France Day 1 - Arrival!

Trip Start Jun 25, 2008
Trip End Sep 01, 2008

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Flag of France  , Pays de la Loire,
Sunday, July 27, 2008

We awake to the Conductor knocking on the door ... "Mister Asher? Time to wake up... I have your tickets here.".... YAWN. Its 6:30am and we are in FRANCE! YEAH!

Our 1st Class sleeper car includes a breakfast in the restaurant car, so jam down to the car to beat the rush and have time to pack up before we arrive in Paris. I'm nervous about our France experience. Virtually everybody I've spoken to has warned me that the French folks don't care too much for us Americanos. The conductor is nice, but maybe he is Spanish. I don't know. One thing is for sure, I am glad to be gone from Barcelona. I did not care for the city much at all. I wouldn't go back. Well, maybe some day when the kids are older and we can revisit La Sagrada Familia when its complete. But that would be the only thing that would cause me to want to return. I tried to explain to Janice why I didn't like the city. I can't quite put my finger on it. I talked to my mom today and she thought maybe it was the whole knife / mugging attempt thing, and no ... that wasn't it. It wasn't the disappointing beaches or the high prices (most expensive city in Spain). ... What I didn't like was that it seemed the city itself didn't have a culture of its own. Instead, the culture was simply a crazy mixture of all the visiting people's cultures. I suppose the term "cosmopolitan "taken to the extreme. Don't get me wrong, I love cities that have a diverse mix of people. I love the mix of ages, races, walks of life. Its just frustrating when you walk up to a counter and don't know if you are expected to speak Catalan, Spanish, French, or English. And thats just the language issue. Some people shake hands, others kiss on the cheeks, others kiss only one cheek. Its this huge hodge podge of cultures that results in just this big mess. On the one hand, its cool that there are no strangers because EVERYBODY is a stranger. But on the other hand, I suppose I like there to be a unique, normative culture that visitors can enjoy and try to be a part of. ... bah. This isn't making much sense at all. Like I said, I'm not qute sure how to describe the feeling really. Its just weird, because I love large cities and I love a diversity of people.

The train comes to a stop in Paris and we scurry out, anxious to catch a cab to get to a connecting train station in Paris. Once we exit the train, we start to clue in on exactly how little French we know. Like ... ZERO. (well, Janice took one year in high school...) Thankfully, there are pictures of taxis with arrows. That works for us, and before long we have a smiling taxi driver (who looks very similar to Sheila Carr for those of you who know her...). We show her the tickets to where we need to go and struggle to say ... ANYTHING. It dawns on me, I don't know how to say please without stuttering, and I have no clue on anything other than hello and goodbye. Wow. This is going to be crazy. The taxi driver knows zero English, but she is nice as can be. If you count the conductor on the train, this is the second French person thats nice, and this despite the ridiculousness of us traveling without knowing a lick of French, without a phrase book or anything! ... As we drive, she signs and signals and such to tell us that TODAY the final portion of Tour de France is in town. How cool! We knew all this time it was all around us and had decided not to make it a destination, ... but knowing that we were in Paris the same day it was ending was pretty cool. ... Next, Janice sees a sign for Notre Dame and point it out to Samuel and Ella. We had watched the Disney movie with them and the cuzins before the trip and I had told them that we would see it. As we approach and pass the building, the taxi driver hits the hazard button and slows to the right ... waits for me to snap a picture ... and then keeps on. How nice! "Merci!", I say. ... Then, a couple of turns here, a couple there and she says .. "eeeeeee.... Eiffel Tower!" and points out the front window as she rounds the corner. She is so awesome. The kids love it. Ella is beaming. She has been talking about the Eiffel Tower since the day we left Sacramento. Soon, we arrive to Montpernasse Station and the taxi driver lets us out. As we meander through the station looking which way to go, we hear her runnig behind us, "No, no..." and she points us the direction we need to be going. Wow! So nice and helpful. "Merci! Merci!"

