Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Barcelona Part I - Arrival

I made the twenty minute journey by train from Nimes to Montpellier where I was due to connect to a train to Barcelona. In the Montpellier station a list of train departures on a screen indicated that several had been delayed; next to my train departure the word supprime appeared. I only knew the word in the context of email, if I delete an email it becomes supprime. I didn´t quite understand that this meant my train had been canceled until an announcement spoken in French went over the PA system telling ticket holders bound for Barcelona to board the train heading to Perpignan, and switch trains at Narbonne. I went to the designated track, where people laden with bags were jammed into the entryway of the train. After asking if it was okay to take an empty seat - some trains have seating assignments, I squeezed my way into a car filled with rowdy adolescents. Across from me a dark-eyed teenager wearing heavy eyeliner called her parents on a cell phone to tell them she´d be arriving late, and a woman who must have been related to one of the teenagers made a particularly loud boy move from the back of the car and sit next to her. He plead innocence, repeating that it wasn´t him, it was his friends who were being so loud.

The train inched along, stopping at towns with names like Sete, Agde and Beziers. I kept an ear out for Norbonne, I had no idea how far it was or how many stops came before it. The train came to complete stops when fast moving trains approached on parallel tracks, causing the windows to shake, and sending the same jolt down my spine that I get if I press my face up to an aquarium facing right only to have a shark sneak up on me from the left.

At Narbonne the train to Barcelona was conveniently located across the platform; I took my assigned seat in a berth next to two English speaking men drinking Mahou beer. One of them was round and balding, the other thin and full-haired, and from their discussion it seemed they were heading to Barcelona on business. The PA system broadcasted announcements in French and Spanish until we reached the border, an unmanned expanse of railyard where the train stood for fifteen minutes in the dark. After a mighty chunk noise that rattled the whole train, we inched towards the first town across the border, where passport control came through the train. From then on the PA announcements were in Catalan and Spanish.

As the train made its approach into Barcelona-Estació de França, I made sure that my secret wallet was secure under my clothing, and that my pacsafe purse was snug against me. 500 grams of Swiss chocolate wasn´t the only gift dad had given me in France, he´d also passed on the gift of paranoia. Initially we´d planned on meeting in Spain, but dad insisted that recent ETA activity made it dangerous, and emailed me a link to an article in Frommers that named Barcelona the world´s top locale for pickpocketing. When I wrote to my friend Mara asking if ETA affected her daily life in Barcelona, she answered in two words: "um, no." I figured as much, but pickpocketing is high on my list of things to be afraid of, having lost a good chunk of money, two credit cards and my drivers license in one fell swoop during the first half hour of a visit to Paris a few years ago. I probably grew from the experience, but its not one I want to repeat.

Mara had sent me walking directions from the station, I marked the route on a map and committed as much of it to memory as possible; I didn't want to risk looking like a vulnerable tourist in the dark. I navigated the narrow, colorfully lit streets from the train station, passing through the Ribera, crossing La Rambla and walking into El Raval, the new scenery enveloping my senses as if in a dream. After about 15 minutes I found Mara's apartment building on Carrer d'En Roig, and pressed the buzzer. Her familiar voice came through the speaker, and she buzzed me in. I climbed the three flights of stairs to her apartment, where she stood in the doorway, beaming and eight months pregnant.


Midtagessen said...

Thank you for taking me on your journey...I so needed a vacation. (-:

JP said...

Glad I could take you with me!