The Anglophone French Experience: The Paradoxical Unabridged Version

Guest blog by Sarah Allan @sarahbrittny

Going to France was something I didn’t know I wanted to do until the opportunity was placed in front of me.

As a first year teacher I had little hope of doing something meaningful over my Spring break besides sleeping in, watching Netflix, and feeling guilty for not spending my time wisely. My attitude towards seeing the world could be described as a little curious but unmotivated. Kind of like when the remote is too far out of reach and you’re to lazy to move the six inches to grab it; it would be more entertaining to do it, but you’ll settle for watching infomercials until someone else comes along and changes the channel for you. (Is that a relevant analogy? Do people even watch TV anymore?) I am a small adventure person and for the most part I am content in my wee bubble.

Two of my favourite people decided to leave their little bubble in Victoria, Canada and travel Europe. One evening when I was visiting them in Victoria over Christmas, I casually suggested that I could come visit them when they were in France. They welcomed the idea with excitement while really all three of us didn’t think it would actually happen. A few weeks later I decided it would. I made them organize everything (remember small adventure person here) and I anxiously awaited my trip.

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Truth be told, I was uncomfortable with the thought of going. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited to be with Jakob and Meghan and to make all the memories, but I just wanted to tap my heels together and voila France! I don’t particularly like airports or traveling alone. I was exhausted from the last two and a half months of work. The thought of leaving the comforts of my own home to fly across the world didn’t really appeal to me. I was worried about how much this trip was going to cost me. I could have really benefited from using that money to pay off my student loans or start saving for a new car. I was stressed about using all my vacation time for vacation. Crazy I know. But with all the love and support from my friends, family and encouraging boyfriend, I tried to put these things in the back of my mind. I am never going to get another opportunity to travel France with two of my best friends. Put on your big girl panties Sarah, you are doing this!

Right after school on Friday, my friend Andrew drove me down to 100 Hundred Mile house, and then the rest of the way to Langley the next day, where I stayed with my family. My brother drove me to the airport the next morning, on his day off, during Spring forward daylight savings time, and I was off on my big adventure.

First stop Nice, France. Meghan and Jakob picked me up at 12:30pm Monday afternoon wide eyed and bushy tailed, thankful to see a familiar face after their 2.5 months of traveling. I was in a daze. I felt like I had landed on a foreign planet; palm trees in France? Was I in the right place? Yes mes amis, palm trees in France. Nice is in southern France on the ocean with a beautiful promenade that stretches for miles–complete with topless women and speedo-ed men soaking up the rays on the beach.

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We got back to our brand new airbnb and I napped hard. About 2 hours later I was awake, fed, and ready to explore. I was still in shock. European towns are like nothing I have ever seen. All I could do was look up because the apartment buildings are stacked so high and close together that if you suffer from claustrophobia I would not recommend walking through the maze that is French streets. We walked for about 15 minutes and came out right on the waterfront. The sun was low in the sky as we sat on some giant rocks and watched the waves lap at our sides. We decided to go back in the direction of the airbnb and climb the hill to the top where a castle sat. We wound our way up through the streets, passing cars that were parked on impossible angles. How did that car even get up here I often wondered. By the time we made it to the top of the hill it was dark and there wasn’t a soul around. We decided that we should eat and settled in at a little pizza place at the top of the hill. We ordered beer, wine, and pizza and mixed with great company we drank and caught each other up on the last two months of our very different lives. The restaurant sat at the top of the hill and our view was of the city lights and hills sprawling in the distance. Having our fill, we made our way back down the hill to our airbnb where we played cards and talked some more. Crawling into bed, we were filled with excitement for what tomorrow would bring.

We woke up fairly early the next morning, ready to start our adventure. Jakob made eggs and we gobbled them up before leaving to catch our bus to Nice. Our bus arrived just as we did. We rode along the promenade to the heart of the city as the ocean stretched out as far as I could see. We got off the bus and started walking. Walking. Walking. Walking. I quickly informed Meghan and Jakob that the sauntering pace I was demonstrating was the pace I intended to keep. It took them some time to adjust, but eventually they were able to slow down and look anew at the beautiful French world that we were exploring. If we saw something in the distance that looked interesting we would just walk to it. Our exploring lead us to a man-made waterfall and a gorgeous view of the beach, the old town, and the expansion of the growing city. We walked through parks and saw fountains, went through street markets and bought post-cards. We ended up in a park that came out right next to a large breakwater. Let’s walk out there, I suggested. We walked along the side walk out along the pier and even went past the allocated pedestrian walking area. Rebel alert! After basking in the sun for a bit, Jakob and I were getting a little hangry so we found a place to eat in one of the many open squares that France has to offer. Our lunch consisted of crepes, which many of our lunches did. Well, Jakob ordered a crepe and he received a pizza. It went well with my white wine that was supposed to be a rosé. Oh well…when in France.

Three things I learned about France that day:

  1. Public bathrooms cost about 50 Euro cents to use. There is also a coin that is worth 50 Euro cents.
  2. Jakob and I were going to be very compatible travel companions.
  3. I was incredibly glad I put on my big girl pants and came to such a beautiful country.

After dinner we decided that if we were going to take the rent-a-bike along the promenade home, that we should probably head out soon. We found the nearest bike station and Jakob expertly figured out how we could ride a bike along the shore, into the pastel sunset. What happened next may just be my favourite memory of the entire trip. I was the first one to get a bike and I was raring to get going. The first thing I noticed was that there were three gears on my bike and I could not feel a change from one gear to the next. I shrugged it off and kept going. I was stunned by the miraculous sky and the ocean to my left. I was experiencing two of my favourite things combined while being enjoyed by biking in France.

