Monday, July 13, 2009

Nîmes

(Posted from Paris, France)

On my last day in Aix-en-Provence, I went to the train station to get some tickets to Barcelona. I decided that I was done with France and was ready to move on to Spain. I tried for at least a half-hour at the ticket counter trying to get a ticket, but nothing worked. There were no trains that would get to Spain on the day that I wanted. It seemed like I was out of luck.

Then I was reminded of something.

Remember the family from New Zealand I had met on the train to Aix? Well, in my conversation with them they said that they were on their way to Nîmes and that they would love it if I joined them. I took down their number thinking Yeah, like I want to spend more time in France. They seemed nice enough, though; I tend to always trust nice families.

“One ticket to Nîmes,” I decided.

I corresponded with Carol-Ann and told her that I’d take her up on her offer. She welcomed me, and before I knew it, I was on my way to Nîmes.

The morning of my departure to Nîmes, my credit card stopped working. I was completely out of money. My parents put $1000 in my account to hold me over for a week and a half, the amount of time we had to shorten my trip to. (Luckily a ticket change wasn’t very expensive.) I could have bought a ticket to Barcelona and spent a lot of money in an unfamiliar place trying to get home, but instead I was on my way to stay with a nice family for free in the south of France.

God works in the strangest, most wonderful ways.

I arrived in Nîmes, took a taxi to the Torries’ (that’s their last name) house because it was kind of late at night and the buses stopped going there, and arrived to Anthony saying, “Hello! Would you like a beer or something?” I told him water was fine, and Carol-Ann came by, hugged me American-style and kissed both my cheeks European-style and said, “Let’s go for a swim.” So we spent the evening in the pool behind a very nice house in Nîmes, telling life stories and talking about anything we could think of.

“This is the life,” I sighed.

We went back in and Carol-Ann made us spaghetti and meatballs. I ate until I was completely stuffed. There’s something about spaghetti and meatballs that’s so wonderfully comforting.

We spent the rest of the night sitting around and I went on the internet to talk to my family before I went to bed. Skype has become my best friend. At first I thought it was a wimpy thing to Skype my family all the time, but I realized with my anxiety disorder that I need certain people to be rocks for me. And when I get to Skype them I am filled with confidence to travel more. Christie prays for me, my parents do breathing exercises with me, and my friend Tami cheers me up and motivates me. Without these people, I would not be able to have the strength to do what I’m doing. This time, however, I didn’t need to cry, I didn’t need to be sad or anything. I was in a safe, cheerful place and all I wanted to do was tell them about it. They all met Carol-Ann on the webcam and were very excited to see the fun I was having.

I got to sleep in a really nice bed, and woke up in the morning to roosters cock-a-doodle-dooing outside my window. It was a good/bad kind of thing because, even though they were chickens at this house, it was still seven in the morning. And when you watch a movie that takes place in the morning and a rooster cock-a-doodle-doos it is usually just once, and the morning seems to hit “snooze.” Not so in real life. Roosters tend to crow for an hour or so. So it was wonderful, but annoying.

I woke up, had breakfast with the Torries (toasted French bread, diced bacon and melted cheese with fruit juice and apricots), and planned the day with them.

We went to a market in a small town somewhere in the Provence region. The entire town was taken over by this market; every street was full of vendors selling clothes, shoes, jewelry, spices, honey, fish, meat, sausage, veggies, fruits, flowers, soaps, oils, scarves, rugs, hats, paintings, sunglasses, books, CDs…anything that you can possibly think of, all there on the roads of this tiny village. I thought it would be a hectic place, but it was actually quite relaxed. People strolled about, picking up groceries (can you imagine getting your groceries in a place like that?!), getting snacks, meeting friends, or just sitting and eating an apple. I wanted to taste everything, smell everything, and buy everything I possibly could. (As you’ve read, the last thing was not possible…I smelled and tasted a lot of things, though.)


This guy was a really cool artist who traveled around and drew interesting people that he met. I bought the drawing of his of a clown he met while in Paris.

