Les Vacances de Février

The French vacation schedule continued in what, to an American sensibility, feels decadent and even a little overwhelming.  But since we are in the midst of such an unusual year, we were grateful for another two weeks to coordinate some adventures in other parts of France.

CHADENAC: Our February vacation started with a trip to the little country town of Chadenac about an hour outside of Bordeaux.  There, our friends Sharon and Christophe from Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley have bought a farm and are in the process of crafting a new rural life in France.  There kids, Walter and Margot, attend local schools in the area but had plenty of time to play with Jack and Daphne, too.  While they were in school, Sharon, took us to a wonderful Neanderthal museum whose interactive exhibits—javelin throwing, digitally rendering the children into Neanderthal tykes, and more—were incredibly fun for all.   Sharon and Christophe were amazing hosts at home and in giving us tours of both farmland and other medieval towns in their area.  We were so impressed by how much they have changed the rhythms of their life;  Sharon can talk with local neighbors about what they will be planting next, and Christophe works with his neighbor on the upkeep of their party, pruning and harvesting himself as well.

TOULOUSE:  We stopped for one day in the Ville Rose, the beautiful town of Toulouse.  While Michael worked, Shannon and the kids toured the city and local museums–purchasing a flag with the Croix de Languedoc—and of course checking out the play structures in the city’s squares.  Shannon’s mom, Jackie, arrived in France at the Toulouse airport where we picked her up and headed out for our next site, Carcassonne.

CARCASSONNE:  This is a city we picked for its medieval heritage, its varied city life, and its prime location in the Languedoc region whose wines Michael and I have been loving more and more.  Jackie found a wonderfully old–but selectively rehabbed—house for us in the middle of the city.  We could easily walk to the local markets as well as to the medieval city of Carcassonne down and across the river.  The medieval city was truly an adventure for young and old, with narrow meandering streets enclosed by huge remparts, a terrific “chateau fort” and a beautiful cathedral.  Since Jack and Daphne now play “chevalier” at recess and with friends so much more than they used to, this excursion really reinforced their curiosity in all things medieval.  Nearby, we were also able to check out the “grottes” and “goffres” of the area, the wild, stalagtyte-festooned caves and caverns that make you think you have entered the center of the earth.  Mixing excursions outside as well as work and playtime inside–Jackie and Daphne probably played Uno fifty times—this was a terrific place to hang out for five days. More photos from Carcassonne on Flickr.

VALENCIA:   We concluded our vacation with a trip to Valencia. Michael worked with colleagues at the university there while Jackie, Shannon and the kids explored this absolutely fabulous city that really became a new favorite for us.  It has a beautifully maintained old city with a famous–justifiably so–market in the center; we had never seen so many strange creatures from the sea for sale.  More recently, the city’s leaders have decided to invest in a new civic lay out with ultra-contemporary architectural landmarks within a newly developed park.  They brought in Santiago Calatrava to create a a series of extraordinary structures.  With a new Museum of Arts and Sciences, an aquarium, an opera house, and an Imax theatre, the scene was both aesthetically and “ludically” fulfilling for all.  Jack and Daphne continued their ongoing research investigations of European playgrounds here in Valencia as well; in addition to the many great play structures, the football field sized reproduction of a reclining “Gulliver” proved to be the most exciting thing on offer–and still the play structure they seem to remember most.  This giant is indeed giant; you can even see it from Google maps.  Finally, Valencia is a coastal town–which is to say that it has a glorious beach as well.  We had a great time meeting the family of Michael’s colleague–Jaime.  This was a super-fun and spirited city; we hope to go back again some day. More photos from Valencia on Flickr.

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