Sunday, June 23, 2013

Katey's Family in France Part One: Farm Life!

Well, we made it. As I type this, I am safely in an apartment in Paris where we will be staying for the next ten days, so you know we survived the first four.

That makes the beginning of our trip sound excessively dramatic, but what am I if not high-strung, up-tight, and, well, a little dramatic?

Anyway, we arrived on Wednesday and as we left the airport were promptly greeted by a man offering his taxi services. Had I been alone, my mind would have instantly jumped to the various Taken scenarios that could play out, and I would have become increasingly aware of my lack of a Liam Neeson-esque figure to save me. In fact, I would be lying if I said this didn't occur to me anyway, but it seemed like a long shot that anyone would want to kidnap me AND my parents, and we did need a taxi. Anyway, it ended up being a fairly legit car service and only minimally overpriced.

And so, we made it to the hotel!

We stayed at the Hôtel Odéon Saint-Germain, which was very nice, very French, and kind of quirky. It's an old building and very cute and classy. We were only there two nights, and everyone was a little tired the first day/evening. This recent grad was still recovering from finishing school, graduating, and celebrating graduation, resulting in exceptional fatigue (and possibly a weakened immune system - I currently have a bit of a cold). I was thus not super in the mood to adventure out and about with my new-to-Paris parentals. My dad, for his part, was not used to international travel and was exhausted. My mom and I ran a few errands, and when I went to sleep she had her first Parisian meal solo. But she totally loved it.
The next day, we finished arranging our plans for the next two days. We had booked a rental car from Rouen when we first arrived in Paris, but we had to go to the train station to buy the train tickets. Also, I thought (correctly, per usual) that it would be good for my parents to experience the metro ride we would take there the next day. We successfully went through all of this and on our way back walked around the Île de la Cité and the Île St. Louis. We had lunch at a café near Notre Dame, walked past the apartment my aunt and uncle and I stayed in when I was 13, and even made it to the Holocaust monument. 

Friends who were in Paris recently (or ever): There's a huge contraption of sorts in front of Notre Dame to celebrate its 850th anniversary. I will investigate further and report back. 

People were handing out these free drinks in the park on the left bank by Notre Dame. It's a sort of carbonated apricot and apple juice. Not too shabby.
All in all a successful first intro to Paris.
We finished the day with dinner at Les Editeurs, the restaurant my mom had been to the night before. I very much recommend it to those who find themselves in that area of Paris. 

The next morning I was quite anxious about getting my parents through the metro and onto the train with our luggage all safe and sound, but somehow we did it. The only mishap was my dear father getting stuck in the turnstile with his suitcase and bag. Embarrassing and a hassel, but a relatively minor incident. Anyhow, we made it on the train and to Rouen. There, we had lunch at a self-proclaimed "pub" in the train station while we waited for the Avis people to return from lunch. We were then able to get our car. 

One of my favorite things about being outside of Paris is how much more wiling people are to speak French to me. That said, I was a little surprised that the Avis man had so few qualms about explaining the details of our car and what to do in case of an emergency entirely in French. At any rate, I remembered to ask for a GPS, listened as carefully as possible to his instructions, and we were on our way. My dad and I made a surprisingly good team in terms of navigating to our lodging in Villers-Bocage (and I mean seriously surprising if you've ever seen us in the car together).

Just past Villers-Bocage, we found our home for the next two nights, aka the single most adorable place one could think of staying in Normandie: La Ferme du Pressoir.

But seriously, how cute is that? Pressoir refers to an old machine that was used to make cider, which is what this farm used to make. Odile, the woman who runs the bed and breakfast, welcomed us with fresh, local cider, and I translated some conversation about where we were from, what we were hoping to do this weekend, and of course what the farm currently grows and how the cows etc. compare to the farm my dad grew up on (this piece of conversation presented a couple of vocabulary obstacles, but everyone got the gist of it). She and her husband turned the farm (built in 1787 and lucky enough to have missed most of the WWII bombs) into a B&B when they got married 34 years ago, but it's still a farm too!

The room we stayed in looked like this:

And for breakfast, Odile set everything out like this:

Plus coffee and omelets. And if it's not clear in the photo, there's so many types of pastries on that table. All of which are delicious. And in case we didn't have super human abilities to eat everything, she gave us little bags to take snacks. It was like staying with my darling friend Margot's family in Bretagne, because Odile very much treated us like friends or family. I have never stayed somewhere so warm and welcoming, not to mention full of delicious food!

Friday night, Odile encouraged us to try Au Vrai Normande in Villers-Bocage. We got there somewhat awkwardly early (6:50 when they opened for dinner at 7 - oops!), but the food was simply fabulous. It was traditional regional food and from the wine to dessert, all was excellent. 

Saturday morning we started out with Mont St. Michel, a personal favorite of mine and a fun new experience for the parents. 

The stairs may have been a bit more than expected, but all in all, I think everyone really enjoyed it. Also, my tour-guiding skills were put to good use, because the actual guides were on strike (and apparently took the audio guides with them? For whatever reason, they were likewise unavailable.). This was actually a good deal, because it meant we got in for free! And I can share brochure information from room to room like nobody's business. 

Then it was off to Saint-Lô, just for a look at the ramparts and some more pretty views. Then we headed to the Musée Airborne in Ste.-Mère-Église. It's actually a fascinating museum, and I would definitely recommend it. It has lots of cool artifacts and information particularly about the parachuters in Normandy. John Steele is particularly interesting and a statue of him is on the church across from the museum. If I'm not the last person in the world to learn his story, it's definitely worth researching. 

One of the museum exhibits; they have some of the planes and parachutes there. 
We then went on to Omaha Beach to see the Cimetière Américain de Normandie. It is really a spectacular cemetery. The visitor's center has a lot of interesting exhibits and information, the monument is exceptionally well done, the chapel is beautiful, and the cemetery itself is, of course, quite moving.
View of the beaches from the cemetery.
The monument. 

View of the cemetery from the monument.
After quite the full day, we headed into Bayeux for dinner at the recommended Le Pommier. It was excellent, and since we were celebrating my parents' 39th (yes, 39!!) wedding anniversary, we went all out. We can think of our wonderful Normandie meals as a way to make up for my dad's failure to reserve a hotel room on their wedding night. Plus Le Pommier was next to this rather incredible cathedral. Needless to say, my mother made our walk to the car about three times as long with her picture-taking.

After a wonderful day, we went to sleep at our B&B only to wake up to another wonderful breakfast. We made sure to get a picture with Odile, who made sure to show us around the rest of the farm and B&B before we left. She was full of recommendations about sites to see on the way back to Rouen, and sent us with some cookies on our way out. I can't recommend La Ferme du Pressoir enough if you're headed to Normandy. I certainly hope I can go back!

 And then today, we drove to Rouen and somehow got the car returned safely, got on our train, and got a cab to the apartment. Of course, there was a protest and lots of traffic, so I had to call the woman with the key and explain to her. And then the cab driver said it would be faster for us to get out of the car and walk down the street, but of course as we did it started pouring down rain. Like pouring. But we made it. And now my parents are out getting dinner, but given that I caught a cold somewhere around the train ride to Rouen, I thought I might do well to stay in with some tea and Meow or Never.

Tomorrow kicks off a busy busy ten days! I'm especially excited for the ballet at the Opéra Garnier (which I gave a presentation on in Paris last summer!) tomorrow evening. I'll tell you all about it, but bonsoir for now!


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