27 March 2008

Lessons from Brest: Easter Week-end

Brest. City of...uh...industry and some other stuff.

Americans love to hear about this city because, obviously, it sounds like "breast." They hear it and just start convulsing with laughter. Oh, the immaturity.

So Brest was our first official weekend away from Rennes. Sophia's the one who decided to go there, or at least, she's the one who brought it up. We just felt like we needed to get away somewhere, and Brest seemed as good a place as any. Somehow in the workings of things I ended up as the person planning where we were going to stay.

The group consisted of me, Sophia, Sarah, Collin, and Mark. Jessica would have come along but one of her best friends, who is studying in Vienna, had come to visit. We had a three-day weekend because of Easter, but since Jess was leaving to go back "home" on sunday, Jessica just stayed with her Saturday and Sunday and then hung out in Saint Grégoire on Monday.

Lesson #1: Don't let Michelle plan things alone.

Brest has three hostels listed between hostelworld.com, hostelbookers.com, and google.fr. I found the cheapest one, which said that breakfast was probably included, they had linens, and said that they were a kilometer from centre ville. I told the other peeps to look at it. They "did" and then told me that sure, it was fine, book it. I did.

Lesson #2: When the French seem to politely turn their nose up at something, it really means that said thing is horrid and not worth your time. However, none of them will come straight out and say that you're wasting your time. This is the one thing that gets me...they don't really tell you that it's better to do something else. They just half smile and tell you to have fun.

Lesson #3: Find the right bus route.

After I got the ok from people and booked the hostel, I looked at the bus system of Brest. Not too bad, they had a fantastic map to play with, although I couldn't find any prices anywhere. I stuck in the address of the hostel and it popped out bus line number 3 as being the closest. Hahahaha...the train to get there was fine. It was a little crowded just until we hit Morlaix, but then it cleared up and we were able to actually sit next to one another. When we got into town I discovered that no one else had looked at a map. They all turned around; looked at me, and told me to lead the way. I hesitated for a little bit and they all freaked out. "You mean you don't know the address? Tell me you at least have the address!" Mark said.

"Of course I have the address. We just need to get to Hôtel de Ville to catch the bus," I replied, and started walking. Somehow we got where the buses were and found the 3, got on and settled in for the ride. And by settled I mean, we stood on the side of the bus, expecting to be on it for maybe 5 minutes. Uh....fifteen minutes later...we got off the bus and looked around. I almost see a sign in my head that said "WELCOME TO SUBURBIA". There were nothing but houses in sight. We looked around and I started laughing. Nothing. And, of course, it was raining. Like real rain, not colorado rain that starts and lasts for four minutes and then is gone.

We headed up the hill. Yes, the hill. We headed up the hill and on the way up the hill I looked at an address that was to my left. 109. And what was the adresse of the hostel? 253. I started laughing again. Mark and Collin looked at me sideways, trying to figure out why in the world i was laughing in the middle of nowhere, in the rain. I managed to gasp out the thing with the adresses, but surprise surprise the boys didn't think it was as funny as i did. Sophia and Sarah were just smirking, mostly laughing at my pain.

It took 20 minutes to walk to the hostel, which, of course, wasn't a hostel at all. It was a hotel chain not much unlike Holiday Inn Express on steroids to make it uglier. Finally we got to the top of the hill and to the hotel, which involved crossing a highway. Yes, highway. Why this place was on a hostel website I have no idea.

I think I spent the better part of an hour just laughing hysterically. My friends laughed along with me but were too tired to actually kill me, luckily. I'm grateful for their restraint.

Lesson #4: Grocery stores don't hand out free bags, but if you say little enough, the French think you're French

That afternoon we left the hotel after being there for about an hour. We walked straight (as straight as possible not knowing where it was) to the grocery store, where we spent a really good amount of time trying to figure out what we wanted to have for food for the next couple days. Not only was it Easter weekend, but France shuts down on Sundays. There is literally maybe one or two stores in each city that are actually open. The fun part was trying to find a bag to put our four baguettes, four rounds of cheese, jar of nutella, and bag of oranges in. The French don't believe in wasting as much plastic as Americans do. Most of them have vinyl/cloth/thick plastic bags that they use for years to put their groceries in. So we wandered around the store, which was kinda like a super target, for a long time just trying to find something we could buy to put our stuff in. Of course when we got up to the caisse we figured out that all you have to do is ask them for a better bag and they'll just give it too you...

