Céline lives in a wooden-floored one bedroom in a historic pans de bois building in Troyes, with pencil sketches on the walls and multicolored tins of tea lining the shelves. I’ve couchsurfed before, but this is the first time that I’ve gotten off the train to find someone waiting for me with a big smile and bisous, complete with a black bicycle and beret.
Troyes, in Champagne, pulls its charm from medieval houses and cobblestone streets, but I enjoyed it most because Céline took me through the side alleys and her friends’ shops. She bought raw, whole milk (creamy, but tastes like… milk), described the best local cheeses, and explained why a passing bachelor was enrobed in a burlap sack. But possibly the most interesting thing about Céline was her travel plans:
Every vacation she takes, she plans to learn something.
Céline’s idea for a trip to Thailand and Malaysia is taking massage classes to perfect the art on at least one, small part of the body. Her boyfriend is planning to spend a week practicing martial arts. I like to think I learn something every time I’m on vacation. The Turkish I learned in Istanbul was useful to greet cab drivers in Cairo and to be friendly with my Turkish students in Mirecourt. But most of this “learning” was by necessity or hazard: really learning something means dedicating a certain amount of time to a country, a city, a people, and a certain disregard for tourist monuments.
This is where sites like WWOOF come in, allowing you to learn about raising animals or farming while being lodged for free. There are sites like Vocation Vacations as well, where you pay for a trip that opens your eyes to a new trade or career. You can even find organizations that set up research expeditions which allow you to map fossils or study the effects of oil spills.
I am a cheapskate, so I will be making my lesson plans on my own. Next known stop for me if all goes well: harvesting grapes in a vineyard in September. And what did I learn in Troyes? That 12:05 on a Saturday is a good time for champagne, and that the chaource recipe I should have recommended is a ham and chaource tart.