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The story continues. Meghan and Jakob were biking in front of me and it quickly became apparent that they were going much faster than I was. I thought this was strange as I didn’t think that I was going slow. I was continuously pedaling and up ahead I could see that Meghan was spinning her pedals backwards as she coasted along the sidewalk. I thought to myself, I am going as fast as I want and I am not going to be pressured into biking quickly. I want to enjoy my ride. After several minutes, the two of them stopped and waited for me to catch up. They asked me repeatedly if I was doing alright while subtly exchanging glances with each other. Being as oblivious as I am, I didn’t make the connection that they were asking about my slow speed. I told them that I was doing awesome! What a time to be alive! They reluctantly accepted my satisfaction with how the bike ride was going and we continued on our way. About twenty more minutes passed when they stopped again to wait for me. By this point my bike had started making some funky noises. I asked if at the next bike station we saw if I could trade my bike in. We quickly found one and I was able to exchange my bike. Instantly I could feel the difference! The gears definitely worked on the second bike. From then on it was effortless to keep up the pace with Meghan and Jakob. After a total of an hour biking, we reached our destination. As we chained up our bikes, Meghan and Jakob confessed their surprise at how slow I had originally been biking. What was going on with Sarah? Didn’t she used to bike to work? Meghan told me. We’re not going that fast. Meghan even had trouble keeping her bike upright as she was riding because she was trying to reduce her speed. All the while I was feeling like a tub of lard, out of shape and pathetic as my friends who have been backpacking around Europe for the last two months were in better shape than I was. It was much to everyone’s relief that my bike was malfunctioning and that I was capable of biking just as well as they were!

We made it home, drank a bottle of wine that cost $1.50 and decided to watch a hilarious comic, Trevor Noah, deliver a hilarious stand-up routine on Netflix. After a full day, we curled up in our blankets, as we had to be out of the airbnb by 10:00 am the next morning so that we could catch the train. We had to pick up our rental car (who was named Gaston) and drive to Aix-en-Provence. Just so you know, I had no idea where any of these places were before going to them. I knew nothing about them. I just knew that I had the world’s two best adult-sitters and that I was going to like whatever they brought me to.

Aix-en-Provence

As my favourite tour guide/historian informed me, also known as Meghan, Aix-en-Provence has the historical atmosphere that the film Beauty and the Best was set in. Once we were driving through the rolling hills and miles of vineyards, I knew I wasn’t going to be disappointed. Because of the cost of getting an airbnb in the city, we found a place in the countryside to stay for our three night visit. Upon arriving, we were greeted by a friendly host, who toured us around his somewhat chaotic property; complete with cats, dog, chickens, a hedgehog or two, cars, and their friendly countryside rat, who we thereafter named Templeton to reduce our anxiety. The suite was quaint and quiet. Here is where I learned that the French use pink toilet paper and most every bathroom is separated by a room for the toilet and a room for the sinks and shower. Yup, that was my big culture shock, pink toilet paper.

Aix, itself was pleasant. It was there that we ate crepes at an underground shop and I used a toilet on the street that washes itself after every use. Jerry had informed me of the existence of these bathrooms from his travels, but Meghan and Jakob had never heard of them before. I was pleased to educate them on something, even an outhouse, since they were the ones teaching me everything about how to travel in Europe. We walked around Aix, looking for old buildings and walking the old streets. I was surprised by the amount of young people that were about. Meghan told me that there were lots of universities nearby. It was in Aix where Jakob’s love for Kabab lead us to a shoe store that had the exact shoe that he had been searching for for months. It was a crazy find. We then found a busy square and we sat down for drinks, our favourite pastime in France. We chatted and people-watched. We spotted a guy who looked like he could have been Joshua Sasse. And everybody was smoking. I am pretty sure that is what every young person’s night consisted of in France: friends, drinks, and cigarettes.

Marseille

Meghan had to work early, but Jakob let me sleep in until 11:00 am. I awoke to the blissful smell of bacon (see I told you Jakob and I would make good traveling buddies). We ate, packed what we needed, and headed out on our first day of adventuring with just the two of us (Insert high pitched Bill Withers song lyric here). The adventure of the day was going to Marseille which is not too far from Aix. It is a port city, which by the way Jakob loves harbours, and there was beaucoup de boats! There was even a little ferry boat you could pay something like 1 Euro to go the five minute ride across the harbour. Jakob and I explored and saw a lot of graffiti. It was beautiful graffiti done by some talented people. We walked through neighbourhoods as we heard church bells chime at noon, saw laundry hanging out of windows, people passed us on mopeds, stopping and going as often as we pleased. It felt very much like a movie set in some places. We walked around the port and saw an open gate. Let’s go this way, Jakob suggested. I followed. We ended up at a huge palace with a gorgeous view of the port. From there we could see the two fortresses that stood at the entrance of the bay, ready to defend at any moment. We sat there and snacked to regain our strength and decided that it was beach time. We walked another 20 minutes and found a sandy beach in amongst the many buildings. There were several people enjoying the sunshine, and some were even braving the water. I walked in to my ankles just to say I had done it, but it was too cold to swim in. After we had enjoyed our beach bumming, we decided that we should probably go get Meghan. It was adorable to see Jakob spending his first day without her in months. Everything we saw, he commented how much Meghan would like this or how we should wait to see that church because Meghan will want to see it. It was beautiful to see my friend miss his wife. We picked a hungry and exhausted Meghan up from the archives, took her home, ate dinner, finished a bottle of wine, had an intellectual conversation about the growing demand of technology on our lives, and went to sleepy.

