Saturday, June 27, 2009

not your usual travel journal - PART 4

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

* * * *

May 28, 2009

"The very long road to Barcelona"

I don't trust the French transport system.

We have been sitting in our first class Eurail coach for almost 4 hours now, and the train stops several miles from Montpellier, where we are supposed to take a connecting train to Barcelona.
Someone jumped on the tracks to end his life. The police made all French Eurail trains stop as they investigate. God knows how long this will take. We have a train to Barcelona to catch, and if this takes longer than 30 minutes, we're going to be left behind.

In a French town we know nothing about.

With no hotel.

This is not good.

* * * *

It has been 40 minutes. We are still in the train, in the middle of farmland.

I consoled myself with some hot chocolate and Vittel mineral water.

A young French guy with a Macbook
and a yellow unicycle (really) is translating for us. He says that Eurail management may arrange either a hotel for stranded passengers, or at the very least another train.

I decide to panic.

* * * *

(Two hours hour later....)

We are sitting on our bags in the tiny Montpellier station, and the Spanish train has left. It is unclear how we will get to Barcelona now. The station smells awful. Too many people are breathing.

At least we are not alone. We are in the company of our
new multinational friends - travellers who, like us, are trapped by the inefficiency of the joke that is the French train system, and are also going to Barcelona. There's:

(a) an affluent, semi-retired Australian couple
(b) an Australian tax collector
(c) two backpacking Malaysians, and
(d) a young Dutch woman.

Each of them has a story.

The Aussie couple just sent their kids off to college, and are now doing what empty nesters do - they travel. A week before visiting France, they spent time in Italy, which they described as "a place you should never visit without an interpreter." They are not new to the inefficiency of the French train system; apparently all their Eurail trips since the start of their vacation have been delayed for some reason or another.

The two backpacking Malaysians (both girls) are younger than us - just fresh out of college. They have been backpacking around the EU for a month now, after a short stay in Turkey. Like me, they think that Paris is overrated. They are so happy to find out that
I am Asian, and want to team up with MSP and me in figuring out how to get out of France. They have no faith in the intelligence of other genetic stocks, and would prefer that we Asians stick together and leave the others behind. Yes, they are somewhat racist, but also very smart. A Malay racist is always more interesting than a Caucasian racist, don't you think? :)

Meanwhile there's the Australian tax collector, who is also a mom to two boys. This is her "great adventure." She says that this trip is part of her prenup - that is, she and her husband agreed to let each other take some time off (alone, away from each other and from the kids) whenever they want. She has always travelled as a single woman, she says, and cannot survive without taking off every few years. I like her. She's cool.

Finally there's the Dutch girl, who is a student and a part-time waitress. She says she had to negotiate with her boss and other colleagues to get a week off, and is very excited to see Barcelona.
Lotsa cute guys, she says. (She was right). This delay is eating up her very short vacation. She wants to cry.

And then there's us. Two Filipinos stranded in a train station in Montpellier, France. We own a small company, and this is our first time in Europe. We have been dating for eight years. We had to apply for a visa to get here - a process that took more than a month. The EU wanted to know everything - how much we were worth, what kind of people we were, what we usually have for lunch. With the money we spent to be here, we could buy a suburban house in the Philippines. This delay pisses us off, of course, but isn't this what travelling is about? New people, new experiences, same old baguette?

The next train to Barcelona will be tomorrow. NO, there are no free hotel rooms. NO, there are no "special" trains. We'll have to sleep in this dingy station.

At this point we decide to take the Malaysians up on their offer.

* * * *

We figure out that there is a bus to Barcelona. No one tells us this crucial information, as no one in the train station speaks English. We learn about it by brute force and a lot of hand gestures.

Here's the plan: We just need to take another train to another French town nearer the Spanish border, and there should be a bus to Barcelona from there.

Off we go. (We take everyone with us, even when the Malaysians wanted to leave them behind.)

* * * *

On the connecting train, we meet an elderly French woman who refuses to talk to us when she finds out we are from the Philippines. "
Cultures très différentes," she says while signaling "NO" with her hand.

That's okay, old lady. We have nothing to say to you, either.

P.S. I also find elderly racists interesting, like Malay racists.

* * * *

It is almost 10pm and we are in a bus to Barcelona. Like everything French, this vehicle is anything but first-world. The buses in Manila are much better. This one is cramped and smells like moist socks.

I want to sleep, but the people behind me are talking too loud. A passionate Barcelonan is trying (and failing) to befriend a Japanese couple. A Nigerian is talking about how hard it is to find work in this continent. I can hear an American complaining. It's a f*cking circus.

* * * *
May 29, 2009


MSP wakes me up. I fell asleep on his arm.

We're in Barcelona. My last memory was crossing the Spanish border. I must have dozed off right after.

* * * *

We walk from Estacio de Sants (Barcelona's central station) to wherever the crowd was going. The metro was closed, and we have to take a cab. The Australian tax collector agreed to share one with us, as our hotels were close by.

The wind is cold (it IS almost 3am, after all) and I feel the chill. I put on my red bonnet, and people look at me like I'm weird.

Now I understand the signs - even if they were Catalan. This country made more sense to me.

"¿Es esta la estación de taxis?" I find myself saying to a woman wearing the Barcelona futbol jersey. They just won an important match yesterday, and people here are still festive.

"Si, aqui," she replies. Oh my god I can live here.

* * * *

The cab driver is very polite. I already love Spain. Everyone is so nice, just like Pinoys.

We are not in France anymore :) Amen.

We expected another dimly lit, three-star hotel and completely forgot that we booked ourselves to a more posh establishment - the Ritz Barcelona. When I saw it, I wanted to cry. It was beautiful - certainly many many stars away from the dump we called "hotel" in Provence.

Our neoclassical-style hotel was built in 1899 was recently renovated. Hitler used to stay here a lot. It is right in the heart of the Eixample district, surrounded prestigious shopping and tourist areas. We can be in the avenue Passeig de Gràcia, the Plaça Catalunya, or the Las Ramblas in just a few minutes by foot.

While MSP and I resolved not to be picky during this trip, we appreciated all the luxury. After all, we just went through the hell that is the French train system.

The bathroom is nice and big. They gave us several bottles of shampoo and several bars of soap - unlike in France, where people never seem to shower. There is a huge flatscreen TV, free internet, and a 1000-count sheets. It reminds me so much of the condo back at home.

Viva Espana.

* * * *

Tomorrow we walk around Barcelona, taste the legendary TAPAS, and visit everything Gaudi ever made.

Good night!!!



Blogger {illyria} said...

love the hotel. reminds me of this spanish architecture book i once browsed through. one of the pages showed a castle--a mix of gothic/mudejar. la lang, your pic reminded me of it.

blocked na blogspot sa amin. so is flickr. pathetic.

11:36 AM  
Blogger mussolini said...

i'm sure you can charm the IT guys to give you access :)

4:31 PM  
Blogger acey said...

nice hotel room! great colors.

can't wait for the tapas. :D

5:16 PM  
Blogger mussolini said...

acey> yeah i'll post in a bit :)

7:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I attempted to email you pertaining to this post but aren?t able to reach you. Please e-mail me when get a moment. Thanks.

8:33 PM  
Blogger mussolini said...

just leave your email here.

4:56 PM  

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