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.
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.