16.08.2001 - 19.08.2001
After sleeping on a mattress in Élise’s place, we got to Paris Austerlitz train station by 10am and got on the 10h11 train to Limoges. Our intention had been to go to Périgueux via Limoges, and then to Barcelona via Bordeaux the next day, but the complications of five trains with huge gaps in one long day meant that we abandoned going to Périgueux. We got to the train station at Limoges intending to get a night train to Barcelona, but it was booked out so we reserved seats on tomorrow’s first train (9.50) which gets to Barcelona at 6 in the evening.
Got a surprisingly nice room in the one-star Beaux d’Art hotel for 80f each (£10), with a TV!! MCM, a better version of MTV with all English songs, keeps us entertained. An hour-and-a-half special of Glastonbury 2000 was the backdrop to tasty Kronenbourg 25cl cans, and cheap vinegar (sorry, wine) that Ollie and Julie had. We also came across ‘Blues Brothers 2000’ dubbed into French, and ‘Le Maillon Faible’ – the French’ Weakest Link’.
My abiding view of Limoges was that it’s just a town that people pass through, half-way between Paris and Toulouse, with parts of it reminding me of Naas and Cashel. It was obviously built on a mountain, as several hill climbs in search for accommodation proved.
Had a strong ‘grand crème’ (coffee with cream) in Limoges train station before getting on the 3603 9.50 train to Barça. After 20f each to reserve seats, we ended up in unreserved seats because we couldn’t find carriage 15, which was not between 16 and 14.
Met a French physics student while smoking between carriages (a sign on the wall says ‘Merci de non pas fumer’ with an arrow pointing down to the ashtray fixed to the wall underneath! The power of French people’s blind-eye attitude to smoking in trains, stations and many other places is quite incredible, and much more liberal, unexpectedly, than in Ireland). Amusing myself on the train with Tim’s book ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, which is blackly comic, my favourite kind of humour!
…Just had a cigarette at my inter-carriage spot admiring the golden countryside between Carcasonne and Narbonne, within 100 miles of the Spanish border. I had been listening to a variety of French stations on my radio, including everything from a jazz piece called ‘Marmalade Saxaphone’ to the Bangles ‘Manic Monday’!
…In Barça! Las Ramblas is like a hot, dirty O’Connell Street – we’re staying in the 1* Hotel Real on the Place du Real – they gave us a 5-bed room!
Got a bus from Barcelona city centre to a campsite 9km outside it, deciding to atone for our one-star indulgence. 1km walk through a nature reserve in 30˚ heat with backpacks to the site was a test of manhood!
The site was like a holiday camp for working class Spaniards – beach, pool, bar, restaurant – some even slept in caravans with satellite TV! Lolled around after setting up our tiny 2-man tent. Swam in the beach – nice, but sand got everywhere!
Dinner in the restaurant was crap and our skirmish with 3 plastic garden chairs from the bar to tent seemed successful until the barman came and confiscated them! Sat on our sleeping bag covers on the ground drinking 6-packs of San Miguel bottles (£2 each!)
Two seeming lesbians were in one of the tents opposite – they were so precious they had milk and cookies before bed! The tent beside us held an Italian couple who seemed to hate each other – Ollie dubbed their camping trip ‘the last ditch attempt to save their marriage’! Offered drugs by hippies in another tent.
Night’s “sleep” was interrupted, scorching, cramped and painful – woke up with a multiple-paining (now a word!) back, sore head and dehydrated system. My first impressions of camping are that it’s fun, but we were severely under prepared and unequipped. To think Tim has ‘scouted’ for almost a decade and this is my first night in a tent!
Left the campsite at midday, getting a bus to Barcelona city centre. Sent e-mails from a nearby net café (£1 for 44 mins), strolled half-way down Las Ramblas and then stopped for coffee at Café Cosmos courtesy of my Dad.
Strolled through the souvenir stalls finding nothing I liked, and then flopped down at a green at the street’s end, staing at the tall Christopher Columbus statue, that must have looked like Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin
Went down to Barcelona’s new wave-shaped pier – not as good as it sounds, but it has a very Americanised mall at the end, in which I bought a German frankfurter (globalisation?!)
Took the night train from Barcelona to Nice after a train to Cerbere on the French border (we had to go there first). The night was hellish – 6-seater cabin with a perverted Frenchman, a deaf mute and his half-deaf, half-dumb wife and their two-year-old boy – I felt like taking the poor child off the train with me as I took a smoke break at 2am out in the corridor, having had enough of the bitch mother slapping the boy for wheezing almost noiselessly. She made more noise than the child, and I wanted to hit her back for the kid, disabled woman or not. Had G and Ts out of plastic cups after everybody got out at Marseille. Weird!*
*I haven't mentioned it here, but the sight of Ollie deliriously shooing these awful people out of their seats at dawn before giving the woman a shove out of the carriage and slamming the door behind her was one of the funniest things I have ever seen!