Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Still no car, still no apartment, not for lack of looking. We decided to take a train to Vichy to get out of Clermont for a day, and Vichy seemed a logical destination due to its proximity and easy access via train. We actually passed through on our way to and from Paris during the holidays, but a half a day to explore turned out to be perfect.

First, I must explain the soldes. At first, confusing, because upon seeing items with “soldes” stickers on them in all the stores I was wondering why they would continue to display sold items… But then my French friends enlightened me that NOW was the time to go shopping, for everything; large and small, clothes and appliances, needed and frivolous! For the French government regulates sales here in France, and starting sometime last week going through February are the largest of the sales as stores bring in the new inventory. In order to have sales, a regulatory agency also has to confirm that the prices are in fact lower than throughout the year, and so you know you are getting a discount. But here in Clermont the prices are pretty high to begin with, so a 20 – 50% discount brings you closer to regular retail in the states.

So back to Vichy, we were told by Roberts coworkers that Vichy has deeper discounts, and also that the stores are open on Sundays (Clermont’s are closed). So we decided to take a look, and Sunday we hopped on the train for a 30 minute ride with a backpack and Laurīts in the Baby Bjorn.
The Michelin Guide: Vichy, a world famous spa resort and holiday town, attracts numerous visitors because of its high quality shopping facilities and the very wide range of entertainment it has to offer…

As the case in most places in Europe, the train station was pretty much in the city, and as we strolled a few blocks west we joined other people headed in the same direction. First we passed though a plaza (Ch. de Gaulle) with a pretty reflection pool and plenty of outdoor tables were people were enjoying the warm weather. As we passed through streets filled with shops we wondered why so many of them were closed… the streets were also relatively empty. Farther west we entered Parc de Sources, so called because of the springs and the Hall des Sources on the north end, which contains the pump room that is fed by the six thermal springs. The park was planted with Chinese chestnuts and London planetrees, and was supposedly laid out on the orders of Napoleon I. I especially liked the covered arcades circumnavigating the entire park, which were crafted for the 1889 World Exhibition in Paris and moved to Vichy in 1900. We kept on west until we arrived at Les Parcs d’Allier which were created at the request of Emperor Napoleon III and built on land reclaimed from the river. Because of the gorgeous weather the parks were full, with people strolling along the Allier river on the riverwalk, and on the various trails that crisscrossed through the parks. Here I’ll add that the parks were city level, with the river and riverwalk on the Allier floodplain. There were two things I enjoyed most about Vichy, and the first was the hundreds of different species of trees that were planted throughout the park including redwoods and sequoias. Lauris liked the playground best, but we cut playtime short because he became very focused on trying to taste the gravel.

My second favorite thing was the Parc de Celestins which we arrived at after following the Allier south for a while. A beautiful Louis XV pavilion houses the Célestins spring, and after Roberts and I both tried the water (very metallic tasting) we let Lauris walk around. From there we started to head back north through the town, passing by the Église St-Blaise church and a pastry shop where we stopped in for chocolate covered wafer before entering the Parc de Sources from the south end. And what a surprise, the Park was filled with people! Crowds were strolling under the covered arcades, window shopping and eating from all the food vendors. People were flowing out and into the shopping district, and we let ourselves be sucked in and carried through once again, only this time stopping in several of the stores when something caught our eye. Before we knew it, it was time to start heading back towards the train station with an eye out for a restaurant, which we found in the form of M’s. We didn’t know until we were seated, but the place specialed in American cuisine- what a coincidence! A tex-Mex menu with French influences included my very tasty bacon cheeseburger and Roberts chili con carne. While we ate and I enjoyed a delicious glass of white from Chile (owner recommended) the owner helped Lauris walk around the restaurant. And before you know it, the time had come to buckle on the bjorn and head home.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Happy New Year!!!

Sitting in our temporary apartment here in Clermont, I am thinking about all the wonderful change 2010 brought, mainly Lauris and our move to France. The rate of change has slightly slowed in 2011, but has not completely stopped. Lauris is changing daily; Roberts swears he sometimes looks different in the morning than the previous evening (who doesn’t have puffy eyes in the morning…) and although it is hard for me to see him grow I only need to look at pictures of him last month. Our lifestyle is changing as well; we walk everywhere (although Roberts takes the tram to work now and then) and are thinking of buying a car only for weekend use. We are eating very differently, and the menu is changing constantly as I figure out what I can and can not grind, smush, mash and process into frozen cubes for Lauris. And the change I feel most? Not language, somehow it already seems normal that I hardly understand a word anyone is saying (as a Yankee in living in Georgia I found myself in a similar situation). But the distance between us and everything else – family, friends, familiar places, stores. This distance is exaggerated by my lack of access to the internet currently, if I had my email, my reference resource, my spider solitaire… or maybe I would only feel more isolated, as I would see what I’m missing in Chicago, Gaŗezers, Greenville.

Most often asked question: “What do you like best about France?” And the good thing is, there is enough that I can’t instantly make up my mind. The food is excellent, the cheeses, breads and wines only the tip of the iceberg. Truffade, a potato casserole that has enough cheese to drown a yak, is probably my current favorite. Fries. The freshest seafood is available everywhere, we ate mussels outside at the Christmas market (Marché de Noël) from a vendor in a little wooden booth. But food may come second to the French devotion to families and children.

When I read that most French children are in school at the age of two (three if it takes a little longer to potty train) I was worried – the American attitude is obviously very different. And although it still worries me, I am constantly amazed at the attention lavished on Lauris by everyone and anyone. We regularly get bumped to the front of lines; ticket lines, cashier lines, airport lines. I’m glad pick-a-boo in Latvian is ki-kī, otherwise I might have misunderstood all these strangers saying ku-kū to him. And where I’m told the French stereotypically do not go out of their way to assist strangers, a baby stroller opens doors everywhere. The devotion to children is so strong, it even has a bizarre side effect; lack of children’s activities. The first weeks I struggled to find activities that would get us out of the house. In Greenville we were frequent fliers at three of the local libraries due to storytimes, “bouncing babies” and playgroups. The city of Greenville also had TONS of children’s events such as “touch a truck” (children were allowed to climb in and out of everything from fire engines to ice cream trucks) and the local Starbucks hosted a storytime with free “cappuccinos” for all attendees under 5. Here, the aquatic center has a children’s swim once a week, but that’s all I’ve been able to find. My search for a local library still continues (I found one in a suburb that is pretty far to walk), and as far as I understand, they do not have programs at the library for children. So what do moms do all day with these kids? They spend them with family. Grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, sisters and brothers with kids, raising a family seems to be truly a family affair. So what is left for moms like me? I found a mom and baby playgroup that is a spin off of the local International Women’s Club, so I do have access to moms who speak English at least once every few weeks, and of course this has opened the door to meet some new people that will open more doors… so I hope.

Arc de Triumphe, Paris, December 2010

2011, here we come!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...