The Frogs Strike Back
Once more it is time to launch an assault on the border of La France because we have to get back to Lerab Ling. The night before we are due to leave Florence the monk, the shopper and the scribe debate the merits of a direct strike through Geneva vis-a-vis a coastal infiltration via Ventimiglia, Monaco and Marseille. Having failed once at Geneva, which has particularly strong defences including a customs unit, we settle for the wetback route and arrange a taxi to take us to the station to launch our offensive at dawn.
It is a promising morning, warm and sunny. Two trains and six hours later we step off the train at Ventimiglia and there must have been a leak because the Frogs give us the finger and cancel all the trains to Monte Carlo except one. We wait patiently for two hours and jump on at the very last moment, but the monk’s red robes give us away and when we finally get through Monte Carlo to Marseille our cunning opponents have cancelled all of the trains to Montpellier. There is to be major strike action the following day so we are stuck, perhaps for days, and night is falling and Marseille stinks because a fortnight’s rubbish has built up in the streets so we go into a huddle and come up with Plan B. The monk calls the monastery at Lerab Ling and they need his services badly for an international broadcast on the weekend so it is agreed that a car will meet us if we can somehow make it to Aix-en-Provence.
We take heart because the strikers have left a couple of trains to Aix-en-Provence open. We buy tickets from a machine and leap aboard as the whistle blows and thirty minutes later our sixth train for the day drops us at Aix and we go into concealment for two hours until the mobile rings. Our rescuers are four kilometres out and we are to be ready for a flying pick-up. The plan works and we get back to Lerab Ling at 1.30 in the morning. It has been a long day, but it’s Wookies 2, Frogs 0 and we are very pleased with ourselves. Who said that the adventure had gone out of travel?
It is good to rest up for a day or two at Lerab Ling, although we are back on the cabbage soup and it is necessary to visit the local town to buy real food. It is a brilliant day, the last gasp of summer and the mountains are bright with the colours of fall. That night we catch up on the small screen. There is no TV but Sangye has set up an entertainment centre in our little apartment and has thoughtfully downloaded a few movies and drama series in English that haven’t yet made it to Oz. I suspect that what he does is not always entirely above board, and can see now how Robyn became a pirate. But I still my conscience because our square eyes evenings are a good change of pace after days spent surreptitiously transferring bags from train to train.
Two days and many episodes later we are out of video withdrawal and the stomach as well is content because we were invited to lunch by Mayumla (the mother of Sangye’s learned teacher Sogyal Rinpoche). She’d be about 80, a real dear and she arranged an Aussie meal (steak, chips and salad) for us. So we are restored in body and spirit, preparing for our next trip to Barcelona from Tuesday until Friday. We hear the good news that the Frogs have all but surrendered, one of the things they do best, and the trains are running again. We’ll be visiting Robyn’s niece Claire, and she’ll no doubt point us in the right directions to experience the best of Barcelona. I’ve re-read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises to put me in the right frame of mind for the Corrida de Toros, but I’m not sure that’s an option in these days of animal liberation.
We made it to Barcelona but not without attracting unwanted attention from the Frogs, this time their police. I’m in the train station in Montpellier, waiting patiently for our train departure platform to be announced (they leave it until the last moment so that you have to run) when I get this tap on the shoulder from a cop. He is wearing a Glock and an unfriendly expression so I pay attention.
‘Oo are you?’ he says.
I give him my name and volunteer that ‘Je suis Australie.’
He looks doubtful but lets me go. Minutes later we are heading down the platform to our carriage. There are cops everywhere and a hard-looking young lady looks me up and down, then looks at a photo in her hand and frowns. The penny begins to drop.
‘They’re looking for someone who looks like me,’ I hiss at Robyn.
She hisses back. ‘Don’t be stupid. ‘Oo would want to look at someone like you?’
She has a point so we get on the train and find our seats. A couple of minutes later the lady cop is looking down at me, hand on Glock.
‘Oo are you?’ she says.
I go through my ID routine again, even showing her my passport. She looks disappointed, sniffs and wanders off.
The monk volunteers that it is common practice for old men to hang out in trains, trying to scam travellers. ‘They think you’re one of them’, he says. ‘Perhaps a well-known one.’
I am not amused. ‘You’re telling me I look like a crook? An old crook at that.’
‘Yes,’ he says. My own son. I think he may have been in France too long.
Five hours later in Barcelona we meet this lovely young lady Mieira, one of Sangye’s network of Buddhist friends. She has an apartment in the city centre; an elegant residence about the same size as our house so we stayed there. Must have cost her a bomb. Barcelona is a great place, an exciting blend of the old and the new along its broad thoroughfares and sidewalks. It is a place where one can walk in safety despite the several million small motorcycles and scooters that endlessly patrol the streets, pausing to swarm like mutant blowflies at traffic lights before bursting away in a howl of unrestrained energy. Apart from that (your scribe is a bit noise phobic) it was just beautiful and the weather so warm and sunny that we could wander around in T-shirts. In the old town, there are tempting back alleys and lanes which are tops for atmosphere, art, shopping and tapas restaurants.
Prominent among the city’s attractions is the work of the famed architect Antoni Gaudi including the incomplete Sagrada Familia, a huge church which is scheduled for completion in 2026, the hundredth anniversary of his death. Worth a look on Wikipedia for those who have not heard of Gaudi or his creations. Like all major tourist attractions, it’s hard to get in and out, which reminds me of the old Spanish joke about being careful not to put all of your Basques in one exit. Sorry.
We meet up for dinner with Robyn's niece Claire and her family, together with her dad Phil who happens to be visiting at the same time. We start our dinner at about 9.30pm, which is pretty standard for that part of the world. I love it; such a pleasant and relaxed way to bring the day to its close. Spain is a must for a return visit.
Next and final stop Paris after two more days in the mountains with Sangye. That's probably a good thing as I'm getting blogged out.
Peter and Robyn