We left Brazil in time to be “home” in France for Easter. I use the word home because we would be opening the front door of an Airbnb house we’ve rented four times now. Once inside, we know where everything is, how everything works, and, just like coming home anywhere, how good it feels to kick your shoes off and feel the stress of travel melt away.
The house is in Samois-sur-Seine, a bucolic village an hour outside Paris where our daughter Mary, French husband Gregoire, and our three youngest grandchildren live. Our house is just a five minute walk down the lane from theirs, and also near the center of this small hamlet. On the town square you will find a very nice bakery, a butcher shop, a small grocery store, a pharmacist, a post office, a couple of small restaurants, and the town hall. And, i true French village stylel, all are closed between one and three o’clock in the afternoon. For other conveniences (including an ATM) you need to drive to nearby Avon - but that’s a very scenic drive through the forest, so I never mind when we have to make a store run.
Walk a bit further and you are at the doors of the village school, and beyond that lies a walk down a gentle hill that takes you past homes drenched in wisteria that have lined the lane for over three hundred years. At the bottom you arrive at the Seine where barges slowly ply the waters and a resident Swan family is always glad to see you. Especially if you have children with bits of leftover baguette in tow.
There is evidence that parts of St. Hilaire, the village church, date back to the 11th century. We attended Easter service there, and inside you could feel the history in its stone bones. It was cool and dim inside.The walls were thick and the stained glass windows were small but intricate, and the carved saints stood as silent witnesses to hundreds of years of worship in this very same place. The service was a bit somber for such a glorious occasion, but we were happy to be there since the building isn’t open for visitors other than during scheduled services. However, it makes its presence known throughout the village by clanging its ancient bells on the hour.
A short drive away is the town of Fontainebleau where you’ll find a palace that rivals Versailles. It has been a royal residence for over eight centuries with Louis XVI and Napoleon Bonaparte amongst its most famous occupants. On the way you’ll pass through deep forests where Kings have hunted for centuries, but are now known for the sport of “bouldering” where climbers tackle the monolithic rocks that were tossed throughout the forest several million years ago.
We hadn’t visited this part of France in Springtime before. If you ever choose to go, this could be the perfect time of year. The forest was a green blurr of new growth and the villages were decked out in wisteria, lilacs, early roses and flower beds filled with tulips. The weather was a mix of course, but when the sun was out it was warm and everything seemed to sparkle in the sunlight. And of course there were fewer tourists.
When we arrived, the kids were just starting a two-week school holiday so our days were filled with family meals, playing all sorts of games, long walks in the woods, feeding the swans, and cooking.
Mary and I collaborated on the many meals it takes to fuel a family - and that made for several trips to the larger supermarket and a wonderful fresh market filled with seasonal organic produce, a butcher ready to hand-cut our orders, cases filled with stinky cheese and an extensive selection of affordable wine. We perfected a recipe for caramel corn, made a giant carrot cake for Easter dinner and I baked a batch of Oatmeal Raisin cookies. Now that feels like being home!
The highlight when we visit Samois are the overnights at Mooma and Grandpa’s house. The kids kept careful track of the nights when they each get to stay with us on their own, or it’s “just big kids night”, or it’s all three, including 5 year old Jacques, when things can get a little crazy. We take a few nights off to recover, but we really enjoy every moment.
When we weren’t having picnics in the woods we were in Paris. It’s a fifteen minutes to the closest train station in Bois le Rois, and from there the train goes directly to Gare d’ Lyon, dropping you near the center of the city in about a half an hour.
One of of those days we took Marcel, who will be 7 in June, to watch the Formula E races through the streets of Paris. This was particularly fun because many years ago Grandpa Michael was a professional race car driver. These new-age cars make a high whisper-like whine rather than ear shattering scream of traditional Formula One cars - but they look really cool. Marcel was in heaven as we toured the Fan Area and took pictures with the cars and collected all kinds of free souvenirs. He got to try a simulator even though his feet didn’t reach the pedals!
On another afternoon Mary and Marcel and Colette who will be 9 in August, joined us for the Immersive Van Gogh Starry Night exhibit where images of his work glide over the walls, ceiling and floors of an old water works station. You could wander the space and watch the images merge and move to classical and contemporary music. It was mesmerizing for adults and kids alike.
Michael and I had a day in Paris on our own to do a little shopping and have a nice bistro lunch. We also paid our respects at Notre Dame and saw for ourselves the aftermath of the fire. Of course there was a giant hole in the city scape where the tower had been, but from the barricades set up to keep people from getting to close she still looked beautiful.
We’ve made some great family memories in our house in Samois. And we will be back to make more as we dip in and out of France to catch some tennis at The French Open and to attend a Women’s World Cup soccer match in June, and then again for a couple of weeks at the end of summer.
We decided after our South American tour to revisit some of our favorite European countries this year. To do that we applied for Long Stay French Visas valid for one year like we did during our first two years of Senior Nomads Travel. They make sense if you are going to be traveling in Europe for an extended time, meaning more than the 90 days allowed inside the 26 member countries of the Schengen Zone. Here’s a link from a company called VFS that helps obtain visas from several countries.
Our plans for the next few months include a day-long train ride to Hamburg, Germany where we will pick up a car and drive through Denmark. From there we will visit Copenhagen and Gothenburg, Sweden before heading to the south of France for some time in the sun. We will spend two weeks in Lyon mid-August before returning to Samois. Plans for fall include a month in Italy, maybe a month in India, and if we stick around, we can attend our God Daughters wedding in the Cotswolds over Thanksgiving. We promise to be in Seattle for Christmas!
I am ending this blog with a another of our Senior Nomad Moments: At the airport in Rio de Janeiro we were reminded that it’s a good idea to find our how far away your gate is before settling in at a restaurant or coffee shop in the main terminal. We had plenty of time before our flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris so we found a nice spot for lunch and had a leisurely meal with a stop at the Relay shop for water and snacks. Then we headed to our gate. We hadn’t gotten far when a young man driving a golf cart motioned for us to get on. We balked at the invitation - did we look that old? But what the heck we’d take his offer. It was a good thing we did because it was a quite a long drive to the gate. We would have been very late to check in if we hadn’t hitched a ride. But there was another kind of hitch. As the cart sped away we realized we’d left a bag way back at the newsagent. Our precious Kindles were in it so we couldn’t leave it behind. Off Michael went sprinting to the main terminal - keeping an eye out for the cart and hoping for another ride. He found the bag. No cart in sight and had to run (as best he can these days) all the way back to Gate 64. Meanwhile, I was trying the patience of the gate attendants until he arrived out of breath. We were the last ones on the plane. Luckily our seats were towards the front so our “walk of shame” was short.
Thanks for following along,
Debbie and Michael Campbell
The Senior Nomads