Saturday, February 6, 2016

Europe 2015: Part 1, Western French Countryside

These next posts are going to be an epic photo overload. I still can't believe that it happened. That we made it to Europe together. I'm so grateful for the success of my little business and for our families you took on our littles for two weeks to make it happen! We kept a journal for most of the time we were there, so I am just going to cut and paste here.

Saturday, August 15th: Leaving our sweet babes and boarding the plane with some Graeter's :)

We flew out of Cincinnati airport and said good bye to our kids! I was surprised how emotional and slightly panicked I felt as we walked away from them. We were only slightly delayed out of Cincinnati and were delayed an hour and a half out of Charlotte to Paris. The flight went well. Chuck was able to sleep most of the time, but I couldn’t get comfortable. There was an adorable French family sitting next to us with cute girls. I want to learn the ways of French parenting. I heard much less whining and no begging to eat food that they’ve never had before. It was impressive.

Sunday, August 16th: Getting out of the airport and heading to Versailles!

We arrive in the airport! We are both pretty tired and shell shocked. But we made it through customs easily and quickly. Surprisingly, my name being in my married name of the ticket didn’t really cause much trouble. Hopefully not coming back either! We bought our paris museum passes right in the airport and then slowly made our way through the massive crowds to the car rental place. After trying my broken French on the sweet lady who rented us our car, she ended up talking to us in English, which was good because I wouldn’t be able to understand a lot of what she was saying otherwise.

Because Chuck had not used a stick in a long time, we struggled a little bit to get out of the airport and re-learning how to use the shift. In fact, we sat for a while trying to reverse, until a man who works at the airport came and showed chuck how to get it in reverse gear. That was a blessing!

Then we headed to the Versailles ward! It was almost exactly as I remember it. It was fun to go to church there again. Although, I do remember thinking that translating all the French in my head was giving me a headache. The lack of sleep probably wasn’t helping the situation.

Afterwards, we headed over to the Chateau de Versailles. We stopped at the Sisters Cafe for lunch and had a delicious meal! I had a BLT with egg and Chuck had eggs Benedict. It was wonderful! I tried my french again, but failed again. Afterwards, we headed to the chateau. The line was incredibly long. We took turns standing in it while we both ran to the bathroom and got the tickets. We happened to be behind a friendly group from the US and got to chat with them for a bit. The chateau was grand and overwhelming. The crowd was pretty crazy and we promised ourselves that we would go to big tourist sites early in the morning to avoid them. We contemplated skipping out on the gardens (as it was an additional cost and we were both exhausted), but went ahead anyway. It was absolutely gorgeous. Stunning fountains and manicured gardens and a stunning water show. It was very impressive.

We went to our hotel next, although we had some issues finding the right parking. In fact, we went down a drive to underground parking, but it ended up being private and the door was locked. There was no where to turn the car around, so chuck ended up having to reverse up a skinny drive that had a sharp turn all with a manual car. It was impressive to say the least. Although, I had my first successful French conversation with the lady at the front desk! I felt very blessed that it was coming back to me a bit. After we parked and unloaded our bags, we hopped on over to Hippopotamus Grill for some yummy burgers and fries. After we got back to the hotel, I passed out before 10pm and Chuck stayed up working on a few scout things. I had a bad headache from sleep deprivation all day, so sleeping felt much better.
On our way back to our hotel, we decided to swing by St. Michel to see it lit up. It was well worth the twenty minute detour. We got home very late that night, but we were very happy that we made the trip.

Monday, August 17th:

We slept until almost 9am and it felt so great! I still had a little headache when I woke up, but took some tylenol and it went away pretty easily. On our way out of the hotel we checked out and then headed to Monoprix for some groceries and breakfast! We grabbed some yummy pastries and then some peaches and water for lunch. We headed over to the pharmacy in order to get some cream for biking, bandaids and hand sanitizer. We were having trouble finding cream, so Chuck asked one man and he said to talk to the pharmacist. So we started to talk to the pharmacist (I told him that my french was not very good) and they were having a very hard time understanding me (fair, as I wasn’t making any sense). They were trying very hard to understand, but I couldn’t remember the verb for bicycling to describe the irritation. So, I said, “comme le tour de France” and the girl said, “oh! le velo!” and then we worked it out. They were both so very nice and spoke slowly so that I could understand. I was very grateful. And so was Chuck! He thought it was pretty funny that I alluded to the Tour. Hahaha.

We found out that the new temple was being built just a mile from our hotel! So on our way out of the city, we stopped by the construction site. It was really cool to see!! I’m excited for Paris to get a temple. I remember when Pres. Ucthorf gave a fireside while I was there in 2008, he said that a temple would come if the people had enough faith. And now it’s happening. So very cool.

