Year Abroad Diaries: 30 April 2013

He’s here!

I feel like I’m on holiday. Friday, my final day alone, passed quickly: I packed the last of my things, ran errands in town… then it was 4pm. I sprinted down the steep incline to the gare with four minutes to spare, an apple pastry for company, waiting, tapping my heels off the concrete platform. There, in the distance, the train slid into view. I could hardly believe it; the wait felt like an eternity. The first carriage came level with me and Dad’s excited face beamed out of it. It’s over now, it’s all over.

It was so strange to wander back up the hill, like the past seven months had never existed. Now, we were on a family holiday. Dad scoffed his pastry as we approached the hotel. I’d forgotten how little of the town he’d actually seen. Predictably, our first stop was a small wartime memorabilia shop which Dad had clocked back in September. The door pinged open and his eyes lit. Medals, caps, jackets, badges; they fell from every space and had begun claiming the floor too.

After being pointed towards the owner’s girlfriend’s chocolate shop, we had ‘afternoon tea’ before I returned to the flat. At half six, after one trip, two huge suitcases, a rucksack, a handbag and a shopping grip full of supplies, all my French possessions were relocated to our hotel. That was it. I’d officially left the apartment. Seven months, over.

That night, I slept badly. I woke at 5am, wishing I could get up and begin the day. Shadows fell again, and I jolted awake at the later time of nine. Dad was reading in the bed beside me. I waved. He was still here.

That morning, the sun was shining and it was fresh, so we wandered around the market. Though we’d had a bit of breakfast, Dad was keen on a raisin loaf, so I found him a blackened one and bought an apricot and fig one for myself. Stomachs stuffed with stodge, the bus delivered us to Granville, a coastal town whose morning market was just concluding. We walked: passing the granite church and peering over the port wall before taking the coastal trail around the Point du Roc. Despite the weather, Dad really enjoyed it. Not least due to the fossilised remains of WWII bunkers.

Our next arrêt was Picorette tearoom. I’d bigged up the scones so much that every visitor I brought here was sceptical. Dad, like everyone else, took a first bite and his eyebrows lifted. Another convert! We then took a turn about the harbour (‘I’m trying to see if there’s any catamarans or trimarans…’) and it was time to return to ‘my town’. I still can’t quite believe that Dad is here. I’ve had days, weeks, to prepare for it, but it seems like a dream holiday, a bubble that could split and drop me back at the collège at 8am tomorrow morning. But no, next week, I’m going home.

The following days were very tiring, very touristy and very fun. On Sunday, we were up at 8am and departed on the bus (with a baguette) towards Mont St Michel. I can’t thank God enough for how kind the weather was: the sky a perfect blue, no threat of rain, just a chill wind which masked the sunburn.

Dad was in awe (like every visitor) of the Mont, and after wandering up its bustling main street, we reached the abbey for a morning tour. The abbey itself, the cloisters, the knights’ hall… it is a marvel. We ate our baguette lunch staring up at the impressive facade from the ramparts. Dad’s disposable camera clicked away.

The afternoon was the best by far. My surprise for Dad: a Mont St Michel bay walk. With a guide and twenty others, we walked barefoot like pilgrims onto the sand, leaning about the history and nature of the area, and playing trampoline on the quicksands. Our considerable appetite was satiated on our return to the hotel with a trip to the local Chinese for dim sum. After that, I went back to the flat for the last time. I didn’t linger long; I was there solely to say goodbye to my flatmate K. At this moment, she’ll be on a coach in England heading north. Rather like me in a matter of hours.

On Monday, we decided to leave on the later train for Bayeux, giving us only a few hours for a quick tour. First stop: the famous tapestry, depicting events leading up to 1066; then the cathedral which I’d never seen; lunch on the move towards the British war cemetery and finally the Normandy battle museum. Dad was impressed by all of it, and we wandered and commented on things in an amiable if tired manner. My only regret was that we couldn’t spend longer in the huge museum due to the transport times.

And now, Dad and I sit on our beds with our backs comfily held on pillows. He reads and I write. Tomorrow we’ll waken just after eight, eat in the hotel and then speed west towards the airport.

My writing reflects how I feel about the whole situation: distant. I can’t believe today was my final day here; it’s difficult to realise that I may never return to this small town which taught me independence, language, courage and patience. The past few days have flown by.

Thankfully, today was a more restful one, sorting last minute bits. In the morning, Dad and I sourced a warm raisin and nut loaf, and returned the internet box to Orange. We sat and drank tea, watched Cameroon veterans parade to the town hall and then went to the supermarket. We bought biscuits and chocolate to take home (fingers crossed the suitcases aren’t overweight!) then ate a relaxed lunch at the hotel.

The afternoon saw Dad finally make a purchase at the memorabilia store. He’d been unsubtly saving twenty euros of his holiday stash to buy two medals – and our chat with the owner reaped miracles as he gifted Dad another medal for free.

A day of conclusions: just wandering around the town, showing Dad the gothic spires of the skyline, having my last savoury crêpe at the local restaurant, returning to the jardin at dusk. My first and last sunset overlooking the flat Normandy countryside towards the Mont St Michel. Home seems like a world away, a world that awaits, that rushes towards me like the spinning second hand of the clock. This time tomorrow, we will fly over the asymmetric French houses, the flat French landscape, and cross the Channel. Familiar fields and recognisable architecture will greet us. England. Hills will sprout from the land as we fly north. I will spot Loch Lomond, its islands dotted like spots; Dumbarton Rock and the Erskine Bridge punctuating the bright green background. The grey tarmac of the runway will rise to meet us.

This is home.

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