Friday, 21 September 2007

We didn’t have to check out of our Paris hotel until noon, so we did school Friday morning after our last breakfast gathered ‘round the towel, with all our favorites. Croissant chocolate, brioche chocolate, and some other doughy, chocolatey thing. And of course the Baguette Retro, crispy on the outside and still warm on the inside.

Clay went to pick up our rental car, transportation for the next couple months, while I finished up school with the kids. He decided it would be better to pick up the car and drive it a short distance through Paris rather than have us all navigate the subway system with our luggage. We moved ourselves downstairs at noon with all the bags, still finishing up the grammar and math. I began to worry when 12:30 rolled around and Clay still wasn’t there, it had been an hour. What could have happened to Clay, alone on the streets of Paris in a rental car?

He arrived a few moments later, telling me about the ridiculously skinny parking garage and how he used the metro map to make it back to the hotel since he had forgotten to bring the satellite doo-hicky for the GPS to work. I’m not sure how he figured out what roads to take by the subways underneath them, but it worked. The man is a navigational genius.

Our car is a six-seater, three seats up front and three behind, so we started off with Alayna sitting in between Clay and me, the two boys in back with some buffer between them. This lasted maybe an hour, while we made our hairy way out of Paris, ignoring the kind woman on the GPS computer and feeling our way out on major highways as best we could. Then we evicted her to the back so we could have some more space for the maps and France guidebooks and snacks that seemed to accumulate around our feet.

The drive was uneventful. We had decided two days earlier that we wanted to stay somewhere near Mont St. Michel, so we Googled around a found a hotel with availability that ranked well on Trip Advisor. We were a little concerned when we got closer and realized it was still a good 25 miles from the Mont, but as we drove into the little town of Villedieu les Poeles (Clay called it Village of the Poodles) we were charmed by the bright flowers at all the windows and the ancient-looking structures. We found out later that this town had been untouched by the WWII bombs, and retained a lot of the original buildings and charm.

Our hotel seemed to cater to an older crowd, the mean age being around sixty, but this may have something to do with the fact that school is in. Upon arrival Clay was entering the elevator with an elderly couple, and he looked back to see if we were coming, then turned around and got a major smack in the head by the elevator door. The way Clay tells it, he turned again to see the kids looking shocked, and me laughing hysterically. I reminded him that I did ask if he was okay before I erupted into uncontrollable laughter (I couldn’t help myself, the look on his face was like a cartoon character with little stars going around and around his head), but he just didn’t remember that because he had a minor concussion. He really didn’t feel very well, and had quite a headache, but I checked his pupils up in the room and I don’t really think he killed too many brain cells.

One interesting thing we noted about our cute little town, it had seven hair salons in a two block radius. We never did find the reason for this, but Clay and the boys got great haircuts, nice and short to last us a while. Clay said he also got an ear and nose trim, much to his surprise, he mused it might have more to do with his age than the attentiveness of the hairdresser. He did remark that she was very thorough, scissoring his hair over and over again, it took over thirty minutes for her to cut Clay’s hair. When his haircut was done, she splashed some French cologne on his neck, he smelled very pretty all day.

This town also had tons of flowers, I read in one of the brochures that it won an award for best flowers in a small town in Normandy. They are also known for their copper, they have been producing copper pots for ages, and they also make bells.

Benji was overjoyed to find a small poodle on the stairs, and he loved it up well before we left. Our first evening in the Village of Poodles was spent at the Laundromat. I told everyone I felt like I was in heaven amongst those shaking machines. We took out the dice and cards, Alayna and I scrounged up some dinner, and we left two hours later with clean, dry, folded clothes. Bliss.


Saturday, 22 September 2007

Saturday morning we explored the town before beginning our pilgrimage to Mont St. Michel. After the boys’ haircuts, we stopped in at a pottery shop and met the owners, who were very kind. They told us all about how they fire their pottery in the kiln at 1200 degrees CELCIUS, so we did a little math and discovered that is almost  twice as much in Fahrenheit. They said many people actually put little clay animals on their roofs, that they are stronger than bricks since bricks are only fired at 1000 Celsius. I wasn’t quite so nervous about the kids breaking something after that. The kids each picked out their favorite little clay animal, and after watching the husband form a pitcher on his potter’s wheel, we decided to have it glazed and shipped home as well.

We had lunch at a tiny restaurant that served gallettes (which, by the way, are thick crepes, not the fried potato things you get at La Madeleine back home), and met a girl with a longhorn t-shirt on. Clay had his on as well. We’re surprised how many hook ‘em horns we see as we travel around, this world seems very small sometimes. This particular girl went to UT and was in France on vacation. Her companions helped us translate a different word for ham (we were used to jambon, but this started with an ‘e’) and some other ingredients in the aforementioned gallettes.

