13 February 2010

The 3:20 train to Barcelona

After the 4th hour on my high speed train that was moving slower than the speed I could walk I started to wish for a train robbery. Anything to break the dull boring vibe that was hanging in the air.... Starting from the beginning I got off to a fine start. Nora (see more about her in the soon comming post on the people of my travels) walked me to the metro station and gave me a charming hug goodbye, and then I headed for my 8 hour day on a cross country train! It started alright. The train had a bar, plenty of luggage space and was very respectable. I happen to be sitting next to a business man who was the most boring non-english speaking man I have ever not talked too on a cross country train journey. Our high speed train was bound for Montpellier in about 4 hours time, where I was connecting to a train bound for Barcelona at 3:20. I had started to wonder about these so called high speed trains because after an hour we were still crawling down the tracks slow enough that local children were following us and waving. I simply thought that we were still in Paris suburbs and werent cleared for the high speed part yet. Then an announcement came over the air. "Les Medams e Messiours... wah..wah wah,wa ha Security clearence, wahh wahhh wah.. Merci" I listened for the English announcment and the spanish announcement that usually follows but one never came. Instead there were several gafufes, and hmphms coming from many of the passangers on the train. I only started to worry when we were at hour 3 and the high speed train was still creeping by suburban areas. Where was the French country side, the vineyards, and the high speed part of this expensive train? So I went to the bar to investigate, they didnt speak english. arg!!! I noticed after 3:20 when it had become obvious that I had in fact already missed my connection for the last train leaving for Barcelona that day that a more clear announcement rang out."Les Medams e Missiours attention' si'l vous plait, wha wah whha ah uh wah waa wah wa wa, CINQ hours." Wait just one minuet I though "CINQ" as in 5? 5 hours what? 5 Hours late? 5 Hours more? 5 hours of free drink at the bar? I could hardly think from the profanities that shot out from every mouth on the train but mine. I just sat there with my mouth open thinking, 5 hours of what ever it is obviously isnt good. Maybe it was 5 hours till the world was going to end. The thing is I would never know...So I tried to be 'Zen' as my boyfriend would say and relax. I cant help the powers that be... thats when the train stopped, and all the lights went out. "Les Medams e Missours wah wah hwaa whaa energie' arret wah wahh wah wah apologies, merci" So there wasnt any power to be as it were and the dark train began to get very warm and kinda muggy. Somewhat like the inside of your mouth in the morning. It wasnt pleasent. However we did eventually arrive in Montpellier and only a mere 4.5 hours late.

I calmly an rationally went to the assistance counter with my ticket for barcelona hoping the person would speak enough English to help me find a hotel for the night. Of course a small town in the South of France and she had about 3 words of English. She was very happy, friendly, and had a huge "customers first" smile on her face when she greeted me. I simply handed her my ticket to Barcelona and shrugged. She smiled and said "ah wee, vous.... eh... I mean, you... Missed." Arg!!!! Yes yes I know that my train left with out me 5 hours ago, I am wanting you to help me, I thought. While trying to think of the French to say, I'm stranded, alone, scared, cold, and have no place to sleep tonight, my eyes started to well up with tears. I didnt mean to cry to get my way, but I was very concerned and couldnt help it. She patted me on the top of my hand and said "one moment si'l vous plait" And I felt a little better. She left the counter into a room behind her, only a few moments later she came back with several tickets. My old ones that were no good, a new print out showing what time my train actually arrived in Montpelleir and a new ticket to Pepignan that same evening. She said several sentances in French and I could gleem out a few words that made sense. "Departure' ou Pepignan, (I have to leave for Pepignan) Assistance (get Assistance), hotel Gratuite (a free hotel), billiett pour Barcelona (ticket for Barcelona), ok?" Yea sure it sounded great to me, assuming that the free hotel was free for me because you pay for it, not that pepignan has a free hotel cause that could be dodgy. Just then these two loud American boys standing with another Assistance Representitive were saying in that sort of loud American way "Bar-ce-lo-na" There was an exchange between my helping woman and the man who was talking to these boys then she waved me over to them saying "come come, parlez Anglais"

I arrived just in time to hear the man replying "Yes I know about the city Barcelona, and my english is very good, can I help you?" I waited while they got their tickets arranged and then he explained in perfect english that we were all to take a train to the border town of Pepignan, at the station the Assistance desk will have a paper ticket for one free night at the hotel near by, a free meal, and then our tickets to barcelona for the morning. He spoke in french to the woman helping me, and then turned to the two american boys and said, "as it is very late at night, and this young also American woman is traveling alone, perhaps you three can travel together and get your tickets together so you all arrive safely, eh?" I smiled and said "merci" The boys took there tickets and said "ok, yea sure, thanks." As we were walking away one said to the other "that mans grammer was dreadful I could barely understand what he meant, but I guess we will just get on this train and find out what happens later." I thought about explaining it to them but didnt want to make them feel slow, so instead I went with the typical travelers open, "so where are you from?" As if I couldnt guess. There were in plaid fur lined jackets,brown quarteroy trousers over big yellow boots, tussled mouse brown hair, an Abe lincoln beard on both of them. So I was not supprised when they said "Minnesota." Then one turned to me and said " well look we are gonna go outside for a smoke, and maybe have a drink at the bar before the train, I hope you have luck with your travels and all and enjoy Barcelona ok!" I just smiled, nodded, and said "you too." But I was more surprised than any thing, I think they were blowing me off, maybe they needed some privet time and didnt want to hurt my feelings. But they didnt say "maybe we will catch you later on the train, or bump into you in Barcelona." They just said a goodbye of sorts and that was that.

