― Isabelle Eberhardt, The Nomad
My best experience with collegiate travel came in the South of France. As a young girl, I heard of Cannes and Aix and Marseilles but for a small-town Missouri kid, the thought of actually visiting these places seemed the stuff of Hollywood, of women far more chic than I. So when given the chance to spend a summer in Hyeres, a village along the Côte d'Azur, I knew I had to carpe diem.
Then, after planning and lots of dreaming, came a few months of French classes in the morning and day trips in the afternoon. Most days, after class, my friend and I would stop at a market for a few apples and a round of Camembert, then off to the boulangerie for a warm, crusty baguette. I'd stash our picnic in my bag, perhaps with a copy of French Vogue. We'd bike to the ocean, sit in the sand and dream about what the future might hold (or more often, take a long, sunny nap).
That summer, as often as possible, I'd leave school and stop in the pâtisserie for a religieuse (partly because they were delicious and partly because they were among a few pastries which I felt confident pronouncing). Called a "religieuse" because they look like short, round little nuns wearing their habits, these decadent treats are like double-decker eclairs. I may have grown a double-decker derriere that summer. It was so worth every single heavenly drop of crème pâtissière.
Hyeres, despite my living with three rather strange French families (I shall save those tales for another time), turned out to be the perfect spot for a few months of language immersion and cultural discovery. It was endlessly charming, perfectly French.
Often I return there in my mind. I recall the narrow, uneven stone streets and the afternoons spent in cafés with friends. I remember testing each and every ice cream shop in the town to find the tartest, tangiest batch of raspberry sorbet. I know I took many lessons on French grammar and vocabulary and literature, but the strongest memories I carry with me were the sensual ones: the scent of the warm, summer air; the endlessly pleasing gastronomical delights; the impressionistic sunsets.
It was bliss, but I think it may in fact be even more blissful in retrospect. Sometimes our journeys become most delicious when they've ended, don't they? When I return to routine and responsibility, then these trips and treks are exactly what sustain me as I dream of a sun-drenched elsewhere.
Images borrowed from Pinterest and Ladurée.