Posted by: Moni | April 29, 2009

My Unintentional Tour of Southern France

I’ve got to write this one out, because this story deserves the prose.  42 hours ago, I was sighing over the fact that the Travel gods were laughing at me – but 12 hours after that, I was convinced they were REALLY the good spirits of my ancestors watching over me.

It all started with me being skeptical of the Italian time table.  Every Italian train I’ve taken has been late.  Not like, five minutes late – more like, 30.  I took the train from Roma to Milan.  Gave up my seat so a cute couple could sit next to each other.  They took the four seat table and kept switching and talking, laughing and conversing – it was cute.  Then, I was pleasantly surprised to see it arrived on time!  Next! 

Milan to Nice – I was seated next to a classicaly Roman looking Italian man who made me sing “I’m too sexy” in my head.  There was also an interesting British couple with a kid came down the row, didn’t make reservations.  The wife is a bit frantic and didn’t want to sit in the next carraige.
Wife: But, they’re businessmen! businessmen!
Husband: That’s ok, So am I….
Later on, listened to an Australian woman go on about how everyone things Australians ride horses and chase down kangaroos. “Hmm!” I thought, “That’s just what people think of Texas! Only with…cows.”

Then came chaos. The handsome Italian supermodel got off the train at Genova, and a noisy Spanish couple took his place. OY.  They did not…stop…talking. What was surprising was I could understand them perfectly.  I tried to sleep and do my usual meditation of words – not too successful. Sigh.  If they weren’t keeping me up, the gorgeous sight of the Mediterranean coast in all of its beauty sucked me in.  I briefly wondered what it would take to retire in Monte Carlo – or at the very least, Firenze.  I’d rather be in Monaco or France, though.

On a positive note, I read the entirety of Isabel Allende’s memoir, “The Sum of Our Days.”  Loved it, as I do all of her books. I decided to write her a letter telling her about how her writing influences me. I haven’t written to an author since I was in grade school! I got so excited, and began with a set of reinvention rules for myself (to be blogged about at another time).   

The train was  50 minutes late.  I’ve officially missed my connection to Montpellier. Ouch! Nice was where it started feeling like it was going downhill.  The station and areas surrounding were covered in spray paint, and not taken care of very well, and the wench of  a ticketing attendant behind the counter dealing with all of the passengers from the train took one look at my 1st class Eurail pass and reserved me for two seats in a smoking overnight coach train.  Not even on the sleepers, which I could get on my ticket!  I didn’t know this, of course, until I was actually ON the train, looking for my seat. I sat down in that coach for about a minute and a half before I got angry – a really angry spurt of growliness – got up, and moved myself to the non-smoking coach to take my chances there.

This is where the ancestry intervened.  I phoned the car rental company in Montpellier to inform them I’d be late, and they said they’d leave the keys at a nearby hotel for me.  I also confirmed my reservation with the hotel to be on the safe side. I sat down in the car, surrounded with a bunch of other overnight travelers, and entertained myself with my blackberry’s games and ipod.   I did the one thing I NEVER do when I’m expecting to have to transfer cars, or trains.  I fell asleep. I mean, dead to the world asleep – for only 30 minutes.   I distinctly remember looking at the clock and thinking – OK! I have 20 mins until I have to get off the train at Montpellier and FINALLY be there…….and then, waking up 10 minutes after arrival time.  I waited ten minutes, anxiously waiting for the train to stop – because hey, if Italian trains are late, it could happen here too, right?

Then, suddenly, it was 45 minutes. Shit. I texted Alex about my suspicions.  Then, turned on my system and copied two numbers of friends of mine in Montpellier, and sent them a text to see if they were awake – since it was now 1:30am.  Juan Manuel immediately called me, and asked me where I was – I looked outside and said, “Carcassonne.” 

“Ohmaigod!” he said…
“That is… west. An hour west.”

