Morning started early. Really early. At 06:00. My brain is not very functional at 6:00. It is normally booted at 7:30 and pampered with muesli and coffee until I leave for work. Now it was treated badly and so cleaning and dressing took some time. At 6:30 we arrived at the breakfast table. First positive thing of the day. They had large coffee mugs. Not that German hotel stuff. Real mugs and so we had some real coffee and the usual hotel muesli.
The hotel desk personnel at l’Orchidee really tried to help us on the train matter and explained to us how SNCF works on strike days. We ran to the train station and discussed the matter with the desk clerk there. Same result, we can use any train (like in Germany) and it might get crowded (like in Germany on normal operation days). So we selected a train at 10:28 instead of our booked train at 12:27. An interesting detail in Paris, the platform a train is starting from, is not on display anywhere, until 10-20 minutes before the train is scheduled. In Montparnasse this is a very clever move, as the platforms itself are very small.
At 10:20 we boarded the train and got even seats after some search. As normally all tickets are sold with reservation, there is no sign showing that a seat is reserved for someone or not. At least we could not figure out that information.
The TGV we were in, was a very comfortable train. It feels even a little better than ICEs. More leg space and more space for luggage. And yes they don’t run their service like an S-train. The connection from Paris to Hendaye only stops in Bordeaux, the end of the high-speed rail. Three hours without a stop.
Outside, French villages passed by with buildings from different centuries, especially little castles and Romanic churches and a lot of sunflowers. It seems that the buildings are either thin and two stories high or they are wide with a ground floor only and a wide roof.
In Hendaye we left the train and looked for the platform with the Renfe trains. When we bought the tickets for the Trenhotel from Renfe, their site stated that the train starts in Irun-Hendaye, the train journey plan stated Hendaye as point of origin. We had quite some booking trouble with the Renfe web-site. As Hendaye should be the point if origin, we thought we could enter Hendaye into the booking application. However, this did not work. E-mailing Renfe resulted in an answer stating that we have to enter Irun and everything would work fine. This was a little weird, but ok, after their site did not work in English and only in Spanish, we were convinced that this was just another glitch in the overall broken application. So we were still anticipating that the Renfe Trenhotel will go from Hendaye. The Deutsche Bahn connection plan also showed a switch over in Hendaye. And the SNCF website agreed with that assumption.
A quick search at Hendaye station revealed that we were mistaken. Surprise! Furthermore, there was no information available about anything from Renfe or Spain. We then turned to the information desk, which was, of course, not occupied. Only a sign in French illustrated the way to Irun station (at least). Thanks to the strike in France, we took a train earlier so we had two hours left to cross the border and find the train in Irun. By the way thanks to French unions you helped us greatly.
As a rule of thumb, if you are somewhere and have no clue whatsoever follow the crowd. Based on that rule you either end up nowhere, but in company, or you end up at the right place. So we did, and arrived at the Irun metro line station outside of Hendaye train station. We bought two tickets and in no time we where in Irun. Normal north Europeans would now expect signs showing the way from the Irun subway station to the Irun train station. But if you do so, you are wrong. Signs, especially helpful ones, are not part of the cultural concept of the Iberian peninsula. Luckily, they had someone at the information desk, who was most likely overlooked by the EU austerity commission. Thanks! So we could ask for the way, which was something like, get out, turn right and then left. So we tried to follow the instructions, but as it turned out we ended up in the local Irun railway station without any signs to guide the crowd.
We are quick learners so we asked again at the ticket office. In our tail wave the rest of the travelers from Hendaye followed us to the international platform, like a small caravan. After all the stress and walking we grew hungry so Birgit tried to find some local cuisine. On her trip she found a much shorter route to the subway station, as you can see in the picture collection below.
At 18:40 the train arrived and we boarded. We had a small cabin just for the two of us, with a washing basin, towel and other stuff similar to a real hotel. The shower and toilette were outside. So we unpacked a little and then went to the restaurant. As we just had some Pizza at the train station we were not very hungry, we decided only to have some desert and salad. And I wanted a glass of wine. Birgit did not, so I tried to order one glass of wine just for me. However, the waiter then convinced her also to choose the wine, so we ended up with a bottle of that wine and two glasses. Those Portuguese waiters are really good at selling stuff 😉 The wine was good and we had a lovely evening admiring the view of the Pyrenees.
Around 11:00 we went to our comfortable beds in our cabin. Birgit choose the upper bed. As breakfast was going to be served between 6:00 and 7:00 in the morning, we decided to set the alarm to 6:00. What we forgot to anticipate was the different timezones in France/Spain and Portugal. So actually the alarm went off at 5:00 in the morning. Birgit jumped out of the bed in the intention to grab the phone, but she forgot that she was resting in the upper bed. Thankfully the ground was littered with our luggage and so she fell not too hard and took no injuries. After that we checked the trains location with the tablet. As these fancy modern things also know how to determine the time, it showed us 5:00 local time. At that moment we realized our minor mistake 😉 So we went to bed again. At the other 6:00 in the morning the clerk knocked at the door and we got up, packed and went for the breakfast. Portuguese bread, meje leite (a coffee milk mixture), and orange juice. Well fed and rested, we left the train at Lisboa Apolonia and where picked up by the parents of Birgit’s friend.