Four thousand miles across the sea

Meghan McCallum

Some acquaintances back home have mistakenly asked me, “How’s Paris?” I wouldn’t know; the only place I’ve been in Paris is the airport. For nearly three months I have lived in a city pretty far away from Paris, and I have become quite attached to it. Between my daily life here in Nantes and a few side trips I’ve made on weekends, I’ve come to realize that I appreciate living in a city that’s lively but also kind of small compared to the capital. I guess you could say that I’ve found it very easy to get to know Nantes and to feel a connection with it. Like anyone who spends a lot of time in a city, I have made several attachments to life here. A few weeks into my stay, for example, I decided which kebab stand was my favorite. I have also come to frequent certain places — like a big park by the university campus — and stay away from others, such as a certain area of the public library in which an old man has been following me around. As any other Nantes dweller would do, I have developed my own routine of trams, meals, and extra-curricular activities.

It’s strange that after this adaptation to life in Nantes, the inevitable exit comes sooner or later. I’ve been here for just under three months, but like most terms it’s flown by in what seems like a few weeks. This one semester in Nantes, though not enough to really satisfy my urge to “live” in France, has taught me a lot.

One of the most important parts of my study abroad choice was the city size. As I already mentioned, Nantes is small enough to get to know easily, but big enough to host some surprises as well. I have noticed this appreciation for Nantes’ size on my side-trips in Europe.

My first major trip, for example, was to Amsterdam over a long weekend. This proved a beautiful and exciting experience for me, but one difference I noticed was that I felt almost overwhelmed by the people (tourists) and the busyness of the downtown area. Of course, if given more time I would have had more opportunities to get to know the smaller, quieter neighborhoods, but I did notice upon returning to Nantes that it was nice to be able to walk down a pedestrian street without avoiding collisions every other minute.

Dublin was my next travel destination, this time only for a weekend. Again, while exploring the city I experienced a bit of confusion and not a lot of real exploration. Of course I saw a lot of the different downtown areas, but after visiting the Guinness Storehouse and trying unsuccessfully to get in to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I decided that I am definitely going back to Ireland someday. This time, though, I’m heading to the country. Dublin was great, and I did spend a nice evening in the Temple Bar listening to live music, but I’d really like to see some of Ireland’s gorgeous landscapes. That’s something you can’t find in the city.

This weekend I am finally going to see Paris. My depleting bank account pending, I’m hoping to see some typical Paris hotspots but also do some wandering and pretending that I’m not an American tourist. I suppose this is a good way to end my semester in France — a visit to the capital city. This way, I’ve already created a sort of personal connection to Nantes, and it will allow me to discover Paris accordingly. I’m really looking forward to this weekend, but when I get back to Nantes I’ll be glad to see my good old tram line and to eat a hot meal around a wooden table with my host family.