This was taken around 9 or 10 at night from our balcony. A couple hours later it was considerably louder and more lively as there were drummers and a bagpipe player and lots and lots of people in the lane.
Today was an up and down day. We are 3 weeks into our travels and the kids are feeling homesick. The food is different, they miss their friends, sleeping in their own beds and especially their dad. It is hard and disorienting to not be able to read anything or understand anything being said around you. I'm trying to channel extra grace and compassion but as the children have pointed out I sometimes fall short.
We went back to the marketplace, ate lunch, stopped at the grocery store and returned to the apartment.
Det55 and I went out again later to walk around. We saw a sword fighting demonstration that was kind of boring because they were demonstrating technique and rather than letting them sword fight and then talking about technique. There are street performers and musicians all over town. We stopped and listened to a rather lively band. We enjoyed it so much we bought a cd of their music.
I made hamburgers and fries for dinner. The kids did various things before getting ready for bed. At midnight the drummers across the street were going strong, occasionally joined by bagpipes. I think we all will be tired tomorrow.
I've been trying to think of how to describe this place. Imagine a town of stone buildings that are generally 5 stories tall with big wooden shutters over the windows. Insert several narrow cobblestone lanes and alleyways. Now layer banners and flags all over along with lots of flower boxes filled with beautiful flowers. Add music - flutes, festival music, sometimes drumming, occasionally bagpipes. Imagine lively conversations in different languages (very, very little of it English). Lastly, populate it with thousands of people in period costumes of all types. The number of people in costume vastly outnumber those of us not in costume. Whole families are dressed up, moms dads, teens, 20 somethings, grandparents, kids, babies. Add perfect weather- sunny, fluffy white clouds, cool temps. For spice put outdoor food stalls with all kinds of foods for sale. This place knows how to throw a party.
Here are some pictures:
I put more photos in a slideshow
We are taking it easy today. I ventured out for a while. There are a lot more people in town. The ratio of costumes to not in costume is much lower. We have tickets to an archery contest tonight. The winner is crowned "King of the Birds" and if google translate is correct they win a sword.
Even though the kids have stayed in today the festival has come to us. Our lane is part of the route for drummers and processions so we still have been able to see different things.
Here's a video taken earlier saturday of a parade of "Kings and Queens" or perhaps people who bought super expensive costumes who strolled past our balcony.
Sept 18, 2014
The festival got underway in ernest today with many activities around town- music, street entertainers, craft demonstrations and a marketplace. I've encouraged the kids to go out exploring on their own. Enmgamer and Det55 went out independently of each other to do reconnaissance. I was very proud of them for venturing out on their own. Det55 even bought herself a pastry in the shop near the apartment.
We spent quite a bit of time walking around the marketplace. The kids want to buy swords to take home. They actually are very nice and a really good price but I don't know how to mail them home. Ltmgamer bought a small wooden crossbow with suction cup tipped arrows. I think I can take it apart to fit it in his suitcase. Det55 bought a tiara, Enmgamer bought a dagger necklace and I bought a scarf.
There are many school groups going to the festival on field trips. Many of the kids are dressed in costume as are their teachers. There is a lot of pint-size cuteness around town.
The night ended with attending a 1 hour skit. It was all in French so we couldn't understand what was being said but the gist of the storyline was- Princess damsel in distress needed to be rescued from the red baron and his sidekick. Two good guy knights on horseback came to the rescue. Jousting, sword fighting and feats of skill ensued. Things were looking bad for the good guys when the prince arrived in a nick of time. More jousting, sword fighting and broadaxes. Good triumphed in the end and the prince and princess rode off. Songs from several movies (Star Wars, Princess Bride and Pirates of the Caribbean) were played though out for dramatic effect. A good time was had by all and we all enjoyed it even though we couldn't understand any of the dialog. Det55 had renamed all the horses and actors after her favorite movie characters.
Here'a a common view from our balcony day and evening.
