After an exhausting & exhilarating hike in the Alps, you’d think we would want to take it easy the next day, right?! Well not quite. A 45 minutes drive from our house, we reached another beautiful spot - Lake Monteynard. This lake is an artificial water reservoir for the electric power station in the Alps and is a hit for water sports because of its constant breezes. There are two suspension bridges hanging 250 feet over the water. To access them you need to take a hike, about 3km one way. We could not pass the possibility of missing such an attraction and decided to visit it. We were all tired from the previous day and this walk was not the wisest thing to do. Leo was tired and wanted to be carried for most of it, we didn’t pack nearly enough water & food, and Mila threw a huge tantrum getting into the Poco. Nevertheless, we made it and the experience of walking on a suspension bridge, looking over a gorgeous turquoise water was pretty spectacular. We honestly didn’t stay long though as it was really hot again (85 & sunny) and we were all tired & hungry. We trekked back to the starting point and decided to relax by the lake. This place is a paradise for windsurfers, kite surfers, and other water sports fanatics buts its not really for the beach bums. Its very rocky and muddy but the view made it up for it. Although swimming in the lake is prohibited, we were too tempted and took a quick dip in the water, rules are not our best side :-) We returned home in the early evening and started to pack since the following day, we are heading on a prom boat to the island of Corsica.
The last four weeks on mainland France have been simply fantastic. France is such a beautiful place. We really felt like we saw all of it. Rick drove over 4,000km in 1 month and we visited some of the most diverse regions of the Country. The variety of a landscape of this country is just amazing; from the charming villages, spectacular beaches, magnificent mountains and magical valleys. France is a perfect destination for anyone who loves food & wine, wants to experience an amazing culture, and enjoys the outdoors. We had perfect weather - only 2 days of rain in the 30 days we were here. We will be departing soon, but I'm 150% sure that we will be back, sooner than later…
Tidbits from spending one month in France:
Our next destination was a little village in the French Alps called Saint Ismier, near the large mountainous city of Grenoble. School is out in France and so is the traffic. We hit a good 45 minutes of bumper to bumper to get there. But we witnessed something pretty cool. As we were getting on the highway, coming towards a toll booth, we saw probably 25-30 backpackers who were hitchhiking and trying to catch a ride. They all were young - recent high school or college grads looking to enjoy summer. What was really amazing is the fact that pretty much every car that had some space stopped and picked them up! We stopped and talked to a recent grad, who was trying to hop a ride to the beaches. As I saw these young adventurous kids throwing their thumbs up and hoping that someone stops, I got very nostalgic. I remember hitchhiking in Poland as a teenager. Me and my girlfriend were trying to get a ride to join our friends for camping. We did not have much luck for a good 2 hours and were already looking at a nearby barn to put our heads down, since it was getting dark. Suddenly, we saw a car approaching us and got really excited. Well, it was a Police car hahaha. We were so afraid that either:
a) they will arrest us
b) call our parents
c) leave us there alone in the dark
We did not contemplate an option d) they gave us a ride to our destination. I will never forget the expression on the faces of our friends when we arrived and got out of the police car. I have always been a little mischief but I don't think my friends were expecting that - Gosia hitchhiking and being escorted by a police car - something like that could have only happen to me!
So going back to these French hitchhikers, that scene evoked so many beautiful memories from my teenage years! Sometimes I'm really surprised that I made it through my teenage years. I was so careless, rebellious and full of unexpected ideas, a true wanderlust. I really do think I still have it in me; since having kids I have turned it down a bit but the longing for new adventures will always be in me…
When we arrived to our new destination, our host greeted us along with some of her friends. Her AirBnB rental is spectacular. It is a small 2 bedroom house with breathtaking views of the French Alps. We fell in love with the house immediately. It was a very hot day, so we all went to sleep leaving the windows wide open. It was close to midnight and I could not fall asleep, so I decided to read a book. As I sit up in bed, next to my snoring husband, I look out the window and could not believe what I saw. Right above the range of the mountains, I saw a beautiful full moon…Immediately, I woke Rick up so he could also enjoy this unbelievable moment. I tried to snap some pics, but our camera is not designed to fully capture a sky at night.
The next morning, we woke up to much cooler weather and decided to go for a hike in the French Alps. The weather called for a 70% chance of rain today, but we were optimistic it would hold off for us. We were an hour from Ecrins National Park at the base of the Alps. The park has over 100 hikes. Rick did some research and found what the website called, a “kid friendly - easy hike to Lake Lauvitel … 7 kms through the Alps with an elevation change of 800-900 meters. They listed the hike as a 3 hour round trip loop. Hmmmmm, I think the French have different standards for hikes than Americans : ) It was a one hour drive from our house and once we got there, the rain started to fall. The percentages weren’t in our favor today. We almost turned around and went back home, but, we decided to pull through it and do the hike.
