Travel day: Avignonet-Lauragais to Beaune

Friday, 19 June 2015
Distance 3 km
Duration 0 hours 40 minutes
Ascent 5 m, descent 5 m

Walking in France: Breakfast with our French bike-riding friends
Breakfast with our French bike-riding friends

We rose late with a holiday feeling, and packed up at leisure. Our train to Toulouse (which was actually an SNCF bus) did not leave until 9:15 am.

The friendly bike-riding people camped next to us, who were having breakfast, invited us over for coffee, bread and jam when they saw us about to leave unfed. They had a strange coffin-like home-made trailer which stored all their gear, including folding chairs, and opened out to form a table.

It transpired that they were walkers too, and had done the mountain walk in Corsica where people had been swept to their deaths last week. When they mentioned that they came from near Saumur, we impressed them by saying that we had walked through Saumur last year.

Walking in France: Second breakfast at Paul's, Toulouse
Second breakfast at Paul’s, Toulouse station

This was a good start. We gave our new friends the bottle of wine that we had accidentally bought last night, then walked the kilometre or so to the station, where there was a sign directing us to the bus stop near the hotel l’Obélsique on the main road.

When the bus came it was full of old ladies, who chatted relentlessly to the driver despite signs forbidding it. One got out at Villefranche to get her hearing aid fixed, another was going to the hairdresser. It was a novelty for us to be in a vehicle and we enjoyed it greatly.

At Toulouse we had a couple of hours before our train left, but the weather was cold and grey, not conducive to strolling around the streets, so we settled down at a Paul’s café inside the railway station for a second breakfast of pastries and coffee.

Walking in France: The maestro of Toulouse railway station
The maestro of Toulouse railway station

We needed more cash and someone told us there was a distributeur de billets next to the Quick restaurant, which we eventually found.

Just opposite this was a piano, free for anyone to play, and it was being thrashed into life by an old maestro with flying coat-tails, the joyful sound filling the huge vaulted concourse.

Once on the train we sped back along the canal, past many of the places that we had recently walked through, then through Narbonne, Béziers and Sète, to Montpellier, where we had to wait an hour for the connection with the TGV to Burgundy.

It was hot and sunny in Montpellier and we went to a brasserie in the street outside to have a drink and watch the trams go by.

Walking in France: Staring at the departures board, Montpellier railway station
Staring at the departures board, Montpellier railway station

Back in the station, we were surprised to see a crowd of people gathered under the departures board, craning up at a blank screen. Then there was an announcement – a problem with the electrical network was being repaired as quickly as possible.

We waited two hours before our train arrived, then another hour sitting in it. When it finally moved off at about 7 pm there was laughter and ironic applause from the passengers.

At Nîmes there was another ominous wait, but after that we flew like a rocket over the Rhône to Lyon.

Walking in France: SNCF emergency rations
SNCF emergency rations

By this time it was getting dark and the merciful SNCF announced that free meal boxes were available in the dining car. They contained an odd collection of tinned and packaged snacks but we were grateful.

At Chalon-sur-Saône we got off the train, three and a half hours late. It was 10:30 pm and we had obviously missed our connection to Beaune, but once again the SNCF did the right thing – they called a taxi and sent us off up the autoroute at their expense (€90), rounding off this display of courtesy by giving us a form to fill in, to claim compensation for our trouble.

The taxi driver took us the extra couple of kilometres to the gates of the camping ground, which we thought was €7.80 well spent.

The place was closed and in darkness but we ducked under the barrier, found a grassy spot for the tent near the sanitaires, hastily cleaned our teeth and stretched out for a blissful sleep.

Previous day: Castelnaudary to Avignonet-Lauragais

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