Holiday Nostalgia: a miserable field trip in the French mountainsMonday, 1 October 2012
When we were 17, we were herded into a coach and booted off to the south of France. You have to start by talking about the coach part, in case anyone thinks that the south of France is a terribly glamorous destination for a school trip. And gets the wrong idea. Because glamorous this was not.
I mean, don't get me wrong. It was a nice enough location, in the Cevenne Mountains. But why, WHY did they put us on a coach? Nice Airport was about 40 minutes away. If my memory serves, it took us about 27 weeks to get down there. During the day, we were boiled alive. As night fell, the temperature dropped below zero.
The only time I've ever seen my friend Lindsey lose her rag completely, is when she saw that we had a blanket draped over us in the seats behind her.
"Where... (she hissed with slitted eyes) did you get that?"
"Um... Nuz's mum packed it for her"
"Give it to us"
"GIVE IT TO US!" Her head spun around and her hair flew madly as her eyes flashed red.
We shared the blanket with her in the end.
We eventually arrived, bleary eyed, emotional and several years older than when we started.
I remember our first thoughts vividly. The place looked like a high security prison. I mean, we knew we were going on a field trip. But we didn't think it would be like a field trip field trip. We thought we'd just be having the craic around the place, looking at some vaguely geographical things during the day, but then just having a giggle.
There were classrooms there. Classrooms! We soon found out that our days would be spent doing the boring geographical stuff, and in the evenings we would BE IN THE CLASSROOMS. Like, after dinner, boarding school style learning.
I wasn't impressed. The art class had gone to Barcelona on their trip. They did shag all when they were out there. They just drank the nights away.
We were learning.
I shudder at the thought.
We went to put our stuff in the cells, and my friend Bee promptly fell over and smacked her knee open. It was an omen.
Soon after, we were sent on a welcome hike. Not a stroll, a massive big long annoying hike. We were in dire need of sleep, and showers, but neither were to come.
As we gathered by the watchtower to be led away, half expecting to be clad in bright orange prison gear, the owner had a few words for us.
"Now, this is the south of France. So you have to be careful... (yeah yeah yeah, I thought to myself. Wear sunscreen) OF THE SNAKES."
Our teacher had promised me, sworn to me, that there were no snakes there. Why I believed him, I have no idea. But the place was fucking riddled with them.
We set off, me grumbling non stop. Soon after we left, the group ahead of me stopped, and a girl came running back towards me.
"STOP! Nicola, you CAN'T GO DOWN THERE!"
Yep, we'd met our first little bastard slithering across the path.
Everyone had been briefed about the snake protocol. It still applies to this day. If you see one, but I'm not going to see it, then lead me away without letting on there's anything wrong. If you see one, and I'm probably going to see it, then get me away as soon as possible, preferably by giving me a piggy back. At all times, I need someone walking in front, behind and either side of me, forming a diamond of protection.
The system was tested that day.
The little bastard sneaked away, and I walked on, quietly crying behind my sunglasses.
I hated this place.
OK, OK. I'm being a bit dramatic. There were good points. One day, we were allowed an hour of what almost resembled fun. We arrived at a little riverside beach, and could almost believe that we were on holiday.
So, all in all, it wasn't the nightmare we thought it would be at the start. But I can safely say that no one shed a tear as we left the place a week later. Three months on a coach had never looked as good.
Eagle's Nest - Cevenne Mountains (there's a great prison facade picture on the first page)