Summer’s heat. Butterflies fluttering around wild flowers. My feet soaking in my winter boots. This is the day when I arrive at Castelnau de Montmiral.
I jump out of Francis’ car with excitement, “Wow! This place is so beautiful! Look at the hills in different colours! Look at these medieval walls! I’m inside a story book!”
Francis replies casually while containing his puzzlement of my seemingly-exaggerated marvel, “Well, I’m sure it is beautiful. You will be staying here for the next 2 weeks.”
2013. I came for Francis’ painting workshop without knowing what’s in store for me. 3 nights before I was scheduled to fly to France from Singapore and while I was still in Brunei, I received a text message from Singapore Airlines announcing that the airport strike in Paris had brought about the cancellation of our flight. Not a good start to this trip, I thought.
The following days had me panicking over emails with Francis as I had to seek other ways to fly there. Nevertheless, I followed my initial plan to fly to Singapore. While continuously hoping that things would turn out well, during this time Castelnau de Montmiral seemed to me as a dreamland which was too far to even set foot in.
In the wee hour of the morning which I was scheduled to fly to Singapore, I received another text message from Singapore Airlines which announced that the schedule of the airport strike would not clash with our landing time hence our flight would resume that same night.
I went back to sleep only to find myself tossing and turning in my bed. I couldn’t sleep as now Castelnau de Montmiral had seemed to be a dream coming true, after all.
I had never been to France but I had prepared myself for this trip by learning the French language for a year prior to my trip. While I was on the plane, an air stewardess mistook that I was traveling with a German gentleman who was seated beside me. After some exchange of glances, she asked me if I was traveling on my own. I nodded.
“You are so brave! I wish to be like you! All the best and please be very careful,” she said admiringly coupled with a dash of cautious advice.
“Thank you!” I replied with a broad smile. I tucked her little advice into my heart while I swallowed a chunk of fear into my stomach. The plane was landing. I was another step closer to my dream but I was very scared.
Charles de Gaulle airport was overwhelmed with chaos as many people were stranded because of flight delays and cancellations resulted from the airport strikes. I queued up to check in for my next flight to Toulouse. After 4 hours of queuing amidst cacophonic complaints, I finally checked in. After 29 hours of continuous traveling, I arrived at Toulouse! Well, not without a little taste of some misadventure as I opted to depart the airport by taking a bus instead of a taxi.
As a result, I lost my way in the city center for 3 hours. Few kind strangers offered different advices to get to my hotel. My GPS did not work. No taxis stopped in that area. I had all my money and belongings with me in this part of the city where beggars started roaming around as soon as the sky began to turn dark. One beggar was approaching me with a smirk on his face while he looked me up and down with lustful eyes. I wanted to cry.
I thought, it’s either I would get robbed or I would get molested, or both. I walked away as he was walking towards me. I began to run, but so did he. My instinct was to keep to the side of the road for safety when suddenly 4 wheels stopped in front of me. A man shouted, “Come in!”
The smirking beggar stopped as I crawled into the taxi while pulling my big luggage forcefully with me.
“I saw you an hour ago but I was on call. Now, I see you again but I am also on another call. But, I know I have to save you because that place is no good for a woman at this time,” the taxi driver spoke slowly in broken English with his heavy French accent as he was driving to my destination.
A sense of relief overwhelmed me despite the disapproval of my pounding heart. What a close brush with an undesired experience!
When I finally checked into my hotel room, I walked to the bed and sat down. I buried my face in my folded arms and knees and I started to weep.
I wept for the adventure and misadventure. I wept for my courage and my fear. I wept for the good of the taxi driver and for the evil of the beggar. I wept for the good and the bad. But maybe above all, I wept because I was lonely in a strange city.
I took off my winter boots. My feet stank from the trapped summer’s heat. My heart sang wildly like fluttering butterflies. I was immersed with gratitude and blessing. Later, I took to Facebook to announce to anticipating family and friends of my safe arrival.
2 days later, I would take a train to Gaillac and Francis would be there at the train station. It would only take us a 30 minutes’ drive from Gaillac to my dreamland, Castelnau de Montmiral.
A photo with Francis at his painting school