Barcelona, Spain Sunday May 14, 2017

I’m writing this while waiting for breakfast to be served after my first night’s sleep in Barcelona. I spent yesterday either on trains or hanging around stations waiting for trains. I have two more nights here until I move onto Zaragoza.

I have not yet had a chance to get out and see the city other than last night’s short walk from the train station here to the hostel. Some sort of celebration was going on in the street, but no one could tell me what it was. Fireworks were being set off, and there were groups of drummers roaming the streets close to the hostel pounding their drums at full force.

The sky was blue when I left Grenoble after the two days that I spent there with overcast skies and occasional thunderstorms. I took a train and two light rail stations to get to the Grenoble railroad station.

As is the case with the light rail in many cities including Phoenix, in Grenoble you are on the honor system to have a ticket. However, the honor system is backed by sporadic ticket control. When I got on the first train, there were about six inspectors aboard. Had I been traveling without a ticket, I would have stepped right back off the train. However, not everyone is that bright. After several stops, one of the inspectors asked me and the woman sitting next to me for our tickets. I had one, but she didn’t. The inspector wrote her a ticket and made her get off at the following stop.

American fast-food chains are present all over Europe. Despite the fact that the French make excellent coffee, there is a Starbucks at the Grenoble railroad station. I think Starbucks caters to those who want a really big cup of coffee — coffee here is almost always served in small cups — and Starbucks also appeals to those who like those sweet, high-calorie, coffee-based drinks.

On one of the trains I took yesterday, an enormously overweight woman was about to get off at a station when she tripped and fell almost in front of me. Before I had a chance, several other people sprang to her aid. I doubt if she could have gotten up from the floor by herself. One person grabbed her under each arm, and together with the woman’s own efforts, they managed to heave her to her feet.

My last train left from the French-Spanish border. In my younger days, Portbou on the Spanish side and Cebère on the French side were busy stations. You get to get off at Portbou heading into Spain or Cebère heading north to change trains and go through passport control. Very few trains crossed the border, because the tracks in France and Spain were of different width.

The high-speed rail lines and lack of passport control at almost all European borders have done that. High-speed trains bypass these two stations and zip right across the border without even slowing down. Now those stations are all but abandoned. The picture below is of the station at Portbou.

I chose to take separate trains in France and Spain to save money. However, the couldn’t buy the ticket for the regional Spanish train online, so I had to buy it at the Portbou station. There ticket office was boarded shut, but there was one small ticket vending machine, which took only credit cards. Vending machines in Europe require a chip-and-PIN card, which are difficult to come by in the USA. Our cards are almost all chip and signature. Had I had only my Chase and CapitalOne cards, I would have been out of luck.

However, just for such an emergency, I carry a card from Andrews Credit Union, which will work as chip-and-PIN. I was able to buy a ticket.

I took the following picture through the window of the once-busy cafeteria at the station. Once it was swarming with customers. Now, like most of the rest of the station at Portbou, it is closed and standing vacant.

As soon as breakfast is finished, I’ll be out seeing the town. I’ve been to Barcelona countless times, so I will try to look for some sights off the normal tourist track.

Oh! No! When I arrived here at the cafeteria, I was alone. Suddenly there are hundreds of kids in line for breakfast. Where did they all come from? It looks as if I will have quite a wait to get something to eat.