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National Lampoon’s European Vacation Part Deux (France)

Author: Gretchen G.M.
Date of Trip: January 2001

My friend,Marilyn, bought a terrific little house in a village called Laroque des Alberes, in France. Our family of five (three “kids” are 21, 19 and 17) thought it would be an amazing opportunity to see that part of the world, and rented it for 12 days. I am a super organized person, and thought I had it all planned out. Got decent tickets to Barcelona, an inexpensive, but great place for five for a couple of nights there, round trip train tickets to Perpignan and back; an excellent deal on a rental vehicle and even a hotel room near the airport for our last night. I had copies of everything, euros and even took french lessons. Were we ready.

The flight from Oregon to Barcelona was long, but doable. The misadventures began at BCN when we went to get our luggage. Our daughter’s suitcase was missing. For those of you with teenage daughters, you know…this was an OMG situation. The airline discovered it had been sent to Tokyo. Huh?!? Okay, I gave them our address in Laroque, since they said it would take a couple of days. So off to the hotel. Barcelona and the Next To Hotel were fantastic. The Picasso museum was amazing, the people were great and we really like it there. Found a few clothing items for my daughter, so her mood improved margainally. Then it was time to take the train to Perpignan. We knew the metro stop near the Estacion Franca, but it took a very kind exchange student to lead us there. Then on the train and it was very cool.

We get to Perpignan. My husband leaves his Oregon State hat on the train, but runs back, and his seatmate hands it to him. She was very nice. You will see how nice later. Then we are in the station, knowing we have a bit of a wait before the car rental agency opens (okay, I screwed up with the timing-european time v. american time). Then my husband realizes he left the camera on the train! The Perpignan station gives us a number for Montpellier, but no luck getting through. Okay, we have Griff’s camera (19 year old) let’s get food, then the van. Note to folks renting vehicles; in France, most cars are stick. And there is a little collar on the stick you have to pull up to get it to go in reverse. And there are LOTS of roundabouts and LOTS of motorcycles, so be prepared. We stop at an Orange (ATT) store, as my phone charger had blitzed, and managed to communicate with the nice guy there to buy a car charger. Then to Laroque and more nice people. We could not park near Marilyn’s place, as it is part of the old village. So five of us are hauling our bags up the hill, and as we round the corner near the church, a newly married couple walks out, confetti is thrown, cigarettes lighted up and it is a fun scene. But we also know we have to get through these folks to get to our place. Then a nice woman comes up, speaking rapid french to me. A “plus lentement, s’il vous plait” and she figures we are Americans and gets her husband to lead us up to our place. Did I say the people there are nice yet?

Then to the local Carrefour store for supplies. Again, very helpful folks. As we are leaving I realize I do not have the rental van key. OMG. Taxi back to the place and dealing with the rental agency and the extra key is in PARIS? And there are no other cars available? I feel like an idiot, the guys were supposed to go back to Perpignan for a rugby match and no buses run on Sundays. What to do? Fortunately, Marianne appeared. Marilyn’s friend lived in a village near ours, speaks french, english and german, and got us a little car for a few days. She was an angel. Aren’t people in france nice? We went to the sea. Argeles Sur Mer. Had to find a bathing suit for the teenage daughter. There was a little shop near there, we found a cute suit (how interesting; they sell lots of bottoms by themselves, but not tops? wonder why?) a little beach dress and a beach towel. The owner through in a cute little beach bag for free and gave us a discount. How nice.

The sea was AMAZING. Yes, there are topless folks everywhere. All sizes, shapes and ages. And you just get used to it. The sand was more like pulverized pebbles, which I actually liked better than our Oregon sand. I found beach glass and it was perfection. We had my daughter’s birthday dinner in Collioure. It is the most charming town, and we all loved the ambiance. It is touristy, in that there are lots of shops, but it is an artsy tourism, with live performers, beautiful artwork and great food. A huge dessert and great brothers who joked her out of her lack of suitcase (and thus lack of cute outfit she had bought for her birthday dinner) put Abby and all of us in a great mood. And then we had a call; her suitcase was coming the next day!

A hike in the Pyrenees was next. Right out our door, an old mill and a hot hike with incredible views. Suitcase arrives and we are good to go! More beach, more Collioure, a trip to the cloister at Arles Sur Tech and crepes in Ceret and the Palais des Royales in Perpignan and then the Carrefour store calls. Guess what-they found the van key! They had kept my phone number and didn’t blow off the femme americaine. We jetted down to the store and I was so happy the lady gave me the french hug and kissed my cheeks. Nice. So it is all good now, right? Suitcase, van and we still have a a camera.

