France Day 5 - Market and Le Mans

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

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

A leisurely morning today ... we are all feeling tired and zoned out.

We stumble out of the door in a fog, and find that the weekly market that we are heading to has attracted lots of people to the town center area. Our street is full of cars, double the normal amount. We walk about five minutes and find ourselves in the thick of the Thursday market. From what I gather from the local tourist office, these markets are very common in France. Vendors line the town center for five or six blocks selling everything from cloth to toys to fresh veggies to eggs to cheese to animals (rabbits and birds of all types). They aren't local to OUR town, they service a shared route, traveling a two or three hour radius. What a great way to deliver local produce and such! Overall, its just like you'd expect a fresh Thursday market in a small town in France to be. "Bonjour!" here a "Bonjour!" there. Smiles, baguettes, cheese, rabbits and chickens, produce and eggs.

And WOW! are the people friendly here! At one point when Janice is trying to buy a bag of peaches, she asks me, "How do you say 'how much does this cost'?" (as if I'd know!). A passerby shouts out with a smile "blah blah blah" (... the French translation that I can't remember). And people nearby chuckle kindheartedly. Its almost the sort of kindred compassion that you see when a retail clerk is working through their first day on the job. Yes, it takes longer and can be a test of your patience. But we've all been there. We've all had that brutal first day learning curve. And so, usually, we can all laugh off any mistakes and our patience seems to double when we find out they are new. Same thing here ... and really, if I had to make another generalization, I've found that if anything, our experience has been overwhelmingly positive. As in, oh ... you are from CALIFORNIA?! (big smiley face and warm attitudes) ... Whenever we've encountered English speakers, they seem to guess we are from the UK, or Australia, or Spain even. The USA is last on the list.

The market is a great place to see animals ... and to continue to teach the kids how and where hamburgers and mcnuggest come from! ... They get the experience of seeing a head-still-attached-de-feathered-duck being weighed and sold. You could just see the wheels turning in their heads putting the pieces together.

Before we really get going at the market, we stop for coffee for Janice (turns out to be HORRIBLE, YUCK!) ... and a bakery stop for all of us. The chocolate / almond croissant here may have forever ruined all future croissants for me. Seriously. I have always been a loyal and faithful La Bou client in Sactown. An almond or fruit croissant has scratched my emotional eating itch on many occasion. But this thing here ... in the heart of France. It makes me sad its so good. I eat 90% of it before I share with the fam. They devour the tiny bites I leave for them. And its instantly agreed we need another. Its just as good as the first. ... I want more! But no room in the tummy now. Later, I will have another. For sure.

I had a chance to pick up some farm fresh chevre (goat cheese) coated with home grown herbs at the market. I passed the table initially, nervous to buy ... but on the way back down the street there was a long line. I figured I was relatively safe trying it out. Can't wait to taste it later!

We've done really really well buying next to nothing on the trip in terms of keepsakes or tourist stuff. I'm tempted to pick up a trinket or shirt or something ... but with the dollar being so horrible nowadays, we hold our ground. ... Back to the house to rest. I head back to the market to get some dough from the ATM. While at the market the second time, I find a friend of our hosts .. a woman who runs a stand in the travelling market. She sells mostly wooden play toys for kids. I cave in and buy a travel size 'close the box' dice game for 5 euros. Hopefully the kids will like it. I also pick up some avocados, and just as I head back home I stop in to the local boulangerie and grab a baguette for lunch and some treats. The baked good selection here never fails. Just amazing the options and excellent quality of everything we've tried.

Back home, Janice makes a fabulous salad, some leftover pasta, and a cheese platet to die for. Good stuff ....... the kids play inside and out before I get them to sit down and watch The Hunchback of Notre Dame. They LOVE the fact that they've now seen the real Notre Dame cathedral (even if it was just from a car!). Janice naps. I research and plan for the rest of our trip. I'm psyched about the three day D-Day excursion I've put together, and as I look at the calendar for the next three weeks, its filling up! We have three families that are going to have us over for dinner / lunch, there are several places nearby we want to check out, and one or two day trips out of the area, and then we have three days where the Franc and Sandrine are back in France and we will hang out with them ... Its gonna be great!

And now, its about 7pm or so, and we head out on our first mini-road trip excursion since being in France. We are headed to Le Mans for a Sound and Light show. Apparently, these shows are all the rage in France. They don't sound all that interesting to me, but hey, ... this one is free, close, and ... free. Can't be that.

A little over an hour and we arrive to Le Mans. We just miss the tourist office closing, so we have to wing it. I head towards the HUGE cathedral in what looks to be the center of old town Le Mans. (Side note here, all the towns we've seen / been to in France and Spain too now that I think about it, ... the towns are all built around a cathedral ... the big towns are no different. Well, bigger cathedrals is all.) The one here in Le Mans is gorgeous. WOW. I hate that my tiny camera can't capture the full glory of these sights. ... For the one millionth time I tell Janice how awesome it is that I read "Pillars of the Earth" last year. She bought it for me as a gift and I did not want to read it. Its HUGE. Probably the longest book I've ever read cover to cover. But so worth it... and perfect timing for this trip. Its like I'm walking down the streets, seeing exactly the sort of world thats described in the book. Its great.