I think this is really funny. :)

We spent a few good hours there, and then went to lunch. It was a hot day, so a tall glass of Coke and a handmade personal pizza was a good idea. Also this restaurant sprayed mist every minute or so, which was just so very pleasant.


Carol-Ann and Anthony.

We then went to Pont du Gard, which is an ancient Roman aqueduct. It was amazing, of course, but so very touristy. Still, it was worth it to fly my kite there, given that there was a very nice wind and it was the Pont du Gard, for crying out loud.


Some graffiti from the 1800s.

Afterward we got some ice cream from a little non-charming stand outside the tourist center. I got pistachio ice cream, of course, and I was surprised that it was actually quite good. Good for you, mainstream, generic ice cream stand!

Also, there were these place mats in the gift shop. I thought they were the dumbest things I had ever seen. A sleeping kitten superimposed on a picture of Pont du Gard. So tacky. What was even scarier is that there are probably people in the world who see it and say, “Oh my gawsh!! This is thee most ADORABLE thing I have ever seen!! I’ll take four and put them on my kitchen table!!”

I spent a lot of time thinking about how stupid they were. It was enjoyable.

We then took a walk around the city of Nîmes. Gosh, what a nice city. Not too old, not too young, not too commercial. There is a Roman amphitheatre there and some other ancient things. Pretty cool. Jason Mraz was going to be playing at the amphitheatre in a week or so, which was pretty cool.


The real clouds look fake and the fake clouds look real. Isn't that cool? (This is a painted building in Nîmes.)

We went home again, took a swim, and went to bed. Relaaaaaaxing.

What was cool is that, each day, I learned more and more about these two individuals and began to love them more and more. With each place we went, we shared stories about our lives and got to see a bigger picture of who we are.

The next day we had a late morning breakfast and hung around a bit at the house. The Torries wanted to go and do something, but I thought it might be a good idea to have a lazy day. So they went out to go see a castle, and I took some time for myself. This was the first time that I enjoyed being alone and actually doing nothing. I watched a movie online, I talked to some friends online, I checked email, I updated my post, I planned as much as I could for the rest of my time in Europe, went for a swim, sang to myself and God, took a shower, drank iced tea, read, and just relaxed. It was great. No stress; I was on my own in a safe, charming place. It was all good.

Carol-Ann and Anthony came back quite late, and they realized it was the 4th of July. Without telling me, they made a makeshift hotdog (actually a spicy sausage in a baguette) with ketchup for me so I could celebrate the 4th American-style. I could have cried. These people are absolutely wonderful.

We again went to sleep, woke up to the roosters, had a croissant with jam breakfast, and started to plan the day.

We decided we would drive around the area and see what we could see. They were going to go kayaking, and since I was trying to save money, I decided I would just not go. When the manager of the kayak rental store heard about this, he allowed me to barter the price down to thirteen euros. I figured it was worth it, so I went. And what a nice time it was! We had a picnic on a sandbar. The water was really nice—a good mix between calm and rapids (to which my dad said, “That’s kind of like your trip! You’ve had some good and some bad, but it’s all good in the end!” True, Dad). It was good in the end; we rode the river all the way down to the Pont du Gard, and then under it. So very fun.


There's buff, 17-year-old Anthony, and then little 20-year old Brian. I need to start working out.

Afterwards we went to a little bar in town. I had another Coke and we just sat and talked for a bit. Oh, look at the following picture.

Guess what this is and guess who used it.

The night was still relatively young, so we hit up Avignon. I had heard that Avignon is a wonderful, beautiful place from some random people, but let me tell you: it was an absolute circus. Historically, it was cool because that is where some popes were during the Great Schism. (That was a time when there was a dispute between whether the pope should be in Rome or Avignon, and since they couldn’t decide, there were popes in Rome and in Avignon, all angry and excommunicating each other. Hilarious.) Other than that, though, it was crazy. They seem to have no regulations about where one can advertise, so everywhere I went there were posters. Along walls, strung across streets, on fences, on streetlights, on doors, on windows, on bikes, on people—all on top of each other, and advertising shows or things I did not want to see. Nonetheless, I flew my kite there.


Mom, don't look where I'm standing.

