I always do a last walk through – a process of checking but also saying goodbye, letting go.
When I left the last home where my ex-husband and I had lived together, the act of walking through the empty rooms and closing the door behind reverberated with a painful twang.
Packing up my Mom’s things and walking for the last time through what had been her home had been devastating – all trace of the scent of her and the feel of her gone and in boxes.
For my walk through in Amsterdam I had only moments – my Dad was waiting downstairs with a mini-van full of my stuff and the two dogs (my Mr. T and his Mr. Toffie) loaded in… ready to hit the road. No time to grieve, to wallow, just a quick check and a thank you to the space that had served as my haven and home for the past three years, two weeks and 3 days.
Roadtrip to France, to Nerac, to the future, was waiting.
It’s amazing how many things one collects.
Three years and two weeks and 3 days ago I had moved from San Diego to Amsterdam with two suitcases, and 4 boxes.
Now I had a set of chairs to sell, chairs to transport, tables to transport, boxes to transport. Huh?
Can’t believe it.
We hit the road around 2pm Amsterdam time and promptly got lost after a wrong exit in The Hague, bogged down in traffic in Rotterdam, and bored senseless on the non-moving thing that supposedly is a free way around Antwerp.
I remember my first time in Paris – my first time seeing the tip of the Eiffel peeking out over the buildings. It was 1998 and for a graduation gift I had taken my 18-year old sister to Europe for the a few weeks in the summer. We did a week in Paris, a week in London and then she went home so I could do 2 weeks in Ireland with my besty gal-pal and then return to Paris.
By then I had already been in the UK a few times – but never Paris.
One always remembers the first time in Paris J
I remember the glimpse of the Eiffel in the taxi from the airport (we were too stupid back then to know other ways to get into the city), I remember my first steps inside the Louvre, I remember the first time sitting in a sidewalk café, I remember the first scaling of the steps in Montmartre, I remember the first adventures in figuring out the shower in our tiny little hotel (where your suitcase AND you did not fit into the elevator so you had to put it in and run up the stairs to greet it!)
After Paris it was smooth on roads heavily speckled with giant trucks but no traffic. My Dad and I talked, listened to music, laughed at the dogs, and stopped for dinner at a roadside cafeteria (excellent Lasagna!)
We had lots to talk about – although I had been willing to pack up my apartment and say Totziens to Amsterdam, I had actually not SEEN the new house.
I’d been to the village – a year ago during a summer trip. But Le Dadz Squared had bought the house while I was in the USA for my Mom’s funeral and taking care of the details of losing a loved one.
So… have a little faith in me.
Yes… that’s what the song says, yes? YES????
I had a lot of faith, a lot of willingness, and an intense desire to find something positive to look forward to after months of grieving-rimmed eyes.
Note: Expats are a particular brand of overly optimistic folks who have a tendency to romanticize life. Okay. Maybe not expats as a whole – but this one!
The driving was so smooth and pleasant that we contemplated just heading all the way through… but at our pace we would have arrive around 5 am. What do you do then with yourself and a car and dogs in a small town?
So around 1:00am I started digging around on one of the world’s most impactful apps ever ever invented, booking.com for iphone ;)
In 1976 my Dad did a trip through Europe with a college buddy… he saw EVERYTHING there is to see in Europe. Seriously. You cannot go somewhere without him saying that he and his buddy had spent a day there, had lunch there, took a train from there. It’s annoying, actually.
So with his 1976-knowledge, he recommended we choose a booking.com spot in Poitiers since he remembered it as a cute little village. (He pronounces it like ‘Sidney POITIER,’ adorable.)
And that would place us in Aquitained and only a few hours from our destination.
We found a place that promised 24-hour reception service, secure parking, and allowed pets… and so the next exit into Poitiers we took.
If you ever drive into Poitiers from the North, note that the industrialized, brand-new development, empty streets, and ubiquitious advertising… just needs to be passed through so you can get to the old center.
We were a bit disconcerted by all the new buildings, but found the hotel after a few wrestling matches with the GPS. We buzzed the doorbell and an ancient Chinese man opened it for us.
Yes, he has a room. Yes, he has one with two beds. Yes, dogs are allowed. No, no parking available anymore.
ARGH! We needed to not park just on the street – the van was loaded with boxes, tools, clothes, my giant iMac box, and more.
No matter. Back in the car… found the Best Western.
THE NICEST STAFF!
Yes, they had a room. Yes, dogs were allowed. Yes, there is parking in the underground garage. No, no rooms with two beds. Would you like breakfast in the morning?
We were so excited about the parking and so darn tired, that the fact that we’d have one giant bed was a zero-worry.
The guy was absolutely sweet – even helped us to navigate the clearance between the top of the van and the roof of the garage.
Note: When planning a roadtrip in Europe, realize that your van may have only 2 or 3 CENTIMETERS clearance in garages of buildings that pre-date the dawn of the automobile.
I just kept giving my Dad a thumbs up and waiving him forward. I could still SEE a space between the van and the roof, right?
I have good eye-sight ;)
The dude could have given us packing crates to sleep on and we would not have noticed. Tired bodies fell into tired sleep.
We needed to take the dogs for a walk, and my Dad felt I should see the old church in the city center, which was supposedly walking distance away.
For those who know me well, you know I am an Eleanor of Aquitaine FAN . Something about this lady has always intrigued me. At university I gobbled up information on her. And I had – by happenstance, just finished reading the Sharon Kay Penman series on Eleanor and her sons’. The last book had kept me company in the USA.
So I was… in Poitiers. Walking streets where she used to hold court. The capital city of her ancient duchy.
Here I was walking into the eerily silent and welcoming space of the church that she and Henry II of England had commissioned. Touching the painted walls and hearing my foot-steps echo on the stones.
Forget the fact that stepping out of the hotel doors revealed an old city center that at night we had missed, but in daylight was charming. Forget the cleanliness of the streets, and the smiles on the faces we passed. Forget the lovely architecture and the fact that we bough 4 croissants from a baker for only €2.50! FOUR CROISSANTS!
Forget all that and I was STILL totally awe-struck and amazed.
How do you say ‘thankful’ in French?