France Is Magical

On June 29, I said goodbye to Greg & our little clan at Laurie's apartment in Munich, loaded myself, a backpack, a suitcase & 1 crutch onto a bus, & then onto a train for the 7-1/2 hr. train ride from Munich to Paris. I was so very proud of myself & my left ankle for accomplishing this without forgetting my passport or falling down a step! After my previous week transitioning more weight onto the healing ankle (with 1 crutch for support when needed), I felt confident that I once again had 2 working ankles, barring any more stupidity. So the crutch I took along to France was just insurance for the next 10 days.

When I last saw my sister at the end of April in Louisiana, she was recovering from complete right-shoulder replacement & was grimacing through frequent PT sessions, highly motivated to recover in time for our trip to France together. There was little margin for error in her recovery & rehab. Then the other Coquille Girl's Fall from Grace (that's me) on June 7 added a little more unneeded suspense & drama to our travel plans. Let's just say that Mary should have been worried Big Time about hanging out with the Coquille Girls. Which of us sisters is more klutzy? It's a close call...

But as I hauled my load of luggage through Gare de l'Est train station in the heart of Paris & walked along the streets to our hotel, I felt the energy of this magic city fill me, felt the strength in my body, & felt very proud that I'd made it this far all by myself. WOWWWW!

Our hotel (La Parisiana) was adequate at best. But for ~$150/night I guess you don't get much in Paris, especially near a major train station. We did have 3 twin beds & a bathroom. Too bad that it was hotter than hell in France for our entire trip & that the room had no a/c. By hot I mean about 90-95F days & about 80-85F inside our room at bedtime.

Marilyn & Mary arrived later that night. It was great to see them & know that we had all arrived safely from so far away:) We spent 5 nights together in Paris, a city full of must-see historic sites. We did & saw a lot, but I'll just describe my 2 favorite activities there. Our boat ride down the beautiful Seine at dusk was my favorite. It was a clear afternoon. The breeze on the river was such a relief from the heat. Our seats along the rail in stern reminded me of many years boating in the NW with Greg. The wind in my face, hair blowing, boats passing us in both directions... It was wonderful!

 PLUS the sites we saw along the river were among Paris' best -- the Louvre, the Bastille, Notre Dame Cathedral with its flying buttresses, elegant, expensive apartments & office buildings, the Eifel Tower, and thousands of residents sitting along the river enjoying the afternoon & waving at boats. We even saw a dance competition-- older couples ballroom dancing to big-band music right at the river's edge. Paris is truly magical!

 I know that the reason my sister suggested this trip was mainly to show us her Lavender Fields in Provence. With lavender, she's like a cat in catnip-- half-crazed! I suspect additional travel was really a concession to Mary & me, & I'm grateful:) So we spent a day in Bruges, Belgium, with its many Venice-like canals. Can you imagine how heavenly hot Belgian waffles tasted, covered in Belgian chocolate sauce? Plus we helped a chocolateer make his next batch of assorted chocolates. (NOT! But he did let us hold a knife & pose:) Bruges chocolateers get pretty creative with their eatable art, as you can see. Plus we admired a lot of Belgian lace. 1 cute little lady making lace posed for a picture & added a smile for 2 euro.

It was time to pick up our rental car & head to catnip country-- the Provence region in the southeast corner of France, where it is supposed to be hot. (Lavender NEEDS heat.) I kept asking Marilyn why she couldn't just visit me & Sequim, WA to see lavender. A lot cheaper, not as hot, PLUS easy access to me???!!!

In a rental car, we reached Memories of Provence, a B & B Marilyn booked in the countryside near the small town of Coustellet in Provence. Neil & Natalie made us feel so welcome in their gracious country home. Eating breakfast each morning in the shade of a lush grape arbor chatting with 2 other wonderful families was a real treat. Plus Neil's croissants & pastries still hot from the nearby bakery weren't bad either! The B & B was home base each day for all-day excursions through the foothills of the Luberon mountains & their lavender fields. Amazing scenery!!! I'll summarize 4 days by saying we saw A LOT of lavender!! And check out the sunflowers! They were OUTRAGEOUS:)
However, the most remarkable & very personal experience I had in Provence was attending Sunday Mass at the Senanque Abbey. After seeing in Europe so many centuries-old cathedrals with their gold glitz, marble curly-cues, ornate life-size statues of saints, & extravagant art encrusted with gemstones, this ancient abbey in its dull gray stone simplicity with its unadorned vaulted interior stands in stark contrast. I'd heard Marilyn describe for many years how beautiful this monastery is, sitting alone in a lush valley between mountains & surrounded by lavender. (Please click here for a video.)
A small group of Cistercian monks lives there in silence to work the lands, pray, & study. I've never really understood that life of isolation. But in the solemn quiet of the abbey as Mass began & monks entered, their rich deep voices chanting slowly in complex perfect harmonies that echoed off the vaulted ceiling, my understanding & appreciation grew. In just a few solemn measures sung by these simple, holy men, this life made some sense. It was beyond beautiful in every way-- their voices, the unadorned simplicity of this church, the solemn respectful demeanor of the congregation (mostly tourists), the surrounding green valley, and Marilyn's purple lavender everywhere. Anyone would feel the serenity & holiness of this place. I hope I never lose this wonderful memory. If I go to France again, this is the one place I know I'd love to revisit.

After 5 days driving through this extraordinary part of France, we returned the rental & took the train back to La Parisiana for our last night together in Europe. We had packed, bathed, & were trying to get cool enough to want to go to bed at 10:30 pm. The phone rang. Reception said there was a problem & asked Marilyn, who answered the phone, to come down. So she & Mary got dressed & went downstairs to handle the issue. Soon the phone rang again. This time Marilyn told me to come down & help straighten out the bill. Oh great! So I got dressed, gathered my Official Notebook with all my Official Printouts of our Official Reservations, put on my Official Face & headed downstairs. As I walked into the lobby focusing on my Official Mission, 1 brain cell noticed a little girl who could have been Vivi's sister, staring at the reception desk. I approached Reception with all my Official-ness in place. Suddenly there was a big flash in my face. What was that?! From behind a big camera popped Laurie! And yes, that WAS Vivi... in Paris... They belonged in Munich!! Poor old Grandma. I am SUCH A SUCKER! It's a good thing I love surprises.

Laurie & Vivi had hopped a train from Munich early that morningspent a wonderful day in Paris, then when
they thought we'd be back at the hotel, showed up to see my sister! We had such a nice visit with themin our hotel room for an hour. Then they left us to catch a very late subway back to their Paris hotel with plans to catch a very early train back to Munich the next day. It's so nice to be young & have all that spare energy. We had many laughs over Laurie's caper! It was a fine finale for our adventures in France together.

At the end of 10 days together, I know why Mary is such a dear friend of my sister's. No one could have been more patient with the individual quirks & temperaments of The Coquille Girls or more considerate & helpful. She'd win the Best Traveling Companion Award, if such a thing existed. I'm ready to adopt Mary as a 3rd Coquille Girl, but suspect she's seen enough to decline the offer. Anyway, when we said goodbye to go our separate ways, I was very glad for this visit together & my chance to get to know Mary better.

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