cordoba is about 400km, which takes the AVE train one hour and 40 minutes.

As a rough comparison, it takes Virgin Rail’s much-touted Pendolino trains around five hours to cover the 500km from Glasgow to London.

So, next time, take the high-speed train if you can.

Vamos! (Let’s go!)