Firstly, Joyeux Fetes-des-Mamans!
Got back from latest little trip away at 5ish this evening...welcomed home by a pile of bills to be paid and, hilariously, my social security card (6 weeks before I leave!), but had a really great time. The weather wasn't that great, warm but generally overcast/rainy with moments of sunshine (mostly whilst travelling) and some thunder and MEGArain today! Travelling companions were fantastic. Perpignan was a nice little town, with a lively centre...but pretty standard French ville really. However yesterday we caught a train a little way up the coast to Collioure (just a couple of kilometres from the Spanish coast) which was picture-perfect, interesting and bustly and a wonderful day was had!
Molly and I got the train on Thursday via Toulouse and met Helen there. Was lovely to see Toulouse in better weather than the freezing cold day I was last there. We chilled out in the Capitole square and bought new sunglasses from the market (left mine in Ox...as it was I wouldn't need them this weekend!!!). We then went to the biggest Romanesque cathedral in the world (Saint-Sernin), was totally beautiful. From here onto a Jacobian church (home to St Thomas Aquinas) which was very interesting...particularly because there was an exposition there about learning etc in the Arab world...they totally beat us to EVERYTHING. Enjoyed it...something I know totally nothing about and had a little "moment" when I was like, "woah I am in France, enjoying and getting a lot out of this exposition in French"...I dunno, just a "this is cool" moment. We headed back to the station to find our train was delayed (by an hour and a half in the end I think...) but we made the most of it and got Quick's version of a Mcflurry. When we did get on the train it made up quite a lot of time and we met Helen in time to get kebabs for dinner and have a wander around the town centre which sports some nice restaurants/cafes and up-market boutiques, as well as the oldest cemetry in Europe (errr I think that was it....).
Our hostel was really nice and we got an 8-be dormitory to ourselves the whole week, as well as plenty of cereal, bread and "you're speaking English" stares from the Frenchies at breakfast time!
On Friday we headed straight to the "Palais des Rois de Majorca" (yeah the kingdom of Majorca used to stretch this far!!!) and then hit up the market where Helen got some new sandals (I was sorted with my magazine freebies...). We wandered through a really interesting, "real" area of town...Perpignan is known as being very multi-cultural, with, in particular, a large number of North African inhabitants and this are certainly reflected that. Sadly it also seemed really kinda poor...well, whatever it made Perigueux seem soooo "white" and, I dunno, kinda sanitized. We looked around the vielle ville for a bit, popped into Galeries Lafeyette and paid a visit to the Office du Tourisme but the weather had got really kinda bad by this time and moral was dropping, so....WE WENT TO THE BEACH!!! The rain stopped by the time we got there so we hung out on the beach for a bit, dunked our toes in the sea and had an ice-cream. Oh, the ice-cream wasn't as easy as it sounds. So...we get to this little place and there is one of those cabinet freezers...a lady comes out and we say "bonjour" and she opens the freezer for us, I take out a solero and as soon as I get it in my fingers I realise that it's obviously melted and re-frozen as it feels all funny and misshapen, so I put it back. SUDDENLY, and out of nowhere, this French guy appears "Non, non...on ne touche pas...." blah blah blah like flipping TOTAL OVER-REACTION. He just goes on and on, and totally just keeps talking over me when I try telling him WHY I'd put it back in. So we say ok fine we'll go elsewhere and Molly gave him an awesome sarcastic "Au revoir Monsieur" as we left to the sweet sound of him moaning to his friends about us.
We found another ice-cream place though, with a lovely French lady, and later had a good Italian meal with a free pitcher of wine from a nice waiter who took a shine to the "signorinas".
Intresting Fact of the Day: Salvador Dali once said that the station at Perpignan was the "centre of the world"!!!
Saturday, we got the train to Collioure. As I said, gorgeous place. Check out facebook for photos. We stopped off for a coffee on arrival and then went exploring the cute little cove...harbour, pebble beach, lighthouse, castle, little crafty shops, beachside cafes which filled-up when the weather for better later in the day. In some ways it reminded me of Cornwall/ Brittany, only it was on the Mediterranean, with the pretty pink and peach houses and laid-back atmosphere. It is also home to the Fauvism and we saw some cool stuff by Matisse etc in the exact places it was painted. After lunch we headed on a little journey up a hill, was a gorgeous little walk (sooo good to be in the countryside, smelt amazing with the occassional drift of sea-air and the constant scent of the spring flowers). We went first through a little collection of cacti up to a windmill, then further up through the terraced Banyul vineyards to the fort, and the final leg of the journey (after my free sandals decided to give up on me...) was through an olive grove. Beautiful. We finished off the day people watching on the beach, headed back to the hostel, laid our heads on the pillows and ended up napping and waking up at 9pm to go and get pizza for dinner.
Today there was a hilarious, if kinda annoying, event to brighten up the boredom of the journey home. So yesterday we all got our tickets home from the machine (as always). Me and Molly to Perigueux and Helen to Bergerac. Our only option given was an 8am train to Narbonne (40 minutes) with an hour wait before boarding a second train to Brive, so, we got that. Helen was sold a ticket for 8.40am. We didn't question it, wanting to finish up in different places. Molly and I got up early, got our train, did the journey, did the wait and got a good half hour onto the second train. Guard checked our tickets and said "why didn't you get this train from Perpignan?". We realised the machine was very dumb and that the train we were on had come from Perpignan in the first place!!! i.e. we'd basically done a 2hour detour for nothing!!!
BUT, even worse, about half an hour later we realise...WE'RE ON HELEN'S TRAIN! We find her...and laugh.