The train rocked heavily back and forth, but it did anything but rock me to sleep.
With six beds in one compartment, my top bunk had me hitting my head on the lights throughout the night, as I tossed and turned under my paper-thin sheets and itchy blanket.
After a rushed meal in the train station with a typically rude waiter, we shoved ourselves onto the night train down to the South of France. When we first entered our sleeping compartment I couldn't stop laughing. It was something out of a war film, with three small bunks on each wall, cruel lighting and too many people for such a small space. It was a long six hours.
When we arrived in Toulouse at 4:45 in the morning, the sky still dark, I was jumping for joy and gasping for air.
An hour later we boarded a train to Gaillac and made our way into the country. The fields were dark, and the small train darted past small towns. The sky turned blue and the birds began chirping as we got off the train.
We sang our way into town, all the shutters still closed and the roads empty.
But, as miracles would have it, the patisserie in the centre of town was opening its doors when we arrived. My traveling companions ordered fresh croissants, and I ordered a big sweet apricot pastry. We licked our fingers on a small bench surrounded by trees, already enamored with the change in scenery, the quiet and the clean air.
We rejoiced again when the Brasserie opened, and served us giant café crèmes for half the price in Paris, served by a polite, smiling waitress nonetheless.
Fuelled by caffeine we marched to the grocery store, where we filled a cart with enough food and alcohol to sustain us for the weekend, and then took a taxi to an even smaller town, Castelnau de Montmiral, where we would spend our weekend in my summer home.
It’s always breathtaking driving into Castelnau. It’s a small medieval hilltop town surrounded by high stone walls. The roads are tiny and crumbling, the houses tall and ancient. There’s something magical about it, and every visitor we've ever taken here has fallen in love.
In my house we opened shutters, tore off the plastic that covered the beds, filled the fridge and made ourselves at home.
That night the house filled with people, as friend after friend arrived, each bringing a bottle of liquor or a case of beer. It was the kind of night that mark my summers in the South of France, full of reggae music, good people, lots of drinking, more smoking, and a good vibe all around.
When I put on a CD of soul music, the whole room seemed to sing along, smiling at one another between sips of drinks and drags of cigarettes, faces lit by candle light.
It was a short stay but we made the most of it. We wandered the small streets, walked to the lake, ate long European meals, had fresh baguette smothered in jam every morning, clinked glasses of champagne and appreciated every moment. I laughed more than I have in a long time.
It was hard getting back on the train to Paris. For six hours we sat in a compartment with six other people, knowing we would be going back to a city where all of our stress and responsibilities lie. But c’est la vie.
Once in Paris I took another train back to my neighborhood, walked home in the rain, and slept more deeply than I have in months. I awoke refreshed, walked up to the patisserie, bought myself a chocolate pastry, and had an indulgent morning before beginning a day of work.
There’s nothing like going down South to soothe the soul before going back to the busy streets of Paris.
Sometimes I just need to remind myself that somewhere like the South of France exists, then I can go back to reality.