Another Crazy Christmas in France

I love going to my in-laws in the French Loire Valley for Christmas, which is a sacred familial time for them.

This year getting out of Nashville was a bit exhausting due to all the normal get-out-of-town craziness and preparations for my last Peptide Receptor Radionuclide Therapy (PRRT) which is scheduled for this week (January 9-12). I’ve been feeling good, but I was definitely burning the candle at both ends. Even so, I was a little surprised that my therapy clearance blood work showed my red blood cells and platelets plummeted. Sure, it’s not unusual for this to happen and there’s a good chance I even sabotaged myself.

I’d been hearing so much hoopla around the ketogenic diet, including that it is good for cancer patients since it starves cancer cells of the glucose they need to grow.  BUT, as it turns out, guess what red blood cells need to reproduce? If you guessed glucose, then you are correct. Oopsy!

Fortunately, the counts were still well above the therapy minimums and gave me a self signed permission slip to reinstated carbs, which would’ve been an epic failure (and just all together wrong) in France and Italy anyways.

Enough cancer.

Flying to Paris and arriving was a shit show but no more than usual. Travel in Europe is a physical work out, but I was happy to arrive to my beloved village of St. Cyr en Val to be greeted by droves of family. Also, it was extra fun this year since my friend from Nashville joined to experience a French Christmas.

We spent the first few days getting adjusted to the time, visiting Chateau de Chambord and locating a few Camino shells throughout Orleans, a potential stop for those walking to Santiago from Paris.

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In the hot seat!

Christmas Eve was the big event! This is when 50 of my crazy french in-laws drink oodles of champagne, sing, dance and eat platters of oysters.  This year the chaos was amplified by a photo booth, introducing them to white elephant/dirty santa and CLR….until 4am. It was really fun and I can officially say that I am completely acclimated (it only took nine years). We even ventured off to midnight mass where Father Jean-Baptiste called me to the pew for a little interview. I was throughly embarrassed, but also touched since I know he prays for my health often. Last year he blessed me and this year he expressed excitement about my trip to Rome to see his boss, Pope Francis.

The following days after Christmas Eve shenanigans were filled with gifts and visits and food and drinks and naps. I was tired and my brain hurt from french but I think it was my favorite Christmas in a long time.

On the 27th, we were off to Paris for a couple of days. Day one was spent walking around Galerie Lafayette, seeing the sights on a Bateaux Mouche, a comedy show and a long, late dinner at a tapas restaurant. My Nashville friend also had a great time with the exception of the last night where she was hit with food poisoning and spent the whole night sick. With her night reminding me of the months I spent laying on the bathroom floor I felt so bad for her having to travel all day feeling like that. Fortunately, I don’t leave home without  a couple Zofran, which helped her make it home after a looooooong hard day.

img_5268As she soldiered through, my husband and I got to experience something really special at the Paris Zoo. His cousin is the giraffe keeper and invited us for a private visit with her 15 giraffes. We got to feed and pet them and take pictures. It was incredible and it took everything I had not to steal one. With the day spent fawning over giraffes, we walked around the Champs Elysées and met an old friend for dinner. We haven’t seen him in seven years and wow a lot has happened and changed. Satisfied with a wonderful time in France, we went back to our friends tiny apartment for a long sleep before jetting off to Italy in the morning.

Cheers to many more Christmas celebrations in the Loire Valley!

See…they cray!

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Christmas in the French Countryside

The last two holidays, I wasn’t able to travel and the two before that we ditched our families for the Bahamas and Hawaii. Fortunately, the family openly accepted us back into the fold and we decided to spend Christmas with Fabien’s family in France.

So, on December 22nd, we packed our bags full of fun, American presents and hopped on a flight for the longest journey ever. Living in a smaller city like Nashville guarantees stopovers when traveling internationally, adding hours to an already long voyage. What is a 7.5 flight from Detroit to Paris, is now a minimum of 10.5 hours since we try to fly through Atlanta in the winter to avoid weather delays. Then, normally it’s 1.5 hours to Fabien’s village of St. Cyr en Val, but this time was 3.5 hours due to epic Parisian holiday traffic. Oh and I only slept one hour and 18 minutes on the plane. And my tv screen and headphones didn’t work. Awesome. File all these complaints under first world problems.

My lack of sleep and chronic jet lag has not been so conducive to the marathon we sprint when vacationing in France. Our days are filled with non-stop visit with friends and family, gluttony and speaking nothing but French, which officially turns my brain to mush after an hour or two.

BUT, this year, I had a saving grace, named Lara. We’ve been friends since she moved across the street from me when we were nine. Our births were only separated by two days. In our roaring twenties, we still liked each other so much that we lived together. Basically, we communicate telepathically after 27 years. AND, she came to St. Cyr en Val from Geneva to spend Christmas with us after her trip to Michigan got canceled. I’m bummed for her because I know she wanted to go home, but selfishly, I’m grateful she was there for me to make eyes at and talk under my breath about the crazy frenchies we’ve come to know and love.

After an additional, insufficient night of sleep, Christmas Eve day, was spent walking around the village, venturing to Orleans Christmas market and visiting the cathedral. It was the first time I’ve been inside after coming to Orleans countless times and living here for six months. Shameful.