We check the monitor for our train, Voie 20. We go, and wait. We are alone, but not too unlike what it was like in the Barcelona station. There, we waited alone until ten minutes before departure at which point people appeared out of the woodwork. Ten minutes till I decide to go double check... this is too quiet. .... And ... Crap, turns out my computer clock is wrong, about 8 minutes wrong. And double crap, it turns out that the train is now at Voie 4. Bah. I run back and yell for Janice and the kids and we take off running through the station madly. We arrive. The train is there. A bell is ringing. We sprint. ... The man shakes his head no, waves his finger. Janice says, "Si vu ple, si vu ple" as we run past him. The doors are closed, we start pressing buttons. The train moves. ... and picks up speed. We are too late. DOH! 15 Euros later and a reduction from 1st class to 2nd class, with the help of a nice English speaking train ticketier (enough to understand we missed our train anyhow) we end up on a train to Le Mans, THEN Angers. One hour and a half late. Oh well. Thankfully, our wonderful French hosts have arranged for their good friend Guenola (gway-no-la) is patiently waiting with a sign right as we exit the train. So kind! Thank you Guenola!

Guenola speaks English very well. We pile in her car and she takes us in to Chateau-Gontier our home for the next four weeks! On the way to the house, we enjoy the rolling green hills of France ... rivers and streams. Guenola comments that the roads here are always under construction ... constantly beingchanged.

We arrive to the home and find it to be BEAUTIFUL! It was built in the early 1900's. Three stories high. 1st floor is the garage, the living room, kitchen and dining room and a bathroom. 2nd Floor is two bedrooms, washroom, and office with a large balcony. 3rd floor has two children's bedroom with a bathroom shared in between the two rooms. The house is even better than what we had seen in the photos online.

Also, the style of the interior just can't be properly captured ... at least not by my camera and photography skills. Franc and Sandrine have an artsy home with purposely unfinished sections of the wall and small things like window shades that have been converted to CD racks. Its very ... artsy and homey and nice!

Just as nice as the inside of the house ... the backyard and the view are beautiful. We have a trampoline and swing set, we can see several gardens in neighbors yards along with geese and chickens and such, and we have a great view of the steeple of the nearby church. Just amazing.

And the kids are PSYCHED. There are toys everywhere here! The family we exchanged with have three young daughters ... which means this house is set up for children. There is a large toy room, a Nintendo Wii, and lots of kids DVD's. Its a perfect change of pace from our experience in Spain. The house in Pie de Concha was wonderful, but it was a second home for the family ... and they do not have any young children, so the only toys the kids had was what we brought along.

The weather here is definitely different than our experience in Northern Spain. Here, its good and humid. Not horrible like Florida, but the heat is much different than Sacramento. Normally, a good escape from humidity is A/C, but the house here doesn't have it. So, I will have to get adjusted. It doesn't really affect Janice and the kids much at all, but I'm a wuss with this kind of stuff. ... After a nice shower, I feel good for at least thirty minutes. We open up all the windows to let a nice breeze come through as the evening comes. Much like Sacramento, this is a river city, and so the evenings get considerably cooler than the days.

Guenola is very nice and shows us all the particulars around the house. Below the house is a huge basement area. Its nice and cold down there. ... And then ... my favorite, its time to eat! Sandrine and Franc (the owners of the home here in Chateau-Gontier) have left us some food and instructions on how to make galletes ... its a very common French dish, essentially a salty crepe. We are clueless how to make it, so Guenola teaches us. Yay Guenola! Its very simple. Heat up the gallete (we have pre-made store bought galletes, but Guenola says you can also make from scratch if you have the time), put some cheese on there, some ham, tomatoes and mushrooms if you like, and then an egg on top (which you do NOT cook until hard. Just until hot. Very runny). Fold it up. Yum! ... The runny egg bit will take some getting used to, but otherwise ... a wonderful meal. After our first demonstration, Janice tries her hand at it and does fantastic.

The rest of the day is spent unpacking, techno-troubleshooting (I've discovered that their computer DOES have wireless capability, they just didn't know! ... YAY!), and adjusting to our new town. The kids are sooooooo happy just playing with the toys by themselves. Several times, we hear them laughing and giggling and telling stories and inventing games. Its amazing how grateful they are with this new kid-friendly home. In the late afternoon we take a walk down to the nearby church area and find a boulangerrie still open. Janice can't resist the urge to snag a treat ... so we end up with a couple of ice creams.

