When I was 13, my French teacher organized a trip to Europe for her classes. I think that wound up being my birthday present that year, and my mom and aunt came too, as “adult chaperones” (read: they wanted to go to Europe on the amazing deal offered through the tour company). We spent about two weeks romping around London, Paris, and Barcelona and it was a blast.
When planning the trip, my teacher took into account our inter-city transport options. I can’t remember what it’s called, but to get from England to France, we took this…watercraft that hydroplaned over the Channel. Or something. What I mostly remember from that journey was that my aunt’s passport had been stolen in London. Luckily our fearless tour guide had copies of all our passports (Pro tip: make copies of your important documents, and keep the extras in a safe place — like a tour guide’s locked suitcase — when you travel) and had made arrangements so she wouldn’t have any issues getting into France (this was pre-European Union; we had to use pounds, francs, AND pesestas), but we still amused ourselves on the trip by pretending we were sneaking her into the country.
Then to get from Paris to Barcelona, we were taking an overnight train. My teacher had told us, before the trip, that train journeys in Europe were an adventure all their own.
She understated that a bit.
We left Paris in the evening, sorting ourselves into our assigned sleeper cars. The train chugged through the French countryside all night, depositing us in Perpignan, a small town that’s apparently the southernmost city in France, the next morning. We were told the train made an unscheduled stop in the middle of the night to throw off someone without a ticket — our tour guide apparently made himself useful for that operation.
In Perpignan, we boarded another train for what was to be the final leg of our journey to Barcelona. I think we were supposed to get in around lunchtime.
So we got on the train, stowed all our stuff, and settled in. Maybe an hour or so in, the train stopped. After 10 or 15 minutes, we started looking around, asking “What’s going on?” We were at would could be called a train station, but one that clearly hadn’t been used in years. The conductor was making announcements in garbled Spanish that none of us could understand. Finally the doors opened and people started filing out on the platforms. That’s when we saw this:
There was a massive wildfire directly in our path. So, obviously, we weren’t getting to Barcelona via train anymore. We hung out on the platforms for at least an hour, maybe more. Other passengers started playing soccer. We walked down to the little village and got ice cream and posed for pictures with the fire in the background.
Finally we got back on the train and retreated to Perpignan, where we again collected all our bags and crowded just outside the train station. There was a cafe nearby and we got cheese and baguettes and sat in the plaza with all our suitcases and listened to our Discmans and pretended to be homeless (yes, we were horribly insensitive 13-year-olds) while our teacher and tour guides frantically tried to figure out what to do.
Eventually, buses pulled up — for us! Yay! We piled in. It had been at least 24 hours since we left Paris by now and we were hungry and tired and felt gross from being in trains and sitting on dusty platforms.
We reached our hotel in Barcelona (which was by the far the nicest one of our trip) around three in the morning.
Luckily my subsequent train journeys in Europe, while adventures, were not that eventful.