Friday, November 20, 2009

November 20, 2009: "Best Evers" - Part 1

A friend is one who knows you as you are,
Understands where you've been,
Accepts who you've become,
And still gently invites you to grow.

It's funny the things you remember - and the things you don't. For instance, I remember the above poem that my mother had framed in our house growing up. This poem always struck me as utterly true and utterly important by which to judge your friends.

Why can I remember this poem and not remember that Alaska is infact NOT southwest of California (some of you know what I am talking about)? Why can I remember this poem and not remember when to jump ahead or jump back for time changes? It is because to me, personally, true friends are essential, meaningful and always memorable - constant. You don't forget true friends. I contest that even if it has been 15 years since you saw one of your truest friends, you don't forget them and who they are as a person. You can pick up where you left off no matter how much time has passed. That is a true friend.

My friend Steffany just visited me for the past 10 days here in France. She left Thursday to go back to Chicago and I don't know when I will see her again. But I can tell you that it doesn't really matter - she is a true friend that time or distance has little to do with. Before she arrived into France, I hadn't seen her for at least 1 year and hadn't talked to her more than once or twice in the past 1-2 years (except for email) but we joked about how it was like we had just seen each other yesterday. Steff is one of the many great friends I have been blessed to make along the way and her visit reminded me of just how lucky I am!

Now - on with the good stuff. What was her visit like? Well, it was so much fun. I have to say, it started a little rocky. Having taken the train to Paris several times now to pick up visitors, I may have been a little cocky about it all. It wasn't until I arrived without a hitch (well, there was one strike on the RER train, but no biggie) to the airport that I realized I knew only of Steffany's flight time arrival. I didn't know what airline she was on or the flight number. In a state of panic, I guessed incorrectly that she was on American - which just happens to be in Terminal 2 at the very extreme end of a very long terminal. It was there that I waited and waited until finally I realized I had either missed her or she just wasn't on this airline. American was not providing me any help, saying her flight details were confidential. Steff had no cell phone. I was in a panic. I then booked over to United in Terminal 1, on the opposite end of the airport. Now being 45 minutes later than our planned meeting time, I was not only panicking but feeling so awful. She must be tired, lost and a little scared herself! After convincing a man to page her (she didn't hear it) and circling the terminal about 3 times, I finally convinced a woman to look up Steffany's name to see if she was a passenger on the United flight. She would not confirm or deny this information - she would only tell me that I should probably keep looking for her in this terminal. With a stroke of luck, I finally saw Steffany through a glass window by the baggage claim. We finally met up and all was fine but what a complete mess. What idiot doesn't know their arriving friend's flight number and airline? That would be me : )

So, a rocky start, but from there it only got better. We arrived home from the airport on a Tuesday night. We grabbed dinner from my favorite local shop, The Poupinet, got Steff unpacked, and then picked up the girls from school. They were really excited to see Steffany. It was hard, but I managed to keep her up until around midnight I think. After I saw her close to dozing on the couch, I got her to play Farkle. We got the girls off to bed and then Steff proceeded to drink the best ever Bordeaux wine, she feasted on the best ever foie gras and quiche, tasted some champagne, she even tried Calvados. After all that rich food, alcohol and traveling, she was destined to have a good night sleep. And she did!

The next day, being a Wednesday, the girls didn't have school. They watched cartoons most of the morning before taking bathes. I introduced Steffany to our Nespresso machine, which I think may have become her new favorite coffee - she said it was the best ever. Watch out Santa, I think I know what Steffany will be requesting for Christmas this year! After lunch, we decided to take a field trip to see the castle where William the Conqueror was born, located in Falaise. The weather was not so pretty, but the castle and nearby church sure were. After walking in and around the old church, we started up the road to the castle where William was born. We paid our admission fees and were supplied with headsets to guide us through the castle (the headsets never did work for anyone, maybe it did for Steff for a bit) and off we went. This castle was very unique because bits of it had been restored as they would have looked centuries ago and other bits of the castle were built in modern architectural styles (which can been seen directly below). I thought the exhibits were creative, attractive, and very well incorporated directly within the castle tour.

