What Were We Thinking?
As much as you can plan in advance, you still never really know what’s going to happen until it happens. Perpignan was planned while we were still in Asia. Flights were purchased, an overnight accommodation was reserved in Barcelona, bus tickets were bought, and a month-long rental was confirmed in Perpignan through Airbnb. That’s a lot of parts that all needed to fit nicely together.
Obviously, our greatest source of concern was whether or not signing up for a whole month in a city unknown to us through Airbnb, also unknown to us, was a wise idea. Maybe the Perpignan office of tourism failed to mention on its website that it is the two-tailed rat capital of the world or that hail and sleet were celebrated in April or — in a cruel and inhumane twist of fate — it was a dry city where a single milliliter of wine could get you twenty to life.
Step Away from the Kidneys
And then there’s Airbnb. My fears shot up a few notches the nearer our check-in date became. They went from hoping that the mattress was comfortable and that the washing machine worked to the more obtuse. Haven’t there been reports of guests waking up in a tub of melted ice water minus a kidney? Or, rentals that weren’t even real? What if our place was sandwiched between a stinky anchovy packing plant and a noisy auto body shop?
Well, between Google Street view and renting a place without a bathtub, I was fairly certain that it wouldn’t be noisy or stinky and we’d likely leave with all four kidneys.
The date finally arrived, and it was time to get to Perpignan. The flights, the overnight in Barcelona, and the bus all went smoothly. And then — the reveal. Our Airbnb host, Karine, collected us at the bus station in her “mature” Peugeot, or is “vintage” the preferred term?
We rattled our way through the tiny streets to our residence for the next month. Google Street view was right and no nasty smelling or noisy businesses were nearby. Inspection of the interior confirmed that there was no bathtub for organ harvesting nor any signs of previous guests having been disemboweled or dismembered on the premises. So far, so good.
The Hostess with the Mostest
For the first two weeks or so we spent our days walking through different sections of Perpignan and even to another village. We learned the bus system and ventured farther afield on “Le Bus for 1€” (Thuir, Céret, Colliure). The real fun, however, began when we started spending time with our host.
Karine was an absolutely perfect host and a ball of energy too. She was always available to answer our questions and conveniently lived in the flat upstairs.
Best of all, she left our organs where they belonged. After the equivalent of dogs sniffing butts; wine with a couple of her friends, hors d’ oeuvres with her cousin — you know, diluted interactions — she invited us for a day trip to Girona, Spain (see Pat’s account of that day).
After a full day of flowers and aperos in Girona, we eventually made it back to our flat just in time for…. apero-time! We must not have offended too badly during our first outing with Karine because before we said “bon soir” we made plans to visit the Bains de Saint Thomas the next day.
The drive to the Bains de St. Thomas was worth the trip alone. Karine flew the little car, affectionately known as “The Porsche” up into the mountains as Pat and I ogled at the scenery. Small fortified villages clinging to the mountainsides passed by. Train tracks cut their way through the gorges. It was absolutely beautiful. The hot baths and steam rooms were no slouch either. Unfortunately, we have no photos as Pat was forbidden to wear his shorts-style swim trunks and made to rent what he called a “crotch rocket” suit. He forbade me to take photos. So it goes.
Another outing with Karine took us to the Orgue d’Ille Sur Tet, France’s mini version of Bryce Canyon. After wandering around the hoodoos for an hour is so, we plied the back country roads in Le Porsche in search of ruins Karine remembered from her childhood. This was her old stomping ground. After exploring a couple of seemingly forgotten ruins, we hopped back into Le Porsche for points unknown. As it turned out, we stopped at her parents’ place and had apero-time with them and Karine’s uncle. Super sweet people full of stories I only half grasped due to the speed of the conversation and the fact that I don’t speak French.
When the Local’s Plan Doesn’t Go as Planned
One Sunday, Karine invited us to go into downtown Perpignan for a bottle of wine with a friend. As is our m.o., we accepted, but we were skeptical. We had walked into downtown Perpignan on a previous Sunday and found absolutely nothing open. Karine guided us to one place but it was closed, then to a second one and it too was closed. Hmmm… has the local knowledge been given the slip? The next place we tried was open. It was totally a locals’ place and we shared a wonderful local wine.
Once the bottle was emptied we strolled the streets in search of another watering hole. Again, most places were closed, but suddenly a crowd appeared in a narrow street. There were tables of people enjoying food and wine, music playing and people dancing. On weekdays this little street was full of important stores; the fishmonger, the charcuterie, the fruit and veggie stand, etc. On Sunday though, tables lined the street and the veggie guy set up a sound system. You could place an order at any of the businesses for a small plate of this or that and/or a bottle of wine. The afternoon was full of energy. Most everyone knew each other and everyone had fun.
Our final big outing was to the coastal town of Banyuls and a meander back up the coast. We lunched in style then visited a vinegar making business, a wonderful winery, and another small coastal town.
Well, it’s apero-time and Karine is due to show up any moment now, so I’ll wrap it up. The more we travel, the more we learn. Never turn down an invite from a local and always take accommodations where you can — or must — interact with others.
We are leaving France for Spain in a few days and renting an Airbnb room in someone’s apartment in Barcelona. While I’m a little nervous that it might be uncomfortable sharing space with the host, I am more excited about the opportunity to meet someone new. Hopefully it proves to be a fun time. We won’t know until we know!
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