The trip from Paris to San Sebastian occurs on Sunday, but preparations begin Friday afternoon. That's when I visit the concierge at the hotel to help me book tickets on the high-speed train from Paris to San Sebastian. With the help of a 10 Euro note to keep his attention, he helps me to complete the seemingly-overcomplex transaction in about 30 minutes, much to the dismay of many older Americans wanting to know where they should eat that evening and if the restaurants are open at 5.
Day two of preparations is on Saturday when I need to go to the rail station across the street and pick up the actual tickets since all I have right now is an Internet reservation. And since my credit card does not have some silly French-made chip embedded into it I can't use the kiosk that would let me print the tickets without anyone's help. I can get an airplane ticket to anywhere in the world without needing to speak with a real person, but traveling by train in France requires that personal touch. So I stand in line for an hour to get my physical tickets, a process that takes exactly 2 minutes once it's my turn.
We end Saturday by getting to bed early since we're on the 7:10 train and will need to get up early for it. Abby isn't feeling well on Saturday and our travel day begins at 5:30 on Sunday morning with Abby throwing up and a high temp. Poor Abby, and we feel sorry for her, but we have a train to catch so we get the bags together and out the door on time to catch the train. We have comfy seats together and Abby is doing a little better so we're hopeful for the 6 hour ride south. However, traveling in our coach is a family with 3 kids under 3 and at least one of them is screaming for the entire 6 hours, usually more than one. Stef and I are having flashbacks and my right eye begins to twitch with each wail. They ride most of the 6 hours then depart and we relax for the final hour to Irun.
Yes, actually the train from Paris ends at a boarder town in Spain named Irun, just 15 minutes from San Sebastian. Of course, the train also stops at the last town in France, just 5 minutes short of Irun, so thinking this is the last stop I herd everyone off the train in a hurry because we only have 13 minutes to catch the train to San Sebastian. Off we go and walking briskly down the boarding ramp when I notice that we're not in Irun but some town that begins with an 'H'. I ask someone if this is Irun and he points to the obvious sign, confirming my fears that it isn't. Afraid that we're going to be left in the last town in France we jump back onto the nearest coach just before departure and stand in the breezeway the final 5 minutes to Irun.
The train change in Irun is fairly simple, though I was concerned with only 13 minutes to do it, but it seems that there are only two tracks with the station in the middle, so off one train and onto the other. We roll into San Sebastian on time and wait for the taxi to take us to our apartment. You'd think that the taxi's would be anxious to take newly-disembarked passengers from the train station to their destination, but after waiting with 4 other groups of people for 10 minutes and never seeing a single cab we checked the iphone for directions and just decided to walk the 1km to our apartment.
This should be the end of our day - finally at our apartment in San Sebastian and ready to take on a new town, but alas the gods have one final act in the play that is our travel day. Our apartment it seems is underground. We meet our apartment host on the street and he says something about the "basement" apartment; 'is that the correct English word, basement?' he asks me? Not sure, since we actually went up some steps to enter the building, but then we descend into a space that reminds me of a NYC subway station nobody uses anymore. "Basement," I wanted to say, "usually means inhabited." We enter the actual apartment and it is actually spacious and finished very nicely, save for being 10 feet underground. There is a window in one room that leads to an area lit by some ceiling glass, but that's about it other than the copious number of lights.
We're resigned to staying for at least a couple of days before seeking an above-ground hotel and forefiting the rest of our stay when the lights go out. We're in the bathroom with Abby when the circuit blows and it goes dark - really dark. I literally feel my way to the front door where I was shown the fuse panel and feel for the switch out of place. I find it and lights come back on - a reminder that we're underground. The lights trip a three more times in the next 10 minutes and I call our host back. "Use fewer lights" is his solution and when I explain that this is a fire hazard and I plan to just leave, he agrees to send over an electrician for a look. Tony, the electrician arrives and sums up the situation as I expected - the fuse breaker for all overhead lights is way too little. A new larger one could be changed on Monday or Tuesday, maybe.
Enter Juan, friend of the actual owner and landlord, who chats with myself and the electrician. I play the safety card saying we're not staying down here with faulty wiring and he agrees to find us another apartment. This time, much smaller but on the top floor of a nicer apartment building and much more warming for our souls. We move our things one more time and settle into our San Sebastian apartment after a long day.
Did I mention that the new apartment is only 1 block from the train station? Oh, and nobody ever did check our physical train tickets. Funny, huh? Stef also informed me that she forgot her glasses in Paris.