Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Train travel and (almost) touching the clouds

I always feel excited when I travel by train. Correction, when I travel by train for fun and not work. So I was feeling doubly happy when I took the train last Saturday with Juliette to go visit my friend Crystal. The trip was all I'd hoped for! Things were gray and rainy when we set out, but it didn't dampen my spirits.  It was truly strange to pull into the Charles de Gaulle airport station and not get off.  It's the place where my many trips to the US begin and end (sadly).

Even in the rain, the view out the window was still lush and different enough from my flatter part of France to keep my head dreaming.

We even got to sit in first class on one train since it was rather packed and the other passengers (including a French-Moroccan guy travelling with his American wife) said it was no big deal.  It is cozier!

And there at the Grenoble station my good friend Crystal and her husband Max were waiting for us.  And so began an extended weekend of fun and girlfriendly chats and visits in the mountain air.

It's silly to say, I told my hosts as we were driving around, but the clouds are closer here.  Being higher up I felt like I could touch the clouds and mist.  I really do find the landscapes there so inspiring and understand why my friend likes it so much!  Below you can see two different views from her apartment, one on a cloudy day, another on a clear day.

Crystal kindly showed us around an amazing museum and its gorgeous gardens on Sunday.  Great views inside and out!

Monday we headed into Grenoble for some city exploring and to take the cable cars up to La Bastille for some more breathtaking views.

I know my eyes are closed in that last one but it was a hoot anyway cause we got Juliette to take it for us and you can see I was really having a ball!

But we did have to head back home.  Crystal knows what a great time we had and how thankful I am to her and Max for letting us stay with them.  It's so important to chat with someone who knows where you're from and what you're going through in a foreign country.  I'm lucky to have friends like her and others I've met through work and in my town.

So we rode the rails again to get home and I tried to enjoy the train experience again.  This time we had to change in Paris in Gare du Nord.  And of course a Happy Meal at the McDonald's across from the station as we waited for our train connection was in order.

So, until next time in my neck of the woods, girlfriend, thanks again!!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Looking down, looking up

Looking down is practically a state of mind in France. I'm not making this up (as one of my favorite journalists Dave Barry used to say). Fellow blogger Crystal posted this on Facebook not long ago and it's unfortunately true.  The French seem to be naturally pessimistic.  What's worse, expats in France tend to be less satisfied with their lives than expats in other countries.  Collective SIGH.

But looking down, literally, is also a necesity in this country.  To avoid the ever-present dog poop.  Again, I'm not making this up.  A quick browse around some other expat blogs will easily confirm it.  And in the excellent book I just finished written by a British expat about his humourous and sometimes naughty experiences in France, A Year in the Merde, it's a recurrent topic.  And if you keep looking down and ahead of you as you walk, as he points out, you are less likely to step in poo. 

Looking down can have its upsides though.  Today as I was walking in the park with Juliette I saw a ten euro bill on the ground.  Folded up inside it was another bill. So that's twenty euros!  I glanced around to see how close other people were and if I should ask if they'd dropped money.  WWaFPD? I asked myself.  What would a French person do?  They would so keep it.  And so did I.

But looking up does seem to be the better way to go, mentally speaking.  And the other day I found some lovely views by directing my eyes skyward.

Like the ornate moulding on these houses.  Notice how the one on the left has been cleaned and so is brighter than its neighbor.

Lovely balconies.

 Romantically rusty gates.

Lush wisteria vine.

 Yet more ornate buildings and some famous guy.

And in addition to looking up, I can also now look forward to seeing my good friend Crystal!  Yes, I decided to ride the rails and see my Canadian friend whom I haven't seen since Christmas 2009.  It was time to get together again.  So I'll keep my head in the clouds and in the future even if the French are looking down.  Mind the poop.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Road rules, learned the hard way

Last weekend we took a road trip to the Bourgogne region of France.  It was a five-hour drive to the center of France that started out like any other road trip...with a fight about why the durn GPS was not detecting the satellite right away.  Typical.  That hurdle cleared I hoped the rest of the trip would be pleasant.  Can't say that's entirely true in our little family where patience is in short supply, but on the upside, it makes for good blog fodder!

So here are a few choice things I learned from our extended weekend.

1. Gum makes everything better.

We've recently discovered that Juju can get a little carsick.  Thanks to MameeLin's bright idea, a bit of mint gum keeps her occupied and steady.  And maybe the fear of her getting sick keeps her quiet.  We hardly heard a peep from the backseat.

2. Kids and culture don't mix.  Not yet, at least.  I tried to be smart about the limited sightseeing we did on this trip, limited being the key word.  I'd checked out some websites about Dijon beforehand and even some on kids' activites.  We just did some walking along shady or not so shady streets, checked out every fountain we saw and especially the one you can play in near the Palais des Ducs. And when in doubt about something, ask another mom for directions or advice.  I snagged one who was buying her kids ice cream to be sure we were on the right way to the fountain.

Rue de la Vannerie, Dijon.

3. Speaking of ice cream, buy plenty.  Hey, when it's blistering hot, go for it.  It makes everyone happy, cools off tempers and is part of being on vacation!

4. Do go off the beaten path.  Even though sometimes it annoys me at the time, my husband's tendency to explore (read: keep driving to find the perfect restaurant) can lead to some fun experiences.  We happened upon the Fête de l'Escargot (the snail festival) in Digoin last weekend.  There were an amazing number of people in line at the town hall for their plate of garlicky snails but we opted for a crêpe restaurant that was also serving snails (not in crêpes, mind you).  I got the rôti (roast pork), for the record. 

5. Rest stops are meant for resting.  To get to Bourgogne we took the toll roads.  The one good thing about this is that the rest stops are fairly abundant and clean.  And there's lots of tempting goodies in the mini-markets there.  Eiffel Tower magnets, anyone?

French junk food: waffles, pain au chocolat, brioche, and, oh yeah, some Oreos!

Watch out for the prices though.  We saw this one family of four getting a basketful of groceries: some speciality salads, cherry tomatoes, sandwiches, yogurts, and candy which amounted to a whopping 60 euros!  

 They're also pretty good about providing some play areas for kids to get those legs stretched out.

So I hope my roadweary experiences will help you out some too.  And don't forget to check your GPS before leaving and...bring along a map just in case.