Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bubbles and Reflections

For the record: Our last full day in France. How did that happen so quickly? Today we plan to drive back to Paris CDG, check in at the Mariott, then head to Epernay and the Mercier or Moet factory for the cellar tour. We considered Reims, but Ep is small and quiet if memory serves, plus we have taken the Mercier tour before and know what to expect.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006 Beauvoir, FR

We were all taken by the beauty of the Normadie-Haut countryside as we navigated some of the best roads we’ve driven anywhere. I was explaining to Em that Kat is my co-pilot and it takes a lot of concentration sometimes to drive here. She said "Well, I'm your cow-pilot!" as she must tell us everything she sees; cows, dogs, cows, cats, cows, horse etc. She cracks us up sometimes.

Checking in was a breeze (even though we were very early) and they gave us a 2 room suite in place of the two separate rooms I had booked. They made up the uncomfortable (per Em) sofa bed while we headed to Epernay.

The countryside in Champagne is beautiful, very different from what we had left a short time before and the vines were just beginning to bud. We went directly to the Mercier house bought our tickets and checked out the (very) large barrel that had been used for production and promotion when the house was but a shack. It's more interesting than it seems now. An English tour was just about to begin and it was going to be intimate with just 6 of us. The guide spoke passable English and was quite comical. We took the little train through the caves, marveling at all the bottles just sitting there waiting. (They had some demonstrative riddling racks set up, but told us they now do it by machine. I wonder what all the unemployed riddlers are doing now. It's a puzzle. Sorry.)

We did meet a very funny/nice British couple outside and chatted with them for about 20 minutes. Even had them take our picture (one of the few of the three of us). We laughed about shared impressions (about the French for instance)and stereotypes of each other. I chided them for needing the US to save them or they would be speaking German, and he said, "Oh right, late to the party as usual." We had a fascinating chat about the Euro and why Britain will never switch, the idea of tying the British market to the German (with the East) and the nature of competing economic cycles it would kill Britain.

Their (our) language is rich as they were in “rude health” (good) and her French (according to her) was execrable. How often do you hear that word used in a sentence?

Changing the car's navigation system (which worked quite well with a female British voice) from French to English gave us a chuckle as we thought of the challenge it would present to the next renters. (Or maybe not, it might be our British friends.)

It was a piece of cake returning the car to CDG terminal 1 (International) which was just about deserted in the early evening. Since most flights terminating in Paris arrive in the morning, we missed the organized chaos one normally encounters. I like the varied nationalities moving a mile a minute, fighting over baggage, and speaking myriad languages.

We took the hotel bus back and was greeted with a nice fruit basket and bottled water. Pretty nice for a free night. The Courtyard (unlike properties of the same name here in the US) is a full service hotel that markets the room we were in for 350 Euros a night. Em loved the bath robes and slippers. Too bad she had a pull out bed, as ours was very, very comfortable. On our last night in Paris, we decided to eat in, and was rewarded with an excellent (and expensive) meal. Em was in heaven with real hamburger and fries (and ketchup). Afterward we sat in the lobby bar with a rum & tonic for Kat at 16 Euros (am I yelling that?), and a coffee for me. Oh well, free room, right?

Thursday April 20, 2006 CDG

By nine o'clock we were going through security (Em got “wanded” which she hated. She doesn’t like anyone touching her. I thought it was funny.) We left right on time and were winging our way over the Atlantic before we knew it. About 2 ½ hours into our 7 hour flight to Montreal we figured it was a good time to reflect on life, us, and the trip. Some notes:

Emily's answers to any and all questions are: What? or Weird! or Annoying, or (our particular favorite), I don’t know. No matter what the question, we were rewarded with one of those four.

Our overall reactions:

… the people were generally nice,
… the prices generally higher,
… the tolls and gas (diesel) were very expensive.
… Air Canada is not that friendly
… the Marriott CDG is fabulous in all respects
… a little warmer would have been better
… Beauvoir was a very pleasant surprise

… Kat and I must not be in very bad physical shape because we out-walked and outlasted a 14 year old.

… We are not sure we would bring another grandchild this age. The different food, language, smells, situations can be fairly threatening and Em’s reaction was to shy away and focus inward. Pretty normal we imagine.

… A good lesson learned though is to CLEARLY explain what the experience will be like before leaving. Emily brought neither a good pair of walking shoes or a warm jacket (she wore my Raytheon pullover most days), so better preparation in those two areas is a must.

After about 6 hours our sweet Emily (getting restless no doubt) had turned into a pill. Sitting next to us, at least she was our pill. She was back to her lovable, playful Em with a lot of energy (Save it for Mom was our thought).

We had a lunch, dinner and a snack (pizza) while watching 2 movies (one of which was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire which is the book she is reading), so that gave us some relief. We cleared customs and immigration in Canada (they have US desk there) which is cool. Our Montreal to Boston flight was easy and good; a clear, beautiful day as we passed over the airport.

Lisa and Danny met us shortly after we landed and what a beautiful sight. For Em it seemed she had never even left, picking up Dan and chatting him up. Lisa had quite a tan/burn it seemed from spending the day in Boston at the public gardens, etc. They got on the silver bus to south station to return home.

We missed Em immediately but there is something beautiful, touching, and spirit lifting to say goodbye to a grandchild after they have been with you for a while. Our final flight back to Richmond seemed so anticlimactic, just another plane, runways, terminals, etc. Out of the airport to the car, to home was like sleep walking, and about as challenging. Makes you appreciate home.

All in all a good trip and we are glad that we were able to take Em. We had a lot of laughs and made a lot of good memories. Sometime after we returned home Em called and asked me if I had typed the journal yet, and if so could she please have a copy for a school project that she was doing. She also wanted a set of the pictures that we took. So I rushed thorough the journal and sent it away to her. Well lo and behold, we received in the mail a very nice surprise, a bound book of our trip as a thank you present, including a good part of the journal and some of the pictures that we took. It was really cute, and really very thoughtful. We will cherish it.

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