Photo of young woman holding stuffed hog, beside the Seine in Paris.

Anna Ibru and SantiHOGo take in views of the Seine at Francois Mitterrand Quay in Paris.

Architecture major Anna Ibru, from Lagos, Nigeria, visited Europe for the first time while participating in Honors Passport: Pilgrimage. Thanks to her training in Fay Jones School of Architecture, she proved to be among the most adept in reading subtle differences in architectural style as we visited cathedrals and castles throughout France and Spain. The pilgrimage had an emotional impact on Anna, as well: In Paris and again in Toulouse, she experienced strong connections with her past.

Nostalgia and Love; these were the most memorable emotions that engulfed me during the Camino de Santiago. Why? Paris and Toulouse. I longed for home in Paris, and I fell in love with Toulouse.I chose to go on the Honors Passport to Santiago de Compostela because I believed that it was going to be a good opportunity for me to not just experience architecture that I had learned about in history of architecture courses, but also have the opportunity to use what I learned while studying architectural history in graduate school. Also, based on the fact that two faculty members who I view as excellent historians and mentors were to lead the trip, I needed no more convincing to apply.

I had a set view prior to the trip, that most of what I was going to gain would be academically based, but little did I know that I was about to gain much more. While journeying from the Charles de Gaulle airport to the hotel in Bercy, I could not help but notice things that reminded me of where I grew up; Lagos, Nigeria. The streets and buildings on the way to Bercy reminded me very much of the Lagos Island and Victoria Island areas of Lagos. However, despite noticing these similarities, I still was not convinced that my response to this new environment had already started to stir up nostalgic feelings within me.

It was not until I reached the village market at Bercy that I realized how much I missed life in my home country. The open-air market in Bercy reminded me of all the times I would follow my mother shopping for food when home in Nigeria. The pungent smell of raw fish, overripe fruits, and the sound of merchants hollering at customers to buy their produce, paralleled with my experiences at open air markets in Lagos. The only difference was that these people spoke French and not English.

A historic plan of Toulouse, France.

A 1631 map of Toulouse, France, dubbed “la Ville Rose” due to the pinkish brick used there.

Considering this newly found feeling of nostalgia in Paris, I had no idea that another city on the Camino would impact me even more. I found my perfect city away from home, in Toulouse, the “Pink City,” or as the French would call it, “La Ville Rose.” I do take pride in having good memory, but my navigation skills are in no way paralleled; however, for some reason I felt less likely to get lost in Toulouse. Oh, how I loved the way the large trees framed the main streets. I felt very sheltered and safe while walking along them.

Five musicians perform inside a beautiful church.

The pilgrim band sings a 13th-century Cantiga de Santa Maria in the Convent of the Jacobins, Toulouse. Musicians are (l-r) Jacob Purifoy, Kimmarie Counts, Susan Tucker, Anna Ibru and Nikola Radan.

Aside from the navigable city plan and beautiful streets, I fell in love with Toulouse over any other city away from my hometown because it reminded me of my late father. Over eight years have passed and I never would have expected to feel my father’s presence while singing a Cantiga de Santa Maria after praying at the Church of the Jacobins. I will never forget how peaceful I felt with my eyes shut and my voice soaring. At those moments I could feel my father’s presence in the sense that I knew he was proud of how far I have come in life without him by my side. The not so stereotypical daddy’s girl was finally growing up.

I was able to experience a little bit of home away from home, life before loss, a certain oneness with my father despite having to live the rest of my life without him. There is a saying that explains that sunshine usually arises after rain. The challenges I faced in quick succession just prior to the trip in no way have exceeded the rewards I have received for endurance through and prior to this trip. I would highly recommend this trip to other students because despite its academic benefits, I was able to find a strong connection to life back at home.