Our first Saturday in France was rather relaxing. We did not plan anything particular and decided to make it a slower day. First, we drove to the nearby village Saint Suliac and walked around it for a little bit. Voted one of France’s best small village, its quaint and right on the Rance river. With narrow cobblestone streets and very hilly, it wasn’t quite kid friendly to set up a picnic. Since we couldn’t find a place to relax there, we drove off to a different town called Dinard. Right at the entrance of the city we found a huge park with a playground and set down our picnic blanket. Leo & Mila were running around and releasing some energy, while Rick and I enjoyed some down time. Right across the street from the park, there was a spectacular beach looking back at St Malo, so we decided to walk over and take a picture. Leo and Mila had a different idea and before we realized what was happening, both kids were swimming in the water. Even though we were not dressed for the beach, we decided to soak up the sun and enjoy the day (another perfect weather day, sunny & 79). We met a friendly couple from Ireland and stuck up good conversation for a while. Our kids were the same ago so they were able to play the entire afternoon while we conversed. It was really cool to watch Leo & newly made friend act as though they’ve know each other forever. They played soccer, dug holes in the sand and climbed rocks, while Mila and her buddy waded in the water.
Once we got home, Rick fired up the grill and Rick an amazing barbecue of pork, salmon, and hot dogs. He loves to BBQ, and it was so cool that our place has one, so he felt right at home on the grille making our feast.
Running on a bit of adrenaline after such a fantastic day, we decided to push our spirits and take in a beautiful sunset on the coast. Our host had recommended a great hike, Pointe du Grouin, in Cancale. We had planned to make a full day of this excursion but decided the night was too perfect not to try and catch a sunset at the tip of the World. The sun sets at 10:15pm this time of year, so we knew we’d test the kids at this point. We packed up the car and headed out at about 8:30 pm where we drove about 25km to get to the parking area. From there, its a 1km walk to get to the Pointe. It is at the westernmost tip of the Bay of Mont St-Michel, and its brilliant location and unabated views of the coast allows for spectacular sublime viewing of Le Mont St Michel, the Channel Islands, and the Herpin Rock. We hiked to the very end of the rocks, soaking in the moment, and witnessing a breathtaking sunset. As the sun was setting on this perfect day, we experienced our first wildlife encounter. As we were starting to head back to the car, right on our pathway was a fox! Now Leo is complaining for bed time but Mila has found her second wind, for those parents who are familiar with “Dora the Explorer”, Mila sees the fox and immediately shouts at the top of her lungs, SWIPER! It was such a hilarious moment, one Rick got on camera so we’ll upload the video. It was such a great ending to our finest day together.
After using every available minute on Saturday, we decided to use Sunday as a relaxation day and return to our beach bum roots. The weather was once again perfect, 82 degrees and not a cloud to be seen. After breakfast, we headed to a beach called St-Cast-le-Guildo. This little paradise is located about 30 km from where we were staying. The beach was huge! At the first glance, it reminded us of the beaches in California. The water was a bit cold but once you got in, it was very refreshing. Leo and Mila build sand castles and enjoyed this pristine beach. I know we have only been here 4 days but I am in love with this area of France to the point, that I am willing to learn french, buy a little cottage and settle down here for a good while :)
Our first official day in France was spent in the beautiful city of Saint Malo. This historic town is located in the northwestern part of France on the Gulf of St Malo (English Channel) and is simply breathtaking. The picturesque homes, historic architecture, and vibrant streets are all part of a city that is defined by its relationship to the sea. The tides here change the landscape so dramatically that water levels can rise up to 15 feet.. The bay literally turns into a marsh area where you can “walk on water” during low tide and hike to islands off shore. There is even a man made pool in the ocean that both Leo & Mila would take a dip in (more on that later). Both Rick and I could not get over the crystal clarity of the sea. The bright blues and emeralds that we grew accustom to living in south Florida seem to follow us to northern France. Honestly, I thought we were down south in a place like Nice or Cannes with the type of water. The gulf leads to La River Rance, where you’ll find tons of boaters, kayakers, and explorers enjoying life on the water. We found this as an excellent spot to start our adventure.
