Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A European summer: Ten Favorite moments. (Europe '11 - #7)

We came back a few days ago. It was a relief to find the house in perfect shape, happy pets, and a yard weeds had not taken over. We have our wonderful house-sitter to thank for that. This has been a long trip, even for us (four weeks.) 

I was getting tired of packing and unpacking three large bags every few days, but it was wonderful to be able to spend our last week in the same place, kick back and play in the sand. It is a good thing we did, because when we landed in Seattle, cooler temperatures and rain greeted us. This is mid-July, but one never, ever takes the weather for granted in the Pacific Northwest. Rain? 63 F? Definitely a case of déjà vu. Think I am exaggerating? A guy reported yesterday on a local news channel (Komo News) that according to the University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences Department, Seattle has enjoyed exactly 78 minutes of weather at 80 degrees or warmer so far this year. He broke it down into: 12 minutes on July 2 and 66 minutes on July 6. Since we were in Europe both days, it seems this family has missed all of Seattle's glorious summer. Dommage! Meanwhile, the rest of the country is experiencing a heatwave. If you want to read the article, (it is really funny, unlike the weather,) you can find it here.

I have finally finished putting clothes and travel guides away. Junior is at sailing camp (a summer tradition,) and Le Husband is out of town on a business trip (hopefully in a sunnier place.) The house is quiet; Le dog and Le cat are sleeping next to me. Enfin! Finally! I get to sit down at my desk and reflect on our most excellent European adventures. 

What is it that was so special about this long, eventful trip? What were my favorite moments? Before I start my list, let me say that landing in Europe in June was a smart move. It seemed that we were always ahead of crowds and we only felt overwhelmed by the number of tourists once, in the medieval city of Carcassonne. Back to the list. Favorite moments.

1. Enjoying time spent with old friends and relatives.

This year, we were lucky to have Le Brother around both in Paris and in Spain. The trip would not have been the same without him. Junior and his cousins, Théo and Jules, all had a great time thanks to him and Le Husband. We also enjoyed Mutti, La Mother-in-Law, and my parents. Along the way, we reconnected with old friends and colleagues.  If some of them are surprised we are still living away from home [and in Seattle] after 15 years, they were kind enough not to ask "pourquoi"? (why.) 

Mutti and Junior
Junior and Jules
Dad and I
2. Showing Junior that France is so much more than Paris.

What a treat it was for me to take him out of the French capital [where we tend to spend most of our vacation time]; zoom along beautiful French roads; drive through small towns and villages;  visit medieval castles; chat with locals in stores and restaurants. While I speak French to Junior on a daily basis in the United States, he answers in English. For years, I found this frustrating. Then I realized he was born here, has always attended American schools and feels more comfortable expressing himself in English. The little guy had a surprise for me this time. After we spent a few days in London, the Eurostar train took us to Paris. As soon as the door opened, he switched to French. Just like that. Then he never stopped until we left Europe. Even though he has a tinge of American accent, all our relatives complimented him on his communication skills. Junior was beaming. It was not all. Was he determined to impress me or did he realize that this trip meant a lot to his mother? After a few days, he started reading signs, menus and displays in French, learning about French history and culture along the way. I know he will be fine, whenever he stays in France, even if I am not around to help him. Well done, Junior.

Learning about France...

3. Traveling with a [future] rock'n'roll star.

Junior is entering 6th grade in the fall. In France, that is a big deal. At that point, children leave elementary school and move up to le collège (junior high.) Mutti, his grandma, decided to reward him with a brand-new acoustic guitar. Junior is a beginner, but he has been taking weekly lessons for months and practices every day at home. One afternoon, Le Husband took us to his favorite Parisian music store... and we left with a beautiful guitar, and a gigantic case. As we were walking towards the car, it struck me that for the next three weeks, we were going to travel with a gazillion bags, an 11-year old, his fedora hat and now a guitar! I confess to a brief moment of panic. I should not have worried. The guitar entertained us all during the trip and made it back safely to Seattle.

Mutti, Le (proud) Husband and the young musician: 
Improvised street concert in Paris...

