Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lets try this travel thing again

Getting there:
The drivers squat by the open luggage compartment, leafing through their sheaf of ticket stubs, double-checking their list of passenger names. The crowd mills around outside, partially on the sidewalk, partially spilled out onto the parking area. Each has marked out their seat (windows very popular). Now they take advantages as they can, of a last chance to smoke, to stand up, to buy something from the corner store.
Families are parting. Hugs, kisses, weekly tears. The bus is going to Portugal, home of many housekeepers and restaurant workers here. Visiting is constant. Not much French is being spoken, and some of the drivers speak none at all.
Departure at "17:20" on the bus clock. I had figured it for an hour off, either daylight savings time forgotten, or is Lisbon time different? If it's an even hour, we're leaving ten minutes early. We must all be checked off the list.
There's no itinerary. Each person knows where they're getting off; nobody but the drivers know where all we will stop and what sleeping towns we'll pass on the way. I wonder which route we'll take: south through Toulouse and then west? Or west first to Bordeaux? We're not taking the freeway to get there...
It's a beautiful drive through the spring evening. Remnants of snow still decorate the Massif Central heights. Sheep and cattle are out on the newly soft green fields. The high meadows are carpeted with wild daffodils.
After an hour or so of this idyll, we join the A89 at St. Julien, without making any stops. Why then did we not just catch it in Clermont?
First stop is Brive le Gaillard, where three new passengers are waiting at the curb. All the smokers leap off. An announcement is made in Portugese and everyone shuffles off the bus. We have 40 minutes. The drivers head for the cafeteria I've just noticed we've pulled up alongside. The regular passengers grab their picnics and stake out territory on the boulders scattered about to keep cars on the road and out of the pedestrian areas. It's 19:30 bus time, and the sun is preparing to set.
While I'm inside enjoying a proper restroom, our sibling bus pulls up. They were together in Clermont, passengers divided by destination, but 90% of the route from here to there is the same. We make a little convoy in our matched vehicles. As I write this in comes a third bus, a yellow one headed for Madrid. No wonder this edge of town cafeteria is so huge!
So far, this bus travel thing is not so bad. The bus is new and clean, the seats comfortable and padded for the long haul. Plenty of leg room. I haven't yet discovered how far back the seats recline, but it isn't even dark yet. It's not too loud, not too crowded, not too bumpy, and the windows are remarkably clean. If the next several hours are like the first two, I'm game for this bus travel all over.
Our guy in charge even promises that if I'm sleeping when we get to San Sebastian, he'll be sure to wake me. So I'm good to sleep in peace. It's his job to know who's on his bus, and where they're getting off, and he probably even remembers my luggage. I'm happy not to have to remain vigilant for my stop at 3:15 in the morning, in a strange town in a foreign country.
The sun sets. Once underway again it'll be night. See you in Spain! But. Not before we have the pleasure of watching a movie on the little screen up front. You, me, and Dupree is subtitled in Portugese, and the English soundtrack is on just high enough not to be completely ignored, not quite high enough to catch all they're saying. And then there's a little stop in Bordeaux. The mystery of the route revealed.
The bus clock says 1:42 when we pull into a town, just half an hour after the language of the toll booths becomes Spanish and Basque. I think it must be Irun, or the fishing town of Hondarribia. But no, the boss guy is shouting and waving at me, ordering me off his bus. San Sebastian! Okay, okay, I'm going. Just let me get my shoes back on.
And here I am.
After studying the map at the bus station, I figure I can get to my hotel easily, but on one condition: that I leave the bus station headed in the right direction. "You are here", alright, but which direction am I facing? Street signs are hard to find. In the end, it turns out to be not so hard, and not so far.
My hostess Theresa answers the bell eventually, after I possibly wake all of the other guests (I realise once I come inside that her room is the one farthest from the door, alas), groggy but welcoming. She waves me inside, whispering 'mañana, mañana'! Ah, it is so nice to be in my room. A very nice room, recently redone, beautiful wooden floors, clean, spacious, doesn't smell of anything. A good place to stay, if it weren't for the guests ringing the bell at all hours of the night. Oh, that was me. Sorry! I have a key now.


Ronda Laveen said...

Your bus ride sounds much nicer than the US Greyhound system. Have a good trip.

steven said...

hey nanu! i think from what i remember and then from what you're sharing here that the european bus system is wayyyy better than the north american system. cool journey. more please. steven

Barry said...

I've never traveled by bus in Europe but your description makes it sound like an adventure..

I'm looking forward to much more of this.

Reya Mellicker said...

A nice ride after all, eh? I much prefer trains and nice busses to travel by air. Once upon a time, people took time to travel.

I even took a freighter across the Atlantic once, a ten day trip from Dover to Newport News, N. Carolina. It was a fabulous trip. I had time to decompress and so was not fatigued by jet lag or bewildered by culture shock when I arrived in the U.S.

Those were the good old days. I guess.