Budget travel involved searching Covoiturage, a french car sharing website for someone who was traveling to Spain after discovering that the journey train was rather expensive and I knew that a two weeks in cities were going to hit the wallet hard. It is a great site that links drivers to would be passengers so that they can share transport and the cost of travel.
It put me in contact with Gael and we arranged to meet in Toulouse. It was his first Covoiturage experience, as it was mine and the whole journey was a complete success. He had already driven from the west coast of France and was heading all the way to Barcelona. Nicholas dropped me at the station in Rodez and I caught a train to Toulouse for our rendez vous. A white volvo was parked on the street just across from the station, the registration plate matched my notes and there was my lift. We shook hands, I threw my bag in the back and we headed off.
We started our discussions in french which was great and even though he was a bit of a language whizz, suggested that we continue that way, and if, after three attempts, I still didn’t get it, he would translate into english. The whole journey turned into a massive lesson. We exchanged brief life stories, discussed the changing scenery, travel adventures, all sorts. I sat there on several occasions listening to our conversation and wondering how I was managing, a realisation that my french has improved dramatically yet still has a long way to go. Occasional translational help and friendly corrections encouraged me to continue. We talked for most of the journey, although, after a few missed and wrong turns, decided it best to concentrate on the route whilst navigating through towns. We visited one roundabout on the outskirts of somewhere five times before eventually finding the correct route.
Avoiding expensive toll roads in france is a much more serene way to travel, the old ‘route nationals’ take you through towns and villages at a sedate pace, allowing you to see life and watch the countryside changing through the different regions. Speed is sacrificed and the journey to the Spanish border took about three hours longer than had been suggested by Covoiturage, it was worth it for what we saw. The queue through the low mountain range , the end of the Pyrenees, to the frontier slowed us by nearly an hour itself, up a narrow gorge over a small tumbling river with the huge viaducts of the Autoroute leaping from rock face to rock face above us, speeding its users to their destinations. They missed the queue, the fascinating roadside shops of fruit and refreshments, budget designer clothing and tacky tourist souveneirs. The signs to avoid overheating vehicles and the amazingly crowded little border town. They just got there a little quicker.
Toll roads in Spain are cheaper and the slowness of travel had surprised us both. So Gael joined the faster roads and we were in Barcelona in double quick time, his appointment time was looming, so, without a word of Spanish in my possession, we said our good byes, I paid my 30 euros for the journey and headed off into a new city to find somewhere to sleep for the night.