Next stop was Giverny. One of my favorite places in France. The line was super long again, but ended up behind a very kind and funny couple from Alberta, Canada named Fred and Donna. We chatted with them quite a bit and they told us all about their Mormon neighbors that they are great friends with. Then, a woman, came up to us and offered her extra tickets to Giverny for half the price! It was wonderful because we saved money AND got to skip the line! I felt very blessed.

The gardens were stunning. So inspiring. Everywhere you looked was something beautiful. I’m so glad we made the stop, because we made some great friends and Chuck got to see one of my most favorite things.
The little town of Giverny is filled with artists and galleries and cafes and the most adorable houses I've ever seen. I told my study abroad roommate in 2008, that I wanted to live her one day. And I still feel that way.

We headed to our hotel for the night, but made some fun stops along the way. Le Chateau de Gaillard. Wow. I'm not sure if I've felt so stunned by a sight quite like I was here. The way the sun was coming through the clouds onto the ruins and reflecting off the river below. I was in awe. This was a castle that was built in the 10th century by Richard the Lionheart. It was a point of battle for much of history and it shows.

We also stopped in the town of Les Andelys and saw this beautiful chateau, but it was closed for the day. It was fun to walk around the town!

Because we had made so many stops along the way, we knew we were going to be getting in late to our hotel! And in the countryside, everything is closed by 7pm. So, we stopped at McDonald's for dinner! haha. I felt a little silly, but I definitely didn't want to miss out on dinner. And they had these cool screens for ordering!

Tuesday, August 18th:

Today was another amazing day. We woke up a little later than planned (we got to sleep past 9am! woot!) and headed out to check out the Bayeux tapestry. It was a pretty amazing piece of work to see and interesting to read the history behind it. The way the stiches were woven together and the intricacies in the details were interesting. It wasn’t my favorite thing, but I’m glad we were able to see it. We almost got Jack a awesome shield and sword from the gift shop, but didn’t. So I’ll have to remember to make him one at home. We also saw a World War 2 Memorial museum in Bayeux. It was very informative and helped me to understand the events of D-day and what happened afterwards and what made it such a pivotal point in the war. There was a lot of information to see and we couldn’t get to all of it, but I am glad we got to see it. We wandered through the town and got to see an awesome church called Notre Dame that was built in the 11th-13th century. It was stunning.

Our little rental car :)

Please excuse my obsession with French doors. They are beautiful and unique and so much better than our lousy front doors in America.

Our next stop (after we grabbed some cheese and baguettes and treats from leader price!) was the American Cemetary and Memorial at Omaha Beach. Wow. I don’t think I have words to adequately express the feelings in my heart about this place. It is truly hallowed ground. There is a somber spirit of sacrafice and courage that lingers in between those white crosses. The visitors center was informative and helpful in painting a picture of what the war was really like for the boys who faught. It reminds me all over how grateful I am for the men (who were just young boys at the time) who faught so hard for a freedom that seemed illusive. They changed our world. My gratitude runs deep tonight.

Wednesday, August 19th:

This is the view from our hotel. It's an absolutely beautiful little hotel in a town called Ducey. 

Today we went to St. Michel and St. Malo. This might be one of my favorite days of our trip. In order to protect the island and the ability of the water to flow in and around it, they now have parking a mile and a half away and a walk bridge and shuttles. I really enjoyed being able to walk along the bridge smelling the salt water and watching the city on a rock come closer into view. St. Michel was gorgeous and wonderful to see, but it is basically a tourist town. We walked around the winding small streets, explored the shops and saw the beautiful views. After a little “discussion” about if we should wait in line for the Abbey (which was really long), we decided to wait. Turns out the line only took about 30 minutes. And I’m so glad we waited! We were able to see magnificent views of the city and the bay. Plus, hear interesting stories about the monks who stayed there.

It was about 4pm when we got back to our car and we were debating whether we should call it a day or make a trip to St. Malo. In the end, we decided to go visit St. Malo. We miraculously found a street parking spot very close to the bridge entrance and walked into the old fortress of a city. This place was magical. It seemed like a french hangout spot - where people must go on the weekends to play and shop. I loved it. We walked along the walls on the outside of the city, walked out to the beautiful beach, they even had a natural swimming pool there that filled with the tide and it had a tower! The small cobblestone streets and the little shops and all the French people bustling through the town. It was perfect. We went to a park to sit and eat a couple pastries that we got (a chocolate filled donut and a pastry with custard and chocolate chips). We watched French families play in the park. It was perfect. We also got to see 4 Rue Varboruel (the street where Marie-Laure lives in “All the Light we cannot see”). It was a perfect evening. We also got to eat at a creperie! Which was wonderful.

A sailing competition was starting from St. Malo just a few days later!
This is the few of the walled city before crossing the bridge.

This was our last night in the countryside as the next day we drove to Paris! See Europe 2015: Part 2, Paris :)