At Ourense, we joined the queue in the rail station, well I say there was a queue, actually there was an old man being served in front of us. He was in his early seventies I would say and he was dresses in his best falling down gear. Maybe he was a farmer, or just a bit slow, as this ticket-buying exercise he was currently attempting was clearly a bridge too far for him. The time was ebbing away for us as it usually does in times like these and the train was now at the platform. We were served quickly, as I managed to purchase two singles to Bilbao and were quickly ushered onto the train by a lovely little station platform guard, whose job was (as he saw it) to ensure all travellers and tourists were on the train that they bought tickets for.
Some platforms had two trains abutted together but heading in different directions and spotting them was not easy – queue the little man who was an expert in such matters.
After a couple of hours sleep on the train, I was up and about and two carriages along a found the buffet bar. Julian joined me and we toasted my special day with two warm beers.
“Happy birthday mate” Julian said in tones that made me think he’d forgotten. “Sorry, I forgot” he confirmed.
“So much happening it must have slipped my mind”.
What a way to celebrate my birthday, stuck on a train with Rip van Winkle for nine hours, oh joy of joys.
I commented that this car has much more room than our carriage and maybe we should stay in here for the journey. There were bar stools up against the window so the views were perfect, and like I said, it was almost empty. My travelling companion didn’t like the idea, as he preferred to slumber in the comfy seats of our carriage, so off he trotted. I stayed for one more beer whilst trying to image what great hardship the barman must have suffered in life to make him this miserable, he really was an ignorant so and so.
Talking of birthdays, on the face of it this is a really strange way to celebrate mine. Or is it? Too many people almost force themselves to enjoy the annual celebration of their birth, quite often they are pressurised by their peer group to over-indulge and often end up feeling ten times worse the next day. But with us seeing and experiencing so many amazing sights already on a daily basis, travelling for almost eleven hours is immaterial, making my birthday almost unimportant. I say almost, because to add to the vast amount of travelling today, we are also financially tied to our meagre budget. Simply speaking, after paying for the bus and train today, we have a huge three euros for tonight’s accommodation, food and drink, so what birthday?
I joined Jules back in the carriage and to my surprise he was awake. We had been travelling now for about five hours and when we stopped at the next station most people got off the train for what seemed to be an official cigarette and leg stretch break. We started talking to a very small Australian lady who was travelling around Europe (like they all do). She didn’t look old enough to be allowed out by herself, let alone be thousands of miles from home. She was just exploring where she was heading off to next when something startled her and she stopped in mid sentence, to exclaim, “That’s my carriage”.
Our train had split in two and the front bit (including my famous buffet bar) which also had this girl’s luggage, passport, tickets and everything was now off to Southern France, whilst she stood helpless on the platform almost paralysed by shock.
In the midst of this episode our train started to leave and whilst I was trying to help this poor girl with my best Spanish, it was clear that my involvement was rapidly ending.
We left her on the platform with a friendly looking guard who although spoke no English, was taking her to the next major town, where he would call ahead and get her bags sent there. At worst she may have to wait for a few hours, at best an hour. She waved us off with tears streaming down her face, we felt bad but there really wasn’t a lot more we could do. We were pretty relieved that I didn’t get my way on my birthday and move us to the bar carriage otherwise that could have been us!
This has made me realise one thing. Money isn’t everything, until you lose it, or it takes off on another train in another direction alongside your passport and clothes and I instantly make a decision to fund our food and drink tonight from my own pocket. We can use tomorrow’s budget to help with a room, but the rest is on me.
We arrive in Bilbao on time, but I wonder where our little Australian ended up………