The Charms of Southern France

The morning after my voyage from England to France, I woke up early to complete a trial day trip to Tautavel. The Musée de la Préhistoire was the one case study for which my accommodation was not local, thus, I wanted to make sure I knew well in advance how to navigate my way between the two towns. (No need to accidentally miss a research appointment eight months (and 7,000 miles) in the making). For just one euro, I hopped on a bus in downtown Perpignan and rode about an hour out of town to the mountain village of Tautavel. Along the way I was treated to breathtaking views of French countryside – the rolling hills continuously validating the phrase “It’s not the destination, but the journey that matters.” Once in Tautavel, I spent the day exploring the winding cobblestone streets, figuring out exactly where to go when I returned on a later date, and eating French tapas at a charming outdoor restaurant. I felt myself falling in love with this sleepy little town, though a warm sunny day in the foothills of the French Pyrenees will do that to just about anyone.

   

The following morning I took a day trip southeast with two new friends to the unbelievably beautiful seaside town of Collioure, located less than 10 miles from the Spanish border. We hopped on another one-euro bus – swimsuits and sunglasses in tow – ready for a fantastic day in small-town France. Collioure turned out to be even more picturesque than I had imagined, complete with quaint cafes, sandy beaches, colorful shops, historic seaside fortresses, and a never-ending supply of sailboats. The three of us spent the day lounging in the sun, eating gelato (I recommend the coconut & passion fruit), and talking about our travels.

One of my favorite aspects about spending time with Alice and Angela had to be the way in which we communicated. I spoke Spanish with Angela, since she is from Brazil and knows more Spanish than English. As Alice is British, we spoke English when just the two of us were together. To top it off, both girls studied French and have spent periods of time living in the country, so they spoke French with each other. When all three of us were together, we conversed in the only language shared by everyone: English. I was fascinated by the almost effortless way in which we switched between different modes of communication depending on the current combination of people present.

This trip has led me to value language like never before. If I had to consider the list of possessions I brought from home – clothes, passport, credit card – I would say my knowledge of English and Spanish are by far my most valuable assets. (Granted I would not even be able to leave the United States without a passport, but that is beside the point). No matter which country I find myself in, the theme of communication continuously plays out in every aspect of my trip. I am so glad to have studied Spanish for the past nine years, as it has opened up a multitude of doors and made international travel so much easier. Knowing a second language allows me to bargain with street vendors, ask bus drivers where to disembark, talk of worldwide travel with new friends, and navigate my way around foreign lands.

Among backpackers, the first line of an introduction is usually “What languages do you speak?” This necessary first step of establishing the best way to communicate with one another is then followed up with topics such as why you are in [insert name of city], where you have been before now, and where you are going next. I have had encounters in which there was no mention of names or nationalities until the very end of the conversation. I love the fact that one’s background is no longer significant – all that matters is a desire to travel.

[Next on the agenda: Learn French].

   

Throughout the couple days leading up to my work in Tautavel, I divided my time between consolidating research notes from London and exploring Perpignan with Alice. It took a bit of effort to track down a cafe with free Wifi so that I could work, but luckily I had Alice by my side to serve as a personal translator. Afterwards we sat outside at a little restaurant in the heart of the most colorful neighborhood in Perpignan and enjoyed a meal of gazpacho, pesto pasta, and honey-caramelized goat cheese salad. Absolutely delicious. Though I’m traveling on a budget, I always make sure to have at least a couple nice meals in each location I visit – and southern France definitely did not disappoint. Later we wandered along the manmade waterway that runs through town, marveled at the iconic tower nearby, bought fresh cherries from a local vendor, and discovered hidden shops throughout the charming historical district. Warm, sunny weather subsequently called for a lazy afternoon in the park, fountain frolicking, and (of course) more ice cream.