LES DEUX AMIS EN FRANCE
Visions of Monet and of Mountains • Saturday, June 10
Breakfast at the Hôtel aux Vieux Ramparts in Provins is splendid — a buffet of pastries and sausages, hard-boiled eggs and yogurt. The dining room is a magnificent stone-walled space, echoing the Medieval theme. It has redeemed itself, slightly, and DeLinda and I agree that it might possibly have been fun to stay here, were it not for the agenda at hand.
Today, we will travel some 300 miles south to Annecy, a town in the Alps just 45 minutes from Switzerland and an hour north of Italy. Ironically, at the same time I am in France, my sister is in Germany for school. In Annecy, we are in closer proximity than at home from Connecticut to Texas. But, Europe is like that. I could drive across the entire of country of France, for example, from its west coast to its eastern border in about as much time, relatively speaking and Paris traffic notwithstanding, as it would take me to drive from Connecticut to Durham, North Carolina.
This leg of our journey seems somehow easier, despite its length and our weariness. We are greeted in the morning by bright summer sun and blue skies. Along the way, we pass fields of glorious red poppies. These reminders of Monet are a constant, from the grand cypress trees that stand in symmetrical salute and the round-wheel haystacks set in flat fields, to these poppies that form ribbons of red in a sea of green.
Lunch at a rest stop on A6 provides a surprisingly delicious selection of buffet foods. A French smorgasbord along the highway? Magnifique!
Several hours later, we cannot miss the change in terrain. For hours, we have passed through rolling fields, with horizons reminiscent of the great open spaces of Texas. But slowly, as we drive south, hills appear in the distance. Small hills, then larger. Mountains and valleys demand an elevated roadway; we are someplace different. With each bend in the road, and each pass through carved-out tunnels, a new view appears. It is as if the land around us rises up so we must crane our necks now to see the sky.
In the distance, we see the Alps and La Tournette, the rocky mountain that notes the eastern border of Annecy. We have arrived.
We had imagined a small village at the base of the Alps. Singing nuns, perhaps? Snow, for sure. Our first glance of Annecy, as we attempt to find our hotel through the winding streets of this city, is not exactly what we expected. No nuns. No snow. And no hotel. We are lost.
“Parlais vous Anglais?” we ask the woman behind the counter in a pâtisserie along the road.
“Ah, non,” she replies, shaking her head.
“Nous voulons trouver…” DeLinda explains, handing her our directions.
“Ah, oui,” she says, as a barrage of strange words pour from her mouth. I do not hear left or right, gauche or droite, and notice no hand signals: go that way, turn there. We have been speaking and translating French for 10 days, but by this leg of our journey, favor English more often. Translating directions now seems impossible. We leave just as lost, and even more weary.
After several wayward gauches and driotes, we find our accommodations, the Hôtel Annecy Best Western International — by far the most American of hotels we stay at. It has a certain familiarity to it. Manufactured, much in the same way McDonald’s are put together to bring immediate recognition.
The room is small, but not as small as our first in Paris. It reminds me of a room one might share on a train or a cruise ship — a bathroom and a small closet line a narrow hallway, two beds around the corner. The best part? A balcony overlooking the Alps.
In confession, I write this narrative some two years after the trip. My notes of our journey exhausted themselves in Provins. The photos of this day in Annecy and our arrival show roof tops of the buildings outside our balcony. I do not recall if we napped after unpacking. If we explored the city. If we ate dinner, even.
What I do recall, quite clearly, is that this is the first time we see the night sky since leaving the U.S. ten days prior. The ringed moon rises up over the Alps and we stand in awe.
• • •
Les Deux Amis En France, ©2011 Jen Payne. All rights reserved.
• C’est La Vie
• La Plus Longue Journée
• À Travers La Ville
• Petits Oeuvres D’art
• Escalier au Ciel
• Plus Escaliers et Alors Nous Arrêtons
• Le Voyage de la Route!
• Les Américains
• Saints et Soldats
• Tapisserie et Tripe
• Sur La Route Encore
Photos ©2011, Jen Payne, DeLinda Fox.