Our first boat was a peace boat, complete with dove. Then Calvin wanted the pirate boat.

Paris-Provence-Paris. I know. It conjures up convivial coffees at chic sidewalk cafes, intimate dinners at fabulous restaurant finds and poolside days of sunny serenity… Not quite. Perfection with someone who makes the Energizer bunny look like a lay-a-bed looks a little different, but no less fun.

So rewind and imagine experiencing Paris from the perspective of making your daily bread a staple. That means sussing out the best local creperies, trying out a wide variety of patisserie (pain au chocolate for all!) and living like a local as you stock up on fruit, drinking yogurt and granola bars in the Monoprix (supermarket chain.) (Not to mention the French book and DVD spree I had every morning in various Gilbert Jeune and FNAC stores.)

Who cares about stuffy indoor culture ventures when there are outdoor adventures to be had in Paris’ parks and playgrounds galore to explore. The Jardin du Luxumbourg was our outdoor treasure chest, filled with delights including various playgrounds, sand pits and, the epitome… a giant pond where you can poke your boat and chase it at full tilt as it floats, tacks and jibs. And did you know the playground near the Eiffel Tower is both nanny central and has city-provided sand pit tools?¬†Plus I think we may have ridden a carousel in every major city that we visited that had one — getting our rounds of joy from rides in galleons, spaceships, race cars and motorcycles.

There's something arresting about this image. Three boys larking around in the lavender fields.

Provence was a different proposal — with castles and markets, loads of space to run and roam and fields of lavender. (Though I wasn’t thrilled to discover that the Chateau de l’Emperi is stuffed to the gills with the largest collection of French military paraphernalia. “Is that a gun? Why does it have that pokey thing on it? What do they use it for? Poking people?”)

In retrospect I realize now how bitterly disappointed I would have felt if the Provence experience had come sans lavender. I’ve been conditioned. Blame Peter Mayle, L’Occitane and the French tourism authority. Fortunately for me, the villa in an old mill that we were staying in due to the gracious invitation of our friends J&S and their boys N&J, came complete with lavender in the gardens and rows in the fields. (And I discovered… white lavender!)

There we all enjoyed the rambling mill house, the beautiful pool, and the ease of being able to let the boys roam the grounds to discover and observe the insects. (That is, except for the times when the insects discovered C and I and made us their smorgasbord. The spider and mosquito bites resulted in welts due to an allergic reaction on my part. Ironically, I’d imagined this would have been the case in Dakar, Senegal, where I was the all-day buffet for the moquitoes for four days in between Paris and Provence. But I guess there is courtesy, or at least toxin familiarity?, between us Africans.)

Transportation was one of the highlights of the trip. From the model citizen plane trips back and forth, to being deafened by pilots training in their MIG home base in Salon de Provence. Jay gets super parenting points for driving round and round the traffic circle so C could admire the real-life MIG in the centre of it. And we got more than our value for money from our Batobus tickets, taking this hop-on-hop-off boat on the Seine everywhere for two days.

The TGV!

Of the planes and automobiles, the trains were the winners. Calvin loved the TGV (high-speed train). He loved the concept of it, the train stations, the ticket punching, and generally finding as many opportunities to say “TGV” in French as possible.

In so many ways, the journey was the point; the destination somewhat secondary. And there was joy enough for all.

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