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The one with the Buddhist Michelin Chef

As has been the case for so many of the highlights of our trip so far, it all starts with a rather major problem with the campervan! Having made it through Andorra and back into France, we headed to Narbonne. Thankfully I had already arranged to meet someone from the Couchsurfing website at 2pm. At 12pm as we arrived in Narbonne, both first and second gear decided they did not want to work. In heavy traffic in a small city with limited parking, this was not ideal! Sam managed to rev the whatnots out of the van to get it into a car park and we were able to roll into one of the last spaces available. Some jiggery-pokery, and Sam bodged the gears so that it would be stuck in first gear. But we needed a new part in order for us to be able to also use any other gear! So we headed into Narbonne as planned and met Fred at 2pm. After explaining our dilemma, Fred said it would be fine for us to have the part posted to his address, so by 3pm it was ordered, it arrived at 9am the next morning and was fitted within 24 hours of it breaking! Because of parking restrictions we did have to move the van 2km in first gear at 10.30pm (not the most fun driving experience), but other than that everything went very smoothly.

Our initial plan was to spend a day at most in Narbonne, but we ended up staying for nearly four days. Fred was one of the most interesting people we’ve ever met! He previously worked at a 3 star Michelin chef and so cooked us the most amazing food for lunches and dinners while we were there. We had our first taste of oysters for starters…

Fred had also done lots of travelling, but ‘proper’ travelling – we feel very much like we’re just doing a very long holiday! He’d lived in Nepal and Thailand and had spent a long time living with sea gypsies. He is also a Buddhist and we learnt a lot about his beliefs. With his knowledge of nature and the world, it was almost like listening to a David Attenborough programme! He took us to some bird watching spots, introduced us to his friends at an amazing brewing pub and showed us the local beach where we went swimming. We did a couple of nature walks and Fred told us that fake flamingos had been put out there to encourage real flamingos to land and breed there. It worked - we saw hundreds! We also saw snakes, frogs and eagles.

We also had an interesting tour of Narbonne. The cathedral in Narbonne was set to be the biggest in France, but because of various wars it was never finished and so only consists of the back of the original plans (whereas it should have been three times the size). So the ‘back’ of the cathedral is now the front, and the now-back of the cathedral looks like it’s ‘to be continued’.

We also looked inside a crypt under a church, the crypt is 2000 years old. They have dated this from looking at the carvings below – the top carving is Egyptian style, whereas the shepherd on the bottom left is of Christian origin, and so they believe it was created near to the start of Christianity.

We particularly liked the market in Narbonne. There is a restaurant inside run by an ex-rugby player where they make dishes from the food sold in the market. You order what you want, then he shouts over to the relevant stall holder, they throw the produce towards him, he catches it and cooks it for you! It doesn’t get much fresher than that. Apart from maybe the shellfish Fred found in the sea and ate raw!

Once again, the kindness of strangers has overwhelmed us. There are probably three key things I’m going to take away from our time in Narbonne. The first is that it challenged me to think more about buying ethically, the second is that it taught me to be more open minded, and the third is that I now know how to cook carrots properly!

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