NANCY, FRANCE (June 1-6)
A bit about Nancy:
This is an elegant little city located in the northeastern part of France, which is part of the region of Lorraine. From what I was told, it is a student populated city with several different institutions surrounding the area. Unfortunately, I did not have time to check out the museums, especially the Art Nouveau museum. This city was once a major centre for this type of art style which focuses on natural forms and mother nature. Much of this can be seen in decorative art pieces for houses (i.e., furniture, light fixtures, utensils, etc.).
My first host was so very kind and open minded. Unfortunately, she stayed in a dorm and did not have a lot of space, so I slept on the floor. But, I had no problem with this – I had my camping gear with me anyway. She was very easy to get along with. She let me borrow her bike to explore the city and even gave me her key when she knew I’d get home before her. Since she had work all day while I attended the science communication conference, we would talk mostly in the evening time. It was unfortunate that both of us were always so tired by the end of the day, so we didn’t go out very much.
My second host in Nancy was a student who had an apartment all to himself. I had a bed and a whole room to myself. He even prepared dinner and lunch for the both of us. I was so impressed with his vegetarian pizza and pasta, although he felt it was just a plain dish. I kind of wished I brought my ukulele as he was a good uke player- we could have jammed a little! Overall, excellent experiences so far…let’s keep them coming this way :)
Frankly, I only had one full day to explore the city, as I was attending the conference most of the day. Here are some pictures to give you an idea of what it was like:
TOUL, FRANCE (June 20-22)
A bit about Toul:
This is a commune right outside of Nancy (still a part of the region of Lorraine). The entire downtown area is like a the shell of an escargot, as the centre is a huge roundabout. In addition, the entrance to downtown is through these large walls which used to be part of a fortress. One of the most stunning attractions here is the gothic cathedral.
I was going to take the train to the south of France from Toul after my first World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) experience with a young family. Vaucouleurs is about 20 or 30 km from Toul and so usually WWOOFers take the bus back which is about 2.50 euros. Although, by some chance, David’s (the father) cousin offered to drive me to Toul because she was just passing by. On top of this, Natacha’s (the mother) aunt (Francine) lived in Toul and offered to take me in for a night, so I wouldn’t have to sleep at the train station (my train was supposed to leave at 7:20am the next day). Woohoo! I was extremely lucky to have Francine show me around Toul. It was also the festival of music that weekend, so the streets were full of songs.
I made the mistake of trusting the online times for trains. I arrived at the Toul train station and was told I had just missed the only train to the south of France by 5 minutes. Note: I am traveling with a EuroRail pass for France and Spain which gives me 6 travel days (I can take as many trains as I need to within 24 hours) however, you have to pay extra for trains that need reservations.
So here I was, on a Sunday morning, poor Francine had woken up extra early to drive me to the train station and I had missed my train due to my poor organization. So, I was looking for options. Taking trains without reservations to where I needed to go would take over 20 hours and Francine was worried about my safety. So, she insisted that I wait until the next day so I would get to Sisteron at a decent time. I guess I could have argued, but I was so tired and so I didn’t mind staying an extra night!
SISTERON, FRANCE (June 22-23)
A bit about Sisteron
This is another commune but in the south of France, more specifically, part of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department in the region of Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur. It is located right beside a river, and has what I believe is a cathedral on one side of the river and the eye-catching Rocher de la Baume on the other side.
I was finally on my way to Sisteron for my next WWOOFing experience. Despite receiving an email from the farmer stating that I could come and volunteer, I had not received a confirmation as to whether or not he could come pick me up at the time I stated. Also, I was running late due to my little mishap in Toul. I only had internet, so I had to trust that he would be there (although I had a gut feeling that he would not show up). Unfortunately, that gut feeling was right. I arrived at the train station in Sisteron and sure enough, no one was waiting for me.
At this point, it was 7pm and I panicked just a little bit. I had the farmer’s phone number and so the logical thing would be was to find a phone – but the pay phone right outside the train station was out of order and stores were closing. I had a hunch that I would end up setting up my tent somewhere for the night. During my silent panicking, I noticed a person (who I thought was a homeless man) wandering around the train station and looking for things in the trash. He noticed me too and then asked if I needed help…but in English!
It turns out he was a Canadian, but was born in what is now Serbia. He was probably in his 50s and was hitchhiking around Europe trying to make some money on farms. He said he knew someone with a phone and could help. At this point, I could have walked away. I could have gone on my own, but for whatever reason, I said sure, let’s go and find this person. I think there were definitely moments where I was afraid, but it seemed like he really need someone to talk to – he spoke no french! As it turned out, the person with the phone was traveling with his caravan and had left his spot. I’m not entirely sure if I was lied to. At this point, I noticed a local bar which was still open and asked to use the phone. Unfortunately, I was unable to reach the farmer, but was able to leave a message.
My acquaintance was sleeping without a tent. He had just with a couple mats and a sleeping bag (in fact, that’s all you really need, it hardly rains and is fairly warm in the south). But, upon hearing that I had a tent, he wanted to set it up right away. And that’s how I had unintentionally invited someone to sleep in my tent. In the end, we decided to set up my tent in an abandoned parking lot, because the grassy areas were equipped with sprinklers that would apparently go off at 4am in the morning.
He had been in Sisteron for a couple of days, and was able to get some food from dumpster diving and showed me a bit of the city while I was there. We (mostly he) talked about politics, history, religion, people’s values and how the world’s not going to get any better. In retrospect, what I did may have seemed idiotic and I know that most people would not approve of what I did. Nonetheless, I did learn quite a bit from him. It’s hard to draw that line of whether or not you should categorize someone a certain way in an instant. Perhaps, I trust people way too much. I just didn’t want to judge him too quickly, because of his physical appearance or his apparent actions. I’m not saying everyone I meet in obscure situations will end up teaching me life lessons or giving me travel advice. However, it bothers me to know that there are spectacular people who are ignored and not given a chance. I just had to stay for the chat. Thankfully, the next day, I reached the farmer by using the phone at the office of tourism and was well on my way after noon!
Here are some neat pictures taken in Sisteron. I didn’t spend too much time here, as I left pretty early the next day.
I am living pretty frugally, I think up to now I have spent less than 100 euros for the whole month due to Couchsurfing and WWOOFing. I feel like I am getting more out of my experience this way. I am meeting cool and strange people and getting to see some extraordinary sights.