Tag Archives: France

Photo: the colorful streets of Toulouse, France

Toulouse, France

Toulouse is a beautiful city in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France. Nicknamed La Ville Rose for the fading color of the red brick walls widely used across the city, Toulouse is a great place to visit. The rich architectural heritage, the tasty charcuteries and the friendly population are three aspects that make this an interesting destination during a trip to France.

I was lucky to mingle with locals by using couchsurfing as an accomodation. My host brought me along to a film screening in a squat in the downtown area and took me out for drinks with her lovely friends. I was also there during the Fête de la musique (World Music day) so it was fun to see the whole city engulfed by such a festive spirit!

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Travel top 5: One destination: Brittany, France

For this new post I was inspired by the 5 questions that Unique travel guides publish on their Facebook pages when they ask random bloggers and travel writers about their favorite spots. So far in my life, I’ve been to 13 countries, stayed in dozens of accommodations, tasted a multitude of dishes and drinks and lived through a ton of amazing experiences.
These are the questions I will be answering during the next few weeks:
Here is the first of 5 questions:

1. One destination 2. One accomodation 3.One dish 4.One drink 5. One experience

Let’s start with the first one!

One destination: Brittany, France. Situated in the Northwestern part of France, Brittany is a great place to visit if you prefer a calm vacation that focuses on nature and history, rather than partying and shopping.

Brittany coast France_A storytelling home_Lea Plourde-Archer

When I arrived at the Quimper train station, I’d just spent the last two weeks going crazy in Barcelona and Bordeaux, two cities notorious for their thriving party scenes. Right away, I knew that the tranquility of the region was just what I needed to get back on my feet. I was lucky to stay at my friend Sarah’s house for a few days. She and her family were generous hosts who took me around the area, visiting castles, churches, history museums and many bucolic villages.

Brittany village France_A storyelling home_Lea Plourde-Archer
I was there in the middle of the summer but the weather was mild, even cold sometimes. Rain forced us to stay in a few times but who can complain when the air is crisp and the view so beautiful?

Brittany coast France_A storytelling home_Lea

In terms of food, Brittany is a great place to sample many delicacies like seafood, crepes, cheese and kouign amman cake. It’s hard not to go overboard here!

France Brittany church_A storytelling Home_Lea Plourde-Archer

I only stayed there for a few days but I fell in love with what I got to see. Brittany is calm, charming, welcoming and what it lacks in urban life and movement, it compensates with the fascinating historical sites it houses and the wild natural beauty that can be found on its gorgeous coasts.

What is one travel destination you’ve been to that you would recommend to others?

Picture post: Ile Sainte-Marguerite, near Cannes

Ile Sainte-Marguerite Cannes Cote d'azur_A Storytelling Home

We visited the city of Cannes when we lived in the south of France for 4 months.

Our day-trip happened in December, way off-season in terms of tourism. This meant that there wasn’t much to do.

Cannes is a typical French Riviera town but with more cardboard cutouts of George Clooney and over-sized posters with Marilyn Monroe’s face on sidewalls. Once we’d seen the Palais des festivals and walked around the port, we decided to take a short trip to the island of Sainte-Marguerite. The beautiful, heavily wooded isle, is a 15 minute ferry ride off the coast. It is one of 4 islands which are regrouped under the name of Iles des Lérins.

You may have heard of this island before, as it is here that the famous Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned for 11 years. The fort were he was incarcerated can now be visited as a museum.

Of course, when we were there the museum and all other venues (restaurants, hotel) were closed. We enjoyed a nice two hour walk around the pathways which lead us through thick, wooded areas, followed by gorgeous views of the Mediterranean sea. It was all so beautiful that we almost missed the last ferry back to the coast!

Photo post: The view from Mont Alban, Nice, French Riviera

Nice French Riviera View A Storytelling Home Lea

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know that in the fall of 2009, I spent one semester abroad, studying in the south of France.

In terms of school, it was a terrible experience. You can read a bit about it here if you’d like to know my thoughts on Nice Sophia-Antipolis University (or at least, the INFOCOM program).

However, the (nearly constant) blue skies and beautiful coasts adorned with adorable houses and gorgeous flora made it all worth it.

Life changing moments: my first time traveling abroad

In life, there are a few moments that prove to be crucial in forming you as a person.

A trip to France in the summer of 2006, was one of mine. I was still slowly coming out of a long depression that even lead me to require homeschooling for my last year of high school. After graduating in June 2004, I had managed to get a summer job, quit my medication and start CEGEP(college). I was finally doing good and starting to build self-confidence. By early 2006, I felt ready to realize one of my life-long dreams: traveling to Europe.

Since I’d never been abroad, I researched the option of participating in an international volunteering program (like Katimavik, Habitat for Humanity, Québec sans frontières). Many of these seemed great, but costly, requiring me to save money for two years before I could envision partaking in them. That’s why I was so pumped when I learned about volunteer workcamps and Chantiers Jeunesse.

Since 1980, Chantiers Jeunesse has been sending young Quebecers abroad to join short and long-term workcamps in 30 countries around the world. All this for a small fee (costs depend on length and destination but I paid less than 400$).

I hear you asking, what are workcamps?

