As the crow flies, Aurillac
is about 300 kms west of Montelimar, which you'd think would only
take about 3 hours travel time. So maybe I should've taken the crow,
because my journey took nearly 10 hours! But in all fairness, my destination
was a little city perched on the top of the Massef Central Mountains,
and separated from my point of departure by one of France's longest
rivers, the Rhone River.
I must've travelled at least
600 kms. on 3 trains to get there, going 250 kms. north to Lyons,
before changing trains and travelling another 200 kms.west to Clermont-Ferrand
(where I had to wait for over 2 hours). My last train took me south
another 150 kms. to Aurillac. But the last leg of my trip was worth
the wait. As we climbed higher and higher into the mountains, the
rich green scenery was breathtaking (quite a contrast to the parched,
arid, plains of Australia which is the typical experience for summer
And the buildings ...
These French villages date
back to the Roman Empire. Though none of those buildings still exist
today, many castles (upto 1,000 y.o.) dotted the hilltops, and many
more ancient buildings (200-300 y.o.) attracted a second and third
glance as their period architecture beckoned not to be ignored.
But once I was in Aurillac,
there was the matter of my sleeping arrangements ...
In one of his earlier emails,
Francois had assured me that he'd found a neat and dry place for me
to sleep when I visited him. What he'd failed to mention was that
16 other travellers would also be staying with him. Yesterday was
the first day of the International Street Theatre Festival in Aurillac
(August 21-24) where the sleepy town of Aurillac (pop'n 50,000) would
grow to over 150,000 with tourists travelling from all over France
and overseas to enjoy and support the 400 acts which performed in
the streets every day. This was 96 hours of entertainment, drinking
and rowdiness, which would not be repeated for another 361 days!
But back to those sleeping
Francois was hosting 16
guests, as well as myself, who were down for the festivities. Beds
were not a problem, because Francois had an open house policy (but
that's another story) which often saw the 9 double beds in his 4 storey
house being occupied. The only difference this time was that 5 small
2-man tents were also pitched in his backyard.
In the first tent there
was a couple of desperate street performers that Francois had found
and offered to shelter for the duration of their stay in Aurillac.
Three of the other tents were occupied by 4 teenage girls and one
of their mums. So Francois proposed that I might like to use the last
tent for myself. But I wasn't prepared for such sleeping arrangements,
so I didn't have a sleeping bag or any warm bedding (or warm pyjamas)
to see me through the cool summer night - remember, we were high up
in the mountains where the nights were much colder!).
I was then taken to the
basement, which was actually at the same level with the backyard (the
street entrance being between the Ground and 1st floors). The larger
room in the basement had a dining table and 2 beds in it, which were
already booked out to 3 young ladies, but there was another bed in
the adjoining room which was still available. This option seemed more
and more promising once I'd been shown the shower tucked away in the
corner of the room. However, once I realised that this was actually
the communal shower (there were already 9 girls I knew about that
I'd have to share it with) I couldn't help but imagine a number of
embarrassing situations arising if I'd dared to accept this option.
Personally I'd prefer that no-one slept in the 'bathroom'!
The 2nd floor was totally
booked out, 3 women in the larger room with 2 beds, and the adjoining
room housing a pregnant couple (you know what I mean) and a 5 y.o.
girl. So that only left the Ground floor and the 1st floor as possibilities.
Francois' young wife, Yaou always slept on the 1st floor with Maina,
their 5 month old daughter, which had 2 double beds and a cot in it.
And Francois had the best bed in the house ... the only bed on the
Ground floor, with 21 inch TV, internet computer and adjacent to the
kitchen (ideal for midnight snacks).
The solution was obvious,
so I was surprised when Yaou gave me the 3rd option. "James, you can
sleep with Francois and I'll go upstairs and sleep with Maina." Not
that I didn't trust Francois (maybe he had the same concerns about
me), but thankfully we both thought the idea was rather inappropriate.
These 3 options hovered
in my mind until after 2am. I was not used to staying up so late and
so was very tired. In fact I would've gone to sleep much earlier,
but that involved choosing one of the 3 options put to me, and I wasn't
comfortable with either of them yet. But I must confess, as the night
dragged on, sleeping with Francois (in his comfortable warm bed) was
looking more and more appealing.
Finally crunch time arrived
when the 3 ladies we'd been talking to (our 2nd floor guests) decided
it was time for them to go to sleep. Then, as if Francois had sensed
my desperation (or feared I'd take up Option 3), he said, "Yaou, I'll
come up and sleep in your bed tonight, and James can sleep in my bed."
And thus the problem was
solved with Option number 4.