Our Family’s (2nd) Year in the South of France
Kids and Castles - Our year with kids in the South of France

Category — Travel

A Challenging Itinerary

One of the challenging things about car travel in France is the high distraction factor.  It’s very easy to get side tracked by really cool sites.

Case in point:  Diane and I took a few days off while my parents were taking care of the kids (Merci Maman et Papa!) and we decided to go to Avignon.  After driving for less than half an hour from home, we saw a really cool medieval fortress perched up on a cliff by the highway.

9th Century Mornas Fortress

9th Century Mornas Fortress

We simply had to stop and check it out. Our guide was dressed as a medieval soldier and spoke to us in old, medieval French (very cool).  We learned several useful tips on how to build our very own attack-resistant fortress, including:

  • Always build the main doors perpendicular to the natural path of travel to ensure attackers can’t get any momentum as they (try to) ram the door
  • Since attackers are right-handed, make the approaching path uphill with a right turn so it’s harder for them to swing their swords without hitting the wall (but easier for the defenders)
  • Put lots of large nails in wooden doors so it’s hard to break through with an axe

As an engineering geek, now I can’t help notice such building subtleties at other medieval sites.  Neat!

We also learned to speak the language of medieval soldiers and in particular how they described their coat of arms.  For example, the original Provence Coat of Arms is said to be “D’or aux quatre pals de gueules” (Of gold with four pallets of mouths). Note:  Yellow is said as “gold” and red is said as “mouths”.

Provençal Coat of Arms

Provençal Coat of Arms

We ended up staying in Mornas for the night, about 25 minutes away from home.

The next day, our determination to get to Avignon evaporated after driving for about 10 minutes as we got distracted by Orange and its famous Roman Arc de Triomphe, its world heritage Roman Amphitheater, and so on.

We stumbled on so many cool things on our way that we never made it to Avignon.

What’s the moral of the story?  It depends who you are:

  1. Drive with your eyes closed. Select a destination (at home, away from distractions), then drive straight there without taking your eyes off the road.  This way, you won’t get off track with really cool distractions.
  2. Planning is for losers. Just hop in the car, drive, and be surprised.  Chances are, you won’t go very far, but you’ll enjoy every minute of it.
  3. Focus on day trips. You’ll end up staying less than half an hour from home, so why pay for a hotel room?  Unless your objective is to prop up the French economy.

November 9, 2010   5 Comments

A New Toilet Experience

Whenever you travel, but especially when you travel with kids, dealing with basic bodily functions can be an adventure. I do know many of the rules of going potty on the road:

  • Never pass up the opportunity to use a restroom that is there and available, even if you just went 15 minutes ago
  • If you’re squeamish about turkish toilets (I confess, I still am no matter how many times I tell myself that it’s much more hygenic) look for the handicap stall which always has a proper seat
  • In a pinch, McDonald’s has free and (usually) reasonably clean toilets

But this one was new to me:

Unusual toilet paper location

No, this picture does not mean that they have placed an extra sign in the stall to assure you that you are indeed in the ladies room – just in case panic strikes at the thought you might be in the wrong location right at the moment of peak indignity.

In fact, the toilet paper is OUTSIDE of the restroom – ABOVE EYE LEVEL!!! It is likely obvious from the fact that I’m posting this picture, but this small but very, very important detail escaped me until after the time when it would have been useful.

New rule:  Scout all around the perimeter before entering any public toilet.

November 1, 2010   4 Comments

The Joy of Travelling with Kids

Mostly I think that traveling with the kids is great. They experience the world in a whole different way, which gives a completely different travel experience. On our last visit to a medieval village, JM and I were looking at this interesting church  which was half really old and half super-duper-amazingly-incredibly old. Meanwhile the girls were completely fascinated by the pigeons living in the church steeple. It was fun to watch them watch the pigeons.

Church or pigeons? Depends how old you are.

Then there are those OTHER TIMES.

When we first arrived we rented a car at the Lyon airport that was big enough for all our year-away luggage – and it was expensive. Once we were settled we decided to do a quick trip to return that car to Lyon, then take the train back to Valence where we could rent a smaller, cheaper car until we could buy something. The girls LOVE trains. This would be a fun family outing. We grabbed the girl’s doudous (stuffed animals) and the DSes and headed out.  There was a TGV (French high-speed train) leaving Lyon at 11:30, so we left at 8:30 to give ourselves extra time. Fun day with trains and kids, here we come.

We did hit a bit of traffic on the way to Lyon, so used up the extra time, but were still in good shape.  But then the vomiting began. We immediately formed a new electronics rule – NO DSes IN THE CAR!

Vomiting when you have a barf bag is really no big deal. You fold up the bag, toss it, wash your face (brush if you’re lucky) and almost nobody notices. Vomiting without a barf bag a VERY different matter.  So I always travel with a barf bag.

But not that day.  That day I didn’t have the barf bag. Didn’t have a change of clothes. Didn’t have any rags, paper towels or Kleenex.  Didn’t even have a bottle of water. I just had a pukey child with pukey clothes in a pukey booster seat with a pukey doudou.

We got most of the mess cleaned up – enough to keep going to the airport. I put Z in my sweater which was a sort-of dress for her, put all the vomitty stuff in the backpack, and we made it to the train just in time.

First TGV ride.

JM had arranged to pick up the new rental car at the “Valence TGV station”. We got to Valence and grabbed lunch, then found the Avis counter at the train station to pick up the car.  But apparently the TGV we were on didn’t go to the Valence TGV station, it went to the Valence Ville station. We had to grab another train – leaving in 2 minutes of course, so we had to rush the girls through another train station – to get to where our rental car actually was.

We finally got the new rental car and were less than an hour away from the house. Then we hit THE TRAFFIC JAM.  It took us two hours to travel 10 kms (6 miles)!!!  And remember that new NO DSes IN THE CAR RULE? It didn’t last for more than 3 hours.  The kids needed something to keep them busy while we sat on the road doing absolutely nothing viagra chez pfizer.

Traffic Jam on the A7.

It turned out a paper truck had turned over on the freeway.

Paper that caused the traffic jam – cleaned up by the time we drove by.

We did get home that day – very late, very hungry, and very smelly. We will get better at this. To start, the car now has a stock of barf bags ready to go for next time.

September 21, 2010   2 Comments

Very Superficial Comparison: Rural Saskatchwan vs. Silicon Valley

It’s three weeks until we take off for France.  We are in Canada visiting my family. Yes, that seems like a crazy idea, but there is reason behind the madness. My Mom has health issues so we won’t see them for at least a year, my family had a big reunion, and we don’t have childcare in August so this coming week my parents are babysitting while I get some work done.

So here we are. We’ve done a LOT of driving around Saskatchewan the last week, which has given me pause to reflect on some of the differences between my home province in Canada and my current home in California. Here’s just a few:

Rural Saskatchewan Silicon Valley
Full-service gas stations with friendly teenagers who clean your windshields when you fill up. No need to scrub bug guts off your windshield with every fill.
The local coffee shop can tell me my Dad’s regular coffee order without being told whose daughter I am. People at my local Starbucks call me “Julie”. (My name is not Julie.)
Real perogies and cabbage rolls. Great Mexican food.
Insanely kind gentleman ended his call so I could use the only payphone in a 50-mile radius to close an important new client. Cell coverage everywhere – no need to depend on the kindness of strangers to make a phone call.
Amazing sunsets and incredible lightening storms. Fantastic vistas including actual elevation changes.
Hard to spell, but very easy to draw. Lemons grow in the backyard.

Wondering how the south of France will compare. Departure is getting close…

August 9, 2010   5 Comments