Allô mes amis, we are now almost into our third full month of travelling and it has been amazing so far! We have driven across Canada (a post that still needs to be written!), visited Iceland, did a quick stop by in Switzerland (which I will get to later!) and are now (still) in France. So, being in France I thought I would open up this post with the first things you need to do when in France … of course they are clichés, but they are so for a reason! Of course you need to eat cheese and bread, drink wine, ride your bike under the Eiffel Tower whilst wearing a white/blue striped shirt and a beret with a baguette in the front basket, and do generally what Parisians do – sit at one of the thousands of local cafés and enjoy the day; but not to be forgotten, as Paris has such a rich history in art and culture, is just wandering the confusing streets of Paris staring aimlessly at the almost infinite amount of statues and historic sites and soaking it in. Visiting the Louvre should also be on the list, if you can dedicate at least 3/4 of a day to wandering those hallowed halls, as even the most uncultured can’t possibly remain unmoved or uninspired by the remarkable selection of some of the most amazing art and artifacts in human history. Be warned however, that the place is huge, and somewhat confusing to navigate at first, so plan well!
Well, we have already mentioned the Parisian experience, but of course the last blog left out a few things. One thing that we have experienced a few times now in Europe, is being excluded from restaurants because of our kids. I thought that it was a bit strange the first time, as we approached a completely empty restaurant, save for 1-2 tables, but then the “maitre’d” saw us and our kids, and suddenly the restaurant was full. Ok, I guess that could be reservations that haven’t shown up yet – so we moved on. The next place was a bit less subtle. It was around 8:00 pm on a Wednesday or Thursday, so I understand that it is prime time, but when we got to the next place, the owner was pleasant and started chatting to us about a table, then she saw the kids come in right behind me, and all of sudden the restaurant was full (although it was almost empty). Nothing she could do. Oh, but if we wanted to sit all four of us at a tiny table outside on the 50 cm wide sidewalk next to the extremely narrow, yet active street, on two chairs, away from the rest of the customers (or lack there of) then maybe they could accommodate us. Yeah, nice try… no thanks. By this point the kids were pretty hungry, so sushi to go was the easiest solution to this issue. Yep, strange, but sushi is our kids go-to fast food! Definitely could be worse, so no complaints there – just not necessarily the most economical everywhere! This also happened to us in Switzerland for lunch… albeit in a busier restaurant, but the look from the owner was the same – sees the kids… oh, we are busy, too busy for you.
Anyway, we are over that… so back to our adventures in France! We have (with the exception for Marianne) been trying to be more open to speaking french; Marianne is holding out! She refuses to speak french… kidding, of course! Even Maëlle has been doing her best to make an effort to speak a bit more in french. It isn’t every time, but she is making more efforts than ever before. She is doing well… she has ‘Est-que je peux’ (Can I?) down pat … and is expanding her dialogue everyday!
Ok, so we have learned the keys to speaking french in France (from a barely mono-lingual neanderthal as myself) are:
- On your first attempt at saying something hard, just say it low and mumbly….
- After that doesn’t work, on your second attempt to get someone to understand what you said, say it quickly with a more nasally sound and make sure you end your sentence with a rising inflection… so that you are almost asking them something.
- Now, while they look at you deciding if you have mental issues, the third attempt to get someone to understand your strange accent should be said higher pitched than the previous attempts and with more attitude. Make it seem like they have the issue with understanding, not that you have no idea what you are saying.
- When all of that fails, and it will, point at something random and run away quickly or… ask someone who speaks french to say it exactly how you said it and watch the other person miraculously understand what you wanted.
Actually, I have found that my very moderate french skills have helped tremendously in France. I haven’t had too many instances where I was completely lost. There are a few individuals that I have met that speak faster than others – but the majority speak clearly enough for me to understand what they are saying and or why I need to move le car out of the &%$@#$% way. But yes it has been okay… so thank you grade school french, because of you I can find out the time, determine if something is too expensive or not, and ask for the toilette! But really, my time in Quebec and with the extended family has helped the most!