16 September 14
Det55 started her day practicing Spanish on Duolingo and catching up on her journaling. Ltmgamer and I worked on some new French words and he dictated some information to me for his journal.
Today we bought tickets for the jousting tournament and the archery competition and walked around a bit. This town is small and although the lanes are narrow the number of cars are limited (only residents and deliver people can drive in the old town). It feels very safe so I told the kids they can go off exploring if they want. Det55 and Ltmgamer took off one direction and Enmgamer and I went a different way with plans to meet back at the apartment in 1 ½ hours. We window shopped and did a little souvenir shopping and I found some pj’s for Ltmgamer. We’d intended to pack him 2 pairs but somehow only one made it into the bag. The clothes in the kid’s store were really cute and very well made. Definitely had a European look to them. I know how the kids I’ve seen look so stylish.
After lunch I took a nap and told the kids they could go explore if they wanted. Det55 went off on her own and came back to tell us she wanted us to come with her to see what she’d found. We had all went with her and she took us up the hill to the cathedral and a lovely view of the town she’d discovered.
The kids read and entertained themselves while I made dinner. I’ve spent a good part of today trying to get caught up on blog entries. I just have to pair them with some photos and I will be current.
Sept 17 The festival started today with a parade that started at the steps of the old cathedral. It was really cool. The sun was setting, the street was filled with people in costume and the old building and cobblestone lanes really added to the atmosphere. Especially since many of these buildings were here during medieval times. We really enjoyed the parade. Afterwards we walked around. Stopped at a corner restaurant and ate crepes and just enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere. There are lots of families out and about and it feels very safe to be out exploring after dark. Earlier in the day Det55 and I went grocery shopping and found an old bookstore with a few books in English.
Sept 15, 2014 We went to the tourist information office (right around the corner by the grocery store) to pick up some information about the festival (unfortunately only written in French). It does have a map however of where all the events are held so we can at least know where things are happening. The woman at the counter was really nice and even complimented me on my French but it is really not very good. Once I use google translate to figure out some of the information I’ll return to get tickets for the jousting show and the archery competition. The other thing on the to do list for today was “rent cloaks for the festival”. It’s ironic that we’d be renting cloaks because Enmgamer surprised her siblings at Christmas with fantastic cloaks that she had made for them (and for herself). They wouldn’t fit in our bags so we decided to rent cloaks in Le Puy instead.
The costume rental place is 2 doors down from the apartment. It was just classic- Inside the large building was a man in a blue and white striped shirt and white pants and a woman that seemed to be in charge. We waited our turn and I tried to explain why we were there. He didn’t speak English but we were mostly able to get the gist of what the other was trying to communicate. The nice man took us into a large room with racks of medieval clothes in various sizes. The cloaks were plain brown and there wasn’t one small enough for Ltmgamer so he tried on an outfit instead. I thought we’d about accomplished one of our main tasks for the day until it came time to pay. Seems they only take checks. Not credit cards or cash. I think the man would have probably been okay with the cash but the woman said no, she was apologetic about it but was firm on that point. Something about regulations. Anyway we left, cloakless. Enmgamer said that was okay because they were heavy.
On the walk back to the apartment we noticed the store across the street with leather medieval bustiers was open. You’d think we’d stepped back in time. Music was playing and a guy with long hair, a peasant shirt and leather pants was pounding a design into a large piece of leather. His dog was walking around and while we were there a friend of his arrived- a woman dressed in a belly dancing type outfit because why not? Through the doorway into the back there were guys practicing juggling. The store had some really cool stuff and Det55 asked if I would pay what I was going to spend on cloak rental and they would pay the rest out of their souvenir money. Sounded like a fair deal to me so the kids settled on buying leather arm pieces. Ltmgamer’s had to be trimmed to fit correctly. It actually worked out really well because the arm bands make a nice souvenir from our time here and they will look great with their cloaks at home. All’s well that ends well.
