I love to travel, and Lucas and I travelled quite a bit before Lincoln and Bennett were born. Currently, we mostly travel to visit family, but as the boys get older we plan to do a lot more exploring of new places.
One of my most memorable traveling experiences was after my sophomore year of college. I spent 6 weeks in Breton (Brittany), France through the International Volunteer Program (which apparently is no longer in existence...). (Fun Fact: I minored in French in college. Also, I speak French with an awful accent. Seriously. I was told on a regular basis in France how difficult I was to understand. That was cool.) In order to be accepted into the volunteer program, I had to do a phone interview in french. In French! I hate talking on the phone in English, so that interview made me want to puke. Somehow, despite my horrible accent, I managed to get into the program AND graduate with that French minor. Amazing.
I was assigned to work at a residential home for adults with cerebral palsy about 10 kilometers from Rennes (Vern sur Seiche). Myself and one other volunteer shared an apartment and walked to the home every day where we assisted the residents with daily tasks (meals, showers, dressing), accompanied them on outings (including one bizarre trip to an exhibit on the history of rats in France...), and just spent time with them.
The picture on the bottom right in the above college is of some of the residents practicing for their performance of the musical Hair. It was awesome.
The residents were incredible. I learned so much from both them and the employees that worked there. Our lunches everyday were events...not in that we ate gourmet, but that they lasted at least 2 hours and were served in courses. I loved it--the pace was so relaxed, everyone took their time, and we ended every meal with bread and cheese (fresh from the bakery). LOVE. All the residents were so happy to help me improve my French, and they loved learning English from me and my roommate. I was also privileged to work a bit with the speech-language pathologist that worked with the residents. Since this was my major, I was really grateful to be able to assist her. We did some work with augmentative communication devices, which I found fascinating.
Two of the residents I met were working on trying to increase handicap accessibility throughout Brittany. They were very interested in how accessibility worked in America and took many notes on what we told them. Their biggest struggle was that doorways were often too narrow for the wheelchairs to fit through. They told us how difficult it was to find an apartment in Rennes that was wheelchair accessible, and on one outing I saw how disappointed two of the residents became when they discovered their wheelchairs would not fit between the rows of slot machines at a beachside casino.
Only related to the previous story in that it involves cars, but funny enough, the next morning when we arrived to work, we found everyone getting ready to load onto the bus for an outing. All the residents kept telling us it was going to be like the Indy 500. I remember being super excited because they all seemed so pumped to be going. You can imagine the letdown when we pulled up to the racetrack and I saw the "racecars"--go carts. Yep. They really did have uniformed drivers racing them, and the residents got to take their picture with the winner. Crazy stuff.
One of our assignments while there was to put together a program to teach the residents a little about American customs. We enlisted their help to make a puppet show telling American tall tales (Paul Bunyon and Johnny Appleseed), played BINGO, put together a lunch consisting of sandwiches, fruit and veggie trays, and apple crisp, and painted American flags.
Ile aux Moines. The Ile aux Moines is an island on the Moriban gulf that is only about 6K long. Juliette's family home (more of a compound...it was amazing! Three separate homes right on the water at the tip of the island) was gorgeous. Juliette and her father picked us up by boat from the bus station in Vannes. On the island, the family had a jeep to get around, but mostly we just rode bicycles. I loved loved loved the Ile aux Moines. It (and Brittany in general) has a Celtic history. While French of course is the dominant language, we also heard people speaking and saw many signs printed in both French and the Celtic language of Breton. Breizh is the Breton word for Brittany, and it was printed all around, including on bumper stickers. The Celtic influence was also evident in the Breton flag and the triskell (triple spiral) that was prominent everywhere. One of my favorite souvenirs was a triskell necklace I bought on Mount St. Michel. We attended a little festival on the Ile aux Moines where we learned a traditional Celtic dance complete with traditional musicians. The picture on the right above is my roommate and I seated on an ancient dolman--Lucas and I also saw these when we visited Ireland a few years ago.
We also met two local guys from Vern that invited us on a weekend excursion. We went back and forth on whether or not to go with them (I mean, we had just met them and they were inviting us to drive several hours with them to a place we had never been...), but I'm so glad we did. We visited the beautiful Mont Saint Michel (in Normandy) and the walled city of Saint Malo. Amazing.
Montmartre, ate dinner there, got up the next day and took the subway to the Arc de Triomphe. From there we walked down the Champs Elysees all the way to the Louvre (that's a lot farther than it looks, just FYI. Just looked it up and it is 3 miles. No wonder it felt so long!), soaked our feet in the fountain in front of the Louvre, took the subway to Notre Dame, toured Notre Dame, took the subway to the Eiffel Tower, and ended the day back at Montmartre for our last dinner in Paris.
I would love to go back to Brittany someday. The experience of spending those 6 weeks there, pretty much on my own, has shaped the way I want to travel in the future. Experience the culture from a local's perspective. Find the traditional experiences. Learn how the culture works. Lucas and I would love to take the boys on an extended vacation or even live for an entire year in Europe at some point. Who knows when or where, but I can't wait!