As I boarded the train for Paris, it finally hit me that I had only one week left in Europe, which left me both saddened and excited. I had to live every moment and savor every flavor. Luckily, I had one complete day in Paris to myself before I was off to the coastal town of La Rochelle to meet with my friend Celine.
Since I had been to Paris before, I spent the day doing the un-obvious. No Eiffel Tower or Louvre, but I did sit and enjoy the scenery. I spent most of the afternoon at the modern art museum and strolling/people watching the rest. I was also very lucky to be couch surfing and the three roommates invited me to a mini dinner party at their flat. Even when I knew no one in that gigantic city, I still managed to get myself into the local scene. Nice.
By the way, a lot of people ask me how I can travel so much for so little and always avoid the tourist traps. Get on couchsurfing.org people. Its facebook, but with free places to crash all over the world. You’ll make friends, get insider advice, and travel on the cheap. Highly recommended.
Anywho, back to my adventure. The next day I found myself running after my train even though I had arrived 45 minutes early. My inability to take transportation without delay or panic will probably haunt me the rest of my life. Still, I made it safe and sound to the gorgeous ocean side city of La Rochelle. Celine picked me up and brought me to the apartment she shares with her boyfriend who unfortunately did not speak English. (Actually, he could usually understand me, he just responded in French.)
Celine and I met in Peru a year ago and I remember her best for dancing on bars and staying out till dawn every single night. As you can imagine, we get on really well. But a lot had changed since I last her. She still enjoys drinks in the evening and partying it up sometimes, but she now has a stable and healthy relationship and a good job with a lot of responsibility. Luckily, while I was there she took a couple of days off of work so we could hang out properly. And fortunately, my favorite part about her hadn’t changed at all: her passionate energy and nonstop boisterous laughter.
First, it deserves to be mentioned that I was in France during the first round of the World Cup and my hosts were very much into it. This was the first time I was so spirited about the event and it was probably because the people around me were so passionate. This was also the second of three countries I would experience the event in (and the most zealous). So most of our nights involved having “the game” on in the background, nothing I minded at all. (Although the French were bothered when I told them I was a bad luck charm, especially since they embarrassed themselves both on and off the field. Oops, probably shouldn’t have mentioned that to them.)
All over Europe were complaints of the coldest winter anyone could remember and the lacking of spring entirely. France was no different. While it was mid June at this time, rain and clouds still dominated the sky and disrupted our plans for bbq.
Nonetheless, Friday still involved a lot of friends and family coming over for drinking, eating, and hanging out all night. It truly is a joy to be able to be apart of people’s lives, even if for just a moment, and meet everyone close to them and experience the world from their point of view. I am always grateful for these opportunities.
The following night was much the same as we went out in the country a wee bit to celebrate Celine’s aunt’s birthday. Family is a vital part of Celine’s life, particularly since her father passed away a couple of years ago. It was obvious this entire clan shared a close and important bond. No one really spoke much English, but I was welcomed in with open arms and lots of beer. A wonderful evening of eating, drinking, and even singing ensued.
Celine did her best at showing me around town and taking me to beautiful places. Her area was most definitely a vacation hot spot for the French from all over. The air smelled of salt, the ice cream was delectable, and the streets were filled with relaxed, happy people. The days were long but consisted of nothing in particular other than enjoying time and space, something I think the French are well accomplished at.
My favorite day there was June 21 aka the first day of summer aka music day. Apparently all of France celebrates the changing of the season by cramming the streets full with musicians of all types throughout the entire night. Celine had even taken the day after off of work in anticipation of the shananagins. It sounds so simple, but all we did was wander around and meet up with various friends of hers and listen to good music.
There were cover bands, djs, acoustic hippie girls, hard core bands, and even a little boy trying out his newly acquired violin skills. I felt alive and inspired. And a little bit drunk, mostly because we were carrying around 2 liter bottles of rum and soda. When I get back home (eventually) I don’t think I’ll ever readjust to the fact that you can’t drink in the streets. At least not happily or quietly.
