Welcome to France

I’ve always been a little afraid of visiting France. Not because I don’t speak the language, or heard the people are sometimes standoffish, or because I was worried I wasn’t going to enjoy it. I have been afraid of visiting France because I expected to love it SO much, that I never wanted to come home. That life in Canada would never compare after living the wonderful lifestyle of the French.
For those of you that know me even a little, you’ll know I have a strange obsession over cheese. All kinds of cheese. It’s by far my favourite food in the world. Followed closely by baguettes and wine… I wonder how France and I are going to get along.
I’ve been in France for exactly one week as I write this post, and I completely adore the country. But with a few hiccups to begin my trip, it took me a couple days to warm up to the place I was so looking forward to.
Actually, at first, I didn’t even know I was in France. I left San Sebastián in a thunderstorm with 12€ in my pocket. I stopped at 7 banks along the way to try to get money from one of the ATM’s. Nothing. My bank card just refused to work, after a month of no issues. Great.
So I hopped on the train in the direction I needed to go, in hopes I would figure the problem out later. With the purchase of a couple oranges and my first metro ticket I was down to 9€.
The end of the metro line dropped me off at Hendaye: apparently a town in France. The signs were in Spanish, the people spoke to me in French and the cafe across the street was called Cafe Jose. I knew this was a border town, but assumed the locals were speaking to me in French because I looked more French than Spanish. Turns out, after having to google where I was, I had made it to France!
I was trying to get to Toulouse. Originally I had wanted to go to Bordeaux, but turns out there are no hostels in Bordeaux. The cheapest hotel I could find was close to 70€/night for one person. Way beyond my budget. Toulouse was all booked up for hostels as well. Luckily, I found a place in a suburb called Colomiers that would take me in for the night, and so I was headed in that direction.
My transfer train to Bayonne didn’t run that day. So I was told my only route would be via Bordeaux, then onwards to Toulouse, then I could change trains again to Colomiers. It was going to cost me 80€. I put it on my credit card… Next train to Bordeaux: 5 hours.
5 hours in the tiny town of Hendaye. 5 hours in a thunderstorm with no where to go. The only place open was Cafe Jose across the street, which charged me 6€ for a sandwich so I could connect to the wifi to reach my bank.
I now had 3€ in my pocket.
The whole day was like this for me. Rain. Rain. Rain. I was freezing. My bank was closed with the time change. The train to Bordeaux was 25 minutes late which made me 5 minutes late for my connecting train to Toulouse. I had a 50 minute wait between my arrival in Toulouse and my train to Colomiers. The line to get tickets took me 40 minutes… I almost burst with anger as I waited in line, thinking I was going to miss my last train. With the ticket price, I now had 1.50€ in my pocket.
When I arrived in Colomier it was pitch black. The directions through the abandoned suburb were atrocious. Through side streets, under the highway, along streets with no name. I walked and walked, with no map. It took me a half hour to reach the hostel in the cold and dark.
The drive from San Sebastián to Colomiers is a little more than 3 hours. I arrived at the hostel at 9:40pm, 12 hours and 40 minutes after I’d left. I was cold, I was hungry, I was cranky, and I was poor. The small sandwich in Hendaye and two oranges were all I ate all day.
I called my bank from the hostel once I’d checked in. The internet cut out on all three phone calls I made to them. I finally gave up and went downstairs to ask if there was some place around the hostel for some cheap take out.
The young man behind the counter looked at me and scoffed.
“There is nothing. It is too late. There is nothing to eat now. You checked in a half hour ago. You should have thought about eating then, because now there is nothing!” He was sitting at the bar of the attached restaurant, eating and drinking wine with his wife. They looked at eachother with a “how stupid is this girl” look. In my hangriness I almost reached over and punched him for being so rude. A simple “sorry, I think everything is closed now” would have sufficed.
Then they started talking in French to each other.
I walked away. “Thanks anyways” I said.
“No, stop” he said. “I will make you a salad if you have to eat. With salmon. Ok?”
I almost didn’t want to eat his salad out of spite, but I was so hungry.
“Ok. Thank you” I said.
I sat down at a table and a salad was put in front of me almost instantly. Clearly it had already been made. I thanked him as he set it down, but he just turned and walked away. I felt sad and tired and cranky as I ate my little salad. But I have to admit, the salmon was the best salmon I have ever eaten.
I took a deep breath when I’d finished eating and told myself to suck it up. I could feel a cold coming on with the damp weather I’d been in all day. I just needed to go to bed, and tomorrow, everything would be better. So I watched the end of the movie that the hostel was playing and crawled into bed early. So much for my instant love affair with France. So far, it had been nothing but expensive and stressful.

Sri Lanka

Kelsi and I had absolutely zero expectations about Sri Lanka. Until the night before we arrived, in fact, the only thing we knew about the country was that Colombo was the capital and it has tea. Yes, we’re ridiculous. We had expected Sri Lanka to be our relaxing vacation time. Check out Colombo for a day or two, then lie on the beach for 5 days and unwind. Then we googled it…
Sri Lanka has SO much to offer. It has pristine beaches, ancient ruins and abandoned palaces, a rich history of Buddhism, and some of the most incredible tea plantations in the world. It has the most Unesco World Heritage sites for a country of it’s size (8 in total) and is home to the ancient fortress Sigiriya, that is considered by many to be the 8th Wonder of the World. On top of that, Lonely Planet has rated it as one of the top ten places to visit in 2013. For a place that was wrapped up in a brutal civil war until 2009, the country is still off the beaten track to most tourists. Wow.
This meant both good and bad news. The good thing was that we were about to see most, if not all, of these things. The bad news was, our relaxing five-day beach holiday was going to have to be put on hold.
In only a few hours we put together a 14 day sightseeing tour of our own. The problem was, we only had 5 and a half days, and a small budget. What to do?
Wen it came to our week in Sri Lanka, I think the phrase should be “where there’s a will, there’s a way!” We were not about to let limited time and money get in our way. We would wake up at the crack of dawn, figure out the local bus systems, eat the cheapest street food we could find, and make it work!
Our first hour in the country was almost discouraging. We stopped at a tourist office in the airport to ask directions to the bus.
“Why would you take a bus? I can organize a taxi for you to Colombo no problem: 1600. Or we can organize a whole tour for you! What’s your budget?”
“$25 a day!” we replied with a smile.
“$25 a day?!” The two tour agents laughed and laughed at us. “That’s impossible. The entrance fees to
Anuradhapura and Sigiriya are $25 and $30 alone! You can’t have that low of a budget!” They laughed until finally pointing us in the direction of the bus stop. We were going to do it! We didn’t have any more money, and we weren’t going to miss out on anything.
And in the end, we came back 6 days later having spent $28 a day and we managed to visit BOTH Anuradhapura and Sigiriya! It could have been $25 if we hadn’t spoiled ourselves with beer and seafood on the last night! As I said, where there’s a will, there’s a way! Sri Lanka, here we come!