This year, though, I developed an acute case of Francophilia from reading a couple of blogs (Stephmodo and DesignMom) that frequently feature photographs and descriptions of France. When we found some surprisingly affordable airfare, we booked plane tickets and departed just two weeks later. I now humbly confess: I love France. Even with two kids under the age of 4.
Our "Tour de France" began in Geneva. There, we piled two kids, two carseats, a stroller, two large suitcases, a diaper bag, a camera bag, two carry-on bags, and a portable crib (we forgot the partridge in the pear tree) into a rental car, a Citroen Picasso. (Americans would never drive a car named a "Picasso," would they?) Thus began a 16-day road trip through France.
Our first stop: Provence. Highlights included the best-preserved Roman aqueduct (and a bathroom emergency for Alex that involved running to the nearest bathroom only to arrive moments too late), medieval stockades (which gave a whole new meaning to the notion of "time out"), rain, and beautiful silver leaf maple tree bark that looked like oil-paintings.
Next stop: Carcassonne, famed medieval fortress city. Though the medieval architecture was fantastic, the crepes and ice cream may have been even more memorable. (Below: Please note that I did not grow an extra leg on my left side (though that sandal is cute!). Rather, Bianca spent a great deal of time riding on my back in the Ergo Baby carrier.)
We packed up and headed to the Dordogne river valley. There, we encountered breathtaking views of castles precariously perched on cliffs, experienced another bathroom emergency in which we arrived at the bathroom two moments too late, and reunited with our old friend, the rain.
It was in the Dordogne that Alex found an Italian girlfriend. The two lovebirds whispered sweet nothings in each other's ears (overheard: "Io non parlo francesi, io sono italiana"--"I don't speak French, I am Italian") in the romantic shadows of the Beynac public playground equipment.
After a few days, we headed to the Loire river valley, land of Rennaissance excess and opulence. Here, there were no bathroom emergencies. We instituted a "urinate on demand" rule. That is, Alex was required to urinate when we ordered him to, despite his objections that he didn't need to go.
Then we went to Mont St. Michele. The view from the top was excellent, but I could have done without climbing innumerable stairs with a twenty-pound baby on my back alongside countless tourists.
We enjoyed a solemn respite in Normandy, where we visited the American Cemetery and where I cried for all the men--boys, really--that died on those beaches so many years ago.
After spending the night at a lovely bed and breakfast in Normandy, we headed to Paris. Though Paris is the City of Lights, we lamentably never saw it lit up, as we were tucking our children into bed before the lights came on. Paris was the only place that was difficult to navigate with children. Here, we turned in our rental car, packed into an apartment the size of our bedroom in Utah, traveled in the subway with a stroller that does not fit under turnstyles, and encountered way too many tourists.
Alex's big take-aways from France were Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. Since returning home, Alex finds these landmarks in his Saturday morning cartoons, picture books, mentioned on the radio, and everywhere else.
Paris is truly for lovers. Here, couples attach locks to the bridge railing and throw the key into the Seine below. I wonder what happens in the case of a breakup?
The stained glass in St. Chappelle was to die for:
More French friends for Alex.
My one regret for the trip: visiting Versailles. I have never, ever been as close to a profane Turret-like explosion as I was while being pushed and shoved through the opulent halls of this palace by hundreds and hundreds of sweaty tourists. The gardens, however, were refreshing, even in the rain:
The Arc de Triomphe was a fitting last stop for our trip. We had indeed triumphed over Paris, and we were quite proud.
A word about food: France rekindled my romance with all things dairy, restored my faith in mayonnaise, and refuted the conventional wisdom that man cannot live by bread alone. Au contraire, one can live on bread alone in France. And it is a delicious existence. The French know food, and we enjoyed going along for the ride. Even Bianca, who rather appreciated pureed French cuisine, agrees. Forget Freedom fries--we want French fries!
I'm more exhausted after writing this post than I was after the trip itself. You probably need a vacation after getting through this. I certainly do.