Bonjour: take 2

Saturday

We got lost on our way to the rental car place, so the 45 minutes that we had planned on our ride/walk taking ended up being closer to 75 minutes. Jay kept saying we were close, and to his credit we were, but we weren’t having any luck finding the place. He complains that the only time I walk slowly is when I don’t trust that he knows where he is going (normally he complains I walk way too fast). He’s right. I walk slowly when we are lost so that I can a) look for some type of sign or landmark and b) keep my eyes open for any friendly faces willing to help us find our way. Of course I’m careful not to ask if I’m worried it will hurt his “I’m a man and therefore a human compass” ego (Love YOU, J). But really, I feel like he can’t be that upset with me for not trusting him when we are in a foreign country without any type of map, smartphone (seriously, what did we do before smartphones?), or translator. I finally convinced him to ask someone — thankfully, we found a waiter that spoke enough English to point us in the right (and opposite of the way we were going) direction.

After that great, and not at all stressful start to our day, it took another half hour at the rental car place because they lost our ticket (our reward for that 30 minutes: we did not have to pay for the rental car. Hey-o!). Luckily, Jay was the one dealing with them and not me. I might not have been as pleasant. When we finally got the keys and found our way to the car, we couldn’t help but smile. They had given us “big car”, which apparently means minivan in France. Yes, we rocked the minivan. Thinking we could finally get on our way, Jay got in the driver’s seat and tried to turn on the car…

Then he tried again.

And again.

Once we got the car started, we had to figure out how to put it in drive. Two intelligent people should be able to put a car in drive…

I hate to admit that it took us a few tries before we ¬†figured out the car wasn’t moving because the parking brake was still on.

It was another 7 minutes of looking for the parking brake before someone finally took pity on us. It took the attendant a few minutes to figure things out as well (which made us feel a little bit better about ourselves), but eventually he got the car to move forward. Plus, he changed the GPS from French to English. Thank you, Mr. Garage Attendant (even though you were probably laughing at us as soon as you walked away).

It was a four hour drive to Le Mont St. Michel, but it was completely worth it. We got out of our minivan to take some pictures on the side of a small country road.

Jay was really happy to be (almost) done driving for the day.

It almost felt like home with the corn and the cows…

We checked into the hotel and then grabbed something to eat at the place across the street (I was starting to get grumpy again from my low blood sugar). The area reminded me a little bit of the Wisconsin Dells, minus Noah’s Ark and the Duck tours… and it was considerably smaller… and none of the hotels had indoor waterparks… So, I guess it really wasn’t much like the Dells at all, except it just had that feeling of a town that survives solely on tourism.

We made the short walk to the island. We had thought from the pictures that it was surrounded by water (hence, an “island”), but really, it just looked like a few big puddles here and there (remember this later). Although you could see buses full of people walking towards the island, it still looked a bit desolate and eerie, as if they would disappear as soon as they stepped off the bridge. But no worries, this isn’t a creepy ghost story, they all made it back off the island… at least, I think they did. ūüėČ

After doing a little exploring, we made our way to the main attraction, the Mont Saint Michel Abbey. I could tell you the history of this historical landmark, but to make it easier on myself, click the link and Wikipedia can do it for you. It’s Sunday and I’m feeling lazy. After going through are usual restaurant selection process, we picked a restaurant on the island that was just as deserted as all the rest. It was 7 o’clock and we couldn’t figure out where all the dinner patrons could be… was there something we didn’t know about? A rule that says it’s uncool to eat at this time of night? We never did figure it out, but we did get the best seat in the house — a little table for two overlooking the water (well, the puddles). While it was the “best seat in the house”, it was a bit unsettling to see so many bugs on the window and the dead bee on the bench between us. Let’s just I didn’t get cozy with Jay, or the bee.

Dinner wasn’t anything special, in fact, I was disappointed by most of the food we ate on the trip. But they did get a few bonus points with their chocolate ice cream. It was seriously the darkest chocolate ice cream I have ever eaten. I think it was 90% dark chocolate and 10% cream. It was SO GOOD. Jay of course chose fruit sorbet, he is such a chocolate hater. BOO.

