Thursday, June 6, 2013

TGV in France and "zoo" at the school - vacation in France - II

May 29, 2013, Wed.

At 11:30 am, we arrived the Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport in Paris.  It was not too difficult to wake up the kids from their coma sleep with the help of the bright sunlight from plane windows.  They had no idea that their night was cut short and happily followed Fabrice and I to get their bags, to pass customs, and then finally to have a long walk to CDG train station (Gere Aeroport CDG 2TGV), where we needed to catch our transit train RER (Paris by Train) to reach Gere de Lyon in downtown Paris in order to catch a high-speed train to Fabrice's hometown Blanzy, one of the 18 cities within the urban community of Creusot-Montceau located between Paris and Lyon.  We can also wait until late that evening to take the only direct TGV from CDG airport to Le Creusot in the early evening, but Fabrice thought it's better to get home as fast as we could, so this option was not of our choice.

When we got to Gere de Lyon, the next train to Le Creusot was about to leave and it would have been a huge challenge for us to get our empty stomach filled, bladders emptied, and then find the correct platform on time.  On the top of the rush, second class tickets were all sold out yet first class tickets would have cost us $150 more.  So, we decided to take our time for the next train, which would give us 2 extra hours to cruise the station.  Unfortunately, the Spring has not yet arrived France hence the Summer clothes on us could not fight the strong wind.  So, the kids and I were mostly hiding inside a waiting room watching the trains come in and out of their railways while the diligent Daddy walked in and out to fetch us food or take one after another to visit the toilet

Having dozed off occasionally, I have recovered from the marathon movie-watching plane ride quite a bit so 2h waiting time did not seem too long.  We said bye-bye to Paris, got on our train painlessly.  On the train, I continued to nap while the kids were playing with their toy bags that they got from the AirFrance cheerfully.  The kids had consumed quite a lot of energy building houses with some humongous plastic blocks in the waiting room already but then they still played the whole way throughout the train ride!  When the train almost reached our destination, the Daddy woke me up from my dreams so that he could move the luggage to the door - the French are quite frantic when it comes to get on and off trains.

At 4:30 pm, the train arrived Le Creusot on time and the 4 of us got out of the train so swiftly that Grandma could not find us on the platform.  It's so much easier to transport the kids from one place to another now, even though they had only 6 hr sleep in the last 24 hrs!!!  Through a tunnel, we were on our way out, then we found Grandma who was still above the tunnel on the platform looking for us from the stream of people.  Emmanuelle (Fabrice's little sister, let's call her Emma here) and Grandpa were waiting outside at parking lot.  So, we were welcomed by typical showers of kisses.  Following a 15 min car ride, we finally got in Grandparents' house.  The cousins, Tavin (8) and Leone (4) (Emma's son and daughter), and their father Andre joined us a few minutes later.  Andre is a chief chef in a big restaurant in town.  He used to work in a tourist-rich city where he met and married to Emma who was then a waitress in the same restaurant.  After Leone was born, Emma had never gone back to her old job and she also moved her small family back to her hometown.  So in the last 4 years, we have enjoyed her and particularly her kids company whenever we are back here at the Grandparents.

Although it's been almost 2 years that Zhuzhu and Niuniu have not seen their cousins, it did not take long for the 4 kids to reconnect.  Indeed, we have spent almost every summer in France since the kids' birth, except for the last one.  Tavin and Leone are both very attentive and outgoing, in addition, these 4 kids "see" each other frequently via Skype during the Daddy's weekly video calls to France.  Niuniu is an outgoing person too, so he fought with their cousins with the plastic arrows and bows that Fabrice gave Tavin and Leone as a Christmas gifts.  Zhuzhu has grown quite a bit out of her shyness becoming more confident and interactive since last year, which is one of the many benefits sending kids to school with their peers, so she joined the playing team pretty quickly also.  The French side of the family could not wait to spoil the kids with their gift bags!  From Grandparents, Zhuzhu got a dress and it's matching legging and a pajama gown.  Niuniu got a set of Morocco soccer uniform, a soccer, a T-shirt, and a toy crane.  From the Aunt Emma's family, Zhuzhu got a beautiful long dress, 3 sets of craft beads, 2 cans for coins, and numerous girly accessaries for hairs, nails, fingers from the Claire's club.  Niuniu got 100 marbles, 2 cans for coins, ...

