July 3: "You are in France!"

Salut! I've just put coffee on -- the coffee was called Degustation de Grand Mere, which in my rogue translation means: "the disgust of grandmother," which made it awesome in the store.

July 3 began in the air over Ireland, as we "woke up" in our airplane seats, crusty and sore. The children were actually sleepping -- Sadie, next to me, had contorted herself into a thousand positions during the night and had finally arrived at a comfortable Chihuahua donut. Benny hardly slept -- every time I looked over at him and Dan he was blearily trying to watch the awesome interactive touch-screen television that British Airways had provided him with.
We touched down in Heathrow and spilled out into its glittering splendour -- Sadie said, "Wow, this airport has turned into a mall!" After waiting next to a Benefit counter for 30 minutes to find out what gate would take us to Charles de Gaulle in Paris, Benny finally collapsed on the floor.

Once at the gate (A11) we ate some muffins, drank some coffee, and the children played with their magic pen notebooks from Ms. Barbara. There was a delay in the flight.

Dan and I seemed to manage our stress ping-pong style: when he got stressed I was calm, and when I got stressed he would make a joke. It was very stressful, but the children were patient and eventually we made it onto the plane to Paris. There are a lot of things to keep track of, flying with kids and a bike. Kind of like life -- if you're on your own then having problems is a grand adventure, but if you have kids, the problems become very serious. We didn't want any problems involving phrases like "Where did I put my purse?" or "Have you seen the boarding passes?"
Benny and Sadie both had window seats on this flight to Paris, and we had the two seats next to Sadie. Here's what I learned about traveling with two kids and a long-legged man: You always get the dreaded middle seat! No exceptions. Benny was sitting next to an elderly couple -- he kept them entertained. He seemed to be on an endless loop, Rainman-style, about how we were not from France, but rather from the USA, etc. etc. repeat ad infinitum. They were tolerant. France was under clouds when we arrived.

Charles de Gaulle was very different from Heathrow, in the way that your crazy uncle Edgar's auxiliary garage is different from the Taj Mahal. The whole thing seemed vaguely under construction, leaking, half-wrecked, and dirty. Customs was a breeze, almost unbelievably easy -- after a minor panic when Dan's bike was apparently left in London, we were standing in the terminal, free to go. We discovered later that they did go through our suitcases very meticulously, especially Dan's bike equipment. You know what they say about cyclists and illegal substances.
While waiting to find out about his bike, Dan talked to a guy from Australia who had cmoe to see the Tour de France -- the airline had lost his bike and he'd missed the prologue in Rotterdam, to which he had a press pass, because they'd finally found it and he'd come to pick it up. That guy was very upset with British Airways but we had a flawless experience with them, start to finish. The food on the plane was particularly excellent, we had vegetable lasagna, tabouleh, mango cheesecake -- it was very posh.
The kids, by the time we had all our luggage, were fried beyond the realm of what I had ever seen. While we searched for the appropriate phone to use for summoning our Peugeot, they meandered in circles, ran into things, and drifted away from us repeatedly, all while carrying their little travel bags and violins.
On the shuttle to the Peugeot lot, Benny struck up a conversation with a French woman and her little boy. When she spoke English to him, he said to me in a loud whisper, "MOM. YOU WERE RIGHT. FRENCH PEOPLE DO SPEAK ENGLISH." She was very nice to him, and from her I learned to say, "Merci pour parlez-vous avec mon fils" which is a phrase I will probably use many times.

Before I had a chance to mess up our first directions (from the lot to the gas station) the children were deeply asleep. With the bike box fitting perfectly in the back, all our luggage accounter for, and the kids finally able to rest, I must admit we felt a little triumphant. We even successfully managed to fuel the car. And buy diet Coke. Speaking of which -- diet Coke in France is Coca-Cola Light. It tastes like regular Coke, not like diet Coke at all. Dan may not survive the month. We drank it bravely, but missed that diet Coke burn.
After sleepily navigating what turned out to be all the way around Paris on the Blvd Peripherique, we found the A10 and headed southwest toward Amboise. Dan did an admirable job driving, considering we were practically dead, and only enraged a few motorists. He did get flipped off once -- we snickered over the first French person who hated us -- a woman in a small Renault -- pardon nous!
Along the freeway there were beautifully illustrated signs for the towns along the Loire that we planned to visit. Also many rest stops. We figutred out Aire is a rest area and Sortie is an exit. We also saw a vast army of giant wind turbines marching across the landscape -- an interesting juxtaposition with the stone, slate-roofed cottages and the old mechanical windmills alongside.
When we were off the freeway, we found ourselves on a two-lane country highway, tree-lined and rolling over hills, the kind you see on Tour de France coverage regularly. Making almost no sense of the road signs, but following the pink line on our GPS, we found the village of Fourchette, where Dan picked up our key to the house from a person called "The Keyholder." Very Ultima Underworld, n'est pas? We made our winding way up through the tiny village, up the hill to chemin de Chamberle, and to our house: Chambemerle.

Coming through the gates of the garden, I was immediately enchanted with the house -- its stone and slate covered with vines, with a beautiful, colorful garden and yard, old trees and outbuildings. We let ourselves in, unloaded our bags, let the children explore and choose rooms. Benny chose what must have been the hay loft -- you have to climb into it, but it's modernized with its own bathroom (including bidet). Sadie picked a sweet pink room downstairs with two beds. There are three full bathrooms in all, and four bedrooms in the house, with other rooms and connecting areas -- the house is actually pretty huge. I think originally it must have been a combination house and barn.

After determining the type of filter required by the coffee maker, we got back in the car and headed out into the wilds of France for provisions. The house's owner had left a binder with instructions and recommendations for the area. Trying to find the Internarche, we stumbled on a local bike race. We pulled over to watch a bit but couldn't make any sense of what was going on. It seemed to be a down-and-back type course with a roundabout at one end, but the riders were sprinting and coasting with apparent randomness, and we were lost, and too shy to ask any bystanders to explain.
It's hard approaching people to try out your crappy French because you feel presumptuous and awkward, and you're always lacking that vocabulary word you really need.
We found the Intermarche which was closed by seven minutes, and then the MarchePlus in downtown Amboise on the river, which was open. Finding a parking spot led us through many twists and turns in this old city, down terrifyingly steep and narrow alleys and lots of one way streets -- and some two way streets that should have been one way. I get sick thinking about driving this car in this country, but I'm going to have to. Yikes.
After acquiring groceries, we came back home to try and cook. The pilot light on the tiny stove was out, and we had to make do with the top burners, lit manually. I made pasta with ground beef and bolognaise sauce -- my approximation of spaghetti which Benny ate but Sadie rejected in favor of bread and butter. We also ate a baguette and brie, and drank loads of water. After dinner we all collapsed.
I worry about cooking here for Dan -- getting him the right combination of protein and carbs and stuff. I want him to take charge a bit more, and make sure his nutrition is on track, with all those big climbs coming up.

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