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Monday, July 18, 2005

Lone Traveller

So as some of you may or may not know, July 14 (Thursday) was France’s national holiday. Thankfully it fell on a Thursday this year meaning that I had not only Thursday off, but Friday off as well. Not being one to pass up a long weekend I of course quickly made travel plans upon hearing of my time off. I however did decide to stay in Paris for the night of the 14th so that I could celebrate the day in the nation’s capital with my only friends in the country, Dave and Jen.

We decided we would go and watch the fireworks off the Eiffel tower from the field just behind it. Thinking like Americans we figured we better get there super early so we could have great seats. However, what we forgot to take into account is the fact that the French do not like waiting or showing up for anything early. So Dave and Jen showed up very early in the day to hang out on the field and guard our spot and I showed up about 2 hours behind them after having decided to literally trek across all of Paris city center with my packed picnic bag on my shoulder. Why I decided to actually walk I’ll never know. In case anyone is wondering just how far it is, I seriously live about as far away from the Eiffel tower as you can while still being in Paris’ main city center. So even though I showed up 2 hours behind them, we all three could have showed up even later as I previously mentioned, the French do not show up early for anything. However, we were together on a beautiful day sitting in a perfect spot on the Champs de Mars behind the Eiffel tower with several bottles of wine, lots of bread, cheese, fruit, and other goodies so we were very content.

The night went on and eventually Scott (a Pepperdine MIB from the year before us who is still in France) and his French friend joined us and we continued to enjoy ourselves until the big fireworks show. At last around 10:40 or so, just after the sun set, the fireworks started. I have to say, I have always been upset I wasn’t able to see the big fireworks display they set off from the Eiffel tower for New Years Eve 1999/2000, but this was a definite substitute as it was amazing. It was a beautiful display of fireworks off of a wonderful monument and I have never felt so lucky to have been in Paris as I did that night. I only wish everyone could have been there with me.

Once the fireworks were over we hung around a while until the crowd died and then made our way home as Jen and I both had early morning trains (to separate locals). I was set to catch the 7 a.m. train to Bayeux so that I would have time to see the Bayeux Tapestry before my 1 p.m. tour of the D Day beaches. However, I woke up at 7 a.m. despite having set my alarm for 5 a.m. I quickly checked the next train time, got ready and ran off the station. Managed to catch the next train at 8:40 and was on my way to Bayeux. However, I didn’t have enough time to see the tapestry so I just walked around the town and had lunch and then met up with my tour group/guide. Bayeux is a small town in Normandy (northern France) that is not too far from the Normandy landing beaches of WWII, thus making it a popular departure point for several D Day beach tours, which is why I chose to go there in the first place. I met my tour group and we hopped in the van and off we went. Our first stop was the American cemetery. A lovely cemetery right on the cliff of one of the beaches where American soldiers landed during WWII and it is actually now considered American territory. So technically for the 40 minutes I spent there I was back in the U.S! We then drove along the coast and visited both the Omaha and Utah beaches and the Omaha beach museum. We made our way to Point du Hoc where you can still see the German bunkers and can truly picture what it must have been like as they have let this beach/cliff stay the way it was instead of trying to forget it all and bring it back to normal. We also visited St. Mere Eglise where the parachutist got stuck on the roof of the church and stayed there amongst the fighting for the day. After 5 hours of visiting the various American D Day spots we made our way back to Bayeux and ended the tour. I walked around the town some, very cute town, and then hopped on a train to St. Malo.

On the last leg of the trip to St. Malo I was sitting in a smaller compartment of the train with only a few other people in that area. Upon entering the train a man who seemed a little dirty, had his shirt open and was asking for money was standing in the entrance to the train but I had walked passed him and taken my seat. Thankfully he had gone to the main train compartment and I was there in my smaller compartment quite content. There was another girl across from me about the same age as me so I felt fine. Unfortunately the man came back and as it turned out he was with the girl across from me. And of course since I was girl traveling alone I was susceptible to him bothering me and naturally he did. He started off saying “bonsoir Madame”, but Madame typically being reserved for older women or married women, the girl he was with corrected him and told him to say Mademoiselle. This then started a conversation of asking if I was married or engaged or how old I was. He then of course had to come over and say he was sorry and wanted to say Bonsoir Mademoiselle and shake my hand. He was obviously drunk as just minutes before he was sticking his head out the window and walking all over the train seats and arm rests and as previously mentioned he seemed a little dirty to me, so I of course was not too excited about shaking his hand. I decided to suck it up hoping it would end the conversation and went to shake his hand but then he pulled his hand back, so I pulled mine back. He then laughed and wanted to shake hands again at which I said no. From then on I refused to shake his hand or even talk to him. He finally left and the girl asked if there was a problem. After a bit of a conversation with her she realized I wasn’t French and asked if that’s my custom to not shake hands with people I don’t know in England. Not wanting to give false information out about the U.S. and not really caring what kind of information I give out about England I simply answered, “it depends on the situation.” I spoke to her in French for the rest of the train ride and she was very pleased to see an American (she finally find out I was actually American and not British) making an effort to speak French as she told me just 10 days before she was quite annoyed at meeting an American who didn’t make an effort at all to speak the language and had a really negative image of Americans. She said I proved her wrong and she was very happy to see that not all Americans try to speak English with everyone. So I was then myself very pleased that I had helped to change at least one person’s mind about Americans. However only 3 minutes later I would apparently commit the ultimate insult to the French and undo all positive work I had just done.