The local boulangerie knows me well, and the people there are super friendly. Even gave us a cool little candle holder and candle for the cake I bought for Abby’s birthday. Every other day, I am going for a run (early because of the heat) and I see a few runners and tons of serious cyclists. And there is no better way to see an area than to go for a run. There is a local olive oil place, with incredible oil. A local almond place with deadly almond brittle. Gorgeous flowers everywhere. Our village has a great little pizzaria and a wednesday market with food and flowers and other goodies.

On Friday, we go into Collioure for a pasta dinner and start planning the weekend…then my husband comes down with a HIGH fever. And then diarrhea. Then Griff gets sick. One bathroom, mind you. Sigh. But Ben (21 year old) had really wanted to go to Ceret for the running of the bulls, so Ben, Abby and I drive to Ceret. A guy in a bar shows Ben where to go. It is party central there, and a few semi-sober people are getting ready to run. This is not like Pamplona; they come out with horses and kind of guide the bulls. And my tall, very blonde and very American looking son makes some instant friends. An American in Ceret! These guys are hysterical. And Ben has a great time and ends up covered in bull poop. Only fair. Unfortunately, he then gets sick, too. Only Abby and I escape. Again, did I say we just had the one bathroom? I am spending way too much time cleaning…although doing laundry wasn’t so bad when you can peg out stuff and it dries quickly and smells wonderful. And the local pharmacie could not be more helpful. They worked with me and my pathetic french and their much better english The world cup has been going on this time. The guys had wandered down to the local bar, which was showing the games. What a way to experience travel. We had hoped to go to the Dali museum on Sunday and then hang out in Spain for the finals, but folks were still sick. So three of us went to Elne, and the church there and I fell in love with peacefulness of the setting. The marble is all carved, the cloisture area is filled with lavender and you can walk up to the top, and see for miles. It is so beautiful. So off to Spain and Figueres and the Dali museum. Worth the visit. A relaxing lunch outside ( i could live on bread, crepes and pain au chocolate, their salads and fresh fruit) and a drive up the Spanish coast. We see fields of sunflowers all facing the sun. So gorgeous and SO curvy!

And then to Carcassone. Nice highway, lots of rest stops, but even those nice rest stops are holes in the ground. Just so you know. But plenty of tp 🙂 And La Cite in Carcassone was fantastic. The self guided tour was worth every euro (and there are discounts), they had a really educational video you could watch and while it is touristy-so what. It was fun. I would have liked more time there. One last beach day, a party in the Place de Republique for 14 de juillet (they really like techno pop and american music. I was in hysterics watching grandmas and grandpas getting down to Lady Gaga along with the younger kids, who were trying to follow the dance moves of the girls dancing on stage with the dj’s). I will admit; i do NOT like pastis. ick. Sangria….well that’s a different story. Yum.

So, end of the trip, and to Perpignan. We drop off the van and go into the train station. I am looking up at the arrival/departure board, and see something worrisome. Lots of “a la’huere”s (0n time) but by our train is a word i do not recognize. I google the word. It means “remove”. Uh oh. Oh yes, the train is cancelled. What do I do? Argh, i wish i spoke more french. Fortunately, they had a very helpful person, and then an american who was fluent in french helped, and we ended up just fine.

The last night in Barcelona was great; excellent outside barbeque at the hotel (Mariott, which is nice when you are leaving-we could even get our boarding passes there, and they had a shuttle to the airport) and to the airport in time. I told the woman checking our luggage about the Tokyo snafu, and watched her as she carefully ensured all five bags were marked for PDX. Then off to our connecting flight in Amsterdam. Of course, the plane was late, we had little time to get to our connecting flight, and for some reason, Amsterdam does not have any sort of organization for folks trying to get through the passport check to get to other flights. So we are struggling through the masses and stressed and barely make our flight to Portland. But we do, so it is all good. But guess what? We arrive in Portland, and TWO bags are missing! Somehow they were sent to Minneapolis. Oh yeah, I can see how that would happen easily. At least we got them the next day, instead of the seven days it took to get the one in France. And then we recovered. And wished we could go back!

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