Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Phew!

The past month has been a whirlwind of vacation, visitors, traveling, and tourism. In 30 days I have taken 14 trains, stayed in 13 different hotels, and seen 21 different cities (in 3 different countries).

It started with Sumner's visit...

We had quite the adventure, traipsing about France! We spent the first weekend in Paris, seeing the sights and attempting to stay warm and dry despite the rain. On Sunday we left for Nantes and a bit of reality – or as much reality as you can call studying abroad in France! I went to class and took two exams while Sumner slept and entertained himself on the tram, in the library, and at our abroad center. He even ventured out and found lunch for us all on his own one afternoon! He got to meet my host family – quite an experience given they spoke no English to him! But he whipped out his 11th grade French and managed just fine. It was fun to finally show someone my life here first hand. On Thursday, we were headed back to Paris. This time for a mini-Cornell reunion. There must have been about eight or so of us at least! It was the most bizarre thing, but so fun and such a welcome taste of home. Sumner and I found time to do it all: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysee, the Concorde, the Bastille (or… what’s left of it!), Jeu de Paume, the Tuilleries Gardens, the Latin Quarter, the Marais, the Notre Dame, the Bateaux Mouches, the Louvre (although we didn’t actually go inside…), the Orsay, the Pompidou (again, not inside… but Sumner did participate – in a hysterical little sidewalk skit out front – as a motorcycle riding, numb-chuck throwing, Japanese lover!), the Sacre Coeur & the Moulin Rouge, Versailles, and Saint-Denis (duh, to see the tombs of all the kings of france, including the box that holds the heart of Louis XIV!). Sumner was a champ with the jet-lag and kept me entertained the whole time with tales of kings and wars and all sorts of fascinating historical tidbits :) Sunday came faster than we could have ever imagined and in the blink of an eye we were at the airport again saying goodbye.



Four days after that (four days of class and re-packing!) I was headed to Paris again, this time to meet up with the Griswold clan. Mom, Dad, and Ben showed up in Paris with a van filled with suitcases (I’ll admit, at least one of them was for me!) and looking like zombies. The next 12 days were filled with adventures and craziness… Paris to Rouen to Honfleur to Caen to Arromanches to Mount St. Michel to St. Malo to Dinan to Nantes to Tours to Villandry to Orleans to Versailles. Phew! There’s so much I could say about those days, but I’ll limit myself to just a few...


The Mallare's Do France – Top Five Griswaldian Moments

#5 – I booked almost every hotel we stayed in… except in Dinan. Dad gets to take all the credit for that one. Our room was at the end of a long narrow alley, surrounded by graffiti covered walls. The room was just large enough for three beds – a full and two twins. The bathroom was hardly big enough for the tub. There was however a lovely vase on top of the 6” TV filled with dusty silk flowers from the dollar store. Oh, and two teeny hanging pictures of ducks. Did I mention the lock-down kitchen? It was in the corner… literally, locked down – almost like a closed vendors stand – with a metal sliding door pulled down over it. Needless to say, if the alley weren’t so sketchy, we would’ve made dad sleep outside in the doghouse.

#4 – We never did quite figure out the toilets. There was the one that spun around after you flushed (mom was very frighted by this) and also the one that sounded like a large barking dog when you flushed (dad said something about flushing upwards…?). But by far the best was the toilet in St. Malo. You had to pay to use it – 30 cents. We tried the first door but it took our money without letting us in. So, we tried the next. Mom and I went in together in an attempt to save money (as if dad’s hotel wasn’t enough…) and just as I went to sit down, the toilet seat went down. Almost as if it were possessed. Honestly, I hadn’t even noticed it was up in the first place! So mom and I finish up but can’t for the life of us figure out how to flush. Whatever, we said. We go to the door and let dad in (that’s 30 more cents saved, you know). And no sooner does the door click shut when we hear the loudest sound of gushing water followed by the sound of Dad screaming. Mom and I frantically tried to open the door, but with no money, we were helpless. Personally, I figured dad had tried to flush the toilet by unscrewing some valve and now the bathroom was flooding! After a few seconds dad comes to the door. His look says it all. As do his soaking wet pant legs. Turns out it was an automatic cleaning bathroom. Dad described it as: water gushing out of the walls.

