has started a chain of events asking her friends to write about a ‘first’ in their lives. She has asked me to write about my first overseas trip.
Although I had been away from home from time to time before, my first trip was when I was eleven years old. My parents accompanied me across the English Channel on a ferry to the French port of Le Havre and then returned home. At that time none of us had been out of the UK before, so it was a major excursion for us. Now, many years later, we have all travelled the world and experienced so much in other countries but this was the first time.
I was to be staying with a family, some members of which I had met before but who I didn’t really know. They lived in the town of Bourg-en-Bresse, just to the north-east of Lyon. This meant a long train journey from Le Havre, through Paris and then down via Dijon and Mâcon. I was travelling for well over twenty-four hours and arrived very tired.
The family I was staying with ran an old people’s home and I was given one of the rooms. It was a big old, sprawling place and I had difficulty finding my way around and felt very homesick. My great-grandmother had died only a few months before and I had loved her dearly. Now, suddenly I was living in a home with lots of old people around and I just felt wretched. I’m sure the family did all they could to make me welcome but I only remember how awful I felt, in a different culture with different foods and smells and weather and everything. I remember that I wrote a letter home asking my parents to bring forward the time I was due to go back home. I was to be staying with this family for six weeks and couldn’t face all that time. Obviously there wasn’t anything anyone could do but I felt that I needed to get the misery out of my system.
As is always the case, after a few days the homesickness gradually subsided. I think, now, that it was best to work through it because I have never suffered in the same way again. I have not been homesick since. Things got better when I discovered the garden. It was large and walled in on all sides. Because this was the southern part of France, there were melons and peaches growing there and tiny sand lizards basking in the sunshine; I was fascinated by them.
After a couple of weeks, I am delighted to say, the family went on holiday to a little village in the mountains near Grenoble, called Mens, where they had a holiday home. This was more like it, I suddenly felt at home, back in a small village, and able to wander and explore. I swam every day in the local piscine and relaxed and almost forgot about home altogether. It was there during this time that I discovered my love of mountains and the landscape that was so far removed from the one I grew up in. I also discovered Frenchness and so began an on-off-on-off love affair with the language.
Needless to say, when it came time for me to go home, I didn’t want to. My parents had flown over to join us for the last couple of days and to escort me back to the UK, and this was another first, my first time on a plane.