France is split up into regions - kind of like US states, I guess, and Besançon (where we live) is the capital of the Franche-Compté region. If you are going to go only ONE place in Franche-Compté it would be Besançon. Of course, if YOU came to France - you would probably only want to see Paris or maybe la cote d'azur..... completely missing out on the charm of the more remote, uncharted regions of France - where they don't speak English and there is no hope for socialization of any kind with fellow americans....
Where was I? Oh, the main tourist attraction of Besançon is the Citadelle - check it out at http://www.citadelle.com/
People come from all over Europe to visit the Citadelle. Not only is it an amazing fortressy type thingy (with ramparts!) - it is also contains several museums, an aquarium, an insectarium, a nocturium, and a zoo (it slices, it dices, it juliennes fries! French fries, even!) Also, it was designed by the great Vauban.
Of course, André and I visited the citadelle when we were here checking out Besançon and agreed the kids would love it - we promised ourselves we would take them as soon as possible after our arrival. Well, as soon as possible wasn't as soon as we were hoping for - things kept getting in our way and we finally made it to the citadelle for a visit only last Saturday - October 4th.
We have chosen not to have a car whilst sojourning in France - they are expensive, they ruin the environment and the busses go everywhere, right? To make a long story short, the free bus to the citadelle does not run on Saturdays (we were told) only a little train type thing - it took us almost 2 hours to find it and make it up to the citadelle - we kept going in circles, asking people for help and getting steered in the wrong direction (or maybe their directions were perfect--it's really hard to tell the difference between droit (right) and tout-à-droit (straight)). We were wearily waiting at a bus stop following the rumor that the train stopped there when a young man started talking to us in French. He asked if we were Americans - and then (thank you!) switched over to perfect English. He was a student from America and someone told him we were in distress (perhaps one of the shop owners we had walked past about 19 times took pity) and came to help us out. Thank you random Bisontin (thats a person from Besançon) and Micah! We made it to the stop where the train left from (place huit septembre) and headed up the mountain.
At the zoo slash castle...
Well, it is quite an impressive place-we saw lots of amazing views, a colony of local snails
and I was nibbled on by a giant koi - we also got to watch the zoo keeper throw stale bread into the moat where the baboons and mountain goats live - YUM... I don't believe that zoos here have the same regulations as US zoos. Frankly, unregulated zoos are fascinating. Not only do they mingle species, they have lions and tigers in former moats and the baboon colony was just incredible- at least 100 baboons all cavorting around, climbing up crumbling walls and taking care of their 15-20 babies. The spider monkeys were not even all contained in their cage - one came close enough to us that we could have reached out and touched it. We were all fascinated by this...and spent perhaps 45 minutes just observing the baboons in their unnatural habitat.
Apparantly other bisontins are not so happy about the conditions as a protest against them was scheduled for 15:00 that day - we decided to depart before they arrived - having only seen a small part of the sights and promising to return on Wednesday.
Wednesday? Wednesday? Shouldn't they be in school on Wednesday?
Oh, no, my friends, on Wednesdays children in France don't have school - they are left to their own devices. Some kids go to campesque things for swimming or riding or art or whatever but for now, we can't figure out how to get them into these things - and we also are a bit afraid to send them somewhere (besides school) without us when they are still so linguistically challenged. So I decided I would take them back to the Citadelle (we purchased a membership you see). We left the house at 11:00 and did not arrive to the citadelle until 15:30 (no - I have not joined the military but this is the way the french do time and I am trying to force myself to get used to it!)
Here's why it took so long...
I am NOT good at reading maps, finding my way or speaking French. Let me say that again, I am NOT good at reading maps, finding my way or speaking French. (Thank you, Joe Biden!) We got on the bus to go to Centre Ville (center city) and decided to not get off at the terminus because then it would start again, getting us closer to the free bus to the citadelle (so I thought, anyway, with my limited map reading skills).... Well, the bus started again - and we were about halfway back home before I realized we were not going further into Centre Ville. Hopped off, got a different bus into Centre Ville and got off near a landmark I recognized (realized later if I had stuck with this bus I would have almost reached my goal but "c'est la vie" -- oh, pardon my french!) Walked about 1/2 mile to the free bus stop. This walk took us about 45 minutes....
How can 1/2 mile take 45 minutes? Well, I do have a 3, 5 and 7 year old - but they are not that slow. However, Griffin's pee-pee wanted to come out - but, unfortunately for all of us, it is scared. This mean repeating the following ritual about 17 times:
Walk together about 50 feet.
