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Road Trip

by on July 12, 2012

Hi everyone, we’re back in town after a delightful 2-day road trip to the countryside.

Sorry, all you Paris lovers…. Renee and I are now convinced that we like small towns better than big bustling cities… we had a really really nice time.  It was two days ago so it’s hard to blog the feelings we had at the time, but I’ll try:

We stayed in a 18-century hotel that has been newly remodeled to Embassy-Suites-standards… little niceties like real shower, solid mattress, etc. We really wanted to stay a few more days… it made our 17th-century Paris apartment that was remodeled to about 1950s standards seem not all that nice.

The hotel was in a really beautiful little town in Normandy called Fougeres… it was an important crossroads between Normandy and Brittany in the middle ages  (we learned a lot about the history), and its 1200AD castle is still standing. Of course we went to the castle, but the best picture we have is just the castle, none of us.  Sorry.


It’s just amazing that places like this still exist… in real life, not in paintings…  and so many of them!  There are castles like this dotted across the entire French countryside.

Of course the big attraction in this part of France is Mont San Michel, the 1300-year old abbey perched on the top of a small island offshore. It is simply mind-blowing!  Heck, in 800 AD they barely had arithmetic and writing… how did they possibly know how to do the structural engineering to build a castle that would stand for thousands of years????   We took the advice of the web sites and went on the late night tour after most of the tourists had cleared out, and some local performance artists had done some really cool things with the buildings including light shows, live music, etc.  So we were, for example, virtually alone in the main church with a harpist playing some really spacey music. Very special.

Naturally we found lots of things at this site that looked like Harry Potter scenes…’s  “Hogwarts”


“Diagon Alley” (the small village at the base of the abbey)


The Great Hall


And naturally, the whole island was protected with an entry portal with…. all together now…. a drawbridge, moat and (look it up) portcullis!


And now for the second time in one blog post, I’ll violate Renee’s rule that every picture must have one of us in it, and show this.   It was a gray and rainy day, but for a moment the sun came out and cast a shadow of the whole island backwards onto the mud flats.  It doesn’t come out that impressive in the picture, but it was pretty neat when it happened.


Our Garmin GPS was clearly set on “take me the shortest possible way” from the hotel to the Mont, which put us on cow-path roads through tiny towns.   So here we are in the village of Beauvoir, which is one of the possible sources of our name Beaver…. my ancestors apparently came from France to England in about the 1600s, and then to New York in the 1700s.


(No, we didn’t knock on any doors to say “Hi, we’re your relatives from America”)

Then of course we went to the D-Day beaches in Normandy.  Other than the memorial,  Omaha Beach looks like any other beach…. but if you look out at the ocean and imagine it totally filled with ships, and the air filled with planes, and all the fighting as soldiers clawed their way up the cliffs… you do get a chill.


The American Cemetery was pretty amazing also… 9,000 gravestones in perfectly straight lines off into the distance


The thing I have to say about this is it meant absolutely nothing to the kids.  D Day feels like it was all way in the past to Renee and I, yet we were shocked to realize we were born less than 20 years after the invasion. To the kids, who haven’t seen any of the movies, it was all just abstract.  I wish we could have watched “The Longest Day” (probably not “Saving Private Ryan”… too intense!) before taking them.

They did learn a bit about the history, which only led to some very complicated discussions about power, dictators, wars, and such.  “Why didn’t they just sit down with Hitler and talk it out?” and “Why did the Germans choose Hitler to be their Dictator?” were only 2 of many questions that we found very difficult to explain.  (I pointed  out that we did “talk it out” with Stalin after the war… so that technique is not unheard of in international relations).

And although we’re a long way from college students backpacking through Europe, we did do this overnight trip with our backpacks on the train… here we are waiting for our train, to prove that we can in fact travel light, and the kids are carrying their share.


Two final random thoughts that came to Renee and I:

1) We’ve now gone three full weeks spending every minute of every day all together.   Parents, think about how much time you really spend that close to your kids in a normal week?  Renee and I are learning a lot about the kids … their rhythms, priorities, emotions and etc… that we just don’t get on a hectic school day.

2)  This whole adventure is much more mentally taxing for us than a typical vacation.  Between the language barriers, unfamiliarity with how things work, finding food the kids will eat, etc., we’re finding that everything we do takes twice as long, and is twice as hard, as a trip to Florida.  Even going out to see a movie takes an hour to figure out.  We’re staying on top of it…  on this side trip there were about 10 major things that could have gone badly and thrown a big monkey wrench into our plans, but they all worked out as intended. So far, so good…



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  1. Mary Privitera permalink

    Ok, finally have to pipe up and leave a message instead of just following along silently….love the shadow picture of the castle, simply fabulous.

    Dropped D,E,H&B at BART early this morning, so they are on their way. Could you please have them tell me what time their flight gets into SFO on the 23rd? It would probably be better to pick them up than have to ride BART home exhausted. Thanks!

    Keep up the great blogging, I am loving it and taking notes! Mary

  2. Lucy permalink

    It looks as if Anna is growing. She’s getting closer to Renee’s height. I told Anna she’s not allowed to come back taller than me and I don’t think she listened!!

  3. Hi guys, this is Solveig! I’m SOOOO glad that you’re having a fun time in Paris!!! First off, I would like to say that that castle really DOES look like Hogwarts!! And, for the first time in History: “The Beavers have packed lightly!!!!!!” ( By the way, I DID get my parent’s permission to post this comment!!) Look forward to hearing more of your about your spectacular adventure in Paris!!!

  4. Aunt Ginny permalink

    Sounds like a wonderful and adventurous journey the past few days. Amazing castle. Love the “Sand Castle” shot. You must be doing something right as everyone looks cheery. Glad to have you back online.

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