Sisteron

The next day Jakob and I decided to make our way to Sisteron, which was approximately 2 hours away, while Meghan worked at the archives, studying her counterfeit money documents. I am pretty sure she spent more time talking to the security guard about the weather than actually working. Wink wink. Anywho…I told Jakob that I wouldn’t mind going the long and twisty way to Sisteron and that my car sickness should be alright if we went slow. And slow we went. It took us about 5 hours to get there and that is just a guess because time lost all meaning as we meandered through the sprawling green hills. We passed small villages tucked into and on hills, explored winding walkways as locals said bonjour to us unfamiliar folk, found graveyards, and tried without success to find cave openings. We stopped somewhere for a beer and patted ourselves on the back as we were able to order and get our needs across in French without Meghan there to hold our hands. When we finally got to Sisteron, we found the giant castle, and hiked up the hill to find that it was closed. We took as much of it in as we could, ran back down the hill like children, and hopped in the car to make our way back to Meghan. We came back home, ate some leftovers and headed out to enjoy some St. Patrick’s Day festivities. The streets were full of young people celebrating. We found a crowded Irish pub hoping to find some English speakers, but we had no luck. We drank our beer and talked of the future. I could talk about Meghan and Jakob’s future babies forever!

After Meghan and Jakob had a late night pizza snack, we headed back home. It was an unforgettable day.

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Marseille 2.0

As we were checking out of the airbnb, we had a lovely chat with our hosts, Serge and his wife. She was from the Philippines and spoke French very well. They were a kind family and although it was a nice place to stay, we were ready for the next part of our adventure. It was early enough in the day to make a short stop in Marseille to show Meghan all the things we had saved for her from 2 days prior. If you read her blog, you will get a fantastic description of the two churches we saw there…or one basilica and one catedral. Besides from the cathedral in Victoria, British Columbia, I had never been in one. The first one, the basilica, was…let’s say…really cool! There were so many colours and gold in the ceiling! It was placed at the top of a large hill that I was very glad we did not have to walk up. The view was dazzling from the top of the hill. You could take in the ocean to the left and the huge city to the right. It is unfortunate that a camera just cannot take in the sheer expanse and experience of what you witness from a view like that. We didn’t spend a lot of time at the basilica for all the hype that we had originally had for it, but it was free. Meghan and Jakob have seen countless old buildings and so it was off to find something that was really outstanding. My untrained, non-cathedral going eyes didn’t know the difference yet between a mediocre church and an awe-inspiring cathedral.

From the moment we walked into Cathédrale La Major, my life had changed forever. I finally understood the purpose for building these monstrous buildings. Being a tall woman, I live my life feeling like I take up a lot of space, and there have only been two times that I have truly felt small: on top of a mountain, board strapped to my feet, with fresh snow, and here, all alone and in Cathédrale La Major. The cathedral was tremendous. To top it all off, there was a soundtrack softly playing throughout the church of monks singing and chanting. It was blissful. I cherished the awe that Meghan and Jakob were in, as they have seen dozens of these things, and this was really my first one. I lost track of time as I walked around, my head bobbing up and down, side to side, trying to soak up everything my eyes would let me take in. In all honesty, I spent more time in catholic churches in France than I ever have in Canada.

We began to walk back in the direction of the car, and saw a big porte. It then became a search for wifi, which was a common occurrence. We spent some time in a mall, people watching and resting our legs as we waited for our maps to load that would take us to our next destination. *Takes a moment to be thankful for technology*

Montpellier

We arrived that evening just before 8:00 pm in Montpellier and again, thanks to Jakob, we arrived at our airbnb. Unfortunately for us, our house was out of town and he wasn’t answering his phone. Through Meghan’s exasperated attempts to communicate with him, she gleaned that the key was in the mailbox. We decided to walk through the various parking lots to see if we could at least locate the building, while Jakob waited with the car. We found our building and reassessed our situation. We noticed that the mailboxes were located outside of the main door of this apartment building, which is actually abnormal for apartments, but nonetheless we noticed that there was a 2 inch gap at the tops of each box for mail to slide into. Peering into the slot we could see the key laying on top of our host’s mail. Harnessing our inner hooligans, Meghan and I grabbed some twigs from the adjacent bush. It was at this point that Meghan took over the key extraction and I acted as lookout. Meghan skillfully hocked the key, and she was able to get it out. She all but ran back to Jakob to tell him what we had done. I don’t think breaking into our airbnb was on her list of must-dos while in Europe. Jakob wasn’t all that surprised at what we had done. We parked the car and headed into the building. We unloaded our things and promptly decided that we needed to eat. We headed to a nearby grocery store, but because it was Saturday and 8:00 pm it had just closed when we arrived. Domino’s pizza came to our glorious rescue as we realized that there was one open across the parking lot. We ordered and took our prized pizza home, where we binged watched Modern Family and snuggled into our new beds.

We stayed in Montpellier for 5 nights, as Meghan had been assigned more work in the Montpellier archive. It was comforting to know that we would be in the same place for a little longer. Although we stayed the longest in Montpellier, we actually spent the least amount of time actually in Montpellier. Our first day adventure was going to Carcassonne!

Carcassonne

Among many Christian circles, the fun-filled castle building board game, Carcassonne, is widely known. I for one have never played it, but I am sure given enough time I will play it in the future. I suppose it is fitting that I went to the historic place first, where the game got its namesake. Carcassonne was a fairytale. We drove the hour and a half to Carcassonne for a day trip, packed a lunch, and braided our hair to harness our inner princesses. Meghan and Jakob, in all their love of research, had researched what the castle in Carcassonne looked like the night before, while I decided to keep the entire experience a surprise.

When we pulled up to the parking lot, we were greeted by the front gate and we could only see a glimpse of what was yet to unfold before us. I really thought I knew what a castle looked like. I had imagined how life must have been for people who had to live within the stone walls of these giant structures, but to see pictures and movies is entirely different than hugging the stone itself. We payed for the automated tour that lead us through the castle while narrating the history. We discovered murder holes, slots to shoot arrows through, an amphitheatre, and a church, all within the walls of the castle. Correction: within all the walls of the fortress. This thing was double layered with walls. One to keep the rest of the world out and the other to protect themselves from the people within the walls.

