Ok, now where was I? Ah yes. We finished up in Amsterdam and came back to Valenciennes. My parents stayed in a hotel about 5 mins from my house and my sister stayed with me. After several days of intense togetherness, I think we were all happy about this. Mom, Dad, and Al came to my classes with me on that Monday afternoon, and I think both they and my students really enjoyed it. After school, we all went to Brigitte's (a teacher I work with) for dinner, which was lovely. Brigitte's husband is British, so they both speak fluent English, and they have a lot in common with my parents, so they really hit it off. Mom is quite excited to have a new friend across the Atlantic, and we've all been invited to Brigitte and Christopher's summer home in Central France, which would also be lovely if we ever have the opportunity to take them up on it.
Tuesday night I invited all my friends over for dinner and a meet and greet with my family. It was a blast. I made some AWESOME enchiladas (if I do say so myself), and there was lots of laughter and wine for everyone. I think everyone here secretly loves it when someone's parents are in town because it's kind of like all of us get to have parents there for an evening. Really nice, warm-fuzzy feeling.
Wednesday we set out bright and early for a long day of driving. We had to go back to Antwerp to pick up the jewelry Allison picked out the week before, and then we turned around and drove to the beaches of Normandy, in Western France. It was cloudy and rainy when we got there, but it was still very cool to see such a historical place. We also stayed in a really cute little hotel and ate some really fabulous seafood. Then on Thursday morning we went to see Versailles, just outside of Paris, which is Louis XIV's infamously decadent palace. Sadly, it was kind of a bust. We saw a few of the rooms inside, but it was very hot and crowded in there, so we decided to take a break and check out the gardens before seeing the rest of the castle. Unfortunately, we didn't realize that once you exit the building into the gardens, you can't go back inside. Generally cranky and frustrated, we just decided to throw in the towel and head to our next hotel, in Giverny, where we planned to see Monet's house and gardens. We took the scenic route to avoid France's numerous toll roads, and ended up getting to see a lot of really beautiful countryside, which was actually better than Versailles, in my opinion.
We stayed at a suuuuper cute B&B in Giverny, about 100 yards from the house and gardens. I've wanted to visit Monet's home since I was very, very young, so this was kind of a bucket list thing for me. I was surprised by how much was blooming already, but sad that there were not yet any water lilies in the famous water garden. Another thing that surprised me, but probably shouldn't have, was the sheer number of old people visiting at the same time. I am being absolutely truthful when I say that my sister and I were the ONLY people there under the age of 55, and my parents were easily the next youngest visitors. SO MANY OLD PEOPLE. Maybe this is because we were there at 9am on opening day for the gardens, but still, it was funny and weird and cute, all at the same time.
After Giverny, we headed into Paris for the last leg of our journey. Paris has never failed to impress anyone, I don't think, least of all the Whitmer family. We did EVERYTHING, too. Montmartre, l'Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, lots of shopping and eating, Madeleine, Opera Garnier, Notre Dame, Ile St. Louis, the Bastille District, Promenade Plantee, the Louvre, and LOTS of walking in-between. I think I did a good job of really wearing everyone out, haha, myself included. We left on Sunday afternoon and my parents dropped me off at home before heading to Brussels to catch their flight home on Monday. It was a marathon, to be sure, but something I think we all really enjoyed and will remember for a very long time.
And now, suddenly, it's almost time for me to come home. I can hardly believe how quickly the time has passed between mid-February and now. I bought my plane ticket last night and I will be home on the 19th, which you math majors out there know is just 12 days from now. 12 DAYS. Of course I am super excited to be coming home, but I am also finding myself to be quite sad. Now that I am used to living here, and the weather is getting more and more beautiful every day, I'm realizing how hard it's going to be to leave. But all good things must come to an end, I guess. There's a French movie called Bienvenue Chez Les Ch'ti's, about a man who has to move from beautiful, sunny, Southern France to the North, which is generally considered to be the cold, rainy armpit of the country. When he gets there and is settling in, he is miserable, and someone tells him, "A newcomer to the North cries two times: when he arrives, and when he has to leave." So true.