Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Tour Dream Falls Flat

As I write this blog post, the Tour de France is about to set off toward Carcassonne, and you might recognize that name as a place not too far from where I am living in Southwestern France.
Some of the city streets are covered with colorful umbrellas. 
This year, Earl and I planned ahead so that we could see the Tour in person rather than watching it longingly on television. I usually write a post every year about my enjoyment of the tour, which started with a love of the French scenery and ended up becoming an interest in the riders too. Here's a post from 2016.
The Tour is ending in Caracassonne today. It has a rest day there tomorrow (Monday) and then begins from there on Tuesday.
The whole town has Tour de France fever
We made reservations for Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights in an Airbnb in Carcassonne. Because the apartment had two bedrooms, some friends decided to come along.
We knew parking would be awful with all of the crowd from the tour, so planned to take the bus from Quillan to Carcassonne, about an hour at the whopping rate of 1 Euro each.
I received my reminder email from Airbnb a few days before the reservation, but I got nervous when I didn't here from the host, so I messaged him on Saturday morning before we left. Then I texted him on our French phone. Then, as we stood outside the apartment building, I called him. We  never heard from him at all.
I stood there on the beautiful street, next to a church that rang like a doorbell every quarter hour, and wondered what we should do. We'd reserved and paid for the apartment, but if we couldn't get in, it didn't matter. We had our luggage with us and no place to stay.
I called Airbnb. After a few minutes of searching and trying to contact the host, they said it appeared that the host's account had been deactivated and he wasn't renting the apartment any more.
Could they have told us that before we arrived in Carcassonne suitcases in hand?
The Airbnb phone rep said he would send an email with other available beds for the night. He said they would be in the same area, but I knew with the Tour de France arriving the next day, very few places would be available. The email should arrive in about 20 minutes, he said.
As we started to walk away, the phone rang. It was the host. He said he could meet us there at 4:30. Problems solved!
Well, mostly. The apartment had no WiFi, which was a necessity for me since I needed to teach an online class on Sunday afternoon. I made some calls and texts but basically the owner said the WiFi wasn't going to be fixed before Monday at the earliest.
We decided to enjoy our time in Carcassonne by wandering throughout the city, having drinks in the cool evening air before we went to a French steakhouse for dinner, Le Table de Norbert.
Jules wanted to make sure she got some bone marrow, os à moelle, with her steak. 

The entrance had the steer horns for pushing or pulling. 
The dinner was the highlight of our stay in Carcassonne.
We went back to the apartment and played some cards, listening to the church bell ring every 15 minutes, and after midnight we decided to go to bed. Whenever I stay in a hotel or B&B, I pull the fitted sheet back to search for bedbugs. This time there were little dots, which I guess can be excrement of bed bugs, and a couple of shells. We only found it on our bed, not the other bed our guests were sleeping on.
Bedbug husk found under the sheet. Yuck!
Bedbugs, of course, are a nightmare for anyone who gets them. We decided to sleep on the couch and chair in the living room. As you can imagine we only got snatches of sleep. One of our friends had an upset stomach so didn't sleep much either, plus there's just something gross and creepy about being in a place that has bedbugs. I couldn't wait to escape the next morning.
We were ready to go at 8:30, suitcases packed. We couldn't figure out where to store our luggage, plus I had a class to teach online and no WiFi or place to teach it, plus none of us had gotten very good sleep, making all of us tired and grumpy. And our friend who was sick still felt light-headed. It was not a day we could stay and watch the tour, even though we had already mapped out our route.
The shop windows were filled with Tour de France colors and bicycles, too. 
We stopped at a cafe for breakfast and walked to the train station.
Sometimes, we take a train from Carcassonne to Limoux, a city about halfway home. Then a bus picks us up and takes us the rest of the way. As we sat in the station, I realized that the stops for train to Quillan showed that it was actually a bus. I retrieved Earl and our friends and we went to the place that bus picks up riders. But it turned out that the bus couldn't come to the station that day, so we should have waited at a different place.
Yes, once again we had managed to miss the bus and get stranded in Carcassonne. This happened once before when we returned a rental car on a holiday.
Cursing a system that didn't clarify the change of the bus departure, I made an executive decision to call a taxi for a ride back to Quillan. I knew it would be expensive, but with one friend not feeling well and an online class to teach before the next bus, I thought it would be our best alternative.
We isolated our bags, washing all of our clothes in hot, hot water to kill any potential bedbugs, we're waiting to hear from Airbnb that our money is being refunded, but we can't get back that opportunity to be there for the Tour de France.
So here I sit, as the riders skim across the roads on their way to Carcassonne, where I am not. A lifelong dream thwarted by one bad Airbnb reservation. It can happen in any country, of course, it's just frustrating when that bad experience coincides with something we'd long been trying to accomplish.


Jackie McGuinness said...

Well, that just sucks! Have yet to encounter bedbugs or else just been lucky. I know that creepy feeling, we rented a house in Mexico for a month from a Texan, and it just didn't feel clean at all.
What a shame you had such high hopes and made such good plans. said...

Oh no!!!!
You know, 75% (or more!) of the AirBnB listings in Carcassonne are illegal. The Office de Tourisme has listings, which also are on AirBnB--that gives you an idea of who actually has been inspected and pays taxes. Yes, we are on the Office de Tourisme site (which is free, so if you are not evading taxes, why not list) as well as on AirBnB. AirBnB on the one hand is a great thing because it's such an efficient platform, with security for the renters AND for the landlords, plus a cost-effective way for both to do credit-card transactions without having to set up the credit-card formalities, which are very expensive here (and things like bank wire transfers are crazy expensive). However, AirBnB (and other sites) don't seem to care when people are breaking the law--they make money anyway. I wish they would give the mairie/city hall the names of the people who are listed, which would get rid of people renting illegally as well as bring in much-needed tax revenue from those who want to keep renting. As someone who rents legally, it's very frustrating.
At least you ate chez Norbert, who is a sweetheart. He is truly a bon vivant!
You have another opportunity to see the Tour de France, on Tuesday. There will be a departure from Carcassonne, Place de Gaulle (Porte Jacobins), then on toward Montreal and then, a steep hill to Fanjeaux. In our car, we have to take that hill in first gear. I cannot imagine pedaling up it, though there are even worse inclines!
It can be hard to figure out how to get near the action, because, for security, everything all around is closed off hours earlier. But if you're a local, you know the back roads! Call me if you want the inside scoop on seeing the departure on Tuesday.

Jeanie said...

They are repeating the Carcasonne tour day tonight on tv because it is a rest day. Oh, and that is the reason we're spending more but going to hotels during our short time in France. Rick has had bad Air B&B cancellation experiences and we didn't want to take a chance. The bedbugs would be the last straw. I hope you get to see a bit of the tour!

Paulita said...

Jackie, Thanks for the empathy. Hope you never run into this problem.
FranceTaste, You have such great advice, along with a beautiful apartment on Airbnb. It must be annoying when others have such low standards.
Jeanie, How exciting that you're headed to France again. Make sure you include a hotel with your airfare for part of your stay. We find that is extremely reasonable, for instance, if we're paying $800 for airfare to Paris, we can usually get three night's stay in Paris at the beginning or end for that same $800.

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