Workcamps as we know them today started in Europe after World War I. The idea was to bring people from different countries, religions and cultures together to work as a group in order to rebuild areas that had been destroyed by bombs.

Nowadays, the main goal is to keep on breaking cultural barriers by learning to live and work together. Workcamps are held in hundreds of countries around the, and can take place in many different environments, from slums to castles. They usually regroup a dozen to twenty young adults, between the ages of 16 and 30 (though some programs let people of all ages participate).

Chantiers Jeunesse is the organisation that makes this type of experience available to Quebecers. Others can visit the Alliance network website or Volunteers for peace to find which program they can contact in their country.

Let me tell you a bit about my experience:

I could say it started when I sent out my inscription form, but the truth is that things truly got real when I received my acceptance letter, officially confirming that I was going to take part in a workcamp in France.

The next few months were kept busy by the many steps it takes to arrange such a trip: heading to preparation meetings in Montreal, choosing my project, buying my plane ticket and learning more about the region that I had picked: Gironde (the Bordeaux area).

Finally, my departure date came. I left Montreal for Paris, embarking alone on my first flight ever. The journey was rough, as was my first day in France (which I’ve recounted here). Before I went to meet my group, I was going to spend one week in Paris and two days in Bordeaux, in order to get adjusted with my new environment and to spend a bit of time visiting the cities I’d long dreamed to see.

Bordeaux, Saint-Catherine Street

Bordeaux, Saint-Catherine Street

Although the beginning was tough, things got much, much better. By the time I was supposed to join my workcamp group, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go! I’d loved traveling alone, doing my own thing. I pulled myself together and dragged my heavy bags to the Bordeaux train station to meet the people I was going to spend the next three weeks with.

Three weeks is a short amount of time on the full timeline of lifespan, but I must say that these where up there in the most important ones of my life so far. At first, I was shy and found it hard to break out of my shell. I’m pretty sure I cried, regretting my decision to be there. Those feelings didn’t last for long and by the time the end of the workcamp came, I didn’t want to leave and neither did any of my 14 new friends.

We were working on restoring an old abandoned barn. It was fun but quite an intense undertaking, physically speaking. The 40 degree celcius (100 degree fahrenheit) weather didn’t help much. We could only work from 7AM to noon, most days. Afternoons were spent napping, chatting and discovering our small town (Montussan). On weekends, we partied, went to concerts, met other workcamp groups and visited the surrounding region (Bordeaux, Arcachon, Dune du Pyla, Saint-Émilion vineyards, Grand Crohot beach).

Montussan France

One of the barn buidings

Workcamp volunteering

Pulling out a huge beam of wood. It took 15 people to get it out!

workcamp volunteering before

Before

Workcamp in France

During the cleanup

workcamp volunteering result

After!

In the end, I don’t think the city of Montussan actually did anything with the barn. They just enjoyed hosting workcamps because they know how great it is for the people that participate and it’s also fun for the small community to meet new people from all over the world.

Dune du Pyla

Dune du Pyla

Our group was very eclectic: 3 South-Koreans, 3 Turks, 2 Slovakians, 3 French, 1 Spanish, 1 Congolese, 1 Italian, 1 Lithuanian, plus me. We were inevitably affected by cultural differences and clashing personalities and it caused frictions at times, but things would quickly fall into place. For example, we initially had a bit of trouble organizing meals, cleaning schedules and how we would share the work at the barn, but we made it work. Even the language barriers, due to a poor grasp of the English language by some participants, created more laughs than frustrations.

concordia france

Our group on the cover of a local newsletter

Our group on the cover of a local newsletter

In terms of the living situation, we were lucky. Most people have small dorms or share houses with one or two bathrooms for 15 people. We lived in the town’s gymnasium so we had a dozen toilets and showers, along with a good sized kitchen and plenty of living space. We slept on gym mattresses that were fairly uncomfortable but it was a small price to pay for such a great experience.
living in a gymnasium

I can’t possibly come close to expressing how important this 3 week adventure has been so far in my life. I believe that even when I’m old and I look back on the past, I’ll still see this decision to take part in a workcamp as one of the best ones in my life. I highly recommend it to everyone.

Arcachon Oyster farm

Arcachon Oyster farm

If you are young and looking for new experiences, or if you know young adults that would enjoy this type of experience, encourage them to do it. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it wasn’t always easy and some days I was confronted with things that were hard for me but it was all worth it. I changed a lot during those few weeks. I grew up, came out of my shell and never recoiled back to the scared, anxious person I used to be.

Since doing my work-camp, I’ve moved to Montreal, studied in university, traveled alone in Europe, lived in France for one semester and visited Japan among many other achievements. I couldn’t ever have dreamed of as this a young 17 year old that barely managed to get out of the house without having a panic attack. This goes to show that everything is possible. We all have strength in us, we just have to find it. For me, participating in the workcamp was the catalyst.

If anyone has any questions or any similar important experiences to share, please do! I love hearing about how people came to know themselves and develop self-confidence.

For those who are just on the cusp of deciding to travel for the first time, I’d love to be the one to encourage you. If I can help by giving tips and ideas, I’d love to be of any help.

Me, feeling happy and emancipated!

Me, feeling happy and emancipated!