Read “Part I: The Train Ride from Hell” here.
After spending the entire night being tortured by bright lights, uncomfortable seats, and unruly passengers, we finally reached Barcelona. It was early morning, cloudy and chilly, and we barely had an hour of sleep last night. Shivering, we ran down the platform inside the train station to search for baggage lockers.
Again, this was 2010 and we had only a few international trips under our belts. We made multiple mistakes during that trip, all of which taught us to be better travelers, but made that specific vacation a bit of a horror show at times. The first mistake, described in the earlier post, was buying the wrong tickets for an overnight train. The second mistake, as we were about to find out, was booking a cheap hotel far from the center of town. Victor just graduated from law school and took the bar exam, so we were very budget-conscious, more so than we are now. After we couldn’t find any reasonably priced accommodations in the center, we decided that a half an hour ride on the subway to the hotel was not going to be a big deal for the three days we were in Barcelona. There was only one problem. On the morning of our arrival in Barcelona, we didn’t want to do an hour round trip to go to our hotel to drop off luggage and then back to the center of town. We decided, reasonably enough, to leave our backpacks in the train station baggage lockers, spend the day exploring the city, then pick up our luggage and take a train from the same station to the hotel. So here we were, exhausted from our sleepless night and confused by instructions in all Spanish on how to operate the lockers. We finally found a locker large enough, managed to open it, stuffed all our luggage inside, and hectically searched our pockets for enough Euro coins to close the locker. At last, with our baggage safely locked away, we were ready to start exploring the city.
We spent the whole day exploring beautiful Barcelona by getting lost in the narrow alleys of the Gothic Quarter, ogling the whimsical architecture of Antonio Gaudi, and people-watching the crowded pedestrian Las Ramblas street. While researching the trip, we read that Spain was one of the top countries for pickpockets; that out of all Spanish cities, Barcelona topped the list for pickpocketing; and the number one spot to be pickpocketed in Barcelona was the Las Ramblas street. Armed with this knowledge, we were anxiously watching our pockets while exploring Barcelona and were especially vigilant and extra-careful when walking Las Ramblas, trying to prevent any potential theft. I wore my small day backpack in front and held on to my camera for dear life. As the sun set and night settled over the city, exhausted, happy, and with all our wallets, phones, and the camera still on us, we headed back towards the train station.
At the train station, we walked up to the luggage storage section. We had a small key from the luggage locker, with a locker number clearly labeled on the key. We found the locker with no problems, unlocked it, and threw the door open.
The locker was empty. Completely empty. Unable to believe my eyes, I slowly extended my hand into the locker and touched the back wall, the ceiling, and the sides of the locker. Even with my hand exploring the emptiness of the locker, my brain refused to believe this was not some kind of an optical illusion.
“Our stuff isn’t here,” I said incredulously.
Victor was much quicker on the uptake. “Did we get robbed? Was the lock picked? Did we overstay the length of allowed locker occupancy? Who do we talk to about this?”
“It’s empty…” I said, my hand still inside the locker.
Victor shook my shoulders, “We got our documents, money, and camera on us. We don’t NEED any of the stuff in the luggage, we can do without it. We can buy extra clothes here.”
He was making way too much sense for me to process at the time. I stood by the locker, closing and re-opening the door, as if our luggage were going to magically reappear, murmuring, “This can’t be happening…”
Victor gave up on explaining the reality to me and waited until I regained my composure and common sense. Finally, I realized the luggage was not coming back on its own and we went to look for help.
We found the luggage room attendant who spoke no English. I skillfully mimed putting two backpacks into the locker, closing the door, walking away, coming back, opening the door, and feigned horror at finding the locker empty. He pointed at his watch. We wrote down the time when we put the baggage in. He waved his hand impatiently, speaking quickly in Spanish. A passerby translated that this attendant wasn’t on the shift in the morning and had no idea what happened to our luggage. We stared at him helplessly.
“Supervisor!” the attendant said and pointed out of the luggage room.
“Talk to his supervisor,” the kind passerby translated and pointed in the same direction.
We spent the next ten minutes walking around the train station, asking “Supervisor?” to every person in any kind of uniform until one of them pointed at a closed door. As we walked up to the door, a man in a wrinkled suit with a giant ring of keys rushed out and ran right by us. We sprinted after him, but luckily for us, he was already heading into the luggage room.
“Supervisor?” I asked.
“Si,” he said.
“English?” I asked.
“Yes.” He said.
I explained again what happened to us and skillfully mimed the horror of finding the locker empty.
The supervisor sighed, “This happens all the time…” and continued briskly walking towards the baggage locker room.
This happens all the time?? Luggage gets stolen all the time? How is this place still in business?
We walked into the luggage room, and I pointed out the empty locker, stuck my hand in, and banged it against all the sides to further prove my point. The supervisor looked at Victor, Victor just shrugged. He was used to my shenanigans. The supervisor started quickly going through his gigantic ring of keys, mumbling something unflattering in Spanish under his breath. He slammed the empty locker door shut, pulled out a key from his ring, turned the key, and pulled the locker door open. I was about to protest, but the door swung open and we were faced with our backpacks, securely tucked inside the locker. I rushed toward our luggage, violently groping it to make sure this wasn’t an illusion.
“I don’t understand how this happened,” Victor said, audibly confused.
“It happens all the time!” the supervisor said and demonstrated by closing our locker, “People close one locker and then put coins and pull the key out of the wrong locker.”
Now that the locker door was closed, it was easy to see what he meant. The coin and key slot were unintuitively on the left side of the locker door. So, once you closed the door, you had to ignore the coin slot right next to the door’s handle and use the coin slot where the door hinges were located. There were detailed instructions on the locker, aimed at preventing this very mistake, in Spanish which of course we didn’t understand. It was also not surprising we made this mistake, considering how poorly we slept the night before. We also found out that any time the attendant on duty finds a fully unlocked locker, he locks it himself and keeps the key. Because we showed up so late in the evening, the day attendant already left, and the night attendant didn’t know anything about this. We profoundly thanked the supervisor. Ok, Victor thanked the supervisor, while I continued groping my miraculously recovered backpack.
Heading towards the train to the hotel, carrying our much-beloved backpacks, I turned to Victor and said, “We would have been OK without all this stuff.”
He nodded and smiled.
“But you know what we are not OK without? Spanish! One of us should really learn Spanish. The whole train debacle and the luggage locker switcheroo could have been prevented if we just had a basic understanding of Spanish.”
Anyway, it’s years later and I am finally writing down this story, while Victor is watching a Netflix movie in Spanish. We learn from our mistakes, but that doesn’t mean we don’t continuously make new ones!