With an inter-semester break coming up and three friends on years abroad in France, I jumped at the chance to visit them and experience for myself the enchanting, liminal world of Erasmus. I planned a week-long whistle-stop tour around France visiting friends in Bordeaux, Arras and Paris and had a brief glimpse into their various forays into the French way of life. Having had such a wonderful time, here are five reasons why I think visiting friends on years abroad gives you a truly genuine and authentic travelling experience…
Your friends can teach you the language better and quicker than any textbook. You can also pick up local colloquialisms from them; my friend Catherine taught me that a pain au chocolat is actually called a chocolatine in the South of France. To get the name wrong will instantly reveal you as either a tourist or a Northerner. So take the opportunity to immerse yourself in a different culture and blend in with your surroundings as much as possible.
They know where to find anything from the finest boulangeries in Paris to the best macaroons in Bordeaux. From the most scrumptious waffles to most delicious ice-creams, they can take you to their favourite places to give you a true taste of their Erasmus experience. Try the bakery 'aux p'tits délices' in Bordeaux.
As a tourist I feel I only ever scratch the surface of the place I’m visiting, so to be shown around by somebody who actually lives there, and a friend at that, gives you a wonderful insight into the true nature and character of the place itself. They can point out the cafe where they like to sit and read before class, the second hand bookshop, like La bouquinerie Plus, where they love to spend long, lazy afternoons browsing the shelves and the parks they frequent on sunny days with new friends.
Knowing the place like the back of their hand, they can tell you exactly which metro stop to get off at or which tram to catch to get you anywhere you want to go. So skip the tourist office, you’ve got your own personal map of the city right beside you. Set off and explore to your heart’s content.
Best Kept Secrets
Having been to Paris twice previously I found it refreshing to discover a side to the city I had never experienced before. We spent an afternoon wandering around the Jewish Quarter and as we strolled along I fell in love Paris all over again. We even stumbled upon a curious little vintage shop overflowing with hats of all shapes and sizes, old satchels and baskets full to the brim of patterned silk scarves. I’d gone to Paris and ended up in Aladdin’s Cave. I left with two worn checked shirts and a festive jumper which my mother compared to something my granny wore ‘back in the day’.
So if you’re already thinking ahead to Spring Break and want to go travelling, seize the opportunity to visit friends on years abroad while they’re there. We’ll only be this young, reckless and carefree once! And send a postcard to yourself so you’ll always have the memory.