In other words, how NOT to travel by train during a strike.
NOTE: This post was made in 2005. Things may have changed since then. I know I have…
This is a story I have been meaning to write about for awhile but have never had the time or motivation. But, heck, it should be heard.
It was the first time I went to Spain.
The first time I went 36 hours without sleep.
The first time I freaked right out whilst traveling.
It was all of that and more.
The day started in Cannes, France. After spending a few days lounging on the beach, getting caught in the rainstorm in Grasse and generally just hanging about, it was time to go.
I had, truthfully, found Cannes to be a bit of a bore. It wasn’t as “Hollywood-ish” or “exciting” like I had hoped. I have a huge interest in the “retro” filmworld and even then I was dissapointed I couldn’t find much more about Bardot, Monroe, Montand or anyone else.
So, after spending the morning at this island, I went back to my hostel to collect my bags…um, and find my passport which I had forgotten under the matress of my bed. Oops.
Anyway, that evenings plans included an overnight train ride to Barcelona, where I would catch the train to Tarragona the next day. The train didn’t leave for awhile, so I hunkered down at the Mexican bar underneath the hostel and helped myself to two strong Pina Coladas.
Suffice to say, that by the time I was ready to trek to the train station, I had quite the buzz going. No matter, I thought to myself, I’ve paid extra for the sleeping compartment so I should be fine to just pass out and wake up in Barcelona.
I get to the train station and am immediately confused. The only train leaving that evening was to Bordeaux. For you who don’t know, Bordeaux is on the opposite side of France. Not in the direction I was going at all.
So I asked the conducter in my broken French where I was to catch the train to Barcelona and he told me to just take the one to Bordeaux, the same track.
Well, I went and waited by the track and just assumed that my train would be coming after. While I was waiting where I was supposed to board my car, I saw another young girl. She looked American-ish but was definetly NOT a backpacker since she was lugging the biggest piece of luggage I have ever seen. She could barely pick it up.
I sort of tsk tsked inside my head and then went back to worrying about the train. At about the time my train would have left, this train seemed to get going. The conducters were sorta yelling all aboard and that really annoying “do, dah dah dah” jingle from the SNCF came over the intercom (if you have ever traveled by train in France, you will know what I mean) and that woman’s voice announced the train was leaving.
Not knowing what to do, I ran up to the girl with the luggage, who was having a hell of a time trying to get it on the train, and asked her if this was going to Barcelona.
“I hope so!” she said, exasperated. An American after all.
So, I jumped on the train and as it started moving down the tracks, we both kind of looked at each other, not knowing where the hell we were going.
Turns out though, that we were both in the same compartment. That is, until I got to the compartment…not a sleeping cabin at all but just reclining chairs out in the open. We were both pissed off at spending our money on nothing and sat down across from each other and got to talking.
Her name was Becky and she was doing an exchange program though the University of Washington (a Seattlelite, small world) and had been in Barcelona for the last 6 months with her friend Lucy, who was in another compartment on the train. They had decided to do some traveling before they were due to fly out of Madrid in a day or two. Hence, the huge suitcase she had been lugging around.
We talked some more, then sort of fell asleep, only to wake up in Marseille having people saying that if you were going to Barcelona you had to get off at Port Bou. I had no idea where Port Bou was and how far off it was, so we sort of just sat there, on edge, eyeing each train stop. By now it was well past midnight and my earlier buzz had just left me feeling drained.
Worried about Port Bou, I walked up and down the train, looking for a conductor or someone who knew what the hell was going on. But our part of the train was sanctioned off from the rest of train and we were stuck with having no one to inform of us what was happening.
Eventually we went and joined Lucy, who was further down the cars and together we thought about our possible scenarios. Where was Port Bou? Why aren’t we going to Barcelona? Why does the train say Bordeaux? Where are we? Etc.
We weren’t alone though in this dilemma, and it seemed a lot of people in this part of the train were going to Port Bou as well.
We found that out as the train stopped at some random railway station. And then the other half of the train took off. Heading to Boedeaux, I suppose, while our end was abandoned on the tracks in the middle of butt-fuck nowhere.
Eventually though, there was a bit of commotion and I suppose our train was being attached to another train or something. All I know is that we started moving again, plowing steadily to Port Bou. Only….
We never made it to Port Bou.
We made it to Narbonne where we were promptly told to get off the train and go into the railway station.
By now it was 3 AM, we were confused and tired.
Then that train took off and we, meaning hundreds of people, were stuck inside this station. We couldn’t escape the station because the doors were barred. We couldn’t leave the other way because the tracks were there. We were station prisoners.
There were no train people in the station to tell us what was going on and why we were here. All we had was a sign on the tickets office telling us they would open at 6AM and that was it. The only sign that we were remotely in the right place was the schedule which said a 7 AM train to Port Bou was leaving in a few hours.
So what is a girl to do at 3 AM when you don’t know where you are, aren’t even sure if you are in France or Spain and you are stuck in a train station?
Let me tell you, it’s not as easy as it looks. There was no where to lie down and nothing to do, so all of us stranded passengers were just passing out on the floor and in corners, on benches, whatever we could find.
Me and my two American amigas found our own little spot and tried to get some rest. But despite my eye mask and seemingly relaxed pose, I didn’t sleep a wink. All I could think about was the fact that I didn’t know where I was and what was going on.
My new freinds had it no better since they had a flight to catch in Madrid the next day and they had no idea if they would even make it there on time.
And as the new day approached, things just seemed to go from bad to worse.
To be continued….(see post below 🙂