Friday, July 28, 2006

France, part 4 and final

Right. This week has been dedicated to SA's first set of upper molars, and the misery caused thereby. So I'm short on sleep, and I'll wrap this up quickly.

We spent our second week ouside the small town Rodelle - around 15 minutes away was LeClerc, a nice supermarket where we bought provisions (and sheets and towels and other odds and ends, since the gite wasn't pre-provisioned. Perfectly normal in France, unheard of in the US.) At the front of the store was the Very Best Toy Ever (well, any toy with a steering wheel is currently the Very Best Toy Ever.) A young boy told me it didn't work, but since my guy was mostly interested in turning the wheel, it was perfect.

It was very hot for much of the week. Again, Rodelle in the background (it didn't end up being visible in the previous shot.)

RB and I ready for the main event of the week, a good friend's wedding. The day started rainy, then cleared up and was gorgeous for the late afternoon outdoor ceremony.

SA dressed up in his wedding finery - well, technically, my parents dressed him up. I mean, he's not really dressing himself quite yet. He started with the tie and jacket intact. He ended with his jacket gone, his tie hanging loosely, his shirt untucked, and apple juice dripping down the front. It was quite the party.

At this point my parents took him home for a peaceful evening, while RB and I stayed to party the night away. Some comments on the wedding:

- It was immensely cool to be watching France in the semis of the World Cup on the big screen TV during the reception among people who cared.

- Our party endurance is seriously lacking relative to that of our hosts - the wedding started at 4pm, so I thought staying until 12:30 was pretty good. But we left before the fireworks at 1, and well before many people who stayed until 3.

- There were any number of French people who sang at the reception, and everyone joined in for the choruses of what were obviously well-known songs. Why don't we have universally known songs in the US? All I could think of were children's songs and goofy things like the theme to Gilligan's Island. What are our alternatives? "American Pie"? "YMCA"? "Oscar Meyer Weiner" or "Summer Lovin"? Maybe I just don't do enough (any) karaoke.

Anyway, it was a beautiful wedding and reception, and a lovely vacation. And the trip home doesn't bear mentioning (up and down the aisles for 8 hours! no nap for 8 hours! The only mitigating factor is that SA had no jet lag so maybe I'd best quit complaining.)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

France, part 3

One week after we arrived in France, we went north about 190 miles to Aveyron. We stopped for lunch in Carcassonne - we wandered around La Cité, a 12th century fortress that's formidable and beautiful as you approach it, and just a bit touristy when you get inside.

After lunch, we continued on to our new gite - just 5 minutes outside the charming metropolis of Rodelle (population - I don't know - maybe 30?) Here's the view from our balcony - Rodelle is the town you can see off in the distance, just barely. The house down the hill from us had chickens and roosters wandering around, a gorgeous garden, and a old French man - we didn't approach him close enough to find out if he was the kind grandfatherly type, or more the coot who waves his cane at you yelling "You kids stay out of my garden!"

Here were our nearest neighbors:

So naturally, as soon as we unloaded the cars, we became hicks. I wish I'd thought to give SA some hay to chew on.

Later, Grandpa took SA for a walk through the field below the house:

We were in Aveyron primarily for a wedding, but managed to see one or two of the local sights - we went to Bozouls, a town built on a very scenic sinkhole:

Then we made it to Laguiole, a town famous for its knives. Plus, apparently, they're quite fond of cows - really, the whole surrounding area is cattle country. Before we left, a busload of French tourists stopped - I was heartened to see that French tourists can be every bit as crude as Americans around depictions of bull genitalia.

To be continued....

Sunday, July 16, 2006

France, part 2

Well, I intended to be quicker to post pictures of the lovely south of France, but while we were out of the country gremlins moved into our house and started breaking things. I should have had the people who took care of the cats watch out for them, but I didn't know we were at risk.

Seriously, since we got back, we've had a refrigerator stop working (it's been 3 days already, and it's not on the schedule to be fixed for another 2 days! At least it's still under warranty.) The water pipes that connect our house to the main started leaking a while ago, but we got the notice to fix it or the city will disconnect our water supply. And RB's laptop died; he lost his hard drive, and most of his email for the last two years. Finally, as a last little glitch, we left an mp3 player in our car in France.

