Abroad, I mean.
At the slightly embarrassing age of 16, I went armed with my new array of passport covers on my first ever trip abroad. After my French exchange trip failed on the overall lack of bed-space, my dad seemed keen to make use of my first-passport found freedom and booked a very short trip. It was a slightly unusual choice, though I perhaps didn’t realise it: Calais. I don’t suppose any of you have ever been, nor should you. Yet if you are acquainted with the destination, it will be for its ‘checkpoint’ status in travelling to more exciting places. Unfortunately for me, it was the final destination and found myself relatively unprepared for the town that is essentially a port. Still, I ventured on this new experience like a keen puppy (I mean, who knew you could buy perfume on a boat?) whilst dreaming of the Romantic scenes that awaited me. How very wrong I was; my French dream was crushed to pieces under the weight of the P&O ferry.
Stepping off the ferry was like walking on a very strange land, where everything I knew previously about life, notably road safety, was literally reversed and I found myself getting very confused about which direction I should be looking on a roundabout. I thought that, additionally, being an A-Level French student, I would be able to converse with the locals with a nonchalant air whilst daintily eating a miniature macaroon, with perhaps a long Hepburn-style cigarette trailing from my middle fingers. In reality, it became clear that I couldn’t understand a thing. All those repetitive listening tapes for GCSE preparation had been to not avail. The language assistant had been quietly nodding through all my obvious faux-pas. My attention to my own Franglais had
never been stronger than when we entered an empty restaurant and upon looking at the menu, I said to the waiter: ‘Oh, I’m just deciding.’ Or so I thought. He gave the same accepting nod as my language assistant and returned with the English menu, adjusting his own language accordingly. The meal wasn’t even worthy of my butchered linguistic competency.
If any of you have been to Calais (albeit just ‘passing through’ as normal people do), you wouldn’t necessarily associate it with a ‘hub of activity.’ All through my trip, I felt like I’d time-travelled and just stopped somewhere in the middle; in this no-man’s land between life and death where a tumbleweed would have looked at home. We spent the day simply wandering, and stumbling through French exchange whilst watching all the other fully-packed cars cruising to more exotic destinations. Sitting on the dull, pebble ‘beach,’ I tried to decipher the letters in French Elle, and instead found myself reading the fashion shoots. The only vaguely exciting aspect of Calais, was the patisserie culture. A big fan of my cake, this was a welcome addition and the macaroon was the best I’d ever had (and I’ve eaten quite a few macaroons), if not theoretically the most expensive. I could only dream of what the capital had to offer in the way of petits
fours; somewhere in this deserted town, I had restored a little faith of the French joie de vivre.
So whilst Calais may not be in any competition for an upcoming Valentine’s getaway, it certainly gave me an idea about where I’d rather go, and what I wanted to see from the world. It wasn’t the best, but it was memorable. And after all, isn’t that what your first time is all about?