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France Opens 'Travel Eyes' of 18-Year-Old Backpacker

I finally start to understand travel is sometimes about meeting people

sunny 74 °F

It was getting on towards dusk when the ferry set me on the docks at Boulougne. So far, my high school friend Brian and I had been misfiring on our travel adventure in the summer of 1981. Three days ago, we'd left the United States as high school graduates eager to backpack across the world. We'd given our mothers gray hairs by declaring we weren't sure WHEN we were coming home.

Our foray into England had been a mess. Rain and dismal camping weather had driven us to abandon that country without seeing much. Brian was all for "rushing through Europe" and heading towards the third world. I felt as long as we were there, we should take some time to see Europe. The split came on the docks with me walking to the youth hostel alone while Brian searched for another thicket to spread his sleeping bag in. Sleeping under the stars every once in awhile is nice, I'd said, but sleeping with the bugs every night was too much.

It was in France, traveling alone, that my travel eyes really began to open. The next day, after purchasing an obligatory bottle of wine, loaf of bread and some cheese, I marched off along the coast. I spent a few afternoon hours on a beach in Ambleteuse deciding the French looked an awful lot like us. Still in my "sleep cheap" mode, I shuffled off to find accommodations as evening approached. The priest of the church pointed me towards a door, where I explained my "plight."

Within an hour, I was at a house eating a free dinner alongside a bunch of volunteer health care workers. Their building, which sheltered handicapped French men, had a spare bedroom and took me in. A Scotsman who worked there befriended me and suggested an evening cafe excursion. A night of wine and new friends made traveling look less bleak than it had a few days ago.

The next morning, with a free breakfast to add to my lodging, I was off down the road again. I fell in with an Algerian girl, both of us hitchhiking to Dunkirk. She was going to visit her brother and I wanted to see the famous beach from World War II. We got along well, so once we arrived, she invited me to spend the night at her brother's. It was a fun night. There was a music festival in the square. After listening for awhile, we decided (of all things) to go bowling. Her and her brother were up early the next morning. He was off to school, she was headed home and I walked to the Dunkirk Youth Hostel, where I'd spend the next evening. Knowing we'd never meet again, we hugged, and said our goodbyes.

That day I was somewhat disappointed with the lack of mementos of the famous evacuation of the British army during World War II. It was a nice beach, though, so I wasn't TOO disappointed. Tomorrow, my road would take me to Belgium. I was happy with my tiny slice of France. Hopefully, the road would continue to bring new friends, new sights, and new experiences.

Posted by world_wide_mike 07:54 Archived in France

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