Thursday, October 9, 2008

Visit with the Dude: Chapter 1

Chapter 1: From Amsterdam to Paris to Bouzigues

Who is The Dude?

For those of you who don’t know, we call my dad “Dude” (this started when Alex was a baby). He was here visiting for the last 5 days, which proved to be far, far too short! However, we managed to fit so many fun things into that 5 days that this blog post will be in two chapters.

Dude was given a free trip to a hardwood floor mill in Amsterdam. He is such a great customer of this mill that they flew him out for some schmoozing, including a visit to the mill, wining and dining, etc. He extended his return ticket so he could come see us!

He rendezvoused with us in Paris, traveled with us to Bouzigues, and flew from Montpellier back to Amsterdam on October 8th. He’ll be back in the US on October 9th. Counting the countries he rode through on the train, that is 4 countries in 6 days.


Debb and Reed, our wonderful benefactors here in Bouzigues, gave me a fabulous 40th birthday gift: They offered our family a weekend in Paris! Originally, we were going to stay with Debb and Reed in Paris for the weekend. However, their travel arrangements were such that they had to stay in the US. Therefore, they generously offered to let us stay at their amazing apartment. Take a look at this place. It even has a view of the Eiffel Tower.

Here is a link to Reed’s Flickr account with 20 pictures of the apartment. You’ve gotta check it out!

They even have built-in chalkboards for kids! This is the stairway entrance to the apartment.

As luck would have it, this is the same weekend that my dad was planning a rendezvous with us. So, instead of killing time for the only flight from Amsterdam to Montpellier (the closest airport to Bouzigues), he took the train from Amsterdam to Paris.

We took the train from Sete to Paris. Sete is the largest town close to Bouzigues, and they have a train station – it’s about 15 minutes from our house. The train was one of the highlights of our visit with Dude. Max and Josey were doing the typical kid countdown, asking us several times a day (for weeks!), “How long until we see Dude? How long until we get to ride on the train?” The day before we left, Max said, “Mommy, I’m so excited. I think when I see the train I’m going to explode.”

The train ride was 4 hours from Sete to Paris, and . . . we rode in First Class! Debb arranged the tickets for us, and it turned out that there was a promotion for this weekend where the First Class tix were cheaper than Second Class. A birthday gift from the TGV.

It was a very fun ride through amazing French countryside. The fields were bright green with the recent rains to the north, and we saw beautiful villages, sheep and cow farms, vineyards – simply amazing scenery. I commented to Mike that the houses look slightly different to the north, a moderately different architectural style. He pointed out that they are built to handle the colder, wetter climate of the north.

We arrived in Paris Friday evening. Saturday morning was spent leisurely exploring the area around Debb & Reed’s apartment, killing time until Dude’s 12:35 arrival. The weather was chilly but gorgeous! Our Bouzigaud friends had warned us about the cold of Paris, so we were appropriately bundled.

We found the farmer’s market street 2 blocks over, and we were tickled by the produce stands, boucheries (butchers), cremeries (cheese stores), boulangeries (the best chocolate croissants yet!), etc. We loaded up on goodies, then headed back to the apartment. We wanted to have plenty of time to pick up my dad, since we were planning to take either the train or the bus (more adventure!).

Ha! Here is serendipity at work. Our train from Sete arrived at the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris, and we assumed that is where my dad would arrive as well. As we disembarked, Mike looked around and said, “Let’s see where we should have Dude meet us tomorrow.” We spotted an Upper Crust Pizza parlor (not a branch of the Santa Cruz eatery, but very funny nonetheless!), and we thought that would be a great rendezvous point for my dad. We sent the message through my mom, and we were feeling 100% confident that we would find him with no problem at all. Easy peasy.

As luck would have it, Saturday morning Mike picked up a map that Debb left for us. He said, “Hmmm . . . there are a lot of train stations on this map. Are you sure your dad’s train is coming into Gare de Lyon?” I looked at him in puzzlement, since he made the train reservation. We quickly pulled up Dude’s train itinerary in our email to find that he was arriving at the Gard de Nord. Oh no! Dude was already on his train, heading for Paris, and we didn’t know how to get to his train station! Can you imagine my temporary panic?!

Seriously – Paris is gigantic, and we had no clue where the Gare de Nord was or how to get there. And my dad’s train was due in 90 minutes or so. Remember, all street signs, bus signs, etc. are in French, so getting around Paris is not easy for us.

Mike to the rescue!

Mike whipped out the computer, Googled the Gare de Nord, looked up the directions using (the equivalent of Mapquest here in France) and emailed the directions to his iPhone (which has GPS). I love being married to a computer geek! We managed to phone Dude on the train and give him the new rendezvous info, and we set out on foot for the Gare de Nord (only about 3.5 kilometers from the apartment, thank goodness). That's it below.

