Travels with an insomniac

March 12, 2018

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 The 10:07 to Barcelona

   Normally, I sleep like a colicky baby. I get maybe four hours of sleep on an average night. Throw jet lag into the mix, and you have the makings of a treatable insomniac.
      For example, by the time I arrived in Barcelona late Friday afternoon, I had logged a total of two or three hours of sleep in the last fifty or so. When Carolyn and I traveled together, she worried I wasn’t getting enough sleep. “You’ll hit the wall by the afternoon,” she would tell me, full of concern I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the day. Never happened. Now that I am traveling alone, the only person I can cause worry with is me, and I’m not bothered at all. I simply use the middle of the night as productively as I would the middle of the day. For instance, I’m writing this at 3:30 in the morning.
   The six-hour train ride from Paris to Barcelona was a pleasant one through a gray,  late winter French countryside of flat farmland. Nothing much was happening outside the window as we hurtled smoothly along, hitting speeds of more than 180 mph. I read and wrote, and wondered whether I should engage the octogenarian across the aisle from me, who seemed to be a traveling widow. (My detective eye sharpened by the likes of Poirot, Holmes and Nancy Drew, noted both her wedding ring shifted to her right hand, and her constant reference to a eurail-like train map every time we rolled into a new town). I didn’t.
   Outside Narbonne, the outlying lagoons, called etangs by the French, came into view. When travel writer Paul Theroux passed here, he was surprised when flocks of pink flamingos suddenly appeared. “I’d always associated flamingos with Africa,” he’d written in The Pillars of Hercules. (I’d always associated them with the front yards of Florida homes.)
   At first, the only birds I could see in the lagoons were of the gull variety. Then suddenly, there they were, huddles of them bobbing on the water in tufts of pink. They looked like cotton candy. It was vindication for me: I had observed a phenomenon just like a professional travel writer had. Of course, had Theroux not tipped me off, I would have been oblivious to their presence, just as I’d been when I passed by this very same place on my France trip. Heck, I don’t even remember seeing the lagoons.
  I arrived in Barcelona and according to GPS, my hotel was a twelve-minute walk from the Barcelona station, which I turned into a thirty-minute trek via the same GPS. I wasn’t frustrated. Having purchased the international travel plan from my provider, as a result of my previous trip’s experience, GPS continued to patiently reroute me, as I passed the left turns I should have been making. In my defense, it was hard to find the street designations coming off the big square in front of the station, plus I’d gotten off on the wrong foot by coming out the back end of the station, instead of the front. But I got there this time on my own, and without the need to hail a taxi in desperation. There were plenty of restaurants in the neighborhood, and I checked in just in time for dinner and my first taste of native tapas.

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Back in the room after garlic shrimp (another plus of traveling alone, from your bedmate’s perspective) and rubbery but tasty calamari, and along with my first bottle of the Michener recommended Rioja wine, I settled in for what I expected to be a good catch-up night’s sleep. After all, my door was locked, the bathroom and shower was one where only I could enter, housekeeping was clearly provided by the sight of a made up bed and clean towels. I was in the safety of mother’s womb.
  And two hours later, I was wide awake and kicking inside that womb, which continued until breakfast was served at seven the next morning. I got a lot of reading and writing done though, and had a full day of sightseeing to boot.
   Robert Frost once wrote that he had miles to go before he slept. Evidently, so do I.


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