27 April, 827 EDT, McLean, Va
Missed recording the last few days in France. On Sat, cleaned up gite & packed. Gave ‘tennis’ rackets & ball and some bubble stuff to prop; gave sheets & other stuff to farmer & wife who helped us. They invited us in for coffee but we declined. They seemed to appreciate the items.
Drove to Nantes Airport to check-out car return & S recognized EuroRent as the name of the place to return the car. We stopped in & confirmed that we all understood Tues as return day. This was a great relief to me. Also stopped at ‘i’ desk & made hotel reservations at Hotel de France downtown (the Jules Verne was the first recommended, but was not avail Mon). Also tried to confirm reservation w/ UTA, but no answer.
Checked into Hotel, right on shopping street & near ped. mall. Then went to Beaujoie Carrefour to eat at Crep ‘n Pizz again. Waitress recognized us, & seemed dismayed. Wups, forgot Fri. 20 April. We drove to Loire chateaux Chenanceau & others.
On the way, I called the Nante Peugeot agent again. She spoke no E but I was able (I think) to communicate that we had a car we wanted to return at the airport on Tues at 1130. Then I tried to find out where on airport we would find her. I thought she started spelling but wasn’t sure, and grabbed S as she walked past phone booth. S wasn’t sure she got it but we hoped it was close enough. This was the hardest comm of the trip, and concerned me the most, since I didn’t want to retain ownership of a car in France. The woman was very patient & kept trying.
Chenanceau was very good. Lots of furnishings, impressive architecture & setting. There were not too many rooms to see most of them, and with ability to imagine people using them. I liked it better than Versailles or Fountainbleau.
On Sun 22 April drove to more chateaux: Amboise, Chambord, & Blois. Amboise has suffered over the years, & only a small part remains, but interesting. Leonardo da V. spent his last years nearby. Chambord is very elaborate, but too large. Many rowdy school kids there. Most interesting double spiral staircase in center. Blois was interesting for its past notoriety: murder of duc … on king’s orders. Paintings & rooms with secret cupboards etc.
Monday, we did ‘cleanup’: washed car, got hotel desk clerk to confirm w/ UTA, final shopping & repacked for trip home. Cashed all French Franc TCs, to use when paying bill.
Tuesday, had breakfast in room, bought newspaper (Intl Her Trib), checked out and went to airport. Returned car – very easy. It had ~12050 km for 6 wks of travel. We returned it in very clean condition, no damage at all.
After the usual waiting (we were at ticket counter more than 2 hrs early, got to choose seats from restricted set because flight originated in Marseille) took off. I was across aisle from S & C & half a row forward. There was very little overhead stowage, only the dolls in their bag went up. Coats & other bags under seats. I sat next to man from Marseille who spoke no E. To my great surprise & pleasure I was able to tell him about our vacation – about 30 min in several sessions, with use of map of F from airline magazine & gestures, and he told me his plans. I must have learned something on this trip! S knew I was talking to him, but didn’t realize the conversation was in French until we stopped at Newark, and I wished him ‘bon sejour’!
27 April, 827 EDT, McLean, Va
The last entry in my journal was written at my desk in McLean after I went back to work. The last few days were very full and I was too tired to write before we left France.
On Friday, we drove to the Loire valley chateaux. There are so many of these, we had to select just a few, based on our schedule, the time to drive and the guidebooks’ descriptions.
On the way, we stopped at a phone booth just across the road from the Loire, next to a PTT. There was little traffic to create background noise for what I feared would be a tough phone call. Susan, for some reason, insisted I make the call to return the leased car. I got through, and started with a canned sentence (devised by S) about returning a car. The agent was patient (though I am sure she was as frustrated as I was at the inability to communicate clearly) and eventually I thought we both understood what I wanted to do, the company involved, the time and general location (airport), etc. Then I thought I try to nail down the location within the airport (which I had never seen). This was an insurmountable hurdle for me, but I felt we were very close, when Susan walked by on her way to the PTT. She completed the call. This was a very nerve-wracking experience, considering the consequences of failing to return the car. Fortunately the agent had great patience.
I like Chenanceau best of the chateaux we saw. One room, a small study, had drawings and paintings of the building plans and various stages in its development. I think these would make an interesting book. Each of the chateaux we saw had something to offer, and they were all worth a few hours to visit.
On our departure from the last gite, we had to get rid of many items we no longer needed or had room for. Toys we had bought for Chrissy were left with the proprietor, for his boy. Bedsheets, cleaning supplies and such were left with the farmer’s wife. At first she seemed to say she couldn’t accept them, it seemed too much. But Susan convinced her that we couldn’t pack them and take them with us on the plane. She seemed very happy. We were torn when they invited us in for coffee. We should have accepted, but couldn’t have drunk coffee, and were afraid we wouldn’t be good guests. I regret we didn’t try to socialize with them a bit, just to be neighborly.
After reconnoitering the Nantes Airport, I felt much better about the car return. We drove into Nantes to find the Hotel de France, and on the way saw the Jules Verne (he was a native of Nantes); it was a Best Western! We had chosen a ‘hotel with character’ instead. Part of its character was drain pipes from rooms on the floor above, which ran around the edge of the ceiling, and made gentle gurgling noises from time to time. The parking was in a tiny lot, with a combination keypad to open a gate. We had trouble every time, trying to make it work.
We went back to Crep ‘n Pizz and it was pretty funny to see the waitress’ expression when she saw us. I guess it’s as hard on them to deal with foreigners as it is for us.
The trip to the other chateaux was our last day trip. Chambord’s double-spiral staircase was pretty neat.
On the flight home, I was a little frustrated to be sitting separate from Susan and Chrissy again. But when the man next to me started asking if we were on vacation, and I started trying to tell him about it, I got interested in trying to communicate. Of course I wasn’t really speaking French; no verbs, for example. But I was able to point to some of the cities we had visited on the map, and indicated where our gites had been, how long we had stayed, that we had rented a car, how many kilometers we had driven, where we lived. He was able to tell me that he was also vacationing, would be staying in New York a few days, and then go to visit relatives in California, all without a word of English. I wondered how well he would fare in the US without English, compared with how we did in France with only a little French. I hoped he would find helpful, patient people as we did, but had my doubts.
I think that conversation, on the flight home, was a high point of my trip. It made me realize how fortunate we had been in dealing with people who took the time to help us. Without Susan’s little bit of French, I’m sure it would have been harder, but we found helpful, patient people every time we needed them, and they helped make the trip a success.
Another help was the tremendous amount of time Susan spent in the planning of the trip. Even though we didn’t have a set itinerary, she had a very organized list of places to go and things to see and do. We were never at a loss for something to do; instead we had to decide what could be left undone or unseen. In the end, we saw a great deal of France. When we talk to other people who have been to Paris for a week, it seems sad that they didn’t get to see more of the country. The next time we go, we may see more of Paris, but I’m sure we will still stay in gites, and get out into the country, where we can find a market in progress and buy a roast chicken and some fresh fruit, have a pique-nique and, maybe next time, relax a little. (1991-08-13)