This week I'll present my journal of our adventures in France in five parts. It won't be linear and it won't be exhaustive, but I hope it will be somewhat entertaining.
France, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thy cheeses and thy gorgeous fruits and breads, not to mention the genius that is the pain au chocolat and the oranais pastry. Thine art is a feast for mine eyes; thy language falls so sweetly upon mine ears. I love thy tiny, vibrant villages filled with cranky old men and nearly nude octagenarian sunbathers. I love just about everything....
We found lodgings through HomeLink.org, and I highly recommend the house exchange system. We had a very positive experience all the way around. The house itself was great: 300 years old, right on a main road in the village of Neauphle-le-Chateau, which is about 20 minutes outside of Versailles. The husband of our exchange family is an architect, so the inside of the house was interesting and comfortable (though not the most babyproof place--their youngest child is seven).
The house had a tiny backyard completely enclosed by a 10-foot stone wall that had ivy, grapevines, and espaliered pears clinging to it. There was a little wooden swingset, a hammock, lots of bee-covered lavender and rose bushes, and enough chairs so that we could all eat outside while watching the golden French twilight fall and listening to the carillion of the village church....
Only drawbacks: lilliputian washer/dryer. And we took only three days' worth of clothes each, so we did 2-3 loads of laundry per day. No matter; it was like regular life. I just hope the our exchange family didn't have a collective heart attack when their electric bill arrived. Oh, also: lilliputian kitchen sink. So arty; so useless for actually washing dishes. But the kids were on KP most nights, so it was fine.
Only 20 minutes away from Neauphle (in the other direction from Versailles) was Montfort-l'Amaury, birthplace of my ancestor Simon de Montfort. We visited the ruins of the castle (which was destroyed in the Hundred Years' War) and the gorgeous little church with lovely intact 16th century windows.
We also went to the public pool in Montfort, whereupon we found out that males MUST wear "les slips de bain." Or, in other words (you guessed it): Speedos. C'est beaucoup plus hygienique, n'est-ce pas? Christian balked initially, but all four Perkins males ended up getting new swimwear out of the vending machine conveniently located in the poolhouse's lobby. Though it took them a while to not be embarrassed, the boys actually looked great, and P looked hotter than July, what with the suit and the gorgeous vandyke beard he grew while on our trip.
Giverny: even more gorgeous that you would imagine. Monet's house is to die for; the kitchen is bright yellow with delft blue tiles everywhere and an enormous range (even bigger than mine). All the rooms are painted the most beautiful pastel shades--the original colors Monet devised for the house, about a century before anyone else was coming up with these color combinations. The gardens were at their peak and TO DIE FOR. No picture or essay could possibly do them justice. They are as sublime as his paintings. The Japanese garden is idyllic, and standing on the little arched bridge Monet painted so many times, looking at the water lilies--you feel as if you yourself are art. Transporting. My version of heaven looks an awful lot like Giverny.
Our first day in Paris, we took a Batobus from the Eiffel Tower to the Botanical Gardens and back. We wanted to orient the kids using the river Seine; there's so much to see from the water, and you get a great sense of the city's center that way. We got off the boat at the Louvre and walked across town to the Opera quarter, where we went to a multimedia presentation called Paris Story.
It was cheesy and unutterably French: the history of Paris told in dialogue between an actor playing Victor Hugo and an actress who represented the spirit of Paris. The best part of it was that in the lobby of the theater, there was a large, 3D map of Paris with a list of landmarks at the bottom. You could press a button next to the landmark's name and the site on the map would light up. The kids played with that for a long time, and they really did get a sense of where things were in the city. After Paris Story, we strolled through the streets to the Tuileries Gardens, where we had ice cream. Heaven!
Coming soon in Part II: a French amusement park, a gorgeous cathedral, and the best backyard dinner ever.