During our Fall Break in October, we were invited by one of Brian's colleagues to join her family for a few days in France. We began our trip in Paris, where we got to see Europe's most prestigious horse race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (popularly referred to as "the Arc"). Karen, Brian's colleague, is a huge horse enthusiast and had box tickets that she generously included us in. She helped us learn about the different horses and jockeys as we watched each heat, leading up to the finale. The winner goes home with a 5,000,000 Euro purse...unbelievable! Despite the unusually cold temperatures, the races, with its pomp and circumstance, were so different from anything we had seen before, we were completely enamored with every aspect of it. It was so incredibly interesting to take it all in.
We stayed in Paris for two nights and were able to explore the city for a while on Saturday too, when the weather was much more hospitable. We walked along the Seine River, noticing the French Statue of Liberty for the first time (I didn't even know they also had one!). Of course we had to see the Eiffel Tower and stayed up to watch the lights again, which went off two hours earlier than our last family trip...thank goodness! While we waited on the hill by the Trocadero Fountains, the girls ran around and played, we ate ice cream, and I helped Lauren wash off after she stepped ankle deep into a murky mud puddle. Paris is non-stop things to see and do, so it was nice to just relax in one of the best spots in the city.
After the race, we drove to Falaise in Normandy, where we stayed with Karen's family in her manor. We drove up in the dark to her home, and seriously could not believe this place. I don't think you could have wiped the smiles off of our faces because of the complete dreaminess of the property. Obviously, we couldn't wait to see it in the day. We stayed in the guest house, part of the 15 bedroom manor (!!!) and it felt so cozy and perfect. The previous owners used the property as a hotel, so the rooms were so nicely decorated appropriate to the period. Parts of the home were built in the 9th century and because of this, it was fortified, with thick stone walls, and small holes where you could shoot arrows at approaching enemies (storybook stuff!). It sat on several acres, complete with a live-in gardener, apple trees, pear trees, vegetable gardens, an old mill, herb gardens, rolling hills and a perfect little stream. Seriously, I could not make this stuff up. The stone fireplace in the family room was just the coziest thing I've ever seen. It was begging for me to curl up and read a book by it. Karen had a dog and a cat, so between that and exploring outside, the girls were endlessly entertained. Karen's son, Robert, also spoiled the girls with homemade hot chocolate, bespoke sodas, and games of hide and seek around the house.
We spent many hours gathered around the fire talking about so much good stuff. When we weren't doing that, we were all together in the kitchen preparing delicious huge dinners planned by Karen, who could be a professional cook with how amazing everything was. We had an authentic English Sunday dinner, with beef roast, Yorkshire puddings, cooked carrots, gravy and roasted potatoes. So, so good.
We went to the center of Falaise one day to explore the castle of William the Conqueror, the first of the Norman kings of England. The castle, which overlooks the town from its perch high up on the cliff, is the birthplace of William in the year 1028. We loved exploring the castle and the city that is its home.
We are so grateful for the generosity of Karen and her family, opening their doors to 4 crazy kids and their parents for a few days. We could not have picked a better place to stay and more hospitable people. They totally made this vacation amazing.