Friday, October 18, 2013

40 in France: The Journey

OK, I'm not literally turning 40 in France, but the trip is my 40th birthday present to myself (and from my parents, who are giving me TWO whole weeks of childcare to make it possible).

On Wednesday, Oct. 16, I leapt out of bed, knowing that it was The Big Day. Since Epu was not going to work, he took Toth to school while I ran around attending to last-minute details. When Epu got back we went and got haircuts, deposited a large payment to myself from my business account into our checking account, and then took BART to the airport.

Everything went so smoothy that I was afraid to post on Facebook, lest I jinx us. There was no BART strike as had been threatened. A neighbor walked by just as we were stepping out of the house to take the bus to BART, and insisted on driving us there. We got to the airport in plenty of time and were even able to get one of those desks with charging stations. The plane boarded on time.

When we got on the plane, though, it was clear that our 11 hours was not to be spent in luxurious comfort. I don't know if coach seats have gotten smaller since I last flew internationally or if we have gotten bigger (I think it's both) but these seats were nuts. You could not easily unfold a newspaper because you are so close to the seat in front of you, and besides the motion would cause your elbows to hit passengers on either side. I can't imagine flying in the middle seat between strangers, because Epu and I were pressed up against each other so I could avoid leaning on the lady on the aisle seat.

That lady, by the way, turned out to be a super nice nuclear researcher who lives in Paris' Bois du Boulogne, with large round red glasses, who had just been at a conference on nuclear radiation at Lawrence Berkeley. When we told her that we were going to the Toulouse area her face just lit up, and when I got out my guidebook she pointed out all the places that she considered "magnifique." In particular she pointed out a cave painting site that we hadn't thought to visit, which is much closer to our friends' house and might make a great day trip.

Chatting with Marie-Terese made me feel much more confident that I would remember how to speak French. And aside from the crowded quarters, the flight was good, with a decent dinner, a nice glass of wine and a lot of movies on the personal TV screens (we watched "The Heat," which was dumb). My only beef with Air France is that they passed out ice cream bars when the lights were out and people were trying to sleep, and the ice cream bar packages were very crinkly.

I slept a little on and off, but gave up 7 or 8 hours into the flight, which would have been 10 p.m. my time but as 7 a.m. France time. Before we knew it we'd eaten breakfast and were landing at Paris Charles de Gaulle. Being there brought back so many memories of my junior year in France -- mainly of meeting loved ones who came to visit me. Then we boarded our flight to Toulouse, which literally flew by as I read the new David Sedaris book on the iPad, and it was time to pick u our rental car and drive to the Dordogne river valley.

At the point when we got into our rental car, it was 4 p.m. local time, or 7 a.m. according to our body clocks. So we were operating on a night where we'd slept just a few hours -- Epu more than me so I made him drive -- but at least our bodies thought it was morning. The drive was challenging. Erik hadn't driven a stick shift in awhile, I had to translate all the signs for him, we had disagreeing sets of directions from our B&B owner and Google maps, and man -- All. Those. Roundabouts. About half way there I started to nod off, but Epu told me I had better goddamn stay awake to help him read the signs, so I slapped my cheeks a few times and hung in.

Right about then the scenery got amazing, which helped me stay awake. River gorges, cliffs and castles started popping up. A few sheep here and there, and a medieval village or two. Each town had a large sign with an attractive illustration of the local attraction. The road was a toll road, which we hadn't expected, but fortunately we had gotten some Euros. When you got on the toll road, you were issued a ticket, and you paid when you got off. Clever!

After driving fast along an autoroute for an hour and a half, we took an exit and made our way toward the country bed and breakfast, going much more slowly on windy roads and through villages. The sun was going on and we kind of felt like pulling over and going to sleep in our car. But we finally pulled into the B&B's parking lot and our hostess stuck her head out an upstairs window and welcomed us. We had made it!

The first thing we did is ask our hostess if she could recommend a local place for dinner -- by now it was about 6:30 p.m. local time and we hadn't eaten since that breakfast on the plane to Paris. She made a couple phone calls and found a place that was open. Apparently weekdays are pretty quiet in this area now that tourist high season is over. We went to the place she recommended, down the road in Begnac, and enjoyed a Salade Perigourdine (I think?) and a plate of sauerkraut with sausages (my husband is weird). Better yet, I inquired if it was OK to bring half our bottle of wine with us, and of course it was. So after dinner we drove back to the B&B, put on our jammies, and finished our wine while gazing out our bedroom window at the floodlit Castelnaud Castle. Then we took some melatonin and hit the sack -- and slept for about 10 hours! We were so happy since we'd expected to either not be able to stay awake until a normal bedtime or to wake up way too early. But we woke up to the smell of the coffee our hostess had made us, and headed downstairs to start our first day of vacation.

No comments: