Thursday, April 19, 2018

Blink and It's Over

When anticipating a vacation, I am always completely delusional about what it will be like.  I imagine myself with no time constraints, able to endlessly blog and sleep and explore, without ever having to choose between different activities.  The reality, of course, is not that.  There is always more to do than there is time, and vacations eventually end, thus tonight is my last night in Paris and I haven't blogged in two weeks.  I assure anyone who hasn't been following me on Twitter that yes, I have been having a fabulous time, and yes, I have been eating ridiculous numbers of pastries.

This has been a really, really good trip.  There have been moments when I have felt lonely, and more than once I have seriously considered going to a cat cafe for some feline attention, but overall it has been good to travel alone.  The introvert in me had been craving silence, long stretches of time without having to answer to anyone, and the past three weeks have been exactly that.  My mind has been able to wander wherever it wants, and I have had time to think and think and think about all the big questions in my life.  It has been good.

And of course, I have seen things!  So, so many things.  On my last day in Caen, I took a tour of the Canadian D-Day beaches, and then I went to Dijon, where I slept a lot and drank wine on the couch and did a bit of wandering through the historic city.  In Paris I have been all over the place:  the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Co, the Musée d'Orsay, the Natural History Museum, Sacre-Coeur, Montmartre, the Curie Museum, and the Army Museum.  It has been delightfully nerdy, in both a scientific and a historical way, which suits me perfectly.

I haven't done as well with my French as I had hopped.  I struggle a lot with verbal comprehension, and the accents are different from the ones that I am used to, so I have said "Désolé, je ne comprends pas" and "Pouvez-vous repétér ça, s'il vous plaît?" more times than I can count.  (Actually, I have mostly just contorted my face painfully and made awkward sounds, which is the introvert's way of saying "I don't understand".)  But I have learned new words, thanks to reading every street sign and countless museum displays, and my ability to understand written French is getting better quickly.

(Yesterday's word of the day was "ruche", as in hive, which I learned from this beehive at the Natural History Museum.  Yup...I am a nerd.*)

There have been moments on the trip when I have considered giving up on learning French, as it is frustrating to see how far I still have to go before I will be functionally fluent.  But then, I wander into a bookstore and walk out with The Handmaid's Tail in French (La servante écarlate), and I think that the learning will continue.  I dream of living in Europe for at least a year in retirement, and if I continue to plug at it for the next 7+ years, I can hopefully be functional by then.

(Also, there is a cute lesbian in my conversational French group.  Not that that's a reason to learn a language...)

So...that is my trip in a very small nutshell.  I will try to post some more pictures, although I dread the volume of work that awaits my return to work, so I make no promises.  There is part of me that is resentful of the fact that I need to go back to work, but mostly right now I am incredibly grateful to have been able to do this.  I know how fortunate I am that this is my life.

*When I was a kid, my Dad used to play a silly game in which he would ask what letter a word started with, and when I would reply "B" he would scream "A bee!  Bzzzzzzzzz!" and pretend that his hand was a buzzing bee.  Since studying French, whenever I try to remember the word for bee, I will scream "Une abeille!  Bzzzzzzzzzz!".  Thankfully I have learned to scream this in my head when I am in public.

Friday, April 6, 2018

And Then I Went to Caen

This trip continues to whirl by.  As mentioned in my previous post, I had terrible internet access in Caen, so I basically gave up on posting to my blog or even Facebook for the entire time I was there (I did manage to post a few photos of the tasty food to Twitter).  I am now in Dijon, and I have internet access again, so I will make more of an effort to post.  But there is so much to do, it's hard to tear myself away from the doing!

Caen was not an intentional destination for me.  While searching through places to visit in France, I fell in love with the tiny seaside town of Honfleur, and decided to use Caen as a home base for visiting Honfleur, which is accessible only by a very long bus ride*.  When I arrived in Caen, I actually wondered if there would be enough for me to do there.  And yes, there was more than enough.  I needn't have worried.

Caen's main draw is as a site for World War II history.  Almost 80% of the city was destroyed by Allied bombings around the time of D-Day, so it contains a lot of buildings that were rebuilt after the war, as well as many that still show major signs of damage.

(A photo of the church down the street from my apartment (Église Saint-Jean) following the bombing.)

