Thursday, May 7, 2009

Vive la France...

Hi - it's Andrew and I'm contently sitting by the computer on the eve of our 2nd Bank Holiday of May. You see, in Europe, they have about 16 Bank Holidays (equal to our 4th of July etc). There are 3 in May alone - the 1st Friday, the 2nd Friday, and the last Thursday (prompting a Thanksgiving like Friday after "bridge" day off as well) all being holidays. What's an ex-pat family to do anyway? Road trips - what else?

In the US, many times you have to drive hours and hours until you get to see what you want to see. Why do you think it is that 90% of Chicagoans have never see the Mississippi river? Well, it's 4 hours away (and it's just a river to boot). Here in Normandy we can drive about an hour or so in any direction and be in completely different worlds. Last week, on Thursday evening, Kate and the girls came to pick me up at the office. Yes, it's true, I really wanted to show the girls off to my colleagues - the kids really can be cute from time to time (and so can Kate). The real reason was the start of our Bank Holiday road trip.

We started off with an hour drive to Etretat - this is an amazing little town just past Le Havre right on the English Channel. The cool thing about it is that the town juts right up to the water and directly on the right and on the left are these steep cliffs and you can climb right up them. On the water are beatutiful rock arches that are very similar to Arches National Park back in the US. Being in that there were no Holiday Inns nearby we ended up staying in a "guest house" - yes - literally a person's version of their own hotel. It was really cool - very Andy Warhol type decorations in the room, a 400 year old building, about ten rooms, and even a home-made breakfast the next morning. We definitely realized that the girls haven't learned their "inside voices" yet as we're sure we could be heard all night long by our fellow travelers - but it was all forgotten by freshly baked fresh croissants, local yougert, and double expressos for breakfast.

The next morning we headed to the beach after breakfast. Don't get me wrong - this is the pebble and rock type beach (as opposed to sand) and the weather was misty/raining, cloudy, and pushing about 50 degrees. Luckily the kids didn't care and neither did Kate and I. We spent some time wandering around and ultimately headed for one of the hikes up the cliffs. You could either go to the right or the left - we picked right and headed off. Check out the pictures above to see the amazing views.

The next few days were filled with lots of tiny towns, small walks and hikes, lots of eaten-out meals, wine/beer/hot chocolate, and 400 year old hotels. We went to churches, castles, beaches, and watched fish get their heads cutt off and guts pulled out by sales women next to the beach. My favorite question of the week-end was from Grace - it went like this: We watched an old lady order a half of a Stingray type fish from a vendor by the beach - the vendor pulls out this saw type knife and proceeds to saw this completely alive fish right in half - the guts were going everywhere and the fish was flopping around. The guts went into the bucket by the side and half of a fish was put into a recycled plastic grocery bag for the old lady. As she walks away, Grace asks me "is the fish dead now?" - um, yes honey, you just pictured the food chain in action....

On our last day we stopped by a zoo. Taken in the context of the usual US zoo, I would expect the usual "boooorrrriinnnngggg" response from any reader. However, this was no usual zoo. This was someone's old house (well, mansion, manor, chateau, or whatever). The previous owner loved birds, filled the place with about two thousand ducks, let his monkeys and peacocks wander freely, and basically created the anti-US zoo as it relates to the cement and glass structures we Americans seem to erect. In France at least, they seem to think that a string around the monkey island really is sufficient to keep the monkeys from escaping. Amazingly enough, they seem to be right...

As Kate mentioned in the last post, there were definitely times when we were prepared to give up on this road trip. In fact, that you are reading this means that I'm at home now (another Thursday night eve of a Bank Holiday), and that we have not yet set off on our next adventure (although I'm holding out my hopes for one to start tomorrow). Anyway - the point is that it is tough to drive all around, deal with car seats, restaurant eating, hotel sleeping, long drives (30 minutes, c'mon), and the rest - but - it won't stop us. We know that the day will come when we return to CB and the last thing I want to do is leave with regrets. The fact that I can have lunch with my wife and kids in a restaurant that is older than all of America is a bit hard to even get my brains around. I'm only able to get past it by popping another blob of fois gras in my mouth, having a sip of wine, and dreaming of the mountains to which we will soon return....


  1. Very well done!!! You guys are doing wonderful things with eachother and your girls - noone will ever forget!

  2. The photos are amazing and it always seems the tension during the trip is worth it in the end. I'm certain I'll see how much the girls have grown and changed when I get there on Wednesday.