I’ve spent seven years bungling my way through variations of several languages, but after three months back in the States I felt like I had lost it all. It didn’t help that I was arriving in northeast Spain, which speaks two languages – Spanish and Catalan – the former I’ve mostly learned from Terminator movies and Taco Bell commercials, the latter I don’t know at all.

But I had just gotten off a flight filled with other Americans, a flight I did not sleep on, and I just wanted to get home. So I broke one of my steadfast rules and just spoke English to everyone and eventually found my way to the Barcelona Sants train station, which was familiar ground.

I arrived at Sants to discover I had missed the morning’s direct train to Montpellier by about a minute, and the next direct train was not until late afternoon. Normally a day in Barcelona with nothing to do is a dream come true, but I was tired and cranky and just wanted to be home. So, I got my face in front of a nice information lady who didn’t seem to mind that I spoke Spanfranglish, and she showed me a photocopied schedule of all the trains going to France that day.

There was one leaving in a half hour – perfect! The information lady seemed anxious, though, and carefully explained to me that I needed to get off in Port Bou, on the Spanish side of the border, buy a ticket for the last half of my trip, and then board another train to France. No problem. I’m used to that when traveling across the other border into Italy, at Ventimiglia. I got in another line, bought my ticket, received another lengthy explanation about buying the ticket in Port Bou, and got on my train.

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