the wine country, Paris, Calais, England, Belgium and beyond
28.06.2012 - 14.07.2012 19 °C
We left our new friends in Bordas (Vergt) on June 28th (that seems like a life time ago). After another long day of driving, we landed at our next couchsurf just outside of Decize. Once again the cities and villages we passed through were picturesquely perfect -- just like one would imagine.
What can I say -- each family we stay with is so open and giving and sharing. The family we stayed at outside of Decize has three children, but one was away. Marleigh made friends with the 10-year old boy by trading out Pokeman cards...Spanish and English for French cards! Not only did this family host make the most delicious meals for us, but on our first morning we were treated to a huge pick garden, where we collected fresh veg and fruit for an afternoon picnic on the riverbank. We had fresh bread and an assortment of French cheeses. Once again we shared ideas and cultural differences and they helped me learn a few more words in French. Voila!
Formal education in France is apparently even more difficult and rigorous than education in Spain. Students attend school for 10-months (Sept. to early July) and the school day goes from 8:00 to 5:00; however there is a 1.5 hr lunch/meal break. As well, formal education begins at a very early age - at the age of 3-years old the children start their formal education with morning school and are already being taught educational skill set. I do think that the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have a more "playful" approach to education in the lower grades and a more practical approach in the high school years. I do wonder how each country's educational framework, including the methodology and philosophy, shapes the students' way of thinking the the citizenry that come through the system. In our time in France, although very short, we have noticed a distinct difference in how the children behave...and of course how they behave is very different than the youth in Spain. Of course these are also cultural differences, but cultural differences are also imbedded in the education.
DRUY-PARIGNY -- As I mentioned our short stay outside of Decize was incredible. On our first day the hosts prepared this incredible breakfast and then we went off picking in this amazing garden:
The picnic alongside the riverbank in Decize was so typically French and so wonderful:
Our hosts also drove us to a beautiful small city called Moulins, where there are two, nearly identical (but not) cathedrals. Moulins was where the famous dress designer and fashion leader Coco Chanel went to school as an orphan.
The following day with our hosts, we were told about local summer festival. After a morning of making jewelry with FIMO clay, we walked into town. We tried our luck at archery (not!),
wandered around the garage sale area, where we found some amazing bargains! and experienced country dance, French style!
And after a wonderful "pancake-party" dinner, we tried our hands at "apples-to-apples", USA against France. It was a close match and in the end the USA pulled out the extra point. Every couchsurfing experience we have had has been really good, very good, wonderful....but the experience we had with this family was absolutely memorable and we hope that our paths will cross again in the future.
ONWARD TO PARIS!
After three wonderful days, we bid farewell to our new friends and drove north toward Paris and to our next couchsurf hosts in Saint Leu la Foret, a suburb on the outskirts of Paris. The GPS took us on a tour of Paris to get to our next destination...so we caught glimpses of the Eiffel Tower and had a taste of the INSANE traffic. After getting ourselves a bit lost, we found our next hosts.
This is family with three children - and what we have been finding is that our vacation and couchsurfing in France has been conciding with two different rhythms. We're on vacation, touring around and families are still in the school mode/end of year/study for exams/grading papers, etc. Again, with this family we shared homemade meals, and an exceptional night with cheese fondue (yes Marleigh the alcohol in the white wine did evaporate in the fondue bowl!) and of course three amazing days in Paris. Here is a brief highlight:
Louvre Museum (well, first we hopped on the wrong train and went to the town of Louvres, outside of Paris!)
Eiffel Tower (walked up the 600+ steps to the second level as one of the lifts to the top was out of order and the line for the other was over 3-hours wait)
Notre Dame de Paris
Jardin du Luxemberg
Montmartre, Basilica (Sacre Coeur), watching the artists paint
L' Arc de Triomphe
The girls had been so excited to spend time in Paris and while our time there was very short, it did not disappoint. Marleigh ranks it her favorite city, perhaps after London. Ansley and Eden were so excited to find a clothing sale and to buy something in a shop along the Champs Elysees -- and just a few photographs were taken of our time there.
The words are getting briefer and briefer as we are traveling around and seeing so much that this blog could easily turn itself into a book (hah!). So, we hope that the pictures do indeed tell a thousand words.
PARIS TO CALAIS
We left Paris on July 5th; for our nation's day of independence we caught a glimpse of an Independence Day celebration at the base of the Arc de Triumphe. I think it's the first time we've missed the Bend Pet Parade and evening fireworks off Pilot Butte... From Paris we headed north and west toward Calais. We had a couchsurf host set up, but last minute plans forced us to come up with a hotel. We chose the F1, which is a series of inexpensive hotels throughout Europe...it's a cross between a hostel and the sense of sleeping on a boat. It was interesting enough, but unfortunately the room was a smoking room and the ventilation in the room and hotel was not. Even with windows opened I think I consumed a couple packs of cigarettes that night and developed a really bad sore throat.
