Monday, April 19, 2010

Part Two of Trip

Well, now I know that this little volcano made the news around the world. It was hard to believe at the time, but when we drove past Roissy airport and saw zero planes in the sky or on the runway, it began to sink in. What else did we see?

We saw grown-ups crying in frustration and fatigue. We saw more people sleeping on more types of surfaces than we have ever seen before; on the floor in the tube station in London, on tables on the ferry, on benches, chairs and sofas. We also saw the magnificent White Cliffs of Dover, rising sharply, shimmering ghostly pale in the night. (For more on this, see: We saw the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Ismaili Center, along with all traffic speeding along the wrong side of the streets of London, double-decker buses, blue phone booths and people dressed as only they dress in England’s capital. We heard languages from around the world; Dutch, German, Spanish, Chinese, and had a whole conversation with a woman who spoke nothing but Slovakian. My husband adds that he and my son were kicked out of the London Google headquarters when they asked if they could snap a picture.

Then what? Pierre had set off to use his cell phone where he could get reception (thank goodness for the international cell phone his company reserved for the trip for him! We will have a bill to pay, it is meant for professional use only, but it was worth every cent). He found out that there were no buses between Paris and Bordeaux, only one a week and that was on Wednesday, this was Thursday, no good. We had heard and had confirmation of a strike by the railway personnel, so there were no trains. We had briefly considered looking for passage by boat in Calais, while we were there, but two things kept us from that idea. One, it was 3:30 in the morning, and two, we did not think we would ever get another bus from there if we abandoned this one, and hitch-hiking with six suitcases, not to mention five children, is a little tough. Pierre’s father had been given the task of finding us a rental car, but all of the websites said in red lettering; “NO RENTALS AVAILABLE.” He called his brother who said he could drive us down in someone else’s minivan. We thought that sounded like a good plan, if we could rent an additional small car to safely transport everyone and their luggage. My father had driven us to Chicago in a mini-van and we were rather squished together in the back. That was only a three-hour drive, so we knew a nine-hour one would be even harder, especially as tired as everyone was. We also planned on sleeping a night in Paris, as we did not think it wise to attempt to drive in such a sleep-deprived state.

Pierre returned to report that the uncle’s friend had gone to work, but his father had reserved a mini-van for us. When Pierre called to say he was on his way to pick up the car, he was told that the car was gone. Father-in-law to the rescue; he called the central agency of the rental place, was told there WOULD be a car for us, if there wasn’t we were to call in the police and wait until they found one because someone was trying to scam us. Pierre set off on foot to fetch the car. The children and I ate salads, croissants and more fries, called “frites” here.

When my dear hubby returned, he had a bit of a hesitant, yet determined look about him. Apparently, the car DID have seven seats; if you pulled them up out of the trunk space, thus eliminating all trunk space. “Let’s see if we can fit everyone along the middle row, and the suitcases in the back.” was his idea. There was no way. There was no way the suitcases would fit without seven people in the car, someone was going to have to follow later, I voted for me,(but silently), I had my knitting, after all. We decided to try with one seat up, four kids across the middle seat, one larger one in the back. We somehow piled four suitcases into half a small trunk, with the help of a man who looked like he might have been Sherpa, who had been very kind to us when he heard Pierre asking his father for directions via cell-phone. He stopped in the parking garage and helped us engineer the packing of us and stuff. We also put one suitcase in the front where my feet should have been, one under the little ones’ feet, along with the backpacks, smaller suitcase and the guitar, and we drove. I don’t know how Pierre did it, sheer adrenaline and the desire to get the heck home, he says. As for me, I was given the job of calling the in-laws to let them know we were on our way, I dialed the number and woke up ten minutes later, with no recollection of having fallen asleep. Good thing I wasn’t driving.

We made frequent stops for potty breaks, a little time-killer that had haunted us since first setting out, and snacks to keep up energy and good moods.French highway stops can be really very pleasant. At our first stop, there was a full restaurant, self-serve style, with a mini-grocery store if you preferred to make your own sandwich. It was airy and lit by huge windows. The restrooms were clean, there were tables to sit at, and there was a space for little children to play in with cute little flower-shaped poof-chairs, a big, flat flower poof to jump on, and a whole book shelf of graphic novels/comic books (bd, a French, hard-cover genre that just does not have an equivalent in the US) for the daddies to read while the kids played. I can’t believe that I was awake enough to appreciate it, but it was such a great place to stop.

We did, finally, make it all the way here. It was late at night on Friday in France, sometime in the afternoon in the Midwest. We were ecstatic, and had such a warm welcome as only a loving family can give. Our apartment for the three months we will be here is beautiful. It was entirely cleaned, furnished, decorated and stocked by Pierre’s parents, uncle, aunt, cousins, sister and brother-in-law. We could withstand a siege, in comfort and style! There are two spacious bedrooms, a nice little kitchen with a washing machine and a table big enough for us all to eat at, and a big living room with a hutch full of pretty dishes, a big table (with fresh flowers on it), two sofas, a flat-screen television and a corner for the computer. There is so much food it is ridiculous, and his mother has been sending home more food each day. We have four loooong clothes lines outside, a drying rack for rainy days and night time drying. There are towels in the bath, new curtains at the windows, a stereo system, a new floor and any utensil I could ever need in the kitchen. We are waiting for the Internet connection to work, but this is France. We know that some day this too, shall come to pass. In the meantime, the wine is good, the food is fantastic and the company very kind indeed.


  1. so happy for you. with our four kids, i know your struggles. here's to many memories!

  2. Wow, fantastic story of the journey so far! Glad you all did so well on the trip. I can't imagine doing that with just my 2 children, let alone 5. Have a wonderful visit!

  3. Glad to finally hear that you and the family are safely and cozily tucked into your new digs in France. I had a funny feeling that volcanic activity was going to affect your trip when I first heard about it. Folks kept trying to tell me that you must have made it out just in time, but I kept having this little doubt. Hug the children for me.

  4. I am reading your posts to the kids who are very much interested in your adventures. I hope now that you are resting and relaxing a bit you will look back and start to laugh and enjoy your grand traveling adventure (and from what I hear you are the lucky ones)


  5. Thanks, Julie! I think we have had a few memorable moments already, lol!

  6. Hi Jennifer,

    Ah, it wasn't nearly as bad as it sounds, we had a lot of fun along the way. Thank you!

  7. Thank you, E.,

    Believe in those doubts! (Otherwise known as feminine intuition, it is real.)

    We miss you all, take care!

  8. Hi Amie,

    With the welcome we have had here, we are all the way relaxed. It may have been more sheer will power rather than luck, in any case, we are very fortunate. No luggage missing this time, since we carried it all ourselves, lol!

    Say hi to the kidos for me, see you soon.

  9. What a fabulous adventure! I do love traveling with our crew... even if it is hindsight that makes me love it! I love your travel mission - we will have to write one. Be safe, much love. Oh... that big mess... well it is DONE, we are safe, all are happy. More to tell later. Have a wonderful settling in time and we'll catch up when you can. Blessings. ~ Melisa

  10. M. thanks for reading and writing back! You have a point; hindsight is a much more pleasant place from which to observe travel, especially this particular trip! But there really were so many interesting things to experience along the way, life seems all tame now, thank goodness!

  11. Glad you made it, Angie. We've been thinking about you! Have a wonderful time. Tell Lily the dogs say, hi!

  12. Hi Anne,

    Thank you for stopping by and for writing!

    Lily sends warm pats and says they get an extra bone next time she visits.

    We're here, the food is incredible and it's nice to know I do not have to set foot in an airplane anytime soon.

    Enjoy the spring weather walks!


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