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Where No One (American) Goes...

Well, our trip didn't actually start like that. Or it did, but in a roundabout way!

We've had a dear set of friends for about 20+ years. We met when they moved in next door, and they moved back to their native England about 3 years after that and we've kept up over all the years, going to both their daughters' weddings (one here in the U.S., the other in Bristol, England). So when one of the daughters contacted me about their going on a trip to France to celebrate their dad's 70th birthday, I invited us as a surprise appearance! I think she asked as kind of a joke, but wasn't too surprised when I said it would be super fun!

Since we (mom, dad, 16 yr old) were going to be going all the way "across the pond," it also made sense to "do" a little Germany to help our teenage son lock in some of his German from school. We spent 5 days in Munich, where my husband and I had been several times before. Bavaria is great and Munich is easy to get around. We did some things we hadn't already done. Our younger son is interested in different things than our older one was. We visited the BMW Welt, Olympic Park (esp the indoor soccer facility), Allianz Arena and on a day trip to Salzburg, visited Hangar 7, owned by Red Bull.

Our German portion of the trip was great, and it was cool to hang out in some places drinking a beer and watching Euro Cup soccer. But, then it came time to venture over to France! We'd only ever been to Strasbourg, so it was a real adventure, especially considering that you can't get to where we were going - from anywhere!

The "main" birthday event was for Friday, so we planned to arrive Thursday afternoon. We flew from Munich to Lyon and then rented a car. We were the first to have rented this car, so it took a long minute to figure everything out it in it! My minor in French (from 1,267 years ago) is pretty rusty! I didn't bother with the car's GPS, as I'd put in the destination on my phone.

Our destination was Vallon Pont d'Arc, which is in the Ardèche region. It's located in the southeast part, sort of halfway between Lyon and Marseilles. Avignon is sort of nearby. It's a village of about 2000 people, but it's at the gateway of a natural bridge (the pont d'arc!) and a gorge. It's big area for climbing, biking, kayaking. We stayed in a complex of 7 gîtes, where the rest of the birthday/holidaymakers were staying. We were the only Americans in the birthday group; there were 2 Welsh folk, 5 people from Rep of Ireland, and 8 or so from England.

They had dragged the birthday boy back to the super marché on some pretext when I texted that we were close, and talk about surprised!! It was a highlight of my life to see his face when he walked up and saw us standing there! ~end of personal part

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(oops - I didn't realize that double tildes around a sentence = a strike through. Oh well)

So, on to the actual travel report:

Vallon Pont d'Arc is a tiny village. It does get busy during the summer (July, August) because of all the outdoor things there are to do. Although it wasn't quite high season yet, there were plenty of tourists, but I heard no American English. French tourists, our English group, a group of Scottish school kids on a trip, a few Germans (although I understand it's a popular place for German tourists during the "season"). The drive to get there from Lyon was harrowing once you get off the highway. After crossing the Rhône, you go through a few villages, the Up The Mountain and Down The Mountain. Spectacular views! Lots of lavender fields, and olive oil and wine is produced in abundance. In fact, the wine seller down the street from us had a set up where you bring your own container, and pick from one of about 7 wines or so....the hoses come out of the wall! A mere €1,55 or so per liter!

Of course, being France, even in this tiny village, there were about 4 bakeries I saw. How delightful to walk about a block and pick up fresh croissants and pain au chocolat for breakfast! A bar was right next to our gîtes, and the second day we went into watch soccer, the bartender remembered us and brought the same beers we'd had the day before.

It's been difficult to learn much about the village, but I'm pretty sure it's 1600's-ish or so (the city hall has Aubusson tapestries), and there is a nearby cave with paintings at least 30,000 years old. There's a museum to visit about that, but we didn't get to go.

We were truly off the beaten path, which turned out to be a great break after the big city of Munich. Getting out of town turned out to be a challenge, too! Our GPS would only guide us the wrong way on a one way street, so we ended up on some lanes so small I had to turn the side view mirrors in! And the GPS pronunciation of the French streets was hilarious (second only to how the poor thing is confused in New Orleans).

I did find it unusual that when we flew out of Munich to Lyon, at security they looked only at our boarding passes, and no ID. France has re-instituted border checks, so we did have to present passports upon arrival in Lyon. Seeing everything decked out for the Euro Cup was fun, and our plane was full of game-goers. French security looked at our ID as well. I'm glad I didn't pay attention to the Lufthansa website regarding luggage, though. We did our whole trip with carry-ons; dad with his backpack, me with a 21" Briggs/Riley roller plus tote and kid with 21" roller and small back pack. The flights were on smaller planes (CRJ) and our ticket class had restrictions on luggage size. We were able to bring everything on board the Munich/Lyon flight, and on the return, aboard a smaller jet, we were able to "gate check" our larger pieces. They wanted to take my tote, too, but I assured her that it would go under the seat. This plane is exactly the same one we take from our small town, so I'm very familiar with it! But, we avoided excess/checked bag fees, so W/W!

Home now, back to real life. :-( It was fun adventure, going no where we'd ever have selected, and my husband earns gold stars for his driving where he can't read the signs at all (he can manage "travel German" and decent Spanish) and sign reading and navigating was all up to me! While I loved the French part of our trip, the road signs system could really take a page from Germany or the U.S.! In the villages at the roundabouts, the road number was the smallest part visible!