I would have to say my favourite thing about the castle in Carcassonne was walking the perimeter of the castle wall from the top of the wall. I imagined soldiers crouching behind stone shields, and children running across the walls when they weren’t supposed to. I felt as if I had stepped into another world. As cliche as it is, it truly does feel like stepping back in time. I suppose for a day, I experienced what Meghan finds so fascinating about her work: experiencing a glimpse of the past.

We finished the day with crepes and sangria, as the sun set behind our backs. We got back in the car and made it home. I don’t remember if it was this day trip or not when we realized that France has HUGE roundabouts. Either way, Jakob was first impressed with the functionality of having so many roundabouts instead of stop lights, but by the end I am sure that Jakob would prefer never to see another roundabout for a long time.

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Barcelona, Spain

Want to take a day trip to Spain they said. It will be fun they said. Heck ya I do!

When you’re in Europe, four hours away is a small price to pay to get from one country to another. We were in Montpellier with a day to spare, so we went to Barcelona. Why not, when you can go to Spain! You drive four hours in any direction from Prince George, you’re either in 100 Mile House, Smithers, or Jasper, none of which have any beaches.

Barcelona was beautiful. It was strange to go from a French speaking country to a Spanish speaking country in the span of four hours. Our first stop was the Sagrada Família, a relatively new and under continuing construction basilica in Barcelona. This aberrant structure was truly unlike anything I have ever seen. Every surface of this towering church contracted itself. The layers and the variant towers created what felt like an optical illusion as I tried to focus my eyes on one point. It was impossible to take this building in because every time I wanted to look at something my eyes were drawn to something else sticking out of the building. Really, you just have to see it for yourself. We decided against going inside due to the price, which was a bit of a shame, but we had other things to see.

We walked some more to see another church, which let us in despite the fact that we were wearing shorts. It was here that we discovered a free elevator that lead us up to some precariously placed scaffolding on the roof of the cathedral. I can honestly say that one of the best ways to take Barcelona in is to witness it from on top of a cathedral. I literally did feel a little closer to God.

After scanning the horizon of Spain, we decided that we needed to experience the sun setting on said horizon with the sand below us. We made our way to the beach just as the sky turned into streaks of cotton candy. We walked towards the pier looking for some food that was both tasty and in our price range. Since Europeans don’t eat until 8 or 9pm, when we found a place to eat, we had our pick of tables. I think this place was my favourite place that we ate because we were on a patio covered in lights, with the ocean to our left. We sipped on our wine and ate our burgers. I had been craving burgers all week because I am nothing but a lame North American to the bone. Feeling sufficiently satisfied, we left, walking on the sand on our way back to the car. We still had a four hour drive back. Jakob was a champ and got us home safe, even with all the roundabouts.

More Montpellier

Needless to say Jakob and I were tuckered out. Unfortunately Meghan had to work the next day, but Jakob and I got to sleep in and have a slow day. By the time we were ready to leave the house, it was probably close to 2-3pm. We were both craving some good old fashioned McDonalds. It didn’t take us long to find one and that is where we had lunch. Let me just say that McDonalds in France is another experience altogether. Although they look similar to North American McDonalds, they are substantially different. Anyway….

After lunch, Jakob and I made our way to the ocean. Jakob read his book and I beachcombed. The shore was a mosaic of shells. At one point I was knee deep in the water, enjoying the grey day and thinking about how crazy it was that I was standing in the ocean in France. I heard someone calling out to me, and I turned to find a woman trying to speak to me in French. I was instantly nervous and told her in French that my French was not great, but she didn’t even flinch. We began to talk through my broken French about where I was from and what I was doing in France. She was extremely patient with me as she nodded along as I spoke. I learned that she was a geography teacher and that her husband was from Spain. She could speak German and that she liked to travel to Germany. We continued to walk down the beach while talking and I introduced her to Jakob. We talked for awhile longer with lots of smiles and mercis from me. I felt incredibly blessed to talk to her and it was one of my favourite moments of my whole trip. I felt like I wasn’t a fraud. I really can speak French.

We packed up, picked Meghan up, had dinner at home, and then we were off into the city to meet “the girls”. Jakob and Meghan had made fast friends with some girls that they met in Prague who were students in Montpellier. It just so happened that they were free for drinks and a movie on Tuesday night. We met up with them and we went to watch Beauty and the Beast on opening night in France! It was the icing on the cake of my day. I don’t care how much you liked the new Beauty and the Beast movie because there is no way you liked it more than me. I watched it in France!

The next day Jakob and I went to a zoo, went back to the beach, bought some ice cream and walked along a huge breakwater. My favourite part about Montpellier was the beach.

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Toulouse

The last place that we went on our France tour was Toulouse. We stayed in an airbnb with a friendly guy who had a spare bedroom and a big couch. Here Meghan worked for a day (I think?). Jakob and I “church hopped” and ate a baguette panini type lunch in a small cafe. We walked around trying to avoid the rain. By this point I was fading from all the adventuring we had been doing and so we stopped often to sit on benches. We walked over to pick Meghan up at the end of the day. We caught a bus where Jakob made a friend with a curious guy who sat beside him. We also took the first subway train I had ever been on. Meghan told me that the sky train in Vancouver didn’t count. That was cool. We ended up going to a burger/pizza joint for our last dinner together and it was delicious. We went home and watched a movie. I think we went to bed fairly early so that we could be up early enough to enjoy Toulouse before I had to catch my train that afternoon to Nice. We walked around with Meghan, looking at some churches (not really a surprise) and we had some stir fry at a Thai? Place for lunch. It was a great way to end a perfect trip.

Toulouse to Prince George

If you have made it this far through this extremely long guest blog post, your reward is reading about my exhausting trip home. Congratulations!

