The trip home that wouldn't end

February 20th 2016
Published: February 27th 2016
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Weird Dutch carWeird Dutch carWeird Dutch car

The Dutch have a tradition of fixing up cars for less than 500 bucks and then they drive them around Europe. I saw a few on this day.
Saturday February 20, 2016 – Today was meant to be a relaxing day. Just a travel day back to Basel. The plan was to take the bus from Andorra to Toulouse for 3.5 hours, check out Toulouse for 2-3 hours, and then start the overnight train journey home. I had already planned out where to leave my bag and what I would have for dinner, which churches to go to, and which sights to see in Toulouse. None of that happened. It started out fine. I got up early, repacked and watched my two tv shows that came on in the states last night. Thanks to the internet and some dedicated gremlins who do all the uploading, I am always only one day behind. I left at 9:15, and on my way out, Maria appeared suddenly, hugging me and wishing me a good trip. She’s really nice – too bad her apartment smells like the inside of a 85 year old smoker’s lungs. I gave myself plenty of time to walk to the bus that left at 10am, and found it with no problem. I got on the bus 20 minutes early and got the front seat with the best view. This time it was a huge bus, but wasn’t full to start. Eventually we picked up more and more people from ski resorts, as we had to go up in elevation before going down into France. It was such a different view than the whole lot of nothing I had seen arriving in the dark. The only benefit to that was a deer bounding off into the woods and a psycho fast driver. This was beautiful. But there was a problem. There was traffic. A lot of traffic. Stand still traffic. People actually got out to smoke traffic. At first, I wasn’t worried – how long could it last? Then I was a little worried that I would miss some of Toulouse. Then I was just worried. There was an English family sitting next to and behind me, a parent with a kid each. And in between the kids taking turns crying, the parents were complaining that they would miss their flight. They were totally stressed out – seriously, why do people have kids, but thanks for keeping me employed – but now they were stressing me out. It started looking like I might actually miss my train that left at 4:54. We were supposed to arrive in Toulouse at 1:30pm and at 2:30pm, it looked like we might have another 2 hours. And that was to the airport, which came before my stop. I tried not to get too worried about it, and started to think about how I might get home if I missed my train. Maybe another train tomorrow? Maybe a flight? But was it worth worrying about yet? Luckily I was sitting right by the driver and told him when my train was, just so he knew he should step on the gas when it became possible.

At 2:30pm, we stopped for a bathroom break, as people were starting to complain. Personally, I felt like I would burst but would have continued just to make it on time. But I was the first to pee anyway. Everyone was taking a long time getting back on, and some even went over to the shop. The English couple wanted the driver to leave without them. Kind of funny, kind of not. But when we got back on the road, there was no more traffic, so we could drive normally. It seemed then like we would make it to the airport on time for those with the 5:10pm flight to catch, at least. Their check-in gate closed at 4:30pm. We got there at 4:11pm, but not sure if they made it or not. One of those kids smelled like poop for the last half hour of the drive, so I think that would take some time to clean up.

When we arrived at the airport, I asked the driver if I should get a taxi to the train station. He said we would leave as soon as everyone had grabbed their luggage. And we did. We parked at the bus station just after 4:30pm, the same time I had planned to be there originally (after all the sight-seeing). I thanked the driver, and walked over to the train station next door. I even had time to buy a sandwich to eat for dinner on the train, since my kebab plan was clearly over. I validated my train tickets and went to the platform to wait. I was so happy to make it. And excited to get home early tomorrow to have a full day at home before work on Monday.

The train came in and I managed to get on near seat 100, and my seat was number 4, so I had to navigate my way past many others coming and going in both directions. Difficult, but I made it. I put my bag up and as soon as the train left, I used the bathroom. Of course I did. This train from Toulouse went to Marseille St Charles in about four hours, and I spent that time mostly writing in my journal and reading.

