Last week, I had a great opportunity to make my first trip overseas and (with the exception of occasional wi-fi) unplug from the world of communication and social media. I took an entire week of vacation (completely new concept to me) for a trip to France to attend the 2014 Alltech Global Beef and Dairy Conference held in Deauville, France, which is in the Normandy region of the country. I had never even used a passport, so this was a very novel experience for me. And I loved it!
The Alltech Global conference is an annual meeting that gathers beef and dairy farmers from around the world to collaborate and network on new ideas and current events that help to move the industry forward. Granted, a majority of the participants do have a customer relationship with Alltech by using their products, the group represents a wide swath of farmers from every continent and several different languages.
Having worked in feedlots of the Texas Panhandle, I’ve experienced being excluded from conversations surrounding me because of a language barrier, but I can read quite a bit and recognize enough spoken Spanish, that I get along with that language. But to be at a conference of over 700 attendees where there are several different European and Asian languages spoken, where even the English is of different accents, is a completely different experience.
In the towns of Trouville, Deauville and Caen where I spent the majority of my time, there was little English translation on menus or signs. We also slept one night in Le Mans. Luckily, I was able to read or at least grasp the context of what was being said thanks to the Word Lense app I found that does a live translation without internet connection. It wasn’t until I arrived in Paris that an English translation was commonplace. Even then, the museum signs and descriptions were all in French.
The language barrier didn’t stop me from experiencing some great French foods and wines! We had several types of fish, seafood, lamb, beef, pastries and desserts. The French take their food seriously and invest much more time in the preparation and enjoyment of their meals compared to the fast food culture we practice in the States. It is normal to have a lunch or dinner lasting a few hours overseas. The portions are much smaller, but most meals were served as several portions and wine and cheese were frequent accompaniments. I had a enough of the sugar rush after only the first few days of being there. Luckily breakfasts were filled with protein – yogurts, meats, sausage, cheese, eggs. I didn’t bother buying any souvenirs while in France and just chose to enjoy the food and wine scene. And now that I’ve returned, American coffee tastes like water. I miss my espressos.
Despite all the amazing food choices there, it seems that people in France are much thinner than Americans. I imagine part of that can be attributed to physical activity. The cities are built much closer together, enough to give this Montana resident a sense of claustrophobia, and most places are designed to facilitate heavy foot traffic. During one day in Paris, I ended up walking close to 8 miles on the streets, not counting the walking inside monuments and museums.
I had two days to spend in Paris and filled it with several sightseeing ventures. The people watching was amazing, with cultures and styles mixing from across the globe. Apparently I have the facial features of a Russian. On three separate occasions, I encountered people walking up to me speaking Russian, mistaking that I was from their country. I might need to add another country to my list of travels…
I stayed in a hotel close to the Eiffel Tower. After seeing photos of it in several books and films, I was afraid its size might disappoint, but it didn’t. It was a pretty cool sight to see. I even sat on the lawns after dark to watch as it was lit up for the night. I also took a boat tour on the Seine River which toured several of the historic features of the city. Turns out I was on the perfect tour to watch the sunset over the city. Quite an awesome sight to experience!
The next day, I covered quite a few miles, walking through residential and business neighborhoods. Cars lined the streets and motorcycles were parked everywhere! The bikes are a frequent occurrence weaving in and out of traffic in France, and during the entire trip, only a handful of pickups were spotted. Not even the farmers have pickups over there! There’s no way in the world you’d catch me willing driving through that kind of traffic.
I walked up the nearly 300 steps to climb the Arc de Triumphe in the middle of town. The detail and sculpture on the monument is amazing. What we consider as old in this country (in most cases maybe 100 years), is nothing compared to the centuries-old castles, churches, monuments and every-day buildings over in Europe. Many of the buildings across France were damaged during World War II as Allied Forces defeated the Nazi evasions, so it amazing to see the remaining 11th Century landmarks next to 21st century business centers. Absolutely blows my mind.
Then after wandering the streets for a while, ended up at the Louvre Museum and saw the main attraction, the Mona Lisa. It wasn’t hard to find your way to the famous da Vinci. Just follow the massive flow of traffic until you end up a room so hot and crowded, that this introvert wasn’t in any hurry to stay for more than just a few moments. I guess I just don’t get art. In an expansive building, filled with such massive, detailed, and giant painting and sculptures, everyone was in a crowded rush to see such a small piece of canvas. Nevermind the giant, larger than life, wall-size paintings surrounding her and lining the rooms down the hallway. Every piece of art had a story to tell, whether it was battle scenes, depictions of the Christ, or historic royalty, there are so many experiences lining the walls of that place. I could have walked through the Louvre for days, even if I cannot correctly pronounce its name or read any of the description plates on the works of art.
Then I took a nap by the river from sheer exhaustion, had another great meal, bottle of wine and made it back on my 11-hour flight over the northern reaches of Canada to finally land my feet back on American soil in Salt Lake City.
This post is already longer than it needs to be, so over the next several days, I’ll share more details of the trip. There’ll be more about the food, the landscapes, the cultural differences, and of course the cheese and wine. But there were also so insightful take-homes from the international conference and discussions with beef and dairy farmers from all corners of the globe. Carrie (a.k.a. @DairyCarrie) and Patrick Mess also went along on the trip with me. Be sure to check out their perspectives on her blog – DairyCarrie.com.
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Have you ever traveled overseas? What cultural experiences stuck with you the most?