26 January 2013

¡Hola España!

So I just moved over 360 miles across the French/Spanish border with over half my body weight in tow and I FEEL IT. Our (mine, Lauren's and Gareth's) journey started last Saturday with a bus from Aix-en-Provence to Marseille and then a train from Marseille to Montpellier. I'd wanted to see Montpellier for a while, but rain and over thirty kilos of my life spread over three separate bags meant I just wasn't in the mood for anything too strenuous. We found a nice little restaurant, which was probably about the most French place I'd been since I began my time in France (on my last night, too!) so I ordered something I thought was particularly French and overpriced; a €22 filet de boeuf. It was worth every penny but with some sort of disgusting alien growth on my lower eyelid (it was a sty, ladies and gentlemen), I just wasn't digging the evening very much at all. I got myself an early night in preparation for a 6am start to catch our 7.30am train to Tarragona the next day.

I thought it was just going to be plain old smooth sailing; get to the train station, wait for the platform to be announced, flash the ticket and away we go... but of course not. I was forgetting I was still in France. Our direct train from Montpellier to Tarragona, which we organised the rest of the travel around in order to have the least amount of hassle on the day of arrival, was due to leave at 7.30am. I was complacent, happily sitting on my suitcase with my vending machine-bought waffle, waiting to know my platform number when all of a sudden the muffled, nonchalant drone of une femme française sounds over the tannoy, repeating something about a "change of journey" and that passengers for "such-and-such a train" had to proceed directly to the bus station. This was fifteen minutes before our train was due to leave; none of us were familiar with Montpellier and immediate panic set in. I was tired and my anxiety spiked, so I was of no use whatsoever and sat back down on my suitcase (after pretty much lapping the foyer of the train station, eyes wide and mouth agape like a fish fresh out of water) and cried.

A (what seemed to be) nice French lady holding a coffee came up to me and asked me why I was crying and I explained it was because I didn't know where the bus station was and that we apparently had to find it because our train was going to leave from there (??? exactly, I didn't know either at this point), to which she simply replied "OK" and walked off. I thought she was going to tell me everything would be all right and direct me towards the bus station so I didn't have to worry, but no. Once again I was, of course, expecting too much of the French. They love to ask questions and hate to provide solutions.

Eventually, with the combined efforts of Lauren, an Australian family and a few mumblings of a toothless tramp posing as a help desk official, we found the bus station and learnt that our train had in fact been cancelled and would be replaced by a five hour-long bus journey through the Pyrenees. I didn't think I could get any more livid, until I learned that our train had in fact been cancelled because, in true French fashion, the drivers had decided to strike. What a way to say goodbye, eh? Although once again, what else should I have expected?

I don't think I need to go into too much detail about the journey, because everybody's been on a bus, but anybody who knows me well, knows that I do NOT get on with public transport (read: I despise it). I know that the train is public transport, but at least it's comfortable and noisy enough in itself to drown out the incessant tinny backlash of somebody's too-loud Nicki Minaj. There's also toilets so you can pee whenever you want without tearing through Perpignan bus station in floods of tears because you just can't hold it any longer, without any luck (cue another two hour wait until we stop at Figueres service station).

Alas, at the end of it all, I'm here! If a little bit worse for wear. I spent the first few days nursing a poorly eye and trying to hide it so as to not put people off their food/life, as well as attempting to get my muscles to pull themselves back together after being shredded apart on a much too long journey to Spain. We've found a place to live (pictures soon, when we move in/acquire internet) and I only hope that this hacking cough and chest pains will disappear before tomorrow when I have to lug my life back up the hill to the Casc Antic part of Tarragona. My immune system has never taken such a beating from stress before and I hope it never will again.

¡Hasta luego!
P.s. sorry there are no photographs on this update, I'll probably do a huge photo dump of what I've been doing when I can.

11 January 2013

Je suis de retour!

I had an absolutely wonderful whirlwind of a time back home at Christmas, but three weeks just wasn't long enough. Or it was, it just passed by far, far too quickly. I didn't get to see everybody as much as I wanted to and I didn't get to dance as much as I wanted to (dancing at home is always so much better for some reason? I have no idea why, I just prefer it), but it was just so nice to have some home comforts around me and to eat good old stodgy, English food again (although I did order a takeaway every other day as well - oops! I now have some sort of adolescent crisis happening on my chin i.e. a cluster of spots, but hey ho, I ate well).

It was great just being able to slob around in pyjamas most of the time with my boyfriend, Paul, and do absolutely nothing for the most part, get really ruined at a couple of parties and tell all of my friends how much I love them and have missed them and then go for some home-cooked goodies (Nana Pat's Sunday dinners, Mama B's bacon and lentil soup and our very own pre-Christmas Christmas dinner - see below) to recover from being an absolute hungover mess.

Left to right: Paul, Jonesy, Karl, Joe and Coady. Christmas dinner jazz hands!

All of the food. In the world. Ever. This consisted of 5 joints of meat, two jugs of gravy, a bowl of boiled eggs and several other things that I just can't remember. 

I was, however, disappointed to find that a couple of Christmas gifts that I brought home from France could, in fact, be found in England. Paul's Mam really loves l'Occitane products and buys them from QVC, so I thought I'd buy her (and my own Mam) some from the real French store, only to find that, when finishing my Christmas shopping at home, they had constructed a l'Occitane store in Eldon Square. I also managed to find the la Rustique camembert that I brought home, in the cash'n'carry in the arse-end of Walker, which is the least exotic/French place you could ever think of, for those of you who don't know it (you don't want to) when we were buying bucket loads of drink on the cheap for one of the parties.

In total, I managed to bring home 2kg of cheese (2 wheels of camembert, 5 large babybels - for which I got stopped at Marseille airport because security weren't sure if babybels were allowed through) spread between my suitcase and my hand luggage, which at the end of the day was a fruitless endeavour because globalisation now means that you can find "authentic French goods"  even in the most smack-rat/Jeremy Kyle-candidate ridden part of town! Good! I think people enjoyed their gifts nevertheless.

And so, after clawing onto the threshold at the front door of my (cold) Heaton/North Shields home because Christmas was too good and I really, really, really didn't want to leave, I am back in the South of France. My body and brain are confused again because Newcastle is so dark, wet and cold, but here it's like a Summer's day at the end of August to me, I just don't know what to believe. God help me when I get to Spain in a week's time (yes that's right - a week!) I think my hypothalamus will go on strike because it just won't be able to cope with all of these weather changes in such a short amount of time.

So about the Spain thing; I've booked train tickets with Lauren and Gareth (Pardon my French) and our journey will take us two days in total. We'll be going from Marseille to Montpellier, spending a night in Hotel Ibis in the centre of Montpellier, then catching the early train all the way down to Tarragona, non-stop.  We could have flown, but I am really the world's worst flyer so if there's another option that's cheaper or just as expensive, I'll take it. Plus I've never been on a really long train journey before, (just Newcastle to Edinburgh but that only takes about an hour) so it'll be an adventure.

A map to illustrate our journey from Marseille to Tarragona.

As of yet, we have nowhere to live but thankfully we have friends who are already down there and are willing to help us out until we get ourselves sorted, which is really, really nice of them. We'll have to take them a "thank you" Camembert... (or not, because you'll probably be able to find it in a dingy corner shop thanks to import/exportation.)

IN OTHER NEWS... I now have a pet turtle at home in Heaton. He's called Donatello. Isn't he lovely?