Here is the continuation of our French adventures.
Yesterday (Friday 6/26) was a very busy day. We had planned on leaving early in the morning but after all decided to let the kids sleep in. Actually, only my son slept in. My daughter elected to come grocery shopping with my mom and me. It seems that we go grocery shopping every day over here. I'd like to say that we shop at quaint small French shops but we end up at the supermarket every morning, it seems.
We shared a cart since my daughter and I also wanted to buy some items, among them a larger duffel bag to exchange for the smaller ones that we had come with. We haven't really bought anything else than food, but the bags that we brought from France seem very packed now! My mom let us use her customer loyalty card and we saved an unexpected 20 euros on the bag, more than 50% off and we ended up paying only about 15 euros for it, which is an awesome deal. It's a much larger bag and it has wheels, which will be nice, although it will take a lot of space on the back seat of the car.
The bag was on sale because now is the summer sales period, also known as "soldes" over here. Every store is offering deep discounts on pretty much everything.
My daughter and I had fun squirrelling items from my mom's area of the cart to ours, as I had fully intended to purchase the groceries since we've been at my mom's for most of the week and will be there for another week and she lives off a small pension. She sometimes figured it out and would scold us and try to put everything back in her little corner of the cart, but in the end I instructed my daughter to distract her when we reached the register and I was able to pay for the groceries. She was cross, but not really :)
|I'm not sure why it struck me funny that they sell organic eggs in cartons of 4 eggs...|
|USA! USA! They sold American sweet potatoes :)|
|This was taken about halfway down ONE of the wine aisles at a local supermarket!|
Once we reached the parking lot, we couldn't really tell where the entrance or the ticket booth was. Leading away from the parking lot was a wide wooded path that I thought led to the caves but a small group of people were coming down the path so I decided to check with them. A French woman in the group, flanked by 2 young boys, answered that the path only led to smaller caves and pointed to the proper entrance. I thanked her, and as I walked away, I heard her call out to one of the young boys in English. I didn't think much of it but my son caught up with me and asked me if I felt weird (I think he meant "silly") speaking French to a woman who spoke English. I replied that I thought that maybe she had married an Englishman since her accent in English sounded British to me. We kept walking towards the cave entrance.
In the meantime my mom had struck up a conversation with the older woman of the group and called out to me excitedly to tell me that the lady I had spoken to lived in Florida, in St. Petersburg, which is about 2-3 hours from where I live, I think. Quite a coincidence, especially as I learned by talking to her a little more, since she also married an American who doesn't like to travel so her husband stayed home (like mine), she didn't teach French to her children (as I didn't), and it was the first time she brought the kids to see her parents (just like me!). Another weird coincidence was that her dad recognized my mom's accent since he was born very close to the area of France where she was born. My mom and I thought she had lost her accent years ago but I guess not, after all! Anyhoo, we all had a good laugh. The parents insisted on us daughters exchanging phone numbers so we exchanged email addresses to humor them but I don't think either of us has any intention of corresponding :)
|(This is a picture borrowed from the cave's website)|
The entrance of the caves.
We walked 900 m (almost one kilometer) underground to the back of the caves, observing stalactites (hanging from the ceiling) and stalagmites ("growing up from the ground"). He explained that these caves were never "discovered" since their entrance was quite evident so people had known about them for centuries (indeed they found Roman coins in the small lake inside, proof that maybe even Romans threw coins in water while wishing something!). So generations of people had been visiting the caves. In 1903, the owner started charging entrance fees to visitors. Back then, there wasn't any electricity or lighting in the cave so people used candles to see, as they had for centuries. In 1976 the owner of the mine decided to clean them up since he thought centuries of candle smoke had dirtied the walls. They used hydrochloric acid to wash the walls and essentially bleach them... but in the process is it now estimated that they destroyed about 80% of all the prehistoric paintings that had been, unknown until then, in the cave. Unknown because they were covered by a thin layer of calcite that had grown over them. As they cleaned deeper and deeper into the cave, someone noticed a partial red drawing on the walls and so work finally stopped and archaeologists, armed with dentist drills spent 6 months over the next 4 years removing the layer of calcite to reveal a large mammoth painting. Nowadays we could see mammoth paintings as well as other animals depicted as a fish, the ancestor of a cariboo, and others. We also saw a negative hand print, made of a child's hand. 33,000 years ago. It was made by blowing ochre over the child's hand pressed against the wall. They found the bone that contained the ochre at the bottom of the handprint and were able to carbon date it.
|This was also borrowed from the cave's website since we weren't allowed to take pictures.|
After that the kids and my mom enjoyed an ice cream cone, and we drove on to Vezelay, located only about 20 minutes away.
Vezelay is a very important village in Christendom (well, for Catholics, I suppose), because its basilica is said to contain the remains of Mary Magdalena, the prostitute pardoned by Christ, turned apostle who was said to be the first to see Jesus resurrected. This is the site where several crusades were launched from.