After lunch and taste testing 3 different brands of chocolate mousse pudding cups (including one that came in a glass) we went walking around to explore the town. We found a combination bookstore and electronics store and spent quite a bit of time looking around. Det55 found a book with intricate designs to color & Enmgamer found a rubics cube. She’s been practicing the algorithms for solving it and is getting faster and faster at solving it
I baked a chicken and we had salad, boiled potatoes and chicken for dinner followed by bakery goodies for dessert.
At one point in the afternoon we heard drumming and looked out and found the leather working guy was outside his shop playing a large drum while 2 of his friends stood in the lane juggling. They were pretty good. Surprisingly some folks just strolled right on past them and didn’t even stop to watch. It is not everyday we have jugglers outside our window.
Ltmgamer and Det 55 and I went to look for a park but didn’t find one. We walked around the old cathedral and Ltmgamer ran up and down some hills before returning home.
I awoke feeling a bit nervous about the day. Navigation is not my strong point but is for Paul. We both do research on the where we are going, I find the accommodations and Paul figures out how to get around. It works vey well. For the next 9 weeks however I will be parenting solo and it will be up to me to figure out the logistics across 5 countries. It’s some of that growth and education that is the intention of this trip but now that it is here my confidence is a little shaky. It has also taken me a long time to wrap my head around Paul not being here with us for the whole trip. These 9 weeks will be the longest amount of time we’ve been apart in the 25 years we’ve been married.
I’m hoping I’m able to get around without losing the kids or our stuff. We packed light and each have one carryon and a backpack but still with my purse it is 10 bags plus the 3 kids and myself.
The kids are pretty sure we will be lost most of the time. I’ve told them that’s not a problem. I know the world is round and we’ll get where we are going eventually. I also know “Visa is accepted everywhere we want to be” so if travel plans get completely derailed we can stop at a hotel, eat dinner, regroup and start again the next day. After all, as Scarlett O’Hara says “Tomorrow is another day”.
We cleaned up the apartment and walked to the metro. Paul was headed in one direction to the airport and the kids and I were on the same line headed the other direction. As it turned out, the kids and I made all our metro, train and bus connections if only by the skin of our teeth. At one point I thought we might be in real trouble as I stepped on the train to ask if I was on the right one and the door closed behind me with the kids and all the luggage on the platform. Normally that would immediately be followed by the train pulling out of the station but thankfully this time it wasn’t. Lydia found the button to open the door and it turned out we were at the right car after all.
Nice people helped point us in the right direction along the way. I found police in the station to be good sources of information even if they weren’t always thrilled yet another tourist was asking them questions.
The south of France is hilly and we saw lots of open farmland as well as forest. We saw some Holsteins but mainly we saw Charolaise (beef cattle). They are bred for different characteristics here as compared to the US. They are shorter, stockier and heavily muscled. You know how Mc Donalds and other places in the US advertise “Angus Burgers”? In France Mc Donalds advertises “Charolaise Burgers”.
Our train trip ended up having an unexpected bus ride for the last leg. Two of the three kids fell asleep on the way.
Le Puy-en-Velay is very special. A large road rings the original old town. There are little cobblestone lanes and pretty old buildings with flowerboxes overflowing with flowers. Actually abundant flowerboxes have been a constant everywhere we’ve been so far.
After the hustle and hugeness of Paris this town feels smaller and homey and moves at a much slower pace. We are here because the 3rd week in September there is a “King of the Birds” medieval festival involving 6000 costumed participants. It sounded like a fun way to experience history.
The festival is based on a competition that was first held here in 1524. The goal was to see who could shoot the most birds with a bow and arrow. The winner was crowned “King of the Birds” and received a key to the city, other goodies and was exempt from paying taxes for a year. The festival has been held off and on for almost 500 years. It was revived in 1986 and is apparently a very big deal in town. There are banners and tents and other things being set up all over the old town and thousands of people are expected to attend.
