Derailed on the way to San Sebastián

Postcard View From La Concha beach in San Sebastian
Postcard: La Concha beach in San Sebastian | Art by Todd Berman

Some of the most interesting travel writing spring from disasters, misadventures, or simply the unexpected. Luckily for me and Todd, when friends join us on the global road, their travel fiascoes can provide us with stories without us needing to endure any agony ourselves.

After sharing decadent paella at La Baraka, we waved a temporary goodbye to the Baron and Baroness from across the Madrid metro platform. They were off to San Sebastián by train, while Todd and I detoured through Vitoria-Gasteiz. When we reunited in San Sebastián, Todd and I got to hear what they’d been through in just one short day.

When a train ahead of theirs derails, their ride becomes packed with maddening delays and re-routings. Hours behind schedule, the Baron hits redial on his cell phone to let their San Sebastián hotel know that they’ll be late so they won’t give away their room.

Oddly, the woman at the hotel doesn’t seem to remember that they were coming. But, since she says, “Reservation for the Baron tonight. Got it. 11 o’clock, no problem. Remember, we close at midnight,” the Baron figures they’re fine.

The train arrives even later than predicted, just shy of midnight. There’s no way they’ll be able to get to the hotel before the doors close. When the Baron calls again, the woman at the hotel’s response is, “No, it is impossible. We are closed.”

Desperate and exhausted, the Baron nearly shouts into his cell phone, “Please, we’re here! Quince minutos! Quince minutos! Por favor!!!!”

Of course, she hangs up on him.

Since they have nowhere else to go, the Baron and Baroness trudge to the hotel through San Sebastián’s dark and damp cobblestone streets. Hoping against hope, they ring the buzzer. The door opens! A woman lets them in, welcomes them with fresh fruit, and shows them to their room. Everything is okay!

It’s only the next morning the Baron realizes that when he hit redial on the cell phone, he wasn’t calling the hotel. He’d been calling La Baraka, the paella restaurant–in Madrid. The Baron ends his story saying, “The poor hostess at La Baraka, she must have thought I was crazy.”