I’ve arrived in France! La Belle France! I’ve been in Paris for a few days, but as we speak I’m getting ready to head over to the Gare de Lyon to take the TGV down to Béziers. I’ll spend a few days there with my sister-in-law and her family (can’t wait to see them!!), then I’ll head over to Montpellier to start my summer job. I’m not sure if it will be today or tomorrow, but I will soon get to visit our apartment and meet M. et Mme Pascal (the owners). After seeing it for myself, I’ll write another post and tell you all about it. I know it’s going to be just perfect for us, and I have no problem seeing beyond imperfections. It will be nice to get down to the South where I hope the weather is better than here in Paris. For the sake of it being the first day of summer and “La Fête de la Musique”, I hope it will warm up a bit and not rain. I really hope I will get to visit the apartment today, it’s so exciting!!
I’m reaching back many years while writing this little post. I was recently speaking with a friend about train travel for my French Teacher blog http://learnfrenchwithjennifer.com , and I was reminded of the town of Vichy when my friend recommended that I read this article:
The year was 1992, and I was 21 years old. When thinking upon this incident, I’ve always liked to think of myself as being 18, it sounds so poetic. But I was 21, with a 2 year old at home.
It was my very first trip to Europe, and I was on my way to Vichy, France. Why in the world would I go there (because I’ve never felt the urge to go back)? Let’s just say I was teaching French (very remedial French at the time) at an evangelical church sort of school place in Louisiana. I was invited (of course, I had to pay my own way on credit cards) to attend an evangelical conference in Vichy. So there you have it, that’s how I found my way to France for the first time. Kind of hard to imagine myself in that situation these days, some 20 years later, but that’s how it was.
This article about Vichy reminded me of my first trip to France when I got off of the night train at the stop before Vichy by accident. I was 18 (I mean 21). I didn’t know what to do, so my friend and I walked along the train tracks until we reached a bridge that we weren’t willing to cross. Instead, we went to a nearby nuclear plant where the men working there happened to be changing shifts. We hitched a ride into Vichy with a man who said he had a daughter our age, and it was his duty to make sure we made it there okay. That was my first true experience with a real French person. I suppose it had a lasting impression.
It’s been a while since I have thought about how I felt at that particular moment, walking along train tracks in rural France at about 1 a.m.. I don’t remember being frightened. I was peeved, that’s for sure, because I had a heavy suitcase and a VHS recorder the size of a large Coach bag to tug along, but I was never afraid. It was exhilarating to be in that situation. I had to use my few semesters of undergrad French to explain my plight to nuclear plant shift workers….. That’s how I learned that contrary to popular belief, they don’t speak English in France, and it’s not a good idea to bet on it. I also learned that if you do you best by speaking the target language, wherever you may be, and by braving a sterling smile, there are more good people than bad in this world.
This is a picture of me, my sister, and my mom. Don’t we all look alike? Let’s take a leap back in time about 14 years to 1998, and that was the first time that I lived in Béziers. I had just gotten married (three times, all to the same man), and we were living in France, waiting for my husband’s Green Card approval. All of that is a story for another time. What I’d like to write about is the time Mom came over to visit us. It was October, and that’s my birthday month. Mom was still working back then, but had taken a few weeks of vacation. She’d already been to France once, at the time of our wedding, and felt adventurous enough to make the long trip from Louisiana on her own.
Getting to Paris was no problem. She just hopped on a direct flight from New Orleans, and ten hours or so later, she was at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. My father-in-law very graciously met her at the airport and drove her to the Gare de Lyon. She was to take the TGV directly to Montpellier, then make a connection to Béziers. This was our big mistake. We should have just had her fly down to Béziers, because she doesn’t speak any French, and she’d certainly not had any experience with train travel in Europe.
The ride on the TGV was perfect, and she made it down to Montpellier with absolutely no problems. Before getting on the train in Paris, my father-in-law had spoken with a fellow traveler (who spoke English), and had asked him to direct my mom to the right platform to make her connection to Béziers. The kind traveler did just that, or so mom thought. Trusting soul that she is, she didn’t think about double-checking to make sure she was in the right place.
