Definition of “Grand Tour”
1: an extended tour of the Continent that was formerly a usual part of the education of young British gentlemen
2: an extensive and usually educational tour
2017 has some exciting changes for Tracy and me. Our niece, Etta-Kimiyo, will be living with us in France while she is finishing her high school work online. Her student visa was approved through December 13, 2017 by the Consulate General of France in San Francisco. Etta’s parents want Etta to experience Europe with us and for Etta to enrich and expand her education with living abroad. We get the wonderful opportunity to share the history and culture that we have experienced over the last four years and to to make new adventures with Etta.
Etta is joining us in our adopted home in Argeles-sur-Mer in the Pyrénées–Orientales Department located in Southern France on the Mediterranean Sea and adjacent to the Northern border of Spain. Etta will experience the French, Spanish, and Catalan influences on the local history, culture, and food. The Côte Vermeille and Pyrénées–Orientales area where we live is also still known as Catalunya Nord because it was ceded to France by Spain with the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. In fact, there is recent controversy with the greater region being renamed in 2016 Occitanie by the Conseil d’État (when the former French regions Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées were combined) and not named Occitanie Pays Catalan.
We are planning to make use of the flexibility of Etta’s online classes to travel and explore France and Europe with Etta as much as possible, but with school work always remaining the first priority. Tracy has become an expert at “fast and light” discount travel. Potential learning adventures to enrich Etta’s studies that are located in the immediate region include viewing the 17,000 year old cave paintings in Lascaux; seeing the ancient Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard; walking the medieval walled fortress of Cité de Carcassonne; exploring Collioure, the inspiration to Matisse and the Fauvist art movement; the local memorials to the Retirada, the 100,000 refugees of Spanish Republicans fleeing from the Spanish Civil War; or a tour of the Airbus factory and seeing commercial aircraft manufactured in Toulouse. All of these are a quick train or bus ride away. Perfectly timed for Etta’s arrival is the French national train system, SNCF, has just announced a new “Happy Card” discount promotion with unlimited rail travel on high speed TGV and Intercité trains for 16-27-year-olds at just €79 a month.
Of course, Tracy and I are not “trust fund babies with unlimited platinum credit cards” who never stop traveling. We are just everyday people retired from public service with middle-class sized fixed pensions. We live a fairly simple, minimalist life. So for Etta there will be the mundane “real life” of school work, shopping, dog walking, cooking, and laundry with us. But the mundane can be fun with a flexible school schedule that you decide yourself how to schedule; the shopping is at an open air market at the village center; dog walking is along the promenade beside a Mediterranean beach; cooking is with fresh, seasonal, local food; all with frequent breaks along the way to enjoy a pain au chocolat and chocolat chaud at a cafe or swim in the sea. Oh, and laundry . . . well, laundry is just laundry anywhere in the world, but the Laundromat is a great place to start reading a new book or enjoy music.
There is a bit of a culture shift for Etta. She is sharing with us a small apartment with a micro-kitchen. We do not have a car. We do not have a television. We do not have a dishwasher.We do not have a washing machine. The nearest movie theatre with English language films is in Perpignan. We walk 2 km for morning coffee. We call it “living like a couple of college students.” But we do have great sunrises, the Mediterranean Sea 50 meters aways, palm trees, 7 kilometers of white sand beach, friendly neighbors, bicycles, two spoiled dogs, a beautiful village, an open air market, French pastries, a €1 bus system, and amazing nature and history surrounding us.
Etta’s school curriculum includes studying the French language, I fully expect her to be speaking French better than me in a very short time. She will certainly get a chance for practice.
We are certainly looking for to our shared adventures together.