Out of France: Saint-Malo and Paris

I’m going to do something now that I promised myself I would never do on this blog, and speed-write through almost an entire week.  I’ve been writing more in my paper-and-ink journal lately, and as a consequence the blog has suffered.  Without further ado, I will begin with April 24th.

Saint-Malo welcomed me with a huge double rainbow and a kind host.  Michel gave me a tour of the town, a double bed all to myself, and a delicious local dinner.  He was a little thrown by the fact that I am a vegetarian, but he recovered admirably and only made fun of me a little.  The omens seemed good for my time there, and they were not wrong!  Aside from the weather, which insisted on remaining uncertain, I had a lovely couple of days in Saint-Malo. 

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On the 25th I went to neighbouring Mont-St-Michel, the abbey fortress located on a tidal island.  I wandered about with an Australian gentleman named Anthony, took lots of pictures of seriously medieval architecture, and pretended I was a knight.  I was completely exhausted upon my return, but did manage to go to the Old Town of Saint-Malo with a late lunch/early dinner and walk around a bit before eating on the beach.

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The beach was lovely, and reminded me of home, except that the rocks were all volcanic black rather than granite grey.  The large fortifying wall was also rather different.  Saint-Malo is a particularly interesting place, because although the city itself has an ancient history, much of it was destroyed by the Nazis in WWII and has since been reconstructed.  I visited the Cathedral before I left on the 26th, and learned that most of the original Cathedral was completely destroyed, but that it had been reconstructed in the original design.  The stained glass is the only significant difference, and is comprised of lovely, modern abstract patterns like flames and swirling water instead of pictures of saints and the life of Jesus as is common in most Cathedrals.

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I got a direct train to Paris, and succeeded after some little difficulty in finding my hostel.  I hadn’t stayed in a hostel for a while, and it was nice to get back to the basics.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – hostels are great.  Sometimes you get a bad one, but they’re usually fun, full of cool people, and very international.  This time I sang along to a lot of Bob Marley with an older woman with flyaway white hair and a strong German accent. It was raining when I got there and it kept raining until I left the next day to go to the house of my next hosts, Amélie and Renaud.

Amélie and Renaud destroyed every stereotype about Parisians I have ever heard.  They were kind, friendly, hospitable, eager to show me around, and excited to practice their English.  This turned out to be a good thing, because the Parisian accent was almost as hard as the one from Besançon for me to understand.  I missed about one word in ten, as opposed to the one word in twenty that I missed in Bretagne.

They were both very patient with my obsessive wish to visit every spot Hemingway ever set foot in, and took me of both of his residences, the famous Shakespeare & Company bookshop, and his favourite street.  Amélie also walked me along the Seine where he browsed the used-book sellers (Bouquanistes), and I managed to resist, with great difficulty, buying the lot.  We saw a group of people in Steampunk attire having a picnic, a man in an Aladdin costume buying a crepe, and a Ukrainian band playing in the park.  Paris, despite the weather, seemed determined to put on its best face for me, and I fell in love instantly.  I left two notes in Shakespeare & Co, and spent a lovely few minutes listening to a talented pianist playing something classical while a young woman wrote a letter with a fountain pen above a just-finished ink drawing of the street outside. 

My last full day in the city was spent with Tasha, and we had a wonderful time catching up.  We found a succession of cafés and street vendors and ate our way through a solid portion of central Paris.  It’s been really lovely visiting so many friends here in Europe.  Seeing people out of context makes the friendship fresh again.  I’ve seen new sides of people I’ve known for years.  Travel changes everyone, and it is very apparent, even in the moment.

I said goodbye to Amélie and Renaud over breakfast on the 29th.  It’s always sad to leave new friends, but I am confident that in this case we will see each other again.  Next time I’m in Paris I’ll look them up, and next time they come to the States they’ll let me know.  I can’t wait!

I made it to the Gare du Nord with minimal trouble and through customs with only slight misfortunes.  I managed to lose my trusty fleece to the ravenous maw of the x-ray machine, but that is only a minor disaster, as I am nearly done with my adventure.  I will miss its capacious pockets however.  They were large enough to accommodate a bottle of wine, or an entire loaf of bread.  Perfect for smuggling snacks… I suppose now that I am no longer in University I have less of an excuse for sneaking Tupperware full of food out of dining halls.  It’s the end of an era, folks.  On that note I will leave you with the promise of adventures to come in Oxford and the English countryside.  Happy May!

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