Griffin: Mama, my pee pee is going to come out RIGHT NOW!"
Mama (finding a handy bush or tree): "Oh it is? Come over here"
Griffin: "My pee pee is not coming out"
Mama: "Come on out, pee pee"
Griffin: "Come on out, pee pee"
Mama: "Here is a good place for you to come out, pee pee"
Griffin: "Here is a good place for you to come out, pee pee"
Mama: "This bush wants you to get it wet, pee pee"
Griffin: "This bush wants you to get it wet, pee pee"
(wait several moments hunched over in uncomfortable posture designed to keep penis in proper position as to not spray all over clothing and sheild as much as possible, small child from passers by)
Mama: "When is the pee pee going to come out?"
Griffin: "Maybe in two minutes"
(wait some more - perhaps some more pee pee pep talk)
Griffin: "My pee pee is scared - maybe it will come out at the zoo"
Mama: "Maybe, let's go there, OK?"
Keep in mind this all ends with him eventually peeing in his pants (of course).
So, we get to the bus stop and realize it is only a summer bus - and does not run today, neither does, supposedly, the little train. André is presenting at a conference (Agile Tour Besançon) this day and I wasn't going to bother him--but I had no choice. I called and he confers with real Bisontins; the group consensus is to take a taxi as there is NO bus that goes to the Citadelle. (Did I mention that this is the number one tourist attraction in all of Besancon?)
Hmm... a taxi... sounds easy, right? Well, not so! There are practically no taxis - you have to go to this specific Place (plaza) to pick one up. Do I know how to get there? No. I tell the kids - we have a choice - we can walk a bit to a bus stop I know and go home - or forge onward and try to get to the zoo. No one ever said I was raising wimps - it's a unanimous decision to keep on trying - we are now terming this a grand adventure.
We start walking in the general direction (I think) of the taxis and end up on a highway - scary for the kids and me - in desperation we then cut through a dirt alley and some backyards (luckily avoiding arrest for tresspassing) to reach a street that is part of Centre Ville - we ask some folks for how to get to the right place and are trudging along when we have another potty emergency - this time for Callie - she has to go RIGHT NOW! We find a courtyard with an open building which is some sort of school (college I think) and go up this amazingly beautiful, (but scarily crumbling) floating staircase to the potty - mission accomplished but now what? We are lost! Suddenly, we stumble upon a statue I remember passing on the way to the Citadelle on the little train. I am HORRIBLE at reading maps - but good at following landmarks. I make a command decision - we are just going to walk to the Citadelle - it is about another mile or 2 straight up - we can do that, right? (Confession: I don't tell the kids I have made this decision and they only figure it out when we are in sight of our final goal.) Needless to say we make it - taking lots of breaks and seeing lots of neat things along the way. We were a bit heartened right before we finally arrived to see the little train. When we reached the top there was the sign for it saying when it would return. I promised the kids we could take it down the hill instead of walking.
We continue into the zoo to see lions and tigers and (most memorably) the 'noctarium', which is supposed to be nocturnal animals but all we saw was mice and, yep, you guessed it--rats. Not a few rats, but hundreds of writhing, crawling, cuddling rats running all over this cage the size of a large room - it was like the scenes in Ratatouille come to life when the ceiling caves in and all the rats pour out - ARGH! The kids LOVED it though and a fun time was had by all.
Well, as you may imagine, we are pretty durn tired by now.
We run to get to the little train at the appointed time and there is a large group of people all waiting to get on. We join in, and are stopped by the train driver. He will not let us on. Once I realized what he was saying, I begged -- literally -- on my knees - in tears - for him to take us, and all three kids (as soon as they realized what was going on) immediately started screaming (and I mean screaming) in anguish. The guy's heart must have been made of stone. The little train, full of retired Scots, pulled merrily away, leaving a heap of sobbing children (and their mother) behind.
I think that was when I lost all hope - we had soldiered bravely to this point - but what else could we do? These kids really and honestly, physically, could NOT make it back down that mountain -- they had already walked at least 4-5 miles that day. How much can you expect from a toddler and a 5 and 7 year old? We had to go back into the ticket seller to ask for advice.... Guess what it was? "Marche" (i.e. walk)
Oh, have I mentioned yet that this entire day was cold, gloomy and raining on and off? Well, after begging some more they managed to call a cab for me - that's not it. The cabbie couldn't understand my feeble attempts to explain where I lived. My three soggy children and I were ejected at the nearest bus stop and we managed to get home alive. What a day - and what a long blog!!!! Love to all, Rebecca