Les vacances sont fini

My parents have flown back to Nova Scotia, so the vacation is now officially over. We’ve set about recovering from the time away and resuming our daily lives. We both have tomorrow off and plan to relax a little, but soon it’ll be time for the office and the gym and groceries and bills and blah blah blah.

We had one last farewell to the festivities last night, having dinner at Fieramosca with my parents and my aunt and uncle from Guelph. Now every member of my immediate family, and Nellie’s, has been there with us at least once. It was, as always, a terrific evening and a good way to cap things off.

Actually, getting my parents to the airport on time was a bit of an adventure. We booked a car from Autoshare to drive them and Nellie went across the street to pick it up. After fifteen minutes she still hadn’t shown up (the car is parked right across the street) so we were all puzzled. Ten minutes after that I was starting to get a little worried, but five minutes later she appeared. See, the downtown core was slammed today: Nuit Blanche has shut down some streets and both the Toronto waterfront marathon and the Run for the Cure were on today. This meant road not only closures, but also that thousands of people who’d just finished running were trying to drive out of the city…and we were already thirty minutes behind our (conservative, admittedly) schedule. Calling a cab would’ve taken too long so we drove anyway; after crawling along Queen Street we thought we were home free on University…until we saw that Word on the Street was blocking the entirety of Queen’s Park. Apparently it’s festival weekend in Toronto. Anyway, after a slight diversion around WotS we booted up Avenue and cruised to the airport, arriving in plenty of time for their flight. We think.

.:.

I saw some really great places on our trip — highlights include the view from Domme, walking around the old centre of Sarlat, the rooms at the Relais Franc Mayne and pretty much all of Paris — but the five days spent at the chateau with so many friends and family, in such a phenomenal location, for such an auspicious occasion, is really what I’ll remember about the trip. It was just one great memory piled on top of the next. As I said before, it was a once-in-a-lifetime happening. I can’t believe it’s only been a week since we left. Already I miss it terribly.

.:.

One more good thing about France:

  • Original weight: 233
  • Weight last week: 227
  • Weight this week: 221.5

Yup…I actually lost weight, despite a steady infusion of pain au chocolate and booze. I may have lost even more than those 5.5 pounds but put a bit back on once I arrived in Toronto.

Clearly I need to spend more time in France.

.:.

Given how many times I’ve watched these two movies, I can’t believe I didn’t notice this before now:

“The (toy) bear that Jack Ryan brings home to his daughter at the end of The Hunt for Red October is the exact same bear that Bruce Willis brings to his son in Die Hard (both films were directed by John McTiernan).”

[via John Sakamoto]

[tags]fieramosca, autoshare, nuit blanche, toronto waterfront marathon, run for the cure, word on the street, relais franc mayne, domme, sarlat, die hard, hunt for red october[/tags]

I shall require chemical assistance

Still in wind-down mode with my parents. Since we’re all still on French time we were up early; I’ve been awake since 3:30 and the others were up shortly after that. We went to Eggstasy for breakfast and did a little shopping; since then we’ve spent most of our day on the couch. I wish I’d taken a nap; not sure how I’ll make it through dinner tonight, let alone all the stuff I need to do.

I may have to learn to love the espresso.

[tags]jet lag, eggstasy[/tags]

Brain –> sleep mode

I’ve been up for about 20 hours so my battery’s starting to run down. Even if there were a lot to say about this leg of the journey I’d have to be brief.The day started with one last meal of pastries and fruit before the cab ride to the airport. We left at our usual conservative time — 2:40 before our flight — but encountered miles of traffic snarled due to an accident along the way. We arrived at Charles de Gaulle, checked in as quickly as possible (my mother still has no idea what was on her screen; I was punching buttons at top speed), threw our bags on the belt and snaked through security. Just as we cleared security we saw on the board that they had just closed boarding; luckily we happened to be right next to the gate and ran through. As it turned out we weren’t even the last people on the bus used to ferry people over to the plane, but it was all enough to twist Nellie’s guts into a ball.

The flight home was uneventful; I barely remember it, though it’s been just a few hours since we de-planed. I was still in a bit of a haze, really; all our experiences in France will come rushing back over the next few days as I pore through the pictures, and many of them ran through my head today on the flight home. Tonight our main concentration was on relaxing, welcoming my mom & dad to Toronto and showing them our new place, saying hello to our cats and getting some sleep.

