The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Survival of the... Luckiest?

Monday, May 4 2009

We had a train from Carcassonne to Barcelona in the afternoon, so around lunch time we walked down to the McDonald's across the street from the station to kill a few hours on their free WiFi. We were supposed to take a train from Carcassonne to Narbonne, a larger town, then switch for the train to Barcelona. The tickets were pretty expensive, a lot more expensive than I thought they'd be. This was partly because it was a longer journey, but also because my youth discount card was no good for the leg of the trip involving Spain (I had a discount card for French trains), and neither was Daniel's rail pass, which was only for France and Italy.

So we were supposed to leave Carcassonne around 2:00pm, I think, and we'd have about a 30 minute layover in Narbonne before getting on the train to Barcelona. At least, that's what was *supposed* to happen. What *actually* happened was not so simple. When we got to the platform in Carcassonne, we found out that our train was going to be delayed for nearly an hour. This means that we were definitely going to miss our connecting train, which neither one of us were very happy about. We were afraid that we were going to have to buy more tickets, or worse, be stuck in Narbonne overnight. Daniel thought it would be a good idea to start yelling at people in English, but I disagreed (somehow I just didn't think it would be very effective). I succeeded in getting him to wait with the bags while I tried to straighten things out by talking *nicely* in French. I spoke with a woman at the Carcassonne station who told us to go on Narbonne and they would straighten it out there. When we got to Narbonne, we had indeed missed the train we were supposed to be on, but fortunately the woman at the Narbonne station gave us a voucher to get on the next train to Spain, which would be in about two and a half hours.

We were quite relieved to *not* be spending the night in Narbonne, but still nervous enough about not getting out of France to stay in the train station and keep a sharp eye on the departures board. While waiting for the train, we met another American, a girl named Carly, who was in the same predicament. She was also trying to get to Barcelona that night, and was not initially having the same luck with the French train officials, who at first told her she couldn't switch to the later train. She had a rail pass, and we eventually figured out she *could* transfer and get on the same train we were going to be on. We realized we had some time to kill, so we all started talking.

Daniel and I had been feeling a little discouraged that day by the headache with the trains, and, though it wasn't really our fault, I think we still felt a little like we weren't doing a great job that day. Well let me tell you, Carly made us feel a *lot* better about ourselves. She was a nice girl, but she was one of those people who make you just sort of shake your head in amazement and wonder how they survive. She was a college student who had been studying in Austria, and was now traveling a little bit through the rest of Europe. Through some kind of mix-up, she had ended up leaving her bank/credit card in a friend's purse, and the friend wasn't with her any more. She was apparently meeting her friends again in Barcelona, who would arrive in a few days, but for the next three days or so all she had was about 30 euros in cash. She had no hostel reservations, no credit cards, nothing but a small backpack and her wits.

I was a little concerned about her, but she didn't seem at all distressed. She had taken photos with her digital camera of screens on hostelworld dot com and was going to use them to navigate her way to a cheap hostel. She seemed to have found one for about 8 euros a night.... which I can tell you, is not a place I would want to stay. She also regaled us with tales of her misadventures in Europe thus far, including how she had accidentally crashed a stranger's funeral earlier that day in Lourdes. She was quite the impressive girl. She also told us about a friend of hers who had left her bag on a beach somewhere and gone swimming... only to come back and find all of her stuff (money, cards, passport, clothes, etc) stolen (duh). The only thing the thief left her was her coat, so she wrapped herself in it and rode the trains illegally all the way back to Austria, hiding in the bathroom when the ticket checkers came by. Now, I have been in a couple of slightly sticky situations myself during my travels, but I have to say I've never ridden trains illegally across of half of Europe in only a bathing suit and a coat.

Like I said, Carly's stories about her and her friends made us feel pretty good about ourselves.

Eventually the train arrived and we boarded for what we hoped would be a ride that terminated in Barcelona. It turned out we had to change at the border, but that ended up not being a big deal. Despite the fact that the windows were really filthy, the train ride to the Spanish border, before the sun set, was really beautiful. For much of the time we were traveling along the coastline, and we had stunning views of huge jagged cliffs towering over the waves below. There were times when the train went right along the edge, and we could see the water hundreds of feet below. It was absolutely breathtaking. I noticed that the stretch of coastline around Cerbère, which is in France almost right at the Spanish border, was particularly beautiful. We changed at Port Bou, just over the border, and were finally on our way to Barcelona.

It was late when we arrived, but fortunately the metro was still running, and we had no trouble finding our hostel. In fact, I was very pleasantly surprised by how nice the metro was in Barcelona. I wasn't sure what to expect, but in terms of cleanliness and modernity it was miles (or should I say kilometers?) ahead of Paris and light years ahead of New York. It was right on par with London, and in fact many of the stations were cleaner and newer than a lot of London stations. I'm sure this had something to do with the fact that Barcelona hosted the Olympics a few years ago, but even so I was quite impressed.

We got checked in to our hostel, which we had a good feeling about immediately. The owners lived there as well, and were really nice people. We could tell it was going to be a good experience, and we weren't wrong. We were tired enough to go to bed almost immediately, after signing up for a group excursion to a park and a free meal the following day. Happy to have reached our destination, we fell into bed and rested up for our first full day in Barcelona.

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