Over the past two weeks, I haven’t actually spent much time in Millau. We’ve had a whole two weeks off school for the Toussaint holidays and during that time I’ve been doing a lot of travelling. The holidays are a huge advantage of teaching English in France, as is the salary, but I would urge anyone planning their year abroad to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages about it before signing up straight away if you have any doubts about teaching – for me, this is a difficult job, and I found my non-paid, no-holidays internship at a newspaper in Malaga a lot easier to settle in to.
I spent the first five days of my holidays in Barcelona with my American housemate. She’d never been to Spain before, I wanted to meet up with a Spanish friend, and there was a good deal on the coach journey between there and Toulouse. We used ‘covoiturage’, a car sharing website, to get from Millau to Toulouse, and were surprised and amused to find the ‘car’ was in fact a campervan, complete with resident dog. In Toulouse, we stayed overnight with a couple of people from the CouchSurfing website, another excellent way to save money while travelling. Obviously you have to be careful using it, but we found some nice people to stay with who took us for a night out in Toulouse, after which the coach journey to Barcelona the next morning was a true delight (hangover plus travelling is the worst).
Barcelona was lovely, and even though I’d been to the city before, it was great to see all the sights again, and to visit a few places I had never visited. We managed to find a sunny day to see Gaudi’s famous Park Guell, which is amazing. Even in October it was full of tourists, but it was definitely worth the visit to see the view of Barcelona, and of course Gaudi’s bizarre works. We met up with a few friends who between them recommended some great places to eat and to go out.
My next trip was to Frankfurt, to visit a friend I’d met in Malaga. The journey started well, with ‘covoiturage’ to Montpellier, and the lovely couple who drove me invited me out for a drink with their friends that evening. I waited at the coach stop for an hour and a half before a coach finally drew up, and I ran over to see if it was going to Frankfurt. It was indeed my coach, but because I’d booked my ticket the day before (I’d had to wait till payday), the drivers weren’t expecting to pick me up. If I hadn’t run over waving my ticket, I’d have been sleeping in Montpellier that night.
A lesson learnt – coaches cannot be booked last minute, as they have a list of passengers that does not include the last 24 hours of bookings.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed a good few days staying with my friend; seeing the city sights (including the European Central Bank, which I feel is somewhat bizarrely placed), eating Chinese and shopping.
After Frankfurt, I took a lovely efficient German train to Amsterdam, another city I had been to before – but this time I was going just to see a concert. On arriving, I made friends with a girl in my hostel and we wandered around the city a bit until it was time for me to finally see Bon Iver – the best gig I’ve ever been to, it was wonderful. Well worth the horrendous two day journey which followed…
I knew a 20 hour coach journey was never going to be pleasant, but what I wasn’t expecting was a two and a half hour stop in Brussels for a police drug raid, including sniffer dog and three arrests. A lesson for all: don’t smuggle drugs. The journey went on and was fine, until the lady sitting behind me asked if I wasn’t meant to change coaches at Lyon to get to Montpellier? Surely not – someone would have told me, or it would have said on my ticket. No no. Saying he’d informed everyone of this change, the driver angrily told me I’d better get off the bus now then.
Ready to cry/punch someone/collapse from lack of sleep, I got off the bus in Avignon, found the train station and hopped on a train heading to Montpellier, after which the journey thankfully went relatively smoothly. All in all, by the time I got back home, I was travelling for around 28 hours – which means I spent a total of 70 hours on the road during my fourteen days off. And that’s the last time I take a coach anywhere.
Photo courtesy of Evergreens UK