You learn a lot about yourself, travelling. How you deal with unforeseen difficulties. How you cope with the tiredness hours of sitting still somehow wraps about you. How you pass the hours of waiting in queues. How valiantly you can battle on with the language, simultaneously discovering that your vocabulary has shrunk to the size of a pea… (pois! Don’t be impressed, I had to look that up) But there is nothing like adventure, is there, and all those challenges are all part of the giddy delight of the new.
My journey to a yoga retreat trip with my friend, Rachel, began with meeting up at Euston station in London and then setting off to St Pancras to catch the Eurostar to Lille where we changed trains for an overnight stay in Avignon.
Total day’s travelling time from my doorstep in Manchester, England to Avignon, France: 14.5 hours. That’s a long day but one mostly spent gazing out of windows, watching the landscape unfurl as we journeyed south. We had plenty more travel adventures along the way during our 10 days away as we made our way to Nimes and then on to Uzes and then on to La Pierre Verte and back again. Here are a few useful lessons I learned from the journeys we took during our 10 days away:
- Take food with you to eat while travelling. You’ll at least be able to consume something containing vitamins that won’t send you giddy with the sugar-in-disguise effects white bread can induce. Meals can get missed and crock monsieur was a (frankly, expensive) port in a storm on the way to Avignon which did nothing to help matters when faced with number 2.
- Some towns have more than one train station. There is little fun to be had lugging cases about at 10.30pm along deserted streets, trying to work out why the overnight hotel isn’t where it should be. It isn’t where it should be because it’s opposite another train station several miles away. One expensive taxi journey later…
- Just because people are local doesn’t mean they know anything about the local public transport. Lovely though the French are and although they do try to be helpful, be prepared for many a red herring.
- Bus timetables are not always accurate but buses do run on time. Confused? We were. On a Saturday in the town of Uzes the bus stop and route changes to avoid the esplanade and its morning local market. But that’s not on the timetable. We saw the bus sail past on a road 50 feet away, but we didn’t find the right stop to catch the next one in nearly two hours of wandering about in the heat of the day asking anyone we bumped into. Although we spoke to lots of people who tried to help. See 3.
- Googlemaps is not always your friend. In the thick of high buildings your signal can get lost and you’ll be gaily lugging those cases in the wrong direction. Check frequently; that’s my advice.
- It’s always further than you think. And, of course, retracing your steps always seems to take twice as long than wandering off in the wrong direction. See 5 and 3.
- ‘Direct’ should not be taken literally. I’m a very literal person, which is probably why I find metaphor magical, but I’ve discovered I don’t like metaphor’s nuances applied to train travel. It turns out the ‘direct’ Eurostar from Avignon to London involves a stop at Lille where everyone gets off the train with all their possessions, shows their passports to the UK and French border chaps and then pushes their luggage through the scanners before getting back on the train. All 550 of everyone. It takes an hour and for those with pushchairs or mobility issues there will be much queuing for the lifts. Of course, the Eurostar staff do this every day and know what they are doing, and are reassuringly jolly and calm, but for the uninitiated its all a bit daunting.
Of course any frustration melts away once the obstacle is overcome and the spirit is buoyed by successfully negotiating what earlier felt like a mountain. Really, it’s just the fear of the unknown, isn’t it?
And as Marie Curie said: ‘Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.’
Except, maybe, bus timetables on Saturdays in Uzes.