03 November 2009

Back in Town

Vacation is already over—only three half-days of work until the weekend.

The highlights: 11 days, 5 towns, 2 buses, 8 trains, and 1 boat…Ukuleles, Uruguayan election dinner, food ethics, lighthouses, artichokes, haunted house and trick-or-treat, hospital wine cellar, and flammekeuche. And did I mention I made the most wonderful pumpkin pie? Read further for more details.

I left you Friday the 23rd, having invited two assistant friends from Lorient to an apartment-warming party/celebration of the umbrella party. Umbrellas form part of the basic necessities when living in Brittany. They were well celebrated on that rainy Friday evening.

Saturday I left for an overnight in Lorient, a Take II visit that redeemed the weekend before. Victo and I stayed with a very friendly American assistant in her very nice apartment next to a very good bakery. While I would not go back to Lorient to visit the town, I would return for these three things. However, we did luck out with a sunny afternoon at Larmor Plages:

Sunday I moved on to Brest, a large port city located at Penn ar bed, “the head of the world,” in the Finistère, “end of the earth.” There I met some other language assistants, one of whom was Uruguayan and intently awaiting the presidential election results…while trying to make dinner. We talked over the apéritif for about three hours, eating a cooled dinner at 11:30pm with an unhappy Uruguayan.

My main reason for coming to Brest was to visit the island of Ouessant, the westernmost point in France. Tickets for the ferry were sold out on Monday, so I decided to extend my stay by a day and ended up visiting the city Monday with two of my hosting assistants. Unfortunately, Brest like Lorient was completely rebuilt after World War II, and still looks to be under construction because of the three-year tramway project. Essentially, the main two roads in Brest that might be esthetically pleasing are now blocked off by red tape and orange cones.

I saved all my photos for the following day, which turned wonderfully sunny and windy. Katie, a New Zealand assistant, traveled with me out to the island. We caught the boat at 8:30 and had two and a half hours to admire the coast and the ocean before landing on Ouessant.

The island is only 3km by 8km (population 1000), so we gladly took advantage of bike rentals and spent the afternoon peddling around. Ouessant is enchanting, full of beaches and cliffs and boulders and lighthouses, roads like bike paths and trails, marauding sheep, and winds to boot. Cases in point:

At the end of a long afternoon of biking and being buffeted by the breeze, Katie and I slowly clambered back onto the ferry for the long commute home.

The next morning, Wednesday, I left for Rennes to catch up with Julien. After picking me up at the station he showed me around the city a bit, which I have passed through several times but never explored. It’s a beautiful place I will have to visit again; we spent most our time in the city gardens, where grows every type of rose and chrysanthemum imaginable. I would have taken pictures (sorry Mom), but I’d left my camera charger in Pontivy. I also realized I’d left my phone charger in Brest. And somewhere I lost my watch. To think, I used to be such a good traveler!

My visit with Julien was all too short, as the following day I left for Orléans to spend Halloween with the Noé. This is the former-Grand Rapids family I stayed with for Christmas during my year in Strasbourg: Isabelle, Frédéric, Lucie (13), Louie (10), and Charlotte (5).

We spent all day Friday readying the house for our Halloween celebration, putting up cobwebs and spiders, drawing bats and jack-o-lanterns on the windows, making a downstairs room into a haunted house, the works. Saturday we spent all day cooking, my personal contribution being pumpkin soup and pumpkin pie. And a fine pumpkin pie it was:

We all dressed up and went out trick-or-treating, but were largely unsuccessful since Halloween isn’t celebrated as widely as in the States (although Isabelle is doing her best to change this). This time of year revolves around All Saints Day, when people return to cemeteries to decorate the graves of loved ones. On this Saturday night in the middle of vacation, hardly anyone answered their door and fewer were expecting to hand out candy.

After an hour, the kids’ trick-or-treating satiated, we returned to the house, welcomed guests, and led them through the haunted house. Our creativity ranged from peeled grapes for eyes, a murder in the bathroom, a coffin, a Monty Python-esque Halloween Q&A, and Charlotte feather tickling. All was highly entertaining.

Finally, last leg of the trip: having found cheap train tickets, I couldn’t resist returning to Strasbourg. I stayed just Sunday-Tuesday, but had a wonderful time catching up with Hayley and seeing my favorite spots. We walked around La Petite France, the cathedral, and Place de la République; revisited the Cave des Hospices and my wine professional, Philippe; bought Alsatian pottery (after all, I did receive my first paycheck Sunday), ate tarte flambée, and imagined the Christmas market. I love this town.

Well, that town, since here I am back in Pontivy. I spent seven long, uneventful hours in public transportation today, arriving home to find that—you guessed it—the heat’s not working.

Did I mention it’s raining?

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