November 1, 2011

Long Live the Toussaints!

So these last ten days have been pretty amazing. While everyone I know back home was studying and working in school, I was on vacation in the west of France. French people have a ridiculous amount of vacation, just saying. It’s great. The Toussaints is a religious holiday/vacation to honor all the dead saints. Then tomorrow is the day of the dead where everyone goes to put flowers in the cemetery. Cheery, huh? But the vacation was really really great. Everyday was packed with different activities, sight-seeing, and other fun miscellaneous adventures. This blog is going to be quite lengthy and picture heavy because I was Internet-less for the whole vacation... so here we go, let’s see if you can make it to the end. (I hope I can too because I’m currently typing this in the car on my laptop and you know how French people drive... :P Let’s hope I don’t get too carsick.)

So for the first two days, I was with my host mom at Saint Malo. We stayed at her mother’s house which is about five minutes from the beach. Those two days were incredible. It’s like another paradise over there. Saint Malo is a beautiful city in the Bretagne region of France right next to the sea. We did sooo much and saw so much beauty, it’s overwhelming to recall all of it. It makes me feel so small when I realize how much of the world there is still left to see. It was about four hours route to Saint Malo but we stopped halfway through in a pretty posh little town called Honfleur. Apparently a lot of Parisians vacation there. Most of it consisted of restaurants, cafés, food places, and boats. It was gorgeous and classic like all old little French towns with narrow cobblestone streets, colorful and close-together store fronts, scarfed people– oh, and did I mention cafés?

"Umm excuse me sir, you're missing your stomach."

Painter. So French.

We got free donkey postcards from a hippy lady in her donkey-art shop and I ate a delicious chocolate crêpe. So overall, the little stop in Honfleur was a great leg-stretching break. We arrived at Saint Malo sort of late but just in time for dinner. Marie-Armelle’s mother (I have to refer to her as that because her name is Armelle and we don’t want things to get confusing in the name department) was sick and not in the best form– constantly coughing, sneezing, and growing hoarse. But she was very nice and showed us great hospitality. I had a room to myself. She lives in an apartment building, but only four different families live there and each with a separate floor. It was quite different from Marie-Michelle’s sister Euphemie’s apartment in Lille that had a total of three tiny squished rooms. For dinner, we chatted while eating a beef rôti, then afterwards Marie-Armelle and I went out on a walk by the beach. It was so close by, it was ridiculous. There’s a stretch of street by the water with houses and hotels on it. I was so jealous of all those lucky house owners with the incredible views. Here’s a shot of it during the daylight:

Million dollar views

That was technically the first day in Saint Malo, but it didn’t really count because most of it was spent in the car. The next day was our first full day there and it was awesome. Awesome. Awesome. We all really lucked out with the weather– for the entire vacation. Usually, it rains in Saint Malo but it was very clear and sometimes sunny for us. The morning started out great because I got to meet up with another exchange student from Lille for a little bit. Her family happened to be passing through Saint Malo like us and it had been planned for awhile for us to meet up. Her name was Aayushi and she’s from India. I admit that it was a nice break to speak in English again. Someone told me that it’s impossible to be yourself when you speak in a foreign language and I think that’s true. I’m obviously more at ease in English, but also I feel like my personality is more at ease in English. I got to get to know her better and found that she’s very very nice and homesick for India. I can imagine the huge difference between her country and France. It’s an enormous cultural shift, unlike America to France where it’s fairly similar. She speaks four languages, but French is not exactly one of them yet. With her host family, we all walked around on the windy beach and then drank hot chocolates in a café.
We're pointing to our place on the beach map.
The crew.

After we all went our separate ways again, Marie-Armelle and I visited her friend’s vacation apartment that was literally right on the beach. Her view was absolutely amazing. It would have probably cost five million dollars at least in America, just for the view. We invited her over for dinner and then headed back for lunch. Afterwards, Marie-Armelle, her mother, and I went on a giant sight-seeing/beach-hopping tour of the city. The beaches and cliffs were so, so, so, so beautiful especially with the sun peaking out through the clouds everywhere. I can’t recall all the names of the different beaches that we visited, but I have lots and lots of pictures. At every stop, I asked Marie-Armelle to take pictures of me in front of the pretty views. You can’t get more tourist than that. But I wanted proof that I was actually at these beautiful places. Here they are: (I’m not super narcissistic, I swear, but I just happen to be in these picture a lot.)

This is my super zoomed-in picture of the Mount Saint-Michel that we could see from the cliffs!

Personally, my favorite beach/cliff.

The last beach stop was at a giant cliff that looked over all the different nooks and crannies of the coast. It was stunning. One could almost make a 360º turn and see glowing water, cliffs, and beaches everywhere. There were lots of people there and I scuffed up my boots badly as I climbed around on the rocks trying to pose for these pictures and views:

I was fairly exhausted by that evening, but the day wasn’t over just yet. While Marie-Armelle’s mom was at the doctor's, we went and bought some oysters for dinner. Oy. We bought them from a little down called Castelle (I think) and had to walk a lot to finally find them. The lady at the shop opened them wicked fast for us with a special tool. I wouldn’t like to do that all day long in a smelly seafood shop, but it was pretty cool to watch them work their oyster-opening skills.

