The four weeks both lasted forever and drew to a quick close. Before we knew it, our classes were wrapping up, our nine French credits back at the University of Utah in our pocket, and we gathered for a long, four-hour (seriously, the French take dining seriously — and slowly) dîner d’adieu at a restaurant on a farm in the countryside near Tours. I began to pack my oversize, voluminous luggage, and left some gifts I had brought for my host mother, including a copy of the Book of Mormon in French and a picture book of Salt Lake City, on the table in my room. (I will admit that by that point I had grown less fond of her and I left them somewhat grudgingly. But I had no use for them myself and was happy to unload what little I could from my luggage.)
Somehow in the preceding days toward the end of my stay I had lost one of the house keys for my host family’s apartment. And this wasn’t just any ordinary key: it was a sort of key I had never seen before, with pits on either side of the blade rather than teeth. (Apparently this is called a “dimple” key.) They are rather expensive to cut, and my host mother made one last stop on the way to drop me off at the train station so I could get a copy made. I would have thought that after being paid upwards of €150 per week for my stay with her, she could have afforded to make a copy herself. But apparently not. However, the €8 cost for a new key was still too small for me to pay with my debit card (many shops in France required a minimum charge of €10 to pay with a debit or credit card), so I had to stop by a bank to pick up €10 more to pay for the key. It was only after withdrawing small amounts like that all summer that I discovered that my bank, Washington Mutual, charged me $3.00 for each withdrawal made at an ATM outside of the United States — an amount that added up quickly. (I, however, got the last laugh: a mere four years later Washington Mutual collapsed in the midst of the Great Recession and was absorbed by J.P. Morgan Chase.)
Though I had bought a ticket for an intercité train for the end of my stay in Tours before I left the United States, after my experience in an overcrowded second-class car at the beginning of my journey I decided to upgrade to the TGV instead. What the intercité had covered in three hours the TGV covered in merely an hour. And what a thrill it was to ride on one of the world’s fastest trains.
My stay in Europe concluded with a brief visit to Paris (which I truncated after becoming tired of traveling by myself in France), a visit to my friend Jennifer and her family in the United Kingdom, and family friends, the Souths, from our ward in Charlotte who had moved to Switzerland a decade before. And before I knew it, I was back home in North Carolina for the remainder of the summer, before my family drove across the country to return me to the University of Utah and to get my brother started off at Utah Valley State College (now Utah Valley University).
It was, in the end, the best summer I had ever experienced. Even looking back on it now it feels like it went on forever. Rarely, if ever, have I packed so much into so little time. But there was one thing in particular that made it the best summer ever, and that is that group of friends I have mentioned a couple of times in this piece: Lisa, Erin, Honey, and Nena. I don’t recall how the five of us met or who knew whom first. But once we forged a friendship, we were inseparable: breaks during class days, excursions to nearby sights, afternoons and evenings in Tours — we spent them all together.
We even organized a couple of our own excursions which, frankly, were better than the ones organized for us by the Institut. The first was to the Château de Chenonceau, one of the Loire Valley’s most picturesque châteaux, built over the River Cher itself. Our self-designed excursion included a train from Tours, some time exploring the chateau and its grounds, lunch at a pizzeria in the nearby village, Chenonceaux (yes, with an x, though the name of the chateau itself typically isn’t spelled with an x). We then walked up the river and took a tour boat that went right under the chateau itself. We outdid ourselves on that one.
Honey, Lisa, and I took another excursion to the Château de Chinon, which was a seat of French kings throughout the Middle Ages. Most notably, it was where Joan of Arc came to Charles VII to acknowledge him as the rightful heir to the French throne — the rest, as they say, is history, though in this case it may largely be myth, but what a mythic story it is! The chateau is now largely in ruins, but it is a fascinating place to explore. And, for some reason, I still have a vivid memory of drinking an Orangina at a small café off a deserted, dusty road near the castle as we started to make our way back to Tours on the TER (train express régional).
There were lots of things that made summer 2004 special — magical, even: my first study-abroad experience, a charming French city and the surrounding countryside, finally seeing places that I had wanted to see my entire life. But what truly made it the best summer ever was an enduring friendship with Lisa, Erin, Honey, and Nena.
This article had a sidebar: “Going to church in Tours”.
- I’m not certain where this was, but my research online hints that this station was likely Orléans. ↩
- I believe I used a calling card to call the missionaries in Tours and then called the missionaries in Normandy. ↩
- A check on the current maps.lds.org confirms that, yes, the Cherbourg Branch covers all of Normandy. ↩
- General information in this paragraph is from the Wikipedia article on Pointe du Hoc. ↩