Our arrival in to town is a bit early. the show doesn't start until 'nightfall' (per the website, ). So we meander around a bit looking for a place to eat. As we walk, I see a place with the word 'billets' on the window. Tickets! "I bet they see a lot of tourists in there ...", I think to myself, and I stop in to ask what time we should expect the light show to start, and where we can get some good food nearby. ... Janice and I walk in with the kids and find three people sitting behind the desk with warm smiles on their faces. We trade "Bonjour!"'s and then, my typical "Parlevu Anglais?". The young gal on the left shakes her head no, and looks to the gal next to her, who defers to the man on the right. "I speak a little...", he says. ... Well, turns out that they all speak a little English, and we end up having a great conversation with them. Not only are they helpful in answering our questions about when the show starts and where we can eat some great food, but they also tell us a bit about the city, and we find them to be very very nice people.

Following the directions from the folks at the ticketing office, we head out to Le Roy d'Ys, a wonderful two story Creperie in the heart of old town Le Mans. "Old Town", another thing we are finding very common in France. From the little villages to big cities, their Old Town sections are REALLY old. Some 100 years, some 1000. Its really neat. We have driven through maybe ten minutes of Le Mans outside of the Old Town and found it to be a fairly bland town. But their Old Town is gorgeous. Ultra narrow streets, historic buildings, restaurants and bars conveniently throughout, along with their beautiful cathedral AND the third most well preserved Roman wall in all of Europe. ... The creperie is two stories, with an exposed kitchen on the first floor. All the tables are full downstairs, so we hike up to the second level to enjoy some wonderful gallettes. The kids split a cheese one, and Janice tells me to order ours ... (what a wife!) ... I pick one winner (with marques, a spicy spanish sausage), and one loser (the namesake of the place, with really ultra strong tasting anchovies). We are thrilled to find that once again, the service is remarkably pleasant. The waiter always has a big grin, he is happy to practice his English, and he gives some great recommendations (suggested we order strawberry syrup for the kids' water which they loved, and ended up giving me a free glass of cider when I asked what our neighboring table was drinking!). Just to get the experience of another restaurant, we decide not to order desserts at this place ... and we leave happy with our 20 euro dinner. Three gillettes, two drinks for the kids, hard cider for me = happy times! As we leave, the waiter informs me there is a free show that occurs BEFORE the light show, but he doesn't have details, so we walk back to the ticket booth where we had previously met the three really happy and friendly locals. They were so happy to see us back again! The show, it turns out, was half over and all in French. They didn't think we'd enjoy it if we didn't speak any French. But they were so happy to see us, they gave us two free keychains (Janice saw them on sale for 5 euros each!) and two Le Mans pens. Tre cool! As we talk with them, they tell us its very rare to get Americans here in Le Mans any time other than when the famous 24 hour race occurs. They tell me to make sure all my friends back home know what a wonderful place Old Town Le Mans is. So there you have it. ITS WONDERFUL! : ) ... Then, we head out to a second crepe place, where we enjoy .... duh, crepes. Dessert this time. And of course, wonderfully friendly service with a smile. Lots of questions for us, interested in our trip, asking what sights we've seen, how we like it, etc. It almost feels like we are celebrities!

A couple magical moments at dinner ... at one point the kids get a bit rascally at dinner, so I bust out the old disappearing coin trick to buy us some time. MAN! They really really fall in love with it. For the next ten minutes I'm pulling the coin out of their ears, their heads, putting it in their pockets ... giggles and laughter of absolute delight. Its great. Second memorable moment is when I pour the water wwwwwaaaaay up to the full, just like Daddy Vito does. Try to get it as full as possible. The kids love it. I tell them "the water in the bubble tastes the best!" ... and they believe me. Again, wonderful times of laughter ... Great memories.

I really just have to stop and say again how pleasantly surprised we've been at how warm and friendly EVERYBODY has been here in France. We haven't encountered anybody that has been rude to us. And actually, quite the contrary. Everybody has been warm and kind at first, and then, when they find out we are from the States, you see a bit of a sparkle in their eyes and they seem to shift in to an EXTRA-nice mode and they go out of their way to help. We love it! ... I'm guessing that a huge city like Paris, where tourists flock (particularly from the States), we may run in to rude people ... but I think thats more of a big city thing than a French thing.

We end the night by enjoying the city's free light show. Hidden projectors fire brightly lit animations along key structures throughout Old Town Le Mans. The Cathedral changes colors with angels singing, a nearby garden has a mysterious ghostly figure floating in a waterfall, the old Roman Wall shows a battle scene with soldiers and dragons. Very beautiful ... and wholly different than anything that any one of us has seen before.

Only downside to the day is that Janice and Ella both have come down with a bit of a stomach bug. Hopefully they will feel better tomorrow.
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oliveteresa on

le mans
it all sounds and looks wonderful.
im really glad you guys have had great experiences with the locals!
by the way, we're looking forward to our time together with Iñigo & Jaione!
by the way way, when do you guys return again?

oliveteresa on

oh yeah
we really miss you guys.

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