Remember when I mentioned the big puddles a few paragraphs ago? Yeah… about those puddles… As we sat through dinner Jay got to watch the tide come in. The water rose quickly and he joked a few times about swimming back to our hotel. While I am more than willing to admit I can be quite naive, I was sure he was joking and didn’t pay much attention to him, until we got down to the bridge.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

This is soooo not funny.

JAY.

Seriously.

Yes, I panicked a little, and I’m sure you are all thinking that there would have had to have been signs posted on the island if you really couldn’t get off after a certain point. But my common sense didn’t kick in right away… and we were in France… we could have easily missed a sign… My brain flashed quickly to us sleeping on the floor of the Abbey next to the crypt. Ugh.

The panic was short-lived. Jay found a waitress that laughed a little at our expense but then told him about the other exit. Thank God. I really would have hated to get my running shoes wet.

Sunday

We typed in Omaha Beach on the GPS and crossed our fingers. After 2 hours and some maneuvering through a handful of small towns (villages?) we found the water. I’m not sure what I expected, but for some reason the beach seemed a little disappointing… like it wasn’t enough for what happened that day. We read the monuments, spent some time walking barefoot on the beach, and laughed at the old people crazy enough to actually get in the water. I was cold in my pants and longsleeve shirt…

After an hour we climbed into the minivan hoping to find something else to explore. Luckily, we saw the signs for the American cemetery. We parked and realized there was far more to explore above the beach — the monuments, the German bunkers, the cemetery, the view. It was all a bit surreal. This was how I expected Normandy to feel. Vast. Unattainable. Somber. Heavy with the bodies, the sorrow and the sacrifices it held. I have never known war; I pray that I will never have to.

The cemetery was immaculate and it made me proud to be an American.

On our way back to Paris we had to stop at the gas station because I have a bladder the size of a pea. I peed in a lot of interesting (gross) bathrooms during our four days in France… I covered some in toilet paper, took my chances with others, and squatted when I was desperate (boys just don’t understand). During our trip I realized that it’s not the squatting that scares me. I can take the burn (anyone who has Jed-ercised can); the problem is that I am terrified of peeing all over myself. You see, I was traumatized as a child. Every winter my Grandpa Jim made a mandatory request that the Keller clan meet in the timber to cut firewood. The men would make a big bonfire, we would roast mallows and hotdogs, and freeze our asses off. It sounds like a nice family tradition, right? Well, as much as I like to ruin stereotypes, I preferred an apron to an axe (I wasn’t strong enough to use one anyway). I usually begged to stay with Grandma, praying that she needed help with the jello salad. She always stood up for me, but it rarely worked. I inevitably found myself chucking wood into the back of my Grandpa’s 1960 something olive green and rust truck (he covered the hole by the gas pedal with a floor mat, otherwise we would get an extra draft in the truck). Another downside to the cold and the wood slinging was that the timber didn’t come up with plumbing. Normally, I strategically planned my bathroom breaks to avoid being stranded in the woods with a full bladder, but on the day of the accident, I knew I was in trouble. I pleaded for someone to take me back to the house so I could do my business on a warm seat with toilet paper. No one took sympathy on me. They told me I had two choices: hold it or squat in the woods like everyone else. Needless to say, I emerged with pee all over myself. I never had to go outside because I was a “city” girl, and on top of that, it just didn’t seem very lady-like.

My cousins laughed at me. I cried out of embarassment.

I put 50% of the blame on the snowpants, they make everyone a little more clumsy.

But I finally got that ride back to Grandma’s house. I just wasn’t wearing any pants.

Monday

Our last day in Paris we visited Notre dame. The whole time I was thinking about the Disney movie and trying to remember gypsy’s name. I couldn’t remember the ending either, but I figured that was a good excuse to watch it again. I put on my mental to-do list.

But in all seriousness, the church was beautiful.