[tags]paris, france, toronto[/tags]

Winding down

This morning started as all mornings should: with pastries. Freshly stuffed, we were on the go by 9:00, heading toward the Eiffel Tower. We walked down the parc du champ de mars and got pictures of the tower — currently cradling an enormous rugby ball — from up close. I’m glad we didn’t want to take the elevator up; the lines were already miles long.

Instead we ducked out of the cold and onto the batobus, a hop-on-hop-off bus tour up the Seine. Really we were just using it as a water taxi from the tower to Notre Dame and back. We hopped off near Notre Dame and had a look around (impressive, but way too crowded with yahoos), had lunch at a nearby tourist trap and had a look at the stained glass inside Saint Chapelle as well.

Back on the batobus we went and looped around to the Champs Elysees stop. We walked the avenue for a bit, stopped so my mom could buy a bag and jumped in a cab back to the hotel. Nellie, my dad and I went ’round the corner to the Rodin museum to admire the sculpture and gardens, before scoping out some dinner options and grabbing afternoon snacks.

Dinner was at a brasserie down the street, and it was nice to have a reasonably proper French meal before we left. Everyone enjoyed their meal, our waiter was crazy and fun, and we were finished nice and early so we could relax for the rest of the night, just the way we wanted it. We finished off the chocolate and wine, packed all our stuff (re-packed in some cases; my big suitcase was pushing 25kg) and Nellie filled out her postcards. We were ready to go. One more night in France and then it’s back to Toronto.Yaaay?

[tags]paris, eiffel tower, notre dame, champs elysees, rodin museum[/tags]

Back where it all started

After a wait, and being accosted by a little old French lady who was upset I didn’t speak her language (rightly so) our train arrived. We had a little trouble finding room for all our luggage and Nellie had to kick an old lady out of her seat, but we made it.

We pulled into Paris’ Gare Montparnasse about half an hour late, and it took another half hour to get a cab. It would’ve taken only a few minutes to reach our hotel except military-type guys kept turning our cab away. We eventually had to just jump out and walk the last few blocks…in the rain, of course! Anyway, our hotel seemed reasonable and we immediately set out for some dinner and to catch at least an hour or two at the Louvre. To get there we walked through a good portion of St-Germain, a beautiful part of town.

Dinner was pretty good*, and quick, which is what we needed. A few minutes later we crossed the Pont du Carousel — an amazing sight at night, by the way, and entered the Louvre. We had less than two hours so we did speed runs to some of the biggies. The Mona Lisa was swarmed and the Venus de Milo was beset by photographers, who Nellie and my dad and I decided to mess with a bit. At this point my parents were bagged so we decided to call it quits. Someday I’ll come back to Paris and spend an entire day here.

We still haven’t figured out how taxis work here in Paris, so we decided to just walk home. Unfortunately it was a cold night and my mom’s feet were hurting, but we eventually made it in one piece. Nellie and I then plopped down on the bed with some gourmet chocolate and a bottle of wine (which we nicked from my brother’s wedding). Vive la France!

*I ordered the jumbo prawns. I forgot that in france they arrive with the heads and legs still attached. It went against my preference to only eat things without the eyes remaining but I managed.

[tags]france, paris, montparnasse, louvre, saint germain[/tags]

Waiting for a train

Having a computer with proper internet access is a beautiful thing when travelling, even if it is French (who knew the French don’t use QWERTY keyboards?), for finding things out. My Blackberry has served us well, but it just can’t match the speed with which I found out the weather in Paris and Toronto, located a nearby gas station, updated some Facebook crap, moderated some blog comments and confirmed a train departure time + station. Not to mention all the camera maintenance we were able to do last night.

We gassed (diesel’d?) up the car and drove to the train station in Libourne. We erred on the side of caution, which was a mistake, ’cause by the time we returned our cars and got to the station we still had nearly two hours to wait. Sigh.

[tags]france, chateau franc mayne, saint-emilion, libourne, the internets[/tags]

West into wine country

I really should post throughout the day. Saving it all up ’til the nighttime is too time-consuming.

First order of business today was to get ourselves some breakfast. Normally I wouldn’t pay to get it from a hotel but today’s was quite good. Lots of very good pastries, drinks, breads, yogurt, etc., and we saved time by not having to go find it.

Next up Nellie and I did a little touring around Sarlat after the others left to explore some caves. Stopped by the market, picked up road snacks and gourmet chocolates, bought croissants and pain au chocolate from a 120-year-old bakery, toured some back streets and got on the move. After a few detours getting out of town we were on our way to Domme.

