Being in Toulouse had been incredibly relaxing. Leaving Toulouse was a different matter.
The problem with having big nights is that when you’re alarm goes off in the morning, there is absolutely nothing that seems more appealing than staying in bed and continuing to sleep. If anyone ever figures how to replicate that feeling they will be raking it in. That, or it’ll be ruled an illegal drug. Either way, the short and long of it was that after the antics of the previous night, waking up was not easy for either Nick or me, and after I’d finally managed to roll myself out of bed and get ready it turned out that I’d left only enough time to get to the station, but not get breakfast as I’d been planning on doing.
The other thing I’d forgotten to do was double check my trains, and as I rushed into the station just in time I realised that all of my connections for the day had a little ‘R’ next to them – reservation compulsory. My heart fell as I made it up to the platform with only a few minutes to spare before my train left. What do I do? Run to the ticket office to get a reservation? Could I make it there and back in just a few minutes? What if there was a line? Did I really want to go on an epic (and long distance) sprint with rucksack in tow?
To get all my connections and reach Malaga that day instead of having to travel all through the night I had to get on that train. Palms sweaty, heart rate racing, I crossed my fingers and jumped on.
I’ve heard a lot of stories about people getting fined in France, and French fines tend to be hefty. More than that, my Eurail Pass Guide had strictly said that I must have a reservation for trains that required them, or I’d have to pay the price of a full ticket and a considerable fine. Last minute train tickets in Europe are more than a little exxy. I’d just stand, I figured, near the entrance to the carriage and sneak out to the bathroom when the conductor arrived. Or maybe I should pretend to be asleep? I struggled for ideas but none seemed very good.
Finally consigning myself to the fate of having to pay a fine, I jumped on the ticket inspector as soon as she entered the carriage, and tried my best with my halting French ‘Excusez-moi, Madame. Je suis très desolee, j’ai un Eurail pass mais je n’ai pas un réservation – here I switched to English ‘I was running late and I didn’t have time and I had to get this train…’ here she interrupted me ‘Jusqu’à ?’ French for ‘until’ ‘Just till Narbonne’, ‘ah oui. C’est bon.’ She smiled and I almost collapsed with relief.
But my troubles didn’t end there. At Narbonne I ran straight to the ticket office to get my next two reservations. No such luck. I waited in line 35minutes, but there were only two women at the desks, a long line of customers, and everyone seemed to be taking it incredibly slowly. I stood chewing my nails and pulling my hair and probably looking like I’d escaped from the nearest asylum, all sweaty and eyes red from lack of sleep. I swear one woman took about half a minute just to walk from the line to the ticket window and I almost wanted to start cheering people forward in the hopes that they’d speed up a bit.
With five minutes to go and a stomach still completely empty I ultimately gave up. I walked out, ran over to the convenience store and picked up a three pack of Toblerones, and hastened to my train, hoping the ticket inspectors in this one would be as kind.
But then, as I climbed the steps onto my platform I was met with the blessed sight of a veritable coterie of ticket inspectors, one with what looked like a money box on him. I jumped. ‘Excusez-moi monsieur, je besoin d’un billet pour la train.’ He laughed at my terrible pronunciation and I switched to English ‘I’m so sorry, I waited in line and couldn’t get a ticket and I have to get on this train, can I please get one from you or if I can’t I’ll just pay the fine, but I have a Eurail pass so it was just the reservation I missed out on, not the ticket…’ I was babbling, and he cut me off ‘pas problème! Alors, you can have this seat, take your bag off, and I’ll come get your money in a little while. First you relax.’ And people say the French aren’t helpful!
So much relief.
In comparison Barcelona was easy. In the line there were only three people ahead of me, and it took just two minutes and I was at the front. ‘Train to Malaga, s’il vous plait’ I asked, forgetting that I was now in a Spanish speaking country. Luckily the ticket woman seemed to understand. I sat and ate a tortilla – Spanish omelette, with fresh slices of baguette on the side topped with olive oil and tomato (3.90 for all that) – food is never so good as when you’re absolutely starving. Getting onto the train in Barcelona was intense though – they had almost airport like security, with baggage screening, and for a moment I was worried they’d take my Swiss army knife and nail cutters off me, the sign listing them as prohibited items.
Luckily, the man at the screen was not paying that much attention and I slipped in with this big bunch of rowdy school students, totally fitting in due to my height, and scooped my bag up. I lose a Swiss army knife every time I go travelling, and I really didn’t want to lose my latest one (this time bought by my darling Mother) so early into this trip. We had a special waiting area, got our tickets scanned, and had to head down to the train in an orderly fashion before moving to our assigned carriages and seats. Once in they handed out headphones so you could watch the TV series showing on the screen at the front or flick between radio stations, just like you did in planes about a decade ago, before they progressed to individual seat screens and expanded their entertainment repertoire to include games.
It was a very nice final journey after the stress of the previous ones. Renfe, out of all the European train operators, is definitely my favourite. I put my head down on the tray table, napped, and a few hours later found myself in Malaga.
Arriving at my hostel at 11:30pm, I figured I’d get some dinner and then head to bed, but after purchasing some paella at the hostel, a bunch of incredibly entertaining and wonderful English exchange students who were studying in Marbella and were down in Malaga for just that night convinced me to come out with them.
So, with my hair in one huge tendrilled knot, clothes damp with sweat, and my eyes bloodshot and sunken, I sprayed myself liberally with deodorant and spent the night dancing instead.
After all, carpe diem, right?