So much to take in, its overwhelming. We have now been on the road for TWICE AS LONG as any previous vacation (longest prior to this was two weeks). And we've never traveled for more than one week with the kids. ... Now, literally overnight, we are in a completely new country, ... in rural Franch ... where we find nobody who speaks English. None of the people we've seen (other than Guenola of course) have been English speaking. Its crazy.

Just as evening comes, I take the bike out for a ride. Chateau-Gontier is a nice town. Small, with several historic buildings and churches, about six bakeries that I've seen so far. We've got three pizza joints within five blocks, and a Chinese place too! I think we are going to LOVE our time here. Just as I turn to head back home from my twenty minute ride, I hear some yelling. Its French, so ... of course ...I can't understand a word, ... but the people don't sound happy. Far in the distance I see a woman stomping around, obviously angry. It has all the sounds of a domestic fight. I peddle closer and find a man in a red t-shirt being yelled at and chased (well, 'walked down' anyways) by presumably his wife, a teenaged boy, and an older man. The wife has a big piece of metal in her hands, looks a bit like a metal detector actually and she is threatening the red t-shirt guy with it, ... but she is so emotional she isn't a real threat. At one point though, the teenager gets the metal thing and the red tshirt guy is caught up arguing with the wife, and the teenager runs up and whacks the dude two or three times HARD. I mean, I can hear it "THWAP!" from where I'm sitting. The red tshirt guy backs away and gets some distance but the teenager keeps on him. Anyhow, on it goes for a good five minutes with punches being thrown, the woman gets physically involved trying to land blows, the old dude gets knocked to the cement. Its bizarre. All the townspeople are equally baffled as I am. Well, maybe not EQUALLY. I'm sure they can understand at least some of whats going on a bit better than I can because of the language and all. But, the funny thing is, nobody intervenes. No threats of the police being called. And it didn't feel like there was a real fear that anybody would get seriously hurt. Sure, maybe a broken nose or some cuts and bruises, but the whole situation seems to lack the normal American "OH MY GOD! A FIGHT!!!" type thing. After a while, I take off. Slaps and yelling still persist. But what is my non-French speaking self gonna do anyhow? I can't exactly break it up and tell them ... well, anything. It also dawns on me that even if I had my cell on me (which I don't), I wouldn't even know what number to call for the police. So, now, I'm just gawking. And the show is getting old. So off I go. After a bit, Janice takes the bike out for a quick ten minute ride ... no big fights or riots to report from her. :)

Back at home, we rest and marvel at what a wonderful thing this home exchange is for our family. We are quite sure that we want to do this in future years. And FOR SURE, we will invite friends and family to join us as we did this year. As the kids get older, we believe this worldwide exposure will bring them a deep richness of life.

The French family has a blog up ... feel free to take a look and comment if you care to (no registration required!) ...

Also, Jaoine and Inigo have a blog ready for their trip to SF. Check it if you like:
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vstyrsky on

C'est Cool!
How fun!
Glad you arrived safe and sound.
Love to all,

nicoleisjealous on

We are up at family camp this week, and I am missing my morning coffee with Styrsky travelpod. Dan and I found a little cafe up the road from Camp Richardson called Alpina that has free internet use, for 20 minutes. As I type I can feel the person behind me staring at me as they wait for the computer to be free. Ahhh! This is not exactly my nice gentle ease into the morning. For some reason I cannot get my computer to log onto their wi-fi, so I have new empathy for Asher's wi-fi search and techno troubles in Spain. I am looking forward to reading about your travels through France so much! Maybe later today I will get Robin's nice Apple computer and come back here; much nicer than the 6 year old, 12 pound Sony Vaio with the international outlet adapter on the end, that I have been relegated to.

By the way, I am sure you know this, but 'Si vu ple' is spelled 's'il vous plait'

Lots of love to the Styrskys! I have to leave off at half way through your first day of France. I can't wait to come back!

nicoleisjealous on

yeah! Dan fixed our ancient computer!
As I stepped away from the free Alpina cafe computers, Dan fixed our computer d'ancienne. Way to go Dan! Oh my Gosh! I love reading about the French exchange house. It looks just beautiful. I love the way they left the walls old and worn looking, and the outside of the house is magnificent. on

Really interesting articles. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing a nice info

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