Timeline: October 25th – 28th
Up early for our long drive to Montigny (we’d reconfigured the car the day before, putting the bikes inside) we hit the breakfast room promptly at 7am and filled up for the road ahead. It was still a bit dark out as we backed the car from the narrow space behind the hotel and in doing so I scraped the lower right side of the front bumper on a small planter, a condition we wouldn’t notice until we dropped the car off in Antwerp.
This would be an expensive day of travel, with tolls running much more than I’d originally calculated. Starting in Spain we’d been using a handy web sight, Via Michelin; much like using Google Maps or a GPS, you plug in your starting and ending points, check a box for special conditions (avoid tolls), and it calculates 2-3 routes and the anticipated cost for each, a combination of gas and toll expense.
For this trip, we had a choice of paying less tolls, but taking 11-12 hours, or paying more and taking 9. We decided to pay more and save time. The biggest hit came as we left Italy and crossed into France through the Mt. Blanc Tunnel; when I performed the initial calculation I didn’t think we’d be using this route but it ended up being the one our GPS chose. We pulled up to the Mt. Blanc tollbooth and without blinking an eye paid out 43.10 Euros to navigate the tunnel’s 7-mile length. Total tab for tolls that day would be 123.60 Euros or nearly 160 dollars, a great deal of money but in this instance, worth the expense given the amount of distance we needed cover.
The drive itself went smoothly, all of it on well-paved high-speed freeway, mostly three lanes wide. We averaged around 120 kilometers or 75 miles per hour of fairly relaxed driving. Traffic was a little heavy coming into Montigny, but not unmanageable and we easily navigated the by now familiar streets leading up to Francois’ apartment. In no time we were parked and enjoying our first cold beers with this good friend.
Dinner that night would be at a nearby Chinese restaurant with buffet style service that included sushi. It was a refreshing change after our Italian centric diet of the prior month as we ate our fill of surprisingly good steam table offerings. Francois would leave early Sunday evening for two nights in Montpellier, where he has a teaching assignment. His relocation plans are proceeding apace and he hopes to move there by the first of 2015. This put a different cast on our stay, as we knew it would be our last in Montigny in addition to being the second to last of our trip.
We relaxed all day Sunday, getting caught up on the computer, reading, taking advantage of long conversations with Francois. Later in the day we ate one of his frozen food masterpieces from Picard’s, a chicken based pasta dish in a creamy sauce, quite tasty. Francois took off for the train station in the early evening, leaving Joanna and I to our own devices for the next two days.
We awoke early enough Monday morning and I made coffee while Joanna went down the street to the local Boulangerie/patisserie for some good things to eat for breakfast. Later in the morning, with delightful weather to greet us, we took our last bike ride in Europe, duplicating in part the route we took the day before Beverly came into Paris. I had a similar ride to this, not long after my Dad passed away in 2006. Joanna and I had gone down to San Diego to meet with Beverly and my brother Chuck to go through Dad’s effects.
Joanna and I rode out of Dad’s trailer in El Cajon and headed east on a route long familiar to us, eventually getting to La Cresta Rd, which turns into Mountain View and to a fast downhill to the intersection of it and Harbison Canyon Rd. I stopped to wait for Joanna to catch up to me and at that moment, the magnitude of my Father’s death and the knowledge that we were riding this route, possibly for the last time, slammed my emotions and I simply fell apart for awhile. Joanna joined me, I pulled myself together and we rode back to the trailer, the mourning I’d felt put back in its place. Our ride in Montigny that Monday wasn’t as mournful, but it did come tinged with the knowledge that it would be the last time we’d ride there, the last time we would visit.
We returned to the apartment and spent the afternoon cleaning the bikes and rearranging the car for its trip home in a week. That night we walked up to the outdoor mall a few blocks away and decided to have dinner at the local Brasserie for a final French experience. We had the simple type of meal a place like that serves, a chicken dish for me and pasta for Joanna, both unremarkable and a half carafe of the house wine, finishing with two cups of coffee and a pedestrian apple dessert. The tab came to 51 Euros, nearly 61 dollars for a meal comparable to something we might have gotten in the States at a Marie Callender’s, only there the pie would have been better. Lesson learned; sometimes every meal on a trip is not a masterpiece.
For our last day in Montigny, Tuesday, we did a day trip into Paris. Followers of the blog know how much this city means to us and although it was not a picture perfect day weather wise, it was nice way to finish up our time in France, knowing that with Francois’ anticipated move to Montpellier, we wouldn’t soon be returning to Paris. We made a brief stop at the Apple Store in the Carrousel du Louvre mall (to debug my phone reception) and then walked up Rue de Rivoli, jogging left at the Place de la Concorde to the Champs Elyssee to end at our destination, the Petit Palais.
We spent a couple of hours there, completing the tour we cut short back in July when we visited with Beverly, then walked over to the Champs Elyssee – Clemenceau metro stop for the ride up to La Defense and the RER back out to Montigny. We stopped off at the Carrefour for picnic supplies for dinner upon Francois’ return that evening, including a couple of bottles of wine and a liter of Jack Daniels.
We whiled away our time until 9pm or so when Francois returned, and we plowed through our picnic dinner, drank most of the two bottles of wine and proceeded over the course of the next three hours to finish off half the bottle of Jack and engage in the type of spirited conversation we always share with him, an interaction I will miss more than I can say. This had truly been the bonus of our trip, getting to see and spend so much time with this old friend. How often do we get to spend that much quality time with people we’ve known for years, so many of us separated by a distance that precludes any type of regular time together.
With just a four-hour drive ahead of us to Antwerp, we dawdled the next morning over another fine French breakfast that included pastries from down the street, fresh baguettes, meat and cheese leftover from the night before and plenty of coffee. We bade Francois farewell and hit the highway north, Paris in our rearview mirrors but always in our hearts, the city of lights and our good friend Francois
Via Michelin: http://www.viamichelin.co.uk/web/Routes
Mt. Blanc Tunnel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont_Blanc_Tunnel
Apple Store Louvre: http://www.apple.com/fr/retail/carrouseldulouvre/
Petit Palais: http://www.petitpalais.paris.fr/en