We are preparing to leave France. Our last night is in Avignon where we visited the Ancient Roman Aqueduct Pont du Gard. Our train was scheduled for 8:42 AM and we were ready, at the TGV station just outside of town, 40 minutes early.
Standing on the platform, we were surrounded by our two large rolling duffle bags, a small rolling case, a medium-sized regular duffle, a briefcase and wearing our two small backpacks. If that sounds like a lot, well, it is. But remember we are carrying clothing for three seasons and a few items for setting up house that we have found indispensable, electronics and photography gear; and it is for eight-months.
It was a beautiful, breezy, cool morning as we chatted with another American couple, when the train arrived. The doors opened and Jeannie remained on the platform as I hefted the two large bags aboard. I returned to get Jeannie and the other two heavy bags, and just as we reached the door, it closed! Our two big bags were on the train, and we, with the remaining luggage, weren’t. The door release wasn’t working, banging on the door didn’t help. Jeannie was now running toward the conductor, waving her arms, sounding and looking quite alarmed, but to no avail. There went our train.
“Oh crap! Now what?” There were several issues that flooded our minds all at once, but simply put, how will we get to Madrid and where will our luggage go (hoping that they don’t blow-up unattended luggage).
Our first stop was downstairs at the SNCF ticket counter. The sympathetic young man spelled out several options that we might choose. At this point there was no refund on the tickets we had, but we could use them in part if we traveled today.
One option was that we could go later this same afternoon to Barcelona, get a place to stay and take another train the next day to Madrid. This would only cost us the price of the tickets from Barcelona to Madrid. The big unknown was would our luggage would be waiting for us. There were several other options that, for various reasons, were unacceptable.
Another possibility was to try and have our bags removed from the train at its next stop, Montpellier. We could take the train there once we knew that our luggage had been retrieved, then reevaluate our options.
The young man with SNCF at the ticket counter made multiple phone calls, consulted his manager, and over the next hour made the arrangements, ascertained that our luggage had been recovered, and confirmed our travel arrangements to Montpellier. Through the entire process he was supportive and friendly, even as he assisted other customers while waiting on return calls from Montpellier.
When the call came that our baggage had been successfully removed from the train, we were relieved. The next stop was to join them in Montpellier which was an easy two hour train trip with only one change.
Once in Montpellier, we were happily reunited with our roving belongings. But we still had to get to Madrid … more options, more decisions, more expense. The young lady at the Montpellier SNCF office was just as friendly and sympathetic as her counterpart in Avignon. As she worked through all the options, also consulting with her manager regarding what she could do for us, we decided that it would be best to stay the night here in Montpellier and purchase new tickets for tomorrows train direct to Madrid.
The next choice to be made was lodging. So, after shifting some clean clothes to the small bag, we checked the three big bags into a locker at the station and took off.
Normally we do a bit of research on hotels and rates, etc. but we didn’t have that luxury now. However, having been in Montpellier before, and done a few inquiries for visiting friends, we were better informed than we might have been.
We hadn’t gone more than three blocks from the gare when we came across one of the hotels we remembered and decided to inquire within. We were warmly greeted by the desk clerk, who let us know that they did have rooms available and at rates that worked into our budget. Decision made! It was a nice room, great location, quiet, and air conditioned. And the clerk included breakfast in the quoted rate, for two weary travelers.
Ahhh, the big decisions were made, and though it was a rather expensive deviation, we were as satisfied with the outcome as we could be.
It was somehow fitting that we landed here in Montpellier. It’s here this adventure took root in February 2014 when we stayed in a small apartment for two weeks to decide if we could live this way. Of course the answer was yes, and in a way, we have returned to our nomadic roots.
We wandered familiar streets, and there was a feeling of comfort that we were here. We sat in a cafe we had visited before; ate in a small restaurant that we had eaten at several times before; visited a shop where the owner quickly recognized us and greeted us as old friends. It was good to be here again.
The following day after a good breakfast, we checked out of the hotel, retrieved our baggage from the locker, and made our way to the platform to wait for the TGV train to Madrid. We positioned ourselves to be sure to jump aboard within, what we learned, was the brief 2-3 minute time that the doors would be open on international TGV trains.
Fortunately we got on quickly this time, however as we watched, there were two others behind us that suffered the same fate that we had. A large, family group were only partially on board when the doors closed leaving two of their party on the platform while the others unsuccessfully tried to reopen the door. We are not sure how their issue will be resolved, but hope that the outcome is as positive as ours.
In the end though, the fates had decided that we should return to Montpellier. And ultimately, as we considered the incident that caused this detour, we were reminded that truly when one door closes, other doors open.