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge. I had suspected this was the case, and already had two solutions in my mind.  A – I stay on the train until about 4am and head back on the opposite direction on the same line, or B – I get off at the next stop and wait for the next one.  How many night trains are there, anyways?  Juanma decided it would be way better if I got off and didn’t take on an extra journey (which I agreed with), so I got off in Toulouse at 2:15am. Three hours away from Montpellier.

Well, it turns out the station was closed. I walked around the station, completely alone, feeling like I was in a zombie movie.. until a security guard found me and made me leave. Hmm. Where to?  I walked over to the cab stand to ask if they knew of any hotels (there was one across the street), and ended up with a little gang of protectors.  I spoke to them for a little bit, and one bought me a coffee while the other informed me that the station opens at 4am, and it may not be worth the 50 euros for a hotel. 

I decided to walk over to the hotels to see if they had any vacancies anyways (turns out, they had no room at the inn), while an old lady outside the door was accompanied by two good people trying to take her in, and her two dogs as well.  I started walking down the street to the next hotel, when a shady man apparered out of the shadows and started mumbling French at me.  One of the dogs from the old lady’s camp came out and growled at him.  He turned around and walked away, and I silently thanked my grandmother profusely for scaring the guy with that sweet looking dog’s help.

At that point, I immeditely turned around to go stand with the cabbies for another 45 minutes until the train station opened. They acted like a small Italian mob, distracting anyone who so much as came near us with heckles for cab fares (even though they rotated calls every 10 minutes).  4am came along, and I thanked them before wandering into the train station (and out of the rain and cold).  Toulouse’s train station is relatively small.  I re-read the last few chapters of Isabel’s book to distract myself (with one eye on the rest of the crowd there), and walked around until my train was ready to go at 7.

I did not let myself so much as blink on that three hour ride back to Montpellier.  I had decided sometime between 4 and 6 that I was just not destined to get to Montpellier that night. I was, however, starting to get exhausted after only having 3 hours of sleep in the last 24 hours, and started stretching, practicing yoga poses, and plucking my eyebrows to stay awake.  You guys know how much I hate plucking. Its like torture for me.

I did see some very notable sights that were invisible to me in the dark;  Electric generating windmills (TONS of them!), cheataus, graveyards, castles, mountains, vinyards.  Its beautiful out here.

Then, I got to Montpellier. Finally!  I called Juanma to let him know I was there safely, and went about trying to get my rental car.

This, folks, is why I think it was divine intervention.  Even with directions from the car rental guy, I could not find that hotel he left the keys at for the life of me. I walked, and walked, and walked. Got to know the area of the train station well. Went back to the rental place, and for the first time this trip, started tearing up out of frustration.  I was tired, 30 hours into almost no sleep, and wandering like a zombie through a foreign town I’d never been to looking for the Holiday Inn with a Hertz counter.  After making the attendant explain it to me again, and draw it for me, and give me his phone number, I wandered around in the direction he sent me – and found it in the complete opposite direction he sent me. Maybe that was a language barrier – but I realized I would have never found that hotel without someone’s help. In a railway neighborhood. Once I got the keys – I had to walk BACK to the rail station to GET the car. Holy. Shit.  Montp isn’t a bad town, but I’m convinced I would have been stabbed and robbed at the very least had I had to explore that rail station past midnight last night.  The wench behind the counter, my grandmother, and other loved ones (even Paula) hovering around did me a great service. 

I have made it a habit to get lost in this town, though.  I haven’t gotten into the car once without going in the complete opposite direction I wanted to be in.  It IS fun zooming around in a small hatchback. I told myself I’d return the car this morning, but after a drive to work and back – I was singing along with the radio and figuring out the dimensions of the car. I better not remember those when I get back into my own.

I was getting delerious sitting in one place at work, but after a walk around the Antigone district and buying a few gifts I am now 42 hours in without any sleep.  I somehow feel relaxed and just tired enough for a good night’s sleep.  Maybe that’s what it really all about.



  1. I’m exhausted just from reading that. But also relieved and inspired. Keep on truckin.

  2. Sorry for writing OT … which WP template do you use? It looks interesting!!

  3. Yes, it is! Its called Ocean Mist.

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