Early mornings walking to class. The sun's not up yet, and blue light filled the streets. Everyone is still asleep, not even the office workers are up. Yet, some afar, you know that the local boulangerie is already open, as the lovely, comforting smell of fresh oven-baked bread wafts down the street. It stirs my senses awake. I was still groggy and half-asleep for having to wake so early, but this smells never fails to perk me up. I purposely walk slower, down to an elderly pace, just so to extend this sensory feast a little longer. Orange light streaming out from the bakery, and you can see some early birds already shopping for their daily breakfast baguette. Croissants, chocolate danishes and long loaves of baguettes, all warm and ready.
I didn't know a smell could trigger home-sickness and also home-sweet-home comfort and warmth all at the same time. But yet this was what this boulangerie did. The highlight of my mornings here, far from home.
Over and over, a pattern emerges. Transformative travel tends to start from going somewhere to learn something. For me, at least. By learning I mean taking classes in a craft, a language, or just some activity unique to that place. This time, I took up learning the French in Toulouse, for one month at a local university. This was in 2007. It was the summer vacation, so they had summer classes that's open for public and other university students. I signed up, and that started my adventure in France for the next 6 months. Yes, I spent half a year in France! What followed was a transformative trip like no other.