After three nights in Barcelona, we got a night train to Cannes. Night trains are wonderful things - because of our Interrail tickets they're free, and because you kip on the train you save money on accommodation.
We were in a pretty empty carriage, and all had two seats to ourselves to lounge on. The train was due to arrive in Cannes at around half past seven. Perfect really - we could all get a proper night's sleep.
I woke up and it was light outside. Katie, who was opposite me, was still asleep. I didn't have a watch, but due to the daylight I figured it had to be after seven. How much after seven I had no idea.
I turned around, and Karim was just starting to wake up. The others were all asleep.
"What time is it?" I whispered.
"Half seven", came the sleepy reply.
"We might have missed our stop", I said.
"Hang on", Karim said, looking out the window, "the train's slowing down".
"So it might be this one", I said. "But we won't know until we get there".
"How long will the train stop for?"
"No idea", said I. "A good five minutes".
The train slowed down, and the two of us stared out the window waiting for a sign. We got it, just as the train stopped. Cannes. We were here. The guy on the intercom said something in French, of which I was able to pull '3 minutes'.
What followed was a rather hasty attempt to wake up the other four people, quietly enough so as not to disturb the other train users, but loud enough to express the sense of urgency. It was tricky.
It wasn't like we were ready to go. Not only were we all half asleep, but we were all sprawled about with our sleeping bags and books and cards and stuff all over the place.
Andy and Katie got off the train first, and I was right behind them. The other three were still onboard. No problem. We had at least a minute left.
That was when the chap on the platform blew his whistle. b******s.
Andy and Katie tried to tell him to hang on for a second, but he was having none of it. I jumped back onto the train, standing in the doorway as if this gesture would somehow keep the thing still. He shouted at me to get off. "Arrete the f***ing train a minute!" Was my near-fluent French response.
I couldn't see into the carriage from where I was, because there was an inner door. I couldn't get to the door because the door I was holding open would close and my bag was out on the platform.
The train started to move. I jumped off. The other three were still on board.
We were shouting at the Guard as the door I had been holding open forced itself shut. Then, down at the other end of the carriage, one of the doors was forced open. And then a bag was thrown out. Kristen jumped after it. Then two more bags got thrown, and Karim leapt to safety. As the guard started running over and screaming at us, Polly jumped free, Karim running alongside the train to catch her.
How we laughed.
We had arrived in Cannes. And, to be fair, we had done it in style. We made a sharp exit from the station, as the Guard didn't seem to share the joke. After a coffee and a croissant, we went down to the beach and all had an early morning swim. Early morning swims are the best things in the world. Nobody else thinks of doing it, so you've got the beach to yourself, but the water is always pretty warm - probably something to do with tides, but I don't know.
After that, we went to find a hostel. Now, after the Kabul, we had pretty high hopes of hostels in general. We expected them all to be clean, safe, party places full of all manner of great people looking for a good time. We were to find that this was not necessarily the case.
The place we stayed at cost the same as the Kabul had, but that was where the similarities ended. For one thing, our room joined on to the managers' room, and she, for want of a better expression, was a b****. We had our own shower, but get a load of this - the light switch was on a four minute timer, and it was on the outside of the room. So the only way you could have a shower was if someone was in the room to turn the light back on every time you screamed.
And we weren't allowed to stay in the hostel during the day. Between ten and five we had to get out. And we couldn't eat, drink or smoke in our room. This left me with little to do. There were about three hundred rules, all listed on a card on the wall which we made a point not to read.
We went out for the day (without a great deal of choice) and made our way back to the beach. In the afternoon it started to rain, so we made for this nearby town called Antibes. Or something. The rain slackened off, so we walked along the coast up to this old castle. Then the rain started again, so we thought a good old guided tour of the castle would be a great way of wasting some time. And it would have been, but the castle didn't actually have anything in the way of a ceiling, so it was very wet. The tour guide didn't speak English very well, but she tried hard. Besides, she had an eerie ability to not get wet despite the rain, so I didn't want to mess with her in case she was a member of the Undead.
It turned out that the castle had never actually been attacked. Karim and I have always wanted to go down in history, so as we were leaving we decided to launch an assault. The first wave was the artillery barrage (throwing stones), and then there was the siege engines (kicking the wall) and then finally scaling the battlements (trying and failing to climb the sheer, wet stone walls). The attack was unsuccessful, but at least we can tell our children we were the first to attack the castle ever, in all recorded history.
The others failed to share our enthusiasm, and even went as far as to refuse to make up songs about us, charting our valiant struggle against the evil French. We put their lack of interest down to the rain.
On the way back to town, the heavens opened big time. Obviously the rain of the afternoon had just been a warm up. It was probably a good thing that we were all still dressed for the beach, as it meant we had only few clothes on to get wet. It did of course mean that we got very cold. Such is life.