Our last stop: Galeries Lafayette. We thought it was just a large department store (like Harrods), but it was so much more… I would have loved to drool over the Prada bags and the new Gucci line, but my heavy rucksack, sweaty back, and overall gross appearance really killed my buzz.

This isn’t my pictures, but it gives you the idea:

The area around whatever you call this glorious monstrosity (a mall?) was very Paris-like — a lot of cafes and trendy dressed Europeans with a smattering of homeless gypsys. We did stumble upon the opera house, which looked really neat. We thought about taking a picture, but we were tired. Sorry for our lack of motivation, that seems to be a trend in this post.

Hope you enjoy, and once again, I apologize for any typos. I’m tired of staring at my computer on my day off… and the thought of proofreading this entire post makes me want to bang my head against the wall. I’ll fix ’em later. xo!

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Bonjour!

Jay took a half day on Thursday in order to pack and quadruple check that we had all the necessary paperwork and documentation for our trip. When it comes to traveling, he really is the child of Nervous Nancy and Paranoid Pete. Every time we get in the car or leave the house he does this little jig I like to call the triple check — he spastically pats each pocket to make sure his keys, wallet, and phone are securely in place. Sometimes he looks so nervous I worry he has forgotten his man parts. Because he came home so early, and it takes him all of ten minutes to pack, he spent the last hour and forty two minutes pacing and anxiously waiting for me to shut down my computer. Have you ever tried to work with someone staring at you with eyes that say, “If we don’t leave soon we are probably going to lose our tickets, get stuck on the train to the other train, never make it to Paris, and you will ruin the whole weekend?” No? Well let’s just say it’s not entirely conducive to productivity. On top of that, I had started the washing machine around the time Jay had gotten home. This was a mistake. As I scrambled to pack a few last minute items, I realized the washer had not completed its cycle. Because I really didn’t want my clothes to mold over the weekend, and both of us were anxious to leave, we attempted to trick the machine into being done (which was stupid and probably only added more time… pretty sure the machine was laughing at us). We then preceded to stare at the washing machine, willing it to stop spinning, and avoiding accusatory eye contact. But guess what? Despite the tense atmosphere around ¬†the washing machine, we only left 15 minutes behind schedule (which was probably still 45 minutes ahead of schedule), paused in the tube for about two minutes (in which I began sweating profusely thinking that we could actually miss our train, and worse yet, Jay would have been right to be so nervous), and made it in time for me to eat a lovely dinner of tomato soup heated in plastic. Remember how this freaks me out? I ate it anyway. I was too hungry to worry about dangerous, cancer-causing chemicals.

Taking the train to France was a piece of cake. We reached Paris a little after 10 pm and decided to take a taxi to our hotel — we (I) didn’t have the patience for public transportation. We hopped in a minivan with a man that reminded of Mr.Charleton (my freshman basketball coach). He got us to Hotel Carina and we quickly realized he saved us that night. We never would have made it without that man. Thank you, French Mr.Charleton.

Our hotel was quaint… it smelled a little funny… but it had a bed (2 twin beds actually), a shower, and a toilet with a seat. What more could a girl ask for? After we dropped our bags off we walked to the Eiffel Tower. I will admit a) that Jay did not get us lost and b) the Eiffel Tower is pretty freaking sweet. Kudos, France.

* Fun Fact: The Eiffel Tower is covered with 60 tons of paint every year to avoid corrosion. Just thought you all should know.

Friday

Breakfast was included with our room. I warned Jay the meal would consist of bread, meat, boiled eggs and warm yogurt (it’s how the Europeans roll – pun not initially intended). I was close — it was bread, meat, boiled eggs, semi-cold yogurt and cornflakes. Since I was trying to embrace the culture, I had a ham sandwich, yogurt and an egg… and avoided the cornflakes mostly because they looked like vintage cereal boxes (I didn’t trust that they weren’t just for decoration, even though they were listed on the menu).

