Monday, July 23, 2012

Nous Sommes Retournés! (We have returned)

 Hello fans,

Yes, we have made it to France a solid two weeks ago and have FINALLY settled ourselves in the south for the summer. Let the blogging continue. As for me personally, I'm about 95% back to normal. A touch of soreness here and there, but other than that, no other complications. I've just hit the two month mark and am slowly starting to get stronger and lift heavier things, and I guarantee Adam's grateful since he's been the one hauling all the luggage this whole time. When we hit the ground, running errands in Paris the first couple of days, we were both absolutely exhausted, so out of shape. But then again, that's what happens when you realize you haven't done much physical activity since around sometime in April. At least walking more than 10 minutes no longer feels like a workout where I need to rest. Thank god, or I could never survive Europe!

So what have we been doing with our lives since our arrival? Hmm, good's been a blur. Let's see, about half of that time we were fighting jet lag as we crashed with our friends from the American Embassy in Paris. Then, the rest of that time constituted us checking out the summer sales, buying a car (it's a short lease), meeting our British landlord for next year's apartment, buying French renter's insurance, getting lease papers signed, storing half our luggage at the school, getting yelled at over the phone by the Prefecture while trying to figure out how to renew my visa (No, I can't make the appointment over the internet, your website doesn't work! you won't make the appointment for me?, I tried that website and it doesn't work!...and what is the point of your job again? i didn't say that last part, i don't know that much french ; )  Actually, my phone cut out on the woman, so now I probably look like and even bigger bitch to her, sigh), and hitting the road for a whirlwind tour of what else this country had to offer besides Parisians.

For the past 10 days, we've been living out of our car being complete nomads, driving from place to place with no real plan in mind. Ok, that's not completely true, but it's close. The first part of our trip was geared towards the Normandy coast, and at that point, we at least had in mind the destination of Honfleur with a hotel reserved for the night. Our initial plan was to camp when possible, but Normandy doesn't seem like sunshine too often, and we more or less had to plan our nights day by day according to the weather. The next two nights called for rain, so we were forced to scrounge up the courage to call a random Chambre d'hôte Farmhouse (yes, we wanted a different experience than a hotel) to reserve a room for the next two nights near Arromanches, one of the British landing beaches from the whole DDay Scenario. The beauty about the countryside of France is the amount of 'Chambre d'Hôtes' that exist. Literally translating as 'bedroom of the host', these are quaint, historic country homes, old mansions, or farms that have rooms available. You tend to see signs speckled all along the road for them, so you always have a sense there's a backup plan if you need somewhere cool to crash for the night. It's quite similar to the American idea of a B&B, but at times much much cheaper.

Honfleur Habor
Life on the Farm - Living quarters for this Chambre d'hôte

Using the farm as our base point, we paid our respects and visited the DDay beaches, memorial, and the new museum at Utah Beach (we actually met the architect last year who participated in the school's lecture series). Luckily, we had beautiful blue skies during all of our beach time as well as the following day at Mont St Michel which gave us hope to finally use our tent. And that's when the bad habit started....being exhausted from driving, and needing nothing more than a coffee and the internet to figure out where we'd sleep the next night, we pulled into the nearest McDonalds. I must admit, I've never been to so many McDonalds in such a short amount of time in my life, but it became a regular occurrence, a piece of home. Stop, get some good (yes, good) coffee, snag the free wifi, check the weather, pick a campground, load some maps on the iPad, then stock up on toilet paper in case the next campground didn't have any. It became routine. And the McDonalds here are actually cool. They're like designer cafes with funky furniture and cool light fixtures and no more of that yellow and red clown crap everywhere. Classy fast food. I'm loving it.

DDay US Cemetery at Oklahoma Beach

Utah Beach Museum

Adam in a bomb crater at Point Hoc

And that's how we lived for the next week. We bought a campground guide book and planned our route of travel based on the sunshine and the amount of remoteness of the sites. Our experience camping is a whole other post in the making, but let's just say that the French idea of camping was not quite the same idea as ours.

In a nutshell, from Normandy, we headed south to the Loire Valley for a couple days, visited Saumur to see its Castle, stopped at a couple caves (one in a country chateau, the other actually inside the face of a cliff) to taste and stock up on wine, then made our way back to Versailles to finish up some paperwork for next year's lease. Then, hitting rush hour traffic, on a Friday, at the beginning of the French summer break, we started our (what should have been about 7hr)11 hour journey south to our final resting spot for the next 5 weeks.
Strolling along the banks of the Loire River

The Castle at Saumur

Hillside Art Galleries and Caves (yes, the cave where wine is stored)

We must have at least 2000km already under the tires, and I am totally fine not driving any more for a long time.

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