It’s the 11th of August and I’ve been back in France for almost a month and a half.
On June 28th I took a two day ferry from Tangier, Morocco to Sete, France in order to continue my very indirect route east towards my cross-continental destination of Bucharest, Romania.
Immediately after stepping off the boat and back into France I remembered how much I love it here.
From Sete I rode my bike northeast towards the French Alps where I intended on leaving my bike to hike around for a few days to a couple weeks. I pedaled through fields of lavender in Provence and through vineyard upon vineyard in the Rhone Valley. I picked fresh cherries and figs and plums from trees and communicated in frustratingly halting baby French with people along the way. I consulted my dictionary constantly, I listened to my French language “tapes” and I contemplated staying in France and learning French. How romantic would it be to volunteer on a farm and learn how to make cheese and grow organic veggies in the shadow of the Alps?! The wild Carpathians and unknown rustic splendors of Romania (and everything in between here and there) were still a draw, but after a couple weeks in challenging Morocco and almost 5 months of near constant travel after leaving Antarctica, I was tired. I had decided that I wasn’t in the mood to tackle Romania alone, if at all.
My first stop in the French Alps was Parc national des Ecrins. I hiked hut to hut for a few days among the impressive contrasts of glaciated hanging valleys, towering spiny peaks and glowing green pastures. I appeared to be the only non-French person in the valley and at the rustic mountain huts I was forced to awkwardly communicate with French hikers and mountaineers – each of us interested to hear about the other’s routes and adventures. I had an amazing time and would have stayed longer but unending rain and storms were in the forecast.
I pedaled my bike northwest to Grenoble where my good friend Shane, who I had met working on The Ice, had just arrived to study French for the next 6 months! The timing couldn’t have been better. I waited out the rain in Grenoble for 5 days and explored the city on foot. I relished cooking in a kitchen once again and enjoyed great conversations in attempted French, and mostly English, with Shane’s French roommate, Fred. Shane would come home from class each day having learned something new and exciting about French and I was inspired to look into taking a French course in the Alps.
So that’s what I did! I found a language teacher in the legendary mountain town of Chamonix, a place I had always dreamed of skiing in the winter but I would settle for visiting the summer. When the rains cleared I rode my bike there over a day and a half and as the mountains grew around me, I fell more and more in love. I had arranged to camp on the lawn of a house of cyclists I found on warmshowers.org and when I showed up at their house I was armed with a bottle of wine and prepared to cook a simple dinner of lentils, chorizo and rice for the household as a thanks. I was greeted instead with a dinner of amazing pork belly stuffed with apricots, fresh fennel from the garden and cashews that Marty, had put in the oven just before I arrived. Iris, who I had been communicating with regarding the lodging, arrived home with Hugh after rock-climbing post-work. She popped open her experimental jar of homemade ginger kimchee and we dug into amazing food, easy conversation and hearty laughs. Charlotte got home later that night after her job waiting tables at a hopping restaurant downtown and the household was complete. I couldn’t believe my luck to have found such awesome people immediately upon arriving in Cham. What a great intro to my new hometown for the next month or so!
I spent the next few days getting oriented, riding my bike up and down the valley, studying a bit of French and looking for a place to live. I was introduced to Myriam, a French teacher originally from Lille in the north of France, at a bonfire/ BBQ one night and the next day she found me outside my tent and asked if I would be interested in staying with her while I was in town. YES!!! I moved into her cute two bedroom flat a five-minute walk from the famous Aiguille du Midi tram the next day and started my French lessons with my incredible teacher, Karine, two days after that. Let the learning begin!
I had grand aspirations of hiking every day and rock-climbing and riding my bike to Italy and Switzerland over the weekends, but time flew and July had a record number of rainy days. I did go on some amazing hikes, picked wild strawberries, raspberries and chantrelles, attended concerts in the high valleys overlooking glaciers during the annual jazz festival, rode my bike to neighboring villages to have picnics while reviewing my conjugations and I continued to meet really great people. Living with Myriam and her crazy dog Bamboo was so fun and grounding. I cooked and studied French more than anything else during the many rainy afternoons and I relished my downtime.
With the end of my three weeks of lessons nearing I had to decide what to do next. I was loving Chamonix but also not speaking as much French as I would have liked. It often seemed that English was the first language there rather than French, which was easy and fun, but not going to get me to where I wanted to be with French over the short period of time I had left to learn. I started looking into volunteering at farms around France – my original idea revisited – and found a spot in the midi-Pyrenees. A pottery retreat/ goat farm/ veggie farm where I’ll be cooking, cleaning, milking goats and tending the garden in my few remaining weeks before heading back to Alaska. En route I stopped back in Parc national des Ecrins and hiked with Shane for a few days into the mountains of Val d’Oisans, then returned to Grenoble, where I am writing this from. Continuing southwest tomorrow!
!!Pictures are horribly out of order – excuse the mess, enjoy the visuals!!
Take off your nasty hiking boots and slide these comfy puppies on your tired feet! Compliments of Club Alpin Francais.