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Crossing the pont into Normandie
On the morning of April 15th (Happy Tax Day!), we actually had a harder time packing our car than usual, despite our having repacked all of our suitcases. This was because we now had six extra boxes ready for shipping, and we had to get them into the car with everything else in order to go to the Deutsche Post to mail them home. We ended up with two in between Cameron and Joss in the back and one on Gail's lap for the short drive into downtown Bad Gödesburg.
Fortunately, we found a clerk who spoke "ein bitte" English. This young woman explained that we didn't need all of the customs paperwork for our boxes of books (unfortunately after we had filled out all of the customs paperwork), but that two of them were slightly over the five-kilogram limit for books. We ended up on the floor of the post office with her borrowed tape and scissors, repacking books into yet one more box. Ultimately, she let us cut back into line, and our boxes -- all seven of them -- are now (hopefully) somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean on a slow boat. And we now have room in our car again.
At the Deutsch Post with our six (soon to be seven) boxes
As Gail remarked, the strangest thing about coming back into France is that it doesn't feel strange to be coming back into France. It's wonderful to recognize the language and the infrastructure again... to see our old friends the péages (toll booths), the aires (rest stops), and to have road signs that are standardized and color-coded. The biggest difference is that when we left the trees were all bare; now, everything is green and in bloom -- there are bright yellow fields of mustard all around. Unfortunately, spring also means allergies, and everyone's eyes are itching and irritated. (Poor Cameron is also suffering from asthma again -- the first time since we left home nine months ago. On one worried night in Bad Gödesburg, his lung capacity was down to less than half of normal.)
We had a fairly long drive to get across France to Normandy on the north coast, so we planned to stop somewhere in mid-afternoon at a hotel along the autoroute. In the morning, during a stop for petrol, Joss found his next stuffed animal: yet another hedgehog that he named "Bristles" (as in "Bristles from Brussels"). In the afternoon, we experienced yet another infrastructure failure, as we discovered that our Nomad Jukebox no longer works -- apparently something happened to it when Russell was downloading CDs back in Bad Gödesburg -- so we no longer have any music or audio programs during our long drives. (It seems to be a software problem, as the thing completely locks up while "library is loading" -- if someone wants to access the nomadworld.com site for us and help troubleshoot, we would greatly appreciate it!)
By 4:00 PM, we were starting to worry because we had not seen one single autoroute hotel, when we suddenly saw one -- and only one -- hotel at an upcoming aire outside of Amiens. It was a Hôtel Mercure, which completely unnerved Joss. (During our infamous one-hour search for accommodations in Paris' La Defense back at Christmas, we kept driving past the Hôtel Mercure. Every since then, every time Joss sees one, he completely freaks out.) Fortunately they had a room for four available, and we took it for one night, breakfast included. We left our car in the public parking lot of the aire, so we had to bring in all of the suitcases. We were also so sick of sandwiches by now that we went to the Arche Caféteria next door for dinner.
On April 16th, we figured that we had no more than three hours' drive to get to Normandy, so we took advantage of the 12:00 noon check-out time and didn't rush the morning. With our return to France, we were back to bread and jam for petit-dejeuner. Afterwards, Cameron and Joss devoted a couple of hours to their math workbooks, and we discovered that they are much more productive in the morning than they are in the afternoon. We finally hit the route again at 11:30 AM, spending the first half on the autoroutes and then exiting for the more scenic routes nationales. We stopped at a playground along the way where everyone played and stretched for more than an hour. Outside of Le Havre, we crossed the huge Pont de Normandie and entered Normandy.
The aire playground had many contraptions that we had never seen before, including this "earthquake" platform...
... and this deathtrap of a swing (Gail was completely dizzy after Russell spun it on her)
It was almost 5:00 PM before we finally pulled into Arromanches, where we will spend the next three nights at the Hotel d'Arromanches next door to the Restaurant "Le Pappagall". When we began this trip last July, we were afraid to have Cameron and Joss away from our side, and we panicked whenever we couldn't find rooms with connecting doors. Now, we have the boys in one room to themselves, while we are around the corner and down the hall in another room to ourselves. As Cameron and Joss went bed, we reminded them not to come and bother us in the morning until at least 8:30 AM. They have now locked themselves securely in their room from the inside, and mom and dad wouldn't be able to get in there even if we wanted to.
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