4. Visiting special places. Enjoying more special moments.

London : Lingering over a relaxing dinner in Covent Garden with a girlfriend, then riding back to the hotel in a black cab, taking in the London night life along the way. Taking a stroll in trendy Notting Hill while feeling like an insider thanks to La novel-du-jourNotting Hell, by Rachel Johnson. 

Paris: Savoring a delicious Italian dinner alfresco, in a peaceful alleyway tucked behind the Crillon hotel on a glorious summer night. Discovering a unique designer boutique and finding my new favorite fragrance. 

Le Brother and La Sister-in-Law

Périgord: Realizing how incredibly beautiful the Dordogne river valley looks, from the top of a medieval château or from a canoe. Visiting troglodyte homes built between 18,000 and 10,000 BC and marveling at the fact that the Magdalenians survived for 8000 years without central vacuum systems, powder rooms, bonus rooms and sprinkler systems!

A troglodyte town carved out of limestone:
La Roque St Christophe (medieval village, reproduction) 
One of the five levels of the troglodyte town, la Roque St. Christophe

Spain: Going on our first scuba diving adventure with Le Brother as a teacher. Perusing menus written in Spanish, Catalan, French, English, and German... to finally settle for grilled fish or paella e.v.e.r.y. s.i.n.g.l.e. t.i.m.e. 

Life is a beach on La Costa Brava, Spain
La Cala Montgo (Montgo cove), our Spanish homebase

5. Observing, chasing, petting, photographing dogs wherever we went.

Hôtel du Château, Carcassonne
Homeless man and his pack, Barcelona
The "Hotel Dog" - a cool dude - Can Miquel Hotel, L'Escala, Spain

So long, furry friends. Thank you for shaking my paw. Thank you, Le Husband and Junior, for patiently waiting while I was doing so.

6. Observing locals and tourists wherever we went.

I get a kick out of identifying and analyzing cultural differences. For a few weeks, we were in the right place. Our small hotel in Spain was a microcosm of Europe: I loved sipping my coffee by the pool in the morning, checking my emails, while listening to Spanish, Belgian, and Dutch families' interactions. While visiting the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris (where celebrities are buried,) I offered a copy of my star map to an exhausted American tourist who was looking for Jim Morrison's grave and pointed her to a water fountain. She may have gone home and told her friends that she survived the Paris heat wave and found "the Lizard King" thanks to a friendly "Parisian!" 

Jim Morrison (1943-1971)
The most visited grave at the Père Lachaise cemetery

The Lizard King's fans leave messages all over the grave
 and on a nearby tree

7. Trying to memorize the funny stuff Junior said during the trip.

While paddling on the Dordogne River: "Un château, encore un château!" (a castle, another castle!) We heard this every 15 minutes for over three hours. 

While inspecting our hotel bathroom in Barcelona and finding a bidet: "Mom, why did you leave a magazine in the foot washer?" (this one he actually said in English!)

8. Realizing that absence does make the heart grow fonder.

Falling in love with La Belle France all over again. Complicated, feisty, culture-proud, argumentative, curious, but never boring, the French greeted us with a friendly "bonjour" and helped us when we needed them. Les amis, you may very well be the most misunderstood people on the planet, but don't ever change. I get you, and I like you (that includes you, Parisians, even though you can be real pains-in-the-derrière.)

Montignac, Périgord: Someone has a sense of humor!
The French countryside  

9. Making the most of technology.

A special Merci to my faithful sidekicks for helping me record this trip and tell my stories: I am talking to you, MacBook Air, best laptop I have ever owned; I am talking to you, Le Lumix, best point-and-shoot camera. I am talking to you, Lola, best GPS we ever used. You took us around Europe painlessly; finding your way through tiny French villages and in and out of innumerable roundabouts.

Meet Lola, Le GPS

10. Hearing from my faithful readers.

Merci for stopping by, reading my stories and leaving enthusiastic [and often humorous] comments. You know who you are. 

Taking notes on one of many temporary desks in Castelnaud la Chapelle

A bientôt.


  1. OH V WHAT A TERRIFIC WRAP UP... such a vacation ... such fond LOVING happy memories! i have truly enjoyed the entire jouney and send all three of you a WARM HAPPY WELCOME BACK!!-i hope the rest of the summer proves to be as wonderful....and may summer soon find you up there.

