We had missed the bus to Normandy.
My friends and I were on the brink of panic. This was supposed to be a low-stress, low-budget trip. But now, if we didn’t somehow make our way to Courseulles-sur-Mer by the end of the day, we’d be out of a few dozen euros.
What we first did, of course, was walk around Bercy Station aimlessly, trying to both figure out what to do and stave off the panic. We just needed some time to breathe and collect ourselves. The Ouibus ticketing desk wouldn’t open for a few hours, so there was nobody to direct our complaint to. We were all visibly frustrated, so we decided that breakfast was in order. Food never fails to lift up one’s spirits.
After some hot chocolate and croissants, we decided to just re-book our tickets online. Luckily, there was another bus to Caen in a few hours, so we snatched that opportunity up. It was a bit more expensive than the original ticket, but it makes much more mathematical sense to pay a bit more than to lose the value of the entire trip. So, stomachs full and heads cleared, we made our way back to Bercy to talk to a Ouibus agent.
We proceed towards the little office, an almost makeshift structure in the middle of a crowded bus platform. There was little room in there for anything besides the ticket desk and one agent. After waiting in a chaotic line on the platform for half an hour, we finally make it inside.
“Excuse me,” my friend started, in French. “We wanted to-”
“Bonjour,” the woman at the desk replied pointedly, eyes piercing.
The agent cleared her throat intentionally loudly. “Bonjour,” she said again, with more urgency in her voice this time.
“Bonjour?” my friend answered with hesitation.
“Oui, bonjour,” the agent said finally. “What can I do for you?”
I shared a knowing look with my other friend. We both realized that what we learned during our program’s briefing sessions was right. The French really are sticklers for their bonjours.
After explaining our predicament in some woefully inadequate French, the agent said that there was nothing she could do. We had to call the complaints number, which, she pointed out, had an English helpline.
“I’m sorry, I truly am,” she said in French. Somehow, we didn’t believe her.
A few hours later, we were on our way to Caen.
Caen is a nice, if sleepy, city. I’m sure it would have been even better if it weren’t in the middle of a major transport system overhaul, as it wasn’t easy to ignore the gigantic construction work in the middle of literally every main road. But it was still a lovely town. My boyfriend went to university in Caen, and while he warned us that it wasn’t a very exciting place, he nevertheless had some recommendations: see the castle, and walk through the old town.
We walked from the bus stop all the way down the main avenues. It looked like Paris, in a sense, with shops from various ethnicities along the roads, complemented by the ornamental trees lining the riverbank. But it was also decidedly not Paris. It was so quiet, and it was the middle of Friday. It felt almost surreal.
We soon reached the center of town, which felt, for the lack of a better word, old. The architecture, the cobblestone roads, and the looming churches were reminiscent of centuries past. There were modern stores, of course, and they along with the machinery of modern life added to the unique look of Caen. It had all the trappings of a European university town, everything that a long history and a young populace bring together.
After a lovely walk through Caen, we found the bus stop and were on our way to Courseulles-sur-Mer. Thank goodness we decided to stick with this trip, because it was one of the most relaxing days I’ve had since I arrived in France.
I’ll end this post with a series of photos, because I’ve rambled on long enough, and the pictures would do the town more justice. See you next blog!