The Story of my trip to Narbonne (South of France) – and why YOU should visit!

“Seriously?! You’re going to Narbonne….without me?”

Those were the words that came out of my boyfriend’s mouth after I told him I’d continue traveling for a week, instead of going home right after my trip to Toulouse. Little did I know that he had planned for us to explore that town together. Little did I know that he even knew anything about Narbonne at all – because I sure didn’t (then again, I’m not the French one in this relationship).

My reason for booking a night in Narbonne was no other than it being conveniently located as an overnight stay, before continuing my journey to Spain. Based on the photos I’d seen online, it did also look like a nice little place to hang out for a day. Not even for a second did it cross my mind that my significant other had considered it as a perfect location for a romantic weekend getaway and the ultimate place to go for a wine tasting experience.

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As I arrived at the Gare Routière (the bus station), I was greeted with sunshine. And heat. My black polka dot dress was accessorized with black tights underneath, and my cleavage and bare sleeves were hidden inside of my denim jacket. For the climate back home, that would have been a perfectly appropriate outfit for a spring day. Maybe I’d even add a scarf, just for the sake of layering. But here, all those layers were killing me. I was sweating like a pig. I felt like the spirit of the town was calling me, saying something along the lines of “welcome to Narbonne. Now, take off your clothes!”

My accommodation for the night was a lovely bed&breakfast called La Maison Gustave. The girl at the reception helped me carry my luggage to the room and gave me a list of restaurants to check out and things to do in Narbonne. The room looked exactly like the kind of bedroom I always wished I had; Scandinavian style interior, light colors and with a gorgeous view from the window. From my room I could see the old palace and it looked absolutely amazing! I don’t know about you, but that sure beats the view I’ve got from my bedroom window at home (view over a large construction site).

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For one second there, I imagined all the gorgeous Instagram-photos that could’ve been shot there. Just imagine a large coffee cup and avocado toasts and me in a silk robe, as part of a pretend “breakfast in bed” sorta photo shoot …Or don’t.

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I removed my sticky black tights and took off my jacket before heading out to explore the town. I wanted to visit the palace (Palais des Archevêques) and the Narbonne Cathedral which is situated right next to the palace, and I wanted to take some beautiful photos by the Canal de la Robine.

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As much as I’d like to pretend I’m not, I’m probably always gonna be that stereotypical woman who loves to go shopping. My fingers were itching to spend money on something new – whether it would be artisan biscuits, new books, sandals, hair care products, whatever. But, being on a limited budget I decided I’d be better off splurging on a huge meal later, instead of buying a bunch of stuff I’d have to carry around for the rest of my journey. So I went to a bakery and bought myself a pastry instead.

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Biggest regret of the day. The pastry, a religieuse (why on earth that thing is called “religious” remains a mystery to me), left my hands sticky with melted chocolate sauce going everywhere, while chocolate cream kept pouring out as I took a bite of the pastry. How was it even possible to stuff that much cream inside of that little thing? And why didn’t anyone ever tell me those should be eaten with a spoon, and not with my hands. My face ended up looking like a two year old’s face after eating chocolate cake for the very first time. Good thing I wasn’t there on a date!

I wandered around for a couple of hours until my feet started hurting, thanks to the combination of poor quality shoes and sweaty, swollen feet. Whoever said ballet flats are good for long walks is a big fat liar. By then I’d done quite a lot of window shopping (and no actual shopping), I’d visited the Tourism Office (to find out what I could have done in Narbonne if I had more time – or a car), I’d gotten lost while wandering off to places that turned out to be all residential neighborhoods with nothing to see (where an old man laughed at me and said “clearly you’re lost, little girl” in French).

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I finished the evening with a kind of expensive but delicious meal at Restaurant Gaia. The waiters were surprised, and seemed quite confused – kind of uncomfortable, even – to see someone enter the restaurant without a companion. As if solo travelers don’t eat?

Because of this strange welcome, I already regretted entering the restaurant by myself. I should have just ordered a burger somewhere. It would have made me feel less humiliated. But getting up as soon as I’d been seated, to make my great escape would look even more ridiculous, so I decided to stay.

I ordered a three-course menu, completely forgetting about the fact that I was alone and should have just gone for a main dish and get the eff out of there as soon as possible. To make matters worse, they didn’t serve wine by the glass, so I had to take a half bottle. Fine, I thought. It was probably small anyway. Right?

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Wrong. It got me drunk. And the staff gave me a bunch of magazines to read, while eating. Probably because I looked like a sad, lonely, pathetic little girl who’s getting drunk on her own and comfort-eating like crazy. I’m sure they thought I was single, with six cats waiting for me at home. I’m sure I would have thought the same if someone like me walked into a fancy restaurant all by herself, got drunk and ate a huge meal – without anyone to share the experience with.

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I must admit, though, the food was pretty damn delicious. By the time I got the dessert, I was too drunk to remember to take a picture. Hence its absence.

Before going to sleep, I watched Eurovision on TV and let my sweaty, swollen feet rest on the comfortable, Instagrammable bed.

Narbonne, I shall re-visit you. But next time, I’m bringing a plus one!

