Despite the Ibis promise of new super comfy beds, ours had ‘body holes’ in them. We don’t like body holes. They mean that there’s little support in the mattress. Still, we decided that we could catch up on sleep once we’d reached Esperaza.
We were however very impressed by the free breakfast. I was expecting to have to nip to the supermarket to forage for something gluten free. Instead I was able to fill up on ham, cheese, yoghurt, fresh apricots and plenty of proper black tea. Rich tried the mini pain au chocolat but found them too dry, even with mugfuls of cafe au lait. Fellow guests piled their plates high again and again however. I’m always amazed at how much some people can eat. We love our food, but no matter how hard we try we can never keep up with continental appetites.
Once suitably full, we nipped round the corner to the nearest ‘Carrefour City’ supermarket for our first food shopping experience in this part of France. Buying groceries here really does feel very different to the UK. Even at the corner shops. So I’ll forgive them for selling Walkers shortbread and Heinz baked beans. Food plays a much bigger part in people’s lives here. What they eat really is a big issue, and quite rightly so. Especially when having access to so much food is a luxury that we tend to take for granted.
After turfing someone out of our reserved seats on the crowded inter-city train, we settled down to enjoy the scenery. French trains are definitely more polished than British ones, although their toilets have a stronger wee smell than ours.
Forty minutes later we arrived at Carcassone, where I made the mistake of asking the woman sitting at the information desk where to catch the replacement bus to Esperaza from. As it was Bastille Day – pretty much the most important festival day in the French calendar, they were only running trains on the main lines. Said lady gave me a map, told me we had to walk 10 minutes through town to a car park, and wait there. So we did, despite her instructions sounding a tad strange, and no one else following. By this point I was already cursing the trolley dolly suitcase Rich had managed to persuade me to bring instead of a rucksack. Its wheels kept jamming so I ended up carrying it anyway, kind of defeating the object.
At the car park, with no obvious signs as to where this bus would magically appear from, and with the clock ticking, I left Rich with the bags and walked quickly back to the station to ask the information lady if she was sure that the bus would be leaving from across town. When she said that actually we’d best wait at the train station because she wasn’t sure where the bus would be leaving from, I wanted to strangle her. Instead I rushed back to fetch Rich. When I approached the information lady for a third time, and she announced that the official replacement bus stop was behind the train station, and that we should go there, I managed to restrain myself and mutter a thank-you, even though I was thinking very dark thoughts. Sure enough, there was a queue of people waiting for the replacement bus. Sometimes I’m glad that I can be very persistent.
The bus driver obviously knew the roads well, and seemed not to mind sitting on the bumpers of cars in front, no doubt terrifying the passengers within. At just over an hour, the journey took us through all of the villages along the Aude Valley, and into the foothills of the Pyrenees. We were the only tourists to get out at Esperaza, but we already knew that we’d chosen somewhere off the beaten track. After a 5 minute walk through town we were met at the house where we’d be spending the next 8 nights. It was rustic, old and very French. In short, it was perfect. With 2 double bedrooms, a small kitchen and dining room, a downstairs toilet, family bathroom, and separate shower room on the top floor, it was certainly spacious.
By 6pm the music for the Bastille Day celebrations was so loud that the house started to vibrate . After a basic dinner concocted from the emergency rations we’d bought earlier in Toulouse, we ventured into the town square to watch the dancing, listen to the music, and browse the Monday night artisan market. Esperaza is an extremely friendly place, and at no stage were we made to feel like outsiders. As promised, the 11pm fireworks display from the road bridge was very impressive, and whilst the locals returned to the square to dance, we headed back to the house to rest up after the journey.