Of course the journey was long. It took us six hour with stops and another three hours before we boarded the nine-hour ferry-ride in Plymouth to Roscoff, France. But it was definitely worth it.
We took the overnight ferry via Brittany-Ferries, which afforded us a couple hours of bar service before everything and everyone went to sleep. The air was warm, and we spent quite a deal of time outside before attempting to sleep on the floor by our booked seats. The ferry was nowhere near packed, and it was easy enough to find a nook to doze in.
Being my American self, I have been adjusting to riving on the left-hand side of the road in the U.K., and getting used to driving on the right side of the car. Now I was up for something completely different: driving on the right side of the car while being on the right side of the road. It was certainly a little bit of a tip, and I only messed up once toward the end of the journey (very quickly and safely remedied). It was raining, as it had been in England when we left the night before. However, as one of the staff on the ferry had informed me, it was quite easy to find our way to our destination: Morlaix.
I’ve wanted to go to France since I can remember, at least since I was eight. I remember getting a kid’s teach-yourself French book one summer when I was visiting Abersoch and since then for sure have always wanted to go. And now I can say I have, some twenty-two years later.
As soon as we got off the ferry, I was gasping at how French everything looked-the houses, the fields—all of it. My co-pilot was quick to remind me that it looks like Britain, but with French-er looking people. He could very well be right, and I just had my French-goggles on which turned everyone blue, white, and red—but nevertheless, I saw houses that looked like they were straight out of the fifteenth century with small windows, and hedgeless fields with cows which mooed in a more eloquent language.
Morlaix was fairly easy to navigate. We got to the flat that we had been “gifted” to stay in, and was horrified. It was my co-pilot’s flat which he told my co-pilot to use whenever he wanted. We did. Only, of course, to find that his electric had been shut off, there was no kitchen but instead a dusty sink, a few books regarding learning French, some scattered newspapers, a broken toilet in the what would be kitchen (and by broken I mean abandoned building smashed by vandals looking broken toilet), a pile of used and very dirty men’s underwear, a box spring, and the crowning jewel: a toilet in the bathroom that hadn’t been hooked up but had been used numerous times for bowl movements. I was horrified. It reminded me of the abandoned buildings we had been exploring—but those we weren’t relying to camp in. Part of the ceiling in the bedroom had been removed, revealing only the boards with nails jutting out. There was only the under-flooring in there, the green mat that is meant to go under the carpet or tiles. There was a fire place though, but I have no idea if it was usable. The wallpaper looked like a five-year-old boy chose it. It had thick, vertical stripes with red and dark red alternating, with the occasional gold stripe. The ceiling was royal blue. Some of the trimming was black, some was yellow. One wall was just green. It looked like it was meant to be a very dark children’s room. And everything was painted. The sink in the bathroom was painted (though half washed away in the basin itself), the shower—which looked like a prop from Red Dwarf was a cube that could have once been used to grow weed and painted inside and out. The toilets, both the broken one and the fowled one, were painted. None of this was painted with proper paint either but rather what looked like acrylic (though I will admit I know nothing about such things). Highly disappointed, I urged us to move onward.
The location of the flat was quite nice though. It was a top-floor flat right near the heart of the town. Everything was within walking distance. We were across from a charcuterie, a few doors down from a theatre, a little further down was a grocery store, and everything else was a delightful wander down a very French street.
We found our way to what I think was the town center, just near the viaduct. We stood in the gazebo, out of the rain, and looked around, eyeing the creperie, the Grand Café de Terrasse, the patisserie—all the things that made the place what it was. Two people came straight up the stairs to the gazebo toward us, having no problem greetings us with a friendly, “bonjour!” before asking us, very pleasantly for something. I tested out my very rusty French, and between their little bit of English, and my little bit of French, we were able to work out that they were after rolling papers, which my co-pilot had.
The rain still hadn’t let up, but it remained warm, which was really all I cared about. We spent the day, from ten in the morning onward, on foot, wandering down every ally we could find, and still missed quite a bit. Morlaix has this beautifully massive viaduct, which we made our way to, along, and under. While graffiti was present, the streets were, for the most part, quiet. We went into a fair few bars/cafes, trying to find WiFi and charging stations for my phone. In each, though my French was limited, people were friendly, happy to help, and all seemed to know each other. Everywhere we went, people who came in would say “bonjour” to us, despite very obviously not knowing us.
I think we chose the best time of the year to come as well, given that it was so quiet and the town was fresh with flowers. Yellow, orange, and white seemed to be the theme, and in abundance! I couldn’t help but stop at each divider that was adorn with these thick groves.
Along the wall of the river that ran through the town, further up from the viaduct, the walls allowed the daisies to take over, splaying their tiny pink and pale pink petals against the grey of the day and the city. Except the city wasn’t grey at all. It was full of color and pleasantries. The buildings reminded me of a combination the Tudors buildings you see all over the U.K., and the tall, narrow buildings in Amsterdam. And they just about all had plant boxes lining their windows, or colorful, spiraled bars. They reminded me of the videos I watched in my French class, where the characters would open their windows and call down to those they knew below—which I absolutely did witness as well!
Fairly soon after our arrival and marvel at how wonderful the place seemed, we were wondering what to do for food. We were in the process of discussing it as we came to a crossing when we heard a horrendous bang. I looked up just in time to see a man cartwheeling through the air. It was a motorcyclist who had been hit by a car driving on the wrong side of the road. My hands flew up to my face in horror, though was somewhat quelled when I saw the cyclist stand up and begin swearing at the driver, who calmly pulled into the parking lot to the side. I wanted to ask him if he was alright, see if I needed to serve as a witness. But I didn’t know what I could do. My French was limited, and completely absent in that moment—and I highly doubted this charged, angry man was going to want to express patience as I tried to communicate with him. There were others there to aide with the scene (at least, I hoped they did), and we, guiltily, moved on.
By half three we had had enough of walking around in wet clothing and the rain. We knew that we would need some candles for the evening, so we got those and of course, some French cheese, wine, and bread and gathered our things into the disgusting flat. My co-pilot braved the piles of dirty unmentionables while I swept. It wasn’t too bad once those things were out of the way. He attempted to clean the toilet, discovering that it does flush if water is added, but it just wasn’t hooked up to the water. Either way, it still didn’t have a seat and I had decided I wasn’t putting my head in there again. However, we had some sleeping bags which we set up on the hard floor with a bit of the un-used green floor matting as a poor cushion, and set up the candles around, ready for when it went dark.
My first day in France wasn’t quite as I had hoped in regards to our accommodation, but was everything I had hoped in regard to the experience itself. Sure it was very, very wet, and I had done zero research as to the town of Morlaix (other than some mapping and image-peaking on Google), but I was just thrilled to finally get over the damn channel to France.