We went to a ruined castle village somewhere somewhat near Avignon afterwards. I don’t remember the name or the exact location because I’m not sure we talked about it, and Carol-Ann was driving. (Which, allow me to say, was a funny thing to watch, her being used to driving on the right side of the car and the left side of the road, and having to continuously check herself while driving on the opposite…with a stick shift…among stereotypically-horrible French drivers. I couldn’t help but laugh when she turned on the windshield wipers instead of turn signal multiple times. She’s a courageous woman.) The castle was beautiful, and the village—once a ghost town, now a site of restaurants and shops—was absolutely charming.

I wanted to take them out for dinner to thank them for allowing me to stay with them, so we found a nice little eatery in the little village. Turns out it was a place specializing in food and wine of the Provence region—where rosemary and thyme grow along the streets, and rosé is made the correct way. We shared some wine, and I ordered the lamb with ratatouille. It may have been the best meal I’ve had yet. I cleared the plate (one of the only times in my life I’ve joined The Clean Plate Club at a restaurant), and was so happy afterwards. It was an outdoor café, and there was rosemary growing right next to my seat. I would roll the rosemary between my fingers, smell it, and then taste the delicious rosé. I was so happy.

Carol-Ann, Anthony and I sat and talked casually for a good hour after we ate. We were wonderfully comfortable with each other by this time—like family—so we just talked and enjoyed each other’s company. I was sure that I was stuffed full by the first half hour of our talk, but then I turned around and took a look at their dessert menu. I had to get something. I ordered the crème brulle au lavende, knowing that I loved French crème brulle. What came out surprised me. Of course, it just looked like delicious crème brulle, but when I bit into it, I not only tasted the sweet, cool crème, but a very noticeable hint of lavender. I asked how they did it, and apparently they added lavender oil to the crème and served it that way. I was ecstatic. I savored every bite, and every word from my new friends.

We went home (by this time it was really late), said goodnight, and went to bed. The next day I boarded a train to Marseille, and then to Marseille airport, and a plane to Milan, Italy, full of wonderful memories from my stay in Nîmes.

7 comments:

  1. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?! YOU'RE FLYING YOUR KITE ON THE EDGE OF THE TOP OF SOME CASTLE THAT'S HUNDREDS OF FEET IN THE AIR AND NOT EVEN LOOKING AT YOUR FEET BUT GAZING INSTEAD AT YOUR KITE AND ABOUT TO TRIP OVER SOMEBODY'S PURSE THAT IS SET HAPHAZARDLY IN FRONT OF YOU?????? ARE YOU TRYING TO GIVE YOUR MOM A HEART ATTACK WHILE SHE'S INNOCENTLY SITTING ENJOYING YOUR BLOG WITH HER VICARIOUS ITALIAN WINE AND THEN BAM...SHE SEES HER SON ON THE EDGE OF SOME CASTLE!?!?!

    Okay, that's out of my system...moving on...BUT DON'T DO IT AGAIN, GEEZ!! :-)

    I'm still totally amazed by the kind people that you have met on this trip! Carole-Ann and Anthony are awesome! Is it just our American-way to not be so open and hospitable? I don't think I've ever heard of any of our friends or family that just took somebody in that they met on the street (or train) and invited them into their homes! Are we that skeptical of the strangers we meet, or are 'they' just that much nicer than us? Ponder on that and get back to me (and anyone else that would like to ponder that...)

    What's that black thing in the middle of your pizza? An olive?

    Linds would LOVE the kitty picture on the placemat!!! heeheee....sorry Linds! (As much as we would all love to give her everything with kitty pictures on it, she really doesn't appreciate it for some reason!)

    Can you imagine what an awesome concert Jason Mraz would give at that amphitheater???

    Okay, I'm your mom BUT EVEN I don't want to hear what you did in that odd bathroom looking place...

    Again, your food experiences look awesome! Yum!

    Can't wait to see you! (tomorrow!!!)

    Love you!

    Mom

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  2. Hi! Haven't commented in awhile.

