adventures, teenage son, travel
Comments 4

How to never end up at Shit Creek

Our journey back to London from Barcelona Wednesday 4 November 2015 started OK, got really Good, then went Pear-Shaped, and fell out the bottom of Shit Creek with the most expensive non-existent paddles I ever bought.

It begins with the flight time. I thought it was 10am. That’s OK. We would have to get up very early, but we’d be fine, we’re both good at that. I checked the e-ticket: it was actually 13.50. That’s really Good. Lots more time to negotiate the metro system to the airport, and save wasting Euros on a taxi [insert ironic, manic laughter here, and repeat phrase ‘save wasting Euros’ while frothing at mouth. Oops sorry, *spoiler alert*].

I looked it all up on Journey Planner. Took screen shots of the connections we had to make (walk, metro, change metro, walk, train, shuttle bus). Timed it so we’d be at the airport by 12.30 at the latest, with the Gate closing at 13.30:

screenshot

See how smooth and easy this is going to be?

Packed the night before. Agreed we’d get up at 8.30, to leave by 10.30. Slept quite well, and was surprised to hear ‘15’ getting up at 8.15 to shower and finish packing (like I said in previous post, he’s great to travel with).

Left the apartment at 10.33. Walked to metro. Caught train. Walked to next metro. Caught train. Got to main train station, Barcelona Sants. Asked official railway employee directions for train to airport and shuttle bus. ‘Platform 9 or 10’ she said, in English. Bought tickets. Walked to Platform 9, and it’s only 11.30 or so. I’m smugly smiling, knowing we only have another 30 mins max to travel, and we’ll be at airport (already checked in online of course, with great seats allocated). There are lots of people with suitcases standing around on Platform 9 & 10. Obviously. We’re all going to the airport right? This is all so Good.

‘15’ says ‘Is it 9 or 10?’ I say ‘Either I guess, that’s what she said.’

A train pulls in on 9. The intercom makes a slurry announcement in Spanish that makes no sense to me. Lots of people with suitcases get up and start getting on; there’s a feeling of excitement in the air- the train is here!

So we get on too, hauling our heavy cases up the high steps. Everyone is on, piling on big and small cases, scruffy and full cases, backpacks and holdalls.

Everyone except that rich-looking, Spanish-looking older couple, standing in the middle of the platform with their 4 cases around them like a moat round a castle. They don’t budge. And I wonder why.

The train begins to move slowly. I ask ‘15’ if he heard the word ‘airport’ in the slurry announcement. He says no. My belly starts to sink. The train’s interior looks like a regional, long distance, comfortable luxury liner, not a quick, well-used tourist rattler to the airport.

Shit. Are we on the wrong train? And here, dear Reader, is where I should have done what I instinctively wanted to do. At this exact moment, which is literally making me feel sick to write about again, I looked up at the Emergency handle. You know, the red one up on the wall. I wanted to pull it. My desperate inner mother wanted to pull it. My drama queen wanted to pull it. My efficient perfectionist wanted to pull it. My naughty inner clown certainly wanted to pull it. My rebellious, determined, self sufficient Firehorse almost pulled it…

But I didn’t. We were now moving too fast, and perhaps this was in fact the train to the airport, and it was all going to be OK? At worst, we could just get off at the next stop along and go back, and re-try… We had loads of time…

And so began the descent into Pear-Shaped. It was an express train to Tarragona. Express as in ‘non-stop’. Non-stop as in ‘travelling for almost an hour and a half in the opposite direction to the airport’.

F*ck. F*ck. F*ckitty f*ck. I said it 10 times in 20 seconds. I saw our smooth, organized trip home to London dominoeing over before my eyes. ‘15’ was naively unaware of what it could all mean (hence my delight in educating him with such salubrious sleeping accommodation in the photos further down).

We confirmed it all with the conductor who came along to check tickets. If we got off at Tarragona, a place I hated already, could we possibly get the next express train back and by some miracle make it to the airport shuttle bus?

No we could not.

Just let that feeling sink into you for a moment. “No, we could not.”

Nothing we could do but sit down, and say F*ck heaps more times. But without the star symbol.

How can I shorten this Pear-Shaped bit for you, dear Reader? Well I can’t really, so I won’t. Come, suffer with me, so that you will learn the lesson we all need to learn…

Got to Tarragona. Rang British Airways on my mobile (please add ‘expensive, 30-minute data-roaming phone call’ to the final expenses at end). Could they get us on the next flight to London today? Sure: it’s at 17.30. Perfect. Any seats? Sure. Perfect. How much? Only an extra 900 pounds each. Oh, let’s put that into Australian dollars shall we: $1,903AUS. Each.

Well that’s not an option! The helpful operator suggested we get ourselves to the airport, and search out better fares there in person. Ok, that makes sense, and anyway, here comes the train back…

Except they won’t let us on it, because we haven’t pre-booked our tickets. Or I think that’s why, seeing as it’s all happening in Spanish, of which neither ’15’ nor I can speak a word.

Off goes the train. I hold back tears of rage frustration. Buy two tickets ($67AUS). Wait 30 minutes for next train, waving goodbye to the tiny, miraculous hope that we could in fact have made our plane. Catch the next train. Wave goodbye to Tarragona, (which I now hate so much I am even going to throw out my tarragon herb jar when I get home), and share a special moment at 13.50 together, waving goodbye to our two seats on the pretty, shiny, expensive British Airways plane, where people speak the same language, give out free food, and Life flows smooth and easy.

We step off the shuttle bus at 15.00. But unbeknown to us, someone has removed Barcelona airport, and replaced it with Shit Creek.