So, what else have we been up to here? We have been in France for about three weeks now and have gone from Paris, to the wine producing regions of Bourgogne, to the foothills of the Alps in Chartreuse, in the eastern part of France, to the Alps near Switzerland.
All has been different, but not drastically so from Canada, in that I mean, all of the areas, with the obvious exception of the old towns and cities, are things that we have in Canada. Mountains, check! Farms, check! Highways with crazy drivers, check! Vineyards, check! But the scale of the vineyards and the amount of history from before 1800 here is incredible. I’m not sure anything in Paris was built since the 1800s – and some of the towns we have driven through were likely hundreds of years older than that! I don’t think I would want to live in a 500 or 800 year old building in Canada – winters might be a bit, well, chilly!
Two of the most interesting stops on our journey from Paris to where we are now, were the Château du Clos de Vougeot and the wine caves in the town of Beaune. Pronouced like Boney. Actually, I have no idea how it supposed to be pronounced, but that works. The Château du Clos de Vougeot was a fascinating look back into the history of wine making in France.
The traditions and history surrounding this estate and its wine are etched in France’s history and wine lore. We did the prerequisite visit, and even tried to snag a geocache there (to no avail!), leaning about the history of wine, the role of this estate in wine production for the wars, and its current role. All intricately detailed through the full estate museum. Too bad no wine samples were on hand! But fear not, we were able to right that wrong at the next stop. The next day, in the town of Beaune, we toured the wine caves under the town, and as part of that luxurious tour of the dank caves, were unlimited wine! I mean samples of wine! We were handed a small metallic saucer and told the caves would be found by following the informational path! So off we trudged, through the barrels and buildings until we met the narrow entrance to the wine caves. Apparently this place stores wine – aging it until it is perfect! We saw thousands of bottles! The oldest they are allowed to sell is a 1936 Pinot Noir, for a reasonable €450 (Euros), although they have older. It was quite interesting, and liquidacious! We tried at least 10 different wines (although I may have had thirds on some of them, and pulled a couple of open ones off the shelf and re-opened them… SHHHHH!!!). It was definitely an interesting visit, but of course, the girls were less impressed about wandering in dark, underground tunnels full of spiders and dust… that is until they met a woman with a dog, and then they were happy as clams. So, wine drinking done, we headed for the Alps!
And that brings us to now. Right now we are in a small town in northeast France, not too far from Switzerland, called Saint Jean d’Aulps. No idea how to pronounce that last bit correctly. Oh-pas? Oh-l-ps? Owl-ps? Oh-pehs? Oprah? No idea. It is near Morzine, which is easier to say. It is a small, hamlet in the Alps that becomes a hot bed of skiing activity in the winter. If you like to strap long planks of waxed wood to your feet and hurl yourself down a mountain at ludicrous speeds, then apparently this is a good place to be.
Normally, back in Canada, I would expect a place like this to be prohibitively expensive to enjoy, and maybe the accommodations and food in the winter is inflated to meet the demand, but the cost of the actual skiing appears to be incredibly inexpensive in comparison. I saw full winter passes going for around €300 (Euros) with daily rates starting around €20-25 / day. Crazy talk! Sure, there are fewer runs than Whistler’s 200-ish runs, but guess what, almost everywhere else in the world has fewer runs than that! Plus, can you actually ski 200 runs in a day? Unlikely, I mean I can only hit so many trees a day before I am done! So the 50 or so runs these hills appear to have are more than enough for many people. Plus, I have heard the snow here is pretty good! It’s too bad we won’t still be here during the ski season! Ok, if you are now asking why we are in a ski town in the off season, we have a good reason. After we left the Airbnb in St-Pierre d’Entremont, in the Chartreuse area, a chalet owned and run by Marianne’s old neighbour (a story I will leave for our head of small human creation to expand upon), we left for Morzine to pet sit! Yes, we are house/pet sitting! Yes, that is a thing, and no, we didn’t know these people before! We arranged it through a great online site that allows people to go on vacation and have someone come to their home, stay for free, and look after their pets. Win-win. Free place to stay, someone to look after the house, and no dead pets! (Maybe I should talk to their marketing department, see if they have an opening, I feel I could help them out with gems like that!)