Nowadays you park at the bottom of the hill and walk through the narrow street (still open to car traffic which can make it a perilous journey) up the hill to the basilica. Itself is quite unremarkable and starkly bare. It was originally built in the 12th century but damaged and destroyed during several wars and restored in the 19th century, I believe. There were lots of monks milling about, as it was close to 6 p.m. and I think that is the time for Vespers (evening prayer). Not being religious, we didn't stay for that and instead elected to walk the grounds around the basilica. There are gorgeous views of the adjacent villages and fields down in the valley and it was all very peaceful. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of the landscape without the kids smack dab in the middle of them so you don't get to see it.
|Inside the basilica|
|This is a very unadorned church|
|I love how the stones capping the walls around the property dovetail into one another :)|
|One of the old houses seen as we look down the main street leading to the basilica|
When we had arrived the official in charge of issuing parking tickets was making the rounds of the small parking lot were we landed. I had asked him where the parking meter (= horodateur) was and he had pointed it out to me and told me that since I had arrived quite late, I could just pay for 1 hour and he wouldn't issue me a ticket if we stayed longer. I asked him several times if he was pulling my leg and he swore that he wasn't, and indeed he hadn't, although we had only stayed just over an hour.
We decided to ignore the GPS and take small countryside roads home, heading in the general direction to where we were going and it was very nice. We got home at about 8:30 and my mom cooked a quick dinner (can I say, again, how nice it has been not having to cook? She won't even let me do the dishes for her!) and then she went to bed because she was exhausted. After dinner the kids enjoyed some more French pastries. I think we're all going to go into withdrawal when we come back to Florida.
|This is called a "religieuse" (aka a nun).|
So the kids and I headed into town on our own. I wasn't really sure of where we were going to park because my mom had warned that parking might be hard to come by. As we waited at a traffic light, my daughter exclaimed "It's your sister!" and indeed, my sister and BIL were crossing the road nearby. They were walking their dog and hadn't seen us. We flagged them down and were able to park nearby. It's a small city but not that small so it was yet another weird coincidence to run into them! We chatted for a while and invited them to come along with us but they hadn't eaten dinner yet (at 10:15 p.m.!) and their sons were waiting for them at home so they went on their way and we found our way to the cathedral's square.
The nearby cafe's terraces were filled with people having a drink or dinner and waiting for the light show. Everyone was standing in the back of the square to get a better view since the façade is quite tall but we preferred to stand in the front of the crowd. We had a great view. The show was truly spectacular. They used special cameras to project 3D images so perfectly molded to the façade of the cathedral that they seemed to change the actual architecture of it with every new effect. The kids and I really loved it. I especially loved that such a spectacular 30-minute show didn't cost us a dime as there is no entrance fee! I was really left speechless.
|You couldn't tell but this picture was taken at about 10:25 p.m. PM!!!! without any flashes or lighting of any kind. Yes, it is bright outside, still!|
About 5 minutes before the end of the show, I felt a small hand on the back of my arm. Being a pessimistic person, I thought that maybe someone was getting ready to rob me, but it was my little 9-year-old nephew who had discovered that we had run into his parents before the show and had insisted on his dad bringing him along so he could see me. Awww! They looked for us during the show and were about to give up when my nephew spotted me. Double awww! So he was quite happy to sit on the ground with his 2 cousins and watch the end of the show. After that we all walked about to our car and their neighborhood and my BIL and I chatted for a while about his own family.
We finally took leave of them and came back to my mom's house. We were very very tired!
On Saturday morning, we had decided to stay home. I woke up at about 9 a.m. and it suddenly dawned on me that my sister had said she was off today. She is quite a bit younger than me so we never knew each other as adults and moms. I texted her asking if we could get together today without our kids and she was quite enthusiastic about it. So after lunch I went to pick her up and we went to one of the cafes by the cathedral where we spent a couple of hours chatting.
After drinking a couple of French Coke Zeros (they don't taste the same as in the USA... and they taste much better!), we decided to take a walk and found ourselves walking down the main street, which is a pedestrian street. When I was a teen, there was nothing to do in that town and our main entertainment was walking up and down that street, wishing that we could buy the cool stuff in the windows, and looking for our friends (and avoiding our enemies!). As we were coming back up the street, my sister spotted my son and was puzzled because for a moment she thought he had run away. But then we saw my mom and sister with him: my non-English speaking mom had taken my mostly non-French speaking children shopping and they were having a good time!
We hang out together for a bit and visited the local Sephora where they were having "soldes!" and where my daughter found blue nail polish on sale for 70% off which my sister bought for her. Then they went on their way and we went on ours. We visited a small tea shop where I got some green mint tea for Greg and some ginger chocolate for me, and I stopped by a patisserie to get some chocolate croissants for my nephews. I briefly stopped by my sister's apartment to see my nephews and BIL and give them their chocolate croissants and then my sister and I walked to my car and we managed to spend another hour in the parking lot chatting about our families. I really wish I lived closer to her!
I came home to my mom's at about 8:30 and we had dinner shortly after, just like magic! Did I mention I love this? I love this. I want a maid. And a cook.
After catching up with the kids and my mom, I got ready for tomorrow. We will be driving to Verdun to visit the WWI war battlefields and ruins. I have secured a hotel nearby. Then on Monday we will drive to my great aunt's and also visit my grand-parents and great-grand-parents grave sites. We also want to drive into Belgium and Luxembourg.
I will write more in a few days. I won't be taking my laptop on this trip!