We were kinda prepared for the rain - we all had rain jackets, rain boots, and positive attitudes. We had the Osprey Poco Carrier with Rain cover for Mila, Leo had his gear on, and mom & dad had determination to do this hike. The first part of the hike was through dense forest, so we were pretty much protected, but it was very rocky & slippery. It was a very steep ascent and had many stream crossings. Leo must have fallen at least 20 times and once, straight to a rocky creek. We were exhausted and pissed. Kid friendly? I think not. Everyone who crossed our pathway, we asked how much farther to the lake and every time we heard, either 15, 20 or 30 minutes. Both Rick and I were amazed by Leo’s determination. He hiked like a pro, continuing on despite falling numerous times. There were moments when I wanted to cry and turn around, particularly when he fell into the creek, but this amazing child was acting like an advanced mountain climber. After two long hours of ascending the mountain, we finally hit nirvana and reached our summit - a beautiful crystal clear lake right in the middle of a backdrop of gorgeous mountains with snow capped peaks. All of those moments when we wanted to give up, we were so glad we pushed through and saw this amazing scenery. The views were worth every moment of anguish. We took a moment to soak it all in, let Mila out of the Poco to run around a bit and snapped some photos.
The moment was short lived. After a minute or two of bliss, it started to pour again. We found a little cave located by the lake and went to hide there. We shared the cave with a super friendly French couple. We ate lunch, dried off, and relaxed for a bit. After a good 30 minutes, the rain stopped, the clouds parted, and we enjoyed the brilliant sunshine. We went back down to the lake, enjoyed it for another moment, then decided to start our descent. The hike was a loop so we were able to catch some of the most spectacular view heading back down (maybe it was the sun too!)
People say that going down the mountain is much harder than going up and we could not agree more. I carried Mila on my back, while Rick started by carrying Leo on his shoulders. This child is one tough cookie though. He did not want to be carried (even though we had a carrier ready for him). He raced down the mountain like it was a piece of cake. He fell down, scratched his knees and elbows, got very muddy, but after each fall, he stood up, and kept going. We kept asking him if he was OK, and each time he responded “I’m fine”. Mila kept telling Leo to “shake if off” and he kept giving us a look as if he was trying to say “guys, leave me alone, I am a big boy”. At one point, we stopped to fix our shoes and saw a snake crossing right in front of us! We all screamed and since Leo was the one leading the hike, we yelled at him to move back immediately. He started to cry (that was the only time during the hike when he cried) and you could tell he was very afraid of the snake. Well, it was an encounter that we will never forget. After 5 long hours, we reached the base and our car! We did it! We all were so happy and felt very accomplished. Leo kept saying that he was the winner, which, in my books, he is for sure! We were so proud of him for finishing that “kid friendly” hike. Although he did not complain about being tired during the hike, as soon as we got to the car, he was out! (Later that night we would ask Leo what his favorite part of the day was and his response was “Snake”!)
Recently, I read a very interesting book called "Into the Wild". It's a true story about human's longing for nature and adventure. There was one quote from that book that stayed with me: “the core of man's spirit comes from new experiences". As we were hiking and moving forward against the wind, sun, rain and slippery rocks, I felt so alive and free. This was a new experience for our family, one that brought new challenges, both mentally & physically, yet we left feeling satisfied and fulfilled. We were doing something out of our comfort zone, pushing ourselves to the limits, but at the same time, we felt a strong urge to do this and accomplish a new adventure as a whole family. We never gave up, although, we had plenty of opportunities to turn around and go home. Being in the mountains makes you very humble and modest. You realize how powerful and strong mother nature is. Today, our family accomplished an unbelievable feat. I know that our legs will be very sore tomorrow but today, we felt free like birds! I must say, finishing that hike with 2 young kids in tow felt like reaching the top of Mount Everest. It is amazing how something so simple as hiking can open up so much inside of you. Moments like that make you realize that in order to be happy, you really don't need much (just a good set of rain gear)!