In Marseille, I had about an hour and twenty minutes to wait for my overnight train to Mulhouse. Or so I thought. When I looked up at the monitors to find which track my train would depart from, my train was not on the list. I looked, and looked again, but I couldn’t find it. Not to brag, but I’m good at reading numbers and letters, and it still wasn’t there. At this point, I went to the lounge (they had a lounge! In other train stations you can barely find a chair) to ask about the train. One woman spoke English and could help me. After a while, she told me the train was not coming. I am not clear about why – if it did not actually exist, or if there was a problem on this particular day. Either way, my dream of getting home the next morning had just died. There was not another train until the morning, at almost exactly the same time I should be pulling in to Basel after a sleep on the train. Eventually she gave me a voucher for a nearby hotel and another to eat dinner at a restaurant in the station. She told me to go eat while she got my new tickets ready. I asked her again which restaurant it was, and she Magdo. Did I not know Magdo? Then I finally realized it was McDonalds! It seems they call is MacDo for short. And with a French accent, it sounded cooler than it was. I stopped eating at McD years ago, but I figured I would go look anyway. I’ve seen all the McD in France have big screens that you order from, presumably to make it go faster. I looked at a bunch options and decided to get a chicken salad for the train tomorrow (hoping it did not poison me after being out of the fridge for a day), a water and an ice cream parfait. I had high hopes for the ice cream, but there was just so much syrup compared to ice cream. Not as good as I had hoped. But interesting to play around with someone else’s 12 bucks. Interestingly, it was not faster to use that machine. Eventually my number came up, and I went to pay, and she had to type in everything by hand and was only learning, so it took forever. And then she had to see about my voucher and then they had to get the food together. So much for convenience.

After the parfait mishap, I went to collect my new train tickets and got on my way to the hotel, which was near the Ibis but not the Ibis. I couldn’t find it, and I didn’t want to wander around near the train station in the dark so I went back. Two other girls were going there too, so we walked together. It was not far, just not exactly where I had looked, and did not have a sign to read until you got to the door. We had to ring and explain why we were there and then someone let us in. I checked in first, and it took longer than expected, but eventually I was on my way to room 302 in the Orfea hotel. You may have noticed that I never stay in hotels. I just find them so impractical. I want a refrigerator and a kitchen. But I realized it was the most privacy I’d had all week. The shower was behind clear glass, right in the room itself, but the toilet was in a little room of its own. Like a closet. The wifi existed but was broken. There was no tv, so that was really the end of my night.

Sunday February 21 - Even though the hotel is close to the train station – like practically inside of it – it is really well insulated and I didn’t hear anything. I got up at 6:30 and walked over to the Ibis hotel for breakfast. I had a voucher to eat there from the Orfea, and I’m so glad I did. They had a good breakfast buffet and wifi. It was pretty relaxing to sit there. And when I left for the train, expecting to have to wait for it to pull in as it passed through, I saw it was already there. And then I saw that my seat was for first class, a nice treat (even though my sleeper probably cost more).

First class is nice, but not as nice as I expected. I had a forward-facing chair that faced just one other chair, and it was quiet. For an hour. The chair reclines to sleep a bit easier, and there was a table to write on, but there was no good place to keep my backpack if someone sat in the seat in front of me. I could put it above, but then there is nowhere to keep the things I’d like out, except on the table, but I’d have to move everything to comfortably get in my bag. But still, it was pretty comfortable. I continued to spend a lot of time trying to capture pictures as the world blurred by, but the train moves quickly and it was still hard to take anything nice out of a train window. And when I did see the perfect shot, I could guarantee that there would be a tree or a pole in the way as soon as I took the shot.

An hour into the trip, a woman and her two kids got on and sat right across from me, in a four seater. One of the kids must have been about 3 years old, and the rest of the trip felt like back in second class. It became so loud, whether the kid was happy or not. Really unpleasant. It almost made eating my chicken salad from McDonald’s not so embarrassing. But I finished my book and made it to Mulhouse by about 1pm. Mulhouse is only about 20 minutes from Basel. I had to wait about 10-15 minutes for that train and when I got on, I was quite quickly kicked out of first class like the second class garbage I so clearly was. Apparently, the upgrade did not apply to that ride.

I got home by 2pm and was knee-deep in happy cats soon thereafter. A reunion, a run and a beautiful evening sky. A good homecoming.

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