… exchanging français for espagnol for the month of May.
As I write this, I’m careening towards the city of Bordeaux on an Intercités train, and there’s a child of about six years old playing Minecraft on his dad’s iPad beside me. I have two episodes of Game of Thrones to catch up on, a heckuva lot of portfolio prepping to do and a few hundred pages to go on various reading material stuffed in my day pack. I’m quite certain my six other hours of train travel, Nantes to Bordeaux then Bordeaux to Hendaye plus the tram to Donostia-San Sebastiàn, will find me covered for entertainment.
One could say I have a small issue with saying goodbyes. As Philippe noted, “On s’attache facilement,” (we get attached easily). I’m gutted to leave Kerusten, Noelle and Philippe’s hospitality and kindness, Fabienne’s wonderful company and the Brittany countryside. I’m so happy to have met Megan and very briefly, Sherly as well as experiencing such a great first CS experience with Anne and Francois.
I will also miss the following, in no particular order:
Noelle’s Muesli mix
being ‘cheap dates’ with Fabienne
jumping between English and French at the drop of a hat with Megan and Sherly
making galettes/crepes with a raclette and a spear and a proper cast iron flat plate
watering the tomato plants for Philippe
when sophisticated, older mesdames find my French accent charming
being able to tell the difference between a camelia, a magnolia and a rhododendron
free-wheeling on a bicycle down an empty road flanked by rolling fields of green
trekking up untouched hillsides to find 15th century chapels, churches and springs
And now I’m going to Spain.
While I’m going to miss playing Harvest Moon IRL every day, I’m equally stoked for the backpacking experience in all its unpredictability. The only thing I regret is how lax I’ve been with learning my basic Spanish and now I must play the ignorant tourist for a short while as I reorient myself to another language.
... thinking that I should probably rename this blog "A Week Ago Found Me"
Sorry lovelies, proper updates very soon. I depart for Spain in five short days. Here’s what I know for sure, I have to be in Barcelona by May 23, 4 pm for an evening of musical magic at Primavera Sound Festival.
That’s corsair, not pirate. There is a difference and I’m embarrassed by my lack of swashbuckling knowledge.
An hour out of Rennes, through the Vallée de la Rance maritime, is the tourist-swarmed city of Saint Malo. Given that Bretons go crazy when there are clear skies and sunshine a-Brest (haha… non?), it was a bit like when Vancouverites all head for Stanley Park on a gorgeous Sunday. And wouldn’t you know, there happened to be a parade going on in the afternoon as well. What luck!
With a nickname like The Emerald Coast, walking along the fortifications and upper pavement was a treat. Despite sporting winter coats, people still ran across the beach and languished on the sand.
Within Intra-Muros, the walled city, cobblestone streets and little alleyways and streets with funny names (La Rue du Chat qui Danse!) were in abundance. Ever the lucky one, my hosts were more than happy to avoid the crowds and find little side routes and shortcuts throughout the inner city. Kindred spirits, aye.
History Pop Quiz! Who remembers Jacques Cartier? Dude who discovered Canada or some teeny little thing like that? He voyaged from none other than the port of Saint Malo. #trufax
After perusing Intra-Muros and having a little chocolat viennois and chatting about English tourist behaviour (not particularly well-received) at a café** with swings at the bar and dolls and trinkets EVERYWHERE, we headed back out to watch the parade.
And then we went home and had crêpes and twas a very good day for all indeed.
Except for this guy.
**The name translates to: Cafe on the Corner of the Bottom of the Street at the End of the City in Front of the Port.
...wandering through the cobblestone streets of Rennes.
So because I obviously don’t listen enough to my parents and I quite enjoy being in the company of complete strangers, I decided to try out the CouchSurfing business this weekend. Off I went to spend three days in darling Rennes, capital of Bretagne.
It was a bit of a toss-up whether I wanted to visit Rennes or Nantes, though I admit it was mostly the Beirut song that had piqued my curiosity about the latter. No regrets, of course. I’ll be swinging by Nantes before I head to San Sebastian.
My hosts, Anne and Francois, were super cool and super kind and just all around super. I can’t wait to hear more of their adventures cycling through Bretagne later this year and adventuring for seven months through Russia/Asia in 2014. Now I have pals in Rennes, which I’m dying to visit again, and really just tell everyone going to France to check out. It’s a chill little city.
Except when you’re arriving during the French League Cup finals. The train station was a sea of red. Somehow, we managed to rendezvous despite this crowd of hardcore fans on their way to Paris:
I lucked out because there was a spoken word/music/art festival going down called Mythos which seemed to draw in the other half of the city, the artsy crowd, so there was plenty of hipster spotting to be done as we toured Vielle-ville (old town), Parc du Thabor, Parlement de Bretagne, even had time to kick it with a bottle of cider and other such beverages at Place St. Anne. Terrace cafes/bars all over. Why do we not have this in Vancouver?
Anne and Francois were cool enough to invite me to the late night festivities, alas, the concerts they were heading to were already sold out.
Instead, I found myself (once more against everything my parents taught me) touring Centre-ville (city center, downtown) by night. Curiousity got the best of me and I started following the rowdy chants of fut fans and found myself catching the tail end of the match being shown on a big screen in one of the city’s squares. Vancouver could learn a thing or two about public spaces put to good use. Rennes lost, the crowd dispersed (sans riot) towards the Rue de la Soif and various other side-streets and alleys known for late night drinking and clubbing. It’s like downtown Granville area but medieval.
