It's my first school vacation here in France, and my host family recently took me to Spain and the Pays-Basque region (southwestern coast) of France for the occasion. We stayed in an apartment near St. Jean de Luz, a port town consisting of whitewashed wooden houses with red, green or blue trim (typical of the Pays-Basque) on one side and the wide-open Atlantic on the other.
On our first day of the trip, we explored the town, skipped stones in the ocean, admired the port full of beautiful boats and dined at a seafood restaurant whose fish had been caught fresh that day.
The second day, we crossed the border into Spain and took a stroll around St. Sbastian. The streets were deserted upon our arrival, but what at first we attributed to the economic crisis turned out to be simply '"la siesta," and by 6 p.m., the city was bustling. We sampled "pinxto" (seafood-based appetizers on slices of bread) for lunch, spent some time on the beach and stopped by an ornate caf for a round of hot chocolates, which to our pleasant surprise were more like mugs of hot chocolate pudding.
On the third day, we went to Biarritz, a gorgeous, ritzy city - a haven to surfers and celebrities. We started off the day with a visit to the Cit de l'Ocan (an ocean museum), followed by lunch at an uber-chic beachside restaurant, where I sampled my first authentic crme brule. Next, we admired the rocky ocean outcroppings, then headed over to the local aquarium for the afternoon. On the drive back to Auch, we stopped by a couple of villages nestled in the Pyrenees: Espellette and another whose name I could not decipher. The former is known for its hot peppers, and the latter for its original art and local workshops.
Since our return, things have been calm. I've been spending my time playing board games with Nathan, doing homework, hanging out with friends, and generally enjoying the relaxed pace and the beginning of fall.
On our trip, I had the chance to observe the other French stereotype (aside from its cuisine) that I've found definitely does have a basis in reality - its fashion. Fashion in France can only be described as everyone's favorite hobby; even in such a little town as Auch, high schoolers are dressed in a way that is barely expected of businesspeople in the United States.
Girls are outfitted in heels, pencil skirts and blazers, while guys rock collared shirts and gelled hair (scarves are a given for everyone, regardless of gender). The tendency is definitely toward plain, sleek, and dark. Sweatshirts, sweatpants, bright colors or any writing on your clothing will get you funny looks. In Auch, independent clothing boutiques line the streets alongside cafs and boulangeries, and seeing shoes priced at 250 Euros ($317 USD) in their windows isn't uncommon. This appreciation for fine clothing is instilled from a young age; children's clothing stores are stocked with miniature tweed blazers, button-down shirts and fur coats. Here, being well-dressed isn't looked at as one of many possible lifestyle choices, but as an expectation.
I would like to thank the Houghton Rotary Club again for their support, sponsorship, and in providing me with such a fantastic opportunity. I've already learned an incredible amount, and there's much more to come. Au revoir for now!
Editor's note: Sierra Parker is spending a year in France as a Rotary Exchange Student through the Houghton Rotary Club.