Saturday, October 29, 2011

Where Planning Is Half The Adventure

It's come to my attention that there are some text-formatting issues going on with this blog. I'm not sure why, but I'll try to sort it out.

According to Wikipedia: “In Britain and Ireland, there are a number of superstitions regarding magpies[16] 
  • A single magpie is associated with bad luck (see rhymes below)  
  •  One should make sure to greet magpies when they are encountered in order to either allay bad luck or encourage good luck as related to the number of birds and therefore their place in the Magpie poem. Common greetings include "Hello Mr Magpie" "How is your wife/where is your wife?", "Good Morning/Evening Sir" and other marks of respect.
  •  Upon seeing a lone magpie one should repeat the words "I defy thee" seven times. 
  •  On seeing a lone magpie one should pinch the person they are walking with, if they are alone they are to pinch themselves. The custom in Devon is to spit three times to avert ill luck. 
  •  If a lone Magpie is seen, one should salute it to show you respect it. This formality can be forgone if the Magpie looks directly in your eyes, which shows it respects you.”

and also, “In Scotland, a Magpie near the window of the house foretells death.”

The article does not have as much to say on how the French feel about magpies, but even if the British superstitions carry over, I don't think I have to worry too much about ever seeing just one magpie in a given place in Brest. That said, it would be impossible to go around greeting all the magpies I see—I'd never be able to focus on getting anything else done.

But, one of the several mornings last week that I woke up to a drenching rain, there was a very wet, sad-looking magpie hunkered down on my windowsill. So I guess that's bad. Good thing I'm not in Scotland.

I guess technically that's a lone magpie, but there were others around the parking lot, in sight. I wonder how big a geographic area is standard for the counting of magpies.

Anyway, as everyone who's friends with me on Facebook is probably already aware, I got seriously frustrated with France a few days ago. I had wanted to do some hiking, maybe a short backpacking trip, before coming to Rennes, but after going through the two [first of many] hiking guides I bought early last week and beginning to try to plan, I encountered some unforeseen problems. Actually, I guess they weren't entirely unforeseen, because I'd already begun encountering them in trying to plan to go to Rennes, but I hadn't yet fully appreciated their extent until then.

I guess I forget sometimes, being from the U.S., that France is actually a pretty big country by most other standards. Including, perhaps, standards of certain kinds of practicality. Public transportation exists, but it's a complicated and time-consuming way of getting anywhere and a nightmare to navigate even if you sort of understand the information available. There are the TGV trains, which seem to be the only real way to get anywhere over long distances because there is basically no such thing as interregional bus systems in France. As far as I can tell, I can't even get from Brest to Rennes or vice versa on a bus, because they're in different departments. I can (and did) use the regional train network, which is inexplicably cheaper than the TGV even though it takes the same amount of time and makes the same stops. Then, finally, there are intercity bus systems in each department, which are quite cheap and efficient (at least in Brittany). But you still have to take a train at some point to get from one department to another. And then, of course, there are some places that are so small or so remote that they just aren't served by any public transportation whatsoever.

All of this together turned trying to plan visits even to places relatively close to one another into a logistical nightmare. There were some places I wanted to go that I literally can't get to unless I take a bus into the next closest town and walk (probably along a road with no sidewalks), and even among places where buses do go, the need to reconcile multiple schedules, many of which have buses running with annoying infrequency or at really inconvenient times, and allow enough time for walking the legs I was planning to walk and for visiting attractions that are open for specific hours, made things anywhere from unnecessarily complicated to flat-out impossible.

To make matters worse, France is not the Mecca of cheap accommodation I have come to expect in Europe, and that's true in some major cities as well as the small towns I'd have to stay in along some of my hiking routes.* Hostels are few and far between and still often cost more than 20 euros per night, a cheap hotel is often forty or fifty euros a night, and B&Bs, though I haven't really looked for them specifically, do not appear to be the middle ground between the two that they often seemed to be in Ireland. It had not occurred to me until I really started looking that I would need to plan on spending two or three or even four times as much for every night away from home as I did when I traveled in Ireland, and I'm concerned that's going to put a damper on some of my within-France travel plans. I know it made my trip this past week into an overnight one instead of the two nights I'd originally planned.

Anyway, after spending something like five hours at my computer on Monday night trying to find a way to make some of the things I wanted to do work out both in terms of timing and in terms of not spending over a hundred euros on transportation and a place to sleep in just two or three days, I finally gave up and went to bed pissed off at the world.** Tuesday I woke up late, to another gray, rainy morning, and grudgingly worked out an itinerary that involved a lot less hiking and a lot more ridiculous bus schedules than I wanted, and grudgingly made a hotel reservation in Carnac for Wednesday night. Then the biggest problem was that I can't find my Maya necklace anywhere. I know it came to France, but I don't remember when or where I last had it and I have no idea where it's gone. I'm actually pretty upset about it, because I've worn it everywhere, on every trip I've taken since I got it (including symbolic ones--I was wearing it underneath my graduation dress last spring).
That afternoon, though, the weather cleared up and I went out to find the trail along the coast. I was a little miffed because I knew I was starting much too late to get all the way to the westernmost tip of the peninsula, where there's a lighthouse right alongside an abbey in ruins (my responsable took me there the first weekend I was in Brest), but I figured I'd go as far as I could and still be able to catch a bus back. By the time I walked all the way across town to find the trail, that wound up only being a few kilometers before it started to get close to dark and close to stormy again and I wasn't sure how far it was to the next place with a bus stop, but they were a much-needed few kilometers of wild cliffs and beautiful woods and views over the harbor, and I felt much better about life and much kinder towards my most recently adopted country by the time I got off the trail—just in time to see an enormous rainbow right down to the water.

*Camping out is not an option (even if it's legal, which I don't know) because A) I have no equipment, and B) I do a lot of things by myself and some of them border on risky, but sleeping in the woods alone in a country where people don't speak my first language is not going to be one of them, at least not at this point in time.
** Mostly France.

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