Picnic aboard the TGV en route from Paris to Provence.

On our way from Paris back home to Rome, we stopped in Provence to spend the weekend with our fellow sabbaticallers and dear friends, Inge-Marie, Jim, Lucia, and Eleanor. We’ve already gotten to see them far more regularly in Europe than when we are all living in the US. Flying from Italy to France is a lot easier than going from Madison, WI to Storrs, CT! We have been sharing the joys and stresses of moving abroad as a family (see their blog for details: MansfieldToMarseille). But our experiences have been different in that we are living in the center of a major city and their family chose to live in a small village between Aix and Marseille. We were excited to see them and get a taste of what small-town sabbatical is like. Plus Eli and Nell were extremely excited to spend time with long-time, familiar, and English-speaking friends!

The weather was uncharacteristically cruddy – it rained the entire time. But it didn’t matter in the least! Our hosts are fantastic cooks (we have wonderful memories of poached salmon, home-made tarte tatin, crepes made from a funky electric gadget, and tasty wines- fruity rosés and crisp sparkling whites), and their lovely house was super-cosy in the rain with a wood-burning fireplace. Eli and Nell even got to attend the birthday party of a neighborhood boy, where the cake was reported to be fantastic!

On Saturday night, their sitter came to watch all the kids, and Jim bravely drove us through monsoon rains to have a great dinner in Marseille. The restaurant reflected the multicultural aspects of the port city, with Indian, Moroccan, and other foreign elements integrated into the French cuisine. More than anything, though, it was lovely to share the evening with dear friends. The next day the rain stopped just long enough for us to take a hike up the hills that back onto their property, which Eli says he especially enjoyed. The land was lush after the rains, and we took in the views that inspired Cézanne. We drove to Aix-en-Provence for lunch, eating outside undeterred by the rain, under heat lamps and awnings, by the Cours Mirabelle.

An unexpected, but very memorable, part of our journey was the trip home. It turns out that en route to the Marseille airport, our plane had been hit by lightening so we were not able to return to Rome. It’s true that the airline industry is complicated and most European carriers receive huge subsidies . . .but because of EU regulations, they sure treat stranded passengers much better than US carriers! There was no hassle at all. They arranged an additional unscheduled flight for us the next morning, gave us drink coupons to use while they sorted out the situation, arranged a hotel for us, and handed us all hotel and meal coupons for dinner and breakfast the next day. BUT. . .

When we checked into the airport hotel, we were told that because it was Sunday evening, the restaurant was closed and there was nowhere else nearby to eat. They had called their chef at home and told him about the cancelled flight and he had agreed to come in and prepare a three course dinner with wine for the stranded passengers (all compliments of Air France) – but dinner would not be ready until 9 PM. It was getting late for the kids, so at around 8:15 Seth stopped by the restaurant. It was packed with diners! Thinking the chef had worked faster than expected, we asked to be seated, but were told “no. . .not until 9 PM”. We were a little confused… if there was no chef until 9, how were all these people dining? We never figured it out. In any event, the dinner was just terrible and food didn’t arrive at our table for nearly an hour, but it provided us with a memory that continues to make us all chuckle- though you probably had to be with us late at night, after hours in the airport, in this pathetic hotel dining room, to fully appreciate it.

For some reason, the waiter had difficulty accepting our claim that we did not want to eat the roast rabbit that had been prepared for the stranded passengers. Though we kept politely telling him that we did not eat rabbit, he kept presenting Jenny with not two, not three, but four different platters of roast rabbit—one about every 20 minutes! After the fourth plate of rabbit arrived, we were all laughing uncontrollably. We finally told the waiter that we were exhausted and would skip dessert. He said fine, and as we stood up, he appeared immediately carrying four desserts. At least there was no check to pay.

We had a good laugh and went to sleep fantasizing about the pasta and pizza awaiting us back in Rome, remembering our fun weekend with our dear friends, and looking forward to Inge-Marie, Jim, Lucia, and Eleanor visiting us in Rome next month.