Date: Friday, May 13. Time: 6 a.m. Location: Barcelona apartment.
My roommates and I stumbled around early Friday morning, finishing our packing, making breakfast, taking out any last-minute trash and getting ready to take the Metro to our school building, where we would board buses and head to Southern France for the weekend. In Spain, life begins long after the crack of dawn; in Barcelona, it is a rare sight to see a café open before 8 a.m. Though we were coffee-less and groggy, before locking the door, my roommates and I double-checked to ensure we all had our passports. (We did.) At 7:15 a.m., we were on our way to the Metro station, backpacks and small suitcases in tow.
The group boarded the buses around 8:30 a.m. The trip from Barcelona to Montpellier, France, was about four hours long. We made one stop before the French border at an extravagant rest stop that made even the most recently-renovated rest stops in the U.S. look like outhouses. Crossing over the French border was very anti-climatic. I blinked, the bus passed under a tollbooth, and we were in a different country. Much to my dismay, we didn’t get our passports stamped.
Nonetheless, we made it! About two hours later, we arrived in Montpellier, France, where we stayed overnight Friday and Saturday.
Montpellier is a quaint but historical city in Southern France. Students were given two day passes for the Montpellier Tram, which would take us from our hotel (located conveniently in a field next to a giant Ikea) to the City Center, also known as Centre Comédie. Many students experienced major culture shock transitioning to life in Barcelona, but I feel I had a fairly easy adjustment. However, coming from Barcelona, I had a hard time grasping the quiet feel of Montpellier. I still loved everything I did and saw in Montpellier, but it was very different transitioning from the bustling, packed Metro (which I proudly feel very comfortable using and navigating) to riding the Tram – a smaller, above-ground train. Some students said the Tram reminded them of the Monorail at Disney World. In my opinion, if a dentist office were converted into a train, it would be the Montpellier Tram. (I’m not sure why, but the sea-foam green interior of the train reminded me of something medical, like scrubs.)
Of course, there always has to be some sort of mishap or adventure. This morning, before leaving Montpellier at 1 p.m., I went with a group of friends to the City Center to walk around and to hopefully find a café or grocery store. On our way back from the Center to our hotel, two of the Tram doors malfunctioned and would not close. We were only one stop away from our final destination. The train officially stopped, and one of the conductors made her way to the broken doors. She pressed a combination of buttons on the wall, but nothing worked. She then asked a random passenger to help her hold the doors shut. The passenger stood outside of the train and pushed the doors shut, while the conductor continued to fumble with a variety of red buttons.
Just when we all thought the doors were fixed, the conductor made her way back to the front of the train, and the doors opened and closed again. This went on for fifteen minutes. My friends and I exchanged “Seriously?” looks at each other. It was a little amusing at first, and we had plenty of time to return to the hotel, but we had no idea where we were in relation to the next station! After another ten minutes of the conductor and the random passenger trying to force the doors shut, another conductor made a fast announcement in French, and the other passengers flooded off the train. My friends and I followed the crowd along a sidewalk, and, luckily, the next station ended up being a short five minute walk. The whole situation reminded me of something from Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
Aside from the Tram debacle, I also had a funny restaurant bathroom encounter during my time in France.
Backstory: I went to Paris with my family about five years ago. My mom and I had a notoriously embarrassing/hilarious bathroom situation at a Paris restaurant; we got confused on which way to go, and we walked past the host multiple times. Finally, we found a tiny spiral staircase leading to the bathrooms, almost tripped over a bucket full of water dripping from the ceiling and were washing our hands in the dark because the motion-sensored lights timed out.
This time around, in Montpellier, I experienced another interesting scenario. After dinner Friday night, my friends Olivia, Corey and I asked our waiter where the restroom was. Surrounded by a group of other waiters, he told us it was upstairs. We entered a doorway to head upstairs, and the waiter stopped us, saying, “Don’t forget to use the password! It’s ‘5, 6, 7, 8, 9.'” He was laughing with the other waiters, so I thought he was joking. However, as we walked up the stairs, we found a frosted glass door with none other than a KEYPAD next to the doorknob. He wasn’t joking – there really was a password. And it really was ‘5, 6, 7, 8, 9.’
I have much more to share about my weekend in Montpellier and Avignon than an awkward bathroom story and a train malfunction. I wrote about the non-silly adventures on my trip’s blog. Click the link to read more!
I had so much fun exploring two new cities, but I am very happy to be back in Spain. Being away from Barcelona for only a few days made me reflect on and realize how comfortable I have gotten with the language(s), the transportation, the people and the culture here in Catalonia.