by Zoe Hamilton
Before beginning for real I think I should tell you all where I am writing. Well it’s still Paris but I am on an adorable road near my house, Rue DaGuerre, which I have neglected up until this point this year. It runs by my house and turns into a pedestrian only road further down lined with colorful shops and cafés. Recently I found that a friend of a friend lives on my block and ever since then we have been swapping insider tips. She mentioned a bagel shop on this street and, since I have not had a bagel since last July, I decided to indulge. It was worth it. I walked into the cute shop and was dumbstruck by the options available to me. My mouth instantly started watering as I started at the three varieties of cheesecake. Resisting even the cookies I settled on just a BLT bagel. It was glorious. I forget sometimes that my staples were not always baguette and galettes but rather bagels and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I think it is going to be a shock to my system adjusting back. I’ve been thinking more and more about the transition back even having nightmares about getting lost on the Middlebury campus or not being able to speak English. My time here is coming to a close quickly. I only have one week of classes left! Thankfully I am staying a month extra to do research for my thesis or I would really be freaking out. The semester, well and the year, just went so fast. I still feel like I am discovering new roads, like this one, and the correct genders for all the nouns.
My two semesters here were so different. My first semester I felt was more of the typical study abroad experience. I spoke way more English than I should have, I traveled absurd amounts, and I went out dancing with my American friends. This semester has been completely different for me. I have stayed here in Paris, only taking a few trips, my American friends all left, and I focused much more on school. That is not to say it has been worse. It has been quieter, and I like that. It is the settling in phase. The new exchange students arrived and I was able to see their silly mistakes that I had made a few short months before. I heard their complaints about the bureaucracy, the metro, the prices. And I smiled to myself, knowing it only gets worse with time. I feel much more at home here now than I once did. A few glorious times people thought I was French in conversations until my accent popped out or I misconjugated a verb. My savings account started to dwindle so I have begun doing more free activities like sitting in parks in the sun and strolling through museums.
This past weekend, as I’m sure you all know, was Easter weekend. That being the case we had Monday off school. My boyfriend (pause, yes, I have a boyfriend, he is Quebecois and we speak exactly half in French and half in English) and I had been wanting to travel somewhere cheap for awhile now, our only problem was lack of foresight. We only realized we had the Monday off of school about a week before. And as you can imagine the weekend of Easter is a popular one to travel on. So, of course, by the time we started to look everything was too expensive or sold out. We looked at all options: overnight busses, rideshares, everything. Nothing seemed to work out. Then one night Olivia was over for dinner and asked what my plans for the weekend were. She was going to Normandy with Stéphane and wanted to know if I too was going out of town. Once I explained to her my situation she offered her car. Her car! I was thrilled! It was a sign from God. I had not even thought to ask such a huge favor but she had offered. The next day PierreYves and I spread out a map of France and started to plan. We both missed the ocean so the beach was a must. Within the scope of a weekend trip that left Normandy or Brittany. Remembering how ugly small towns tend to be on the Norman coast from the last trip with my dad, I advocated Brittany. PierreYves, being from Quebec (the founder of Quebec, Jacques Quartier was from St. Malo), was also drawn to the region. So Brittany it was. After a failed (and totally last minute) attempt to contact the family, we decided on a rough plan of towns and cities we wanted to visit. We would leave Saturday morning early and return Tuesday so as to avoid the normal Friday-Monday traffic. We planned this all on Tuesday.
On Friday Olivia dropped off her car and gave us the instructions. The car had a few quirks to say the least. The biggest of which was the lack of locks. That is right: the car does not lock! She has been driving it in Paris for years now leaving it perfectly open. Once she said she even left the key IN THE CAR by mistake and someone just took it out and set it on the dashboard for her. Her trick is just to leave nothing in it. It also does not go above 120 km/hr and smells like anti-freeze if you try to turn on the heat. Good. So with the car under control (kind of) we packed out things and fell asleep with dreams of moules frites filling our heads.
Saturday morning started early and rudely. We went down to the street where Olivia had left the car to find an old man standing next to it. “You are blocking my driveway.” He was right, kind of. Where Olivia had left it the bumped stuck out a little but nothing serious. “Oh, sorry.” We mumbled as we set our bags in the open car. “I could’nt get out last night.” It was clear he was not happy. Not realizing the extent of the situation we apologized and PierreYves said he would pull the car around if I ran to the store down the block to grab car snacks. By the time I got back the situation had significantly worsened. The man’s wife had returned in her car and PierreYves had realized that the car was VERY difficult to get into reverse. The man was yelling and screaming about calling the police and began to kick the car with all his might. I was almost in tears as I tried to explain in broken French that it was not our car and we couldn’t get it into reverse. Finally PierreYves told me to try so I jumped into the drivers seat, popped it into neutral and told him to push. Dear Dad, thank you for forcing me to drive a stick for all those years. I really appreciate it. The man was stilling shouting threats (“if you ever leave your car here again, don’t expect to find much of it when you get back!”) as PierreYves jumped into the moving car and we screeched away. I never thought I would drive in downtown Paris. Merde! Tabernac! (There are some French and Quebecois swear words for you. Interesting fun fact: Tabernac means tabernacle, ever since the Tranquil Revolution in Quebec almost any religious word can be used as a swear word. The society went from being highly religious and conservative to highly secular and open.) I especially never thought I would drive in Paris after receiving threats from a Parisian to destroy my car. My hands were shaking as I reminded myself to shift into second, then third. Soon enough we found a place to pull over and switch seats.