Note to self: don’t wear nice boots for climbing cliffs and shopping for oysters. The town was down a huge hill and sort of hidden away by the ports. Naturally, we had to go back up the hill :P However, I saw these cute little guys in a field nearby:

The oysters were delicious that night. Marie-Armelle’s sister and friend were over so it was like a party. Afterwards we all talked for a long time and ate a Bretagne specialty dessert– a flan cake. Not my favorite :P But I slept very well that night after a day full of sight-seeing, exercising, and eating. Phew.

Day two was even more amazing because I got to see my exchange student bestie Faith, who lives in Washington and had traveled with me on the flight over here to France. We had a lot to catch up on and spent the whole day together. I wish it could have lasted longer. It was probably the best day of the vacation. Here are some pretty awesome pictures by the beach that we took:
Faith :)
For France! (I get major photo cred)
Faith: photo cred.

"J'aime la France!!!"= I love France!!!

Later our host moms met up with us and we all went on a giant tour of the city on a path that reminded me of the Great Wall of China because it was long, high up, and had amazing views. We came across some great picture places. I also saw some pretty photogenic birds.


I try.
Yeah that would be me with a cannon.
Same coat. Twins. Aww yeah.

Hi there.
At the end of the tour/wall-thing we hit the shops! And... found nothing :/ The shopping selection was kind of lame but it was still fun wandering around. Faith and I bought ice cream and for the first time I was sensed as a foreigner! When I asked to taste a flavor, but couldn’t pronounce the name, the ice cream vender immediately started speaking English to us. I knew he was trying to be helpful, but it still sort of annoyed me. The name of the flavor was too fancy and complicated for its own good. The ice cream, however, was delicious. But then again, when is ice cream not delicious? :)

It was sad to say good-bye because Faith lives far away from me so I probably won’t get to see her for awhile :( But we have made a plan to meet up in Paris sometime, so we’ll see. Neither of us have been to that marvelous city yet. That evening before dinner, Marie-Armelle and I went on another walk around on the path besides the beach. These last few days were special for the tides. Saint Malo often has special days for the tides when they are so big that they sometimes even jump over the wall!

So all in all, it was a great stay and now I have super memories from Saint Malo. I have to admit that seeing other exchange students definitely made it better. Day four was another commuting day to our next destination where my host dad was going to meet up with us at: L’île de Ré. On the road, we passed under this cool architectural bridge:

We had a long lunch at Marie-Armelle’s very good friend’s house in a city called Reine. They had eleven people over at the house that were all somehow related to one another. We ate a beef rôti and potatoes (a very popular dish here) and then had three desserts. Ooh la la. Two cakes and then a mousse. :D It was so delicious and filling.

 I slept in the car and woke up when we had arrived at L’île de Ré in the evening. Dinner was short and sort of awkward as we were both tired. We went on a beautiful nightly stroll around the town afterwards which woke us both up enough to play a game of Scrabble. We didn’t play for points, but I felt pretty proud of myself for my word usage. Here are our results:

Day two on that beautiful island consisted of two things in my memory: my new coat and "The Adventures of Tin Tin." Marie-Armelle and I started the morning by biking to a pretty little market somewhere twenty minutes away. I really shouldn't have bought anything with my limited budget... but you know how that goes. I bought an amazing French coat/cape thing. It's made of wool and drapes around one's shoulders like a cape but has two holes for the arms in the side. It's really in style here, while on the other hand it would never be hip in America. We bargained for it and I wore it home proud like the Little Beige Riding Hood. I have a shopaholic syndrome.

I can't remember the afternoon at all... maybe we walked around town... maybe we chilled at the house... maybe we... uh... Anyways, in the evening while waiting for Xavier's train to arrive we went and saw a movie! "The Adventures of Tin Tin: The Secret of the Unicorn" was actually really good and I like French movie theaters. For one, you don't have to watch the person in front of you guzzle down a liter of Coke and an elephant-sized tub of greasy popcorn because that doesn't exist here. I didn't even see a popcorn machine or a soft drink dispenser. *gasp* Also, I felt like all the seats were closer together so it was definitely cozier like a family viewing. I could fill up five pages talking about the movie because it was so action-packed and pretty darn awesome, but you should just go see it. In French. I obviously didn't understand everything, but I understood most of it and why Tin Tin was going on all his crazy adventures. Plus, it was in 3D and I'm a huge fan of the glasses :)

When we got home later, Xavier had already returned. I have to say that I bonded more with him over our vacation. I hadn't really gotten to know him much before because we're not really ever in the house at the same time except at meals and weekends. My main comment about him before was his incredible snoring ability :P But now I can say that he's actually a pretty funny guy. We got some good jokes now between us :) And he's smart. He loves to talk. Whenever you get him going about something that he cares about like math or economics, he'll go on and on... but that's all right. Sometimes you just gotta let people talk it out. And then more often, you just gotta bring up a new subject. The three of us walked to Saint Martin in the afternoon together. For my dedicated followers who have read my last L'île de Ré post way back in August, Saint Martin hasn't changed. Nothing on that beautiful island has changed. I guess I'm the one whose changed because things still seemed different to me.