Meghan was on the ball when it came to getting me home. We crunched the numbers (and when I say we, I mean they did, because let’s be honest, they babysat me for 2 weeks) and determined that it was a heck of alot cheaper for me to travel back to Nice by myself then to have all three of us go. Again, I put on my big girl panties and was train bound to Nice.

You will be so proud of yourself they said. They were wrong.

Ok not wrong, but my sense of accomplishment vanished very quickly.

Saturday – Toulouse – 4:50pm

We exchanged hugs on the train platform in Toulouse and I begrudgingly got in the car. I decided to use the bathroom first and to my dismay I was in the cramped bathroom at the back of the car when we left the station so I didn’t get to wave good-bye to my friends. Such wasted romantic potential. The train ride itself was spectacular. I had to stop thinking about what was going to happen when I got off the train in order to be able to enjoy the beautiful sights that I saw while on the train. The train ride was definitely a highlight of my trip and so I am glad that Meghan convinced me to take it. I got to see Carcassonne again which was such a stunning view. The sun set was beautiful pinks, purples and oranges and the countryside that the train goes through is unlike anything you would get to see by driving.

Saturday – Nice – 11:30pm

I arrived in Nice on time and I had 15 minutes to get to the bus stop. From the train station I had to backtrack a bit on the bus to get to the airport. I asked Jakob at least 5 times to show me where the bus stop would be on the map. I found it with ease and I waited for the bus with about 20 other people. I got on the bus and made it to the airport. The plan was to sleep in the airport until 5:00am when I would then need to check in for my 8:00 am flight. I walked up to the quiet airport and all the doors were locked. I thought about trying to force one sliding door open but I wasn’t sure if that was a good plan since the airport was virtually empty and there was another set of sliding doors right after that I wasn’t sure if they would open or not. I sat down for awhile outside the door and finished my sandwich. I couldn’t get the wifi from outside the airport so I decided I would find a McDonalds. There was one about 1.5 km away. So at 1:00am I walked with my pack to the McDonalds. It was unsettling. I made it to find that they restrict wifi to open hours only. Extremely disappointed I turned around and headed back to the airport, happy to have at least wasted some time. On my way back a guy in a van stopped on the side of the road just ahead of me. As calmly as I could I signaled to him the universal no thank you hand gesture and kept walking making sure not to make eye contact again. He slowly drove past me, I guess to make sure I wasn’t going to change my mind, and he drove away. I mean I must have looked ridiculous at 2:00am walking across a bridge on a highway with a backpackers pack on. Thank you Lord for your protection!

I made it back to the airport and sat on a bench and read my book. Finally at 4:00 am I noticed some travellers arrive. I walked around the building to see how they had entered the building. I noticed there was a doorbell but no one came when I pressed it. I waited there for 5 minutes until someone with a keycard showed up for work and I followed behind her when the doors opened. Finally wifi and warmth! I updated Jerry, Meghan and Jakob about what had happened and waited until 5:00 am to check in.

Sunday – Nice – 5:00 am

When I went up to the desk to check in, my name didn’t appear in the system. So I will break this down for you: I had been awake for 23 hours at this point and I had just traveled across the south of France by myself. When she told me that she couldn’t find me in the computer I almost burst into tears right there. They took my information to a supervisor or something and I waited off to the side for 15 minutes trying to wipe away the streams of water dripping from my face. They came back with some new information and I was checked in. At that point I walked away and lost it. All the stress I had been holding in for the last 10 hours was escaping. I was messaging Jerry and he calmed me down as he always does. I don’t think he knew the full extent of my emotional breakdown though. I walked through security teary eyed and all was good.

8:00 am

I made it to my gate and then after a gate change, we were informed that our flight would be delayed 1.5 hours. Nope, no good. I was going to miss my connecting flight from Brussels to Montreal if my flight was delayed. With limited communication to us disgruntled passengers, we were brought to a different part of the airport to pick up our bags and made our way to the travel agency desk. After 45 minutes waiting there in line, I was finally able to get new flights. I had 4 flights scheduled to get me back home by midnight that evening and so it was a mess to get new flights. They were unable to get me back to PG that night and so instead of staying in Nice for the whole day and getting to a hotel and back again the next day, sleep deprived me decided to change my destination to Vancouver instead. They were able to get me to Vancouver and my flight to Munich, Germany was set for 1:00pm that afternoon. My plan was to hop on a greyhound when I got to Vancouver but after I booked the flights I saw that the greyhound wouldn’t leave until Monday morning. Have you ever been so tired that you have an out of body experience? Yes, that is how tired I was. I should have just stayed in sunny Nice and spent the day on the beach. It was clear that I wasn’t going to get to PG by Monday morning for work. It would have been preferable to stay in Nice than going through what I was about to experience.

Sunday – Nice – 1:00 pm

I got on the plane to Munich and passed out for the first time in 30 hours. I slept for about 30 minutes. Flying into Germany was quite beautiful. When I finally got through security and found my gate, I arrived to find that my flight from Munich to Montreal had been delayed at least 2 hours because of a malfunction with the toilets on the plane. Feeling extra anxious and equally tired I plopped down on some chairs with the roughly 250 people who were waiting for this flight. They kept telling us that we would be taken care of once we got to Montreal but there wasn’t anything they could do for us on this end. So I waited. I called my sister and she contacted my parents. It was handy to have her in a closer time zone so that I could actually call her. We ended up waiting 3 hours for another plane to arrive so we could take that one to Canada. At this point I had given up all hope that I was going to be getting to BC that night.

Sunday – Munich – 5:30pm

While we were about to board I was sitting near this couple and they were talking about how they were going to miss their flight to Vancouver. I decided to make conversation and asked them if they were supposed to be catching the same flight that I was taking. They were and we boarded the plan. Once we were on the plane, I was pleasantly surprised with the German airline as I thought they had excellent service and despite all the changing of flights I had done, I was glad that I had been on the German plane instead of the Belgian one. Although there was one small scare when my boarding pass wasn’t scanning properly and they redirected me to another line. That took 2 seconds to fix, but I honestly thought that maybe I would never leave Europe.

