A Serendipitous Last Hurrah

Joseph Kalmar
April 6, 2020

I was absolutely thrilled when my mom came to visit me the week after February break; from when I left in early January to when I saw her again in early March was the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing her in person. Coming off a very busy week-long break, I had a somewhat outlined plan for the week that, at least for the most part, went to plan. My mom arrived on Saturday morning, so I met her at Charles de Gaulle airport and we drove to our first destination: Disneyland Paris. While we weren’t thrilled with the overall cleanliness of the park or the hotel we stayed in, but I really enjoyed the rides (especially Hyperspace Mountain and the Pirates of the Caribbean). 

On Sunday evening we braved the four-hour drive back to Nantes, which was somewhat harrowing not due to the length of the drive but due to the deeply confusing nature of the French highway system. I suppose I’ve been spoiled by the relatively straight, well-marked highways in the United States, but one would think that 130 kilometers per hour (about 80 mph) is a little fast for what is essentially an expanded system of winding country roads.

On Monday morning I went through my usual routine of getting up, eating breakfast, and taking the bus to IES for class; the main discrepancy was that immediately after class I rushed to the kitchen to make a PB&J then hurried downstairs to meet my mom at the car so we could drive to Chambord. My mom, having taught middle schoolers about the feudal period, was amazed to see all of the mostly intact feudal manors she could spot while driving during the day, the majority of which are still being used as homes and farms. We got a good hour and a half in at Chambord before it closed, and this time I actually kind of knew where to find various cool rooms so we were able to take a more efficient tour of the highlights.

On Tuesday, after my afternoon class, we drove up to a feudal manor in Normandy that had been converted to a very cool hotel; we used it as a starting point the next morning to visit the American Cemetery, Omaha Beach, and Mont-Saint-Michel. I would have liked to show her around Pointe du Hoc, but a combination of an incredibly inconvenient blocked road and the fact that we had to get back to Nantes in time to have dinner with my host family at 8 pm prevented us from doing so. Nevertheless, I had a great time showing my mom some cool French landmarks, and we got back to Nantes in time for a lovely dinner with my host family.

On Thursday we had a more chill day of hanging out in my mom’s Airbnb, doing homework (me) and grading (my mom), and eating the best ready-made ravioli I’ve ever had in my life. Then, on Friday afternoon, we drove to Charles de Gaulle, dropped off the car, took a bus back into Paris, and saw the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. The main thing I learned from the week I spent exploring France with my mom was that renting a car in France is both a curse and a blessing. On one hand, you can directly access many more destinations than by only using public transportation; on the other hand, the French are not exactly patient drivers, and sometimes you get rear-ended while stopped behind a long line of cars at a traffic circle. Regardless, it was a great bonding experience for my mom and me, and I was sad to see her go on Saturday morning.

And, as it turns out, my mom chose the perfect week to come visit me. The week after her visit was complicated not only by studying for and taking midterms, but also by looming threat of travel restrictions and quarantines. Literally the weekend before midterms one of my friends and I were working on solidifying our travel plans for spring break; about 72 hours later I was working on booking my flight home. No one in my program, students, professors, and staff included could have predicted the impact of COVID-19 not only on our program, but on the world at large.

Joseph Kalmar

<p>I'm a sophomore in college who has studied French for over seven years. In addition to reading, singing, and playing various musical instruments, I'm an avid fan of birdwatching, watching hockey, and traveling.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
College of Wooster, The
Bowling Green, OH
French Language
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