Domme’s an old fortified city on a hill overlooking the Dordogne river, and the view from the top was spectacular. We got a pile of shots and admired the sweeping views and perfect weather. As we sat near the railing and drank cafe viennoise the bell in the cathedral next to us began to ring, and nearly shook our ears off. Anyway, down the hill we went and set off along the Dordogne.

We drove through some very pretty towns built along the water, then some nice countryside as the river wound along. We arrived in Saint-Emilion just after a slew of tractors; the town was also choked with tourists, so we guessed the first harvest must be happening. Just outside the town we reached our chateau, arriving only 60 seconds before les autres…pretty good timing. Just as we arrived a tour of the winery (our chateau is in a working vineyard) started, and my dad quite enjoyed the winemaking discussion and the limestone caves. Nellie and I bought a few bottles too.

The chateau was gorgeous, by the way. Just stunning. The rooms were all intricate and unique, the other rooms were ornate and luxurious, there was a natural swimming pool, we were surrounded by vineyards as far as the eye could see…simply amazing. There was even a nice little lounge with a pool table and an internet connection to relax if the plush sofas and brandy aren’t your thing.

Anyway, back to the day’s activities: we drove into Libourne to get some dinner, but that town is crap. We couldn’t find anywhere to eat, and what we did find was closed. We managed to find one bar that served basic pub fare, but that was it. Literally, one bar. It was smoky, but the food was serviceable and the waiters were very nice. Not a typical French meal but we didn’t have much to choose from.

Tomorrow: back to Paris on the TGV!

[tags]france, sarlat, villa des consuls, domme, saint-emilion, chateau franc mayne, libourne[/tags]

The long and winding (and winding and winding) road

After leaving the chateau we started the next part of our trip, driving north to Agen and turning east. The farmland changed substantially almost as soon as we left, becoming very green. As we drove east we noticed it getting rockier, especially as we drove into the very pretty main street of Cahors.

After having lunch in a Cahors cafe we took some pictures of the Pont de Valences and decided to head to Rocamadour. The ground changed very suddenly, and we were climbing solid rock. We soon left the highway, winding our way down ever-shrinking roads, and twisting here and there, high and low, like a writhing snake all over the French countryside. Finally we reached Rocamadour and it was a breathtaking sight. The town is carved into the side of a mountain high above a valley, and we had to pull over (on some very dodgy roads) for pictures.

We probably should have left after that but we went up into the city. It was about 8 different kinds of tacky. Very tourist trap. Dad and I climbed the stairs to the top (wrong day to wear a hoodie!) for some pictures before we fled the schamltz. We now turned northwest toward Sarlat.

It took us about an hour to hit the outskirts of Sarlat, having crossed and driven along the Dordogne river, just as it began to rain. Lack of adequate maps, confusing streets and the pouring rain made it very difficult to find our hotel, so we spent quite a bit of time driving around the winding city streets. Finally we found it and checked in, then had another hard time finding the parking garage. It’s a beautiful little town, but it’s been wet and confusing so far!

The front desk suggested a hotel; we asked for casual and quick, but where he sent us was fancy and expensive. After waiting 45 minutes to have our order taken and realizing we didn’t want to stay anyway, we buggered off. Sometimes you just have to call it. Anyway, plan B — a pizzeria — ended up hitting the spot. I know, having pizza in France seems sacreligious, but sometimes after a long day you just need some comfort food. A quick stroll to see the cathedral and we went home for the night. Sweet, sweet bed.

[tags]france, agen, cahord, rocamadour, sarlat[/tags]

Farewell and adieu

I’m sad. We’re just about to leave the chateau, and we’ve come to think of the place as our French home. We’ve fallen in love with the rooms (even the secret kind*), the courtyard, the pool, the countryside, the owners and staff, and all the new family and friends. This gathering really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and as great as the remainder of the trip will be, it’s a little depressing to think that this chapter is coming to a close.

However, tomorrow’s a new adventure, and we have pictures, blog postings and visions burned into our minds (one of the better ones involves “99 Problems” by Jay-Z) to help us remember.

* Two bedrooms have two trapdoors each leading to the cave (or basement) where people have been hidden over the years. Our guesses are priests, French resistance and/or particularly delicious wine.

[tags]france, lartigolle[/tags]