I spent the next hour pacing the train station crying and fuming at the same time. I have just left Paris, the place where noses are suppose to be so high they can touch the clouds, but the most rude and horrible people I have met so far were Americans. I wanted to hit them, for giving my country a bad name. Any problems I have while traveling, any time someone rolls their eyes at my passport or my accent is cause of Jerks like them. I could totally understand not wanting to be social, or have a girl tag along, especially one as untravelled like me. I could slow them down, or be too clingy, but to just walk away like that after a Rail way Representivtive asked for our safety to travel together was just selfish. Then I started to work myself into a frenzy, was traveling to the border alone on the train un-safe? Or were the nice French people just being helpful cause I had pulled out the water works on accident?

I had been using all my inner strength to stay calm on a 8.5 hour train trip, not to freek out, and it was now all pouring out of me in the form of tears, panic, and anger at those two (dare I say it) Hill BIllies!!!!

The train to Pepignan was fine, I was calmer and now just looking forward to my hotel. Upon arriving at the station though one quick glance around showed that all three counters were closed, lights out and locked up. The information counter, the Assistance counter, and the Ticket counters all had strong depressing metal shudders pulled down over them. After a few seconds the passangers had cleared and there were only 3 people left standing in this building, myself and the two lumberjacks. I could have screamed I was so close to loosing it, but I smiled and nodded at the boys in a greeting then walked back out around on to the platform and towards the end of the train were the machanics were turning off its engines or something. I managed to explain my problem to him in some pigion French and he was happy to take me to the station manager. I was a little sceptical when we started walking along the tracks into a dark seedy part of the station, but trusting his friendly-ness, and my instincts I continued. Then he pointed out this cute little house at the end of the station, just where the track switching lever thing is located. Ahhhh of course he would live in the station house, that makes sense. I was relived that I was actually getting help and not murdered or tied to the rail way lines. Funnily enough there was a que of about 6 people at the Station Masters house, so we were not the only ones stranded. He was very helpful, gave me a note for my ticket in the morning, a voucher for the 3 star hotel across the street, a box with a dinner meal inside, and a toilietrie bag with tiny tooth brushes and all.

I walked back along the scary rail tracks alone to the station to find those two rude morons standing at a closed window of the Information desk looking very tiered and annoyed. It was cold in the Mountains between France and Spain so I couldnt just leave them there all night, with no French. I told them I found someone to help and I would show them. My favorite moment of the day was the look on their two bearded faces when I confidently stepped down on to the tracks and started to walk off into the dark. It was a delightful mix of, "what the @£%*", " Is she dangerous?" "Oh man we really need her help" "She looks harmless", and simply "uhhhhh" I was in heaven. After they decided to trust me and follow me off towards no where I explained that the station master lives in the old rail house still. I could hear the breath of relief come out of them both. Once there they were having troubles explaining the problem and understanding the French comming back at them. I stepped in to help again with pigion French to explain that there situation was like mine, stranded. However it turned out that they had not had a reservation for the Barcelona train. They were hoping to catch it but had not pre-booked a seat. So this takes the liability off the rail company a bit. The boys looked worried but with their big silly beards, when they wrinkled their brow they just looked angry so the Station Master was loosing his patience. I explained that even though they did not have a seat reserved , they were stranded none the less and would have caught another train to Barcelona had their been one. So in the end they got a hotel, and free meal too, Thanks to ME!

They did walk me to the hotel across the way, commenting on how crazy I must be to follow a stranger into the dark like that, I simply replyed that they did the same. Once at the hotel they started right in with the loud English and the poor hotel keeper looked terribly lost. I stepped in with a simple sentence in French "Ecusez moi, reservations danse le Hotel au'jourd hui, pour une personne et pour duex personnes." Then I handed him my voucher, yanked the one out of the boys hands and handed that one over too. "Ahhh! Dacar!" he replied and immediatly grabbed room keys and two little baskets of soap and bathroom gifts. He asked me if the two boys wanted one bed or two, and I answered "duex" for them. After several instructions I took both room keys from him and wished him a good night, before starting toward the stairs. I had to give the boys a head nod and gingle their key at them to get them to follow me though. Once up the stairs in the main hallway I explained that the basket was free for their use, they had two sepperate beds, breakfast was between 7-9, and we had to be back across the street at the station for 8:45. I handed them their room key, as they stood their looking dumbfounded, and smiled a very satisfying grin!

They did say thank you and wondered off to their room. I watched 10 min of Star Wars in French, had a hot shower, and slept well in my private room with a double bed.

Tomorrow the 9:20 train to Barcelona... I hope!


Aric Clark said...

Awesome story. I'm sorry it was a stressful and confusing day - what an awesome vindication of your own resourcefulness, though.

Chip Michael said...

Wow, amazing story! While we each have to face those scary moments, trusting in your instincts will get you a long way. You're a smart cookie and as long as you're keeping aware of the situation around you, most of these situations will prove to be harmless. Those that turn out NOT to be you'll be prepared...

I love your writing style

Eddie Louise said...

In this instance you perfectly showed the metal and strength of those heroines in the books you are carrying. A man might expect you to face the unknown and potentially dangerous without emotion - but Anne and Alice both are quite emotional and yet manage to get the job done - just like you! Well done!!

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