Sunday – Montreal – 8:00pm

I was so very disappointed when we landed in Montreal at 8:00pm and I knew that my flight to Vancouver was leaving in 15 minutes and that there was nothing I could do to make them wait for me. I had gotten maybe 2 hours of sleep on the flight back to Canada so at this point it felt like I had been up for 40 hours with 2.5 hours of sleep. I felt awful. I made it through customs, found my bag, and somehow found my way to the German travel agency to find my new flight and accommodations for the night. When I arrived they quickly found me and gave me all the instructions I needed. Behind me in line was the couple that I had talked to in Munich. We started talking more while we were waiting and it turns out that the woman was named Sarah, was a teacher, and had the exact same back problems as I do. It was extremely strange. They were a lovely couple and we ended up staying in the same hotel for the night and had flights the next day to Vancouver around the same time. They flew out at 5:30pm and I flew out at 6:00pm. Anyways, by that point I knew that it was going to be difficult to get to Prince George the next day if I didn’t purchase a new flight. I was standing in line at the German airline waiting to see if they could help me. After 30 minutes of waiting they told me that they couldn’t help me because I had made my final destination Vancouver when I was in Nice and so the German airline was only obligated to get me to Vancouver. I walked over to the Air Canada booth, at which now it was closer to 10:00pm. I easily bought a new ticket and made my way to find the shuttle to my hotel. Fortunately I made it just in time as my shuttle was just about to leave. It was packed full and the French driver got two of the smallest ladies to sit together on the passenger seat of the van so that I could fit.

Sunday – Montreal – 11:00pm

When we got to the hotel, we found our rooms, and I made arrangements to have lunch with Sarah and Kevin the next day. I emailed my sub that my boss so graciously arranged for me the plans for the next day, took a shower, crawled into bed, and I had the best sleep I have had in the last 5 years. I was so tired and slept so well that the blankets and top sheet were still tucked in at the end of the bed. For some of you that really know me, that is a big deal!

Monday – Montreal – 9:30am

I woke up, ate my complimentary breakfast, had another shower, and then met Sarah and Kevin for lunch. I really enjoyed getting to know them and they were a blessing to have met on the way back. We met up again at the airport and had lunch at a St. Hubert Chicken restaurant that Kevin insisted we had to try. The chicken was good but the poutine was very disappointing. We went through security together and chatted until 5:00pm when they boarded their plane and I made my way to find my gate.

Monday – Vancouver – 8:00pm

I landed in Vancouver at 8:00pm local time and finally started to feel like I was close to home. I was an airport master by this point. I found my gate, laid down on some benches and slept for an hour. My flight to PG was departing at 11:00pm. I woke up with a fright as the screen no longer said Prince George. In my groggy daze, I packed up my things and headed out to find a flight board. My new gate was only 2 gates away. There I waited for about 20 minutes and witnessed an intoxicated man making a scene because they were not allowing him to get on his flight. I felt so bad for the workers who were trying to be patient with him. After that we had another gate change and when we arrived at the new gate we saw that this flight was also delayed for 30 minutes. By the time we actually took off, it was closer to midnight. The ride to PG was not smooth and I almost threw up on the empty chair beside me. Why don’t they have the brown baggies in the seat pocket in front of you anymore?

Monday – Prince George – 1:00am

I was so happy to see Alicia and Jeremy walking into the airport as I walked through the doors. I was finally home. The one thing that didn’t go wrong was that my bag always made it to the next airport with me, and for that I am extremely grateful! After hugging my friends, we headed home. I knew my car would be dead after not having been driven in 2 weeks so Alicia and Jeremy helped me jumpstart it and then Alicia and I went for a drive to McDonalds to charge the battery so that I could get to work the next morning. By the time I crawled into bed it was 2:00am. I was home.

While I was going through all of the craziness of trying to get home, I was tempted to think that the whole trip was not worth the pain of getting home. I hated almost every second of the trip home, but I LOVED every second of travelling in France.

I can’t thank you enough Meghan and Jakob for sharing your life with me and opening up my world. You are extremely patient with me and you challenge me to push my limits. I am tremendously blessed to have both of you in my life and I will forever cherish all the memories that I made, even the challenging ones. I love you!

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Memes, Money, and More in France’s Archives

During the last three weeks, I worked in 8 different archives all over France. Some were massive modern beasts, where the staff were formal, the readings rooms were silent, and the decor was always bizarre.

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Departmental Archives in Montpellier

Others were cozy rural reading nooks. Here the staff tended to be warm, they were patient with my poor french, and laughed with me instead of at me.

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Departmental Archives in Cahors

While navigating the peculiarities of each archive was often stressful, most days I loved my work.

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In a typical 8 hour work day, I took between 800-1500 photos for Dr. Walshaw’s research on counterfeiting in early modern France and between 4-5 photos of things that made me chuckle. Here I’ll share a few of the latter:

First of all, government paperwork, even in the eighteenth century was super lame, so the French liked to spice it up with fun stamps that were obviously meant to be memes.

goddess meme 2

 

budget meme 2

keener meme

I couldn’t quite come up with the right text for the next few…but they have so much potential, don’t they?

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If you can meme these stamps, I would love to see it!

When I wasn’t finding meme-orable stamps, I spent my time sifting through stuff that looked a lot like this:

The documents I read were usually loose leaf trial proceedings, but sometimes they were also administrative records or letters bound in massive volumes:
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On the best days, the documents looked something like this:
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This is exactly what I like to see! Well labeled documents with the crime, “faux-monnayeur” clearly visible! Makes my job so much easier!!

But many days I had to page through stacks like this, just hoping to spot a “fausse monnaie” or a “faux monnayeur.”
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While looking for counterfeiters, I often stumbled across other strange things:
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Does anyone know what this says? Or even what language it is?

