When all is said and done, our most vivid memories of the past week in the Gard region of France can be visually summed up in the photos below. We enjoyed another week of beautiful weather, great sights, outdoor activities galore and yummy food. And after spending almost five weeks of non-stop time together, we are still talking to each other.
(1) During our visit to the Camargue the other day, which is sort of like France’s equivalent of the Everglades except with grazing bulls and pink flamingoes instead of alligators, we spent time in the port city of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Unlike Cannes or St. Tropez, which is where you go in France if you want to see and be seen, Saintes-Maries reminded me of some of the more honky-tonk boardwalk towns in New Jersey. Lots of souvenir shops and mediocre eateries, but super animated and for the people, by the people. We took a boat ride into the Camargue, where we saw lots of birds and lots of bulls. But the most surprising part of our day there (at least for me) was how the main church in town – medieval, of course – has managed to add to its coffers. For a few euros (and perhaps a few prayers for those who are afraid of heights), you can take a set of stairs to the rooftop, walk on the steeply sloped roof tiles and be rewarded with the view below. Apparently, the French (and the French Catholic Church) have no concerns about lawsuits brought by folks who slip on the tiles and injure themselves.
(2) We all went to Arles for dinner the other night, where we experienced our first rainfall since our arrival in France 4+ weeks ago (an amazing thing in of itself). Chloe and I returned during the day so that we could visit a little more of the city and she could buy herself a sweater she coveted the previous night. More Roman ruins here: another arena, a smaller amphitheater, thermal baths…And reminders of Van Gogh almost everywhere we turned.
(3) We couldn’t not visit Avignon while in the region, so we popped in for dinner the other night and happened upon a small crafts market where we bought Chloe a very early birthday present – her first ring. She admires it many times a day. The girls had no interest in visiting another palace, so instead we took a few pictures of the medieval Palais des Papes and admired the famous Pont St. Bénézet (aka le Pont d’Avignon of the popular French children’s song) from afar because the city actually charges a fee to visit it. Which is kind of shocking considering it’s only half-finished and stops cold in the middle of the Rhône River.
(4) We have become pretty expert at sniffing out crafts markets and yesterday was no exception. Granted, it’s pretty easy to sniff out crafts markets in the summer in the south of France. But the one held on Thursday evenings in the old quarter of Nîmes is definitely a memorable one, particularly given the setting around the perimeter of the Maison Carrée, one of of the best-preserved ancient Roman temples in existence.
(5) Finally, we come to our kayaking adventure. After enviously watching the kayaks and canoes passing us by during our visit to the Pont du Gard the other day, we decided to get in on the action. What’s an 8-kilometer trip, I thought, with such beautiful scenery to inspire us? Don’t get me wrong, I damn well knew that stress monsters like me don’t necessary thrive in kayaking conditions, especially with young kids and most especially when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. The latter issue was the biggest one for me, at least during the first couple of kilometers.
As I have written about many times before, Chloe and I share many personality traits. I like to think that most of them are positive, but there are some that I wouldn’t brag about. I brought out the worst in both of us during the first leg of our excursion. I had no idea how to steer the the damn boat and Chloe thought she knew. But she didn’t. I was frustrated with myself for not being about to hide my frustration and not being able to steer straight. Needless to say, we saw a lot of the beautiful scenery behind us, since we spent most of the time facing backwards. But we learned something very important about ourselves while we were bickering. We will not be auditioning for “The Amazing Race” as a mother-daughter team any time soon. Best to have enough self-awareness to know your weaknesses is all I have to say.
I also partnered with Sophie, which worked quite well, until she wanted to be the “leader.” Which would have been fine had she known what to do. But she really didn’t. So then she got pissed at me, too. So much so that she actually wanted to partner with her sister. Which left me with Papa. I was thrilled about that because he at least knew what to do. And the girls teamed together quite well and managed to make it almost to the end of the run. Who’d have thought? Desperation breeds all kinds of great pairings, I guess.
Back to the City of Light tomorrow for our final days of French immersion before flying home next week. Hard to believe this dream vacation is almost over, but alas, all good things must come to an end.