Tuesday, July 15

Wow - today was quite an adventure! We knew that our first experience driving in France would be interesting… we just didn't know exactly what to expect. I knew we were in for fun when we asked the Hertz people how to get on the A10 south of Paris from their office right by the Louvre. Their response was "we don't know"! (at this point, we decided that we had heard enough of "je ne sais pas"!). So, we had no choice but to get in the car and drive. I have to admit that I also had problems with some of the basic controls in the car, and drove through Paris with the rear window wipers operating and not knowing how to operate the car windows. Also, "Reverse" on the manual transmission is in the top left - totally opposite from what I'm used to - the kids weren't happy when I went backwards a couple of times at intersections when I thought I had put it in first gear! It took us 45 minutes to make our way through Paris onto the A10 (way too many one-way streets and wrong turns), but we made it. We have pieced together our own little interactive navigation system with Europe mapping software on our laptop along with a handheld GPS - this has been a lifesaver, and has worked great. We're still getting used to the signs which are posted at 45 degree angles at street corners. The intent of these signs is to point you straight ahead, but it's always tempting to turn (thinking that they're really pointing you to the left or right, but that they've become tilted somehow). At home, signs pointing you straight are placed directly in front of the driver with the arrows pointing up - this seems much easier, but I'm sure we'll adjust...

After about an hour on the A10, we stopped in a place called Blois (pronounced "Blah") for lunch and to walk around this medieval town. Blois is the home of a large chateau (Chateau de Blois), and we enjoyed walking around the old city which retains several steep and twisting medieval streets. The city was seriously damaged during World War II, but much has survived. The main cathedral (Cathedral St. Louis) was nice to sit in to escape the heat. Oh yes, it was HOT today - 35 degrees Celsius which is over 95 degrees Fahrenheit). The heat was unfortunate, because it definitely took away from our ability to enjoy this town, especially the old city. The kids enjoyed going to a museum dedicated to the history of magic - the Musee de la Magie.

We completed our drive to Amboise in the heart of the Loire Valley. We arrived at 5:30, and it was still HOT! We had reserved a hotel in the middle of the town, but unfortunately the room had no A/C, and it was small, stuffy and very noisy. We were exhausted and knew this wouldn't do - we quickly found another option which worked out great (Hotel Novotel), and explained to the kids that we had all better get used to these kinds of twists and turns. We know that we won't always end up with arrangements which work out, and will all have to remain flexible over the next year!

Amboise seems to be a very beautiful town, but we decided not to explore any more today. Tomorrow we will head out and spend time in the town, and will also visit some of the castles and vineyards in the surrounding countryside.

A few final thoughts regarding Paris (and France so far…) -

We're finding the people here to be polite and generally friendly, but they certainly don't go out of their way to help. When we need information or assistance, people answer our questions but that's about it. We haven't sensed any anti-American sentiment, but my general feeling is that the French tolerate having Americans here because they know they need our tourist dollars (so far this year, American tourism in France is down an estimated 15-20%, but the French are hopeful that it's on the rebound).

I have worked hard to employ my high-school French, and have felt good about my ability to communicate and recall enough words to understand the basics of what is said to me (in places like the post office and some smaller restaurants where the staff doesn't speak English). However, when I try to speak French to someone who does speak English, it feels as though I've annoyed them by even trying to speak French (I'm sure my accent is terrible, and that this has much to do with it…).

Life in Paris hasn't been too challenging, but we know that may change as we leave the big city. We also frequently speak about what we're in for in countries like Greece where we'll have no clue of the language, and won't be able to even read signs. Paula and I have told the kids that we'll figure out ways to communicate, but this is still a frequent topic of conversation for us. At dinner tonight, we talked about each country we'll be visiting, and what we'll be able to expect in terms of communication challenges - it was a bit intimidating for us all! ~Steve

Distance Walked: 1.71 miles (hey, it was a driving day!)













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