We are pet sitting a grand old lady, a beautiful golden retriever that is getting up there in years. She is around 11 years old, but still has some energy when the kids are around. We are also looking after a 1 year old black cat. It’s a cat, but is actually friendly. Maxine keeps trying to pick her up and carry her around like a baby – and so far, no scratches! I know, wow! The owners are away for 2 weeks, so we get to chill out here, relax, take in the local scene and look after some furry creatures. The girls really want to get a pet after travelling, so this is a great way to determine if they have any ability to look after one! or two! So far, so good! Maëlle has been great at taking the dog for walks so the dog can do her business! We are proud with how she has taken responsibility for looking after the dog.
While we have tucked our weary bones away in this little village for the past couple of weeks we have had the chance to explore a bit and take advantage of the last great weather of the fall. It has been glorious here, up until the last few days (rain!), with the amazing colours of the changing leaves, and the mountain peaks encircling us like pillars in a magnificent open air theatre. We have reveled in hiking and biking in the sun, been contented to bask on the back deck reading and having a glass of tasty beverage, and even have bounced like kangaroos on crack on the trampoline (mainly the girls… mainly…), because, why not?! Also, while the sun was out we explored the area and went to a couple of interesting local markets, historic sites, and seasonal events where we blended and mingled as if we weren’t from here.
The first weekend we ended up at a wine/beer/food event, eating local, drinking local, and enjoying something that should probably be more prevalent in our life than it is. Connecting with friends and neighbours over food and drink harkening back to times when it was more important to make acquaintances and to share, than to get likes or views on your opinions or photos from anonymous strangers online. And just this past weekend we stumbled upon a little market with goods from monasteries from all over France. Handmade, hand crafted, hand brewed, all made by monks who apparently have a lot of time on their hands! But they do make good stuff! We learnt a bit about the local abbey and that monks make a lot of good things! No idle hands there!
So here we are, out in the wilds of the Alps, keeping some very friendly animals fed, learning a bit about our surroundings, including how to drive in the Alps on some crazy twisty roads, and taking in the relaxation that we have been sorely lacking over the past years.
But, we are getting itchy to keep moving, as has been our M.O. for the last 3 months or so. Oh, and while something have changed, somethings have remained the same. The youngest of our brood decided, yesterday, that shoving something up her nose would be fun! Yay! You know the little baby bel cheese? The wax covered ones? Yes, she told us that she rolled up the wax and put in her nose. Why? I HAVE NO IDEA! Anyway, it was stuck so far up we couldn’t see it and of course it was causing her discomfort. She whined and whined and we tried to get her to blow it out, sneeze it out after sniffing pepper, and even pick it out – but nope! It was stuck fast! We gave up, hoping she would just get it out naturally. But after a while, no chance – so Marianne went in. She grabbed the tweezers and gently dug through the mini gold mine to find the red ball of treasure! Success, she seized it with her expert grasp and pulled forth, with a triumphant sigh of relief, the offender stuck deep in the nostril… and guess what? It wasn’t actually the little wax wrapper, it was the WHOLE PLASTIC WRAPPER on the outside of the wax. Like, what, are you kidding me? How the?? Anyway, our smallest, and well, strange little one was free of her plastic plug, free to breathe again! Oh, the joys of children sometimes! I’m not sure this will be the last time we have to do this.
When the next week comes we will be off! Off to different pastures and different mountains, exploring Europe from our little 4-wheeled oil burner. We shall update more later!
M (Undersecretary to the head of lodging, germ removal, and child bearing)