The next morning we drove to the dock, were slightly interrogated at the customs office for the U.K. (they wondered if we had received explicit permission from Eden's parents to take her to England - "but of course!") and onward to the P&O ferry we went. The crossing over to Dover, UK was very pleasant, and we did get to see the infamous "White Cliffs of Dover".
Once we disembarked from the ferry, we re-engaged our brains to remember that in England one drives on the left. We drove to our next couchsurf host, located 1/2 way between Dover and Canterbury. Actually we had the GPS take us there (just to find it) and then headed into the historic city of Canterbury. Canterbury has an incredible history and is a tourist destination. As we wandered around the (charity) shops and streets, we bumped into loads of tourists groups, many of them students from Spain on 1-2 week language study programs.
On our first afternoon in Canterbury, we wandered the streets a bit, popped into charity shops and took lots of photographs.
We then headed back to our couchsurfing place and I'm not sure how best to describe this place we stayed at. The host has some land, more-or-less in the woods and there are dwellings there that are quite rustic. The building we stayed in was perhaps a barn at one time. We stayed upstairs in the loft and throughout the dwelling was any and everything imaginable that one might want and need. In fact the girls decided that this place should be dubbed the "room of requirement" after the Harry Potter books as just about everything they wanted or needed seemed to appear. Two pianos, guitars, internet (in the middle of the woods), interesting posters, maps and odds-and-ends tacked to the walls and loads and loads and loads of books. The weather was damp and chilly. While the middle and east coast of the USA was baking in unbearable heat, we were huddled around the refurbished air tank to woodstove, trying to stay warm and dry.
The next day we headed back to Canterbury to explore the city in more depth. We received a wonderful tip about visiting the cathedral. The cathedral in Canterbury is one of the most impressive cathedrals we've visited, including that of Notre Dame of Paris.
We were all charmed by this absolutely charming city and once again wish we had more time...hopefully next time...whenever that is!
After three damp nights outside Canterbury, we headed back to Dover, crossed the English channel, and got ourselves back on the right side of the road. From Calais we drove slightly north, then east and then -- bonjour to Belgium!
BELGIUM - IEPER/YPRES - TOURNAI
Belgium was such a pleasant surprise for us. We didn't know what to expect and didn't (and still don't) know much about this small country. We took a short detour and visited the village of Ieper/Ypres, which is in the Flanders (Flemish) region. We were only there for an hour or two, but it made such an impression on us. Very typical Belgium architecture, a fascinating WWI memorial (that looks like a miniature Arc de Triumphe) and an undescribable charm.
From there we headed to our next couchsurf host in southern Belgium, in the city of Tournai. We stayed with another amazing family; a woman who has seven children and has fostered over 30 youth over the years. Her house is on the edge of town and people come and go; some stay; some rent and some move on. With so many people in the house, they somehow manage with one toilet and one shower. Not only is this unheard of in the US, I can't imagine that a human service agency in the US would allow the fostering of so many youth in a house with the one toilet and one shower.
We spent the following day in Brugge, which is a tourist destination - and we can see why. It has narrow, cobblestone streets, canals, typical Belgium architecture, lots of charm and beauty. We went to the chocolate museum/demonstration and of course Belgium chocolate was offered at the entrance and exit. Yum!
The last full day we spent exploring Tournai, which while typically Belgium is more working class. The big tourist draw is climbing the belfry tower. What a spectacular view we had from the top of the tower! We all commented that we could envision scenes from various Harry Potter movies as we looked all around the top of the town.
From Tournai, we neaded north toward Antwerp, but on the way spent a couple of hours in Gent, or Ghent or Gand (depending on where you are from). What a hidden treasure of a city! While it looks a bit like Brugge, it has a much more 'Bohemian' feel to it. It is a university city and the city was preparing for a huge jazz festival. We spent just one evening in Antwerp and stay with an expat couple (USA/Scotland). We all went out to see a live outdoor theatre performance...you've all heard of spaghetti westerns...well this was a mystic French 'escargot' western. While the dialogue was all in French, even if I was fluent in French the play wouldn't have made much sense. In general it was about the US west during the gold rush era, but it had singing and dancing and slap stick humor and sexual inuendo (well not so much on the inuendo) and incredible sets.
And now -- we have a few days in the Netherlands. We're renting an apartment for 2-nights just outside Amsterdam, as we couldn't find anyone in Amsterdam to host a family with five people. The next blog will start with our Amsterdam experience (all we can say is "very...very...very interesting!") and onward. I know it's long and packed full of photos and information, but as we are so busy I'm finding it difficult to find time to keep it current.
Until the next time -- Shari and family