Spring BreakNantes, Spring 2012

For Spring break, I visited Saint-Malo in northern Brittany with another Gustavus student who is studying in Russia this semester.  This was not my first time there;  the first time was in high school on a trip with my French class, around three days of which were spent in the old walled-in city.  We were set free to explore the battlements, cobblestone streets, and stunningly beautiful rocky islands.  I walked along a path to one (which you can only do at low tide) with my friends Taylor and Lexi, and we sat on the edge of a cliff as the wind put the high grass to dancing, and the English Channel crashed upon the rocks below us.

I was thrilled to make this the destination of my spring break with Joey.  We got in late Saturday evening, and had only enough time for a walk along the beach near our hostel, northeast of the old city.  But the next day was spent exploring the historic area, and the forts which sit on the islands in the water.

The second day, we followed the coast line northeast.  At one point, we almost turned back because the path lead right into a bit of a rocky patch.  You weren’t meant to climb them, but to go up and keep going on the street above.  However, after surveying them, we took to the rocks.  On the other side, we found a wonderful, calm beach.  This was the perfect opportunity for some English Channel swimming.  It was deathly cold!  The water at least.  Out on the sand, we were fine.

However, as soon as we were done swimming, the weather seemed to decide that we had had enough fun, and it became frigid.  We trekked forward towards a high cliff through the blasting wind and icy rain after what now seemed like the setting for a great adventure novel.  Our lunch was in a small rocky indent in the cliff face where we ate sausage, cheese, bread, and some leafy greens with fingers slow from the cold.  This sounds quite exciting when reading a story, but in real life it’s mostly just really cold and hard to enjoy no matter how epic it is.

The one thing that did stop me and hold both Joey and I captive in spite of the cruel, wet cold was the view on top of the cliff we finally mounted.  It was a vista covered in the haze of rain and mist, yet as beautiful and powerful and terrible as anything you can image.  I think humans ought to visit places like this more often.  I have rarely felt as humbled as I did in that place.

On the final day, the weather forgave us for having fun during our swimming.  It delivered more warmth than we could have hope for during our icy lunch the day before.  We found an overlook on another cliff, this one slightly wooded with a view of the Bay of Saint-Malo.  The earth there was topped with soft grass, perfect for laying down in laziness.  So we did.

We also partook in some seafood during our visit—only some of which glared at us from the plate.  The final evening was spent in one of the best restaurants at which I have eaten in France.  I had three kinds of fish on a bed of sauerkraut and potatoes in some kind of heavenly sauce.  Oh, actually, four servings of fish, because my appetizer was smoked (and very delicious) salmon.  For dessert both Joey and I ordered a grand—in both size and quality—vanilla crème brûlée.

Saint-Malo is one of the legendary places in my life and in my heart.  I have spent roughly a week there in total.  Not much.  Yet, it became a place of myth, awe, and magic since my first few enchanting hours there.  You may not understand how I can have so fallen in love with a place I barely know.  But there I have found a wonderland nothing like the prairies I knew while growing up, and it has become meaningful to me as much for my internal reverence as for the reality.  Perhaps I invented its magic.  But it doesn’t change the spell under which I find myself.  As I walked across the beach for the last time (taking the long way to the train station), a pang of bitterness cut through my joy.  I became deeply sad that in less than an hour, I would be on a train and away.  It isn’t that I won’t go back.  I just have no idea how long it will be before I do.

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