  2. Merci g! Thank you for coming along during the fab' European trip. You need to go back soon! Looking forward to sharing more stories soon...

  3. Ah very nice...sounds like a heavenly trip. I'm already getting ready for next years trip!;) Welcome back!

  4. Moi aussi Sandy! -- even though, looking at the weather in Seattle, I may have to go back sooner ;-) Thanks for stopping by! V.

  5. What an amazing vacation! It's fantastic that your son switched his French on so effortlessly. I'm sure it's a trip he'll have fond memories of for years to come :-)

  6. Great post - I almost felt like I enjoyed the trip with you all! Glad it was everything you hoped that it would be and more.
    And as for 63F and rain in Seattle. It's abut the same here in Scotland. But that's why both places look green, lush and beautiful, right?
    Welcome home.

  7. Excellent!!! kisses from paris...under water!!!!hopefully, we will go to spain in august to get sun!!! bisous

  8. -- Sara Louise: Yes, Junior enjoyed this trip a lot, and I know he will look back at it fondly! Mission accomplished for this mom ;-)
    -- Craig: Merci for stopping by. Too bad the weather sucks in Scotland. You do get some summer weather usually though (well, at least one week) ? Hope it arrives soon.
    -- Georges: Too bad the weather has switched in France. I saw they had snow in the Alps yesterday. Brrrrrr...

  9. Your trip was the same kind of trip I take with my son when we go to Europe. It is nice to go back home once in a while even though France has changed a lot to my eyes. When we land at Charles de Gaulle, we don't even bother with Paris and go directly to the countryside. I am glad your whole family had a wonderful time.

  10. Merci pour ce voyage virtuel! Quel beau recit; de vraies vacances, comme au temps de Pagnol quand on prenait le temps, de prendre son temps...

  11. A great overview of your most wonderful adventure in Europe! I have so vigariously enjoyed your travels and excellent photos. You gave Junior such unforgettable memories. Marita and I have changed our plans slightly and are going to Sarlat instead of Dinard. I'll be in touch before we go.

  12. -- Nadege: We are lucky we can go back every year. We can't really skip Paris because most of our family lives there, but in the summer, my parents live in Spain, so we have the perfect excuse to "explore" on the way down ;-)
    -- Agnes: Merci Agnes. Ravie que notre beau voyage t'aie plu.
    -- Cherie: Merci for following our adventures and leaving comments along the way. Sarlat instead of Dinard, eh? I think you will both love the Perigord Noir in the fall.

  13. Ma chère Véronique,

    What a story; loved this and your son is one you can be proud of. Without saying anything, he DID absorb everything and kids learn so easily. He's smart for doing so as each language is another window to the world! Over my lifetime I've tried to manage but seven languages... Still reading French is no problem but the years since High School are many! Adding Italian, Spanish and later even Bahasa Indonesia besides the Dutch; German; English and French I learned as a young girl.
    I'm your newest follower now, this was a fun visit.

    Lots of love,


  14. Merci Mariette. So glad you stopped by. I can't believe you live in Georgia. The South-East will always have a special place in my heart. I was an exchange student in Atlanta in the mid-80s and was "adopted" by a family there. Next time I visit, I will make sure to stop by and see you. V.

  15. Now I know what you meant when you said you liked the photos of the dog in my post :) It looks like you had a fantastic trip. To process all of that, you would need no less than six months :)

  16. -- Olga-- Told ya! ;-) It will take a while to process indeed. I am glad this trip gave me so many good blogging opportunities. They will come in handy when fall returns in the Pacific Northwest... V.


Bonjour! I love hearing from you, my readers. To quote a fellow blogger, my friend Owen, "Comments are the icing on blogcake... Comments are the UFO in the twilight sky bearing news from other planets... Comments are raspberry vinegar in salad dressing... Comments are the cool balm of after-sun moisturizing lotion... Comments are the moment the band comes back out onstage to play an encore... Comments are the gleam in the eye across the room in a smoky bar... Comments are the rainbow after the rainstorm..." Merci for your comments! French Girl in Seattle