The first part of our day took us back in time, reliving the Battle of St Malo, fought on August 6, 1944 during World War II. Chances are if you’re reading this, you’ve had a family member who was impacted by or spent time fighting the battles for freedom during this period. My family was at the forefront of those battles in Communist Poland while Rick had grandfathers who both fought in the Pacific. While we’re 2 hours from the beaches of Normandy, we were able to learn about the battle of St Malo as we strolled through the cobblestone alleys of Cite d’Alet or Citadel, which sits on a peninsula directly across from St Malo. We walked around the Fortress taking in views of the Sea below. We then entered its walls where there is a museum and took a brief tour of a German bunker, learning that most of this fort was captured by the Americans and allied forces via airstrike. The battle left standing only 180 of the 865 buildings across the bay at St Malo following the surrender of the Germans. (Rick put together a short video showing a glimpse of the Fort - )
The afternoon took us over to the center of St Malo (called Intra-Muros), where we took in a late lunch seaside. We found a beautiful spot on the beach, outside the walls of the city and enjoyed the magical scenery. This idyllic moment was ruined for me when I got robbed by a flying seagull! This crazy bird spotted me chomping down my ham & cheese sandwich and decided to have a piece. It flew straight at me and took it right out of my hands! Can you believe it?! I did not even have a chance to fight back! Maybe the seagull was trying to tell me something about my diet…from now on I will order salads! After this crazy and rare encounter we all walked down to the beach. Leo and Mila did not care that the water was freezing (probably in the 50s!) and took a dip. It felt amazing to put my feet in the sand, just like good old Florida :)
The next day began with a little fiasco. Our car has a self starter, therefore, you do not need to use the keys. However, you need them in the car in order to open the door. So as we were putting the kids into their car seats, Rick left the car keys on the roof of the car and completely forgot about them. We drove off for the day and as we were driving on a French country road, we heard a strange sound coming from the top. At first, it did not bother us but after a few seconds, Rick realized that the sound was our car keys falling off the roof. Immediately, Rick pulled over and ran back along the road. I will admit that we have more luck than wisdom because he managed to find the keys lying on the side of the road. I don’t even want to think what could have happened if we lost them.
After that small bump, we headed towards amazing Le Mont St Michel (about 45 km from our village). A World UNESCO site, this beautiful monastery dates back to 700 and is owned by the sea. Surrounded by the bay of Mont St Michele, this structure rises from every view point of Brittany France. We visited at low tide, allowing us to walk from our car park along the bay and around the structure to appreciate the beauty and magnificence of this architectural masterpiece. Rick kept commenting how he felt like he was in a Batman movie and in the city of Gotham. We spent the whole day walking around, climbing all the way to the top (with two kids, stroller, baby carrier, and a backpack - one heck of a workout; also, once you park the car you need to walk 3km to get to the monastery. Our legs left every inch of that adventure). The weather was on our side, partly sunny, cool and a bit of a breeze. We finished the day with a picnic on a grassy area of the monastery, not too shabby, right?! We created a short video and slide show; however due to very slow internet connection we could not upload it yet...coming soon!
After spending an amazing 3 weeks in Germany and Poland with friends and family, we said our goodbyes and officially began our world adventure. Our first stop: France. Rick and I honeymooned in Paris and we both agreed France was the perfect starting point to our adventure. We were excited about the thought of exploring the French countryside and vast landscapes. We took our flight from Warsaw to Paris and everything went smooth to touchdown. The kids were great on the plane and it looked like a perfect beginning of our trip…but, there is always a but.
Once we arrived in Paris we headed to Hertz rental car where we booked our vehicle for the next 3 months. Everything was moving in the right direction until the gentleman working the counter told us that they no longer had an automatic car for us, that we would be given a manual car! Can you believe that??!! We had reserved and paid for an automatic car and he said because we were an hour late they gave our car away! At first, I thought it was a joke but I realized that he was serious. The kids were running around like little ants, we were exhausted and hungry and neither of us know how to drive a manual car. Rick has never driven a manual vehicle, and I, well, I failed my driving test 5 times in Poland. I remember back in the days when I was learning how to drive a manual car, it stopped in the middle of the road because I did not add enough gas and I started to cry while all the cars behind me kept beeping at me. So no, I was not going to drive a manual car through France and other European Countries.