#3 – The entire driving experience was quite the… adventure. First of all, we couldn’t go anywhere without being noticed because we were sporting a huge diesel minivan that towered over all of the teeny European cars. Secondly, we’re still not quite sure what half of the road signs mean! The day we went to get the car we walked into the rental office only to be told that dad needed to have his passport. I tried my hardest to explain to the man that we could bring it back to him after he gave us the car, but he wasn’t falling for it. So dad and I went on a 90 minute trek – walking to the metro, waiting for the metro, on the metro, switching metros, on the metro again, walking to the hotel, finding the passport… and then back again. When we finally got the car it was filled with dirt and trash and peanut shells (or were they pistachio?). I asked the man if we could vacuum it out but he told me it was too much trouble to get the vacuum out. Just go before we can’t anymore, I told dad. We spent over an hour going the less than 5 miles back to the hotel. Who knows how many times we circled the same roads looking for one that wasn’t one way in the wrong direction! We finally got there, loaded up the car and headed for anywhere but here. Unfortunately, within a few minutes we found ourselves in the middle of a “pieton”: pedestrian only zone. I have no idea how we got in there and am still amazed at how adeptly dad reversed his way all the way out. I could go on, but needless to say, I’m happy to be back to public transportation!

#2 – As soon as we got out of Paris, we had to stop to fill up on gas. Man oh man. Having never been to a French gas station, I wasn’t much help. Dad seemed to handle it just fine, or so we thought. But then, as we’re driving down the road he asks me what the word for diesel is in French. We're still not quite sure what he put in back there… And then, a few miles further down the road, Dad gasps.

Oh no, he says

What?!

I never paid.

You never paid?

I never paid for the gas.

You never paid for the gas!?!

No, I never paid for the gas.

While everyone watched out the back window for the cops that we were convinced would be behind us in any minute, I found the number for the gas station of the receipt for my water bottle and called them up. In French, I tried to explain that we were the people who had just gotten gas at pump 3 but forgot to pay. I asked if I could give him a credit card number over the phone. He said no, it was better if I just came back. I said, sorry sir, but there’s no way we can do that… we barely found our way out of there and there’s no way we can get back! He said, ok. I said ok. And then we hung up! Dad, of course, spent the next few days worrying over his transgression and having nightmares about being arrested at customs on his way home. Luckily he made it home just fine and there’s been no word on the stolen diesel (or was it unleaded?!).

#1 – The number one griswaldian moment… Friday morning. We were getting ready to head out of Nantes towards Tours. Over half way through the trip, we all had a lot of dirty laundry. So, we found a little “laverie” where we could wash our clothes. We had no detergent and no change… a situation which took an hour or so and several trips to the Tabac to try and get coins to remedy. We finally got the wash going and then transferred it all into one dryer. We were at this point exhausted and more than a little irritable, so we headed around the corner to grab lunch. We came back 45 minutes later to pack everything up and head out of town. I walked in first. I promptly turned around, and emotionlessly reported, “And, it’s all gone.” That’s right. All of it. Gone. Not there. An entire dryer filled to the brim with all of our clothes - gone. Luckily mom and I hadn’t put anything special in... unfortunately Ben and Dad couldn’t have said the same. Everyone had enough left to get by… although I did lose over half of my underwear and am now waiting on mom to send more from home! We still don’t know what exactly happened, except that while we were gone someone took our laundry. I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for Dad’s jacket or ben’s jeans and button downs or my undies… but I haven’t stumbled upon them yet. I’m not really quite sure what I’d even do if I ever did...

So there you have it… I could go on, of course, about the number of times we ordered food and got something other than what we were expected, about how ben ate steak tartare, about when the bird pooped on me, about ben’s nightly staring contests with the unabashed French women in every restaurant, about sharing one hotel room and one bath (that’s bathtub – as in no shower) with four people for eight nights in a row…



Despite it all, I was happy to have my family in France… even if I’m pretty sure they’ll never come back again!


As they were headed for the airport, I was on my way to the south of France. Honest, there’s not much to say except that it was beautiful and relaxing. I was with two good friends from my program, and all three of us were exhausted from traveling. And so, we spent a fair amount of time just lazing about, sitting in cafes, watching movies, sitting by the beach, reading, journaling, chatting, eating, sleeping in, and going to bed early. We saw almost all of the Riviera – Nice, Eze, Monaco, Menton, Ventemiglia (a small Italian town right on the border!), and Antibes. We spent the last weekend wandering around the streets of Aix-en-Provence and finally on Sunday got on a train for home.

And so, I’m back in Nantes now. Five weeks left until I head home. Five weeks to make up for the month of vacation I just took! All of that sleeping and traveling and relaxing is quickly being replaced with lectures, papers, and exams.

Not that I’m complaining or anything :)

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Erica! I've been thinking about you a lot. I'm so glad your dad and mom and Ben came to travel with you in France. Your blog about your experiences is hysterical! I love all your descriptions. You are a talented storyteller. I hope you're keeping all your memoirs so that you can have them compiled and printed. They're much too precious not to have printed. I wish I could have been with you. "I love Paris in the springtime!" I've been there about three times and I relish those memories. When you come home, I'm going to try practicing my French on you! Grama loves you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck. See you again in Maryland. Love from your own Gramatina.

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