During this trip one of my bucket list experiences was about to happen - we were going to visit Provence and their famous lavender fields! I remember being a little girl and dreaming about walking through those amazingly scented purple bushes. We chose to drive to Gordes and sightsee The Abbaye Norte Dame de Senanque (1.5 hour drive from our current location). Once we got closer to our destination, I got even more excited. First, we made a turn going up hill and we saw this spectacular and kinda hard to describe view- the breath taking image of the city of Gordes. The village is located in the center of the commune, on a giant calcareous rock from the Vaucluse Mountains, dominating the valley. We have some photos below to help describe that view, but again, you have to see it yourself to really be able to grasp it all. As we drove down the hill, we saw to the left the beautiful Abbaye, the dreamy lavender fields and hundreds of other people, trying to do the same thing as we did, bummer! Although the view of the lavender fields was something out of the book, the whole experience itself was much less pleasant. Along those beautiful alleys dividing the lavender bushes were tourists, tourists and more tourists... We snapped several images ourselves but I left that place feeling very dissatisfied and unfulfilled. Was this it!? My long childhood dream consisted of strolling through lavender fields with so many other people...I tried not to be negative and keep the "law of attraction" on the good side but it was a very challenging task.
Rick was trying to keep my spirits up and suggested throwing a picnic (thats what The Herman’s do best), relaxing a bit and trying to research some other lavender fields. I always tried to be very inclusive and open, but this time, I wanted to have at least one lavender field just for myself. Was it too much to ask for? Apparently not! So once we found a picnic spot, we were setting up our table. It was an extremely hot day, 92, dry and sunny. Two young Frenchman saw us with the kids and offered for us to join them at their table in the shade. We took them up on the offer. Yet again, very nice and helpful encounter with French people. Here we found out that they were English speaking French tourist guides, full of the resources about the area and less touristy spots. Naturally, I asked them if they knew about any "free" and "not so touristy" lavender fields, and voila, they told us everything we needed to hear! How ironic is that!? How is it possible that our all of the picnic places in the whole region we happen to pick one with the tourist guides on lunch break!? France I really love you, yes I do! So after lunch, we headed towards the undiscovered lavender fields. As we drove through some wheat and sunflower farms, we finally found them, amazing, very purple and full of bees lavender fields, hahaha. You could hear the bees buzzing as soon as you opened the door of your car. Leo and Mila were not interested in them at all. Nevertheless, I got my wish fulfilled. I was standing in front of a aromatic lavender field with my family at my side and nobody else. My little garden of happiness, a tiny nirvana. Forget the bees, I could care less about them. I was going to live my dream and walk through those fields and I did. It was a dream come true. We snapped few photos and admired this unique and magical place. When we were driving home the song by Rolling-stones was stuck in my mind: "you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need" and that day, I got exactly everything I needed. From now on, purple might be my favorite color...
Later in the week the weather got super hot and steamy (96 degrees!) so we decided to hit the beach for the day. It was a nude beach of course! The next day, despite the burning sun, we drove to visit a nearby city called Nimes. It is a really neat city that used to be an important outpost of the Roman Empire. It's very well known for several preserved monuments such as Arena of Nimes (looks like the Coliseum in Rome) and is still used for concerts and bullfights. We walked around for a bit and got super hungry. We all were in a mood for some pizza and chose probably the worst pizza place on this planet! It was our first dining out experience in France ( we have been cooking in for the whole stay in France) and needless to say, not a very good one. I really don't want to describe that pizza and evoke all of the distasteful memories. Thank goodness there was a wonderful gelato place on the way to our car.
It was our last day in the Gord region of France and our hosts just returned from their vacation. We ran into them on the street and they invited us to their home for a drink. They prepared an incredible spread on the table plus served us rose from their own winery (delicious!). We talked (they all spoke very good English) and laughed like there was no tomorrow. We also met their lovely children and parents. Once again, we were sharing an unforgettable evening with kinda strangers, yet there was nothing strange, awkward or uncomfortable about it. I really don't want to jinx it but so far, people have been the biggest highlight of our adventure.
That night, in our little village of Blauzac was a summer festival and that event is something that I doubt we will ever forget. As we were getting lost in different topics during our lovely dinner, our hosts mentioned that there was a "special" event happening in the village. To be exact, several streets in the village were completely blocked with metal fences so a bull could run through the streets chasing those who dared to be on the inside of the fence, hello!? Is this for real!!?? Pamplona part 2?