Our airbnb host is out of town but graciously arranged for her mother to meet us at the station. Even though our bus got in later than expected our hosts mom was there to greet us and kindly drove us to the apartment and show us around. Our apartment for the next 2 weeks seems to be in a prime location. As we approached it seemed magical because the cobblestone lanes are narrow and our street is draped with a long cotton cloth for the festival. There are banners everywhere and medieval wear shops on our street. You enter our building through a large door and are in a dim cool interior with a huge stone and wood staircase winding up 4 stories.
Our apartment has plenty of room for the 4 of us with French doors and little balconies. A grocery store is right around the corner, as is a huge old cathedral.
Although the population of Le Puy-en-Velay is only about 20K, over 700K people pass through the town each year as it is the start of a 2-month hiking pilgrimage into Spain. We have seen a number of hikers sporting backpacks and walking sticks ambling around town. We had pasta for dinner and enjoyed the night ambiance of the town. The balcony doors were open and music was drifting in and we could hear people talking as they strolled along the lane.
Paul made it home safely (and exhausted) although he almost missed his flight out of Paris due to a very long and slow security line.
Some of us slept in again. Surprising Paul and I have switched our typical morning routines on this trip. Usually I’m the first one up and around for quite a while before the rest of the family. On this trip, Paul has been the first one up and I have been sleeping in. Paul and I went off to post office in Gard Est to buy a box and find out what we had to do for mailing back some souvenirs. Unfortunately, the post office was closed. We returned to the apartment and looked up other post offices online. Turns out there was one near the apartment so we headed out again for a second try. Our path took us through an African immigrant neighborhood. It seemed rather lively. I wondered how well the populations were meshing with the Parisians.
The second post office was open. We bought a box that was the equivalent of “if it fits it ships” and returned to the apartment to pack the box. When we returned with the packed box we found the post office was closed. Oy! Paul found online that there was a post office near the Louvre and Notre Dame that was open later. We decided to haul the (heavy) box with us on the metro over to Notre Dame. Paul was not at all optimistic that we were actually going to be able to mail the box in which case I would be dragging it with me to Le Puy en Velay since we were leaving Paris very early and the post office was closed on Sunday.
Luckily, the third post office was open and we were able to mail the box even though I don’t really know enough French words for postal interactions. We’ll see if it actually arrives at our house. Our next stop was the cell phone store to buy a cellular SIM card for the cell phone and a data SIM card for the ipad in the hopes that I could use the mapping feature to help us not get lost. That also turned out to be a few long walks and stops at multiple stores to find what we needed. We eventually found a store with the right cards. We strolled along the Left Bank (lined with book sellers), crossed the Seine and made our way to Notre Dame.
The line into Notre Dame was moving quickly and in no time we were inside the cathedral. Lucky for us, while were where there the bells started ringing and a priest began Saturday evening mass. The choir was singing, the organist was playing, thepriest was wafting incense and it was all very lovely. I’ve always wanted to hear music inside a large cathedral so I stood looking at the rose window and listened for a long time. The rest of the family was underwhelmed and Liam and I found them outside. We found another Parisian park. Unfortunately the toy boat rentals had ended for the day and the entrance to the playground area was closed also.
This was our last night in Paris. We returned to the apartment and got ready to leave early the next morning. Some of us watched Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". Tomorrow Paul is heading home (rejoining us in 9 weeks) and the kids and I are heading south to the Loire Valley and the town of Le Puy en Velay. Next stop- Le Puy-en-Velay.
Click the photo to read the caption
This morning we found more of the local Paris and less of touristy Paris. We went off in search of parks and toy stores and we found a nice park right near the apartment and a couple of toy stores in lovely old buildings. There were French families with little children playing in the park and adults doing Tai Chi. On the walk to the toy stores we saw lots of people just going about their lives. People were shopping in little stores and eating at cafes. Just seemed like everything was geared toward the people living and working there. There were lots of lovely bakeries and cafes. The toy stores had well made, high quality toys and very nice displays.
