Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Trip Story: The Rest of the French Trip

I think I should try to finish off my blog posts about my summer vacations before summer ends. My kids don't go back to school until the day after Labor Day, so by my reckoning I have two weeks left to get this wrapped up. I'd better get going!

Today, let's finish off the French Trip. Last time I posted on this, we were in St. Jean de Luz, enjoying the laid back pace and excellent food. We had two more stops before we flew home: Dax, to attend the wedding that prompted this trip, and Lagrasse, to see my sister-in-law and her family, who happened to be vacationing in France, too. Now, if you look at a map and find Dax and then find the Lagrasse we visited, which is the one near Carcassonne, you will notice that this was a mighty big detour. However, it wasn't as big of a detour as from San Diego to New Zealand, which is where my sister-in-law lives. And she has a toddler son we had yet to meet.... enough said, right?

Anyway, let's go back to the start of this leg, when we left St. Jean de Luz. We decided to see a little bit more of Basque country, and drove first to Espelette. This is a ridiculously charming village famous for its red peppers, which are hung to dry on the buildings in town.

See? Ridiculously charming.

From Espelette, we wanted to go to Les Grottes d'Isturitz and Oxocelhaya, which were our most convenient option for seeing some ancient cave art. The Isturitz cave was occupied between 80,000 and 15,000 BCE, and you can view carvings on one pillar in the cave. It is amazing to stand and see something carved by prehistoric people. However, we understandably could not take pictures of it, so if you want to see it you will have to visit for yourself.

We were not yet in high tourist season, so the caves weren't open until mid-afternoon. To occupy our time between Espelette and then, we drove to La Bastide -Clairence, which our guidebook noted had been voted one of the most beautiful villages in France. It was quite pretty, but we had been spoiled by Espelette and the other Basque towns, and everything was closed for the long lunch break... so it wasn't a very exciting stop. Still, it did the job of occupying us until we could go to the caves.

After the caves, we drove on to Dax, got settled into our hotel, and then went for a stroll around town. We had dinner at a pizza place- which some might consider tragic, since Dax is best known for its food. But I just couldn't keep up a steady stream of rich meals, and I knew that the wedding dinner the next day was likely to be impressive, so pizza it was. The highlight of that meal was me trying to order the apple tart dessert for Mr. Snarky and accidentally asking for a potato tart. (Apple = pomme, potato = pomme de terre, and I was tired.)

The following morning, we walked along the river and found ourselves at a park in which a petanque league was playing- it looked a bit like an American recreational bowling league. Teams wore matching shirts, but were clearly there primarily to have a good time. The park was in front of the bull stadium. This part of France has a tradition of bull running and bullfighting. This is controversial, and not something we delved into during our stay. On the day we wandered past the stadium, it looked like an event was about to take place, and we suspect we saw one of the athletes talking to fans while we ate our lunch- but we are not sure.

A statue in the park

Anyway, we continued on past the stadium for a bit, and then walked back for lunch. Here I made another error trying to order my food, and ended up with a plate of cèpes, not the crepes I thought I had read on the specials menu. Cèpes are a type of mushroom. Our waiter enthused about how wonderful they were, and how lucky I was that they had just come into season. Sadly, I am not really a fan of mushrooms, so my opinion of my lunch was somewhat muted, particularly since I had been aiming for a light lunch, and instead had a plate of mushrooms cooked in butter. Mr. Snarky tried them and agreed with the waiter, so at least someone appreciated them.

The wedding that afternoon was beautiful, and the party that evening was phenomenal. They are not my stories to share, so I will not go into details (other than to say that the food was indeed delicious and the wine free-flowing), but I was so glad I was able to be there.

French wedding receptions go until the wee hours of the morning, and this one was no exception. We got back to our hotel at about 2 a.m., and between the late night, the rich food, and copious wine, I wasn't all that happy at breakfast the next morning. But I made it through, and we drove east, towards Provence and my sister-in-law.

We stopped to visit Carcassonne, because it would have been strange not to. Carcassonne is a walled medieval village that is amazingly intact. It is a beautiful place, full of history. It is also jammed full of people, and full of tourist shops. Still, if you ever get the chance to visit it, take it.

Fairy tale time!

We went from Carcassonne to Lagrasse, a tiny little village that was every bit as beautiful and charming as the Basque villages we'd visited, just with different aesthetics.

Also ridiculously charming

We had a wonderful evening visiting my sister-in-law and her family and doting on our nephew... and then, the next morning, we got up early and drove to the airport in Toulouse. Three flights and roughly 24 hours later, I was home. Mr. Snarky went on to the UK for work. We'd had a great trip, and enjoyed the chance to travel on our own again, but I missed my kids and was so happy to see them. Traveling for long periods seems like something I should mostly do with them right now. We'll probably try for some shorter kid-free get aways in 2016 if my parents are up for it, but I think the big vacation will be a family one. That's just me, though- I know a lot of people swear by having regular "parents only" vacations. I'm not sure why it isn't something I want to do a lot of, but it isn't. As hard as it would have been to feed my "highly selective eaters" in France and as nice as the leisurely evenings out were, I kept seeing things I wished I could show them. I guess this phase of my life just feels like a "kids included" phase.

Still, the French Trip was a great one!

Completely unrelated to this post: I'm running a subscription drive for my newsletters. Sign up by Sunday to be entered into a drawing to win a free book by Laura Vanderkam! Details are in the last post. 

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