How Uganda turned into France
written by Irina Gallagher
There was once a girl of 23 who felt a sudden urge to travel. It wasn’t that she was never interested in seeing the world before, but somehow, in some mysterious, overbearing way, the compulsion to dive into a far-flung location was all she could think about. It was that very summer, that the girl sent for a Ugandan visa, obtained a series of inoculations, paid a heaping amount of money to reserve a volunteer spot at a Ugandan animal rescue facility, and ended up going to France instead.
It was thanks to biology, really, that this trip took place at all. That yearning to explore ended up, which the girl later discovered, a call to sow the seeds of travel before a baby arrived nine months later. Uganda turned into France by sheer serendipity when the girl’s beloved uncle, who was a renowned physicist, invited his sister (the girl’s mother) to Rouen, France for a conference. The girl, feeling quite confused and unsure about her African adventures, invited herself along. Luckily, the mother and the uncle, welcomed her with open arms. Otherwise, there would be no story to tell.
If you’re not familiar with Rouen, it is the beautiful River Seine-adjacent capital of Normandy in northern France. It is home to the Notre Dame de Rouen Cathedral which was a beloved subject of one Claude Monet. The timbered buildings throughout the city and the calmness of the people present an essence that is a far cry from its close neighbor, Paris.
The girl and her mom flew into Paris and arrived in Rouen via train. They were greeted heartfeltly by the world’s most enthusiastic traveler. The three traipsed along the cobblestone streets with their luggage in search of their hotel. They arrived at a hotel more extravagant than they expected and through a series of financial circumstances, the three wound up seeking out much cozier accommodations located so close to the cathedral that they could practically hit it with a stone (of course none of them tried, it’s Gothic architecture for heaven’s sake!). What a blessing in disguise it is sometimes to not have spare funds!
Of course there was the conference business, but along with the preparations and translations of work, there were walking tours around Rouen, trips to Claude Monet’s home in the village of Giverny, and tours all around Normandy. Remember when I mentioned the world’s most enthusiastic traveler? Well, I’m sure you’ve gathered for yourself that such a person will not miss a single excursion, he will not leave a single stone unturned, and he will not stop exploring until all are thoroughly exhausted in the best possible way. So off they went; the uncle always in front with a spirited pace with his backpack and camera, the girl and her mom lagging slightly behind in complete awe at the sights unfolding in front of them – and all were enjoying themselves to capacity.
The travelers visited cathedrals and monastery ruins, they rode across the French countryside like most people only dream of, they stood in Monet’s dining room and gleefully perused his gardens, they feasted on assortments of cheeses overlooking light shows dancing on the Rouen cathedral, they devoured fresh baguettes stuffed with crab on park lawns, they walked miles upon miles of cobbled streets on weary feet, and they lovingly looked at the River Seine upon which this enchanted city was built. In the blink of an eye, it seems, it was time to leave behind this amazing experience.
The travelers’ exit from Rouen was a bit of a whirlwind. They loudly clanked along the cobbled streets with their rolling suitcases in the early hours of the morning. The city was still asleep as they made their way to the train station heading for Paris. The uncle had a flight to catch and the girl and her mom would be in Paris for a night. In a fashion reserved for those who live their whole lives utilizing every moment to its fullest capacity, resulting in a hectic barrage of suitcases flying from platform to platform in search of the proper trains, the travelers managed to arrive at their destinations unscathed.
We’ll never know what the uncle’s thoughts were during the last leg of his journey. I can say for certain that the girl and her mom breathed sighs filled with both exhaustion and happiness for all they had experienced. They ate crepes with nutella, boarded a riverboat tour, and floated across the River Seine taking in the sights of Paris. When the travelers arrived home, they found out that during the entire journey, there was a tiny passenger of whom no one had known right alongside them.
So it happened, as often is the case, that the most unlikely circumstance can leave the biggest impact. And the girl, no longer 23, is eternally grateful to her mom without whom she would never have gone to Rouen and to the world’s most enthusiastic traveler for all that she saw because of him.