The Big 5-Oh-Oh

Once upon a time…”Be gentle dear reader: this is my first blog.”

That entry was dated January 9, 2007 – almost seven years and four months ago.

Since then, there have been hundreds of stories – big and small, international and local – and now this entry is the…500th one! Who’d a-thunk it?

In honor of the occasion, I asked the guys and the lovely missus to recall some of their favorite memories; I even included mine. So here’s our European time capsule of the past 7+ years:

Favorite City:
• J: Rome/Vatican City. So much history and beauty.
• D: Rome, Venice, and Bruges – any of those works for me! Italy just so much Charm to it, I loved the Christmas time Venice, Rome was bright and sunny and so cool to see, but I always like Bruges and its’ small town beauty/charm
• T: Rome. Every time you turned around a corner, you were met with something remarkable.
• M: Venice and Delft. Venice—beautiful architecture, history and culture…and no roads…Delft: just as charming and delicate as the china that it is famous for.

Favorite Trip:
• J: Normandy. So much history, not quite as much beauty (although that house we stayed in with the exotic plants backyard was really nice.)
• D: Has to have been Morocco! The people were very friendly, Ibrahim was an excellent guide, the food was pretty darn good, the sites were quite impressive (Fez’s winding narrow city streets and impressive old city, Volubilis and its excellently preserved mosaics for instance), and I had a really good time there! Was a great October holiday.
• T: The ‘Five Countries in Eight Days’ trip in October/November 2007. Visited Besancon and Strasbourg in France; went 100 MPH/165 KPH on the autobahn; spent two nights in a castle; a cool ‘Night Watchman’s Tour’ in the charming town of Rotherberg ob ter Taub; two beer gardens in Munich; Castle Neuschwanstein; 30 minutes on an Austrian highway; Lichtenstein (all of it!); and the Bern Bears in Switzerland. Exhausting but fun.
• M: Florence…incredible lodging at a pension/museum with the most welcoming hostess. Getting there with Florentine police escort down a pedestrian only portion of the Florence High Street at the full height of Saturday evening shopping, craning our necks to get glimpses of the awesome Duomo whilst avoiding running into/over shoppers, was half the fun. The Uffizi gallery and Bubba (Boboli gardens) and a New Year’s Eve fantastic gourmet dinner with Bingo. D and I chose the restaurant. I wavered (it was expensive) but D was convinced we should go there. It was a fun way to bring in the New Year: Prosecco, pea shooters and Bingo. Only that night did we realize Bingo meant “random prize drawing” in Italian. D, T & M won prizes (coffee, bath towels and schnapps assortment). Thank goodness for the Italian couple sitting next to us and alerting us each time our numbers were called. In retrospect, given that we didn’t speak any Italian, I’m not sure how we would have managed if it had been a real Bingo tournament. When we left the restaurant, drunken revelers were smashing glasses and champagnes bottle and setting off bottle rockets…it was noisy and raucous and by 6 am Jan 1st, all evidence of the party the night before had been swept away…and Florence was back to its beautiful self.

Best day trip from Toulouse:
• J: Either Carcassonne or seeing the Pont Du Gard (because it was so historic).
• D: A battle between Carcassonne, which is always impressive and a ‘MUST’ to bring family/friends over to see, and Andorra which always has something new to see and get when there.
• T: Tossup between Rocamadour, the town built on the side of a cliff, and Montsegur.
• M: Cirque de Gavarnie: late May, with people in shorts standing on a snow mound, having a snow ball fight. Walking into the valley with waterfalls and snow covered hills. That was pretty amazing.

Best Memory:
• J: As a family, listening to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me on our car drives around the country.
• D: Meeting Elise Muller on the Champs Elysee in Paris though! And perhaps just times spent with friends or playing baseball.
• T: See J’s entry in ‘funnest experience.’ Getting a police escort in the pedestrian-only area of Florence – including around the Duomo – was awesome.
• M: (i) not just one best memory but overall, our European vacations. There wasn’t a bad one amongst them because we were together. (ii) Dave, exclaiming in front of Galatta Tower in Istanbul, “Awesome, it looks just like it does in the Video Game.” (Assassin’s Creed); (iii) 3 meals in 3 countries in 1 one day: Breakfast in France, Lunch in Monaco and Dinner in Italy; (iv) snow-fall during a gondola ride in Venice and (v) throwing snowballs into the Seine river with Jonathan and Jeffrey during their visit.

Living in Leguevin:
• J: Loved the market, liked the fact that the local boulangerie lady knew me by sight, and the chickens in the neighbors backyard (of our first house on D’Expert)!
• D: I always enjoyed living in Leguevin; it was a friendly small town, was close to places without as much crowding (other than the constant traffic), and the Sunday markets were always a highlight.
• T: Our neighbors have been great at both houses and I’ll never forget how they took care of me when I seriously screwed up my back whilst the lovely missus was in the US on bidness.
• M: Our neighbors, who are kind and interesting and interested and infinitely patient with our language challenges. Walking to the market, shopping at the market and getting to know the vendors. And, Visits from family and friends…I loved those visits!

IST:
• J: Great teachers (Mr. Tarr for History and Mr. Cavalli for French) and tight-knit, small class (only 30 students).
• D: The staff were friendly and knowledgeable and always willing to help me succeed, I made a lot of good friends there by the end of it. Definitely an excellent place to study and have (a teeny tiny little bit of) fun!
• T: Playing Santa/Pere Noel/Father Christmas/Weihnachtsmann at the Christmas Fair for several years.
• M: D’s music concerts, Jim’s award ceremonies and each of the kids’ graduations.

