Saturday, May 1, 2010

Dépaysée with friends: a retrospective

I met Jason on the first day of my first college class: French 206, introduction to French literature. At that point neither of us had any plans of majoring in French and we had both signed up for the course on a whim: he, because he saw language learning as a sort of brainteaser but had run out of intro levels to take; me, because French had always been easy (and fun) in high school, where I had effortlessly been the best in an elective no one took seriously. We were both a little intimidated by the end of that first day; we were going to be expected to read whole books--plural!--in French, and in the company of upperclassmen, no less. We ended up thriving, however, becoming friends, and eventually, French majors. We were on our way.

I got my first taste of Eurotripping the summer after that year: 2006, the summer of the European heatwave. I spent a week in Paris on an embassy scholarship while Jason finished a summer semester in Montpelier. When we were done, we met up for a crazy series of sleeper car trains, hostels and managed to backpack around most of Venice and Rome before we traded gelatto and tuscan wines for air conditioning and laundry machines and came home.

Here's us, in a bar in Montpelier. Stripes were in that year, apparently. Note our skill at covering each other's sweaty pits for the sake of the photo.

We both found ourselves back in Europe two years later, in the spring of 2008. I was on my junior year of study abroad, first in Oxford, then in Nice. Recently graduated, Jason was working as an English teaching assistant in a little French town in the Lorraine. He visited me in Oxford for a taste of England and Ireland, then again in the spring, when we added a new member to our traveling team: Laura. A good friend and roommate of mine, Laura jetted over after her own semester in Oxford to join us on a backpacking trip through Amsterdam, the Rhine valley, Munich and Prague.

Here we all are in Prague. Between the grooming, the scarves and the pea coats, you can tell that we're learning to be European.

A teacher who saw this picture at the time told me to treasure it. This is the last time this picture is possible, she said. The next time you go back to Europe, even if it's soon, it'll be different--you won't have quite the same ceaseless energy, the same wide-eyed wonder. You'll be adults.

I've been thinking about this because I saw Laura and Jason off at the airport this morning. Both graduated and working full time on the East Coast, they took a week of vacation during my spring break to come see Paris and travel with me. And so here Jason and I are now, 2010, four years later:

(Stripes are still in, apparently, or rather any variety on white and blue patterns)

And here we all are overlooking Athens on our last night in Greece:

Some things are the same: I haven't lost my love of weird earrings, nor Laura her love of purple purses, and Jason still rocks at striking an awesome pose and highlighting my awkwardness in comparison. We definitely look older, though, and the trip overall felt much more adult than our previous adventures. Hostels and night trains having somewhat lost their charm, we opted for private rooms with en suite bathrooms and cheap but direct flights. We also indulged ourselves more and ate out more often: full meals with appetizers, wine and dessert--not the budget kebab stand fare and pasta cooked in a shared kitchen that we had sought out in college.

There's something to be said for the wonder of salaries and the take-things-as-they-come travel Zen that only comes with experience. There's also something to be said for the company of old friends, and the easily remembered travel rhythm of a group you know well. I never really did decide if I agree with the teacher's comment, but one thing definitely didn't change: I had an amazing time traveling with Jason and Laura. Details to follow in this week's posts...

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