The Fall of False Francophilic Fantasies

It seemed like such a good idea at first.

I pictured myself clutching a baguette while strolling along the beach, smiling benignly at the fashionable passerby — who would all be wearing berets, of course. I’d nibble exquisite chocolate truffles in the chocolate museum, and maybe sip some complimentary Champagne. Then I’d be swept away to Paris by a classy and cultured Frenchman who was so lost in my seductively deep brown eyes that he just had to take me to his favorite Parisian sidewalk café.

This is how it actually happened:

5:45 a.m.: Cell phone alarm blares in the dark peacefulness of my bedroom. I jump out of bed, motivated by my excitement about going to France!
6:20 a.m.: Stride purposefully through the drizzly pre-dawn darkness en route to the bus station!
7:00 a.m.: On the bus to San Sebastián!
8:00 a.m.: Navigating the confusion about how to buy a ticket for and find the bus that will take us across the border to the beachside French town of Biarritz!
9:00 a.m.: On the bus to Biarritz!

The enthusiasm faded quickly from this point.

First stop: Tourist office. Found out that the chocolate museum was taking a three-week vacation and was to reopen in two days. #devastated

Second stop: Beach. Also closed. Who closes a beach?! Some angry maintenance workers shouted at us hooligans for attempting my imagined beachside stroll. (That was when we noticed the dump trucks pushing around big piles of sand nearby.) #disappointed

Meanwhile, the sky is still pelting us with fistfuls of cold rain.

To gather our spirits, this ungainly group of eight (one Belgian, one Greek, two Italians and four Americans) haphazardly struggled through the steep, narrow streets of Biarritz in search of a café. Seeing as it was only 10:30 a.m. and I had been up for almost five hours already, I desperately needed a shot of that liquid sunshine they call caffeine.

Third stop: Cafes. Also closed. In what bizarre country do cafes not open before 11 a.m.? In France, apparently. We sat down in two different cafes before being awkwardly informed, both times, that the cafe was not open yet. Unmet need for caffeine swelling. #desperate

After pathetically wandering through the streets some more, hunched against the sideways rain, we finally found a place to sit down in. I gulped down an americano and then ordered bread to share with Brooke. I was hoping for the fresh baguette from my beach-stroll fantasy but instead satisfied myself with the much simpler bread-and-jam affair that arrived at my table.

Fourth stop: Pastry shop. Chocolate pastry + raisin bun + Nutella pastry + another americano = much happier Caroline.

Next, we spontaneously hopped on a bus to the nearby town of Bayonne. More wet, cold, windy wandering. Channeling the inspiration of America’s Distinguished Young Woman Christina Maxwell (not even kidding), I sang Ke$ha to myself to keep my spirits up.

Giving up on France, we turned our attention to the struggle that comprised our trip back to Spain.

We had two options: attempt a very tightly scheduled train-and-bus combination, or take a 4 p.m. bus that would give us a couple of extra hours to hang out in San Sebastián.

The lady at the tourist office in Bayonne assured us there’d be a bus at 4 p.m. At 4:05, we asked her if we were in the right place.

“Oh yes, you are! Just sometimes the bus doesn’t come.”

Turns out we had just one option after all: kill two hours in Bayonne before the mad rush of navigating multiple forms of transportation between two foreign countries. We caught a train that left Bayonne at 6:46 p.m. and arrived somewhere else at 7:22 p.m. This was followed by another train that left at 7:30 p.m. and arrived in San Sebastián at 8:12 p.m. and then a bus that left San Sebastián at 8:30 p.m. A lot of sprinting between stations, desperate shouting, harried shepherding and bated breath (with only a couple of mishaps/close calls that would make this blog post way too long to detail) ended with all eight of us slumped — exhausted but triumphant — in the back of a bus departing San Sebastián for Pamplona.

Finally back home, I scarfed down teriyaki wok from the fast food restaurant beneath my apartment and then slept for 11 hours. Nothing like a hectic trip to France to make Spain feel like home, right?

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