The night was grand but didn’t go as late or crazy as expected. Which is to say we started to make our way home around 4 am and lacked hangovers in the morning. This was great though since it was my official last day in Europe and I wanted to enjoy it. So we got into the car and made our way to Celine’s most favorite beach.
I had no idea how far away it was; it was indeed an adventure, but a beach well worth the trip. The winding road was lined with a forest of tall evergreen trees and it was hard to imagine we were right next to a sandy beach. Actually, a wide, fine grained sand beach that I fell in love with the moment I saw it. Unfortunately I did not have my bathing suit, but I could still wade in the water and appreciate the splendid beauty that surrounded me. The sun had politely come out and gave the ocean a gorgeous shimmering essence that made me feel as if I were standing in a postcard.
Eventually we got hungry, drove to the local beach town, and ate some sandwiches on yet another beautiful beach. We shared stories of our past, what we wanted in our futures, and grew much closer than we ever could have dancing on bars. (That’s not to say our drunken antics weren’t bonding.) In the end, it was the most perfect final day in Europe I ever could have imagined.
Early the next morning, I bid Celine farewell as I boarded the train for Paris where I was due to fly out of later that day. When I arrived, I only had a couple of hours to burn so I used them to wander (with my giant effing backpack on) and enjoy my last meal. And of course, I ordered my last liter of house French wine for super cheap. I savored each sip, each bite, and each ray of sun.
Soon enough I was making my way to the airport, everything feeling very surreal as I was leaving, yet not going home. I was beginning my adventure in Asia with my first stop being in South Korea. I was excited, yet numb. And a little pissed off when I got to the check-in counter that they were so adamantly against me having a one-way ticket. This has never proven to be such a problem before (ok, in Ireland it was, but this time I had proof of work back home and a print out of my bank account showing I could afford to stay there. This is usually all you should need to accompany a one-way ticket).
So I was forced to buy a (refundable) ticket to some place in Siberia (literally), but still had to fork out $50 in non-refundable sales fees associated with the transaction. Merely a little bump in the road, but aggravating nonetheless. Soon enough I was on a plane and bound for South Korea, but with a layover in a country I had never heard of.
The greatest part of flying in other parts of the world is the quality of service you receive onboard. Back home in the States you might as well have to pay to go to the bathroom. Abroad, hot towels are given out, decent meals served, and unlimited alcohol service. I tend to take advantage of this service, but never abuse it. Until now.
My gin and tonics led to several bottles of wine that I inevitably had to go to the back myself and kindly ask for. The last one I went for, the flight attendant insisted I take extra snacks as well. (Bonus!) When I got off the flight, she told me how impressed she was that I was walking straight. Truth was, I wasn’t even buzzed. Something about airplanes or flying prevents me from getting drunk. All I know is, when alcohol is always free on this airline and I can impress those flight attendants with my drinking ability, well, it’s probably time to lower my tolerance. Although, these people have never heard of Chico State.
My layover was in Qatar, a Middle Eastern country I didn’t know existed before I bought my plane ticket. Needless to say, there was some culture shock involved as I traveled from Europe to the Middle East to Asia, all in one day. My layover was short but required a cigarette and I was surprised to find I was the only female in the compact yet very full smoking lounge.
Right after I entered, three girls followed quickly, one sitting next to me. She was from South Africa and expressed being uncomfortable the previous time she was there. There were stares and scowls, but I’m used to Western women getting excused from certain societal norms. And I really needed that cigarette.
I spent my layover getting to know this woman and appreciating that no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you can meet interesting and wonderful people. I’ll never see her again but our conversation will sit with me forever. It was also really nice to people watch and make commentary with a fellow independent woman in a Muslim country.
Soon enough I was in South Korea, a country much more beautiful than I could ever have imagined. I had over six weeks to get comfortable and relax, which is exactly what I’ve been doing. In the next blog I’ll describe the food, the culture, and my favorite part, living with my friend and fellow Chico chick, Mandy.