Leaving France

Trip Start Jun 15, 2011
Trip End Jun 15, 2012

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Flag of France  , Alsace,
Friday, August 19, 2011

Today we packed up and left our home after one month (minus two days) in Riquewihr, France before the crowds got too thick. When we hit the highway for Colmar and beyond we had the same liberating feeling we got when we left Barcelona; that our trip was just beginning and new places and adventures were just down the road.

Back when I had planned the trip I figured that we would develop a sense of home with each location, and to not feel like we were constantly on the move. I learned this from my travel days when I was fresh out of college, that travel is exhausting and takes all of your energy. To counteract that constant sense of movement and exhaustion, I had built this trip with month-long stops where we would branch out from each location in order to explore the surroundings. But it became obvious to Estela and me that the kids have grown bored after about ten days, and sometimes would lose interest in even leaving the apartment to wander around the neighborhood. I was constantly looking for new places to see, but the highly rated tourist traps made way to the ones that everybody tells us to avoid, and then we are just filling our days just to fill our days. Now I know now that one month in each place is just too much time. We still have one month ahead in Morocco, but from there on we will play each location by ear and stay as long as we want; if we get tired of a place we would move on to our next. Our trip is evolving.

France, Alsace specifically, is a very nice place to hang out, but the place lacks adventure, at least for me. It is too much of the good life, easy living at its most casual. Days and nights are filled with strolls through quaint towns copied from fairy tales, shopping, snapping pictures, drinking wine and eating cheese. We are ready for adventure. I got the same feeling twenty six years ago when we spent six months sailing through the Mediterranean, getting fat on rich, fatty food and gelato. We did very little physical exercise to balance it out. When we finally got to the Red Sea everything changed. We started diving every day, sometimes all day long, on the world famous reefs that lined the shores and islands. We ate what we shot and climbed through dozens of shipwrecks that dot every reef in the northern Red Sea. We rode on manta rays and chased sharks around, and did quite a few shore trips in most countries we visited. Before long we were all in top condition, able to free dive to depths of as much as 100 feet. I lost about twenty five pounds during that time, mostly due to catching hepatitis in Egypt, but the exercise helped. Our days were filled with stories we would tell each other, even when we were all present at the time they happened. We had lots to talk about because we did a lot of exciting things. Moving from the slow life of France to the excitement of the Alps and beyond will have the same affect on us, I think.

I have had a fun time navigating with the GPS, now that I was able to turn off the voice of the sexy British secret agent who annoyed me so much. The GPS navigation system was not made for places like France. For example, I could drive from our place in Riquewihr to the highway, and the system would figure out a different route every single time. You wouldn't know there were so many different ways to go from one point to another, but I now know that there are an endless number. The most efficient route, as I found from driving endlessly and ignoring the GPS, was through the very center of two towns, then down a single lane that bisected a huge vineyard for a couple of kilometers, to finally arrive at a major road that was the only straight road in France. This straight road pointed perpendicularly towards the highway, but did not interface with the highway. Instead, you turn right at a third small town, down a business street to a roundabout, then for 100 meters on an unmarked, unnamed asphalt path behind some warehouses, where you turn left onto what starts to look somewhat like a street. Then you find yourself, quite unexpectedly, on the highway onramp. I can see the GPS programmers wagging their heads, mouths agape, in disbelief. Quite a few times the GPS would take me down long roads and leave me staring at a wall or a locked gate or a giant field of corn. Sometimes it would show me driving 120 km/hour down the middle of a corn field, in the middle of the Rhine, or on the wrong side of the freeway. Once, while sitting in Colmar reading a book and waiting for my family, I watched the GPS generate a route back to the apartment. Then, without me touching the screen to change the destination, or moving the car even one micrometer, the route before me changed. Then it changed again. Then it changed back to the first route. I wanted to turn it off, but I was afraid it would turn itself back on and give me a wicked laugh. I think the lady trapped in the machine was trying to send a signal. It was creepy.

One thing that surprised me about our stay in France was just how cool everybody was with us. Even though I tried to learn French before showing up (Rosetta Stone, don’t buy it), and giving it all I had while I was here, I really learned very little French at all. But without exception I was treated with respect by every single person I met or interfaced with, and nobody ever gave me that 'oh you Americans need to learn OUR LANGUAGE’ that everybody talks about. Perhaps Alsace is different from other places in France, but we were treated the same way in Provence and in the other places we traveled through. Few people in Alsace speak English, or want to speak English with me, but we struggled by on all occasions, and were never treated poorly. It was nice to see.

France is a beautiful country full of wonderful people, great food, and the best wine and beer we have ever had. I give it four stars, two enthusiastic thumbs up.
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