So last night I slept in the house of a man that I met on the Internet. I had never spoken to him before, I landed in a foreign country where I knew no one, met a man I had met online, rode on his motor bike and I slept at his house. Yeah, sorry Dad.
It’s not quite as dodgy as it seems (bear with me father) I met this man through the reputable web site, couch surfing.
As this trip is a mega super budget affair which should indent my bank account no more than the hefty sum of €50,I am, of course, running out of money. While it would have been cheaper to get a flight to Venice and then to Spain to meet my family on the 23rd I couldn’t stand being so close to Switzerland which I have traveled through several times and where one of my good friends lives but I have never visited, without popping into Geneva for a visit. Because of this i found myself with two nights in Marseilles with a fairly expensive train booked to take me up to Geneva.
Because I’d spent so much on travel I really didn’t want to spend a lot on a hostel (hostels in Marseilles are fairly spendy) so, despite some nervousness, I got on the couch surfing site and created a public trip, opening myself up to offers of hosts in Marseilles.
Within a couple of days I had received five offers and I spent some time reading through their profiles and deciding who seemed the most genuine. The concept of the couch surfing site is simple. The site matches people who need a place to stay with hosts who have a sofa or spare bed for them to use for a few nights. There is no money involved, no payment and the whole system runs on the notion of positive cultural exchange. Rather than being somewhere you can just sleep for a couple of nights the idea of couch surfing is to spend time with new people and exchange ideas, language, conversation, skills and knowledge.
I loved the idea of couch surfing. It sounded so authentic and exciting. That said, I was freaking out when I got to Marseilles. I nearly called it off. I nearly called it off because the cynical and neurotic part of my brain was going wild, telling me I was going to get roofied, raped or turned into a human skin coat. Even worse, I might have to make . . . awkward conversation!! I really considered sacking it all off, getting a hostel, sleeping in the airport, crying and getting my friend Matt to drive from Geneva and save me.
I’m so glad I pulled myself together and got myself back to my *usual super cool, self assured confident traveller self.
Renaud was the most perfect gentleman and an incredibly kind and welcoming host. In a world where everyone seems out for what they can get I found his whole outlook incredibly refreshing. As it was Saturday and Renaud was not working he spent the day showing me the city by motorbike. We visited the Notre Dame Garde for the most stunning view of Marseille, rode over to this amazing little beach that I have 100% forgotten the name of, had lunch on the beach in a beautiful restaurant and then headed down to the old port to see the historic centre of Marseilles.
Renaud would not accept any money for lunch, parking or anything. As we ate lunch and I thanked him for his generosity he dismissed it with “this is the privilege of the old, we have the money to treat the young and help them in whatever way we can.” What an amazing sentiment.
The sheets may or may not have been slept in previously and bathroom was very clearly that of a bachelor, this was not five star living. But I had the most fantastic time with Renaud and in less than 48 hours got to have a real authentic feeling taste of Marseilles.
So Dad, you might have noticed I was being very slightly evasive when you asked me about hostels in Marseilles. This is why. I didn’t think you’d be very happy with it and you’d worry for no good reason. Like being hospitalised in China, slicing my foot on broken glass and several other of my more worry-inducing adventures, I thought it might be better to save you worrying and just tell you after.
I anticipate a phone call soon.