(Although most of the church has been rebuilt, this tower still shows evidence of the damage.)

(Another church in Caen that was so badly damaged that they didn't even try to rebuild it.)

It was surreal to see partial remains of churches and to walk through the Abbaye-aux-Hommes (Men's Abbey), which is the burial site of William the Conquerer ("Guillaume le Conquérant") and also a place where the citizens of Caen took refuge during weeks of bombings.

For me, the best but also most difficult part of the visit was going to the Memorial de Caen, which is an amazing WWII museum.  It covers the history of Europe post-WWI, the rise of fascism**, the German military campaigns, the concentration camps, and the eventual liberation of Europe starting with D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.  It was amongst the best museums I've ever visited.

Reading about the concentration camps, seeing the photos and records of what people did to other people, breaks me a bit every time.

But when I see what physicians did?  That's when I ugly cry in the corner.

*In the end, I didn't even go to Honfleur, as I decided that I didn't want to spend 5 hours on a bus when I could instead use the time to see more of Caen.  Je ne regrette rien.

**The parallels between the rise of fascism and what's happening in the US right now are terrifying.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Lyon to Caen - Jet Lag Ends Eventually, Right?

I thought that the jet lag was bad for the first two days, but really it wasn't.  I had lots of adrenaline and a desire to see everything in Lyon, which kept me excited in spite of the overwhelming urge to fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon.

My jet lag really kicked in during my five-hour train ride from Lyon to Caen today.  Oh my goodness, it felt like I was post-overnight call for the first time in five years.  No amount of reading or internetting or listening to good music could keep me from dozing off and leaning precariously into the middle aisle of the train.  (Over and over.  I think my neck is going to be sore from snapping backwards every time I dozed off.)

I almost didn't make it to Caen.  I left myself lots of time to get to my first train*, but I hadn't realized that the receipt I had printed out was not an actual ticket, so at the last minute I was scrambling to download an e-ticket on my phone.  And then I had an hour to switch trains in Paris, which would have been fine except that I had to take the metro between stations, which got me to the second station less than 30 minutes before my train.  And then I couldn't download my next e-ticket.  So I stood in a very long ticket line, watching the time until my train departed disappear and panicking, until I got so nervous that I asked the person in front of me if I could cut ahead**.  Unfortunately, seemingly everyone was trying to get on the same train, so no, I couldn't cut ahead of anyone. Thankfully, about 5 minutes before the train, my phone suddenly cooperated, and I was able to access my ticket.  If it hadn't, I might still be in Paris trying to get a later train out.

But anyway....after a lot of head bobbing and drooling on my fleece, I arrived in Caen, where pretty much everything is closed for Easter Monday.  I really didn't want to eat more cheese and bread for supper***, so I was quite happy to discover an open Vietnamese restaurant around the corner from my B and B.  Not what I was expecting to have for supper on my third day in France, but it was surprisingly tasty.

So that was my day....I didn't blog about yesterday, as I got home from supper very late, but here are some photos to hopefully make up for it.

The meeting place for my morning walking tour (walking tour #2 and pain au chocolat #2):

One of the two open-air markets we saw on the tour:

A view of the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, as well as part of the city: 

The Hotel de Ville (City Hall) on the walking tour, complete with participants in the race that was run roughly along the route of our walking tour.

After the walking tour, I visited some Roman ruins.  But no photos of them for you, as my B and B has no internet (how is this a thing?), and my phone internet can only handle uploading so many photos.

After the ruins, I took a long walk up the hill to the Basilica.  A view from the outside:

(The views from the inside are also being held captive on my computer.)

I ended my day at the Museum of the Resistance and Deportation.  A photo of WWII refugees from Paris, who had been relocated to Lyon:

Hmmm....maybe I'm actually tired because I'm trying to do so much every day?  I'm sure I'll do better tomorrow.  During my one day in Caen.  Cause there isn't much to do here...

*I also had lots of time to eat anglais abricots, a pastry that I might like better than pain au chocolat...I'll let you know after a few more comparisons.

 **This is unusual for me, as I don't generally like talking to strangers, and I find it extra hard to do in French.

***Yes, I have already reached the point of my trip at which I'm whining about having to eat the same thing two meals in a row.  I blame the jet lag.