After a slow crawl out of Atlanta on Memorial Day Weekend Friday, we made it to our lake house. I was so excited to have all of my children, spouses, adorable granddaughter, 3 dogs and a friend thrown in for good measure. Immediately upon our arrival my son found a dead bird in the fireplace which was followed by you guessed it, bird poop on the floor in several places. This would be followed by 3 more perfectly preserved dead birds that had apparently gotten in the house and starved to death. It was beginning to look like a scene out of a Stephen King novel! Kristen found the last one on her bed as she was going to sleep! This would be alarming to anyone, but especially a pregnant daughter doing all she can do to minimize her exposure to harmful things. This surprisingly did not alarm new mommy Laura with a newly walking Lucy. She and Jason were more concerned with the danger of the fireplace among other dangerous places that Lucy was drawn to as she was toddling around. This could also be the reason Jason and Laura both were found sprawled out on the couch exhausted by 9:30 PM!
After our morning walk
Lucy goes downtown!
Our youngest boaters
I spent a large chunk of my time watching Lucy who was proudly celebrating her new found skill of walking! There is nothing on God's green earth more heart warming than seeing your granddaughter happily walking and babbling with her parents lovingly watching her. I was especially impressed when I found her daddy up early with sweet Lucy, feeding her a fine breakfast of cheerios and fruit. Meanwhile, Eric and I experienced a first, not being the first one up with the kiddos and Eric was even treated to someone else making the coffee, thanks Ben! Meanwhile Ben,our son-in-law, spent the morning expertly dicing vegetables to be used in the quiche he and Kristen would be making later for lunch. Clearly, I taught my daughters a thing or two about how to pick a fine husband! I love seeing my two older daughters obviously loved by their husbands. Of course this could have been an elaborate choreographed show solely for my benefit, but either way, I see love.
Because the day was so beautiful and because we could, we diverted from our schedule and explored the town of Honfleur instead of driving to see Mont St. Michel. We stumbled on an inviting B & B for breakfast, (croissant, yogurt, pastry, tea/coffee is typical) and sampled the local specialties of Cider, Cambert Cheese and Crouques Madame on the pier for lunch. We did throw in a couple of brisk walks and washed a load of laundry with the adorable laundry dog that resembled a mop, for good measure.
Our next stop was the Loire valley to explore the town of Amboise where Leonardo de Vinci spent his last three years and to explore the beautiful Chateaux Chenonceaux a few miles down the road. At that time, the French royalty were awash with money and a Chateaux with a Loire valley address was a must. King Franciose of Chateaux Chenonceaux actually had bed chambers built for his favorite mistress Lady Dianne along with bed chambers for his actual wife, Lady Catherine. Lady Dianne had not only King Franciose's affections but the run of the castle until he died suddenly. Lady Catherine wasted no time kicking the mistress to the curb and out of the Chateaux. King Louis XIV came to visit the Chateaux and brought a huge portrait of himself as a gift for the castle. This was apparently an honor and not considered presumptive. In the meantime, all this is strikingly similar to the episodes of Scandal that we are watching on my laptop every evening!
I found Leonardo's Chateaux much more wholesome as it focused on his many inventions that were centuries ahead of their time. I have to believe that the lack of television and the internet gave people time to cultivate the arts and even invent things if you happen to be a genius, among other things. I'm sure there's a down side to living in this era, but they are not highlighted.
Our driving experience to Normandy confirmed that my navigating skills are not the best. We really, really miss Google Maps and have had to resort to those folding maps with teeny tiny numbers! After Eric passed the driving test to get out of the extremely tight parking garage while driving a standard car for the first time in several years, we were on our way out of Paris through the Arc de Triomphe. This would be our first pass through the Arc as we got hopelessly lost and found ourselves right back in Paris after an hour of driving. Somehow we made it to Giverny to tour Monet's house and lily pond. It started to rain but this did not deter the many people who wanted to see where Monet was inspired to paint such beautiful masterpieces.
The rain continued but we finally reached our second destination of Honfleur which will be our base to go see the Normandy beaches. The town is 1000 years old and is truly charming. Our hotel faced the harbor so there was no parking in front, in fact the reception office was on another street. I thought I was home free when I found the reception office but then the receptionist who did not speak English motioned to me and gave me a map that I would need to walk 200 meters to the parking garage three streets up hill and come back for her to take us to our room. Pulling our suitcases on 1000 year cobblestone streets in the cold rain was a challenge. The next day the sun came out and we set out to Arromanches, France, one of the sites of the Normandy landing, and the American Cemetery.
