The Race to Paris


This blog entry about the events of Saturday, July 10, 2004 was originally posted on July 17, 2004.

DAY 266:  There is a familiar scene on CBS’ The Amazing Race:  confused, hurried Americans in a foreign country at a ticket counter, begging for the first ride out of town.  Immediately after I parted with Jack, I sucked up the fact that I had only one hour of sleep the night before (only three the night before), and rushed over to the train station as fast as I could, whistling the theme to The Amazing Race.  From my experience, it was best to reserve a train seat the day before you plan to travel, and you cut it pretty close doing it the day of, especially for a long distance on a Sunday night.

Number 805 was the ticket number I pulled up at the international sales area.  Not bad; they were on No. 802.  I sat and waited on a chair, watching the disheveled and hurried Americans — most still wearing souvenir apparel from the San Fermin Festival — all apparently trying to get a ride to Paris.  No. 806 was this American guy in a red sweatshirt that looked like he just woke up.

A frantic American with a semi-Southern accent came running in.  “Is this international?  Is this international?” he asked, window to window.  “I need to get to Paris!  There’s an 8:45 I have to get on.”  (It was about 7:40.) 

The ticket clerk didn’t seem to be impressed with the guy’s inability to even attempt to speak Spanish.  “[Take a number.]”  Frantic man pulled No. 809.

Waiting took longer than I thought; No. 803 and No. 804 were both groups of three teenage girls trying to get tickets together to I-don’t-know-where.  No. 806 saw how stressed out No. 809 was and offered to switch numbers.

“Nah, it’s okay.  They’re already at 804.” 

I stood up waiting for the 804ers to leave, only to be cut by Team No Number, two Italian(?) guys who jumped ahead.  I was waiting for the attendant to tell them to take a number, but he serviced them — perhaps they tried to initially speak Spanish.

“Hey, those guys just cut!” No. 809 said.  He was really stressing out.  I thought maybe that might offer to switch since he was trying to leave in an hour and I wasn’t leaving until that night, but the thought of me losing a spot on a train I really needed to get on stressed me out.  In the race for tickets to Paris, every man for himself.

“I might take you up on that offer,” No. 809 said to No. 806.

My number came up and I politely reserved, in Spanish, a bed in an overnight train to Paris.  I couldn’t get the direct train that I wanted; I’d have to take a regional train to the border town of Cerbere and wait for the overnight train to Paris from there.

“I need to go to Paris right now.  There’s an 8:45,” No. 809-turned-new-No. 806 said to the clerk after my transaction.

“[It’s full.]”

“Oh, that’s awesome!” he said sarcastically. 

I GAVE MYSELF ALL DAY in Barcelona to catch up.  I did my laundry in a laundromat in residential area of town — the only one that seemed to be open on a Sunday in all of Barcelona.  I parked my ass in a chair and my laptop on a table all afternoon at a Starbucks to write.  It was drizzling outside — not really a good day for a sightseeing stroll anyway. 

The day flew by and pretty soon I was on the two and a half hour regional train to Cerbere (picture above), a town I had never heard of, one not in my book or on a map.  When I arrived, suddenly everything was in French.  I guess I crossed the border, I thought, mentally shrugging my shoulders.  Nearby a guy was having a heated argument in French with three police officers.

I waited an hour and a half in the little French town in a valley of the Pyrenees.  Outside I saw that the town custom was to wait for a train to go somewhere else.

I got to my assigned bed in my assigned train cabin, on the top level of a triple bunk.  I was alone in the room when we departed Cerbere, but various people got off and on for their leg of travel between the tiny French town and the big French metropolis.  I thought I could stay up for a while to catch up on writing — I was way behind because I never brought my laptop with me to Pamplona or Madrid — but as soon as I put my head down I was knocked out cold from exhaustion, with not even the slightest chance to think about The Blog or anything else for that matter.  The engineer took care of my journey that night, racing the locomotive to Paris.

I never did find out if No. 809 got his ticket or not.  Perhaps he had been eliminated from the race.

Next entry: Open and Closed

Previous entry: Last Night Out (Take Two)

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Comments for “The Race to Paris”

  • 806 and 809….nice…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/16  at  08:12 PM

  • wow, I am first.  I guess everybody is down the shore,  someplace.  it is a sunny, warm day today after the rain that broke 6 dams in southwest jersey, flooded homes & took some of the cars with it.
    what is the temp in peru—lima,cuzco & machu picchu in october?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/16  at  08:17 PM

  • Erik-
    Let me know what dates you’ll be in Prague, I’ll try to arrange you a tour with a friend (actually a friend-of-a-friend) who works at the radio station with a really cool Continuous Bucket Elevator… a must pix for the blog. 

    I’ve been to the Czech Rep. twice, two weeks each time, so I’m not an expert but was there with native Czech’s and the experience was very unique.  My last visit to the Czech Rep. was July 2002 for my best friend’s wedding at Austerlitz castle (more info try here:

    Don’t know how much time you have allotted for the CzRep but an overnight trip to Cesky Kromlov should be strongly considered.  Try this link among many others:(

    I’ll work on getting you some lodging recommendations but in the mean time, here are my recommendations for Prague:  (no particular order or prefference as they’re all great)

    - Wander Prage Castle compound and see the cathedral and the many tightly packed shops and buildings.

    - Drink flaming Absynthe at a cellar pub.  The “correct” method to consume the reportedly hallucinogenic substance involves a spoon, sugar, a flame and Absynthe.

    - Explore Old Town. can be quite touristy but still worth it.

    - A visit to Radost FX bar.  I’m sure you’re sick of bars right about now but this one rocks.  Watch out for genital-groping gypsy pickpockets on your way home though.

    More to follow…

    btw- although I’ve never been to Paris, some say Prague is more beautiful than the French capital.

    Posted by Szlachta  on  07/16  at  08:32 PM

  • who the hell is molly moulder, MOM??  you can never trick your kids, don’t you know that?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/16  at  08:33 PM

  • szlachta,  hello..  I had been to both cities, Paris & prague.  they are both beautiful in their own way. prague has St Vitus cathedral & cruise of the muldau river, paris has Notre Dame & cruise of the seine river.  paris is more crowded than prague.  the scenery from the muldau river is nicer than the seine river cruise.  I love the architecture of notre dame than st. vitus cathedral.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/16  at  10:04 PM

  • SZLACHTA:  Most likely I’ll be in Prague for only 2 1/2 days, July 28th to the 30th…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/17  at  01:15 AM

  • Triple bunk? Wow - I would be seriously concerned about falling off! But, then again, I can be a klutz. smile I was just going to ask about pictures from the train - and then I remembered that you took an overnight train - again, thinking with the blonde brain cells.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/17  at  07:41 AM

  • That triple bunk takes me back to my overnight train from Paris to Munich… I miss being on the road SO much!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/19  at  04:44 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Open and Closed

Previous entry:
Last Night Out (Take Two)


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