day 1 :
monday, 27 april
Our last hurrah!
Well, perhaps it's not quite so dramatic. Our baby will be here in October, and traveling will be quite different afterwards, so we wanted to take a vacation abroad with just the two of us. We considered Japan, but finally concluded that France would be our best bet. We both read and speak French well enough that we could easily ensure that Dawn avoided certain foods (unlike Japan, where with the language barrier, we'd have little idea as to what we were eating). The airfare to Paris was the lowest we've ever seen at $620. And the food... well, there were just so many tasty things we've been wanting to sample in France. That sealed the deal for us.
It was a sunny day as we approached Paris on our Air France flight from Amsterdam this morning. As we looked over the patchwork of fields below us, we wondered, what was growing in those intensely bright greenish-yellow fields here and there, as far as the eye could see? We breakfasted on croissants and pain au chocolat on the flight, claimed our checked baggage, and picked up our rental car at Avis.
Sleepy as we were, Eric wanted to practice his language skills right away and tried to conduct the entire car rental conversation in French. He was doing pretty well, right up until the agent tried to tell him that they didn't have the car in the size we requested and wanted to find out if the alternate option was acceptable. He pulled the "Vous parlez anglais?" emergency switch, and she kindly switched to English. Apparently they didn't have any more compact cars, but she could upgrade us for free to a mini-van. This had us a bit concerned, given how difficult it can be to maneuver and park in old European cities. However, the agent assured us it would be okay as long as we weren't trying to park in Paris, so we shrugged and went along. We were pleasantly surprised to find that her use of the term "mini-van" was also in European scale – the Citroen C4 awaiting us was in fact reasonably compact, but had plenty of space for our luggage.
With grey skies overhead, a blustery wind blew all around us as we loaded up our car. Our TomTom GPS led us from Charles de Gaulle to our gîte, La Doucinière, just a half hour's drive from the airport. Monsieur Clément, our host, warmly greeted us and gave us the tour of our spacious two-level apartment. Because we knew we were in for a big day of driving tomorrow, we'd picked a place near the airport to rest up and get over jet lag; lucky us that there was such a nice place nearby. Downstairs was a sitting room with a TV and a small collection of books. The bedroom and a very large, modern bathroom were upstairs.
Based on previous trips, we've found that we can adjust to European time quickly if we get in a short afternoon nap, a walk in the fresh air while there's still daylight, some dinner, and a not-too-early bedtime. We followed that same prescription today, and it worked like a charm. We reluctantly yanked ourselves out of deep sleep around 5PM, bundled up for the chilly weather, and wandered outside. We noticed a small dirt path near the entrance to our gîte, so we followed it to see where we'd end up. As we ambled along and admired the trees and grasses blowing in the wind, we heard a loud, deep rushing sound. An airplane? No, CDG wasn't that close, and it didn't quite sound like a plane. As it got closer, we finally spotted the source: a TGV train, flying by at a couple of hundred miles per hour. Our pathway conveniently took us to a small pedestrian bridge that went over the tracks, and then down into a field of yellow flowers. This was one of the same fields we noticed all over northern France as we landed this morning, so it was nice to see the colza flowers up-close.
Back at the gîte, Monsieur Clément had prepared a wonderful five-course dinner for us: a cheese soup, salmon tartare (which Dawn passed on, so Eric had a double-helping), steak with potatoes au gratin and rice, cheese (Comté, a tomme, and a soft white chèvre), and a sweet crème dessert with raspberries, blackberries, and currants. With a bottle of Bordeaux wine accompanying the meal, we were set. A fine start to our two week vacation!