Long story short, she hopped on a non-stop TGV that took her directly back to Paris. I don’t think she realized it right away, with the jet-lag she was certainly experiencing, but before too long she understood that she should have been in Béziers by then! But it was a non-stop TGV. When the conductor came around for tickets, and she didn’t have one, he was kind and patient enough to finally understand what had happened. They didn’t charge her anything, but there was no option except to sit back and enjoy the ride to Paris. Now by this time, she’d been traveling for quite some time, and was really getting tired. This was in 1998, and it wasn’t like today when everyone has cell phones. She didn’t have one, so she couldn’t call us.
When we got to the train station in Béziers, with my husband and son who was then only 7, we fully expected to find “Meme” and bring her home with us for a nice two week visit. But there was no Meme getting off of the train. I was desperately worried. Had she fallen asleep on the train? Where was it heading to next? We only had two or three minutes to look around on the train for her before it left for the next destination. No Meme.
Not knowing what in the world to do, we waited for the next train from Montpellier to arrive. Still no Meme. I could just imagine her having fallen asleep on the train, only to wake up somewhere in Spain not knowing where she was. I was worried sick.
We went back to our apartment, called my brother and sister-in-law (who also live in Béziers), and told them what had happened. We waited by the phone, not daring to leave the apartment for fear of missing her call. About two or three hours passed, then the phone rang. It was my brother-in-law, Jean-Marie. He had only one declaration to make, and that was, “J’ai trouvé Meme!!” (I’ve found Meme).
“What?? Where is she??” Jean-Marie explained that he’d received a phone call at home from my mom. She’d arrived in Paris, and had called the only number she had with her, which was his. You know how it is, hind sight is 20/20 when it comes to traveling, especially to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. She’d explained to him what had happened, and thankfully his knowledge of English was MUCH better than what he’d ever led me to think! Not wanting to disturb my parents-in-law in Paris (though she should have, but that’s not her style), she’d purchased another ticket to Béziers that very night. How many hours had she been traveling?? I’m not sure, but we’re probably beginning to move beyond the 24 hour mark. This particular train was not a TGV, it was too late for that. It was a very slow-moving night train. Meme was scheduled to arrive in Béziers around 8:00 in the morning. Poor thing, and as a born and bred southerner, there’s only one phrase that fits. “Bless her little heart”.
I sure didn’t sleep well that night, and keep in mind that I hadn’t yet spoken to my mom. At 8:00 in the morning, we were at the train station waiting for her, still with a doubt in my mind whether she’d step off of the train or not. Lo and behold, an understandably exhausted and somewhat frustrated Meme emerged (though she’s a Southern Lady, and you wouldn’t have known anything was wrong if you’d seen her).
We brought Meme home, had a big ole pot of American-style coffee brewed and ready, and heard her firsthand account of her adventure. Now how many grandmas have that kind of story to tell? I can tell you one thing, now that she knows we are moving back to France, she hasn’t sworn off traveling over there to see us. However, she will not be taking the train.
It’s almost scary how much I’ve heard (or overheard) people saying that they’re not going to travel this summer. Why? It’s not because of the economy or because they’re afraid of terrorist attacks. They aren’t going to travel because their kids are too small. While I haven’t given advice where advice is not requested, I did think about it a good bit. We’ve always traveled with our kids, and though the flight to France or 12 hour drive to Louisiana may not be the MOST fun we’ve ever had, the reward has been enjoying our summer travels to places near and far even if we do have little ones. In this post I’m going to focus on traveling with kids in France. We all know that France is the world’s #1 tourist destination, but what usually comes to mind are the museums, fine restaurants, wine tours, etc. In a nutshell… We think of grown-up stuff. When traveling in France with little kids, you may be amazed at how much there is for them to do. It’s just that before you have kids you don’t pay as much attention to what’s going on for the younger set. I’ve been digging around in my pictures looking for shots of our kids having a blast in France. Sometimes you’ll see we’re in Paris, other times in the south.
