52 hours. 4 girls. The challenge: Get as far away from Cardiff as possible and back without spending a penny on transport all in the name of charity. In order to be a successful Jailbreaker you must do everything your Mum warned you not to do “don't talk to strangers”, “don't get in the car with anyone you don't know”, “always know how you're getting home”. The care free Dad attitude of everything will work out in the end is instead what me, Doreta, Lydia and Mary needed to adopt in order to survive.
The journey started at 8:30am on an unusually sunny February morning in the 'diff. 4 tired students who are more accustom to wake up calls closer to lunch time walked over to the starting point of the union. A quick safety talk and we were off. We began to glide past the museum, city hall, the castle, taking in Cardiff's sights as we approached the central train station. We pondered what stories we would have by the time we were reunited with the architecture. We began a light jog and this proved too much for Lydia, equipped with the early morning, heavy backpack and pavement height she was down and the weight of her rucksack pushed her to perform a forward roll. We knew right then that this was going to be an eventful trip. (Pardon the Dad joke).
We made it over to Cardiff Central and after a quick talk with the lovely Andrew of First Great Western we were allowed to board their service to Portsmouth. A smooth ride into Portsmouth to get on to the next part of our journey, a Brittany Ferry to Caen which Mary had secured our place on through the powers of the Twittersphere. We arrived in to Portsmouth after a relaxing train ride filled with card games and many lovely passengers who gave us all their spare change in order to help us get further. We got off so in awe of the kindness of complete strangers thinking there is no way anyone would ever say no to us and our cause. We walked up to the taxi rank and met a driver who compared himself to Mother Teresa, because apparently even she had to draw a line and as he already gives £2 a month to a Dogs charity he was automatically immune from having to help us. With little time to plead we jumped in his taxi and used £5 that a kind Welsh woman had given us.
On the ferry we found a lovely man called Chris who was to be the key to the next part of the trip. A young man from Brighton who had married a French lady after meeting her while working in Madagascar. I naïvely assumed that he had been helping the animals there, but apparently humans occupy the country too, who knew the trip would be so educational? He told us all about his pregnant wife and their little baby Ruby who would be born in May. He dropped us off outside the train station in Reene (about 3 hours from Caen) and gave us 20 euros in case we got “into any trouble” - a sign he was going to be a great Dad. We walked into the train station to a man playing 'Unfaithful' by Rhianna on a grand piano (Oh France), it would have been rude not to have a little boogie. We checked train times and the first one was leaving at 6am and heading to Marseilles so we decided to have a little wonder around town and try to stay awake for it. We found a karaoke bar and sampled our first few glasses of french rose wine whilst listening to an overly enthusiastic DJ belt out Jason Mraz 'I'm Yours'. Me and Lydia came to the conclusion that if you can't beat them join them, and gave a unique rendition of Beautiful by Christina Aguilera. We found it hilarious that we were sitting there looking all sophisticated with our wines and no one in the bar had any idea we were currently homeless.
When the bar closed at 4am we headed over to the train station to discover it was locked. We tried alternative measures to try to get into our 'home' but when a police van began to beep its horn at us we decided we should probably move on. We concluded that this was the “trouble” Chris was eluding to, and so used some of his money to get a taxi to a hotel where you could check in using a credit card without the need to see reception staff. This meant we were free to squeeze 4 of us in one double bed all sleeping vertically.
We woke up the following day after a surprisingly satisfying 4 hour sleep to discover a complimentary breakfast and a chance to smooze some guests into letting us get in their car. A lone french male sat next to us so we began to explain our cause, and he told us that he was going to visit his son in Paris and after a little convincing he allowed us to join. We spent the journey discussing our voyage and taking naps. He thought we were crazy as did his wife when he gave her a ring - even the language barrier didn't cloud that. When we arrived we were greeted by the golden arch and we just had to stop for some much needed comfort food and a team talk. After some discussion we decided that with less than 24 hours remaining until we had to be back in Cardiff we would spend the day in Paris trying to find a lift home and taking in the sights.
After the standard tourist photos in front of The Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, with some massive selfie stick fails and jumping photo disasters we headed to our hostel for the night; St.Christopher's. It turned out to be the most fun place I have ever stayed. The hostel was buzzing with people from every country, and we were lucky enough to find a lovely Welsh man named Dan who had came to Paris for the Six Nations Wales V France game. He not only donated generously to our 'Get us Home to Cardiff' fund but he also took sympathy on us and brought us many shots to help us deal with the stress of being stranded in Paris. We were pretty much accepting that this was our new home now and dusting off our GCSE French knowledge.
The morning came and after getting into bed at 6am and being still no closer to a lift home after a few deals we'd set up fell through we joined a car share site called Blabla car. We found Alain, a man who agreed to take us from Paris to London. He turned out to be a not very nice person who shouted at us numerous times for different reasons and we just had to accept it all as we didn't want him to chuck us out his car. We arrived in London all upset and downbeat after Alain had forced us to shake our charity bucket for every last penny, and headed over to the coach station. Here we found a lovely Welsh National Express coach driver who after we explained what we were doing he agreed to let all four of us onto his service free of charge. We sailed into Cardiff and walked home and collapsed onto our beds knowing that we would never in our lives have a trip like that again.
The trip showed us the kindness of Welsh people. They were by far the most generous and lovely people and without them we wouldn't have got to Paris and back so if any of you are reading; thank you! All of our journey was in aid of Student Volunteering Cardiff (SVC), a wonderful university charity that works in the local area with the elderly, young, disabled and vulnerable members of societies. If you would like to donate please go to https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/josiecopson1.
*This post was originally published in the Cardiff Times.