After a ‘super-sympa’ soiree with our neighbours, at which we were served delicious raie a la crème by Anne, we tumbled into bed, setting an alarm for 7 a.m. Nick is up several times in the night: he remembers he has not packed his pyjamas, he has not turned off the water heater, charged his camera, scooped up some holiday Euros from the secret cache! When the day begins we have three hours in which to perform a few basic preparations before shutting up the house. Amazing how that time evaporates and before we know it Bri is on our doorstep in good time to drive us to Valognes station.
There is a train strike in France and we are thankful that, at least, our first train which takes us from Valognes to Paris St Lazare is running to schedule. There is, however, a problem with the Paris Gare de Lyon TGV which should take us to St Raphael-Valescure and we will have to wait two hours to board that train. Dinner at Frejus will be late tonight.
We board the Paris train and find our seats. They are squashy so I decide to take a punt and sit at a table. There are so few passengers on the train at this stage that it does not appear to be a problem. Certainly the inspector does not see one as he clips my ticket. Much later in the journey I a joined by two burly eastern Europeans and Nick finds his seating companion is a suspect character who seems to be using avoidance strategies with regard to the showing of his ticket.
We arrive at Paris St Lazare and then weave our way round the concourses and down escalators to find Metro Ligne 14 and then Trains Grands Lignes. Nick so hates it……… unfamiliar, he stresses, feeding his Metro ticket into the wrong slot and losing it and getting all hot and bothered about the waste……. But eventually we find ourselves in Hall 2 with our rail tickets updated and the prospect of a train at 1719h. I phone Fefe and pass on our joyful news. And then with a bucket of Costa Coffee beside me I start my paper journal. It is some seven years since I kept a written travel journal but I am moved to do so because I think access to internet to blog will be limited and potentially costly. Whilst waiting for our train we grab sandwiches and salads to tide us over then at 1700h we go out onto the concourse and there is a multitude standing and staring at the screen waiting for the platform number for their train to appear. I just know that nearly everyone is expecting to board our train. And so it transpires. Number 23 flashes up and there is a headlong rush. Fortunately we have placed ourselves on the periphery of the crowd so we reach the narrow barrier where all the eager passengers are being channelled through by rail staff who issue tickets for a coach number based on priority. Because we were booked on an earlier, but cancelled train, we are assured of a place. The whole process is thoroughly undignified but we are thankful to find ourselves in seats half way along the train. We settle down to read, listen to audio books, playing a bit of Bridge Baron.
The train speeds down through France. From the corner of my eye I see landscapes, vistas but would have to be vigilant to monitor the shifts of topography, terrain and vegetation type. We arrive at Marseille. I recall that I was last in Marseille sixty years ago when the P&O ship, ‘Chusan’, docked there on its way back from Hong Kong. I remember the doll my sister Christina was bought for her birthday, “Bella” and the lovely white leathercasual shoes I was bought and grew out of in weeks. And the flower market and the collection of little painted terra cotta figurines which my parents bought. These are figures are called ‘santons’ and are for Nativity creches, being unique to Provence.
It is not that long after that our train pulls into Saint Raphael-Valescure and there is Francois with a jolly friend Patrick who has kindly agreed to pick us up in his car. He has even forgone a first date with an Englishwoman because our train was delayed by two hours.
We meet the boat that will be our home for the next three weeks. Her name is ‘Till’. There is a splendid Osso Buco on the stove, to be eaten with linguine and amid much merriment we enjoy our first meal on board. It is 0100h when we scramble into our sleeping bags lined with red silk inners and tumble into our bunk.