We were headed back to gorgeous southern France and the castle where we had volunteered a few weeks previously. The budget and a slightly unreasonable goal of avoiding air travel led us to an interesting journey getting there. Readers, I give you: How To Make This Trip Without an Airplane in 7 (Kind of) Fun’n’Easy Steps:
1. Drive to Waterford (above) to drop off the car, stay overnight. Easy, right?
2. Take a bus to Rosslare, a little over an hour away, wait several hours. Simple.
3. Experience the overnight ferry to Cherborg, France. This was an adventure (see below).
4. Wait in Cherborg for the train to Paris. Kinda boring.
5. After arriving at one Paris station, find your way to another and board the overnight train to Carcassonne. Challenging! Onboard, the attendant will wake you up around 4am so you don’t miss your stop. Yay?
6. Take the first bus to Quillan. It leaves at 7am; you arrived before 5. Enjoy the sunrise over the Carcassonne castle as the janitor curses at you in French for sitting on the potted plant container. Try to keep sleep-deprived kids and self from becoming mutinous. Not so fun, but you’re almost there!
7. Arrive in Quillan 12 hours earlier than S had planned. Oops! More waiting. Get S’s friend to drive you to St. Ferriol and ¡violá! You have done it! Take a nap then get back to work at the chateau.
Waterford was really nice. The oldest city in Ireland, founded by Vikings with some Viking structures still standing.
There are cobblestones pedestrian areas, the amazing Viking Triangle walking area, an outdoor music festival, and most wondrously- thrift stores!!! Called ‘charity shops’, we found at least five thrift stores, none too soon for our bedraggled wardrobes. So we walked around, did cartwheels, shopped a little, had decent Indian food, enjoyed the outdoor music and our hotel by the water. We saw a Waterford crystal shop, another local attraction, but did not explore much crystal. Vikings and crystal- interesting combination! We could have spent more time here but we had a ferry to catch.
We walked in the rain to the bus station. The ride to Rosslare was uneventful and rather shorter than the two hours we had expected. The ferry terminal had a nice beach and rocky barrier, but the weather was cold and very windy so we just went for a short walk there. DH hitched a ride to a grocery store and got supplies. After a few hours, we boarded the ferry.
The kids were welcomed aboard with pirate hats but afterwards offered nothing to do other than pricey first-run movies. This ship seemed to have a lot of semis with cargo headed to France so was less oriented to kids, I guess, even though it is the same company we used from Holyhead to Dublin- a three-hour trip where they showed a free kids movie and had crafts and other activities. Adult passengers, many of whom were truck drivers with their cargo on board, settled down for the overnight trip and commenced drinking. The water was choppy and there was rain and wind outside. Truly felt a little seasick. One side of the ship’s deck smelled like horses and our room had a faint odor of dog’s breath. Water backed up into our bathroom as the ship lurched side to side. But none of this troubled me; I slept so long and so well on the ship- I was reminded of the children’s author Sandra Boynton and her lines “the sky is dark, the sea is deep, we rock and rock and rock to sleep”. At one point I got up to see lounge singers with the twins and it is ok. We met an Italian family there and the twins played cards with a girl and her mother. A lot of people seemed to bed down in public spaces on the ship rather than pay for a cabin. I am glad we had a cabin, I’m also glad we didn’t pay for 2 more beds since we all fit into the four bed cabin. We had a window, too, unlike the cruise ship last year. We kept comparing the ferry ride to the cruise but they were very different. We had to bring our own food, for example, since the ferry restaurant prices were exorbitant.
When we awoke the next morning, the water was calm and France was in sight. We arrived around 10am and as we exited, many semis were driving off of the ferry. We saw several full of sheep, poor things, and that explained the smell.
Cherborg (above) was walkable and pretty and largely closed. It was a Sunday, and France in general seems to honor the day of rest with enthusiasm. I did find a bakery and a bar that served cappuccinos, and I settled down happily in a flagstoned plaza for a time. Later, we walked around the waterfront and also the gothic Holy Trinity Church.
Next, the Paris train took us to St. Lazare station, a massive network of train and subway routes, shops and restaurants. We had to find our way to Austerlitz station, which we did on foot, in the dark, with our luggage, crossing the Seine and negotiating a nest of roads that converged in scary intersections. When we arrived at the older, smaller station, we noticed another public piano being played by another talented bypasser. Does everyone in France play the piano? It is nice in the background of train station sounds. We got sandwiches wrapped in plastic and soon we were in our six-person compartment headed for Carcassonne. It was a very tight squeeze, much less roomy than Chinese or Indian or Russian trains. It would be very close quarters with snoring strangers, we thought. None of us slept particularly well. I was up before the attendant came to awaken us at around 4am. We readied our bags and got off the train at Carcassonne. It was a slow, sleepy time of day as we waited for the train then realized it was a bus and not a train at all. It was a little hairy finding the right place to meet the bus. We were all tired after over two days straight of travel. The bus ride was uneventful and soon we were in Quillan. We waited quite a while before borrowing a phone and calling S. It turned out she thought we were arriving that evening rather than in the AM. We looked around futilely for a taxi and wondered how to get to the little village. Soon a man pulled up and said S had called him. It took two trips and I went grocery shopping in between. As we pulled up next to the castle on another day with perfect weather and the astonishing views of the Pyrenees, I felt relieved and exhausted and glad to be back at the chateau.
San Ferriol from a distance. Squarish building left of center is the chateau: