There is so much I could tell you about this past weekend that I don't even know where to begin. Lindsey had her best friend Ashley come over earlier last week who crashed on our couch. The kids immediately fell in love with her. I'm sure this had nothing to do with the fact that she ran around playing tag with them and flying them around in the air the day she arrived, when we were asking ourselves how she was even still standing up.... We fell in love with this good natured, laid back, spicy food lovin' gal as well. Especially after she, together with Lindsey and two wonderful sister missionaries, helped paint our hallway.
When Ashley and Lindsey were deciding on what European city to go see while they had the chance, Sander kindly offered to have me go with them as their chauffeur in his work car, and suggested we go see Paris. He thought it would only cost us one tank of gas out of our own pocket, since we could fillerup on his company card just before leaving Holland. All we heard was: ROAD TRIP!!! and EIFFEL TOWER!!! and NO KIDS!!! and OH LA LA!!! Apparently seeing the Eiffel Tower was on some great 'things to do before I'm too old to do them without an oxygen tank' list Lins and Ash (as they will henceforth be referred to as) they made together when they were still in diapers. And they seemed genuinely happy about me crashing their party! I'm not sure if this really came across before, so let me make it clear that we were all very excited.
The following day (Friday) we packed our bags, shopped for junk food to snack on in the car, and said goodbye to Sander and the kids at 6pm. We were on our way! We had some traffic at first, but that cleared up pretty quickly and before we knew it we were at the last rest stop before the border with Belgium, filling up on gas (which is a liquid, this never ceases to confuse me). When we got to the French border I noticed that it seemed like we had hardly used up any gas at all - a hopeful sign when you're a cheapskate like me. We kept going, and chatting, and eating all sorts of junk, and listening to music, carefully following the road signs with the appropriate city names that Sander wrote out for us on them. Rotterdam, Breda, Antwerpen, Gent, Lille, Paris. We made excellent time and got to the town of Stains around midnight. Stains. I felt right at home.
Then came the first and really the only figurative bump in the road: The address for our hotel seemed to be incorrect as the TomTom lead us to a dead-end construction zone with absolutely nothing that resembled a hotel in the vicinity. After talking to some locals (I use the term 'talk' loosely as their English was non-existant and my French is, um, wobbly) we were able to find the hotel. The desk clerk, who spoke English bless him, gave us our room key and informed us that we had no toilet in the room but were welcome to use the communal one in the hallway. At a total of 37 Euros total for all 3 of us and the prospect of a bed we weren't complaining.
The night went quickly for those of us who slept (Lins and I) and probably dragged on forever for those of us with a severely messed up internal clock (Ash), but come morning we got up, decided against a hallway shower, and got ready to rough it in Paris. We drove into Paris tand pulled in to a reasonably priced parking garage on Rue de Passy, where we set off towards the Eiffel Tower on foot. Once there our feet remained an important part of the experience as we took pictures of the Eiffel Tower with our feet in the shots, and proceeded to use them to walk further to the Arc du Triomphe, along the Champs Elysee, around the Louvre and finally into the Notre Dame. While those two looked around the impressive cathedral, I sat down in a pew, rested my feet, feasted my eyes, and thoroughly enjoyed the peaceful quiet. Well, at least until that chinese baby next to me started screaming his head off. I've been fortunate enough to been inside the Notre Dame several times before so I didn't particularly feel the need to walk around this time but could really use a break from being on my feet as my shoes were hurting my heels, causing me to walk silly and hurt my knee. I did the exact same thing when I was in Venice with Sander, and obviously didn't learn a thing about proper footwear. I am hoping the Americans can teach me a thing or two on the subject, but more on that next time.
From the Notre Dame we took the Metro to the Sacre Coeur, where there was some kind of market/wine tasting festival going on. I got a little annoyed with all the merchandising inside the beautiful building and even considered buying off my sins for a split second, but once again the calm found inside centered me quickly and helped me control myself. Who am I kidding, it was the pure exhaustion from having to climb 13401 steps (I counted) to get up the hill this church was built on. The panoramic view of Paris is worth it though. Here is a shot I took last time I was there:
Our day of Parisian Pleasantries ended with a metro ride back to Rue de Passy where we paid the parking meter and drove Ashley to the maze that is Charles de Gaulle airport, where she was hoping to catch a direct flight to SLC. Unfortunately she ended up spending a night at the airport and not getting home until another day later. She wasn't the only one who had an eventful trip back home....
It all began when we stopped for food and checked out the rest stop's gift shop. Lindsey bought herself a miniature Eiffel Tower after much, much deliberation (it's OK Lindsey, you were tired and distracted by the prospect of french McDonalds). We ended up getting in the car without eating because this particular rest stop, though lovely, did not have the absolutely necessary McDonalds restaurant. Once back on the road we passed a McDonalds without remembering to take the exit and Lindsey realised she had neglected to buy a friend a souvenir at the previous gift shop. We pulled into the very next gas station where a very fed up and forlorn looking young man named Florian sold Lindsey her 'objet d'art' with a deep sigh for less than it was listed as, because the prospect of punching another single number into the register filled his heart with despair.
When the next 3 rest areas didn't appear to contain Lindsey's beloved McDonalds (sometimes you just gotta have it, you know? I know.) she had a stroke of genius and punched 'McDonalds' into the TomTom. There appeared to be a restaurant only 2.4 kms away from us! Happy days! We took the exit Tom told us to take. And another one. And then another exit. Followed by a few roundabouts and another exit. We were starting to get a little worried when the road signs all started saying Paris again and nearly didn't take the last exit Tom wanted us to take but decided to extend him our last ounce of trust... and sure enough, after 3 more roundabouts and a long country road, there it stood. Like a shining beacon of glorious, golden, greasy satisfaction in the night. It was late, we were tired, and we were still a ways away from the border, so we opted for the drive through.
'BONSOIRRR' the metallic voice of a young woman shrieked at us at the order box.
- 'Un Chicken Nugget menu s'il vous plait' I said back to it.
'CONQUEDESPOOPIDOUHUHUHLES PETITCHAUSSURRRRRRRRES', it shrieked back at me.
- 'Huh?' I replied.
- 'Huh?' I replied.
'UNFROMAGGEEARRR*SAUCE*VOULEZVOUZCOUCHERAVECMOI*NUGGETS', it squealed.
- 'Barbecue sauce?', I asked.
- 'Barbecue sauce?', I asked.
This was going nowhere fast, so I put the pedal to the metal to get us to the parking lot as fast as possible - forget the drive through. I faintly saw an angry girl at the first window waving her agitated french wave to us dimwit tourists as we zoomed by. The girl at the counter inside spoke some english - thank goodness, because my translation skills become non existant when I'm tired - and we got our food and hurried back to the relative safety of the car. We were pretty sure we saw a human trafficking hand off going down as we tried to make our way back to the highway, and failed to do so, causing us to have to drive through a rather hostile village where they follow their own set of rogue traffic rules. It took us an extra hour at the very least, but we got our food, and our souvenirs, and even got to see something rather special on sale before we were finally back on the road to La Haye (that's French for Den Haag, duh):
I like to think the price of 33 euros/kg isn't a coincidence.
And there you go. We made it to the Dutch border on the same tank of gas we got the day before, and pulled up to the house safely at 1.30am feeling poor in energy, but much richer in experience. Thanks girls, for letting me a part of your fun!