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So, if this post made you go “I’ll put some pants on, pack my bags and go there ASAP”, here are some ideas for what to do in Narbonne (apart from the things already mentioned):

In the town center:

Near Narbonne (by car)

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30 before 30 – The deadline and the unexpected events

To fully understand what this post is all about, I suggest you read part 1 (when I made the decision to challenge myself and why) and part 2 (when I was halfway into the challenge and already starting to mess things up). I know I said I was gonna publish this post on my actual birthday – which I didn’t do. There’s also a whole bunch of things on that bucket list of mine, that I didn’t do. Some of them because of unexpected, and very unfortunate events. Others because, well, I guess I just forgot about them while being busy traveling solo and two days after returning home I was already on the road again – this time to the Netherlands – with my boyfriend. 

Well, that’s a lame excuse, I know. But I never said I was perfect.

Before sharing the fun stories about everything I managed to complete during the second month of the challenge, I’d like to tell you the shitty story of the day Murphy’s law punched me in the face and made it impossible for me to complete some of the things I’d been excited to check off the list.

On May 11th, I was ready to embark on my last solo trip as a twenty-something (before my last non-solo trip as a twenty-something). I was ready to jump on a train from Paris (home) to Toulouse and do a lot of research on the city my partner and I are planning to relocate to (for business purposes). I was also ready to visit beautiful Narbonne, drink wine and enjoy the ambiance of the south. I was ready to train-travel from France to Spain and visit the flower festival in Girona. I was ready to fly from Girona to Pisa to see the leaning tower and eat pasta all day long. I was ready for one week of soul-searching and living out my bucket list.

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But then I got robbed. While still in the peaceful suburbs in the south of Paris, I bought a train ticket at Bourg la Reine, my local RER station. It was eight fifteen in the morning and people were rushing to work and school. On my back, I had a little black backpack carrying my laptop, my camera equipment, the current book I was reading, my tickets and reservations and some cheese and crackers packed in aluminium foil. In my hand I carried a black suitcase, and worn over my shoulder was my cross-body bag containing my wallet, passport and smartphone.

“Shit, my train is already on the platform”, I thought to myself as I ran as fast as I could and hoped there’d be an available seat on the train, to avoid standing like sardines in a can, while balancing all my belongings and my clumsy body all at once.

Sadly, there wasn’t. And to make matters even worse, three huge dudes barged onto the train and squeezed themselves into the already crowded space. The three surrounded me and one started asking bizarre questions while the others were being rude and pushing everyone around them. I tried to hold onto my belongings, but it wasn’t easy, as I could barely even move. The three rude guys got off on the next stop, and that’s when it hit me; I had been robbed.

My passport was still there and so was my phone. My wallet, on the other hand, was gone. And I hadn’t even made it to Paris yet. I had been a victim of a crime in a neighborhood where I was supposed to feel safe. Where mainly families and other peaceful suburbans live. I called my bank and I had my card cancelled. I went to the police and filed a report. I cried. I called my boyfriend. I called my parents. I borrowed money. I missed my train. I was forced to buy a new expensive ticket despite the fact that I showed SNCF (the train company) the documents from the police to prove that I missed my train for a valid reason. I cried again.

Finally, I made it to Toulouse – and all the other places on my list. My budget was drastically cut, but I made it. I later found out that the men who robbed me had targeted me already from the moment I bought a train ticket from the self-service machine at the RER station. The machine was probably bugged and the men managed to steal 1200 euros from my account before my card got canceled. As soon as I found out, I cried again. By then, I looked like a red puffer fish, from all the sobbing.

Because of this unfortunate event, I was unable to do 22. Splurge on something I wouldn’t normally spend money on as I had to prioritize my money on, well, food and accommodation. Which means I also scrapped 23. Unusual Spa treatment and 2. Go to a concert (alone). Being traumatized and all, lead me to comfort-eating pretty much anything that looked somewhat tasty and made it too hard to get started on a strictly vegan diet for a week (27. Be 100% vegan for a week). I’ll try again – maybe even for multiple weeks – on a later occasion. Maybe I’ll even sign up for some sort of a spiritual retreat where I can 3. learn to play an instrument (bongo drums or something?), 11. take a class outside of my comfort zone or 8. take a cooking class (vegan or raw food?), 13. learn to meditate and 14. become “one with nature”. Are those retreats even a thing or am I just assuming things based on stereotypes? 

Now, let’s move on to the things I DID manage to check off my list.

19. Do something that scares me

location: Toulouse, Narbonne, Portbou, Girona, Pisa

So, getting my stuff stolen really sucked, but there was still one positive outcome of the situation. I chose to go on with my one week solo travel, even without the financial security I’m so used to having. I knew I could risk ending up broke by the end of the trip, but I still went ahead with my plans. Although I couldn’t afford to visit museums, go shopping, have spa treatments or anything like that, I did have a great time just wandering, observing, photographing, reading – and eating a lot.