Usually everything is in French, with a little Latin sprinkled in for pompous reasons. But on my last two days of work, I was in Strasbourg, right on the French-German border, so there was plenty of this:

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Even though I have no idea what this says, somehow one word made me hungry…

One of my favourite French-German finds was this counterfeiting report:

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Apparently the King of Prussia was making counterfeit francs! :O How dare he!

For the most part, the counterfeiters I read about were not kings, but were more likely to be travelling vagabonds, casual labourers fallen on hard times, or particularly clever crafters. Usually they pulled off their trickery in dimly lit taverns or hectic market places and were caught by local shopkeepers who then drag the culprit to the nearest police officer. The police who operated in rural areas not only arrested criminals, but also held the trials and delivered the sentences (for some crimes) on the spot! Certainly wouldn’t want to catch one of those fellows on a bad day. These mounted police officer courts were called the marréchaussée and as is fitting for a wild-west style justice brigade, they kept their documents in burlap bags. On the rare occasion the documents will still be in them when I get them, 300 years later!
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Sometimes I find even stranger things like….
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dried animal hide??

But my best find was an actual counterfeited coin. Coins like these were presented as evidence in counterfeiting trials, but usually they aren’t still in the paperwork by the time I get to it. This little guy was a beautiful exception!

 

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I was also lucky enough to find some counterfeited paper money!

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In my opinion, these look much easier to fake than a metal coin.

Of couse sometimes I get distracted from my hunt for counterfeiters when I see documents that connect to my own research area, which is girlhood in early modern France.

In this trial, a 14 year old girl and her father successfully took a man to court for rape causing pregnancy. I didn’t take the time to read the details of the trial, but I was fascinated to see that the girl was listed as the injured party alongside her father. In my understanding of early modern law, I thought that rape was usually considered a property crime against the victim’s father or husband. Yay for a basic recognition that girls own their own bodies!
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One of my most dramatic adventures in the archives, didn’t really happen in the archive at all. Two of the smaller archives I worked in closed for an hour during lunch, usually I just sat on the lawn and ate my sandwich until they let me back in. But in Bourges, I decided to get brave and go for a little walk. Big mistake. About 20 minutes later, my foot had stumbled into something toxic, and seconds later I was rehearsing in my head how to casually ask the friendly secretary about the region’s deadly/dangerous plant population.
IMG_6834 This bad omen in the sources certainly didn’t help.
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But I am happy to report that after a couple days of numbness and amputation related nightmares, I did make a complete recovery. Who knew archival work could be so dangerous?! Well now you do!

Hope you enjoyed the fun finds as much as I did and thanks for coming to work with me!
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Castles and Cathedrals

Did you ever spend time staring at something as mundane as traffic, just trying to figure out how all the cars could be so small?

If you have, you’re probably a North American who has spent a week or two in Europe, or perhaps you’re Sarah Allan.

Sarah spent the last two weeks exploring southern France with us. Her full-time job may be teaching children in Prince George, but her part-time spring break job was reintroducing us to the wonders of Europe. Sure we were generally the tour guides, but Sarah offered us a fresh set of eyes and a heightened level of enthusiasm.

“This cheese is amazing!”
“Wow, there are so many appartement buildings! Where are all the houses?”
“Ya definitely, why shouldn’t we do a spontaneous day trip to Barcelona?”

Just as Jakob and my feet were beginning to grow travel weary, Sarah’s wide-eyed wonder gave us the spark we needed to continue taking in each new place with a sense of awe and curiosity.

Sarah is going to tell you the story herself in her own guest blog post(!!!), but after a wild 65 hour journey back home during which EVERY ONE of her planes was delayed or cancelled, I am sure she is going to need a bit of time before she is ready to reflect fondly on the past two weeks.

So in the meantime, here are some of my favourite sights and stories from our adventures with Sarah:

March 13

It turns out, Nice was the perfect place for Sarah’s first impression of France! Our Airbnb was nestled in a medieval village not far outside of the city and only a 30 minute walk from the beach.

Any guesses where we went first?

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The beach of course!

Sarah was still thawing from her long Prince George winter, so the beach was an obvious first outing. After this I was sure that her jet-lag was going to get the best of her. But as any teacher would, she ignored her body’s exhaustion and pressed on!
Little did she know, the next activity on my to-do list was a steep urban hike.
I’m not sure it was worth it…

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The view from the top!

March 14

The next day we ventured out of our little village and into Nice

Now I know why it’s called the azure coast, everything, including the bikes were a shade of blue.

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Sarah and Jakob were dead set on renting bikes and cruising the promenade. I was a bit more apprehensive. I liked the idea, but as soon as I saw that the pay station required a local phone call, I started making excuses. “I bet the required damage deposit is pretty big…probably need a French bank account…it’s too far to bike all the way home…it’s probably cheaper to just take the bus back.” Really I was just scared to talk on the phone in French #secondlanguageintrovertproblems. Jakob waved away my worries and commandeered the automated phone payment system solo, Sarah unhooked a bike and adjusted the settings, and I stood there completely useless. Guess they don’t need my fumbling translation skills after all.

Jakob and Sarah’s self sufficiency was certainly an asset over the next two weeks since I had work lined up for about 6 days of Sarah’s week and a half visit.

March 18

After a brutal two day work week, I was ready to go back to travel life. So first thing Saturday morning, we headed south from Aix-en-Provence to…

Jakob and Sarah had already explored Marseille while I was cracking ancient codes in the archives. But they didn’t venture into any of the city’s churches without me, knowing that would be an unforgivable sin.

So our first stop was this spire, perched atop a hill overlooking the ocean:IMG_6484

The view from the top was really the best partIMG_6474 2Because inside was mostly a mess of gaudy gold decor and ….boats??

