|And everything was fine. We sat on the fairly empty TGV and watched the huge Landes de Gascoigne forest slip by, interspaced with the odd bird of prey hunting along the railway verge.
By 8 it was dark and there was slightly confusing tannoy announcements that the train might stop before its final stop. This proved to hold true, and on an almost empty train the conductor came round doing a head count to organise taxis for the last 3km of the rail journey from Hendaye to Irún. So, our impressive voyages on TGV sadly ended with watching our luggage be forced into the back of a people carrier -that didn't have it's handbrake on so rolled everytime the luggage was pushed harder in in an effort to close the boot - we then joined two other passengers in a different taxi and in ten minutes were getting out at Irún station. I was mildly disappointed I couldn't tell when we crossed the border but happy to have arrived.
The pension we stayed in that night was functional really, like all previous pensions it was cheap but did it's job for the less than 12 hours we would stay. We also had a wee pinic with the last of our Bordeaux goods (a feta and ratatouille quiche, Bordeaux grapes, emmental cheese and some tomatoes and fresh bread). I offered to nip out and get some soft drinks, Laura requesting something she had never tried before, I returned with a can of apple green tea and another can of slightly sugary water to supplement our fine dining. Then it was an early night, like innocents before our early morning Spanish train fiasco.
So after being smuggled over the border the previous night, we strolled the short walk back to the station for an early train to Vitoria Gasteiz. Could we figure out how to get our tickets from the machine? Nope. Could we see 'Vitoria' anywhere on the destinations board? Nope. Could we speak any Spanish that early in the morning, our first in Spain? Not really. The single train on the departures board seemed to be heading in the general direction we wanted to go in, though it's final destination of Zumarraga was only about halfway there. Going through the ticket barrier, I pointed to our hoped for destination on our previously printed tickets in a vaguely questioning way, and the lady told us the train would indeed take us to Vitoria and waved us down the platform. So we hopped on. The slight sense of impending travel disaster lingered but our first daylight views of Spain were the perfect distraction. Tall, craggy, tree lined mountains surrounded us, we passed through San Sebastian and headed south, and still everything on the train was suggesting Zumarraga was as far as we were going. Only 50km short of where we wanted to be. But on the same train line, kind of. So it'd probably be fine. What was comforting me was that I thought even if the train stopped, it would at least have to stop at a station where we could get another train. Dave later told me that sometimes trains just park on sidings on the train line in the countryside, and the driver can just walk back down the tracks.
Station after station slipped by. At some the train would gently but alarmingly roll backwards as passengers were getting on and off. We eventually got to Zumarraga at a time which didn't match anything on our ticket, so we thought maybe the train screens would update and the route would now be to Vitoria. We watched as the train stopped and slowly (you know, in a 'this is the terminus' type of way) everyone got off. Before we decided to do the same, the doors closed. Then the train started moving. We nervously watched the screens waiting for them to update. They didn't, of course, infact a little later they all turned off and the train came to a grinding halt on the tracks in the middle of nowhere.
Looking down the carriages, we saw the driver appear in the distance. Dave ran down to speak to him and showed him our ticket and destination. He laughed, said "no no no", pointed back the way we'd come then stormed past us towards the other drivers cab with no indication of what we should do. So we followed back to our bags, watched him get in his other driving seat and the train started heading back towards Zumarraga. It pulled into a parking spot at the station, then the driver stuck his head round the door and used the international sign language for 'get off my train. By that point we were more than ready to do so.
Welcome to Zumarraga station. Still no sign anywhere of a train going to Vitoria Gasteiz so we walked no doubt looking very confused into the ticket office. A very kind attendant, who even at this point seemed very panicked, spotted us and rushed round to help. I showed her our tickets and that increased the panic. We were ushered over to the ticket desk and I thought something had been lost in translation because from what I understood she was going to phone the train conductor. Why on earth would she need to do that? She then picked up a mobile and seemed to type in a number that had been scribbled on the top of a scrap of paper in front of her. But there was no answer. And she kept looking at the clock and telling us we had one minute. Just one minute. But for what? I didn't know, Dave didn't know. She rushed out from the desk again, grabbed my arm, "one minute" it was, and rushed us down some steps and up to the opposite platform. Along the way she kept apologising for her bad English which of course was not that bad and infinitely better than our Spanish. Soon enough, a train appeared, and the conductor stepped out. Our kind attendant and the conductor had an intense discussion with lots of pointing and looking at us, but the only words I caught were 'English' and 'mal' (meaning 'bad'). Then she told us to very quickly get on the train, so we said our gracias and got on. Dropped our bags, sat down, watched the mountains and around an hour later we arrived in Vitoria Gasteiz. We made it. Neither of us still have any idea what really happened. There are still a lot of Spanish trains in front of us though...
Anyway, a character on the journey who is yet to be introduced is the reason for our stop in Vitoria. His name is Stu, an old friend of Dave's who has settled in the Basque country with a family. He has an extremely cute 2 year old called Aimar who likes washing machines. I already felt like I knew Stu, since he, Dave and some others have a common and very competitive interest in fantasy football, so we've been friendly enemies for a while. I knew he was someone who likes to draw attention to himself but I really wasn't prepared. We got off the train at the last door, and I looked down the platform. There was Stu, who spotted us, started doing an excited dance (of sorts) and started yelling "it's FPL's Laura Weston! It really is her!" etc, and within seconds the crowd of people on the platform was staring in a very confused way at me. He didn't stop though. It carried on for a while. A member of staff told Stu to "tranquilo chico" and we made a swift exit, apologising on the way.
Welcome to Spain....