I know I've said before that life isn't so different here until you consider that last weekend we hopped into the car and drove to France for the weekend. From Seattle, in 2.5 hours, you can get to the Washington penninsula, the border of Canada or to the edge of the Cascade range, all geograhically similar and uniformly English speaking. But head two hours east from St. Albans and you're on a ferry to a different country. It's a bit like going to the San Juan islands on a Washington State ferry except the food's a lot better and you can buy Bombay Saphire at Duty Free. Not to mention you're suddenly driving on the opposite side of the road and wondering what the road signs are saying. This culture hopping still makes my head spin a little. It really spins when we sit down to dinner and I can't tell if I'm ordering a hamburger or cow brains.
We were taking a four day weekend to celebrate C's birthday. My approach to trip planning this time was to pick a campground in the middle of an empty patch of green on the map of France and hope C could find a good mountain bike ride when we got there. It didn't occur to me that a campground run by a couple of expat Brits would be filled with...Brits. So there were were, 5 hours deep into Normandy with no cycling information and surrounded by English people. C was goodhumored about it all especially after I put it that you weren't on a real holiday unless Karin screwed up something.
Even if you bumble into France for 72 hours, you're still going to be pretty impressed. For one, it's so spacious and the roads aren't jammed with cars. I've hardly riden my bike in England because I'm so intimidated by the traffic. And this is coming from someone who used to weave in and out of traffic during my youthful days in Minneapolis and Seattle like a piecemeal courier. In this part of France there were almost as many tractors and combines on the country roads as there were cars. People drove liesurly, as though they were also trying to get used to driving on the non-habitual side of the road. Nobody called me a nasty name.
It's almost impossible to get a bad meal in France unless you don't fancy chocolate croissants for breakfast. More often breakfast is a torn baguette smothered with butter and a cafe au lait, but what's not to love about that. We had a cassoulet one evening which the campground owner cooks up twice a week for her guests, a classic slow-cooked stew of meat and beans. It was so good even the picky 5 year old was arguing with us over the portion of sausage he was given. The next evening we were directed to a restaurant on the grounds of a rural equestrian center inside a converted stone barn where the nasturtium-topped, smoked duck salad was a culinary work of art. It was also delicious.
Bumbling also affords the occasional serendipity. On our way to what we'd hoped would be a good trail for C to cycle we came upon a flea market that stretched from one end of town to the other with a central field crowded with normal and not so normal people selling anything from family heirlooms to the junky plastic toys their kids had just tired of that morning. I picked up an illustrated book on zoology published in 1879. I even managed to hagle the price down by a Euro even though all I could remember were my numbers in Spanish.
So now I consider France as good a weekend destination as the beaches of Brighton. The next time I'll book us onto a rail car that whisks you and your vehicle through the Channel Tunnel in 30 minutes. Crazy huh? I just hope it has duty free.
"Let's get outside. We need some fresh air."
"MOHmmm. If you want fresh air, let's just open the window!"