Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Spring Break!

It is just starting to hit me (don't ask me how, after 8 years of this) that teachers have an awesome schedule. We work our buns off when school is in session, and do a lot of work during summer break too, but now that I can actually afford to take vacations, I can compare the amount of time I have off to those with normal jobs and I feel badly for them. Two weeks of vacation per year sucks. I have 14. Delightful.

Not to rub it in or anything but it is pretty much awesome. 

And, now that I am living in Europe, I don't have to travel far to get places that are worth seeing for a few days. I mean, don't get me wrong, Ogallala, Nebraska is great, but I don't know if I'd want to vacation there for more time than it takes to fill up the tank with gas, buy a diet coke, and use the bathroom. I use that example because it is about 4 hours from Fort Collins and with a less-than four hour drive from Düsseldorf, I was in Bruges, Belgium taking a boat cruise around a medieval city. I don't think I will ever get used to things being so close together here. And, the interesting thing for Americans (and likely Australians since things are so vast there too) is that when you cross the border, everything changes because, duh, you're in another country.

Driving from Belgium to Holland, there is a distinct change in the type of surfacing on the highway even. The different countries use different fonts on their road signs. Just small things, really, until you get out of the car and realize that people are speaking an entirely different language than they were the last time you stopped for gas.

For our first week of spring break, my friends Keith and Lauren and I road tripped across Northern France to see my French family from my days o' umemployment at La Crochardière (the name of their manor). It was the equivalent distance of driving from Denver to Omaha which cracked me up. They couldn't believe we would drive that far and I think back to all of the times Courtney and I have driven back and forth to see each other just for the weekend without even a thought. They'd really freak at the thought of some of my East Coaster friends driving back East from Colorado fairly regularly. We just think of distances differently in the US, especially in the Midwest and West.

The DJ/Copilot

The lounger in the back.

The Captain! 
Our drive took about 9 hours and three stops at McDonald's (MacDo) in France for coffee, delicious ICY diet coke, and a dependably clean bathroom. We sang, danced, and laughed like fake French people (haw haw haw) while we pretended to smoke and acted with ennui. Great drive. I forgot how much I love a good road trip.

We stayed in the rental cottage at the manor as they had guests in the Bed & Breakfast while we were there. They have done SO much work to the property and it was quite nice. If anyone wants to go stay there, just let me know, it is very reasonably priced for a week and was very relaxing.

We started our tourist days at the crack of noon after a nice lie-in (as the Brits say) and relaxed coffee drinking. We visited the French supermarket everyday and I did cook for the family a few times. Since last year, Steven, the older son in the family, has started cooking so he and I baked cookies together. There was minimal whining over the food I prepared because nobody tried to make anyone eat things they didn't want to. So, if you're wondering if they are still more or less living off of yogurt with lots of sugar on it, the answer is undoubtedly...YES. But, guess what, NOT MY PROBLEM and I don't have to be there for every meal. It was great to see them. A week (while my friends were there for me to play with) was the perfect amount of time to visit and I'll definitely go back.

As our big days for being tourists began at noon, we only did one thing per day. Delightful. Very relaxing.

Day 1 was Mont Saint Michel. I ran into one of my students while there! Small world!
A beautiful day for our visit to Mt. St. Michel
See my last year's blog post on it if you want any additional info.
Day 2 was Saint Malo & Dinard. We were lucky to have lovely sunshine even if it was chilly. 

The "pool" at Saint Malo.
The squared-off area fills up with water during high tide.
The water was a bit cold for swimming, it is the English Channel after all.
Day 3 was Mont Dol & Dol-de-Bretagne, the town next to La Crochardière. 

Lauren and Keith were great indulgers of my picture-taking antics.

Peggy, the lonely donkey, still lonely as ever and braying all day long.
Lauren really liked Peggy's bangs.

Day 3 was Cap Fréhel. Beautiful.  

One of these lighthouses was built by Louis XIV.
Well, not actually by him...his minions. 

We also did a few errands that I can easily do in France because I can actually communicate with people unlike in Germany. It was really wonderful to be in France for this reason. I asked for everything possible in public places and made small talk chit chat with people because I could. Keith also speaks French so it was nice to have a good reference when I didn't know a word. Between the two of us, we were like a whole person speaking French. Compared to my German skills, I feel like I could write a doctoral dissertation in French. But, compare French skills with English skills, I'm still just  directly above a special needs chimpanzee. At any rate, France is a familiar place to me now and it was really nice to be there. I know what to expect and things are not a giant guessing game all of the time. There's a lot to be said for that! 

Our trip ended at the World War I site of Vimy Ridge, France. This is a large monument managed and operated by the Canadians to commemorate the sacrifice of over 20,000 Canadians during World War I. So, for the first time in my life, I went to Canada, eh! It was a very moving memorial and we were able to tour the tunnels and trenches from the war that have been preserved. I realized that I basically know nothing about WWI as my history classes always got stuck on the minutiae of battles in the American Civil War. Keith is Canadian so he was able to explain a lot of the history of the Canadian involvement in the war as I am an idiot American and know nothing. 

The monument dedicated to all of the lost/unknown Canadian soldiers.

Canada, right inside of France.
The American sites in Normandy are the same idea.

As you can see, there are still undetonated explosives.
We were there almost 95 years later. We missed the anniversary by 3 days.

Part of the old trenches.
I learned that they formed a North-South line through Europe almost 500 miles long.

 This was a wonderful trip. I miss it now that I am back at work. I was a bit sad being back in Germany since my communication with anyone was ended again. The day after we got back I arrived at a restaurant before my friends, tried to speak French, panicked, and ran out. My brain does it automatically. It is my go-to foreign language. 

(Quick aside...when Natalie and I were in Paris last year, she kept speaking Spanish (her go-to language) but thinking it was French...really funny!)

Perhaps another entry later about the rest of spring break with my cousin and her husband, but I don't want to rub it in. Here are three picture highlights.

Tulip fields in Holland.

Kinderdijk. UNESCO World Heritage Site in Holland.

Gent, Belgium.
So that's that. No more trips until summer. My cousins from Denmarkia are coming to visit next weekend and then I am going to a work thing in Amsterdam. One day of it is at the van Gogh Museum. Not gonna lie, pretty excited about that! 

Just chugging through the remainder of the school year!  Year 2 promises to be exciting as well!