I'd expected the kids to pass out on the dinner table, but they surprised me by enjoying a whole course of a typical French meal wildly awake in the next 3 long hours!

French food is always the highlight of my diary.  So, let's get the menu back here.

Appetizer: a huge platter of charcuteries (dried meats including prosciutto/Jambon, terrines, salami, polish sausages, pâtés, and many others that I cannot name) to go with Freshly baked baguettes 

Entrée: roast pork and cheese cauliflower accompanied by home garden-grown lettuce salad, and more baguettes

Cheese: a huge platter of variety of local cheeses and more baguettes

Dessert: home baked apple pie, yogurt of different flavors, coffee, and a bucket of fruit


At about 9 pm, Emma got the kids ready for home.  "Why are they leaving?"  Wishing the night would not end there, Zhuzhu asked me quietly on her way out to say "Bonne nuit" to her cousins.  "Oh, Tavin and Leone need to sleep early so that they can get up early for school tomorrow."  I answered thinking she remembered that they lived in their own house not too far away.  "No, I mean why don't they sleep here.  Isn't this their house?"  Zhuzhu could not understand why someone who spends every waking minute in the house does not live in the house.  When I explained this to her we had visited that house 2 summers ago, which sent her into  "deep thoughts".  They finally called it a day at about 10 pm.
May 30, 2013, Thursday

At 6 am, Fabrice left to catch exactly the same TGV that we got off yesterday to Paris.  The man had only 5 hour sleep.  He needs to attend 2 different conferences and is expected to deliver 2 presentations in French!  Boy, good luck on that.  Do you know it's actually harder for us foreign scientists who work in the U.S. to give presentations in our own mother tongue?  

The kids got up around 9 am.  Following breakfast, they worked on their diaries.  Both recorded our plane and train rides, with a drawing of a sophisticated train (Zhuzhu) or a simpler version of both plane and a train (Niuniu).  The Daddy bought them their first diary notebooks to foster Zhuzhu's love for writing and drawing.  It's too early for Niuniu to do any meaningful writing, but this boy has been quite jealous of his sister's going to "big kid's school" ever since last Fall.  So, Daddy bought him a diary book to compensate his feeling at loss.  After that, they spent the rest of the morning soaking and playing in the bath tub until 11:00am.  A bit surprise to me was at 11:20 am, they went with Emmanuelle without the Mommy to retrieve Tavin and Leone from their respective schools.  The school is 5 min walk away and we usually go there by foot.  It was pouring so they went by car.  

Similar to schools in China, schoolers here in France have a 2h-break in the middle of the day.  To be specific, French elementary schools start at 8:30 am, break in mid-day at 11:30 am, resume at 1:30 pm and then end at 4:30 pm.  Starting from last Fall, the kids don't even have schools on Wednesdays anymore.  A mid day break seems to energize them, as if they would not have excessive amount of it already!  Obviously, nannies are required for kids with 2 working parents here in France, which is clearly a better socialist country than China, as far as I know.  Nanny is quite affordable thus popular here.  For parents who earn less than good money from their jobs, the government subsidizes for nanny services.  For parents who are rich and don't want to use nanny to take care of their kids, they can choose to pay for the kids to dine at school cafeteria, which is run by full-time chefs employed by the government also!  The kids eat delicious food with daily changeable theme to stimulate their healthy eating habit.  It only costs 3 euros per day!

The French do know how to live and I wonder why we are staying in the U.S.?!

Following a big lunch that consisted a full course of dishes...

Appetizer: charcuterie platter again and bottled beef/duck/pork pâté 
Entrée:  Large meatballs (later I was told they were the leftover roast pork, what a transformation, I did not recognize them from the taste) with spaghetti/tomato sauce that was accompanied with lettuce salad. 
Cheese/dessert/fruit bucket/coffee as usual.

