Telling The Real Stories

A Semester Abroad Part III: Bread, cheese and Paris

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View of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. Photo by Grace Boisvert
View of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. Photo by Grace Boisvert

With the opening of Alnwick Castle, visitors poured in and suddenly the whole area was alive and booming. Broomstick flying lessons and falconry, jesters and archery. The whole shabang seemed to leak out of the cracks of the castle walls and into the courtyards of Alnwick Castle on the 21st of March.

On the opening day of the castle, my classmates and I went out to see the Lindisfarne Island. We had to be careful about how long we spent on the island though, because once the tide came in we would be stuck there until the next day. I spent a good hour on the beach. Listening to the sounds of seagulls and seals. Trying to find the smallest shells, called Saint Cuthbert’s beads. We had learned in class that Saint Cuthbert made rosaries out of these three hundred million year old fossils, and that some of the fossils could still be found on the beaches of the island if looked for carefully enough. That seemed interesting to me, and being ever so curious I went down to search the shores and around the rocks. I could not find any of the blasted beads anywhere. It just grew more and more exasperating as I heard my classmates exclaim time after time that they had found some. When I finally found one, it was so cute and small that I promptly lost it. Yup, I was rejoicing and accidently threw it.

On the same trip we went and walked around the town of Bamburgh. There was a funeral monument to local hero, Grace Darling. As she shared the same name as myself, I felt obliged to go and visit the monument. I mean, what better way to spend a sunny day in England with a cone of ice cream than to go on a walkabout of a cemetery? A little background for those historians out there: Grace Darling was only a young girl when her act of bravery and compassion made her an overnight celebrity in 1838. She and her father sailed out on a stormy night to save a group of sailors whose boat had crashed on a nearby rock formation. Risking both life and limb she saved many of the men. The world fell in love with her instantly. Way to go Grace!

Cute french house in Giverny. Photo by Grace Boisvert
Cute french house in Giverny. Photo by Grace Boisvert

One thing I truly like about the Alnwick program (other than, well, everything) are the week-long breaks when we are released into Europe to explore and be free. Even with the recent attack in Brussels I couldn’t wait to get on my night coach down to London to take a ferry to France. The university had sent my classmates and I warnings about the recent Brussels attack, and tips on how to stay safe, and our resident director always made sure we are up to date on the happenings of such things in Europe. It was reassuring to see that the university was looking out for us.

After bidding my small town of Alnwick a fond farewell, I was able to spend my last week off exploring France. If I tried to write down all of the things I did and saw during that one small week it would takes pages and pages. And I am sure no one would continue to read this for that long. So to sum up a thing that is not meant to be summed up, I will only mention a few of the main things I enjoyed doing.

One of them was spending Easter at the Notre-Dame, taking a cooking class in Paris (love cooking, love macaroons – life is good), going to the Orsay and seeing original paintings by Van Gogh, and biking from Vernon all the way to Giverny to see Monet’s house and gardens. I was able to view where he painted the water lilies. Just because I could, I sat down near one of the paths in his gardens and took about a half hour to draw one of the tulips. It is a wish of mine that I was good at drawing, but alas that is not to be. I was just proud that the tulip I drew sorta, kinda, maybe resembled a flower.

When I went to see the Eiffel Tower there was a man sitting on a chair near the road with about 5 baby rabbits in a box next to him. I was able to pet them! When I got down from the Eiffel Tower a small fair had sprung up out of the dust and it was a wonderful time. My cotton candy and I happily skipped about the area for a good hour before heading on to see the Arc De Triumph.

A bridge in Monet's garden. Photo by Grace Boisvert
A bridge in Monet’s garden. Photo by Grace Boisvert

For that week I had to use my one meager semester of french and a good deal of miming to communicate and get around. Once when I asked a frenchman for directions in French and asked if he spoke English, he just looked at me and said, “You speak French? Then we speak French.” If I didn’t love the language so much I might have been exasperated. Thankfully, I managed to make enough sense of what he was telling me to find where I needed to be.

Also, for that entire week, I survived off of mostly bread and cheese, and maybe some fruit here and there. Now please understand, this was a choice. A very, very good choice. If nothing else is said about the French, they sure do know how to make bread. Sigh. Bread. The small bakery next to my hostel was the most perfect place – the owner and chef spoke not one word of English, so each morning I would go in and ask for one chocolate chip baguette in my best broken french, and they would start to babble away cheerfully in French at me. By the end of the week we had a good rapport, I even got a free pastry.  

On the way back to Alnwick I took a coach from Paris to London. Thinking that the coach would just park on a ferry again and we would all sail over, happy as can be. I was so very wrong. The coach instead, drove into a box that was loaded on a train. The doors closed behind us with a bang, sealing us in. And for the next three hours I was stuck in a huge metal box of claustrophobia under the sea! If I hadn’t been so sleep deprived I would have freaked out quite a bit. But there I was, in a coach, on a train, going through the chunnel (under the sea railway from England to France).

So far on my travels I have only been met by a few trials and crises. Thankfully, none have been unsolvable. Missed trains or coaches aren’t the end of the world. But let me tell you, when I missed my coach to France I was freaking out! It took me a good three hours, much arguing, and a whole lot of running, to find a new bus and be on my way. But even then I managed to solve it.

With only a few short weeks left, it is starting to dawn on me that my time here is almost over. England is a splendid place, and the TEA, oh how I will miss there always being tea shops on every corner. There had better be a good tea shop in St. Cloud when I get back.

Cute French bunnies, because why not. Photo by Grace Boisvert
Sweet French bunnies, because why not. Photo by Grace Boisvert

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