On Friday, I made my way from Nantes to Auch. I woke up early (for me) and mentally prepared myself for three separate train rides over seven hours with two connections to make—one in 17 minutes, the other in only six. If all went according to plan, I’d be in Auch by 6 p.m. when my responsable pédagogique Stéphane was to meet me at the train station.
Of course, this is France, where travel (especially by train) rarely goes as planned.
My first train left Nantes at 10:21 a.m. and was to arrive in Bordeaux at 2:28 p.m. Everything went well until about an hour and a half before our ETA when the train came to a halt and stayed stationary for several minutes. When we finally got going again, we learned that we’d be arriving 25 minutes behind schedule.
And there went my 17-minute connection and the subsequent six-minute one.
On the upside, I got to see some beautiful French vineyards.
When we finally pulled into Bordeaux I lugged all my bags off the train, carried them up the stairs (my arms and shoulders are going to be ridiculously chiseled by the time I leave France), and made my way to the information counter where I fought my way to the front of a crowd of angry French people. When it was my turn, the SNCF lady rebooked my trains and I was expected to only arrive an hour later than originally scheduled!
I made a quick phone call to Stéphane (and at this point was extremely grateful that I had purchased a cell phone in Nantes) who said that it wasn’t a problem and that he’d see me at 7 p.m. instead of 6 p.m.
On the next train from Bordeaux to Agen, I didn’t have an assigned seat, so I deposited my luggage and sat down in three different seats before finally settling on one that someone with a reserved place didn’t kick me out of.
When we pulled into Agen, I had a good 20 minutes to board the next train. I looked at the little information screen which read “17h15, Auch, Car Régional.” So apparently I wasn’t taking a train…
After asking several different SNCF officials where to find my Auch-ward vehicle, I was directed outside of the train station and to a line of buses that were poorly marked with their destinations. I mustered my courage and asked a jolly-looking French traveler if the bus before me was going to Auch and he said yes and helped me put my bags on board. Then I got on, found a seat and was on my way!
The ride to Auch was very pretty, especially in the early evening with the light coming softly through the trees. The scenery was very provincial and rustic, which gave me homesickness pangs for Eastern Washington, but in a good way. Auch, the Walla Walla of France—just surrounded by corn and sunflowers instead of wheat, grapes and onions.
Finally, after eight hours of French transportation and a whole summer of eager and nervous anticipation, I had arrived.
Stéphane found me easily, as I had taken out my camera to shoot some first photos of Auch. (This didn’t happen because he found me before I could actually take them. Oops.) We loaded my stuff into his tiny French car and set off for his house in Pavie (a town just outside of Auch) to have dinner with his family.
We chatted easily in French on the way there and upon arrival I met Stéphanie (I know, it’s cute, Stéphane and Stéphanie) and their children Louise (8) and Samuel (3). Samuel immediately rushed toward me with his arms outstretched to say bonjour and faire la bise (the notorious French air/cheek kissing greeting). Dinner was wonderful and true to the Gers region—duck confit and potatoes.
Stéphane and his family were extremely friendly and welcoming. We talked about U.S. politics, child rearing in France v. in the United States and my studies at Whitman (all in French!). Stéphanie told me all about a couple weekly local markets and an authentic librarie (bookstore) downtown. And before driving me home, they gave me a bag full of spare sheets and towels that I can use during my stay here. In short, I have the best boss ever.
Then I finally got to my house. Oh the house. I love my house. It’s spacious! It’s old and charming! It’s super French!
My favorite things are the view of the old town and cathedral from the window on the landing outside my bedroom and several cupboards and attic spaces full of bric-à-brac itching to be discovered (old pictures, wicker furniture, roll-away cots, leather satchels, taxidermied animals, etc.).
My landlord seems to be an agreeable fellow. He answered all of my questions and helped me lug my bags up to the 2e étage (the equivalent of the 3rd floor in American architecture). He also didn’t pester me with documents/signing the lease until Saturday, which was really nice. (NB: I am officially a renter in a foreign country!)
That night I also met one of my colocataires, Marcela, who was a Spanish teaching assistant with TAPIF in Auch last year. This year she’s back living in the same town in the same house and learning the art of French pâtisserie. She and I had a really nice conversation during which she gave me lots of good start-up info about living in the house, living in Auch and working as an assistant. (My other two housemates arrived Saturday and this afternoon. Ashely is an English assistant from Canada and Lyanne is a Spanish assistant from Colombia.)
After fiddling with router and finding the password for the wifi, I headed back upstairs to my room to unpack and settle in…