I will say the French have a flair for presenting things very nicely. Folks also tend to be rather well dressed. They also make it look rather effortless. I don’t spend much time in large cities so maybe that is just an urban thing but we saw women who looked like they could be in a magazine fashion shoot and several men in suits on bikes. The photo of the woman with the dog was taken in Lille but could easily have been in Paris.
So I don’t know how long it takes for Paris fashion trends to migrate to the Midwest but the current style here among the 20 somethings involves skinny jeans, short – mid thigh hemlines, the occasional bare mid-drift, very high heels, long straight hair and fire engine red lipstick. Oh, and well defined eyes- ie eyeliner and long lashes. Throw in a neck scarf and a jacket or wrap and you too could be French! Even the not 20 somethings were looking rather stylish is skinny pants and high heels. I don’t know how women walk all day in those high heels on cobblestones.
Pointly, elf like shoes seems to be in fashion for some of the men as well as the preppy throwback of sweaters tied about the shoulder. And skinny jeans. In Belgium we saw men and women in baggy haram pants but haven’t seen that so far in France. Even young kids look rather stylish. I’m not sure how the French are able to rock those skinny pants and live among all these fantastic bakeries but somehow they do.
After our morning excursions we ventured out to the Louvre in the afternoon. There are actually a number of shops (including an Apple store) at the Galerie du Carrousel entrance. There wasn’t a line for tickets or security so we easily bought tickets and went in. In retrospect, I think I should have also rented a nintendo audio guide because it gives info on different pieces of art. As it was, I went back out and bought a guide book at the entrance then went back in through security so we could have a little more background info on the art we were seeing.
The Louvre is the largest museum in the world. The collection is housed in an old palace, which Paul felt could use a little remodeling so there wasn’t so much going up and down of steps to move through areas on the same floor.
The Louvre is absolutely amazing. As you walk up some steps you realize the statue greeting you at the top is none other than “Winged Victory”, a 3000-year-old piece of antiquity. I had a flashback to my 16-year-old self walking up these same steps in July 1982 and marveling at Winged Victory. She’s aging well and will still be wowing people long after I’m dust. Venus d Milo is here as is artwork from the greatest masters of art know to humankind. We saw papyrus from the reign of Ramses and Egyptian tomb artifacts. (Enmgamer said I was a complete fan girl about the museum)
It is amazing to see our world’s history there for the viewing (or a version of history anyway since history is typically written by the victors with the viewpoint of the vanquished and marginalized voices not represented or not represented accurately).
We watched the movie “The Monuments Men” right before we left for Europe. Vermeer’s painting “The Astronomer” is featured in the movie as one of the paintings that was stolen by the Nazi’s and recovered by the Monuments Men. It is part of the Louvre collection. It was the last piece of art that we looked for before we left. I couldn’t find it in the room listed in the guidebook so asked a museum docent if it was in a different place or on loan but they just pointed me back to the room I’d just checked. Vermeer’s “The Lacemaker” was there but only the info card for “The Astronomer” was on the wall.
I asked another museum docent who insisted “The Astronomer” was there and when I said it wasn’t he told me in his best snooty English with a French accent that “There must be a problem with your eyes” as he got up to show me where the painting was. Well, was he surprised to find the painting was indeed not hanging on the wall. He tried to read the handwriting on the info card but declared the print was too small for him to read. So I said, smiling, “Okay, so there’s nothing wrong with my eyes after all”. To which he agreed and said my eyes were fine!
We left the museum and visited the gift shop where we found some interesting books and souvenirs. I found a book on the Louvre for families in French and I was so glad that I asked if they had the same book somewhere in English. It turns out there’s a second gift shop right next to the one we were in and it had it an English version as well as another book by the same author. I’d wished we’d had it before we went it because it broke up the museum into 1 hour kid friendly interesting tours around different themes with bite size pieces of information. I found later that is available on Amazon for a penny so if you are planning a trip to the Louve it would be worth getting “Objective Louvre the Guide to Family Visits” and Objective Louvre the Guide for Family Surprises at the Louvre” before you go.