With a rough start to our journey we were finally off. Fast forward to lunch. We arrived in Rennes with no problems. With a start like that it can only get better. And Rennes was wonderful. We walked around in the sun admiring the cute medieval buildings and got lunch in the square next to the market. We even stopped into a CD store because after three hours of French radio we had the foresight to know we would want at least one CD. We spent quite a while in the shop debating the merits of whole albums and prices. We didn’t want to spend too much but we needed a quality album that we could listen to for four days without wanting to kill ourselves. That left any contemporary pop album out. In the end it was between the Best of the Kinks and The Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds. Settling things with our traditional coin toss, we left the shop proudly carrying Pet Sounds. It became the soundtrack of the trip.
Our first night was spent in Dinan, an adorable town not far from the coast and St.Malo. We spent the early afternoon wandering the streets, admiring the castle, and picking out a restaurant for dinner. The streets were all stone and tiny, they wound down around the big stone city walls to an adorable little port. I think this was my favorite village we visited.
Our second morning did not start very well either as the car was broken into. Thankfully we had left almost nothing in the car, the only casualties were some sunglasses. I almost felt like gloating to our robber. Still it was shocking in such a small town to have theft!
First thing in the morning, we went to Dinard, a port town nearby where we saw the giant beach mansions where the rich of the nineteenth century spent their summers. Just across the harbor we saw St. Malo, which was impressive. St. Malo was quite a bit bigger and completely made of stone. Maybe it was the half overcast weather but it seemed dark, looming, like all the people that live there must be gloomy. It was beautiful at the same time. The beach around the city stretched out for miles. We had a sausage crêpe for lunch before hitting the road again.
Our next stop was definitely a highlight as well. We went to Cap Fréhl, which is not even a village but just a lighthouse with cliffs jutting down all around. We walked around on the small dirt paths taking in the views and taking photos. PierreYves has a film camera so his photos will surely capture it better than mine. But anyway here is a taste.
That night we arrived in Perros Guirec. We took an hour-long detour (my bad. Who put me in charge of navigating? ), but the bright side is we have now seen Corlay. Our hotel was right on the beach and we were able to walk to a cute restaurant nearby where we are delicious seafood. PierreYves had the best scallops I think I have ever tasted, fresh that day. The next morning we explored the famous beaches with their giant rocks.
It was a bit of a shame because we found out too late that there are puffins in the area, but you need to take a boat out to the islands to see them. If only we had known we could have taken the time to see them! But as it was I wanted to stop in Loquirec for lunch of moules frites so we scooted along. And it did not disappoint. We stopped in the same Brasserie de la Plage. It was funny being there in that context, the first time I have ever gone without the family but to a place so filled with memories and stories of family. PY thought it was funny because he would never think in a million years that he would end up in Loquirec, this random little village, but it holds such an importance for me.
Not quite on purpose we ended up in Morlaix and figured we might as well stop for a coffee so that was nice too. We ended up in a café next door to the crêperie I had been to in October with my dad and Monique. Kind of a shame knowing family was so close. I felt bad not visiting but they were busy so I knew I couldn’t intrude. Up next we headed to Brest, not so much for the city, which we had heard from everyone was ugly (it was) but so that PY could say he had been there (he is a big Tin Tin fan and one of the books takes place there, go figure). Once reaching the city limits, however, we realized just how ugly the city was and didn’t even stop. We headed right on through to the Parc Régional d’Amorique, which was supposed to be spectacular. We went to the Crozon peninsula, which is just South of Breast planning on making our way along the coast. We arrived in the village of Landévennec in the pouring rain. The town was tiny and the coast lines compared to Cap Fréhl were underwhelming. We found an abandoned hotel, which I found creepy. It was eerie this little town. And it didn’t help that I could hear the horror movie trailer rolling in my head… “a young couple on a trip to the coast. They thought they had founding a charming town but they had no idea what lay in wait in the old town hotel….” Anyway I got over it and we found a small crêperie playing Crosby Stills and Nash to split an apple crêpe and take shelter from the rain. As night fell we found our way to Le Conquet, a small fishing village on the Western tip of Britanny (next to Brest).
The wind was hailing and our clothes we soaked as we lugged our suitcases into the adorable “Hôtel au Bout du Monde” (Hotel at the End of the World). We found an equally cute restaurant where we had galettes for our last dinner. The next morning we stopped at the friendly farmers market to pick up some cider and poulet rôti for our picnic lunch and began our journey back to Paris. And a journey it was, it took us eight hours. It should have taken six but the traffic getting back into the city was horrific.
All in all it was a great trip. Not at all like any of the trips I took with my friends this year. I felt like it was a real grown up trip, eating in restaurants and seeing natural beauty and small villages. We got to know Pet Sounds really really really well and we survived Parisian traffic (and Parisians). We discovered that Bretons are much nicer than Parisians and that we like each other enough to spend eight hours in a car together!
Merde. It has started to rain. My idea to come work in a café seems less charming with the prospect now of walking home. Wish me luck!