Have always been fascinated with border towns. The fact that another national economy with other taxes and other social norms is just across the border/mountain/river/fence tends to have interesting effects on these places, and especially what is for sale in the stores and on the streets. Now my most favorite border town in Europe is Portbou on the border of Spain and France:
The tiny shops in the even more tiny city center have ridiculous amounts of Pastis on sale (for the Frenchmen who live just across the mountains where the tax on booze is much higher) and Portbou is home of my favorite memorial (for Walter Benjamin, who committed suicide in this place when the Spanish did not let him into the country in 1940).
On top of this the place has an absolutely incredible location: crammed into a little bay of the Mediterranean and surrounded by the foothills of the Pyrénées, the place ca only be approaced by the spectacular coastal road that runs from Perpingnan in France south to Girona in Spain and follows the spectacular Mediterranean coast for a good 30km. Portbou is situated in the smallest of the bays along this coast just south of the actual border. Because it is so small the center has a building density that makes one feel as if one was in a much bigger city, an effect that is reinforced by the gigantic propositions of the railway station. Being a border station between Spain and France the railway station needs two sets of tracks (standard gauge for the French trains and broad gauge for the Spanish trains) plus an enormous marshaling yard. The surface of the railway station probably equals the surface of the rest of town.
I have always wanted to explore this railway station, but on my last 2 visits I never had the time. This time i spend about an hour exploring the station which for the biggest part seems to be deserted, with closed deserted waiting rooms that seem to patiently await another emigration or immigration wave. If you ever have the chance to visit Portbou, make sure that you take some time to visit the train station. In the meanwhile i have posted some pictures to my flickr account.