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Touring Chateaux In Northern France

On The Road Around Paris

An old friend always says: “Leave your worries where you board the plane.”

So the deadlines, the off-schedule projects, the new ideas we just haven’t been able to carve out time to pursue…they’re all in Panama City.

I’m in Paris, where, thanks to the effects of jet lag, which seem to expand with my age, I couldn’t remember my worries even if I wanted to. I’m floating through the day in a haze, cheerful but a little disoriented.

Lief is our resident navigator, but he’s back home in Panama City, trying to make progress on some of those off-schedule projects. I’m traveling alone with our two children, who have assured me they’ll handle everything. We’re motoring around France just outside Paris according to a preset itinerary with meetings scheduled in a half-dozen different places related to two big agendas. First is a chateau hunt; we’re shopping for a venue for our daughter’s wedding next summer. Second is a meeting, which we had this morning, with the admissions director for the school from which Jackson hopes to graduate in two-and-a-half years.

Kaitlin is driving; Jackson is manning the GPS.

I’ve been relegated to the backseat of our rented Peugeot, instructed to sit back, enjoy the passing scenery, and keep my comments to myself. I’m trying to avoid acknowledging the “Driving Miss Daisy” inferences.

“Do you know this guy?” Jackson asks Kaitlin as he’s programming our next destination into the GPS, referring to the song that’s just started playing on the radio.

“This is Black M. He’s a big new French rapper…”

“Yes, I love him,” Kaitlin says. “Wait, do I turn right or left here?”

“You go that way.”

“Which way?!”

“Ah, we should have turned there. That’s OK. The GPS is recalculating…”

This morning as we returned to the car after meeting with the admissions lady, Jackson noticed the road sign in front of the school where we’d parked:

“Did you realize that this was a drop-off-only zone?” he asked Kaitlin as he slid into the front passenger seat.

“No, I didn’t,” Kaitlin replied. “I thought it was a pay zone.”

“But we didn’t pay,” Jackson pointed out.

“No, we didn’t,” Kaitlin agreed.

“If the gendarmes pull us over,” Jackson said, “let’s pretend we don’t speak French.”

“Why would the police pull us over?” Kaitlin asked.

“I can think of any number of reasons the police might pull us over at this point,” I offered from the backseat.

Conversation is about French music and French food. We discuss what we’ve just eaten (crepes and Nutella for breakfast) and what we’d like to eat next (roasted chicken and French green beans). Jackson had his first escargot the other night but refuses the pate.

It’s autumn, which, around Paris, means gray days, regular drizzle, and chilly to cold temperatures. We’re enjoying the contrast to Panama City, wrapping up in scarves and sweaters before setting out each morning and sitting by open fires in our hotel lobbies in the evenings.

I can’t remember how I made trips like this one years ago, pre-technology, and Kaitlin and Jackson can’t process the thought.

Kaitlin dropped Jackson and me outside a shop our first afternoon. She planned to circle around and return for us in five minutes. That’d be easier, we all agreed, than finding a place to park.

Jackson and I ran into the shop and were back out in fewer than five minutes. No Kaitlin…no Kaitlin…no Kaitlin…

We hadn’t yet configured our phones for use in France (we need to buy new French SIM cards), so we couldn’t call Kaitlin. Instead, we walked two blocks to a cafe where we ordered drinks, logged into the Wi-Fi, and sent a Skype message to Kaitlin…who had likewise stopped at a place with Wi-Fi, received the Skype, and replied to ask: “Where are you?”

Jackson WhatsApp’d her a map pinpointing our location in the cafe.

“On my way,” Kaitlin replied.

We’ve seen two chateaux so far, one near Fontainbleau, the other closer to Paris and the international airport.

France is lousy with chateaux, and many try to pay for their keeping by serving the wedding trade. No two are alike. Location makes an important difference, but there are many others. Some chateau, like the one we visited first, are of modest size and stature, meaning a cozy feel. If the management of one of these smaller chateaux is good, the experience of visiting can be charming, comfortable, and memorable.

Others, like the one where we’re staying tonight, are full-scale businesses set up to process as many weddings as possible. Right now, downstairs, two young Indians are being married. Their wedding parties and guests filled the lobby and surrounding rooms as we and other non-wedding guests were checking in.

“This place doesn’t seem very private,” Jackson observed.

On the other hand, the grounds of this chateau rival those at Versailles. We’re going to take a tour around them now, before it gets too dark…

Kathleen Peddicord

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