So, we have a couple of estimates for fixing the leak, a repairman scheduled for the fridge, and RB's computer is already fixed (ah, the efficiency of the corporate world!) As for the mp3 player, Hertz hasn't seen any sign of it, so someone over there has a nice new 40gb iRiver loaded with a random assortment of stuff. Sigh. Hope they're enjoying the music, anyway (wouldn't it be a bit of an insult if whoever ended up with it just deleted everything to load Europop?) Maybe someone will discover a passion for 8 Bold Souls or Sondheim.

Back to pleasanter stuff. I probably haven't mentioned, the first week we were staying at a gite in Languedoc (department of Aude), almost 2 hours southeast of Toulouse. The area is mountainous and heavily wooded, and it seems empty; I was hugely surprised when we drove for hours, seemingly to the middle of nowhere (and I'm from Montana, so I know the middle of nowhere,) and then discovered that our cell phone got better reception than it does in Chicago.

One day trip we made was to the Mediterranean. We took the small winding roads through areas that felt even more remote (probably cell phone reception was down to 2 bars) and went first to the Chateau de Peyrepertuse. I don't think of myself as afraid of heights normally, but I have to admit - this one made me nervous.

As an American in Europe, I'm sometimes astonished by their historic tendency to pick the most inconvenient peak in the area and build a town or fortress on it. It seems to me that the goals of town locations are completely different - here, we want to maximize convenience, and proximity to water is most important. In Europe, for lots of the tourist destinations anyway, the goal was strategic - build something that can be used to control territory. Of course there's a selection bias too - tourists don't go out of their way to visit the mundane little town next to the river.

After a stop for crepes we went on to the beach at Canet. The beach itself was enormous and white and beautiful. The town felt like it had been built for approximately a zillion European tourists, and none of them were there - clearly, we didn't arrive during the season, whenever that is.

We went south to Collioure, which was much more our type of destination - the town was beautiful, with the beach smaller and friendlier.

We stopped to play at the playground for a while - a little girl approached SA and they looked at each other while playing with a rope ladder. And as kids do, she started hitting him. Well, I'm pretty sure SA could have won in a fair fight, but he mostly looked startled until her mother pulled her away with a "Doucement, s'il vous plait! doucement!"

Another day trip - we drove up into the mountains and into Andorra. Andorra is mostly a Duty-free shopping haven these days, but the scenery is gorgeous, and the city is pleasant enough (if a bit tough to find parking.) We found a playground there, too!

We spent our other days in Languedoc looking at sites closer to home - this is the Chateau d'Arques, 5 minutes away.

And we spent time just acquiring and cooking our dinners, and enjoying the view from our patio. Wine and cheese and meats were consumed with gusto.

More to come...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

France, part 1

Well, we came home on Saturday, and it's taken me 4 days just to make a first pass through the photos and videos. So the highlights of our trip will emerge slowly, over the next few days (weeks?)

We arrived at our gite (a gite is a rental house or apartment, pronounced with a soft "g") on Saturday June 24 exhausted (10 hour drive after an overnight plane ride). Well, the adult members of the party were exhausted. The youngest had ample sleep in his carseat all day, and was ready to party. Happily, there was a bit of a playground for energetic kids:

We did some walks in the woods around the gite, and managed to explore a nearby castle or two. The one below is at Puivert, a fairly well-preserved remnant of the crusades against the Cathars in the 12th and 13th centuries.

After seeing his first castle, SA was ready for lunch - we failed to make it to Mirepoix in time for the market, and instead went into a restaurant for lunch. SA enjoyed his cassoulet, disliked the vegetable soup we tried to give him, and really loved the chocolate mousse and creme brulee (well, seriously, who doesn't?) After, we hung out in the Mirepoix square for a bit.

And that covers the first 3 days. Tune in next time for: another castle! a beach! and an exciting altercation with a French girl!