Cities Visited: Paris, Nantes, Brittany
Time Period: Wednesday, June 30 - Thursday, July 22, 1993
Overview and Paris, Part 1
This trip is very exciting for me for it is my first time out of the country. I have learned so much about France from Mr. Zawaki, my French teacher in high school, that it will be interesting to see how it is compared to everything that I think it is going to be. I would not even be going if it weren’t for many night working extra shifts at the movie theatre, money from my family, and a generous grant from Mr. Benjamin Walker, who coordinates international programs at my high school, Snowden International School at Copely. I am not going on this trip on my own. I heard about a company that sponsors trips to other countries called the Experience in International Living (or World Learning, Inc.). The adventure that I selected was living with a host family in Nantes, France, and then spending a 1 ½ weeks biking in Brittany. I will be traveling with a group of people that I have never met before, but I was excited at the opportunity that this presented me.
Prior to getting on the plane, we met together as a group for the first time. We played a game that helped us get to know each other better. It was a lot of fun. Our group leader, Nicole Talley, was a very nice person. She was originally from North Carolina, but had spent a lot of time in France. I was very nervous, as I had never been on a plane before. But I managed just fine. So we leave on the plane and about 7 hours later, we arrive in Paris. What I quickly learned is that I did not have a very good understanding of French. Getting along in Paris proved to be very difficult upon arrival. And I had my first real experience with jet lag, which was particularly difficult. Our first few days in Paris was getting used to the French culture and ways of doing things, from eating habits to social habits. During this stay in Paris, we took the Metro a lot, went to the Louvre, walked down the Champs-Elysees, visited the grave site of Jim Morrision, and Nicole showed us many of the cultural areas of Paris. We left Paris on the 3rd day to head for Nantes, which is located on the Atlantic Coast. We took the TGV, which was a very fast train. I had been on Amtrak trains before and compared to the TGV, Amtrak trains ran using an engine room full of hampsters!
About 3 hours later, we arrived in Nantes and met with our host families. It was then that I met my host family. The family consisted of a husband, wife and 2 sons. Although I cannot remember their names, I can remember the name of the youngest one, his name was Clement. Both sons were very spoiled. The father was an executive and was faily well-to-do, as he built the house that they chose to live in. The mother was also very nice, but I think that our language barrier served to a problem as she was not good in English. Her older son was very good in English. And at times he would be very helpful and at other times, he was not very helpful. It depended on his mood and his patience with me. I can also understand that it was very strange for him to have someone in his house who he did not know very well. And he had a life to live at the same time.
Nantes was a very nice city. The group that we were with got to meet and greet the mayor of Nantes. He was a very entertaining person and made us feel at home in the city. During my time there, I visited the Chateau des Duc de Bretagne, which was absolutely beautiful. The chateau was surrounded by a moat. I also visited the Cathedrale Saint Pierre et Saint Paul, which was also a beautiful piece of architecture. Finally, we saw the Jardin des Plantes (Plant Gardens) and the Ile Feydeau (Feydeau Island). The gardens were really pretty and amongst the best I had seen. Feydeau Islands wasn’t really an island since it had been filled after World War II, but it was a good place to learn about the slave trade and its place in French history. Also during this time, I made a lot of friends and learned a lot about myself. It was interesting to note that many people thought that I was somewhat of an oddity in the sense that I was so tall. Many of the host families invited me to dinner and their friends out to with other host families. By the end of the trip, they nicknamed me Michael Jordan because I was so tall. I even played basketball on or twice to induldge them. I could not dunk the ball and that disappointed them somewhat, but they were all a pleasure to meet. Also equally important to include in my travelogue was the weekend trip to La Rochelle, which is a quaint old town set around a port. It was very similar in nature to Cape Cod. We had breakfast on the beach and lunch at a wonderful restaurant named La Galathee.
Half way through the trip, Nicole got hurt and had to be replaced by Eleanor Lyden. I was not too fond of her, but she had good intentions. She was definitely up for the trip and for someone her age (I am only 17), she has a lot of energy. Although any time we stopped, it was because she was tired.
From Nantes, we boarded a train to head to the region of France named Brittany so that we do some biking for about 10 days. This portion of the trip was perhaps the most athletic I have been in all of my life. We biked an average of 70-100 miles per day. We stayed in youth hostels wherever we went and that was a lot of fun. It was at a youth hostel that I learned the most difficult drinking game of my life from a bunch of Irish kids. What we did was put a table in the middle of the room. A person had to start on top of the table and crawl on the underside of the table and get back to the top side. The only problem was that a person was not allowed to touch the floor during the whole time. If you touched the floor, then you had to drink 2 beers. That was a very fun experience and we met some great people in the process.
While we were in Brittany, we visited the towns of Finistere, Concarneau, Vannes, Carnac, Lorient, Rennes, Saint Malo (see the old walled city...lots of good restaurants), Dinan and Paimpol. Honestly, after a while, most of them had similar things to offer, as they were resort places for tourists with a lot more money than I had a tourist. But each place of fun and we made it a fun experience. We were having so much fun in fact that the company that sponsored the exchange programs with host families used us in their promotional video! Some of the best parts of biking around was biking on the highway, and also when my shoe laces got caught in my bike and I skidded up a field of wheat for about a yard (I still have the scar to prove it). And sneaking around with Doug and Bobby getting drunk of hard french cider was a great experience as well.
Paris, Part 2
We ended our trek around Brittany back in the city where it all began, Paris. Although we could have visited a lot of sites, most of us were very tired and slept a lot except for the last night, where we went to a club named La Scala. It was a very good club with a very good crowd. It was so much fun that I got a business card from them and will keep it in my memory for a long time to come.
At the end of the trip, I became friends with some many people. A lot of the people in my group, like Erika Fishman, Tenielle Fordyce, Claudia, Douglas Vaskas, Bobby Yen, Piper Fogg, Hilary Mead, Julia Cathcart. and others in the group. When I returned home, life was so different. It was hard to argue that things in my life would ever be the same. Not only had a gone to a foreign country without parents or anyone I knew, but I had been bitten by the travel bug. There was so much that I experienced and so many stories that I can never tell them all in one sitting.