Back in March when we first got to Senegal, we received the following message from our dear friend Aurelien:
Also, I have a proposition for you. I don't know what your plans are and I know it's a bit far ahead, but if you're not coming home for Christmas and if you have a few days off, you're cordially invited to come practice your French with my family in the South of France
How do you say no to that? Answer: you don't. So December 23rd we boarded a plane to France, feeling giddy at the thought of experiencing a cold, delicious Christmas with all of the comforts of the Western world, and nervous to discover what the Western world would feel like after almost 10 months in West Africa.
The shock at how nice everything was hit the moment we stepped onto our plane to Brussels. This continued through the airports in Brussels and Lyon, and into Aurelien's childhood home. We were exclaiming about the ease and comfort of everything. You don't think to take for granted having a toilet you can sit on and that flushes, but let me tell you, it is niiiiiiiice. I was really surprised, however, at how fast things like that felt normal for me again. I did have one afternoon when we were walking through the most expensive shopping district of Paris that I felt really overwhelmed and saddened by the immense disparities that exist in this world, and hopeless at how to reconcile them in my own life. Mostly, though, I was able to enjoy this reprieve from the stress and anxiety I had been feeling about work projects, from the heat, and from the constant observations of my neighbors at site. It was a very needed vacation, and we were so grateful to have wonderful friends to experience it with.
Pat first met Aurelien at The University of Montana when he was assigned as Aurelien's Peer Assistant. They got along great, and I first met him when he, Pat, and Matt took a road trip to visit me in Tacoma. The next year when I studied in Western France, I stayed with Aurelien a lot when passing through Paris, and then he came to visit us when we were living in Berlin. He was a groomsman in our wedding, which is when we first met Florence, his lovely girlfriend who also hosted us on this dream vacation. Both of their families made us feel quite at home during their amazing holiday meals and took care of us in ways that Peace Corps volunteers just need to be taken care of on vacation. (Quote from Simone, Aurelien's mom: "They had so much African dust embedded in their clothes, I was so happy to do their laundry!"
All in all, this vacation was a wonderful combination of amazing foods (at least six six-course meals), beautiful natural and historic sites, reunions with old friends, and good old rest (it's amazing how well you sleep in a cool dark room with a comfortable bed). The following photos are an attempt to capture how great it was.
|Giant Roman amphitheater in Viennes, a historic Roman city near Lyon.|
|Ponies at a Christmas market in Annecy, a beautiful little town at the foot of the French Alps.|
|Florence and I on a bridge over one of Annecy's canals.|
|The Alps! So wonderful to breathe mountain air!|
|Cafe de la Paix back in Paris...Peace Corps is called Corps de la Paix in French, so a photo seemed appropriate on our last day as we prepared to head back to Senegal.|
|Brussels is not a bad airport to have a layover in. We actually had two layovers since our flight from Brussels to Lyon had to turn around and go back due to engine problems. Our first taste of non-Senegalese beer was Belgian...not bad.|
When we arrived in France, it was Christmas Eve, so we dove right into the fancy cuisine. The next photos will take you through courses from several of our amazing meals.
|Of course, no French meal is complete without a cheese course. In Senegal, no refrigeration=no good cheese. My family actually doesn't know what cheese is.|
|Quennelle, a traditional dish from Lyon, eaten at a cutesy Bouchon Lyonnais|
|My last name in Senegal is Tigana, so I freaked out about this wine. It was really good, too!|
|On my "List of Things to Do Before I Die" that was written on an airplane vomit bag on the way back from our trip to France when I was 18, one of the entries is "Eat Bouillabaisse", which is a specialty of Marseilles. At most places, Bouillabaisse was ridiculously expensive, and at one place had to be ordered 48 hours in advance. One restaurant had a fish stew that was prepared exactly the same as Bouillabaisse, there are just different fish. It was thus less touristy and more affordable--and still delicious. I'm counting it.|
|I'm not even embarassed to say that on our last night in Paris, we ate Tex-Mex. It was delicious. While the French cuisine we ate was amazing, no vacation is complete without a little taste from home.|