... I went with the 4 kids, Emma, and Grandpa to drop Tavin and Leone back to school.  I was invited by T and L to go watching animals in their schools.  I was not too willing to go because it was still pouring and the kids were still wet and cold.  But I did because I was puzzled and curious about the animals that they mentioned.  I had been to their school many times before during our previous visits, never had I seen a zoo nearby.  My French has gotten better ever since Zhuzhu and Niuniu were born, which is a side-product of the life since the Daddy has spoken enough French to them to "get my shoes wet."  Based on my French and the enthusiasms on T and L's expressions, I understood that some animals were brought to their schools and I had to go to have a look that afternoon, otherwise, they would be gone.  So I changed the kids to warmer clothes that they got from their cousins and took them in Grandpa's car, which followed Emma's car.  The 7 of us went together in 2 cars only for a 2 min ride to school.

What came to my eyes were numbers colorful tents and trucks, inside those tents and trucks were bunch of animals.  There were goats, horses, cows, buffaloes, camels, lamas... The kids were in heaven, they were in petting zoo for free!  They were feeding them with grasses and petting on their backs.  The animals were extremely sweet and seemed enjoying to be pet by them.  I thought I would have a hard time to take the kids away from those lovely creatures, but to my delight, when it was time to leave, all of them followed the lead of the adults.  Later, I realized they knew ahead of time that these animals would stay for few more from Emma and Grandpa who had promised to take them back later that day and few more days following that.

Zhuzhu and Tavin teasing goats
Niuniu, Zhuzhu, and Leone

I had no idea why the school has brought so many animals although the huge red animal trucks parked beside clearly labeled "Zavatta fils".

At 4:30 pm, we all went to collect the kids.  A 30-min animal watching/petting at the "open zoo" at the school seemed to be okay for the kids.  Then we went for an apéritif at Emma's house.  The adults were sitting on a big sofa set drinking wine, watching television, and chatting nonsense, while the 4 kids were drawing pictures on a small dinning table beside the adults.  Told you, the French do know how to live!  Emma's house has a huge yard, but the weather was wet and cold, the kids rather stayed home to enjoy their sweet drinks and snacks of slices of terrine, goat cheese wrapped with ham, and gratons (do you know what this is?).

Around 6:30 pm or so, we went back home and don't ask me what we ate.  I had no idea about how we passed the rest of that night other than the fact that the kids were still jumping in the bed like two monkeys at 2 am!  I was just about to report to the Daddy that there were no jet lag for kids at all based on the last 2 nights' experience.  Our kids like to contradict to their Mommy!
May 31, 2013, Friday.

We are staying home today.  I am totally exhausted by being a single mother dealing with 2 energetic monkeys in the mean time of dealing with my deranged biological clock.  To my defense, it is raining and I don't know how to read French signs to drive the kids anywhere else.  The cousins are at school so the kids just goofed around with their new toys that they have received from Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and cousins.  I, either taking my cat naps or trying to write my diary here. 

Fabrice had left me with our infant Zhuzhu with his parents alone before.  It was the summer of 2007 when Zhuzhu was only only 4 month old.  The Daddy left us because I forgot that I would have needed a U.K visa to go with him to the conference that he was attending!  So I was left behind living with his non-English speaking parents for 3 days or so.  I was a wet nurse to an infant and most of the hours when Zhuzhu was not sucking my nipples, she could leave me alone.  I could then take my naps or work.  Being a single mother in a strange land at that time seemed so much easier.  I was super productive on that particular vacation, in fact.  By the time when Fabrice came back from the U.K., I had 1 major report rewritten and ready to send back to the publisher, which meant that I had our remaining 16 days to fully enjoy our vacation!

But this time around, situation is a bit different.  The 2 mobile kids who would not leave their Mommy and Grandparents alone, and more importantly, we now have a google translator to help us to make some conversations to the French!  Each upside must be completed by a downside, you see.  So, the downside this time is I could barely finished a simple blog post for the last 4 days that we spent here.

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