Sunday, 23 July 2017
Avignon to Vigo
The time came for me to travel from Avignon, France to Vigo, Spain to start the second chapter of my year abroad. As I mentioned in my last post, the journey would be a complicated one with six different parts and no margin of error allowed. I hope you enjoy taking that journey with me!
First of all, I had to carry my luggage down from my apartment to reception, which was no mean feat. I then hovered at reception waiting for somebody to arrive who I could talk to, just to confirm that everything was okay and that I could leave.
Time ticked by, however, and nobody appeared. In the end I had to post my keys into the little box, hope for the best and head out to catch my bus to the train station.
Part One: The bus
The bus stop was not far from my residence. However, lugging two huge trunks and a backpack out onto the street, across the road and then down to the stop was pretty exhausting. Getting everything onto the bus was difficult as well, but luckily a lady helped me lift everything on board. Thank you, nice lady!
The bus took me on a route that was very familiar, except that I would normally walk it. We hugged the old town walls, with their beds of wildflowers, and I admired them one last time. We eased our way through the traffic until we reached the post office, which was the stop for the train station.
Now for another tricky part - getting from the post office across the extremely busy road to the station. I had to get all the bags across various stretches of road within the road, navigating a couple of road islands.
Once across, I still had to traverse the station's chaotic car park, which isn't exactly pedestrian-friendly. Finally, I got through the doors and into the station, where I could breathe a slight sigh of relief and briefly enjoy the smell of crepes at their stand and the sound of piano.
Part Two: The train
Sod's law dictated that the platform I needed was one of the furthest from the entrance, so I had to fit my luggage into a lift, pull it along a tunnel and then go back up again. On the platform at last, I double-checked that the train there was mine, then hopped aboard.
My Mam texted me saying, "Please tell me you're on that train!" I was glad to be able to tell her I was. Then I sat back for the journey. It was calm and uneventful, and I listened to music and tried to relax.
The scenery between Avignon and Marseilles is beautiful, and even though I was doing this route for the second time - having taken it to go home for Christmas not long before - I appreciated how lovely it was.
Part Three: The plane
We arrived at the station, and I got the shuttle bus to Marseilles-Vitrolles Airport. I checked in my bags, very relieved when they were confirmed to be the right weight, as I didn't have access to scales in Avignon. I waved goodbye to them, glad to finally be able to walk around for a while without two huge cases weighing me down.
I went through security, then ate a sandwich and a chocolate mousse at an overpriced but nice cafe with windows looking out over the concourse. I wandered around the various tourist shops and then settled back into the nice, quiet little lounge I had discovered the last time I was here.
The time came to board the plane. It would take me to Portugal, where I had never been. I was intrigued as to what the journey would be like, and what lay at the end of it.
To be honest, the journey just felt long, longer than it actually was. We seemed to be flying quite low, however - or perhaps there was a lack of cloud - as I could see everything below me clearly. We flew over fields and trees and mountains and I saw the salt lakes of my beloved Camargue.
Finally we were above Porto. Dusk had arrived and I observed the houses and buildings, and what looked like parks. We touched down in Porto Airport and made our way inside. I collected my luggage and prepared for one of the more complicated stages of the journey.
Part Four: The Metro
The complicated stage was locating the Porto Metro, and taking it to Porto Train Station. I could see the airport's Metro stop, outside and slightly above ground level. Accessing it was a different story.
After a lot of searching both outside and inside the airport, I tried a series of escalators, as at least they would take me upwards. They took me to a huge indoor car park, but fortunately there were signs leading through it to the Metro.
I followed them to an extremely busy ticket-buying area, with a load of people who had presumably just landed all scrabbling to get tickets. I reached a machine with difficulty and, after figuring out what to do, bought my ticket.
The ticket was very robust, more than mere paper or card. I'm not sure whether that's a good thing (maybe harder to fake?) or bad (maybe worse environmentally. Or maybe not?) I found the platform and waited for the next tram.
It arrived, and I squeezed on. It was packed with people, and staying upright when I didn't really have anything to hold onto wasn't easy. One good thing about my location was that I was facing a map of the line with a light that showed where we were, so I could count down the stops until we reached the station.
It was a journey of around half an hour. I tried to enjoy it, but the tram was crowded and uncomfortable. I occupied myself studying the various Portuguese posters and ads - I'm not fluent in Portuguese but as a Spanish speaker I can more or less understand it when reading.
We arrived at the train station and I disembarked with joy. By now it was night, and the air was fresh and cool. I took a minute to enjoy being out in the open, before reluctantly dragging my bags towards the station in order to begin my quest to buy a train ticket.
Part Five: The train (again)
The train station was slightly confusing when entered from the Metro line, and the fact that it was dark and full of people didn't help. However, I managed to find the desk for buying international tickets.
I also found a lady who spoke English - my basic Portuguese would probably have got me through but it was reassuring to know I had exactly the ticket I needed. I didn't want to end up on a train going in the wrong direction!
I went back outside. I saw with pleasure that like Spanish vending machines, Portuguese ones are quite decent, with actual food - pastries, cakes, even fruit - rather than the endless crisps and Haribo you get in French ones. I bought a pastry and enjoyed it, having not eaten for hours.
I climbed on board the train and chose my seat. There was a crowd of loud people nearby but at least I was facing the right way, had a window and was near a luggage rack. The journey was long and due to it now being pitch black outside, I didn't have any view to enjoy.
I got through a lot of my current book, I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. I enjoyed it, though I guessed the famous twist from the beginning. Still, its coastal setting was nice and atmospheric, so I do recommend giving it a read.
We reached the bay of Vigo at last, and I gazed at the epic sweep of lights. I was struck by the huge difference from Avignon: I loved Avignon for its intimacy and the fact that I could walk everywhere. Vigo was the opposite. I was drawn to its vastness, this huge city sprawling from the mountains down to the sea.
The train pulled up in Vigo Station. I heaved my bags onto the platform and looked for Esther, my assigned Erasmus Buddy. There she was, wielding a sign with my name on it, which made me smile - I don't know whether I've ever had that film-like experience of arriving somewhere and someone holding up a sign for me. It was cool.
Part Six: The car
Esther led me outside the station to where a friend was waiting with his car. We loaded in the cases and then they drove me through the lit streets of the city centre, through a tunnel, past the port, and up into the hills.
The university campus is right up in the mountains, very rural, and as we drove through a forest and I saw a sign warning us about deer, it really sunk in that I was going to have a special and unusual living experience.
We drew up outside the residence. At this point it was the middle of the night but we had arranged to meet one of the staff. She showed me to my room, which was empty, of course, and therefore not exactly cosy. Once I had made up the bed and unpacked a few things - in complete exhaustion - it was a lot more homey.
I called my family to let them know I had got there, and crawled into bed. I had done it! I was in Vigo. The second half of my year abroad adventure could begin.
I hope you enjoyed hearing about my journey. I look forward to blogging all about Vigo and Galicia, so watch this space!
Thanks for reading.