Saturday, 30 September 2017

To France again!

I had an interesting day yesterday. I know I have written a lot about the political situation here but my blog is really to cover anything that might entertain you! Especially when I go travelling.
Yesterday was a very short trip, to Perpignan. I have a choice of two routes, one is cheap and slow, the other is much more expensive and, certainly from Girona to Perpignan much faster. The down-side of taking the fast train is that I first have to go into Girona and sometimes there is not very much difference in the time. To buy a ticket at short notice is €33 but it only takes 40 minutes from Girona to Perpignan. The train is either a Spanish AVE which goes on to Toulouse, Lyon or Marseille or it is the French TGV which goes twice daily to Paris.
Yesterday, I looked up the "slow train" and saw that there was an R11 regional train to Cerbère at 11am. Perfect, because it takes one hour and there is a French TER regional train to Perpignan (and on to Avignon) at 12.30.
But this was most odd! The train arrived but on the wrong track, the "down" line in rail parlance, the track which normally takes trains down to Barcelona. We looked in puzzlement and walked down to the back of the train, scrambled across the tracks and onto the train in the last carriage.
Gradually I began to notice the screen in the carriage, it said "RG1 Portbou", not "R11 Cerbère". Portbou is the final stop in Spain before the train trundles through a short tunnel into France and stops at Cerbère. I decided that I must have made a mistake in looking up the trains because I don't normally take this train. I didn't have my timetable with me and the app on my mobile only showed future trains.
At Flaça, the train crossed over to a platform not normally used and I could see a freight train waiting for the track to be free in order to go in the direction of Barcelona.
I saw people in Flaça coming to enter my carriage but the doors closed before they could get on and they were left stranded on the platform. "Odder and odder," said Alice.
After Flaça, the train crossed back to its normal track - as on the roads, trains here go on the right. I got off at Figueres, not having had to pay for the ride. There was no point in staying on the train because it was going no further than Portbou. Just as I was pondering what to do, maybe spend a day out in Figueres, I heard an announcement which immediately made everything clear. It was for R11 to Cerebère! The train which I should have been on. The previous train was obviously running very late. The change of track was for a different reason I guess, maintenance for example.
I was very honest and told the ticket collector that I had come from Celrà... on two trains. I smiled but he didn't seem to enjoy the joke. In any case, it is only €2.95. Imagine! About 3 euros to go to France!
At Cerbère, I passed through a security check where I showed my passport, and crossed to the French side, picked up my ticket which I had already paid for online. €4.40. And I took the TER to Perpignan. The TER is much more comfortable than the rather basic Spanish train. Typically French, the interior is a pastel blue. (By the way, I usually carry a laminated photocopy of my passport with a notary stamp on the back to say that it is authentic. I use that as my ID because my Spanish ID is not a photo ID on account of my being a foreigner and I keep my passport safe at home. When I first arrived here my ID was the same as the Spanish photo-ID on a credit card format but later they downgraded the foreigners' ID, it is called NIE - numero identificar estranjeros.) On the high-speed train, there is no ID check between France and Spain. And none coming back from France on the low-speed train.

By the time I arrived in Perpignan, it was about 1.15 so I headed directly for Port d'Espagne which is where the Auchan store is located. Oh, I didn't tell you, the purpose of the trip was to buy wine! I was so happy to find that the flimsy little reloadable bus ticket that I've had at home for a long time still worked. I have had a credit of 10 journeys for about 2 years. I thought that they would expire.

Very strange, the students, who I asked where the number 11 bus stop was, replied that they didn't speak Spanish. I am sure I asked in French. So I said it again more slowly, "Ou est l'arrête pour l'autobus onze?" This time, success. I am sure I don't speak French with a Spanish accent, that would be most odd! Most of the time, I get my leg pulled over my English accent when speaking Spanish.
The rest of the afternoon was spent happily choosing wine. I had taken my shopping trolley and guessed that it would take 12 bottles which was about right.
I went back to Perpignan station to buy my ticket for the 17.11 to Portbou but there was a long queue in the ticket office and I was running a little short of time. I tried to use the TER ticket machine which is not the same as the machine for the main lines. It is like something out of the 60s. It has a screen but it is not a touch screen, instead it is operated with a rotating wheel like an arcade game. I felt sure I was wasting my time because, last time, it would only accept French bank cards (or cash). This turned out to be true. Now time was getting short and I didn't know the penalty for getting on the train without a ticket. The train was sitting outside.

I complained to a woman at the help desk nearby, saying that the machine - in French, bourne - was out of the last century. I said the it was an international station and yet the machine only accepted French bank cards. She responded with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders. I responded by mocking her with an English shrug of the shoulders.

I decided to get some change. I bought a fruit juice and got my change in euro coins. I went back to the machine and went through the same old rigmarole again. This time, it kept on rejecting my euro coins. Finally I got it to accept 7 euros (the fare was 6.80, more because it is peak time). It then gave me a message saying that it could not give me my 20 cents change and gave me a choice of things to do. Some I didn't understand but one was to quit and get my money back which is what I did.

I took a photo and went out to the train. The ticket collector was on the platform and he said that there would be an extra €7 to pay if I had no ticket. I showed him the photo of the ticket machine. He said to speak to the supervisor.  He grudgingly agreed to charge the normal fare but during the journey he never came to my seat, so I travelled back to Spain for nothing!

Later, when I looked at the photo of the ticket machine, I guess the correct choice would have been "Vous acceptez l'Avoir", in other words, accept the loss of 20 cents and print the ticket. But I was running out of time. Next time, I will make sure I have €7 in cash because I usually catch this train back home. Or, even better, €6.80!

I wanted to see how the political situation here is reported in the French press, well at least one newspaper. I picked up l'Independent in its local version. It has "Catalan" on the front page, meaning Paises Catalanes. But its coverage was surprisingly low key, an inside page and not even all the page. And this was very welcome, it was balanced and fair. Even in fact leaning towards support for the Government in Madrid. That was welcome after the unbalanced and emotive language of The Times in London.

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