Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Barcelona, day eight; Carcassonne, day one

The worst day of the trip; one of the worst days any of us have ever had. I guess it is inevitable that things will go wrong; but this wrong was kind of beyond wild expectations.
Leaving Barcelona was hard. We had loved it very much and were really wishing to stay longer. Our happy ex-Yorkshire host turned up and charmed us with stories and gave us back our deposit and helped us with our luggage. The kids went off by themselves to the local cafe to eat and drink; Paris said that Niccolo's asking for the bill involved some kind of dance. The waitress apparently indulged him. She was one of the first people we had contact with in Barcelona and clearly (but indulgently) thinks that tourists are nuts. Sure.
With our stupid amount of luggage, we marched in single file and silently to the nearest metro station. When we got there, there was a hoo ha with the elevator (one woman wouldn't let us get in with her - at least that is what we thought she was saying) - and then another couple came along and made it impossible for all of us to go down together. So Zelda and I waited. When we got to the bottom, Paris was missing. His ipod was gone and he had gone back up to look for it. Vain attempt. Poor love, he was in a rage. On reconstruction, we decided that it was possible that the couple who had insisted they ride with Myles and Paris and Niccolo in the elevator might have taken it - but who could be sure? It had been in his pocket, so it was possible. It had been our present to him on his sixteenth birthday and was engraved. He didn't want to talk about it.
I had been emailing our host in Carcassonne for some days, but had received no reply. It had been the first thing we had booked and we were so excited about it. But this silence was beginning to worry me, and at every possible opportunity, I was checking my email to see if he had got back to me. There was a phone number on his website, so I had taken that too and planned to call him. But at this point we had no address, no way to get keys and, crucially, not much French. Still, we thought it might work out.
We caught the train to the border, and then the TGV to Narbonne. At Narbonne, we had to catch a local train to Carcassonne. Here we bought a phone card and called the so-called host. Number was disconnected. This was not looking good.
But still, optomistically, we persisted.
We arrived in Carcassonne at about 5pm. It was raining. With our crazy amount of luggage, we went to the nearest McDonalds. None of us had eaten since we had left Barcelona and there was serious hunger. Here I booted up the computer again; no message. Myles suggested that I go back to the original website. I did, and there was another phone number, and another name. Speaks English, said the website happily. I took this number, walked back through the rain to the station and dialled it. Yes, this was the right person. No, she spoke no English. 'Maison,' I wailed through the phone. 'Oui,' she replied. After some agonising moments of non-communication (with both her and I close to tears) I thanked her and hung up. What was going on?
Back to McDonalds. At this point, I was thinking that we book a hotel and sort it out in the morning. The only thing going for us at this point was I had paid for the house via Paypal and they had processes for complaint. I didn't know what that might look like, but it was something. Then we decided that one of us would catch a taxi to the house and see if there was anyone there. Myles drew the short straw because he has a little more French than I do (that is; none). The kids and I went back to the station. Zelda needed to use the loo. McDonalds' was shut for some reason. The loo at the station required exact change. I had a Fawlty Towers moment trying to change money at a series of counters.
Myles had said he wouldn't be long. It was now about 6.10pm. Cold and wet. We waited and waited. There was no way to contact him. Paris and I began to speculate that the taxi had left him, and he couldn't find another. We couldn't decide if he being gone for a long time was a better thing than him returning quickly. There was no wifi. And we couldn't leave.
Then suddenly at about 7pm, he turned up in a taxi and put us all in, with the luggage (a logistical nightmare). 'Do we have a house?' I asked. 'We do,' he said. 'It's a long story.' No kidding. Myles likes not to tell you things. I have no idea why. We often end up in a fight about it because then I say: 'what happened' after some silence and he gets cranky. This happened right now.
The story ended up being that Myles went to the street where the map on the website had said the house was. But no house number. He and the taxi driver drove up and down for some time, and then Myles asked the driver to call the number that I had found from the website. The same woman answered and now she began to put two and two together. Myles assumed that the cabbie told her that he had a crazy English speaking tourist in the cab looking for a house. She gave him a street number. The cab dropped him off. Myles, in the rain, was confronted not by a house, but by a large block of apartments. He started ringing bells. No answer. Then he looked around and found a house that looked very much like the house on the website. He rang the bell there. No answer. Just as he was walking away to look for a cab and return to the station, a window opened in the apartment block. A woman put her head out. Told him to wait.
She came down and he showed her all the documents that we had about the house. She gave him a key and let him in. From sign language and some words in common, Myles established that the person through whom I had booked the house was no longer. We are still not sure what this means. There is, however, a new owner/manager.
Once we were all inside, I went back to the original website and emailed into the ether hoping that the new manager/owner would get back to me. We had no idea if the booking would be honoured or if we would have to leave.
Upstairs I was sitting on the bed, very sad, when the doorbell rang. Niccolo opened it. It was the next-door neighbour. In she came with a whole load of food supplies for us. God she was kind. Bread and cheese, and ham and tea, orange juice and milk. Paris and I were in tears. She made us promise we would come and knock on her door and tell her that we were OK in the morning. She told me that she would drive me to the supermarket when I needed it.
As we were making tea, the phone rang. It was the new owner - who had got my email. He was not in France, but was all apologies. He knew about us, but the previous owner had not given him any details, including contact details. Because I had a contact, it didn't occur to me to go back through the original website.
Good people caught in an idiotic situation. He promised that he would honour the booking and wished us well.
I went to bed with a crushing headache but at least some sense of calm.

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