We made it! Can you believe that? What a huge potential for disaster – averted by Mike happening to pick up a map that Debb left out of thoughtfulness. Thanks Debb! Thanks Dado!

Dado saw Dude stepping off the train, and we saw them both moments later. It was so good to see him!! I thought the kids might knock him over they grabbed his legs so hard with huge hugs. He looked fabulous, although very, very tired. Jet lag!

When we got Dude back to the apartment, we decided that we had to go to the Eiffel Tower. The kids really wanted to climb to the top. Once again, Dado got us directions and had them on the new iPhone.

Sidebar: Okay . . . I must admit that his insistence to buy that dumb French iPhone really paid off this weekend. Do any of you remember my disgruntled stories about driving through Montpellier to get to the Orange store (a trip we had to do several times before we actually got the phone)? Well, with the built-in GPS, the iPhone did help us get to the Gare de Nord, the Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame. It was a pain-in-the-butt to buy the darn thing, but it is cool.

He he he . . . When Dude saw the view of the Eiffel Tower from the apartment, he said, “That’s at least a mile away.” I thought to myself, that’s not so far. Ha! That’s as the crow flies, of course. By foot, that sucker was a mighty long walk from the apartment. I carried Max the last 2 blocks, and he was far too tired to climb to the top. That even turned out for the best, though. The line to buy tickets to climb the stairs was at least 500 people long. We all decided that we could experience that exciting climb another day. Poor Dude was quite jetlagged, too!

I have to admit – we took a taxi back to the apartment.

Here is a beautiful picture that Mike snapped of the sun beaming next to the Eiffel Tower.

It was a great leisurely day, besides the train station panic. And I’m the only one who was panicked. We saw so many cool things, but the coolest of all was Dude! It was so wonderful just to sit around talking to him. I haven’t done that in almost 3 months.

On Sunday, we all slept in and got a late start on our adventures. Unfortunately, the weather was awful – super cold, windy, and rainy. Max really wanted to see Notre Dame, so we headed in that direction with the iPhone GPS guiding us along. After a few blocks, I decided that I really had to get some hot chocolate. Shucks! We wandered into a café and ordered up 3 chocolat chaudes, an espresso, and a cappuccino, along with two plates of demi-patisseries. Yum! Thus fortified, we headed back into the cold. The rain held off long enough for us to visit the gorgeous St. Eustache church.

My dad and I stared at the gorgeous pipe organ in wonder . . . imagining my Grandpa Bob playing it. It is amazingly beautiful. We stayed long enough to marvel at the architecture and artwork and for Dude to light a candle for his mom.,_Paris

When we left the church, we decided to go for one more block to see what we could see and give the rain a chance to dry up. We found a great park for the kids, and the rain clouds drifted away! Woohoo! It stayed dry long enough for us to see Notre Dame. I saw it in July, but I wasn’t able to see inside on that trip. This weekend, we toured the inside and saw the rose window. Amazing!

We followed Notre Dame up with lunch in another French café, complete with crepes for dessert. The waiter was funny and helpful. I was asking him in English how we could call a cab later to the train station, and he told me I had to ask in French. It was great – and I did it! It was the most enjoyable meal out I’ve had in a long time. Great company, great spirits!

After lunch, we had to power-walk back to the apartment to clean, pack, and get to the train station. We had planned to call a cab, but it’s difficult to find a cab to carry 5 people in Paris. So, Mr. Adventurous (Mike) decided that we’d all take the bus. It was super easy! The bus stop was 1 block from the apartment, and the bus comes every 5 minutes. We hopped on, and 15 minutes later we were at the Gare de Lyon train station. We had enough time left over to buy chicken, cheese, and bread for dinner on the train.

One brief stop we made on the way back to the apartment was at this museum with the lips fountain. Dado and I used "French in Action" videos to learn some French before we left the US (this was the curriculum from his San Jose City College class), and this fountain is in those videos. When we got to Paris, Mike said, "We have to find the lips." I didn't think we would ever find them, but . . . voila! All by accident. Check out the wind, too. This one's for you, Professor Berke!

The train ride home was very low key. Most of it was in the dark, so we didn’t get to see the beautiful countryside. However, Dude and the kids had fun visiting the dining car. I asked the kids, “What is your favorite way to travel now? Train or plane?” Remember, Max had never even been on a plane before leaving for France. Josey’s answer? “First class train, Mommy. I added first class because it’s probably a lot better than second class on the train.” LOL

Chapter 2 coming soon! Love to all!

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