We got back to the hostel and took it in turns to shower. The others of course had to stand ready to turn the light back on. We went out for dinner and came back before midnight. Another problem with this new hostel was that we had to check out before half eight in the morning. I mean, what's going on there? So as we would all have rather died than stayed another night there, it meant getting an early night.
At midnight I went up to the kitchen with Andy for one last cigarette. The kitchen was full of people, all drinking and merry making. We got chatting. Andy went to bed half an hour later.
An hour after that, I was stood down on the beach with just my boxer shorts maintaining my dignity.
Some of the merry-makers had gone to bed, but some - me, two Canadian girls, an Irish guy, an Ozzie, a weird Spaniard and a mad Russian - went down to the beach. The mad Russian was obsessed with the acquisition and further consumption of Vodka, which was nice. He wanted a sing song, and as I was English, he demanded English music. I asked him what kind of English music. He thought for a second and then said "Phil Collins!" He seemed surprised and disappointed when I told him I didn't really know any of the Genesis classics off by heart. I offered him a little Beatles by way of compensation, but by this point the damage had been done.
Then he went for a swim. He was, I decided, too drunk to go swimming. He was certainly too drunk to do what he was doing - swimming around and around an island about a hundred meters out with a Canadian girl sat on his back. Russians. I don't know. Most of the others went into the sea, leaving me with Antionette, one of the Canadian girls, and the mad Spaniard.
The mad Spaniard was mad because he didn't speak Spanish. He only spoke very bad English. Between all of us, we had about twelve languages (I supplied one), but still nothing. He was the kind of scary man that insisted on his taking his picture with his arms around the girls, and had to have two copies of each one. I was mortally offended that he didn't want even one picture of me, let alone two.
So, company wise, it was more fun in the sea. I didn't really want to leave Antionette on her own with the mad Spaniard. This was partly because I was such a gentleman, and partly because she had whispered to me a moment before "don't leave me alone with the mad Spaniard".
This meant that if I was going into the sea then she was coming with me. My reasons for wanting to go into the sea were rather vague - it just seemed like the sort of thing I should do. After all, it was two o'clock in the morning in some foreign country and I was enjoying the company of a group of complete strangers. It seemed right.
"Come on", I said, walking down to the shore and starting to strip off.
"Hang on", she said. "I want to check the water".
"No!" I said, taking her hand. "Don't check the water".
"It'll be cold".
"That's what I want to check".
"No. You see, there are two different types of people in this world. There are those that check the water first, and there are those that just jump in. These days most people check the water. There's hardly any excitement left. So tonight, Antionette, we're going to be the kind of people that just jump in. You'll remember this moment for the rest of your life".
"Are all English men like you?"
"Nope. Just me baby. Just me. Now stop yapping and get your kit off".
We jumped. It was cold.
After an hour or so in the sea, we dried off to the best of our abilities and went to get another drink. Somewhere along the way we lost the Mad Russian, the Mad Spaniard and the Oz guy, leaving me, the Irish chap and the two Canadian girls. Most places were closing but we found a bar somewhere and stopped for a well earned pint.
I spent some time talking to Antionette about Canada, doing remarkably well at disguising my complete ignorance. Then she started asking about what it was like being English, and what our attitudes are to Europe and the world in general.
"When you're English", I explained, "your view of Europe is really quite simple. From an early age you're taught to hate the Germans, hate the French, and pretty much ignore everyone else. The average Englishman doesn't know the difference between Sweden and Switzerland. They don't know how big countries are, or even where the borders are. Not only do we not know the names of the county's leaders, we don't even know what sort of government it is, or what currency they use. In a lot of cases, we don't know what language they speak".
"Sounds a little, er...." she was lost for words.
"It's the English way", I said.
"Why do you hate the French and the Germans?" She asked.
"Er..." this was a problem. "The Germans it was because of the war, and football. The French.... I don't know, I think it's just because they're there".
"But why do you grow up thinking like that?"
"Media. You can't pick up a magazine without reading a joke about the Germans. And the Sun, which rules the country, is always having a go at France. It's a PC thing. In today's society, the only acceptable form of racism is slating the Germans and the French".
"But...." She was having trouble getting her head around it. Perhaps she had been giving the English too much credit. Or perhaps I wasn't the best ambassador for our country. "Why?"
I thought for a moment.
"I have no idea in the world".
At this moment I realised a terrible thing. Somewhere along the way, in a space of just five weeks, I had become a European. What had seemed so normal before now seemed.... well, kind of stupid.
I had awful thoughts of returning home as the 'pretentious backpacker', going around and saying things like "Oh, just open your eyes won't you? Honestly!"
We found a night club that was open until six in the morning. The fact that it was a cross dressing gay place didn't really matter. It was a fun night. Took a stroll on the beach on the way back.
I got back into our room at 7:30AM. The others were just starting to wake up. We had to leave in an hour. "Wake me in half an hour", I informed the general populace, before collapsing into bed.