Ken's plan had been to be out of the hotel by 8am. He figured that we wouldn't be able to sleep, and that our bodies wouldn't be adjusted to the time zone yet, so we would probably be up pretty early.
Well, he was right on at least one count. *I* was up at 7am Marseille time, and ready to go, but Nate and Kelly were still sawing logs. But that was OK. I was able to get up and do all the morning washing-up stuff, and lay out the clothes for everyone, and re-pack the suitcases, which was a big thing. You see, we'd brought about 20-30 pounds of stuff for the Irish Cousins (treats from Trader Joe's and Costco that they couldn't get in Ireland), and I'd also packed an extra suitcase inside my suitcase, so I had time to go through all the kids' suitcases, pulling out the Irish Treats, and get them all amalgamated into the extra suitcase, so we'd not forget anything once we got to the Chateau where we all were staying.
Amazingly enough, we were out at the car and on the road at 8:15. I was pretty pleased, and I was also VERY pleased that the Europe maps for our Garmin GPS thingy had arrived With Not A Moment To Spare before we left on Friday, because that thing Saved. Our. Lives. The roads are a maze, and they're narrow and, to my mind, non-intuitive, and with the Garmin, we just had to watch the little map on the dash board, and listen to the little voice say "prenez le route a droite" (we eventually went with the French voice-over, as the English TTS voice was massacring the French street names).
And it was early on Easter Sunday morning. So the roads were pretty much empty. A great way to ease into the whole Driving In France thing.
Within moments, we had our first view of the Mediterranean.
And only a few minutes later, I had my first heart attack... when this came flying past us on the left.
Look! It's the Customs Officers, and they KNOW I brought turkey jerky into the country! They're going to Pull Us Over!!!!!
Oh wait. They're driving on. They must have bigger fish to fry.
And with that, we went on our way.
The one problem had been this: We arrived in France with not a speck of food that the kids would eat. Oh, we'd been given 'breakfast snacks' on the flight into Amsterdam, which consisted of crusty rolls filled with salami and mustard, but the kids wouldn't touch that sort of food. And they woke up hungry. And we had no idea where a grocery store might be, or even if it would be open at 9am on Easter Sunday. The kids were thirsty, too, so I'd had them each drink from the bathroom tap once they brushed their teeth, so at least I knew they weren't dehydrated. What I didn't count on was that Nate had drunk so much water, it had had an adverse effect on his system, and before long, he was suddenly crying out in the back seat. "I'm going to THROW UP!"
Screeeeeeeeeech, as we pull over JUST before a big rank of toll booths, and I hop out with Nate so he can hurl his watery stomach contents onto the side of the motorway. Oh, and nobody mentioned to me the WIND that we'd be encountering on our drive. Good thing he was facing away from the wind, so the stiff breeze could take his offerings and spatter them across the side of the fence. Sorry, fellow motorists.
This was before we'd figured out that "Aire" was the French equivalent of "Rest Area", so we had NO idea where we could pull over for this sort of thing.
And we were on the main highway, and there was nothing as far as the eye could see that resembled a grocery store, so the kids could eat. Whoopsie. I'll know better next time.
As we were driving, and getting a bit more at ease with the French highways, I started noticing the scenery.
We crossed the Rhone river, and I became one of *those* tourists. The kind that takes photos out the side window of quickly moving vehicle.
Hey, that looks like a town. I bet they have a grocery store!
It was Arles. We took the first exit.
I wish I'd taken a photo, but I was too terrified. We'd pulled, without knowing, into the ancient heart of one of the most famous cities in the south of France.
And the roads were >THIS< wide.
And we realized that we had NO idea what the signs meant. And people park on both sides of narrow roads, and they park facing in BOTH directions, so you have NO idea if you're allowed to be driving down the road, and it's about as wide as ONE car, if you don't want to open your doors, and there's NOBODY around, because it's Easter morning, and everyone's at Mass, or something, and your GPS unit is shouting "Recalculee" because you've gone off the route she's told you to take, and there is STILL no grocery store in sight.
And finally, we pull back onto the motorway, with children crying for food in the back seat, but our paint job's intact, and we vow to look for a grocery store in a less ancient part of the countryside.
With about an hour left on the drive (according to the GPS), we came upon a roundabout (those things are EVERYWHERE!), with one exit that pointed us off towards a VERY well populated store that looked, for all the world, like a grocery store. At the very least, there were people walking out of it carrying baguettes, so that was a huge positive sign. We pulled in, and hoped for the best.
Nate immediately got out of the car, and hurled.
That, not surprisingly, sent Kelly off into a fit of crying, because listening to someone puke makes her want to puke (a very common response), so she was standing on the other side of the car, with her fingers in her ears, weeping like she'd just lost a puppy. And Skip was tired, and hungry (remember, he decided NOT to eat on any of the flights), and he just wanted to stay in the car.
So Ken and I took Kelly and Nate into the store, for our first experience with Super U. It's like a small Safeway, with a clothing section. Maybe like a shrunk down SuperTarget with a bigger wine assortment.
The clothing aisle was good, because I'd forgotten to pack socks. The book aisle was good, because we got Nate a little book in French to take back to his class: "M. Bruit et le geant" I'll be translating it before we take it in tomorrow. The bread aisle was great, because everything was fresh, and smelled wonderful, and the baguettes were 35 Euro-cents each. The Milk aisle left something to be desired, as there was no fresh milk in the place, and we bought UHT milk, which seems to be the staple in the area, but which our kids turned their noses up at, even with the chocolate powder that we bought to make it more palatable.
Ken even bought a couple of delectable-looking lemon tarts. I'm sure they would've tasted great, if we hadn't left them on the top of the SUV when we drove off to get back on the road.
The Chateau is in the region of Branoux-les-Taillades, and the directions were a bit sketchy. Of course, now, having been there, I see that the directions are exactly right, but at the time, being jet-lagged and anxious, we made all the wrong turns, and ended up taking the turn-off to "Branoux", instead of following the route through "Les Taillades". Fortunately, one of the sisters in law phoned, just as we were pulling into the Mayor's House at Branoux, and was able to talk us back to the main drag, and through the little villages to the chateau.
I was never more grateful to see friendly faces as all the cousins came running down the driveway to meet our car at the gate.
And then Nate threw up one more time in the lavender.
But at least now... now we were "home".