Saturday night we found a restaurant that wasn't too horribly expensive and everyone but Mark and Sophia had pizza stuff. Sophia had...uh...meat? It was probably meat, anyway. Mark ate gambas--monster size shrimp. Afterwards we went to see Femmes de l'Ombre, a French film about WWII. It was pretty good. We were kinda freaking out that they would confiscate and burn our bag of food that had to last us until monday morning, but in the end the guy just grabbed it from Collin right after he tore his ticket and put it behind the counter. When the movie was over we walked back to get the bag, but no one was there. Collin retrieved it and we just headed out again.

Once outside Sophia got nominated to call the taxi service. After a couple calls that went totally awry (ladies yelling in french, telling her taxis don't run after midnight...what?) she was able to get a guy that had room for five people, and we only spent 13 euro on the ride back to the rooms. We watched TV and then slept.

Sunday was the day that we walked for two hours to get to the aquarium. That was an...adventure. Buses only run once an hour on Sundays, which is fine, it's just that we needed to use three buses to get to the acquarium. We got the first one just fine, but overshot the bus stop for the next one, so we walked in what was probably the right direction until we discovered that it wasn't any more, so we turned and got to the right spot, but we were going to have to wait for the next bus for about half an hour, so we decided to just keep walking. Finally we ran into a stop for the bus that directly services the aquarium, and discovered that the next bus would be in only ten minutes. Twenty minutes later we were at the acquarium, and we hadn't there for six minutes before it started raining. We ran for cover and spent the next couple hours looking at French fish, which we discovered are exactly like American fish. They just don't speak English, how about that?

I personally loved the seals. One was super bored and chased his tale the entire ten minutes i was watching the tank, and another was chasing a rock up and down in the water. He would go down to the bottom, find a pebble, and push it up to the surface with his nose. Then he'd toss it up in the air, and when it went back down he'd chase it to the floor of the tank to bring it back up again. Some animals should be allowed to be bored, if only for the amusement of everybody else.

After the fishiness we did something. I don't really remember. Ended up eating at a really horrible fast food place because it was open. Got insulted by the chick working the counter. The people in front of us, by some crazy coincidence, were American. They ordered in English. So this girl, hearing my English accent when I ordered, decided that when she asked me if I wanted something to drink she was going to have to not only say it in English, but use hand motions at the same time. I answered her in French. Then I ate my nasty panini. I swear it had velveeta in it, oh my gosh I wanted to throw the sandwich on the counter and then throw up. But I didn't.

On Monday we headed to the castle, because, well; it's a castle, and who wouldn't want to see a castle? Our train was leaving at like 2, and of course when we got to the castle's main entrance we discovered that it wasn't going to open until an hour before our train left. So we walked to the train station, about three hours early, and discovered that since we couldn't take an earlier train, we would have to just hang out there for the hours before it was time to leave. We found ourselves in a restaurant, wasting time. Mark and Collin ordered food and we girls got drinks so the people didn't hate us, and the four others played a card game for four peeps while i watched and laughed at them.

When it was finally time to leave we raced out to the train and grabbed our seats. That was fun at first because there were five of us and chairs in trains operate in fours...good thing I had stuff to do. But then Mark came over and talked to me and it was fun. When we all got home Sophia and I headed off to République for our bus, hoping that we'd catch it at the right moment. If we didn't, we could take the 2 up most of the way and then walk the rest...ugh

Lesson#5: When your gut tells you to go to Sainte Anne, go to Saint Anne

We got up the stairs at République and started walking over to our stop. There was a bus in front of our stop, but going the wrong way. We took our time. The bus moved, and we saw a bus on the other side of the street. I walked a little faster. It started driving away. I started laughing hysterically. It was our bus, of course. We had missed it by literally one minute. The two of us walked over to the stop for the 2 and looked at the times. It would be there in half an hour. I was fine with waiting, but Sophia stood still for a couple minutes before giving in to her inner tired person and calling her mère and asking if she could come and get us (Sophia lives in the same district as I do).

When I finally got home I went to my room and fell asleep for an hour before showing up in the living room and saying hi to virginie and all the lovely French people who were there.

And that was Easter weekend. Haha... sorry it took so long to actually tell you about it!

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