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The Cossette Family Sabbatical

a travel blog by pscossette

Off we go to France and Spain as Paul takes a sabbatical from Mortenson for the next 6 weeks. We will try and keep everyone posted on how our travels are going!

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Arriving in Paris

Paris, France

After an uneventful flight across the pond, though the three of us slept a collective 3 hours, we arrived in Paris ready to go. After a slight delay in getting our train passes due to unexpected glitches in credit card function we were on our way to Paris city center. We arrived on Ile Saint Louie and settled into our new digs before wandering through the neighborhood in search of sustenance. Mark promptly found plenty within a block of the apartment. Screeches of “I love Paris” filled the air with each sighting of a pastry shop or gelato stand. The giant chocolate fountain defied words.

We soon found a nice sidewalk Bistro for some real French Fries among other delights. Mark quickly became the official photographer with many shots of the Seine, motorcycles ECT.

We then wandered around the Island, went back and took a bit of a cat nap. All except Mark. Then it was off on the subway to the Eiffel Tower. AWSOME was Marks description. All family members managed to climb the stairs to the first observation level. It was beautiful. Mark then decided he could climb to the next level, but Mom and Dad were feeling the lack of sleep and the first 300 steps so sent him on his way. Just as we were wondering if we would ever see him again, we catch sight of a descending elevator with two passengers, the guard and Mark. Once reunited we climbed the stairs back sown to ground level where we were met by the twinkling lights of a gorgeous tower. After a short walk to dinner, Mark promptly fell asleep before his dinner arrived. Good Night.

permalink written by  pscossette on June 18, 2007 from Paris, France
from the travel blog: The Cossette Family Sabbatical
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Day 2

Paris, France

First of all we need to fill in the missing details from yesterday: As we walked from Ile St Louie to Ile La Cite to check out Notre Dame, we were crossing the La Seine on the Pont Saint Michel bridge, a musician was playing along the river and a beautiful young women in a sun dress was riding her old fashion bike right buy us – I thought it was only like this in the movies…

Suzy also forgot to mention she was told “you can’t have the Tartar” since the waiter was sure an American would never eat raw beef. He was wrong.

Today began with Paul going for a run about 8:00 am along La Seine, past the Louvre, across to the left bank, and than past St Chapelle and Notre Dame. I arrived to the apt, purchased pastries for the still sleeping rest of the family, and went for my morning espresso. While at the corner café I watched the local firemen shake down the proprietor of my corner shop. When I returned to a still sleeping family, I went and bought fruit at the market, and checked out places for lunch. I finally broke down and aroused the rest of the family (about 11:00) and off we went.

We started the day checking out the multi hour line to hike to the top of the bell tower of Notre Dame and have our picture taken next to the Gargoyles. After 10 minutes we bailed and headed to St Chapelle where we found out the line was closed until 2:00 for lunch. So off we went to one of Mark’s favorites, the Catacombs, where we must have seen over 6 million bones and skulls relocated from the cemeteries to underground caves in 1874. After one of our several breaks in corner cafes we headed to the Jar din Luxemburg gardens. It was a great spot to relax and for Mark, to collect bird feathers….Next we headed to Notre Dame where Suzy and Paul attended Mass and Mark quietly protested. For dinner we headed to Bastille at the Blue Elephant, a Thai restaurant. It poured, but we still managed. To close the evening we played charades with Mark until midnight.

permalink written by  pscossette on June 19, 2007 from Paris, France
from the travel blog: The Cossette Family Sabbatical
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Day 3

Paris, France

We started by sleeping in, again. We shared a fresh baguette for breakfast. Then off to St. Chapelle where we saw beautiful 769 year old stained glass windows in the chapel that was built by Louie IX as a part of his palace to house the thorn crown from the crucifixion and a part of the cross. He paid about 2 billion dollars for in today’s money for the relics. We had a discussion about whether or not he was duped by the seller. They were no longer there. “I wonder what they looked like” said Mark. Next we dashed to the Orsay and saw tons of Renoirs, Monet’s, Whistler’s Mother, Degas, and more. The gorgeous old train station was a piece of art in itself. Lunch in Jardin des Tuileries where Mark’s hamburger was served on a vegetable Quiche bun. Needless to say he ate only bread and ice cream. Mark was busy playing in the fountain, trying to rebuild a sailboat he had found anyway. The newly sailing boat capsized in about 3 seconds. Oh Well….Off to Place de la Concorde where Marie Antoinette is rumored to have lost here head, along with about 999 other people. No blood stains ere visible today. We then tried to go to an Aquarium by strolling down the Champs-Elyses, but after a check of the map realized we were headed in the opposite direction, so we bailed and went to the Louvre. Wow!!! Mark was surprised to find the Louvre is not just the pyramid of glass. First stop was the Mona Lisa where the guards gave Mark an up close view. The Venus di Milo, Napoleons apartments, all the teenage mutant ninja turtle names and even more.