Inside the cathedral

For the family’s Christmas Eve festivities, you have two choices to kick off the evening. The first option is to make the grandparents happy by going to mass and the second option is to stay at the house and get drunk with the guiltless majority. Having a bum liver, I chose option one (for the first time ever) and Lara joined by proxy. We only lasted a few minutes because the church was cold and we weren’t able to understand the priest’s accent. So, we snuck out the back after tossung 5€ in the offering basket.

The others, including cousin Julien’s dog, stayed. Yes, you read that correctly, he brought his dog to church. Did I mention “my beautiful family” pretty much runs the town?

Milo’s 1st Christmas Mass

My escape was short lived when Fabien called me 30 minutes later because the priest was asking for me. Thinking I was in trouble for leaving, I returned and was surprised that the priest wanted to tell me that he prays for my health everyday. Then he performed a priestly blessing. I don’t know much about this, but it seemed like a great honor and I was very touched. Between that and completing a pilgrimage in a holy year, I’m hoping God will give me a little break for a while.

We returned to Aunt Vero’s to start dinner which consists of several courses. Oysters, smoked salmon, stuffed chicken, green beans, chestnuts, cheese, dessert and fruit, all washed down with copious amounts of champagne and wine.

The beautiful decorated tables

Near the end of the meal, Uncle Gilles and I came prepared with games and songs which lasted until 3:00. This is six hours past my bedtime, jet lag came in handy.

Lara singing “Silent Night” in German with Papie

But, every positive has a negative. The 10:00 a.m. wake up call came quick. I required intravenous coffee to cope with gift opening, the world’s longest lunch, a walk, followed by more visiting, French speaking and rolling my eyes at Lara.

The next couple days were pretty much repeats of uninterrupted streams of visitors, gluttony and googley eyes at my American compadre.

This came to a halt Wednesday when the “beautiful family” and I road tripped to Amsterdam to enjoy what Amsterdam has to enjoy. #spacecakes

Appreciating France

The last days in Paris were really fun. I dragged JB around to several tourist traps he avoids like the plague. 
JB: “What is that? It’s so nice.”

Me: “Um, that’s the Eiffel Tower, JB.”

Ok, I’m exaggerating, but not too much. 

JB being a tourist

But more than anything, we laughed and joked around a lot. Blessed with beautiful weather, we made my Fitbit happy by walking everywhere, checking off Parc Buttes Chaumont, Jardin du Luxembourg, Notre Dame, Montparnasse Tower, the Louvre, Jardin de Tuileries, the Eiffel Tour and I’m sure I’m missing some stuff. 

Parc Buttes Chaurmont

Busting out the selfie stick at Notre Dame

The Louvre

Springtime in Paris

My last day in Paris was spent kicking around alone where I visited the National Library (nerd), Shakespeare and Company, the Grand Mosque and Jardin des Plantes. 

Jardin des Plantes

In the afternoon, it was time to head to Orleans to see the “belle famille” (translation, beautiful family), which is so much nicer to say than “in-laws”. On the train, I rested my forehead against the glass and watched Paris transform into the countryside. Spring is such a beautiful time in France as many of the fields resemble a fluorescent yellow and green quilt. I spent the entire train ride with the sun in my face, taking mental pictures. I also took some time to appreciate my fun, busy days in Paris and the fact that I’m here after I wasn’t sure I’d ever be again while I was sick. I was bursting with happiness, appreciation and gratitude. 

Orleans, and specifically the adorable little village of St. Cyr en Val, is a third home for me. All the neighbors are brothers and sisters of my “beautiful mother”, so the moment they heard the car coming down the path, there was a non-stop stream of visitors. 

Good timing and weather were on my side again because Thursday was Ascension Day, which is a day of prayer that also exists on the US (but without the day off work). The whole family came over and showered me with desserts, gifts, kisses and proclamations of joy for my good health. Fabien’s grandmother and grandfather spent several minutes telling me how they and the priest of the church in St. Cyr en Val pray for me constantly. The priest has even spoken of me at mass, which is very moving to hear. I appreciate so much everyone who has prayed and thought of me during the last couple of years. 

Friday evening, the “beautiful family” and I headed to Chartres for dinner and to view the illuminated cathedral. I’ve become a bit immune to European cathedrals because they start to look the same. However, I think this one will stand out in my memory forever.

Of course, without saying, the architecture is incredible. But, what I found most impressive was the stained glass, which houses the largest 13th century collection in the world. I can see why it was one of the world’s first UNESCO sites. The glass is so important to the French that it was removed and hidden during both World Wars. Just next to the cathedral is home to an international school of stained glass. Who knew such a place existed. This made me think of my grandfather whose stained glass creations were the source battle when he passed away. He would’ve loved Notre Dame de Chartres. 

Before the illumination began, I spotted my first sign of the Camino on the sidewalk and shortly after, some English speakers in hiking clothes. As it turns out, they were Canadians who are walking from Paris to Santiago via Chartres. That’s a long way. To put it in perspective, they won’t even be in Spain by the time I arrive in Santiago around June 2nd. 

When it became dark, the cathedral was lit up with mesmerizing animated images set to music. I tried to snap some pictures but then stopped knowing the photos would be unjustifiable. Plus, like many things on this voyage, this was something to be appreciated and experienced in the moment and not behind a smartphone screen.