I chose to spend several weeks of our trip in France, since it is a big country with rich history and so many different regions, I felt it deserved more of our time. After our first day, I seriously regretted this decision and felt done, felt like picking my toys up out of the sandbox and going home. In short, I had an adult sized tantrum and had to work hard to drag myself out of the funk that France settled over me.
I was very excited to leave Switzerland and head to our first French campsite. I had high hopes, I had splurged on this site, spending more per night than any other site we stayed at. Maybe this set me up for the disappointment I was soon to experience, or maybe travel fatigue finally hit and I was too tired to cope with something that normally would not phase me.
We arrived at our campsite, excited, and checked in at the office. The woman was cold, rude almost, and we worked hard to communicate with our best high school French. A little side note here, we have had no problems with communication in any country, despite not knowing any of the language in some. We pantomime and laugh and generally both sides make an effort and we figure each other out; this was not to be the case in France.
We enter the tent. Sparse would be an understatement. A dingy stove perches precariously beside a propane tank located inside the tent. The tent has not been set up right and light peers in through gaps at floor level, holes we found out later, that would admit nocturnal visitors. We take off our shoes and quickly put them on again, as the sharp rocks that the tent has been erected on poke through and into our soft soles, even the kids hardened feet find it difficult. I normally take all these things in stride… not today. I grumble as I unload feeling ripped off and angry. All our our accommodations have been clean, nice, we weren’t expecting this hell I think. My allergies, which are out of control in France, may have played a role in my horrid mood. I feel like scratching my eyes out because of the itch, and no allergy medications are touching it. I take some Benadryl just to get some relief, and since it knocks me out, I take an afternoon nap.
Later in the afternoon, Derek suggests going for groceries, and a humiliating experience in the grocery store leaves me sitting in the car in tears spouting obscenities to France. In hindsight, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but in the space I was in, it felt like hell. I wanted to hop on a plane and leave. In the grocery store, we loaded up a full cart, as groceries in Switzerland were super expensive and we were out of food. We finished shopping and Derek picked a checkout line… a members only check out line… which we found out after all of our stuff was on the conveyor. The woman spouts off a line of French at us. “Je parle anglais. Parle vous anglais?” I ask. She stares at me with fish eyes and points angrily at the sign, spouts off more French. A woman in front of us says “She wants to see your card” and points to the sign. “Oops we don’t have one”, I say, “We are from Canada. Should we move our stuff to another lane?” The woman in front of us translates. Fish eye stares at her, stares at us and says nothing. I mime moving our stuff to another lane. She stares. The woman in front of us says “I think you can only pay by credit card.” Derek shows fish eyes the card. She scowls and stares. I’m starting to feel rather upset, she makes no effort to communicate with either us or the woman speaking french in front of us trying to help. The woman in front shrugs and moves off. I mime moving our stuff again, people start lining up behind us. Finally Derek just hands her his card, she points angrily at the sign. I say excuse me in French and sorry. She continues to stare at me with those angry fish eyes, but starts to slam our stuff through the checkout. I’m holding back tears as best I can as I bag the groceries. She gets to some bananas, which I have forgotten to weigh and tag, and she waves them angrily in our direction. I say non, and she puts them aside. We leave and I rush to the car, trying to hold it together until I am in it’s safe confines. I feel like tantruming, I feel like going home, I feel like a small child who has been chastised, I hate France. That night my hate increases as mice race over our stuff all night long and it rains, the rain filling our poorly erected tent with large puddles of water.
The next day is better as we meet a Swiss couple and their 4 year old, and spend the morning having tea and food with them. They also like the southwest in the States and we talk about meeting there someday and going on an adventure. The kids, who have not interacted much with other kids on this trip, have a blast playing in their rooftop tent. Giggling as they throw paper airplanes at the adults. They leave in the afternoon and my foul mood returns. We decide to spend as little time as possible in and around the campsite, and head to Germany and the black forest the next day. We spend the whole day out, seeing cuckoo clocks, wandering through the towns, and visiting the amazing city of Frieburg with it’s beautiful gothic cathedral.
The following day we putter around the countryside and visit Dole. We pass fields of poppies so copious and red, it looks like the field is full of spilled blood and I suddenly really understand the poem we recited as children on Remembrance Day. I shout at Derek to stop the car and I get out and take pictures of the breathtaking site. I can only imagine what this blood red field would like surrounding the gravestones of the fallen.We putter in the campsite some more, the kids get bullied at the playground by some much older kids and we count down the hours until we leave.
Stepping into the next campsite near Lake Annecy is like stepping out of the twilight zone into some beautiful fairytale. I am reminded of the towering granite cliffs of Yosemite as we drive in. We are in a valley surrounded by these cliffs. Hangliders soar from the heights, 20, 30, 50 of them all at once and T is delighted as he points them out. We are greeted by a lovely woman from the Netherlands and she gets us set up. The kids squeal in delight when they see the pool, 4 of them complete with 7 waterslides. It is off season, and so quiet, that sometimes we have the whole pool complex to ourselves! We take some time to decompress and enjoy the heat, sun and pools. We are close to the French Alps and decide we will spend this section of our trip hiking.
Derek picks a town on the map, high in the Alps and we drive there and find the visitors office. We ask about hiking and she points us to a 4km walk around a lake higher up on the mountain. We decide to do this for the day, as we have not brought a lunch for a larger hike. The lake is a gorgeous blue and is surrounded by mountains. halfway through, we find a stream and take off our boots to play. Z builds a dam, T throws rocks into the water, Derek reads and I build towers of rocks. We notice an abundance of mica and quartz and I wonder about the possibility of crystals. Z soon answers that question, by finding a clear sceptre on the ground. We excitedly keep our eyes peeled for more. On the way back we see a trailhead for a hike that goes up to the pass. We decide to return the following day prepared for a long hike.
The hike to the pass is beautiful. We wander up flowered sub alpine fields feeling like Heidi, into some trees where the trail switchbacks upwards. After a couple km Z shouts in joy as she finds crystal after crystal on the ground. I find a cleft above the trail that the quartz crystals are rotting out of the host rock. After spending some time there we continue on, into the alpine. We stop for lunch at a shuttered mountain hut and Mont Blanc rises in front of us out of the clouds. T shouts “Happy Hikers!!!” in joy and we bask in the alpine air. The going gets much steeper and we find quartz crystals laying on the trail as we climb. I teach the kids how to kick steps into the snowfields to cross them. We don’t quite reach the pass. 1km and another 200m elevation gain before it, T has had it and lays down. The mountain goat who lead us bounding up the hill is tired, and I fear if we push on to do the loop over the pass, we will be carrying her down. We turn and head to the valley, feeling successful to have completed a 10.5km 550 meter elevation gain hike with the kids. We made it to the top meadow of the mountain, so the kids felt like they had climbed to the top. We sing “The Happy Wanderer” as we descend, making up our own silly words to go along. It is our last day in France for now, and it has redeemed itself (for now).
We head south the next day into Spain, into my favourite part of the trip. I adore Spain. No tantrums in Spain, even though we endure what most would see as more serious than a fish eyed staring cashier and mouse filled tent. Until Spain… Adios!