Naturally, we had to go and see this for ourselves. We all walked together towards the center of the village, where life was simply booming. Ironically, it was a perfect evening and a fun moon was out! I think everyone was out trying to witness a wild bull racing through the streets of Blauzac. Mila was having the time of her life, dancing the night away hahaha. We waited and waited and waited and did not see the bull. Somebody said that the show was over, then suddenly, we heard screams coming from the audience. All the people, or teenagers, who dared to stay on the streets, were sprinting and getting out of the way - the bull was here and he was not very calm, haha. We saw it and could not believe it. It was very entertaining and unique experience that will stay with us forever. It was 11pm but the village was almost like Time Square in NYC, full of people, music, noises and lights. Since our kids were pretty tired, we decided it was time to end the night. The next morning, we said goodbye to our gracious hosts and hit the road. Another week in France full of incredible experiences and amazing encounters. We have been traveling now for about 50 days and have many more countries to see, but I really feel like part of my heart will forever be left in France...
After a wonderful week in the Perigord region, we bid farewell to our amazing hosts and headed southeast towards Provence. The drive was quite long, about 6 hours and we chose to do the scenic route, through picturesque french villages and the mountains. It was a very entertaining ride but towards the end, as we were coming down the mountain on a super windy rode, I think we all just wanted to get to our next destination. And yet again, our home for the next week was a hit. We were greeted by our hosts’ parents, since they were on a holiday. Located in a little village called Blauzac, it was simply everything we wanted. Made out of a light stone, with a beautiful kitchen, a cozy living space and a little rooftop terrace - a perfect house for our family. Our hosts own an organic winery and gifted us a delicious bottle of white wine that didn’t make it past the first night : )
The first day in this region of France, we spent at Pont du Gard. It is an ancient Roman aqueduct that crosses the Gardon river. Built in AD 50, The Pont du Gard is the highest of all elevated Roman aqueducts and is very well preserved. In 1985, it was added to UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Seeing it in person made us marvel at how this thing was built 2000 years ago. It looks like the Romans played a beautiful game of Jenga with 1 ton stone blocks! We set down our picnic at the bank of the river, with the aqueduct right over us. It was a perfect spot to throw down a blanket and take a swim in the river. It was a warm, sunny, but very windy day. The kids really enjoyed hanging out by the river and throwing rocks into the water. Funny enough, we met our first Americans on this trip, and low and behold they are from the same city where Rick’s sister lives - what a small world! Later on we took a short hike and walked across the bridge, overlooking turquoise/green water. Did I mention how windy it was today? As we were walking across, the wind decided to take my hat right off the top of my head and send it to the river! Maybe the Romans are trying to tell me something. . .hold on for this rest of this week because you’re in for a wild ride! We snapped a bunch of pictures at this man made marvel and then took a small tour at the museum, tracing the history of the Roman aqueducts. We also found a little museum for kids, where Leo had a chance to do some educational activities. It was a very nice and relaxing day, very much needed after a day of driving.
The next day we were going to make the drive due south to the Mediterranean beaches (it was hot, 90 & sunny), but Rick always likes to take the road less traveled and found this sweet waterfall on the Vis River near the town of Saint-Laurent le Minier. We drove an hour back into the mountains and literally you pull over to the side of one of those windy roads we came down and there’s the waterfall. So that’s exactly what we did. The waterfall was awesome. We took the short hike down to the river and its an amazing display of nature. Tucked in the forest, you have this hidden gem of falls that just soothes the soul. There really wasn’t a good spot to lay a blanket here as there are no banks, just rocks & boulders and this majestic falls. The current was fairly strong, we had to keep a close eye on the kids. Leo is a fearless rascal, he just bounces from bolder to bolder on his own, shoeless. We meet a nice Swede who speaks good English and is a profession photographer. He’s been coming to this spot for 20 years and owns a summer house in the mountains. He mentions a producer who shot a movie at this site. Neither Rick or I could remember the name.
At his suggestion, we end up hiking down stream about a 1/4 of a mile where there’s a little rock beach and the current is weaker. We set up our blanket for the rest of the afternoon. There’s an small island in the middle of the river that we see kids jumping into the river. There is probably a 15 ft cliff with much deeper water. My wild side comes out and I swim over to it and take the plunge. Leo is cheering me on while Mila is screaming at mommy to get down! After a couple of jumps, Mila calms down and now Leo is asking to do it! We all swim over to the island (its walkable to get there) and allow him to jump off a much smaller platform (3ft). He probably jumps a good 20 times. Rick proceeded to get in on the action and before you know it, Mila wants to jump! Those crazy Herman’s!!! With the sun beating on us all day, we wear ourselves down by 4 and make the trek back home.
It was a great day to try something different, something that felt a bit undiscovered. That is the beauty of travel, finding experiences off the beaten path. We’ve created a ton of memories already and these moments are the ones that you can’t script.