Toledo Tales: Perks of Being Bilingual

9:14am, Atocha Station, Madrid

“Your train departs at 9:20…turn left then go through security, and turn right,” said the attendant at the desk of Madrid Atocha train station.

“Muchas gracias,” I said as we whisked ourselves around and sprinted across the terminal, past the towering palms that made up the tropical-esque waiting area of the main terminal. The airy spray of the watering system spurred us on as we clutched our bags and ran for our lives past tourists and daily commuters alike.

9:16am - Security

Our sprint was suddenly put to a stop as the line at security to get to our departure gate wound through a tight snake along three barriers. We used the waiting time wisely, unpacking our bags of liquids and preparing our tickets in our hands.


9:19am - Through security

Despite E’s bags needing to be put through twice, we made it to through the airport-like security with seconds to spare – we raced, huffing and puffing, to what happened to be (of course) the very furthest gate. R was fastest, struggling to breathe from our sprint as she passed the ticket over to the waiting attendant at the gate.

“No, I’m sorry, the train is gone,” she spoke in broken English, waving her hand nonchalantly towards the tracks behind. In fact, the train was very much still there, but the engine were spurred and the doors firmly shut.

“You have to wait until the next train in one hour.”

Annoyed at the sheer seconds we had missed our Renfe train by, we resigned to settling on seats right by the gate so there was no chance we would miss it again. As we were pushing our bags under the seats and bringing out our phones to play, the attendant approached again: “You have to buy new tickets to use the next train.”

9:25am - Atocha Station, Madrid

Our same rotund attendant, who had sold us the initial tickets to Toledo, looked wary as we approached him once again, clearly keenly aware that we must have missed the train.

As we moved towards his desk, the girls were whispering in my ear, “you take it, say something in Spanish, he’ll warm up to you more.”

“Ahhhh…hello again,” I said warily in my unpracticed Spanish. “You served us a few minutes ago, but we missed the train. They are saying we need new tickets.”

“Yes, that’s right. That will be 10 Euros each for one way. Your return on the original ticket will still work.”

“Ok…” I began. “But when you sold us the tickets, we ran, and there is no way we could have made the train. It isn’t our fault – we literally could not have caught that train. That’s not fair.”

“It is policy. I can sell tickets up to 5 minutes before a train is due to depart.”

He looked unmoved, but as I explained the situation to the girls, his demeanour started to relax.

“There was no time,” I pleaded again, with the girls behind me making gestures towards wrists where watches could have been.

He signed, and then grinned at the edges. “Ok, this time I will just change your ticket, no charge. But make sure you get on this train!”



“Here’s another Euro,” M thrust a coin into E’s hand as she dipped the coins we had accumulated into the vending machine. Out popped a couple of Kit Kats.

I took the chocolate from E and dodged the line of customers awaiting our attendant’s attention.

Slipping the chocolate onto his desk, I said again, “Thank you so much,” and off we popped through security and onto the next train, Toledo-bound xx

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