My long-awaited departure from Alsace took place last Wednesday (July 18th
) at 16:00 to be exact. Saying good-bye to the family was as I expected: difficult, sad and surreal – it was one of those moments which you prepare for and think about for so long that when it finally happens, it almost doesn’t feel real. And I wish it hadn’t been real. I wish I hadn’t had to look at Gabriel, thinking that I’d never see him again as he is now; I wish I hadn’t had to hug each child one-by-one as they came to thank me for their goodbye present, thinking that I wouldn’t see them again for such a long time; and I wish I hadn’t had to say to Raphael, looking into his large hazel brown eyes that I was leaving. How do you leave when you’ve become so attached? So in love with the place and the people? It was a struggle to hold back the tears.
However, there was one last treat for me before I left. At 16:00 Luc, my pastor came to pick me up and took me back to his family’s apartment above the school before we finally left for good an hour later. Lydie (who I think it’s fair to say, was my favourite teacher and closest ally at the school) must have heard or seen that I was there and came rushing down from her small studio apartment on the floor above to see me before I left and to renew her pleas to me to keep in touch. We enjoyed a laugh and a catch-up just like old times before saying goodbye.
Luckily the 7 hour journey down to the South of the country was cut in half by a stop-over in Lyon (the second biggest city in France) where Manuela’s mum lives. It had clearly been an unbearably hot day and I began to dread and look forward (thinking of my potential tan) to what it would be like in the South. The following day, after a late breakfast we did a small tour of the city, which is very beautiful and then by 16:00 we were ready to leave again to complete the rest of the journey down to Toulon.
My first impressions of the coastal town reminded me of when I was in Spain and Tenerife – palm trees lining the road, white-washed buildings, a dry and barren landscape, clear blue sky and the warm evening sun.
The house where Luc’s father lives resembles a villa. Large green metal gates open onto a cobbled driveway which leads onto a small side path to the front door and further on to the stony and rather barren back garden. I am placed in a downstairs bedroom with another girl I know faintly from youth and Rimlishof events. As one of Stella’s closest friends she’s been invited on the holiday too.
The following day I got my first glimpse of a French beach. Tourists, parasols and sunbeds seemed to overwhelm the long strip of pale sand and as we took our place among them, I began to understand what Alana had meant when she told me about the ‘sexual’ atmosphere in the South.
After a few days we soon fell into a daily routine of getting up around 9, having breakfast, going to the beach (we tried a few beaches and finally decided one called Fabregas was the best of them, mainly because of fewer people), going home for lunch, having a lazy afternoon and occasionally going out. It was the type of holiday that I haven’t had in SUCH a long time.
It took me a couple of days to finally pluck up the courage to go in the sea – when we first arrived there had been a strong wind which made the sea colder than usual and sand fly up your nose, in your ears and basically anywhere it could find.
On Saturday afternoon we took a trip into the town centre to do a bit of shopping before heading over to a small jazz concert. Afterwards, we went for a wonder along the port to admire all the boats and tacky tourist shops.
Wednesday was the longest day we spent at the beach, from 9 in the morning to 5 in the evening. Luc took all three of us girls to a small beach tucked away on the coast called Estagnol (in Alsace the names seem to be a mix of French and German whilst in the South they seem to be a mix of French and Spanish). The sea was transparent blue and the sand, light and soft. The morning was the best time to be there before the horde of tourists arrived, taking up every available place left on the beach. My tan came on well that day and I didn’t have to scream, gasp or try not to curse as I entered the water – it was just perfect. Swimming in the sea was probably one of the best parts of the holiday for me – getting in took a bit of an effort but once you’d made the plunge, it was idyllic and I loved the feeling of floating on my back in the tranquil Mediterranean sea, thanking God for blessing me in such a way.
Every morning, we woke up to clear blue sky and the sound of the ‘segal’ (that insect which makes a fast clicking sound in hot countries) ringing everywhere. But as beautiful as it was, I wasn’t too sad about leaving for Brittany yesterday. I’m looking forward to going home.
I spent the last night in the Toulon villa in front of Papi Mo’s (Luc’s Dad) television set watching the opening of the Olympics with Manuela’s Italian mother and Luc’s ex-marine French father, admiring the British’s efforts to show off the best of their country. It felt strange (as it always does) to see my home country been shone across the world and watching it from the living room of a French family, listening to their attempts to say English names and places. But a part of me knew as I watched the Games in London that as much as I love it here in France, I’m also ready to go home.
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