After the tour, we all sat down to have a snack. Steffany had brought us a big bag of Garrett's Popcorn (cheese and caramel mixed - YUM) so we ate that while sitting on a bench gazing at this ancient landmark. I laughed to myself that this is probably the first and last time that crumbs and stray popcorn from Garrett's Popcorn in Chicago will bless the lawn of William's birthplace in Falaise, France.
(Pictured above: Steff on the top of the castle) (Pictured above: A view of the castle)

(Pictured above: The girls on a pile of rocks in Falaise)

Later that night we arrived home and had a family dinner (without Andrew, he was out of town for work). Steff and I topped off the night with watching a movie and just catching up. The girls were their usual, "lively" selves that day and night, so I think we may have worn Steff out!

Thursday, the next day, Steff and I had planned to do a walking tour of Caen. She had
mentioned to me that she didn't want to do much of a touristy thing on this vacation, but rather just spend time in France like a local would, seeing local culture, eating local foods and just relaxing. So I tried my best not to overplan or overbook. I finally woke her up around 10:00 a.m. that morning so we could get some good ground covered before we had to pick up the girls from school later that afternoon. We managed to see the Hotel de Ville, the Abbaye aux Hommes, Chateau Ducal and the Museum featuring the reconstruction of Caen after World Word II. After this long walk, we decided lunch was in order. We went to a local restaurant that served us the most delicious mussels, french fries and chicken served Normandy-style. We were absolutely STUFFED after this meal but perfectly content. A few errands were in store for us for that afternoon. I took her to my favorite bakery where Steff ate her best ever Macaroon and Meringue, we went to a fabulous frozen food store (Picard) where we looked for dinner items for that evening, stopped by the grocery store, and then it was off to get the girls from school. Andrew got home from his business trip later that evening which Steff and I sadly accompanied with a very poor show of dinner. We had planned to serve a very tasty meal prepared from a frozen pastry covered beef tenderloin....but all we really managed to do was serve a sub-standard meal, 1 hour later than planned (10:15!). E for effort, right?

On Friday morning, we got the girls to school and then off we went to start our day. First, we stopped and grabbed some cafe au laits and some pastries, where Steff proceeded to have her best ever pastry called a Gourmandise. After realizing we got caught up talking for so long, we hurried over to the Friday morning market. Steff was so excited about going to this market and I don't blame her. Her being my fellow 4-H buddy for 10 years, she likes to cook, bake and just be in the presence of fresh foods, flowers, cheeses, much as I do. Steff had a blast checking out all of the fresh fish, seafood and chickens with their heads still attached! We were bummed that we were leaving town that night (well, not THAT bummed) so we couldn't buy some new things to try and make for dinner.

(Pictured above: Steff at the fresh seafood stands at the Friday Market)

After the market, we left to drive out to the Normandy coast where we planned to have a delicious seafood lunch and a view of the beautiful coast. I drove us to Luc-Sur-Mer and we then drove along the coastal road looking at beautiful old homes and the coastline until we arrived in Courseulles-sur-Mer. There is a restaurant there (which I have written about at least twice already on this blog) called La Cremaillere that I knew would cook Steff the perfect seafood lunch that she was looking for here in Normandy. Here, we seriously had one of the yummiest lunches of all time. I had Bulots with Mayonaise, Steff had a fresh fish, we shared a bottle of Rose Wine (the best ever she said!), started with appetizers, ended with desserts. We were once again stuffed to the limits. Yes, all of this eating was torture - but it would have been rude not to go along for the ride, right : ) After lunch, we went for a walk on a nearby pier and just listened to the birds and the water and felt the breeze and realized how perfect the weather was that day. With time flying by, we had to start for home to get there in time to pick the girls up from school. And after that....we were leaving after dinner to catch the train to Paris for the weekend!

Because we did so much and have so many stories and pictures to share, I have decided to break this up into 2-3 blogs. So, for tonight, this concludes Part 1........Tomorrow - check for Part 2 - Weekend in Paris!

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