French Culture, Art, History and Equitation:
Encounters with Other Cultures
May 6 - 21, 2008
(Also known as “Working out with Mama Duck”)
By Jackie Dwelle
Traveler Betsy Kaplan dubbed me Mama Duck on the first day of the French trip after we had been travelling for hours and had just been attacked by the doors of the train in the metro. (I know there was a reason I suggested “travelling light”.) Travel in a foreign city where your language skills are limited can be a scary experience and the group’s goal at that point was simply survival. This translated into sticking with the group leader even if it did mean holding up the entire Paris metro system until all had made it off the train. We must have been quite a sight - 12 people with luggage trudging through the Paris metro.
The Work Out
Participants in a workout program need to be well nourished. In Paris a typical breakfast at the Youth Hostel consisted of a croissant, French bread, juice, and hot chocolate. Our group supplemented this with Pain du Chocolat (croissants filled with chocolate) and other pastries. A typical French evening meal can last more than three hours and we endeavored to uphold that tradition whenever we could. Another favorite dish on the trip was crepes served as only the French can with a multitude of fillings including Nutella (a personal favorite). In Paris these can be bought on the street. We learned that the French are insulted if you do not clean your plate, will not bring the check until asked, and are in no hurry for you to leave their restaurant even if you are finished eating and are just people watching.
Communicating in France was a challenge, we learned to attempt to speak French with the natives and then rely on their broken English (and our minimal French) to communicate what we wanted. This technique proved most productive and we were helped by many French people during our travels. Unfortunately, the strategy did not help us when there was a problem on the Metro and one French official would tell us to get on a train and another would come along and tell us to get off. We must have climbed on and off the same train five times. Oh, and of course, this was with all our luggage just to complete the workout.
Art and History
From the ancient buildings of Paris and their fabulous art collections to the medieval chateaus and troglodyte caves of the Loire valley, we were immersed in art and history everyday.
For us this started at the palace stables at Versailles where we saw a very well choreographed show performed by Académie du Spectacle Équestre, continued at the Cadre Noir with its famed classical academic riding and airs above the ground, and concluded with the thrills of cross country day at the hippodrome in Verrie.
Tips for Future Travelers to France
In ConclusionThe trip allowed the travelers to experience a different culture with some similar and some very dissimilar values. My wish for all the travelers is for this experience to peek their curiosity about other cultures and countries. I hope they will all make travel a priority in their lives.