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

Falling in Love With France

Confession – January and February were pretty depressing. I was lost in the language. I was physically and mentally exhausted everyday. I missed home. I was cold and I hate being cold.  At the risk of sounding like a spoiled brat, I wasn’t so fired up about life in France.

!!! BUT !!! I’m happy to report that as of these past few weeks I have officially, whole-heartedly, fallen in love with France. Why? Because its Spring (actually, it’s been more like Summer) and for 3 weeks, it has been absolutely beautiful! I’m talking bright blue skies, no clouds, 70 degrees with a slight flower scented breeze.

Château du Morchêne - I promise, with all the shades open, it's really pretty.

My new-found lust has me realizing how lucky and happy I am to be here.  I’ve savoring every moment while walking around town looking at the ancient architecture and adorable shops.  I often stop, look around and think “Oh My God! I’m in France!”   To make these days even more fun, I have been making strong attempts to talk to any willing body and people are typically really intrigued by my accent. Asking for directions often turns into a 5 minute conversation and another step closer to fluency.  I even had an impromptu tour with the keeper of Château du Morchêne, which is the place where our July wedding reception will be held. The 20 minute conversation was 100% in French and, no doubt, I made a ton of mistakes, but she totally understood me and I could not have been more excited.

Île Charlemagne

This past weekend the lust turned to love when out for an 18km run (yes, 18km – I’ll get to that later), I was directed to l’Île Charlemenge. When I arrived it was amazing! There I was, in France, running along the lake, the Loire River, watching the boats, the Frenchies having picnics and make out sessions in the grass, kids playing, etc. It was totally picturesque. And then Sunday, Corinne and I rented bikes and rode around the streets of Orléans taking pictures of parks, squares and beautiful architecture. After the ride, I stayed in the city to have dinner at a friend’s place. So, when in Rome…I found a park overlooking the river, laid in the grass to read for an hour.

The bitter to all of this sweetness is that it’s causing me to really miss the husband. 5 months is just too long, even if we did have a short couple of weeks together recently. I know it may sound like torture, but running 18km on Saturday, in the sun, along the water, is like a day in heaven for us and I was a little sad not to have him with me.

Marjorie, me & Julia in Ubud, Bali

So, that being said, I am lucky to have some great adventures coming up to keep myself occupied!  This weekend, I’m off to gallivant around Paris with my friend, Marjorie.  Some of you who read my last blog, Stacie in Asia, will know her as one of my travel companions in China, Singapore and Bali.  On Sunday, we are heading to a neighboring city, Fontainebleau, to run a half-marathon (hence the long run this past weekend).  The race will be Marjorie’s first and my last since my knees can’t quite handle the distance anymore. None the less, I’m excited to spend the weekend with her and Paris when it’s not gray and freezing.

And to share a bit of France, here are some pics from the last few weeks:

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“Home”: St. Cyr en Val

Downtown St. Cyr en Val

When we made our recent move to Smyrna, Tennessee, I wrote a post about my new city. So, its only fair that I tell you a little bit about the place where I’m living now.  This is St. Cyr en Val.  It’s a typical french village 20 minutes south of Orléans, which is a city most famous for it’s Cathedral and being the hometown of Joan of Arc. St. Cyr en Val has 3,170 inhabitants (census 2009) who call themselves St. Cyriennes.

There are a few bakeries, a post office, church, convenience store, car dealership, pharmacy and two restaurants, both of which I have never seen open (welcome to France). Yes, it’s pretty small. However, while out for a run one afternoon, I discovered the village (like our home in Smyrna) also has a picturesque little river.

The adorable little river

The Church of St. Cyr en Val

The car dealership of St. Cyr en Val (LOL)

The church shown is where Fabien and I will get married (again) this July. Nearly every hour during the day, I can hear the church bells play from my bedroom. On Christmas Eve, they played my favorite Christmas song ‘Carole of the Bells’. Even though it was freezing, I opened the bedroom windows and shrieked with excitement. This is also the church where Fabien’s mother had her baptism, communion, confirmation and wedding. Now, it’s Fabien’s turn to complete the quadfectra.

Rue René Godin

In addition, the village is full of family history. His Grandparents, Jean-Claude & Raymonde Godin, are very well-known and loved throughout St. Cyr. The first time I came to France, Jean-Claude told me stories of when he was young and saw the American soldiers come into Orléans during World War II. Jean Claude’s father, René Godin, even has a street named after him.  When René Godin died, he gifted land to his family, which they used to build houses. So, the Chevrier’s live directly behind Corinne’s sister, Valerie, right next door to her brother, Gilles and down the street from her parents who live next door to her other brother, Eric who lives next door to Corinne’s other sister, Veronique. Got all that? Most of you will remember Veronique as the crazy Aunt at from our wedding who ran around taking pictures and speaking french to everyone who only spoke English. Well, can you imagine what it’s like to live in a whole village of crazy French people like her? FUN is the answer! But in all honesty, it’s quite amazing how many family members are in close proximity and how know one is in each others business. They each have their own lives and reserve the weekend for little visits.

I really can’t thank the people in St. Cyr en Val enough for how friendly and patient they have been. Often, I butcher their language while asking for items at the convenience store, but they just give me a gracious smile and hand me what I was asking for where as in a bigger city, I might be considered a nuisance. Overall, the family and residents of the village are the reason I am loving small town life in France.

Oh, and St. Cyr en Val is one quick ride away from this little vacation cottage of Francois the 1st that I visited last weekend (for more pics, click here):

Just a little vacation home...