Now thoroughly cultured out we went outside to play in the fountains, then home to get Mark settled in and fed before Paul and Suzy headed to the local Brassiere for dinner. On the way home we stopped at the Jazz bar on the corner near our apartment. Down in the basement cave was a great band playing with a sultry young Parisian gal singing. It was packed, hot and very good!


permalink written by  pscossette on June 20, 2007 from Paris, France
from the travel blog: The Cossette Family Sabbatical
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Day 4

Paris, France

Got up early to make the trip to Versailles. We got on a train that was not very crowded. After a couple of stops, we heard an announcement in French and noticed there was no longer anyone else on our train. We were soon in a train yard and headed to the Train Wash! When the conductor (Michelle) found us she let Mark up front to copilot the train!
After she led us through the train yard and set us on our way to the Metro we were headed to Versailles again. This palace is one BFH (Big F’n House). Room for a King and 20,000 or so of his closest friends. Mark took about a billion pictures. The grounds were spectacular! If we go again we will get a cart and go on Saturday or Sunday when the fountains are on for an hour (that’s a lot of fountains when you can only run for an hour or two per week).
After lunch in Versailles we went to Invalides where Mark had a great time at the Army museum – Lot’s of armor, 16-17th century guns and swords, and even a few tanks – way cool for a 9 yr old and fun for the rest of us. From there on to Napoleon’s tomb, also pretty cool. Next we headed to Arc de Triomphe with plans to climb to the top and see the city and 8 lanes of traffic going in a roundabout. Well all the hot shots of Paris were there and they closed down the stairs so we took off down the Champs-Elysees. Talk about beautiful people and conspicuous consumption! We did snap a picture of the sidewalk café attached to a McDonalds. Seems like a great day, but we saved the best for last – tonight was the music festival in France and every Frenchie and all the brave tourists were in the streets. There were literally bands on every street corner and lot’s of the national drink consumed. It was the biggest party we have ever seen! We tried to head in about 11:00 but we couldn’t keep Mark from hanging out the window trying to join the party, so what the hell we went back out!


permalink written by  pscossette on June 21, 2007 from Paris, France
from the travel blog: The Cossette Family Sabbatical
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Day 5

Paris, France

Up a bit earlier today in anticipation of the arrival of John, Connie, and Craig. Paul tidied the apartment and we went for breakfast near the hotel of Connie and Craig so we would be right there to meet them. A weary looking trio soon climbed out of a nearby cab. The first information we received from John was that he had borrowed my car and crashed it the day before. No wonder he didn’t sleep on the way. This vacation gets more expensive by the day. At least no one was injured. After a short break we walked to Vagnende Restaurant on Rue St Germaine through a gully-washing rain storm. We now were in the company of very wet and weary travelers. After some French wine and food they perked up enough to head off to the Pompidou Center to view some modern art. We took the gerbil tubes up to the exhibition halls and got our fill of Picasso, Calder, Kaminski, Miro, Lipschitz, Pollack, Matisse, Barque, Chagall, Dali and some nice cleavages according to Craig. Mark said “I am half boy, half crazy, and all artist. This is so coo!” Now the trio was as worn out as the stairs of our apartment after 250 years of people climbing in the same place. We sent them all home to bed and Paul and Suzy drank a bottle of wine and introduced Mark to Crepes. He actually ate it! About midnight, Suzy decided “I shouldn’t have had the Tartar or maybe the snails as she was up every half hour through the night.

permalink written by  pscossette on June 22, 2007 from Paris, France
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Day 6

Saint-Remy-de-Provence, France

Paris to Avignon. After packing 40 kilos of @#%!^ into a couple 20 kilo bags (approximately 8), we left them to be moved to a car by the rental staff. After carrying them down 3 flights of stairs, they were not nearly as pleasant about the service as they had seemed the day before when offering to move the bags. While they were sweating and grumbling, we were off the Eiffel Tower once again. John needed to get a few pictures of himself near the tower. After a short visit it was back to get our bags, which were being held hostage for a large tip. Hmmm, don’t know why? Paul gladly paid and we were off to the train station.

