Perhaps an evening that summarises Carboretta’s journey neatly was a quiet – yet mildly troubling – evening in Beziers.
Having arrived in the French town that promised oh-so-much on Google Images, parked the Punto on some crumby side road and hauled our increasingly stench-ridden luggage from within it, we realised that we were in for a long, painful night.
Any nagging doubt about my choice of hotel was depressingly embellished when we arrived at what we took to be the main entrance. This wasn’t too shabby, we thought, as we waited patiently in the crisp lobby, air-conditioning units whirring reassuringly in the middle distance.
Before too long, a decidedly large lady came striding* (*is it politically incorrect to use ‘waddling’?) through, grimaced at the sight of us in that way that only the Gallic can manage, and told us that the place we were looking for was around the back.
Whenever someone says something is ‘around the back’, it tends not to be the Ritz. Or Emilia Clarke. In fact, it tends to be a narrow backstreet filled with tramps, McDonalds wrappers and offal. I might have made that last bit up, but you get the idea.
Having struggled in to the (far tighter, achingly soul-crushing) lobby, we were eventually greeted by a similar lady, regarding our reservation.
After much paper-work, and laborious questions about why we had chosen to book this particular hotel – which left me questioning my life decisions – the two of us were given the keys to our very own room.
To be fair, it was no worse than usual. There was a bed, and sheets and even a plug socket. Hardly The Who on tour, but it wasn’t too tragic.
After much lying about, we contemplated the next leg of our journey, which would take us to the rolling hills of Bagnols-en-Foret, to St Tropez, Cannes and Monaco. It sounded delicious, in a Persuaders sort of way. All stern action pouts and topless female types.
This was a lovely thought, until we began getting hungry. In fact, if memory serves me correctly, it became wearing when I decided to move my car to a safer carpark, after I caught a hooded chap eying up my Brit-plated car and I. Although this makes me sound like the most judgemental Englishman going, it was nevertheless disconcerting. This was not the pretty, touristy end of town…
With the decision to escape from our cell swiftly agreed upon, we explored the surrounding area. This largely involved BDSM outlets, multi-stories and Durex dispensers so we kept walking some more, determined to enjoy the elegant architecture that we had admired on the way in.
After much hand-wringing and man-strolling, we found it. To be fair, it wasn’t that great. We reckoned that most of it was a five or ten minute drive away, which was much too far for my groaning appetite to deal with.
Having come perilously close to settling for a kebab, we reached a pretty little bistro.
There was an abundance of Brits around us. One gentleman, I recall, was convincing some lady-folk of his sexual prowess through the useful prop of a Ferrari keyring; which, as he gamefully pointed out, was used to re-ignite his 430 Spider’s thoroughbred V8, and with it, his hairline. Yup, definitely British.
It was everything you conjure when you dream of European motoring. Elegant waitresses, a stimulating menu, and a warm breeze whispering through the square.
However, this conveniently sidesteps our philistine ways. With no knowledge of French or ingredients that find their way onto a Dominos order, we were rather stuck.
A quick eye-balling of our surrounding diners reassured us that whatever we ordered would be marvellous, if mysterious in origin.
I played it safe with a beautiful pasta dish. Nothing too scintillating, but I recognised most of the ingredients – leaving no nasty surprises.
My companion was not so lucky. In his honourable quest to try something other than the fast food we had endured until this point, he found a dish that sounded fancy, and asked the waitress what it was.
How silly we were, relying on our grasp of French. Oh the ambition.
Whatever it was that she muttered, it sounded like ‘pig’. Initially affronted, we quickly surmised that this must be pork.
This assumption was dutifully reinforced by a candid gentleman sitting next to us, who also muttered ‘pig’. Culinary orders are pressurised enough in France without moans of ‘pig’ rendering the restaurant into some Aztec burial ceremony.
Eventually the dishes arrived. Mine, as I mentioned, was fantastic – washed down by a chaud coffee. The pig was not, well, pig. It was pâté. A steamy, dubiously grey pâté. How cultural.
This is what our trip was all about. The suave dream crushed by the laughable reality.
We were on the road by 9 o’ clock sharp the following morning. The budget hotels would become a blissfully distant memory as the Punto tore across the mountain passes above the Med, our arms soaking up the burning light.
By nightfall we’d be pool-side, quaffing wine in the hills above Frejus. France is a funny place when you’re an impressionable nineteen year-old.