While in France, what I miss – besides family & friends– from the US:
• J: American English!
• D: Not being able to get video games (compatible with my US system) while abroad! That and Starbucks.
• T: I have to admit, it’s…ESPN. I went into serious withdrawal when their European version – ESPN America – went off the air in July 2013.
• M: Starbucks and Sunny Weather

While now in the US or UK, what I miss from France:
• J: Going to the local market and travelling Europe.
• D: L’Entrecote for sure, but has to be the Sunday market – it was so nice seeing and making friends with all those people, and I really will miss them and the fresh baked pasta and baguettes, for sure.
• T: On our trips back to the US, I actually miss hearing ‘bonjour.’
• M: Baguettes, wine, cheese and fresh foods that are not full of preservatives and salt and sugar.

Funnest experience:
• J: Getting driven to our hotel in Florence with a police escort while driving through pedestrian only areas filled with holiday shoppers. Mortifying and fun.
• D: Maybe seeing the cat sitting on that lady’s lap in that restaurant (Papa Nino) in Cannes. Probably as well, me, Conal and Jack’s 5-hour trek in the dark that one time the summer ago. Still makes me laugh.
• T: Panto. First time on stage was a rush and doing it again this year with a larger, um, ‘part’ was even rushier.
• M: (i) Early on, when speaking to a French person, I would always start with the phrase “Parlez-vous Anglais?” Inevitably, the response would be “Non” or “Un peu.” I would then plow ahead in French, butchering the language as thoroughly as a sharp machete hacking through dense forest. The person I was speaking to would look confused for a moment and then suddenly start responding in English…English which was almost always way better than my French. (ii) Going into a traditional Tea-pourer/Story teller stone house in the mountains of Morocco, being led down the stairs into their “living room” for the special tea service and coming face to face with a group of about 20 60-70 year old Americans, Stanford alumni, on a group tour of Morocco.

Overrated/Underrated:
• J: I didn’t like Barcelona.
• D: Have to agree with J: Barcelona/Spain in general wasn’t much to my liking. That and maybe the pool in the 2nd house – not very warm, not always blue.
• T: Despite its boring reputation, I really enjoyed Brussels.
• M: The weather in Southwestern France…specifically over our little slice o’ French heaven. Definitely overrated!

The French:
• J: Friendly. Very nice and polite. Not snooty, at least in the South.
• D: Very friendly and always up for fun, but love to argue/debate. Certainly don’t back down much from one.
• T: Just try to speak a little French, however badly, and they really appreciate it.
• M: Very genuine and comfortable in their own skin. Family is important; I always enjoy seeing generations of families walking together on Sunday afternoons following their Sunday meal together. It is a tradition and explains why few retails shops are open on Sunday in France (well, that and the Unions). Friendly and curious.

French Food:
• J: Really enjoyed merguez sausages, great desserts, L’Entrecote, and of course, apple loops. Yes, out of all the wonders of French gastronomical expertise, I enjoy a processed sugar snack the most. And St. Honore desserts.
• D: Very fine indeed, if having to remember the ruling when it comes to cooking beef/steak (they undercook everything). Veal and pasta definitely lovely, merguez and baguettes. Olives to die for! And yeah, the St. Honore desserts were good, as was the Millefeuille cake that I had for my 18th. Certainly enjoyed the Laotian lady’s cooking up at the market and the meals at the Royaume Du Jade or Le Saigon in Leguevin.
• T: The ubiquitous baguette, veal tenderloin, and – I know it’s not ‘food’ – Armagnac.
• M: Cheese (Brie aux truffes) and dry, white wines. French desserts are Fab…French coffee less so!

Etc:
• J: We always stopped at McDo’s before leaving Andorra. On a different note, I love hiking up Montsegur.
• T: The petanque players. Quarterly circuses. ‘À demang matang.’ Geckos. American flags on the Toulouse City Hall on the Fourth of July. No Sunday shopping. M saying, “That’s no gentleman. That’s my son!Auto-ecole autos everywhere.

Thanks for stopping by. Here are few photos to whet your appetite for those at the linked photo albums:

Me and the Sheriff.

Me and the Sheriff.

On page 123, a character thinks: Good God, the Medici could afford any artwork on earth, and they chose this?

“Good God, the Medici could afford any artwork on earth, and they chose this?”

M with guys before the guys commenced their elevator-assisted climb of the tower.

Galatta Tower: M with guys before the guys commenced their elevator-assisted climb of the tower.

Doing his own reenactment of 'Roman Holiday' in 2008.

Doing his own reenactment of ‘Roman Holiday’ in 2008.

Megan and James with Pont Neuf behind them.

Megan and James with Pont Neuf behind them.

Chillin' in my grotto.

Chillin’ in my grotto.

Me, J and Patrick, notre ami.

Me, J and Patrick, notre ami.

Malta: Land of Malti-Tasking The Visit of La Famille Krech

D has found his muse.

D has found his muse.

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About skinsphins

The stories of a 'never out of the country until we moved to France' American.
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2 Responses to The Big 5-Oh-Oh

  1. mike round says:

    Keep writing your blog – I enjoy reading it.
    I’m only a novice in Leguevin, having been here just two years, but I recognise the “feel” of the place from your stories.

    • skinsphins says:

      Hi Mike – Glad you like the blog. I hope you feel like you’re settling well into LegoLand. Not sure how much longer we’ll be here, but until we go I’ll keep writing.

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