We arrived in plenty of time so decided to get a beer in the restaurant before we boarded. What we forgot was that Parisians never rush time spent near food or drink, so with a whopping 10 minutes to spare, we rushed to our train, lugged all 8 bags, plus assorted carry-ons up to our seat on the second level of the car, stashing them in various places near and far from our seats. As we were settling in, a group of travelers stated they had these seats as they were on car 7, not 17. Car 17 was about 10 cars further toward Avignon, though we were not sure where it was at the time as they did not seem to be in any numerical order. A bit of shouting, tugging, sweating, and running we reached our seats on car 17 with seconds to spare. The French do not have the same relaxed attitude about train schedules as they do about dining. After kicking the poor lost vacationers out off our seats, we relaxed for a very comfortable and smooth, high –speed train ride to Avignon. Disembarkation is allowed about 3 minutes and we just got off and counted our bags, which were amazingly all with us, as the train pulled out.

We then drove to our new home in St Remy De Province. Mark’s first words to the nice gentleman helping us settle in were, “No wonder this place costs so much!” It is really quite reasonable, but very comfortable. I am sitting under the arbor on the patio, listening to the pool gurgle as I write this. We should be very happy here.


permalink written by  pscossette on June 23, 2007 from Saint-Remy-de-Provence, France
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Day 7

Avignon, France

With the children snug in their beds, the adults charted a course back to Avignon for our cooking class. The GPS worked like a charm and we drove through a winding street and found a sign for La Mirande. The parking situation looked a bit dicey so Paul dropped the rest of us off and drove off to find a space. Connie, Craig and I followed the signs for the hotel through several more winding, increasingly smaller alleyways. Finally we asked someone where the La Mirande really was and found it just around the corner. We checked in at the front desk minutes late. The staff was very pleasant and asked where our 4th was. “Parking the car”, only was met with raised eyebrows, laughter, and the comment “He will be here in 3 hours.” We were then led to an amazingly beautiful courtyard and served coffee without an ounce of exasperation at our poor planning. We noticed one other table in the corner enjoying a relaxing coffee and pastries. In about 20 minutes a very rushed appearing Paul entered. He was offered a coffee by a very relaxed staff, which he politely declined. Chef Jean Claude then appeared, notified the other table of guests that we were now ready to go off to the market. They too appeared curiously unbothered by the delay in their day so we all relaxed and began to enjoy a highlight of the vacation.

Off we went to the market, walking away from the former home of the Pope just behind us, down curvy alleys surfaced with apricot-sized rocks, we were glad we left our stilettos at home. We crossed an open square and looked up to see a wall of herbs – yes, a wall of herbs above the Les Halles entry, our market. The herbs grow right out of the wall about 2 stories high, okay right out of some substance on the wall. Tres fantastique.

Chef Jean-Claude Altmayer leads the class around the market, poking and prodding produce, checking the eyes of fish, and after a conference with the butcher we had back to La Mirande with melons, cherries, ducks, and gambas.

Okay, the hotel courtyard lobby was great – actual French provincial -- but next we were descended down a circular stair to room with a large wood table and proceed into a kitchen I am sure Julia Child would have loved. A big square table, windows that open to a small patio, and a wood burning stove that will be the source of the creations of the day.

First step, is to toast with vin blanc in glasses surreptitiously filled by the sous-chef Heidi from Bavaria. We toast with a Santee and down the hatch with our cooking companions, 3 from Marseille (2 nurses and a biologist) and Jeanette from Avignon, born in St Remy and studied English in England. You could tell she actually did study, plus she taught English. She was a gem. Friendly, accommodating and always willing and volunteering translations.

Chef Jean-Claude was a hoot. He knew how to make the shot for the camera, and when he added the hugging yourself dance in front of the wood burning stove, we knew we had a fun one.

Oh, the cooking. We got to smash fresh almonds to remove the exterior husk, ball melons, pit cherries and ball avocados. More importantly we helped clean the ladle used to fill the chocolate cake tins and taste the lavender infused strong red wine served with a melon ball.

Chef Jean-Claude stoked the fire, added wood, adjusted the ventilation and used different parts of the stove’s surface, the artful substitute for hi lo simmer. The overall theme was slow and long, with some high heat for short periods of time.

The menu – lavender infused wine served in a glass with a melon ball; jamon wrapped around melon balls; prawns in a puree of melon, basil and avocados; duck breast on a sauce of cherries, melon and almonds; (yes, melons are in season) and chocolate almost lava cakes served on puree of melons, basilica, and Muscat with tarragon ice cream. Absolutely delicious.

The final course was coffee on the patio under a canvas umbrella, surrounded by pots of herbs and flowers, where we had to bid our fellow cooks au revoir after a big merci to Jeanette and a fond farewell to our new friends from Marseille.
CNH (Connie)

permalink written by  pscossette on June 24, 2007 from Avignon, France
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Day 8

Nimes, France

We are off in search of Roman Ruins today. A short drive along the Rhone River brings us to the Pont Du Gard, a 60 AD Aqueduct over the river Gard. It is definitely not in ruins. It took 1000 men 12 years to build this amazing structure. That is without computer scheduling, hydraulic cranes, and a bunch of sub-contractors to blame if it goes awry. Just kidding Paul, that would never happen. We walked up and down both sides of the aqueduct while watching the Kayaks and cliff jumpers really enjoy the ancient site.

