Being a hexagone, I guess France really has 5 corners. And technically, we didn't really go to all 5 of them but it sure felt like it...
We left Lille on July 28th caravaning with some friends; we decided to make the trip to the Tarn-et-Garonne in 2 days. We really believed we'd get there so early that we'd be able to visit the Chaterau de Chambord in the evening thus saving us precious travel time the next day. I know it's against our better judgement to feed the whole princess obsession, but how can your resist? After an interminable drive and a terrible lunch, we arrived in the beautiful chambre d'hote well after 5pm due to a couple GPS snafus (ie our friends entered the wrong village into their GPS. Oops!) and a lot of Parisian traffic.
I highly recommend the Logis du Bois Renard in Nouan-sur-loire (near Chambord) which is a recently renovated stable, part of a family owned chateau (the owner's parents live in the chateau accross the field). There is a pool, a donkey and some chickens. The property was lovely and we almost got Suzanne and Marlow to believe this was the chateau we planned on visiting before we hit traffic...After we got the kids to sleep, we had a lovely meal at the table d'hôtes.
The next day, we decided to go see the outside of Chambord anyway - how can you pass it up when you're only 10 minutes away? We ate sandwiches on the grass outside the chateau and then hit the road. Everything instantly went pear shape. We had to get out of the cars to pay for the parking which we'd forgotten to do, we got twisted around leaving the chateau grounds, hit a number of dead ends...once the GPS finally got us on course, I was allowed to sleep an hour or so while the friends drove both cars (I am the only driver in our family so I needed a rest to be able to make it through the rest of the drive down south). I woke up with a start when we were completely stopped on the highway not even an hour away from our starting point. After 2 hours of waiting, we finally got to an exit and pulled off the highway. We turned the GPS off - and the traffic radio on to learn that there'd been a huge accident 30 kms away which meant 60 km of bouchon and it wasn't even on the highway we were on! Jerome studied the atlas and got us across the Loire valley by local roads. We finally arrived in the South at midnight...
Our time in Septfonds was marked by Max's firsth birthday, Suzanne falling in the pool and Jerome jumping in after her and some delicious local food. We also had lice, intestinal worms and strep throat.
After 2 lovely - albeit not very sunny weeks in the Southwest where I found some of the most lovely running paths through the woods- we headed to Burgundy where we (Jerome but me by extension) inherited a house from Jerome's grandmother. The house has been empty for 4 years. It was cold. It was musty. We had to light the fireplace and buy winter pyjamas.
The 5 hour drive to Burgundy took 8 hours thanks to the traffic jam only an hour from our starting point. After a lengthy stop at McDonald's (which exists exactly for this purpose!), we decided to take some back roads to Brugundy. We drove past the Puy de Dome, through Vichy and had a late afternoon snack at the Chateau in Lapalisse.
On the first morning in Burgundy, Jerome and I had a visit to the local ER. Max used his legs to push his highchair from the table and fell on his head; he was kind of scary looking and started to vomit. After the most harrowing 30 minute drive of my life, we got to the hospital in Paray-le-Monial (a scarily Catholic town - I have nothing against Catholics, but all the people I saw in Paray seemed to have a glazed look in their eyes. Apparently there was a conference going on for reborn Catholic youth.) The people at the hospital were great and Max was fine; but he and I had to stay overnight. At least we were warm.
On the third day, I went running and got lost in the woods. Jerome's GPS told me I was 20 kms away from where I actually was. I turned around and picked blackberries as I made my way home (I did get home without a problem).
After a week being woken by cows echoing in the valley, we decided to make the trip back North in 2 stages. We spent the night in Troyes - where all the women are rather short and stocky and have brown hair. People don't seem to smile much in Troyes, but we stayed at a really friendly hotel that I highly recommend - Hotel Arlequin in Troyes
When we left Troyes, we decided to stop in Reims for lunch. We found a nice table on the terrace at Edgar Bistrot where the food was great and the service was excellent. The waiters were all joking and even mocking some annoying customers. It was so nice, that Suzanne's precious doudou decided he wanted to stay there. After a moment of panic last night, I realized Suz had left "nana" sleeping on the window ledge. Luckily, they didn't throw nana in the trash. They are actually sending him to us today. Phew.
We had an uneventful drive back from Reims. Just like in the movie Bienvenue chez les chti, as we crossed passed the sign "Departement du Nord", it began raining and it didn't really stop until a few minutes ago.
So what are the conclusions of the past 3 weeks
- vacationing with 2 kids under 5 cannot really be called vacation.
- always know your local Emergency Rooms.
- always check window ledges before leaving a restaurant
- Atlas is more reliable than GPS.
- always pack an extra set of warm pyjamas
- always travel with anti-bacterial ointment, lice shampoo and fluvermal.