When we were young and stupid, we spent the night in the house of random strangers after finding ourselves with no bed for the night. Now 15 years later we are driving 8 hours to southern France to spend a week with those same randoms.
In 2002, Svet and I spent 2 months travelling across Europe. We had only the first few nights accomodation booked plus flights there and back. We had a general sense of what we wanted to do, but no fixed plans. When we felt like a place had been sufficiently explored, we’d choose a destination. Sometimes we’d go to an internet cafe (I know right!) to look for a hotel, but often we’d drive off and sort it out when we got there. In peak summer. It worked well, until it didn’t.
After spending a few days in Carcassonne, we drove off down to the southern French coast. I can’t remember where we had hoped to visit, because we didn’t end up staying there. Every motel, hotel and hostel was booked. The tourist information had nothing for us. For several hours, until midnight, we drove from place to place. Hundreds of kilometres. Conceding defeat, I took an unmarked off-ramp. The new plan was to find a quiet, dark street and sleep in the car.
The off-ramp ended up taking us to Roquefort-des-Corbières. As we cruised through this very, very French little village we noticed a young man unloading his car. We asked if he knew of anywhere in town that might have a room. He apologised and said no, and we moved on. Several minutes later, a few streets away, we parked. We got comfortable ready for what remained of the night. The same man appeared around the corner. He knocked on our window, introduced himself as Laurent, and invited us in to what was his parent’s holiday house. How lucky!
In the house, we tiptoed up a few flights of stairs into a little-used bedroom. Laurent supplied us with linen, and we fell into bed. The next morning we crept downstairs, hoping Laurent would be awake. Waiting for us in the kitchen was Laurent. And his wife of one day, Agnes. And his sister and her husband, and their tiny baby. And his parents. We were unexpected guests at an after-wedding family holiday; Laurent and Agnes had just got married!
I’m not sure which was more surprising. Laurent inviting two strange foreigners into a house filled with his family. Or us accepting the invite of a strange local to stay in a house filled with we-don’t-know-who. Whether its our age, having children or the time we live in I’m not sure we – or Laurent – would make or take such an invite these days.
But happen it did, and the intervening years have seen many reunions. We stayed with them in their Paris apartment, and they with us in our Elwood flat. Later, our young families shared pizza for dinner in Carcassonne. At their house in Revel, our kids (with no French) and theirs (with almost no English) got on like a proverbial house on fire.
And now in a couple of days, we’re off to spend an extra-long weekend with them near Aix-en-Provence. Hopefully next year, they’ll visit us in Melbourne. A 15 year friendship across the ocean, all because we were totally unorganised one busy European summer!