British Airways can’t fly us to London till 22.00 tonight (Weds), seats $1031AUS each. Vueling Airways can do London on Thursday 17.30 $500AUS total. Ryanair can get us to London Thursday 18.00 for $450AUS each (I thought you’re meant to be a budget airline!?). EasyJet offer us Paris Thurs 16.00 $500 total. It’s Wednesday people, Wednesday, and Paris is not London. How can everything else be booked out, or ridiculously expensive?? We’ve gone between Terminal 1 and 2 (good airlines/cheap airlines) for 2 hours, pulling 20kg bags each plus backpacks. We’re drinking water, but no food since breakfast at 9am. There’s been no tears, no yelling, no fights. We have taken notes on my phone of all the options (genius move on my part, as god knows how else we’d have remembered everything), and have discussed staying in Barcelona another night…

But you know what? More than anything, we wanted to be back in England. Barcelona had been beautiful, but rocky (see previous post HERE). We’d both had enough. And poor ‘15’ had been in foreign countries for 6 weeks, unable to speak naturally with anyone except me, missing the company of his friends and family. We planned the whole trip to Spain around being back in the UK for tennis and soccer practice with his cousin ‘S15too’ on Thursdays, plus dinner in their now-favourite hamburger café…

Which is my disclaimer for doing what I did next, in deciding to buy two very expensive, non-existent paddles: the last 2 seats on Ryanair Barcelona to Paris 19.20 that same evening.

I left ‘15’ eating a chicken schnitzel burger and chips, and did the deal with the devil at the ticket sales counter. She was very sweet, and actually charged me the cheaper online price, even though we were doing it face to face. She rang ahead to the check-in counter, who let ‘the Australians’ off with 2 kilos of overweight bags (not much, but it all adds up).

We arrived in Beauvais Paris airport at 21.20, and caught the shuttle bus for 90 mins into the centre of Paris. We shared a ‘Hello Eiffel Tower’ moment together from the front seat of the bus, and it was lovely to feel almost at home together in France again, so unexpectedly. We trekked across to the Metro with numerous other weary, bag-pulling travellers, caught 2 trains and a bus to Charles De Gaulle airport, arriving at midnight. My LEGEND of a cousin ‘G’ had texted back and forth with me during the ordeal (please add ‘multiple expensive data-roaming text messages’ to the final expenses), and I’d asked him to buy us two flights to London as early as possible: he’d come through with the goods, and we only had to wait till 5.30 to check in, flight at 7.30.

Did you know there’s a website called ‘sleepinginairports.com’? Tells you good quiet places to nap, techniques for keeping your luggage safe, remembering to set an alarm, and how to make snug beds. Turns out I’m a natural at all that anyway, so ‘15’ slept while I dozed:

bench

Used with permission

I then made myself a great bed on the 2 cases, which ‘15’ took when he woke up, and slept once more:

BlurryGuru

Used with permission again. And yes, he’s wearing an eye mask like some damn levitating guru

But I didn’t mind. Because for the rest of his life, he will be able to say ‘Yeah, I travelled in Europe with my Mum when I was 15, and we missed a flight, but we sorted it out together, and found joy in it, being a team. And I was so proud of her because she was determined to get me home to hang out with my cousin, and I told her I loved her a few times, and I held her hand a few times, and I looked at her with great respect a few times too. And yes, I’m quite prepared to sleep in airports to save money, and go without dinner if I have to, and I don’t make a fuss, and I’ve discovered how resilient my Mum and I can be, despite stress. And that sometimes, credit cards are an essential gift you’ve just got to use, without regret or fear, and be completely grateful.’ Or something like that anyway.

I’m typing this from bed at my cousin’s in London the next day. I’m staying here all day, in my pyjamas. That’s my reward. We got ‘home’ at 11am Thurs, instead of 5pm Weds. We went via Paris (which did give us the chance to eat more pain au chocolat and croissants).

Here is me expressing myself on arrival at the doorstep, in the cold drizzle:

Home

Here is a selection of the tickets we used to finally get here:

TallTix

Here is the lesson we learnt, and which I want you all to say out loud right now, and promise to practice for ever and ever and ever, as we have done:

NEVER EVER GET ON A TRAIN UNLESS YOU HAVE CHECKED THE SIGN, AND DEFINITELY KNOW EXACTLY WHERE IT IS GOING!

And I know you’re dying to know exactly how much were those 2 paddles I bought? $923AUS altogether. €608. $660US. Plus the two flights Paris to London at $254AUS altogether. Plus the train tickets, phone calls, text messages… Let’s just say GRAND TOTAL approx. $1300AUS.

€855.

$929US.

£611.

So please repeat after me: NEVER EVER GET ON A TRAIN UNLESS YOU HAVE CHECKED THE SIGN, AND DEFINITELY KNOW EXACTLY WHERE IT IS GOING!

4 Comments

  1. Deb budich says

    So feel your pain. Was on a train from Rome to what i thought was Paris many years ago. About 30 years ago.. Almost no English spoken anywhere back then. Middle of the night. Tickets being checked and I’m on my way to Munich…madness followed. Well managed love xx

    Like

  2. Phill Ball says

    I’ve been to the said creek many times and by many different modes of transport, but not yet in a barbed-wire canoe, I’m pleased to report. You both have my sympathy.

    Like

  3. marcia smith says

    Oh my god. I felt quite sick for you but YOU ARE WOMAN! So proud of you both. Thank god for the dread credit cards. Everything else will sound quite tame after this epic. Much love Aunty.xxxx

    Sent from my iPad

    Like

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