The dirty, drunk man returned just as we were pulling up to our final stop and we all moved to the doors to exit the train. In doing this the girl tells the guy that I am American and that’s why I was acting the way I was. He then says “oh well then we should do a bisous bisous” (bisous = the French kiss on the check). Well obviously since I didn’t even want to shake his hand I really didn’t want to do the bisous bisous, not to mention I hate doing it with people I know. So I said no that I wasn’t going to do it, and quickly discovered this to be possibly the biggest insult you can give to a French person. He then would no longer look at me, and went off on how Americans are something (don’t know the translation of the word, but could tell it wasn’t flattering). The girl tried explaining to him that it’s not my culture to do the bisous bisous and that only encouraged his bashing of Americans. He then had to go on saying that if he tried to give a bisous bisous to the woman standing there that he didn’t know that she would do it. But personally, given the look she gave him when he said that, I’d guess she wouldn’t do the bisous bisous either. So there I was standing amongst about 8 French people who all knew I was American and wouldn’t do the bisous bisous and listening to the man bash the American. Odd situation that helped finalize my decision to take a cab to my hostel instead of making the 30 minute walk since it was 11 p.m. and I was alone and there was at least one crazy French guy now in the town that wasn’t too happy with me. So I hopped in the cab and got to the hostel in a matter of minutes.

Unfortunately the hostel had lost my reservation but thankfully the guy was super nice and found me a bed in the hostel and they worked things out even though they were pretty darn booked. It was a great hostel, probably the best I’ve ever stayed at, not to mention the cheapest.

The next morning I woke up, got ready and hopped on the one and only bus going to Mont St. Michel (the reason I went up there). Mont St. Michel is an Abbey built on a large rock that when the tide is out is accessible by land, but when the tide is in becomes an island and is no longer accessible by land. This is a place I’ve wanted to visit since I started taking French lessons so I was very happy to have finally made it. It was a neat little area as there is a small street of restaurants and shops that make a spiral up to the Abbey. Also interesting was how drastic the tide is. If I remember correctly the tide goes out about 9 Km (approx 5.5 miles). That’s a pretty darn big tide I think.

After spending the day there I took the one bus to get back to St. Malo and arrived in the early evening. I had to change hostel rooms so I did that, freshened up a bit and of course headed out again. This time I wanted to see St. Malo since I was there. St. Malo is a beach town in the Brittany region (northwest) of France. It’s a walled town and so I walked down to the walled part and found all sorts of shops and restaurants within the walls. I walked along the beach/wall (which lines the beach) and really enjoyed being back near a beach. I absolutely loved this city. It was great seeing such large stretches of sandy beaches too. If you think the beaches in LA or Padre are large and flat you have got to see these beaches; the sand probably stretched for at least a mile before the water depending on the time. The houses and beach part of the city itself reminded me more of what I think of when I think of the east coast in the U.S. then what I would ever think of for France so it was quite surprising for me to see houses done in more of a Victorian style than any kind of French style. I walked around, took in the sites, had a late dinner and then returned to the hostel.

The next morning I woke up and immediately headed out to the beach. Since it was a smaller town as far as monuments went it could offer a cathedral and a chateau; having had my fill of both after having lived and traveled in Europe for a year I decided I’d rather sit on the beach all day. I stayed there as long as I could and couldn’t have been happier. I had to finally force myself up and made my way to the train station where I headed back home to Paris.

It was a great weekend getting to see a part of France I had yet to see, however, a little odd being without my travel partner. After spending all that time alone I began to realize why bums talk to themselves, for after only one day alone I began to want to talk to myself just so I could talk.

1 comment:

Diane said...

Next time just pretend you are deaf and make a bunch of weird hand signals. That is the best way to get someone to leave you alone. Don't get caught listening like Elain.