IMG_6476Yup, boats hanging from the ceiling, boats above the alter, even boats built into the pillars. I spent a few moments looking for a shrine to Saint Boaty Mcboatface. As self-identifying cathedral snobs, Jakob and I turned up our noses and tried to explain to Sarah why this basilica was a tacky disappointment. There was no explaining with words, so we set off in search of experiential evidence.

It wasn’t long before we found Marseille’s Cathedral. I prayed it would be boat free.
IMG_6495And indeed it was. As we stepped into the cool dusty expansive sanctuary our eyes widened, our breath caught, and our pace slowed in reverence. Nothing is more awe-inspiring than wandering between the hefty pillars of a 1000 year old cathedral.
“Now this is a Cathedral,” I whispered to Sarah, “doesn’t it feel different than that basilica, it makes you feel…” I paused, lost for words.
“Small?” offered Sarah.
“Exactly.”

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Bliiinded by the liiiiiight

We also had a little too much fun tracking patterns on the mosaic floor.

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Giants should be able to go to church too #equality

That evening we drove to our next destination: Montpellier. Where the real adventure of the day began. I had been having trouble communicating with our Airbnb host. He was in Paris for work and wanted me to call him to get instructions for finding the key. I tried to explain to him via text that my spoken French is not as strong as my reading, and it would be best if he could just text me the instructions #secondlanguageintrovertproblems again. He insisted. So after a fumbling conversation, I determined that the key was in his mailbox, and I was supposed to get the mailbox key from a neighbour(?). He told me to call him when we arrived.

Well that plan quickly deteriorated when we arrived at the apartment and began inspecting the mailbox. It had a flimsy wooden door with a slot big enough to fit most of my hand through. With the help of Sarah’s iphone light, we spotted the keys and our hosts name on the mail. With barely a word exchanged, both Sarah and I turned to the shrubbery behind us and began looking for branches that could fit through the opening. This is how northern girls solve problems.

A new plan was hatched. Sarah offered to keep look out, while I turned a crooked shrub branch into a hook. We paused for a few moments starting up a casual conversation about French mailboxes when an unsuspecting resident meandered by. As soon as the civilian was out of sight, I regained focused, held my breath, tried to forget how hungry I was, and focused all of my energy on retrieving the key.

Seconds later the keys were leveraged up out of the mail slot and into my hands. My mind raced as I began to think of ways to add mailbox heists to my CV, who says I don’t have practical skills.

March 19

Carcassonne-game

Have you ever played this game?

Turns out, Carcassonne is not only the name of one of my favourite games, but also a real place! Aaaand it happened to by only a couple hour drive from Montpellier. On the way, we spotted this monstrosity towering over a tiny village.

So of course we had to check out another church, it was Sunday after all. Weaving our way past a crowd of church goers in the foyer, we peered into the sanctuary wondering if this village was used to nosy Canadians interrupting their baptism festivities. The priest nodded to us and we took that as confirmation that our shorts and flip flops were tolerable. Inside didn’t compare to the grandeur of the Marseille Cathedral, but it was nice to see a more lived-in church space, full of young faces, and at least one newborn.

After hitting the road again, it wasn’t long before we caught our first sights of Carcassonne.

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It even sort of looks like the game box cover!


At this point in our trip, we really just do the free stuff. But we decided to splurge and introduce Sarah to the wonders of the audio guided tour.

We certainly didn’t regret it.

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Ooo another cathedral!

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Ok maybe we have had too much of cathedrals for one weekend

March 20

I imagine when most people go to Barcelona they carefully plan, book accommodation, research must-see sights, scope out a few tapas bars…you know, standard “I’m going to Spain and want to have a good time” stuff. We decided to go to Barcelona about 3 days before we actually went. I was studying googlemaps (as was a common past-time growing-up in my family) when I noticed that Montpellier is not far from the Spanish border. In fact, Barcelona is not far from the French border. BAM! A spontaneous trip to Spain was born.

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First we had to check out this crazy creation.

The Sagrada Familia is a modern cathedral that has been under construction for almost 150 years. The original architect, Gaudi, who seems to have built every other building in Barcelona as well, is long dead, but his crazy project has continued.

We opted out of the 18 euro entrance ticket and the 3 hour wait and continued to explore the city.

Until we stumbled across this gem. Can never have too much cathedral time.
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After doing our routine reverent walk around, sit still and stare up, and then make fun of the saints with silly expressions on their faces, we noticed a small line gathering in one corner. Upon inspection, we realized it was a line for an elevator to the roof!
Yes please.
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This wasn’t your typical cathedral balcony visit, no it was a rickety set of scaffolding perched precariously on the roof tiles. It’s like the reconstruction crew was having their mid morning coffee one day and said,
“Hey Juan, what if we don’t take the scaffolding down?”
“Ya I was thinking the same thing José. Maybe we can throw in an elevator, charge a few bucks.”
“Yup we can start buying the good wine, no more Father Pedros’.”
And like that, Barcelona gained yet another stunning tourist attraction.

We finished off the day with my favourite part of Barcelona, the beach.

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Sarah couldn’t get enough of it! If only we had gotten to the sand before the sun had set.

We finished off the day with dinner in an empty restaurant. It’s not that the food sucked. It’s that we aren’t very good at eating like Spanish people. As in not at 6:30.
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March 25

After a long week of work, during which Jakob and Sarah had too much fun exploring Montpellier and Toulouse, and I had a more reasonable amount of fun discovering things like this:

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My first actually counterfeit coin!! I read about them all day, but they don’t usually keep the actual evidence with the trial papers.

it was time to say goodbye to Sarah.
We spent out last day wandering the streets of old Toulouse.

And before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye to Sarah.

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I know we look happy, but those smiles are forced

We are so thrilled that Sarah decided to join us on our crazy trip…but you’ll have to wait until her blog to find out how she felt about it. Stay tuned!