Friday, 5 August 2011

Stage 7: Villefranche de Conflent to Collioure

The train to Perpignan was due to 2.26pm - or so we thought. But getting back to the station in good time - we had to buy tickets - there was a shock in store.

That departure was on weekdays only and this was a Saturday. We had, in checking the timetables, forgotten to verify such a tiny, but deeply important detail.

The next train, then, was for three hours hence, by which time we were supposed to have already met the agent for the cottage in Collioure and taken possession of the keys.

There was remarkably little swearing. We tried to see, via the internet on our phones, whether there were any buses that did the journey to Perpigan. Nothing appeared.

If we waited three hours, where would we wait and what would we do?

After a few minutes, The Other Half asked what the state of play was cash wise and, receiving a positive answer, rang a taxi firm whose number was displayed outside the station, asking what the fare would be to Perpignan.

It turned out to be acceptable, so he asked for a cab. 'Tout suite' turned out to be a little longer than we might have imagined, but that was probably, in part at least, because we were still at the edge of panic. Or perhaps it was simply that the driver had his lunch to finish.

But after the discomfort of Le Petit Train Jeune the day before, this was welcome luxury: a modern, air-conditioned car that did the journey smoothly - and in less time than the scheduled train, at any time of the week, would have managed.

And as if we were not already aware of just how near the heart of Pays Catalan we were, it also allowed a first glimpse of Canigou, the Catalans' sacred mountain, which soared above as we left the TĂȘt Valley behind and bore across the plains that we're most familiar with, approaching the Corbiere hills in remarkably short order.

Perpignan station - the centre of the world, as Surrealist artist Salvador Dali described it when he managed to find his way out of Figueres in Spain - was crowded. But improvements in the last 12 months meant that we were able to get to our platform without having to carry the bags up or down stairs, as previously.

The train from Narbonne was on time and we joined the game of hustling on board with all the other people making for the coast.

It's just a trio of stops, with the sea tantalisingly just over the near horizon and the foothills of the Pyrenees sloping down to the Mediterranean in front. Elne, Argeles sur Mer and then through the final tunnel that brings you to Collioure.

Standing and with bags ready by then; ready to be off; ready to walk past the tiny arena and down the hill into the town itself. Sights to welcome and to greet once more; a sense of the intervening year simply fading away; sangria waiting by the beach.

We'd made it. We were back.

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