We took a three-hour train ride from Paris to Chambery where we were greeted by Axelle and her parents (Habiba and Oliver aka Tye). I shook Oliver’s hand and then went to give Habiba a hug when I realized that in France an introduction starts with a kiss on both cheeks. I awkwardly went the same direction, but we finally figured it out. By the end of the trip I would be a cheek kissing fool.
Her parents could not have been any nicer and Axelle instantly began the task of translating all of our conversations. I was amazed at how easily she bounced back and forth between the two languages.
Shortly after we arrived at her house, several members of her family came over (again I was awkward with the kiss greeting). Axelle’s aunt also spoke English and her husband spoke a little bit of English and you could tell he was very excited to try it out. As we sat down with Axelle’s family, it was neat that we were now seeing this side of someone who was such a big part of our lives for a year. Dinner lasted until about 11, and then exhausted from a day and a half of traveling we went to bed.
I woke up and saw the clock said 11am, I figured this had to be wrong, but it wasn’t. Jenn and Nolin woke up about an hour later. You could tell that Nolin was exhausted because he slept for 15 hours straight without a sound.
Eventually after the lazy Americans got ourselves together and ate a very late breakfast, Axelle’s parents took us to an awesome little town called Annecy (was almost the site of the 2018 Olympics). It was as if we had stepped out of the car and onto a movie set, and of course Nolin loved the flowers.
Later that night, we went to Habiba & Oliver’s friend’s restaurant and met some more of the family friends. This would be where I learned that Brian is in the kitchen. We sat outside for a while with a mixture of wine, bread and cheese and took turns chasing Nolin around the parking lot as he decided to try to pick up every rock in the gravel lot. This was our first introduction to the French cast of characters (whom we would fortunately end up spending a lot of time with during our stay).
As I mentioned dinners are social events and this was no exception after a few hours of sitting outside, talking and drinking wine, we moved inside the restaurant for round two of talking and drinking. The funny thing is, the drinking is very social and people don’t get out of control like you would expect. Eventually we all sat down at a table for an excellent meal (Jenn still not feeling well enough so she shared mine). Then came desert…Erik (aka Polo. aka Brian is in the kitchen) decided that I needed to try a famous French desert. I should have known by the sly laugh he gave as he ordered it…It was sherbet in a glass of vodka (quite tasty if I do say so myself) and then came desert #2. I don’t know how French people do it…they eat fantastic rich food and a lot of it…they should all be 300 lbs (or 136 kg), but they are not. I was struggling to keep up, but probably to Jenn’s dismay…I did.
The next morning we woke up (at a much more reasonable hour) and then we hopped in the car and headed to Ardeche in southern France.
Axelle’s parents & friends had booked a weekend for all of us at the Villa Font Vive. In addition, Polo’s sister had a second home nearby so they came too. This proved to be the French experience that you can not get from a guide-book. There were many times during the weekend, that Jenn and I looked at each other and just said, I can’t believe we are here…it was authentic, amazing and a lot of fun.
The first night, we spent hanging out at Polo’s sister’s house sitting outside in a courtyard for another 4 hour dinner. During the pre-dinner phase, Nolin hung out with all the girls learning French nursery rhyme songs…he loved the attention.
I on the other hand joined the guys for a game of bocce ball, which they called boules. Since none of the guys spoke English, I had to ask Axelle after a few rounds if we were playing on teams or individually and if so whose team was I on and what was the score. As I didn’t understand what anyone was saying, it just seemed to be a lot of excitement, taunting and then they would let me know it was my turn. Turns out we were on teams…kind of makes you feel stupid to have been playing for 15 minutes and not know that, but they continued to cheer me on.
The following day, was probably one of my favorite days of the whole trip, and not because Axelle’s mom agreed to watch Nolin while we went exploring, but because it was like nothing I have ever experienced before.
I have to admit, that Jenn and I were very nervous leaving Nolin for the day. Partially because Habiba did not speak English (looking back not really sure why that would matter because Nolin doesn’t speak a lot of English either), but mostly because we were afraid that Nolin may end up being a handful, and she would regret that she offered to watch him. Sensing we were nervous, she told us, I raised Axelle and she grew up, so don’t worry we will be fine…and off we went.
We were treated to an amazing day Kayaking in Ardeche. The scenery was indescribably and the experience was the same. We stopped a few times to go swimming and eat lunch (bread, meat, cheese and of course some wine). Jenn and I truly felt like we were experiencing something that most American’s would never see when they came to France.
We arrived back in the early evening and as promised Nolin was fine. He had a great day hanging with the girls (and a couple of the guys). We left that night for what would prove to be a very interesting dinner.
Turns out, we should have been more concerned about our own parenting skills as we left for dinner we forgot Nolin’s only bottle. No big deal, we’ll just get him some milk when we get to the restaurant. We walked around for a bit, and Nolin found a carousal that he loved, so he and Axelle continued to ride it until about 9pm. We finally made our way to dinner and hoped that Nolin would fall asleep easily.
No such luck as they were having a huge Beatles rock orchestra tribute in the middle of the town. Nolin loved it, but at the same time he did not love that he was tired. We traded back and forth trying to walk him to quite places to fall asleep. Finally at around 11:30 we had both given up and resigned to the fact that we were not winning parents of the year tonight and came back to the restaurant. The formerly (extremely) unhappy boy put on a show and was delighted to be the center of attention again.
With that stress gone, we were treated to a great meal, although we both feared that we may have ruined the experience for everyone else, but no one seemed to mind at all. This is where I had one of my most interesting meals of the trip. I let Oliver order for me and he ordered me a regional sample platter.
As I was trying things, I would ask what a specific item was. Then I got to a piece of meat that was strange but very good…
What is this I asked?
Axelle’s father replied Pigeon….
(This is where you would insert a record scratching as I took an exaggerated gulp) I figured that there must have been something lost in translation…but there was not, I was eating Pigeon and enjoying it.
Thankfully I asked after I had finished most of it, because it was actually very good and I never would have imagined even trying it which taught me a lot.
Sunday we left Ardeche and prepared for our last few days in France…