Friday, May 25, 2007

Our 2 1/2 Weeks in France

Sarah and I spent more than 2 wonderful weeks in France and finally have pictures of our trip up on our blog for you to enjoy. Unlike most posts on our blog these happen in chronological order as you scroll down. Enjoy!

La Ville Rose

Sarah and I are having a great time together in France. We are currently in Nice on the French Riviera, near Monaco, and feel so grateful for the wonderful week we have already spent in France. We arrived on Thursday April 19th in Toulouse, and were met by Sarah's parents.

Toulouse is a magnificent city full of energy and little cars driving down narrow roads.
L'Hotel de Ville de Toulouse (City Hall) is spectacular.
This is an example of a typical narrow street in France. At the end of the street is a church we visited.
I loved this sign for a handicapped parking spot which says "If you want my parking spot, get my handicap." That's just as good as the signs in NYC that say "Don't even think of parking here!"

Fri Apr 20th - Auzielle

We spent the morning of our first full day in France in a little town southeast of Toulouse named Auzielle. Sarah's parents have owned a house here since Sarah was a little girl, but because of jobs in other parts of the country (and world) they haven't lived there for many years. Since they are back in Toulouse they had hoped of moving back in, but it's turned into a nightmare. The woman who was renting wasn't paying bills and keeping the place up, and because she was a single mom, the courts sided with her, and there was nothing they could do to get their place, or even get all their rent! She has finally moved, and now they have the huge task of getting the place back up to shape after being neglected for so long. Sarah and I went to help with some preliminary work.

Among other things, Sarah and took down all the vines off the back of the house, as they were completely overgrown and throughout the gutters and drains. We left the root of the plant so the beautiful vines can grow back, but this time they'll be able to control their growth. It's really a nice house in a beautiful, quiet area; here's the view from the road. It was really fun for me to kiss my wife in the room she shared with Rebecca as a 10 year old. I thought about that little girl with a poster of snow white on her wall, dreaming of falling in love someday with a handsome prince. It was honestly pretty humbling for me to think about all the amazing circumstances that led us together, and that this little girl was now in the arms of her prince (well, I do have some royalty in my geneology!)

Tuesday April 24

On Tuesday night at around midnight, Sarah and I boarded an overnight train taking us from her parents' home in Toulouse to her Grandparents' in Nice. It's a fantastic city, really close to Cannes, Monaco, Italy, even Turin, where they had the last winter Olympics.

We rode in a tiny little car with 6 bunk beds, 3 on each side. It was really weird getting on the train and having to get set up while 2 people were already asleep on the bottom bunk. For the first couple hours it felt having a never ending CT Scan since the ceiling was so low, but I eventually fell asleep and was thrilled to wake up to the see the Mediterranean.

Sarah's Grandfather Jacques Sacuto picked us up at the train station in Nice. He is such a nice and interesting guy. His family is Italian, but he was raised in Tunis, Tunisia, before moving to the French side of the Mediterranean at age 47.

Wed April 25

We spent our first day in Nice hanging out at her grandparents and exploring the waterfront. This picture is taken from the balcony off their living room window. Their apartment is literally one block from the sea!

1 block frok from her grandparents is the Promenade des Anglais, a beautiful promenade along the coast.

We went onto the beach and I touched the Mediterranean Sea! A couple days later I swam in it for a couple minutes, but it was still a bit too cold for swimming. Notice that the beach is entirely covered in rocks? None of the beaches have sand on them, except the ones you have to pay to use.

Further down the road, the promenade is renamed the Quai des Etats Unis (streets change name every few blocks in France!) in honor of America's decision to become involved in the two world wars. In fact, I saw a lot of streets named after Woodrow Wilson (US pres during WW1) and FDR (US Pres during WW2)
In the evening Sarah's Aunt Sylvia and her husband Michel joined us for dinner at the grandparents. It was fabulous! Here's a picture of Sylvia with Dora, who is affectionately called "Mamy" by her grandchildren.

Thu Apr 26th - Nice

On Thursday, Regis name over to hang out with us. He is Sarah's cousin, the son of Sylvia and Michel. He gave us a great demonstration on the accordian and let both of us try (and fail) ourselves. The three of us went for a 6km jog together in Nice Nord, further up the hill, closer to where he lives. We ran on a dirt path along an old canal. It was 1.5 km each way, so we ran back and forth twice. I was so proud of Sarah who kept up with us most of the way.
In the afternoon we did a lot of walking, going through the city's old port, (which is still actively in use and full of small fishing boats and expensive yachts side by side).

We ended our hike by going up the hill overlooking Nice to where an old castle had been. When the French conquered the area many years ago, the King had the castle destroyed so as to destroy any symbol of the previous owner's power. Later that night we heard live Nicoise music in a tiny little place downtown. The music was fantastic (2 accordians, 1 violin and percussionist), and Sarah loved learning the traditional dances from Nice. I didn't do quite as well, but still had a blast! We talked to the violinist for a bit after the show and were impressed to learn that this free wheeling, very exciting musician playing traditional Nicoise music was actually German and worked as a physicist for the government.