    Three Palestine-similar things:
    - First, the eastern toilet makes up about 1/3 of toilets in Palestine. I'm happy you knew what to do, I was confused for quite some time and that's all my in-laws have...ugh... :)
    - Second, that kitty picture is totally something Palestinians would LOVE! When we got out wedding photos done, the photographer wanted to use photoshop to cut us out and put is in a "field" of "daisies" that were bigger than us and on a cloud with angel wings and all sorts of stupid places. No thanks, Mr. Photographer dude. Please just take the photos. I hope you bought one of those cat placemats for Lindsay, though, she needs that! (Hi, Lindsay...)
    - Third, Palestinians also frequently invite strangers into their homes in ways that kind of make me wonder. I tend the feel that Americans are really inhospitable toward strangers, but I also think we have much higher rates of random theft and murder and other unpleasant things like that, so our inhospitability (?) is probably a very learned and wise thing in our own country.

    Also, I'm pretty ok with edges and ledges and things, but I have to agree with your mom on this one: what you are doing with you kite just looks STUPID and horribly dangerous! Don't do it again!

    This picture of the castle village is amazing. Perfectly framed and the lighting is cool and I love it! The cloud one is also really cool. I enjoyed it.

    Finally, I am horribly jealous of your lavander creme brulee. That sounds amazing. I just want any creme brulee, really.

    Anyway, can't wait to hear about Italy. Good luck! Be safe!

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  3. OH NO! The Jesus meat!!! I forgot! Oh my...any explaination about it? Did you try it? It's so...amazing! Or something... haha

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  4. okay, people, it was really hard to get any wind, and i found that it was better if i stood on that ledge. i was very careful...don't worry. carol-ann also freaked out a bit. anthony didn't. he knew that i was doing the right thing.

    :)

    that's so cool, sarah, about the similarities that you pointed out! those things are just so culturally different than what i'm used to...it's so interesting to see things like that.

    and i didn't try the jesus meat. i just thought it was really funny. it did bring up some pretty sacrilegious Last Supper jokes in my mind, though. i laughed at them to myself, but would never say them out loud. :)

    italy's coming!!! :)

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  5. I'm so glad it worked out for you to go here! What great memories and friends you made!
    Aww,and thanks for listing me as one of your 'rocks.'

    Hmm, I'm glad you explained that rooster thing, because I had no idea.

    Hey, where do Carol Ann and Anthony live for real? The UK? And how did they come by this house in Nimes? Oooh, so you got to hear them speaking in their British accents all the time! Cool!

    Authentic market-places are awesome! Plus, I LOVE the clown picture! Seems to me it was the best choice there too :).

    I don't really get WHY it says Jesus next to that meat??

    The historical amphitheater and aqueduct are SO COOL! I'm very jealous! I think they are awesome and the old graffiti on the aqueduct makes it even cooler and crazier!!

    The cloud/building-cloud picture is fantastic.

    Aww, so many nice people! The makeshift 4th of July and discounted kayak sound so great!

    Hahahahahahahaha you are so open in relation to a toilet story! What has Europe done to you!

    Poster city (Avignon) is really fun to look at in pictures. Don't know if I would find it so awesome if I was there. Really, I'm not sure.
    I like how you drew posters for that city on your kite too, I can see that it really fits after looking at these pictures!

    And that was sweet of you to buy dinner for everyone, ratatouille looks kind of gross, but I'm glad you liked it.

    I love you always,
    Christie

    p.s. One more thing-- in the picture of you flying your kite at the aqueduct in Nimes, there is a woman next to you wearing the same color shirt (well, dress in her case), and raising her arms in the same way. So symmetrical and weird! Tell me what you think of it. Hahah.

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  6. Gee, that was long! You're going to have to stop doing so much cool stuff! :)

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  7. wow! thanks for the comments!!

    carol-ann and anthony are from New Zealand (they have UK cars there), and they were in the house in Nîmes because of House Swapping. It's an online organization (kind of like CouchSurfing) where people actually swap houses during vacation, including what they have in the fridge and their cars and pets and everything. it's really cool. i would totally House Swap, but i don't know if anyone would want to visit La Crosse. :)

    it's just called Jesus meat, i guess.

    and i didn't even realize the green girl was near me in the pont du gard picture!! that's so weird!!

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