I capped my booze limit earlier that day so I wandered back Chez Anne et Francois and had a bright, squirrely start to the morning. The only other people walking around so early were tourists (so very clearly indicated by their honking DSLRs) and the Rennais off to church.
For various reasons, that morning was grand: I had the city to myself; I was wifi-less and mostly lost until I would end up at a familiar looking church or square; I got to use their metro system; I stood in line at the boulangerie like a proper local; I ate pain au chocolat beside the river and collected snaps of Rennais street art.
And then Francois and Anne said we were driving out to St. Malo.
Noelle and Phillippe had a plant fair in a nearby city leaving us to care for the ker* all by ourselves for the weekend. I’ll save the nature of work being demanded of us for another post but I can truthfully say three hours is not nearly enough to balance out the effects of my new diet. There was a lot of chocolate, wine and frômages those three days. It was glorious.
Yesterday, Megan and I decided to take advantage of the Breton sunshine and bike to the town of Plöerdut. With a vague mental image of the Google Maps route in our heads (and half-remembered verbal instructions from Phillippe), we set out on an 8km trek through the countryside.
I haven’t seriously ridden a bicycle in 10 years. This was a big deal.
Despite bemoaning every uphill stretch (of which there were plenty), the ride itself was quite pleasant. It’s just green as far as the eye can see and there were at least one or two instances of song from The Sound of Music.
The church loomed over us as we rode into the village, all 11th century, Breton-Roman goodness.
There are two restaurants, a pharmacy, a post office, even a hairdresser. As is customary of a little French town, there was also a boulangerie, a patisserie and a crêperie. Wouldn’t you know it, this village also had a pub run by an English ex-pat. I had cidre. It was also glorious.
The only real issue, if one could call it that, was that because it was Sunday and early afternoon when we rolled into town, every thing was pretty well closed until early evening. Thankfully not the pub. It would seem Sunday (and for most places Monday) are mandatory non-working days. They take this very seriously and expect you to do so as well.
Therefore the post office was closed and with my ‘work’ schedule (and inability to cycle properly), postcards and mail must wait until the next time I go into town. This one’s only 3km away, thankfully.
Alas, no English pub.
*ker = a place, be it village, settlement, house, etc.
Christie, what’s with the title? The Romans used to call Brittany (Bretagne) ‘Finis Terrae’ - land’s end, end of the earth. Bleak but not entirely inaccurate when taking into account its geography and landscape.
After hustling my way through the Parisian Métro (top notch wayfinding and art nouveau influence everywhere!), I wandered over to Gare Montparnasse in the 14ème arrondissement. Despite having an hour to meander about, people watch, flip through some French magazines and even chow down on a tartelette à la citron, I almost missed my train.
'Pardon' and 'excusez-moi, madame/monsieur' go a long way not to get dirty looks when you have to cross 4 narrow train car passages to get to your seat.
My dad, master of plane travel, told me bring gum on the plane during landing so my ears don’t pop. Definitely could’ve used it on the train. I wish I had more pictures of the countryside as we sped through but my body decided to quit on me and I spent most of the four hours westbound snoozing.
I will say this though, people are incredibly open here. No poker faces, no avoiding eye contact, smiles come easy. Even when you’re blearily nodding off and accidentally kicking their feet.
My hosts, Noelle and Phillippe, are charming, accommodating and were very forgiving of my unpracticed French when they picked me up from the train station. I also don’t recall much of the drive to Kerusten other than passing by a small village which I’m keen to explore sometime this week.
As for now, I’m nursing the tail end of a sore throat but my roommate and fellow workawayer, Megan, and I have a village to explore and the sunshine beckons (not pictured).
This post comes a few days late but I’ve been quite taken with this shiny, new, nomadic lifestyle I’m living. It’s been a challenge to perch myself in front of the computer screen long enough to check in with Mommy write some posts instead of deciding my next destination.
Inability to get my driver’s license aside, I like to think I was blessed with a good sense of direction; I think I would’ve kicked butt at orienteering given the chance. This skill proved especially useful when I decided it was in my best interest to travel 23 hours straight:
Drive from Langley > 1h
Flight from YVR > 1h30m + 4h30m
Layover and flight from YUL > 2h + 7h
Train from CDG > 1h
High-speed train from Paris > 1h + 4h
Drive from Lorient > 1h
Arrive at Kerusten
I’ll withhold my impressions of traversing North America and the Atlantic as most people reading this have probably experienced the ‘nightmare’ that is waiting, customs, checking-in, security, uncomfortable seats, boredom, etc. I’ll just note that I experienced none of that and breezed through literally every part of my air travels which I’m taking as a sign that I’m meant to be a jetsetter.
Paris is a mess of trains, not including the Metro system. During my hour long route navigating CDG airport to Gare Montparnasse in the heart of Paris where all the tourist-y bits are, I had the vague impression of being in the opening sequence of a 1980’s coming-of-age film. This was playing in my head the entire ride. The train route is a bencher’s paradise, graffiti everywhere, and pretty slick pieces and throwies all over.
I had no expectations coming into Île-de-France other than seeing a few buildings with tell-tale, nineteenth-century architecture as the train zipped along. I mean, I’d be underground, I knew I wouldn’t be greeted by the Tour d’Eiffel looming in the horizon. It wasn’t until I jumped off the train to change to the Metro line that I experienced my first ‘seven hells’ moment, at Denfert-Rochereau station. Despite the lack of any particularly renowned attraction, it finally hit me. I was in Paris. I was in another city, on another continent, toute seule.