After lunch we drove on out to Mont St. Michel, a beautiful abbey that was built on a rock outcropping that was once surrounded by water. It is truly stunning, the first time we saw it, from a distance, it didn’t even look real. It looked like something fabricated by Disney or something. When we got closer we saw the rows of tour busses and full parking lot, and took a deep breath before plunging in. There is only one skinny street that leads to the top and the entrance to the abbey, and this street is chock-full of tourists, souvenirs, ice cream, sticky hands and crying children. We waded through it all and were rewarded with a lot fewer people and some amazing views from the top.

The abbey was very cool. It isn’t decorated like some of the castles and palaces and churches we’ve seen, other than a little stained glass, but its stone corridors are like a labyrinth as they wind around and around the granite that makes up the island. There was a courtyard with beautiful little columns surrounded a bit of grass, and if you didn’t look out the arches to the sea beyond, it almost felt like you were back on the ground and not up high. After touring the abbey, and meeting a guy with a Chuy’s Austin shirt on, we made our way back down across the ramparts.

I wanted to see the sun set, Clay wanted to see the abbey all lit up after dark, so we hung around a while and played in the sand that surrounded the Mont. Clay and the kids drew a gigantic state of Texas and I made a trek back up the abbey steps to the top to get a picture. Lots of people made drawings in the sand, when I came back down the kids had added to our palette with a cowboy, boot, the word Alamo, a monkey, a dog, and a tree with an owl. These were all done by Nate and Alayna. Benji spent his time building a sand castle, and then “rescuing” little white bugs from the sand.

We played and played, but it still wasn’t dark, so we headed into the nearby town for some dinner and came back out. We sat on a stone wall, watching the sun set. I think I took thirty pictures. I can’t remember the last time I’ve watched the sun set. I mean really sat there, for an hour or so, and watched the sun descend all the way into the horizon. We can’t see the sun set from where we live, and I’m just too dang busy, anyway. It felt good, watching the sky turn colors and munching crackers and digestive biscuits. Clay and the boys threw rocks, trying to hit their target of a rock sticking up out of the water. Alayna read a book until she couldn’t see the pages. Then she and Benji found six or seven crabs and made a habitat for them out of our sandwich wrapper.

The sky finally went dark and we admired the castle all lit up before driving home. We stopped at a McDonald’s to get a quick little bite, and sheepishly tried to hide our huge McDonald’s bag when we arrived back at the hotel to find both dining rooms full at 10PM. Full, I might add, with a bunch of elderly people, who then woke up early the next morning and had breakfast before we ever made it down, leaving us with no bread to toast and only one measly chocolate pastry (there was plenty of other stuff, but we have become accustomed to chocolate in the morning).

I recommend this tiny town to anyone traveling in the Normandy who wants a real little town feel, admires beautiful flowers, or needs a haircut.


Sunday, 23 September 2007

We had another noon checkout this morning. Much to the kid’s dismay, after breakfast we did some more home school. During breakfast, we heard a terrible moaning cry, and then a thud. We were all alone in the breakfast room, and after sitting there staring at each other for a moment, wondering if it was just some kids playing around and realizing that the only kids in the area were sitting at our table, I jumped up and ran to the door of the breakfast room. A crowd had gathered, and there was nothing I could do to help. The girl at the reception desk had a seizure, they were forcing a spoon into her mouth, and paramedics arrived shortly.

This really shook the kids up, especially Benji, who shared that he almost hid under the table when he heard that sound. I pointed out that I was brave this time and didn’t hide behind Alayna. They wanted to know all about seizures and why they happen and what you do, and tonight when we put them to bed both boys were worried about having nightmares about seizures. It is a very scary thing, to hear the sound of someone whose body is out of control. We asked about her on our way out, and they assured us the girl would be okay.

We got on the road and headed to Bayeux, another day of home school under our belt and crumbs accumulating in all the car’s nooks and crannies as we downed some crusty-bread sandwiches on the road. When we arrived in Bayeux we did a little exploring, Clay spent some unsuccessful time trying to get an internet connection at the hotel, and we found another Laundromat. More joy. While we could have lasted another day or two without doing the laundry, we went ahead and took a load, along with some cards and dice, and got ourselves another pile of nice, clean clothes. We also did some planning, deciding how we will attack the D-Day beaches and the Bayeux tapestry.

For dinner we almost spent hundreds of Euros on fois gras and snails, because I made reservations based on a lunch menu (which I thought was pricey at 25 Euros a person) instead of the dinner menu. We sheepishly backed out of the reservation, blaming it on the kid’s tender palates, and found ourselves some 4 euro kebobs instead.

I almost feel guilty, we didn’t see a single real sight today, other than the Bayeux Laundromat. But, we have a plan for the next few days, and we saw lots of pretty Normandy countryside as we drove here today. We got the kids to bed early enough to read another chapter of the latest read-aloud, something that doesn’t happen when we’re out really late. So, I count it success and call it a “day off”. Tomorrow? We’ve got a plan.