Surprisingly, we both kept it together and did not get mad or frustrated. The agent explained they would have an automatic car for us the next day. Sometimes you have to roll with the punches and that’s exactly what we did. We took a taxi and walked into a nearby hotel and asked for the room. Fortunately they had one room available and thats where we stayed for the night. That night we dined at all places…McDonalds!!!!! First time Rick and I have been to McDonald’s in probably over 10 years. How is it possible that our first dinner in France was consumed at all places, McDonalds! Sometimes you just go with the flow. We got a pretty good night sleep, probably because we all were so exhausted. The next day we went back to Hertz and the new agent had no idea about a reserved automatic car for us. Luckily she was super nice and spoke with her manager who arranged a car with an automatic transmission. And they even upgraded us to an amazing Peugeot Station Wagon with GPS and many other goodies that we did not request. We left Hertz very happy and drove off to a little village called St Pere (about 5 hours West of Paris) in the Brittany region of France. Stay tuned because the best is yet to come...
My older brother was kind enough to give us his car for our 2nd week in Poland. It’s an automatic, since both Rick and I do not know how to drive a manual vehicle. We first drove to the city of Bialystok. It’s located on the very east side of the country, about an hour from the border of Belarus. My mom was born and grew up here, and my sister Kasia and older brother Piotrek went to college there. Before I came to USA, I also lived there for about 6 months. We booked a cute apartment located in the heart of the city. The first night, we were hosted by friends of my parents for a lovely dinner. Pan Zbyszek (Mieroslav for those who attended our wedding in Poland) cooked an amazing meal for us; sausage, bacon wrapped kielbasa, and roasted pig. After consuming way too much food & vodka, we all took a stroll through Branicki Palace and Park and stopped on Lipowa street to get some ice cream (like we really needed it, ha). It was a beautiful night that makes you very thankful for all the friends in your life. The next day we drove to Suprasl (a small village 12 km outside of Bialystok) where we visited my aunt & uncle. We took the kids to a local beach where they could play at a park along the river. Later on we drove back to the city and took a family walk. That night I met up with one of my high school friends and enjoyed a wonderful night with my old pal :)
The next day our friend Mauricio arrived by train to Bialystok from Germany. We picked him up from the train station and grabbed lunch. From there, we drove to a village called Wojnowo (Mazury Region). My sister’s in-laws live there and they were organizing a huge celebration for The First Communion of both my nieces. They own a bed and breakfast and we all stayed there for the weekend. Mazury is a beautiful region filled with lakes, rivers, forests, and little towns. It felt like a reunion since my entire family came to attend the Communion. Thursday morning, Rick and Rafel went for a kayak adventure on the Krutynia river and I joined them later on. It was a perfect day; clear, sunny, and cool. The evening brought a perfect sunset over the river. We stayed up well past our bedtimes enjoying the moment. Friday was preparation day for the First Communion. We all pitched in to get the place ready for the event. Saturday, we attended mass and after church, the party began. Communion is a big event in Polish culture, and the party is even bigger. We ate, drank, and danced well into the night, finishing up at 5 am…Polish hospitality has no limits!
Sunday felt like a marathon since we had to drive back to my hometown of Sokolow from Wojnowo (2.5 hours) where we would have Mila's baptism that evening. I am not sure how we all got back in time but the Baptism went according to plan. My mom did an excellent job preparing an eloquent dinner. We all enjoyed an amazing meal and evening together. The kids played outside and bonded even more. It is a bittersweet feeling knowing that we’ll be departing for a year and separating from family and friends in Poland. We had the time of our life here. Thank goodness for the Internet, WhatsApp and FaceTime, those little technology miracles that will keep us connected throughout our trip.
The last three week felt like a ride on the bullet train and we are very tired. Nevertheless, it was the best visit to my homeland yet. I got to spend three amazing weeks with my friends and family, laughed till tears ran down my eyes, and made countless new memories. I will treasure these moments forever and if anytime during our trip I feel lonely or homesick, I will look back and remind myself about all of these amazing people who stood behind us. Love you all and please, come meet us somewhere during our wanderlust adventure!
Na zdrowie, Cheers, Prost, Salut!