Traveling solo with my daughters is something I’ve done since they were babies. It’s not unusual to find us in the car, traveling to Spokane for some “big city” time, journeying to our cabin on the river or headed to my parents’ house for a visit. When my oldest was 10 months old I flew solo with her to Boston to visit my sister. By the time my second child was born, my sister had moved to San Francisco. So I bundled up my youngest when she was six months old and flew to California with her. A few years ago the girls and I flew from our hometown to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We got through customs, hailed a taxi and arrived at our resort in one piece. We spent the night there alone, went to brunch the next morning and were joined later in the day by my husband who was traveling to Mexico from a work function in California. Needless to say, we’ve covered some ground with just the three of us. Sometimes it’s daunting to be the only adult with two young children. There’s a lot of “mom”, “mom”, “mom” and not a lot of peace and quiet. Over time, though, we’ve kind of figured this out. Plus, the girls are older now and pretty responsible and could basically travel by themselves if I would just get out of their way. And give them some money, of course.
If you’ve followed along with us so far, you also know that last summer the three of us flew across the Atlantic Ocean together, arriving in Paris. Once there, we met my mom who was staying in the flat with us. When she left a week later, my husband arrived for a few days. So while we flew there solo, we meet up with family once we arrived and were not ever truly left to our own devices.
Until the day my husband left for Budapest. Then it was just the three of us. We had already planned to leave that day for the Loire Valley for a mini getaway. So…..we locked up the apartment, bought some new leggings at Gap, (yes, Gap, hello global economy) and hopped a train to Tours. Despite all our adventures so far, I have to admit to some trepidation as we pulled out of Paris and chugged down the line towards the countryside. Staying in a big city is one thing. Most people speak fairly good English. There are grocery stores, wine shops, restaurants, hospitals. There’s a pretty good chance that all my needs and most of my wants will be met.
In the countryside things are a little more, well, French. English is NOT spoken by everyone. Restaurant interactions have to happen in French. Shopping and buying happen in French. It’s sudden immersion in a foreign country in a way that just doesn’t happen in the big city.
Despite all the potential for disaster, the biggest adventure in the French countryside at the end of the day was driving. Yep, driving. After taking the train from Paris, I rented a car in Tours and managed to get the three of us to our lodging at Chateau de Pray just outside of Amboise. Before picking up the car I did a quick Google search about “driving in France”. I spent approximately 30 seconds determining that driving in France looked pretty straightforward. Drive on the same side of the road as Americans? Check! Steering wheel and gas pedal on the same side of the car? Check! Automatic transmission? Check! Road signs with internationally recognizable symbols? Check! And most importantly, a navigation system. We were set. Our car was an adorable Mini Cooper that we immediately named Sweet Cheeks. As in”Sweet Cheeks, please deliver us in one piece.” Or “Sweet Cheeks, what were you thinking?” You get the picture.
At the end of the day, all I can say is thank goodness we were in very small towns with very little traffic. Turns out that a 30 second Google crash course on driving in France is completely inadequate. The assumptions I made about the road signs were like most assumptions. Ridiculous and inaccurate. My understanding of right of way is so not French. I got honked at. A lot. I was probably sworn at, too. Deservedly.
Of Sweet Cheeks’ many virtues, perhaps the greatest was her ability to find the shortest distance between two points. She could, for example, find the quickest way to get from our lodging to the chateau we were visiting that day. Never mind that her chosen route took us down the roughest, most narrow, most remote roads in the Loire Valley. No concern of hers. It was the shortest distance between two points. If I thought about it too much, it would freak me out a bit. What if we broke down miles from nowhere? What if we got a flat tire jostling through all those pot holes? What if she didn’t know where the hell she was going? I could have let my worry stop us. I could have stayed at our chateau, happily ensconced in good food, good wine and a warm swimming pool. I could have gone back to the known quantity of Paris, or even stayed home for that matter. But if I had done that, we would have missed out. We would have missed out on a grand adventure and a lot of laughs. We would have missed out on amazing food and wine. We would have missed out on spending some really great time together, enjoying life and each other. It turns out that some of my favorite memories with my girls are these times when it has just been the three of us. So we cranked up the volume on our road trip playlist, sang along, and trusted that Sweet Cheeks would take us where we needed to be.