On our way to the Louvre we stumbled upon the Musee d’Orsay. It looked like an important building and lots of people were going in, so we decided to follow the crowd (I know, be a leader, not follower. But considering we were in a foreign place, the people looked like respectable tourists, and it was broad daylight, it seemed like a safe bet). Turns out “musee” means museum in French and we found ourselves in one that was slightly larger than the Putnam (and by slightly, I mean 30x larger). We saw works from Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Millet… basically every artist to ever walk on this continent. I was just a little bit proud that I recognized some of the pieces; those art history classes finally came in handy, sort of. We spent about three hours perusing, and that was with skipping the boring stuff like furniture, pottery, and naked statues. Seen one naked statue, seen ’em all (ok, you’re right, sometimes they are fun to look at).

Although we could have spent the whole day there, I was on the verge of passing out from hunger and Jay was tired of looking at “stuff”. We started toward the Louvre, hoping to find a cute little cafe on the way. After looking at five different menus I couldn’t take it anymore. This is usually how it goes….

“That seems expensive. Let’s keep looking.” This can come from either of us, but let’s be honest, Jay is usually the frugal one.

Me: “Nothing looks that appetizing. Let’s try the one over there.”

Jay: “How about pizza? A burger?

Me: “I was thinking something light (preferably not something fried, covered in butter, or worth 1500 calories — I need to save that for gelato).”

Three restaurants later…

Me: I’m really hungry. That’s it. Next place we look at we are going in no matter what.”

Jay silently says a prayer of thanks.

We decided on the¬†one that looked pretty similar to all the other menus we had looked at. We were seated next to three older women we affectionately dubbed Marty, Sue, and Andy (the French versions). Once we saw what they were eating, egg sandwiches with cheese on top and French fries, we hardly felt the need to look at the menu. We wanted that. Now.¬†Twenty minutes later our plates were set in front of us and much to our disappointment they were not fried egg sandwiches topped with cheese. I was so sad — we both were. How could we have ordered the wrong thing? Oh, that’s right, because we are dumb Americans that don’t know what a Croque Monsieur is… food mistake #1. Just so you never make this monumental mistake, read this to learn about these sandwiches.

Remember how I said the Musee D’Orsay was large? The Louvre was a gigantic, HUGEmongous (yes, I know this is not a real word) ¬†monstrosity of a museum. I’m pretty sure it was the size of a small city… it was so BIG. You could probably spend a week in there and not see everything. We spent three hours. As cool as everything was, we just couldn’t muster up anymore excitement for ancient artifacts.

On our way to the Arc de Triomphe, we found ourselves wandering down Rue de St.Honore. Because I had not done my homework, I was unaware that we were walking down one of the most fashionable streets in the world. I started to get the idea when I saw numerous shops with about 20 items (total) in them; that’s always a clear sign that those 20 items are probably worth more than what I make in a year. It became really clear when I saw a few of the price tags, and was pretty much crystal clear by the time I saw the Gucci, Prada, and Armani stores.

Jay was adament that we get to the Avenue des Champs Elysees because a) he had to take a picture for Matt in honor of their time spent in high school French class together and b) it led to the Arc de Triomphe (which is just cool). It’s such picturesque street; each side of the road is lined with well-trimmed trees, and at the end, prominently sits the Arc de Triomphe.

After our long day of sightseeing, we decided to pick a restaurant close to the hotel. On our way back from the train station we noticed Creperie Contemporaine, and figured we wouldn’t be proper tourists if we didn’t eat a few crepes while in France. Best food choice of the trip. Seriously. YUM. Our first course of crepes were the savory kind – ham, cheese, tomato and mushroom — proper dinner food. Even though those were good, the dessert crepes beat them hands down. Since I’ve been here, I have discovered that a good ¬†banana and nutella crepe can make any day better. Of course, crepe or no crepe, I’m not sure if I can think of a better combination than chocolate and banana (real banana that is, not banana flavoring, old lady at DAIRY QUEEN who ruined my Blizzard).

I promise to post about the rest of our adventures soon. I apologize for any grammar mistakes.

xo kayla

PS I miss the sweet smell of Fall… and all of you.