You can go directly to their website @ www.bateaux–mouches.fr for pricing and schedules. The ride doesn’t last too long, and if you choose to go on the cruise on a day when it’s nice out you can sit outside on the deck as we were in this picture. The cruise along the Seine gives you really nice views of practically all of the important monuments in Paris. In the summer, you have to wait until it’s pretty late if you want to see the monuments illuminated… which might be a challenge if you have really small kids with you. Here’s my baby having so much fun on the carousel in the Champs de Mars park, Eiffel Tower. I wish I could remember how old this carousel is. Let’s just say it’s VERY old and old-fashioned. What I mean is, there’s a guy who stands in the middle and hand cranks the thing so it will turn! Only in Paris! There’s so much fun stuff to do in the Champs de Mars. You’ve got this great park with swings, jungle gyms, this carousel, a sand box. There’s also, on the other side of the park, an area where the kids can ride donkeys, ride in little go-carts, watch a Marionnette show. Here are some pics from the Champs de Mars:
By the way, these swings go REALLLLLY high! So much fun, but make sure you strap ’em in real good! They also have swings like these in the Jardin du Luxembourg, which is over in the Latin Quarter. Another really neat place for people of all ages. Here are some pictures taken over there:
There are plenty of marionnette theaters all over Paris, but for some reason I really like this one in the Jardin du Luxembourg. So much fun. The old man comes out with his bell in hand and starts ringing it when it’s puppet show time. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t speak French (but of course, it helps if you do!) because the show will entertain both your kids AND you regardless. There’s probably no better way to have a truly Parisian experience, right along with REAL French parents and their kids, than at the marionnettes.
This is one of the most beloved activities of our kids at the Jardin du Luxembourg. You rent one of these little sailboats, especially fun on a moderately windy day, and you play to your heart’s content. There’s just a small fee, but you’re good for a solid hour of seeing your sailboat fly across the basin and running to catch up with it. If you go on a day with no wind… you may have to wait awhile for your boat to get to the other side but it’s still so much fun.
Who knew there were so many donkeys in Paris? As at the Champs de Mars, your little one can take a donkey ride at the Jardin du Luxembourg.
What kid doesn’t like trains? In France, a great option with the little ones is to board the fastest train in the world (on rails) and head down for le Midi (the south) where you’re sure to have nice, warm weather and you’ll meet some of the sweetest, most kid loving people on the planet!
When most people think of the south of France, they think of “The Riviera”… La Côte d’Azur. Yes, it’s quite lovely! BUT if you’re on a budget and want to really get to know the south of France, where there are more French people and less tourists, head on over to the Languedoc region. It’s just as beautiful, it’s less crowded, and it’s cheaper!
You’ll be hard pressed in Paris to find an outdoor swimming pool where you can relax, but in the South, finding a pool is no problem!
Now here’s something just as much fun for Maman et Papa as for the kids. Go and take a walk through the vineyards. They’re everywhere, literally. Along the way, maybe you’ll run into a little “dégustation de vin”… WINE TASTING!! Did you know that the Languedoc produces the largest quantity of table wine in France?? And if you’re on foot or if you have a bike, you don’t even have to worry about driving! Yeah… Watch out if you’ve been to a dégustation and then have to drive while you’re in France. They’ll stop you and you’ll get a DUI. It’s gotten really strict. Just don’t do it!
La cigale, the so-called symbol of the South of France. You’ll find them depicted everywhere, on tableclothes, in ceramic form, just everywhere. If you’re really lucky you’ll find one coming out of it’s shell, just being born. It’s a real privilege!
Bullfighting is really big in the south of France in the summertime, but it’s not exactly something you want to go see with your kids…..a liitle too much blood. In Provence, you can go with your kids to see a provençal style “bullfight” where the guys taunt the bull but nobody gets hurt. You can see the guy jumping over the wall here in this picture. It’s pretty exciting, no matter your age.
……..to be continued…….