When near Roman structures, do what the natives do. We were off in search of Kayak Verte (the best looking green kayak rentals.) Voila! We were soon floating down the Gard in a single, double, and triple Kayak. The older boys were on the lookout for local French wild life. Mostly of the female hominid, half-clad variety. Soon we were back at the aqueduct. On the upriver side was a 30 foot cliff just begging to be used as a jumping off spot. No problem for John and with a bit of coaxing Paul. Mark could not be convinced that this was either a fun or good idea.

On we go under the Pont to the cliff we had all been waiting for. The initial jumps on the other side were just warm-ups. I will let Paul tell of the experience of jumping off a 50 foot cliff. All I know is that the sound of flesh on the water was quite loud! Testosterone defiantly blunted Paul, John and Craig’s survival reflexes. They all jumped, and without hearing the comment from a passing Kayak filled with teens, “We should have done it, those senior citizens did!”

All survived and we wrapped up a wonderful day.

permalink written by  pscossette on June 25, 2007 from Nimes, France
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Day 9

Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France

In case you were wondering where the pictures went, we all suspect the weary bellman from Paris absconded with our camera link cable to extract a little revenge on us all. Most likely we simply left it on the kitchen counter. Not to fear, a new cable should be arriving on Saturday morning and the pictures will again be flowing.

Well, the sensation of jumping off an 18 meter (+50 foot) cliff was not something Craig or I was expecting to experience. Let me tell you that is a looooong 2 second rush followed by a stinging sensation – depending on your exposed areas at the point of impact. Add it to the list of life experiences.

Today Connie, Craig, Suzy and I were back to the Avignon market to do a little shopping for tonight’s home cooked provincial dinner. We needed a few things like fresh Chanterelle mushrooms, homemade pasta, a pork loin, a great bouquet of fresh mint, half a dozen cheeses, melons, the biggest cherries you have ever seen, thinly sliced jamon, dates, I could go on but you get the idea, we were planning a feast. After picking up our supplies we were off for a little wine tasting and winery touring. The highlight of the trip was the town of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, or ‘New House of the Pope’. The countryside was beautiful, some of the wineries were actual castles, and the wine was fantastic. We pilfered some of the famous stones that cover the vineyards and keep the vines warm at night. Soon you will see them gracing the Cossette cellar. Needless to say we also packed home a few bottles of special wine.

Dinner tonight was fantastic, but how can you go wrong with four good cooks and great fresh ingredients, not to mention a few Cuban cigars to finish the night off.


permalink written by  pscossette on June 26, 2007 from Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France
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Day 10

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, France

Today we took a trip to the Ste Maries de Mer in the Camaruge, famous for it’s white horses, black bulls, and Pink Flamingoes. We drove through the wet lands that have formed at the entrance of the Rhone into the Mediterranean. There were white horses and Egrets everywhere. We did not see any of the famed Bulls that are collected for the Bull fights. Unfortunately the Bull fights in the arena would begin next week, so instead of watching a Bull fight we had a nice lunch, Paella for Paul and Connie, and rented bikes.

Paul and Suzy had a bicycle built for two. If you want to build trust in a relationship, a tandem bike is the way to go. The person on the back has absolutely no control over any situation and is also blind to where they are headed. After some trials and tests to the relationship, we were a well oiled machine. We all rode along a stone/sand path running between the beach and the wildlife preserve. The plan was for a trip to the distant lighthouse and a return. About halfway we decided the lighthouse was best viewed from a great distance as the Mistral would be blowing into our faces on the way back.

After returning the bikes we watched a game of Boules in the park. A game much like Bochee ball, appearing to be a very serious past time for the well-tanned-older-set in town. We then found a bar to quench the thirst we had acquired on our bike tour. Mark was quickly enthralled by the Bull Running shown on the TV. From what we could tell it is a team sport where team members take turns being chased by a very large, very angry bull around in a ring until they are able to grab a ribbon off it’s horn and jump from the ring. This was accomplished with various results to both bull and man. Apparently the team with the most flags at the end wins regardless of how many men are left standing.

Later that night John and Mark had Pizza at Villa Rosa and us old folks went out for another great meal. Are you catching on to a theme here?

permalink written by  pscossette on June 27, 2007 from Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, France
from the travel blog: The Cossette Family Sabbatical
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