We ended up eating at the McDonalds upstairs in the museum complex because it was fast and easy and everyone was tired and hungry which isn’t a good combination when you still have several metro rides across Paris and a walk to reach home. After eating we sat at the fountain in the Louvre courtyard and enjoyed the lovely evening. Once again we returned to the apartment, tired, having had a full day.
Click the photo to read the captions
Paris is a jumble of beautiful sites, interesting history, chaotic activity and ltmgamer would say lots of smokers!
After saying goodbye to my French family we boarded a high speed train for Paris. After we were underway we had a nervous few minutes as we realized that in the confusion of getting on and off train cars to find the right one we'd left Paul's bag in one of them. The bag with all his computers and gadgets. Luckily it was still there untouched. One hour after boarding the train, voila we were in Paris.
Our airbnb apartment was a short walk from the Gard du Nord train station. We did not meet the host but she had given us detailed directions on how to reach her apartment and where to find a key. Paul had loaded the info on google maps. It ended up being not difficult to find. The apartment was in a building at the back of a courtyard so we went across the courtyard, through a door, up several flights of stairs and found our charming little apartment. The windows were open, there was a nice breeze and the host had left fresh baguttes for us on the table.
After a rest, Paul and I went to find a grocery store and brought back some sandwiches and pastries for lunch plus supplies for pasta and sauce for dinner. The pastries here are AMAZING. Not so sweet. Light. Buttery. So, so good.
The next day we ventured via metro to the Eiffel Tower. So if you decided to go up into the Eiffel tower, buy your tickets online well in advance. I waited until the day before and the only time slot available was for 10pm. All of the tickets were for the top floor were sold out. We decided to go see it during the day and to make sure we knew the metro route to return there at night.
The Eiffel Tower is definitely in the "Go Big or Go Home" category. It is huge but somehow not heavy. I love the curves in the metalwork. We walked around, took photos, ate pastries on a bench at the foot of the tower and marveled at the architecture. We returned home, rested then left about 8pm for our 10pm trip up into the tower. The Gard du Est station is closer to our apartment so we have been getting on the metro there. There are also a couple of good bakeries (Paul’s bakery is one) where we have been buying sandwiches and snacks on our way to and from places. Liam is partial to the chicken sandwiches.
I think the Eiffel tower is even prettier at dusk. We sat and ate in the park near the tower and watched the sun set and the tower lights come on. On the hour sparkly lights are turned on for about 5 min. We took the elevator up and walked around. It was a lovely night with a full moon. The sparkly lights came on while we were in the tower. Det55 and Paul decided to take the steps down from the second level. Liam and I took the elevator. There was a slight problem on the way down so we were stopped for a few min. The elevator bounced when it stopped midway down. But restarted a few min later. A group of Italians in the car cheered when it restarted.
Enmgamer opted to stay earthbound and it turned out she had adventures as well.
There are scam artists around the tower who try to get you to play the shell game and who are selling roses, little Eiffel towers and other trinkets. The rose sellers walk up and shove a rose at you. If you take it then they want money and won’t take it back. Earlier in the day there were women walking around trying to get people to sign a petition and give money “for the children”. There are also armed guards around to make sure all is well and keep the hawkers from being too aggressive.
Turns out some of the rose sellers (all dressed in black) had their roses stashed under a tree near the bench where Enmgamer was sitting. They ran past her and jumped the fence and a little while later different men (dressed like tourists) came out with more roses. She watched their shenanigans the whole time we were in the tower and found them quite amusing. She also came up with a good technique to keep people from sitting too close to her on the bench and talking to her in French. She tried sitting, rocking and laughing to herself alternating with humming and found the combination did the trick. She had the bench to herself the rest of the time we were gone. Love her creative resourcefulness. She came up with a poem while watching the goings on-
3 black rats jumped over the fence
they came back as white mice
but I still know their prints
We returned home rather late. Liam fell asleep on the metro. We were wiped out but it was a good day.