Getting from Barcelona to Valencia: a surprisingly challenging feat

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I had to leave Caroline by herself in Barcelona; I and plans to travel by train to Valenica to see JC & Hunt and Caroline's friend Fio was flying into Barcelona at 6:00 P.M. I only left her alone for a short while.

We parted ways and I took the metro to the train station, but when I got to the Barcelona train station, however, the day took a turn for the worse. First of all, anyone who tells you can you go to Europe speaking only English is either lying to you, or they must have had some pretty fortunate experiences with whom they interacted. No one that I came into contact with in Barcelona spoke English. At all. Thank goodness my Spanish has improved so much since I've been here (thanks to Sergio and Roman and Alberto), because I had to speak it non-stop at the train station. I walked up to the ticket counter to buy my ticket for the 5:30 train to Valencia. I had told JC & Hunt to be at the Valencia airport at 8:30, and wasn't planning on using my cell phone to call them (I am on an Austrian pay-as-you-go plan, so calling a Spain number would be very expensive). 

I got to the train station at 5:00 and when I approached the counter to buy my ticket, saw that the 5:30 train was sold out. So was the 6:30 train. So was the 7:30 train. There was an 8:00 train, so I told the man I'd like to take that train to Valencia. These tickets are usually around 20 euro. He told me the total was 50 euro. When I asked why it was so expensive, he said that 2nd class was sold out and only 1st class was available. The 8:00 train put me in Valencia at 11:30. I didn't want to take any later trains, in the event that I had to walk somewhere and find JC & Hunt, so I paid the 50 euro, but I was on the verge of tears because I'm on a tight budget and had only planned to spend 20 euro. I took my ticket, saw that the platform number was 11, and walked over to the platform. Most train stations in Europe are pretty relaxed. However, after the Madrid station was bombed a few years ago, Spain has completely transformed their train stations. You have to go through 2 security checkpoints to board your train, which means that you cannot access your train platform until 30 minutes before your flight. I didn't realize this, and when I tried to go through security, they saw that my train was leaving in 3 hours, and told me I couldn't access the platform. As this conversation was all in Spanish, I panicked slightly, but then understood. That meant that I had 3 hours to aimlessly wonder through the train station. Not fun. I knew I needed to call JC & Hunt and let them know that they should not be at the train station at 8:30, but rather 11:30. I called both of their phones repeatedly but they didn't answer. The fact that I couldn't get a hold of them, combined with the 50 euro ticket, combined with 3 hours of waiting until my train -- all of that put me on the verge of tears.

I finally just walked to a book store in the station and sat down and read (it would have been more comfortable to buy the book and sit in the first class lounge but I refused to do so, as I had just spent more on my one-way ticket then I was expecting to spend on the round trip ticket). In the time I was sitting there, I finally reached JC & Hunt; I explained the circumstances and they assured me they would be at the Valencia station in time to retrieve me.

8:30 finally rolled around, and as I boarded the train, I realized first class wasn't so bad (and maybe I should fly first class more often?). They played The Family Stone, since the train ride was 3 and a half hours long, which I refused to watch a) because it isn't Christmastime and b) because it was in Catalan and I can't afford to fall in love with a new language right now. Catalan is pretty different than Spanish. Sergio, who was born and raised in Spain, met a girl the other day from Spain who spoke Catalan. They tried to talk to each other and he told me neither of them had any idea what the other was saying. However, after a few minutes of refusing to watch the movie, I gave in; comparing every line to Spanish and analyzing the difference in pronunciation, etc. This exercised my brain just enough to put me to sleep. I woke up before the train rolled into Valencia and I became so excited to see my friends. 

I stepped off the train and ran to the front of the station. After a few minutes I spotted JC & Hunt (it was not hard, as JC was wearing an OSU orange beanie with basketball shorts and Hunt was wearing a track suit -- they didn't exactly blend right in). It was so so nice to be reunited with my friends. 

They took me to their flat (they live with a French boy named Will and a French girl named Marian; their roommates are super nice and I loved meeting them). They called their friends from Holland to come over and meet me, too. I could tell that JC & Hunt were both so excited to see a familiar face, just as I was to see theirs. JC told me, "You have no idea how nice it is to see you. We have been dying for some American interaction". Apparently, both of them (neither speak Spanish very well and JC actually refuses to learn, which should surprise no one who knows JC) have been struggling with the lack of efficient communication with other people, as you can imagine; they have their 2 roommates and a few friends they've met in class, but aren't guaranteed easy communication with any of them, as everyone's English is pretty limited there.

Anyhow, they made me feel welcome and had blocked off the entire living room area as my 'sleeping quarters' and I fell fast asleep, ready to sight-see all over Valencia in the morning!

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