• US: East/South
• New Zealand
• US: West/North
• Folly Cove
With the war on, we debated for a while whether it would be worth the hassle to go to France. Friends, relatives, newspapers, and fellow travelers all told us to expect a lot of Anti-Americanism. (A French-Canadian couple we met in Italy had just been to France and said that even they were given a hard time due to Canada’s mere proximity to America.) Our concerns were proved to be completely without merit. All the French we met were friendly and welcoming. If pressed, most French would say that they weren’t Anti-America, just Anti-Bush.
The TGV — Blood on Les Tracks
We started the Eurail leg of our travels with a sleeper train from Venice to Provence. After taking sleeper trains in Thailand, India and now France, we can easily say that the Thai trains win hands down for comfort and above all, minimal mayhem. The uncontrolled chaos at an Indian train station is rivaled only by the efficiency driven bedlam on France’s hyper-punctual TGV. When the TGV pulls in to town, everyone has roughly one minute and 32 seconds before the train is gone again in a blur. So to get on board, or off, little old ladies throw elbows. Little old men throw little old ladies. One guy, in an effort to disembark the departing train, smashed his fist through a glass case for the emergency brake. This only caused more pandemonium as his artery squirted all over the car. It was with great relief that we finally got off the train in Provence.
Avignon — Positively Pouring in Pontifical Provence
The weather in Provence, however, was not very welcoming. We arrived in the old Papal refuge of Avignon on a rainy, cold afternoon to find the restaurants and shops all closed. We were starving, and the only thing open was McDonald’s. We mumbled Pulp Fiction lines to each other as we ordered our Royale with Cheese and gazed at the Rembrant reproductions gracing the walls and the patrons sipping their vin rouge as they ate their petites pomme frittes (like freedom fries, just alot less bitter). It was so strange to hear a teenager behind the counter at McDonald’s speaking French — as if we were in some fancy French restaurant or something! (Dana continued to have a hard time with this concept throughout our stay in France… people actually use French to accomplish such mundane tasks as flipping burgers or filing paperwork???! Incroyable!)
We finally found some real French restaurants, where our combined nine years of French study couldn’t help us decipher some of the menu items, so we often found ourselves eating such fine French delicacies as blood sausage. Yummy.
We spent a lot of our time in Avignon kicking around the cobblestone streets in the shadow of the Papal Palace, where the popes resided full-time during Rome’s political instability in the 14th century. Unfortunately, we don’t have a strong opinion of Avignon since the weather was gloomy, cold, and rainy for our entire stay. We canceled an intended trip to the Provence countryside and instead declared Avignon an official site of the Rousmaniere travelling weekend. We spent a lot of time in our hotel room reading “A Year in Provence” and keeping our wallets in our pockets in an effort to save up for Paris.
Two unfortunate images of Avignon do stand out in our minds: 1. minefields of doggie doo-doo smeared all over the streets; 2. the number of homeless people on the streets, kneeling on mats with their eyes cast downward and their arms outstretched like statues, hour after hour after hour, as if doing some sort of penance. They were a startling contrast to the beggars in India and Cambodia who would run right up to you, grab your arm, look in your eyes, and ask for money very forthrightly (we were even more startled by the beggars on the street in Paris, some of whom had portable CD players and sported leather jackets).
Paris — Going to Le Show
We had a private pep rally the morning we left Avignon, psyching ourselves up for the trip to Paris. As we saw it, were about to put all the travel-know-how we’d learned over the past few months to the final test: getting to, getting around, and finding cheap lodging in one of the most expensive cities in the world. As the train pulled into Paris Will gave Dana a quick shoulder-squeeze and said: “This is it — we’re goin’ to The Show!”
We walked out of the train station to find that spring was springing in Paris! The tulip gardens were in full-bloom, the cherry trees were snowing pink petals on the sidewalks, and the street musicians were out in full-force. It was all so beautiful that we couldn’t resist breaking the law and sitting on the lush green grass in the park, one eye out for the grass police (there is such a thing, and Will has a 1991 near-conviction to prove it).
We realized later not to mock these bad french mo-fo’s. The Paris Police are right out of a T.V. action series. We witnessed two very cool mod-squadders bust up a drug deal. A few days later, as we stood in line outside the Musé’e D’Orsay, the Indian street vendors suddenly went into a panic, frantically stashed their Evian cases under manhole covers, rolled up their Renoir reprints and ran like hell! French Robo-cops then sprinted by right on their heels, a blue blur streaking along the Seine for miles. We doubt these supercops have ever seen a donut. We didn’t sit in the grass after that.
If the police weren’t eating the pastries, we decided somebody better do it for them. The patisseries were one of the highlights of Paris. At first we pressed our noses to the windows longingly, wishing we had allocated an éclair fund in the travel budget. After a few torturous days, we threw budgetary caution to the wind and decided to eat our way through Paris. Whatever we saw, whatever our little hearts and bellies desired, would be ours! It was grand plan… the grandest we’d had yet! Until… one hour later… we were writhing in pain a mere two blocks into our gastronomic go ‘round. We couldn’t even look at food for several days.
Our culinary options exhausted, we decided to see the sights. We went to Notre Dame, strolled down the Champs Elyseé, saw the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, and plowed through the Louvre and the Musée D’Orsay — which was like the best art history class ever! Exhausted, we sat outside the Louvre in the Jardin de Tuilleries and watched kids big and small push wooden sailboats in the fountain.
We had the distinct pleasure of meeting up with Dana’s second-cousin Doug and his beautiful and ebullient fiancé Dao, who have been living in Paris for a few years. Dana hadn’t seen Doug since we were about eight years old at an amusement park, so it was fun to get reacquainted over something other than how rad that last loop-the-loop was. We were fascinated listening to Doug talk about the work/writing that he’s doing trying to work a mathematical proof for the random (or non-random) occurrence of events. Based on what we heard, we’re keeping our eyes peeled for Doug’s imminent Nobel Prize. Doug and Dao were married in Provence in August, and are now making their home in Hanoi, the Paris-of-the-East. We wish them all the luck in the world, and hope their new home has a pull-out couch!
After a too-short stay, we bid a fond adieu to France: “Au revoir Pastries!" Ooops, we meant… “Au revoir, Paris!”