I ended up buying waaay more than I would have expected and more than my wallet probably allowed, but they were presents for everyone back home so it's okay. Being an exchange student really sharpens up your budgeting skills... or in some cases like mine, it just emphasizes how poor you are at managing them. The walk back was brutal carrying all of my stuff. Although it was a beautiful route on a path that went by a cliff, it was still incredibly hard to keep moving. Marie-Armelle and Xavier are older than me and yet they are ten times more athletic and sportive than me. I have lots of pictures of them like a mile in front of me. They had to hurry and buy oysters (yeah I know, again with the oysters) for our little dinner party that night... so I was stuck walking solo with aching feet and a heavy purse for the hour. It was beautiful, though. Check out this amazing sun:

To every dark place, there's a sun shining across the world.
Their neighbors came over for dinner and we all ate a massive amount of seafood. Oysters and three different types of shrimp. Really good, but I'm sort of losing my taste for oysters which is sad because I used to love them. Can't have too much of a good thing, I guess. Especially when it comes to seafood. The ladies stayed until midnight and I crashed quickly after a super long day of way too much walking on sore feet.

Then Sunday came around and I realized that I'm finally getting some trust from these people. Quite a bit and quite suddenly. They trusted me to walk to the market all by myself Sunday morning to meet up with them. It wasn't far, but still I can clearly remember the days when I couldn't even go into Cambrai by myself. I didn't get lost and felt rather proud of myself. We went to Saint Martin again because there was a special braderie (giant garage sale) thing again. Thankfully, we took the bikes. It was quite different from the braderie in Douai– which was more like a festival. This one, to be honest, was full of a lot of junk. Clutter, more exactly. Beat up furniture, old clothes, baby books, useless trinkets, etc. etc.
The giant garage sale.
But I managed to find a pretty blue scarf (I buy scarves everywhere I go like I buy Beatles posters) and Marie-Armelle bought a plate (she loves kitchen/house decorating) and Xavier bought a really really beat-up night table that he wants to fix up. So now you ask how in the world we got that night table home on our bikes... well, I was asking the same question. I didn't think it was possible, but the French don't take "impossible" to heart. They are stubborn people in general. Here was our result:

I have to say it was quite funny and the looks we got going down the streets were priceless. All for a damaged ten-dollar night table. Good times. After dinner that night, we all played an intense game of Scrabble– for points this time. Xavier plays to win. Phew. It was rough, but a lot more fun and interesting than the time before. I didn't so bad. I finished with 168 points while Xavier and Marie-Armelle finished with 200 something. Still, for a foreigner I was pretty proud. All my words were legit by the Official Scrabble Dictionary® even if they were names of African tribes or monkey-sheep living in the mountains that no one has ever heard of.

And then the very last day on L'île de Ré was lovely as well; lovely for burning off all the cheese that I've been eating. We biked 20 miles (let me say that again, 20 miles!) out to another market. Given, it was a pretty market and the exercise was good for me... but still! We had to get up early on top of that to make it in time before the market closed so I was more than happy to hear that we would be staying there for lunch. Lunch was amazing. French restaurants are amazing. And for the first time eating in one, I had something other than meat and potatoes! We all had the Nothern France classic: Moules Frites. Mussels and french fries. It was really good, but I got sort of freaked out while eating the giant bowl of mussels because there were tiny (dead) crabs inside the shells everywhere. They had been in the middle of eating the mussels before some mean old fisherman got them. It was sort of unappetizing to constantly pick out little white crabs :P Bleck. I had a Panna Cotta for dessert so I was ready to tackle the long route back. It passed by much easier and felt much shorter. We basically chilled and cleaned and packed for the rest of the day and celebrated after dinner with a chocolate-fondue. Except it wasn't really fondue. It was a pot of melted chocolate, fruit, ice cream, and whipped cream. I felt okay about eating all that though because I had actually exercised that day.
I'm currently extremely carsick right now with the car swerving everywhere, but I managed to type this whole thing until the end. Whoo! We still have seven hours left to go until home sweet home back in Cambrai. A bientôt et bisous :)


  1. I so remember St. Malo! Lovely lovely town with long rampart along the water front. love the pictures. You look SO beautiful and happy;)
    Your photographs are gorgeous. Glad you had a wonderful vacance;)

    Much love

  2. That's awesome Aja! (not the carsick part, I hope you feel better by now!) I still hope you get to see Paul McCartney when you go to Paris! Have fun! I miss you!