I had no idea the engineering feat that was involved in the Normandy landing and came away awed at not only the sacrifice of so many young soldiers, but the planning and execution that went into creating a floating port to bring in the soldiers and supplies that would be needed to liberate France and lead to bringing an end to WWII. The American Cemetery was absolutely beautiful and the Memorial was not only informative, but a touching tribute to our American brave soldiers who died so very young for people they would never meet. It made me proud to be an American.
After a good night's sleep, we took a lovely walking tour of Historic Paris, went up the Eiffel Tower with Ben, our adorable tour guide. He is an English, French History major so told us lots of interesting French stories and gave us an easy way to remember the King Louis'. We went back out after dinner to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle at 11:00 PM. We feel surprisingly safe even at that hour which speaks well of the French people.
Spring is just starting to spring here so it is a little bit chilly, but sunny which is perfect for all the walking we are doing. We are getting pretty good at navigating the Metro which provides excellent people watching! My favorite was a blind man with his seeing eye dog. Paris has the most complicated Metro so the courage he must possess to navigate it with his canine helper is nothing short of amazing. I'm also intrigued by the French language that is so beautiful to listen to and there's nothing cuter than small children speaking French! My French consists of Merci, Bonjour and my new word, Bon Soir which means good evening.
The French have definitely mastered the are of lingering. They love to sit and chat while sipping on wine or coffee and not just women, men too! The cafes are jam packed at all hours of the day and night with chatty happy people. I'm not sure when they work. We tried it out and sitting in a café in the middle of the afternoon sipping tea since I don't like coffee was slightly guilt inducing, but I got over it! Fast food places are noticeable absent here but are replaced by creperies and pasteries on every corner. They love carbs here and I think the reason they are not over weight is because of all the walking and the smoking they do that is still in vogue here.
Today we went to The Louvre, saw the Arc de Triomphe and walked down the huge Avenue des Champs des' Elysees. There is beauty everywhere you look from trees lining the streets to the amazing architecture of Notre Dame. We were there for the twelve o'clock mass so got to hear the bells ringing and the organ playing while the chorus sang. I almost wish I was Catholic so I could've taken communion! This year marks the 850 anniversary of the Cathedral which is hard to believe.
Eric and I made it safely to Paris early this morning after an arduous 8 hour flight with a miserable toddler two rows up. I'm pretty sure neither one of us slept a wink with the uh,uh, uh, cries coming forth from m.t. but it didn't stop me from enjoying my alone time! My heart actually went out to miserable toddler as she had no seat of her own and could find no comfortable position. I know the feeling! I really felt bad for her exhausted mother, not to mention the innocent woman sitting next to them! I said a prayer for m.t. and vowed to tell Laura never to make an 8 hour transatlantic flight with Lucy while she is still wearing footy pajamas! Bad idea.
The immigration line was circuitous, long, hot and composed of cranky people. I did my very best to remain or at least appear cheerful and took the opportunity while dragging my back pack along to observe the fashion of Parisians, especially males. Let me tell you, they have fully embraced the man bag, skinny jeans, slim shoes and even capris! Eric even noticed this as he looked down at his chunky Merrell hiking shoes and said that his orthodic shoe inserts would never fit into those sleek shoes. He hasn't even pulled out his Eddie Bauer fast drying, combination pants/shorts! Those Parisians are fashionistas!
After finally getting through the line, we decided to take the train to Paris which meant a serious learning curve that involved several stops, 2 different train lines and carrying our suitcases up several flights of stairs. Just three hours later we were at our room! that was not ready. They took one look at us and gave us a different room. Yay! We promptly got into the shrunken elevator and went up one flight to our floor. Europeans are much more conservative with their accommodations. Everything in the hotel is American Girl size. The bath tub is miniature with half a shower door. In this room, one is either in the bed or in the shower. Regardless, we are happy to be able to recline tonight when we go to bed. One never appreciates reclining at bedtime until one has to spend an entire night not reclining and not sleeping.
Somehow once I got unpacked, I was re-energized and we walked to the Eiffel Tower, took a boat cruise on the Seine River, had two delicious meals at out door cafes. So far, the French people have been very gracious and by that I mean don't look disgusted when they find out we do not speak French. I only made one faux pas so far, I took the fork from a place setting next to me instead of waiting for my special Salmon fork. Who knew!