After being here almost three weeks, I planned to take my first excursion last Saturday and go to France -- to Perpignan. France is only 20 kilometers away although Perpignan is further. It’s the first substantial town you encounter on your way north and it is accessible by rail. I would go by train.
The tourist office had given me a train schedule for the R11 Regional line that runs from Barcelona, past Girona, skims near the Costa Brava, passes through Figueres, and ends at Portbou, the last town in Spain before crossing the border. Sadly they had no information for making the connection that would take me to Perpignan. I could see, however, that approximately every other train actually carried on into France and stopped just across the border, making the last stop at Cerbere. I assumed, therefore, that I could get off at Cerbere and change trains there for a French train that would take me to Perpignan.
I then went to the train station to inquire about going to Perpignan. They also had no information about the French trains for my connection and told me to look on the internet for that information.
I found the French train website, and found the schedule for trains that leave from Cerbere and go to Perpignan and for the return. The connection going there was pretty good with only a 9 minute wait, probably just enough time to run into the station and buy my ticket, since I couldn’t buy it here. But I couldn’t tell about the connection coming back because whereas the Spanish schedule showed the time of arrival for the last stop at Cerbere, it didn’t show any trains starting from there. Going south, all the trains started at Portbou.
I didn’t want to plan a trip without knowing how the return connection would work. Would I have to wait a few minutes, or two hours? So, back to the train station to inquire about the return trip. I was not happy to hear that you couldn’t come back from Cerbere on a Spanish train. What, you could go but you couldn’t come back? This excursion was not working out well.
Not one to give up, I probed. How could it be that you could go but not come back? What did people do? The clerk finally explained that although some Spanish trains ended their route in France, none of the Regional trains began their routes in France. But some of the French Regional trains ended THEIR routes in Spain. It turned out that you could come back, but would transfer trains in Portbou on the return trip. Thus you transfer at Cerbere on the way there and transfer at Portbou on the way back. Easy. And so obvious, at least to the train employee, if not to me.
So it was possible after all. Good. But after all that, I decided just to hop in the car and have an outing much less confusing and closer to home, and so on Saturday I drove to Castello d’Empuries, a pretty, small medieval village just 20 minutes away. I’ll leave the complications of going to (and returning from) France for another day.