Friday April 27 - Nice

I started Friday morning by doing my long run for the week, the longest run of my training at that point. I didn't take this picture, but it gives you a sense of how far 18km is. I started near Sarah's grandparents, kind of in the middle of this picture, then ran towards the foreground, behind where the picture was taken and then back to Sarah waiting on the boardwalk to give me water. That was the first 6km. The I ran as far as you can see along the coast, and then around that corner for a little ways and back. That was 6km out and 6km back, making a total of 18 for the day, and 44 for the week! I was slow, it took me 2 hours and 3 minutes, but I did it! I loved running in Nice so much. In the evening, Michel picked us up and took us to some great places that we hadn't seen yet and wouldn't see without a car, including many fantstic parks. They have a great jazz festival in another part of this park, and he told a story of peeing in a urinal next to Dizzy Gillespie! This is a picture of Roman bath houses built centuries ago. It's amazing how much has remained, allowing you to see the structure of their buildings.
He also took us to this beautiful waterfall on a hill overlooking the city. Believe or not, the water on the right of this picture is the top of the waterfall from the picture above it. Kind of like Frank Lloyd Wright did, this house was built on top of a waterfall.

We spent the night at Sylvia and Michel's and enjoyed a wonderul 7 course meal with Regis, his girlfriend and their long time friend Cedric, who is actually friends with Sarah's brother Jacob, and has visiting him in China before! Le monde est petit, eh?

Sat April 28th

We got on the train in Nice Sat morning (near Monaco), went southwest to Marseille and up to Lyon where we switched trains to head east to Annecy where Sarah's sister Tiare and her husband Mithona and their daughter Elena live. The 2 hour ride through the mountains from Lyon to Annecy was amazing!

Tiare's family met us at the train station and after we put our things down we went for a nice walk to explore the town. Many cities in Europe have set up "twin cities" in which gov'ts often organize exchanges of students, goods, etc, as a way of building diplomatic relations. Annecy is twinned up with Valencia, Spain among others.

Voici la famille Seng taking us through town. Annecy is essentially a ski resort town a short drive from Geneva, Switzerland and so is clearly catered to tourists. Even still, there is so much charm and beauty here (not to mention the charm and beauty of our host family!)

Lac d'Annecy
We didn't give them time to tell us if they were kidding about this being called "Le pont d'amour" (Bridge of Love).

2 minutes from their house is a beautiful tree lined canal where I started my runnings.

Sun April 29th

Let's be honest, the highlight of being in Annecy was meeting our new niece Elena. She is so adorable!
I love the eye contact in this sweet photo.

The Annecy branch of our church meets in a rented office area in an industrial part of town. There were about 40 people in attendance in this charming and faithful congregation.

We spent Sunday afternoon walking up the hills around Annecy with Tiare, Mithona, Elena and Mithona's parents. What a great hike!

Monday April 30 - Happy Bday Mom!

I think this was actually on Sunday, but I have to mention all the wonderful meals we were fed while in Annecy. Thank you!
We loved helping give Elena her bath!
She's gonna be a great mom someday isn't she? (no she's not pregnant yet...)
We have deep gratitude for Mithona's parents who let us stay with them while we were in Annecy. They are such fantastic people with an amazing story to tell. They are from Cambodia, a country they left by walking through mine fields in the middle of the night to a refuge camp in Thailand. After more than 2 years in a refuge camp they were given visas to move to France, where they have established their lives and raised their children. You should check out the film "The Killing Fields" starring the lawyer from Law and Order and John Malcovitch telling the Cambodian story. It was very poignant for us after having heard their story.

Tuesday May 1

We arrived in Paris Tuesday afternoon and were picked up at the Gare de Lyon by Chantal et Andre, Sarah's Aunt and Uncle. Gare de Lyon was one of my favorite buildings in Paris though we can't take credit for these photos found on google. We stayed with Chantal and Andre in their apartment in Champigny sur Marne, southeast of Paris' city limits. Can you see it on the map? Just west of there is Maison-Alfort, where Sarah was born and where her parents lived for a couple years. I really enjoyed running through Maison-Alfort and imaging my wife as a newborn.

May 1st is a holiday in France, as well as Chantal's birthday, so we had a good time lounging around eating cake and other great food. I met Sarah's cousin Julia and her family, as well as Andre's brother and friend. His brother is a very talented singer/guitar player. Andre made these beautiful couch covers! You know that I generally don't get excited about stuff like that, but these were particularly impressive. We had great conversations about the upcoming election (in which Nicholas Sarkozy beat Segolene Royal later that week) and soccer, in which Liverpool beat Chelsea later than night to earn the right to play Milan in the european championship game on May 23rd. It was great, food, music, politics and sports!