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5. Eat whatever I want – and eat A LOT

location: Toulouse, Narbonne, Girona, Pisa

French pastries, Spanish tapas and Italian pasta. Did you really think I’d be able to resist any of that? Of course not! Did you really think I’m someone who cares about dieting? Nah, life’s too short to spend it avoiding all the good stuff. Macarons, eclairs and religieuse’s are simply just too amazing. So are cheese-filled croquettes, manchego cheese, bread, olives, deli meats. And let’s not forget about all the delicious pasta dishes in Italy. And their tiramisu! Yum!

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17. See something I’ve never seen before

location: the Netherlands

Amsterdam had been on my bucket list for many, many years – and right before my thirtieth birthday, I got to explore not only Amsterdam, but several other beautiful places in the Netherlands. I fell in love with the charming little cities Delft and Gouda. Honestly, I fell in love with EVERY place we went to while roadtripping through the land of windmills, bicycles and canals. The Flemish architecture, the friendly locals, the picturesque streets and bridges. How could anyone not fall in love with that?

I had never seen real windmills before and I was totally amazed by the ones in Kinderdijk and Zaanse Schans!

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21. Explore somewhere new for a day – no map, no plan

location: Portbou, Spain

Portbou is a nice little town on the French-Spanish border (on the east-coast). The local train station is mainly used as a transit-station for people traveling between France and Spain and I’m not sure if that many tourists visit Portbou for any other reason than just to kill time while waiting for their next train? I had three hours to spend visiting the town, before catching my train to Girona – so I decided to just  wander around aimlessly, maybe take some pictures and enjoy the view of the sea from a terrace bar. Besides that, no plan. And it worked. I enjoyed just walking around on my own, with no check-list, no guidebook, no tips or ideas – in a place I knew absolutely nothing about.

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26. Visit a really weird museum or gallery

location: Amsterdam and Paris

In my previous post, I expressed how disappointed I was with Centre Pompidou being closed on the very same day I had taken myself out on a date, specifically to go there. Well, not long before I embarked on my solo trip, my partner and I went there with some friends of ours. My partner is not into art at all and is probably the least creative type imaginable (engineers, huh?). Me, on the other hand, I love art. However, there’s a lot of modern, abstract art I simply don’t like. As much as I try to understand what the artist is trying to express with a displayed urinal or a mono-colored painting with no patterns, nothing, I just don’t get it.

In Amsterdam, my partner and I, put our cultural hats back on and visited a couple of museums. I wanted to visit the Anne Frank house, he didn’t. I wanted to visit the Rijksmuseum, but I didn’t even bother asking if he wanted to go there. We did, however, visit the extremely weird Sexmuseum and the surprisingly interesting Red Light Secrets – the Museum of Prostitution.

6. Attend a major sports event

location: Paris, France

The 2017 Men’s Ice Hockey World Championship was held in Paris this year, and my boyfriend had tickets to three different games. One of them was my home country, Norway, against Switzerland. He went to see the other two games with his father and promised me I’d get to go with him to cheer on Norway (I was cheering, he wasn’t). I am a proud viking. Of course I had my face painted with the Norwegian flag on each cheek. Of course I had a flag in my hand. At one point I even had two. I had a great time channeling my inner viking…until Norway lost and I left the game feeling grumpy.

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30. Do something out of selflessness

location: London and Amsterdam

I have never been a stranger to supporting a good cause, and I’ve always given money to charity and to homeless people when I have a little extra to share. So technically this wouldn’t need to be on my bucket list as it’s something I’ve already done before. I just put it there as a general reminder that one should always motivate oneself to give back to the community and help fellow humans (and animals) in need.

I recently helped crowdfunding an independent drama film, Homeless Ashes – a movie that will raise awareness of homelessness in the UK. And in Amsterdam, I visited The Catboat (animal sanctuary) and donated money.

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29. Try a dish I’ve been skeptical about trying

location: Narbonne, France

People who know me well, know I’m not much of a fish eater. Especially salmon. And tuna…I might even go as far as saying I hate the taste of tuna. I’ve tried tuna salad, pasta with tuna and tuna sandwiches and all those things made me wanna vomit within a second.

While in Narbonne, I visited a nice gastronomic restaurant (Restaurant Gaia) recommended by the lovely bed & breakfast I was staying at (La Maison Gustave). I ordered a three course meal – along with an amuse-bouche. For those who don’t know what amuse-bouche is; it’s a single-bite pre-appetizer offered to you by the chef, and it’s not something listed on the menu. It’s a surprise element. A joy for some, a nightmare for picky eaters. There I was, without my significant other, who’s usually there to finish my plate and eat all the things I don’t like.

In front of me, there was a small piece of tuna steak accompanied by some kind of citrus-mousse. The tuna looked nothing like the tuna I’d tried before. It looked like beef. I tasted it. The texture was like beef too! And the taste wasn’t even that bad. Well, the aftertaste was, but some large sips of red wine washed it all away. I texted my boyfriend the good news: “tuna isn’t that disgusting after all!”

His reply? “I told you so”.

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My verdict of this project?

Bucket lists should not be taken too seriously, but having one scribbled down ain’t gonna do no harm. My list was the extra little push I needed to book that solo trip. It was the little push I needed to do things I wouldn’t normally do. And thanks to that list, I will always remember the last months of my life as a twenty-something girl.