I really loved Wednesdays all fall. We went on hikes, explored Besancon, did crafts and just had fun. But then, the winter came, with days that it was too cold or bitter to stay outside, kids who just wanted to fight all day and were seemingly unable to work together as a team on any activity I suggested. I had to get very creative to make Wednesdays go well and my creativity was running a bit low.
Luckily, fate, in the form of an activity advertised in the local paper, intervened. There was to be a book sale somewhere in Centre Ville - ages 3 to 10 years. I was hoping it would be used books that I could pick up for a song (hopefully an american song, at that). It seemed like it would give us something to do and get us out of the house and I have been wanting to buy more French books for the kids. I decided to go for it, although I anticipated yucky weather would make the journey a bit less than idyllic. We all realize, of course it is only February 11th, and, by any measure, it still should be cold and unpleasant for all types of outings. Here, to put it mildly, the winter weather sucks, it has been sleeting or raining on and off pretty much 2/3rds of the days. (No, not snowing, that would be fun) Oh, and on most all those other 'dry' days, it was gloomy and overcast. On this Wednesday, though, the gods must have been smiling down on me, for it was a lovely day here in Besancon. Sunny, clear and brisk but not too cold.
It turned out we had to take two buses to get the closest we possibly could to the location. There was a 20 minute wait for the connector so the kids and I explored a bit around Place Huit Septembre. Here they are near the fountain and you can see the wonderful bustling street behind them. This is one thing I love about France. I remember, as a stay at home mom in Philly, when I went out to a mall during 'work' hours, the only people in the mall like, ever, were other stroller pushers like myself and, of course, the people who worked at the mall. Here in Besancon, people have so much vacation time, free time and work flexibility, the stores are bustling no matter what time you are there (unless it is past 6pm, when all but the restaurants shutter themselves and head for home). We also walked into a courtyard that I had previously only viewed at night. It was beautiful in the daytime. I was especially impressed that the ancient statuary was still holding it's sword - often those details are broken off. Also, amongst the cobblestones were these really cool inlaid coats of arms for Besancon. I'm guessing that since Besancon has changed hands many times over the ages, it has like, 5 different coats of arms. But the kids liked the one with the eagle on it the best. They are well aware that I put things like this up on the blog and sometimes will stop me and say. Mom, will you take a picture of this for the blog? I am only too happy to oblige them.
We get on the bus and hop off at Victor Hugo - near a fabulous fabric shop that was having close out prices on their overstock of fake fur - with Mardi Gras just around the corner, who could resist such a steal? I actually haggled with the guy, which was fun.
We headed up the hill and made it to the book sale. I was really sad at first when we arrived because it was being held in a bookshop and was, obviously, all brand new books. I had told the kids we would have to see how much they cost and was steeling myself to deal with the task of figuring out which ONE we would take home.... I also was trying to figure out who worked there and how to ask about price. I asked them to repeat the answer a few times because it didn't make sense at all to me and I was sure I was misunderstanding. It turned out my French is better than I thought. It was true, they only wanted 85 centimes each! For brand new books??? Well, don't look a gift horse in the mouth, I always say. (Fine, I've never said that until just now but it worked in the narrative, ok?). I scooped up one of almost each title and 2 story CD's as well (about 25 titles in all) and we got out of there. Here you can see our new French library, luxuriating on a bed of beautiful fake fur rejects.
Luckily, this book miracle was on the way to the Citadelle, our favorite fun place in Besancon. We agreed to head up the hill and spend some time there as we are loyal card carrying members. It was a perfect day for it. When we got close, we saw they were doing some work on the first level of battlements - they must have some different sense of 'historic preservation' than I do since they were ripping parts of the ancient stone wall down into wheelbarrows and then tossing them down the chute into some dumpsters. Didn't look like they were numbering or noting where each brick came from to me. Well, what did they do to seal the hole? Simple, they just slapped some (looked like new to me) red bricks down in place of the stone. How authentic! The workers noticed the kids watching and were very nice to them. We finally moved on past the main gate and stopped for a snack and to just enjoy the scenery. The dot of a person is Zander, with all of Besancon right behind him. I sat for awhile, watching them play and feeling lucky to be in this place, and to have this relaxed time to be with my children. We then journeyed onward to explore. We spent a long time observing the birds. They have a huge population of flamingos and ducks and lots of other birds I can't remember the names of. Here is a shot of some of them. Callie is always hoping a stray feather will float towards the fence, since she got a pink flamingo feather on a previous visit, making her day. She wanted me to hop the fence, but I vetoed that activity. Zander commented that Grammie and Grandpa would definitely enjoy all the strange ducks if they ever visited us here. We also saw lots of monkey families with new babies - the baby gibbon was particularly cute. We watched a trio of young mangabeys fighting over a stick - they made bridges of it, ladders of it, threw it, ate parts of it and fought over it with incredible speed and energy. I think I get tired with my kids - mangabey parents must really be worn out. The older ones I saw were just sitting there, chewing on some leaves. Zander got a bit sad, seeing them so trapped - wanted to let them out. This turned into a deep philosophical discussion of the pros and cons of zoos. It is great to have 1/2 an hour to stand at a cage and observe, and just talk about whatever comes to mind, especially when there is no one else there blocking your view!
Amazingly we once again ended up in an area we have never been before, a little farm with small and large bunnies, free wandering chickens, a gigantic turkey and a very adorable colony of guinea pigs. Tonight, at dinner, Zander tried to describe to André how big the turkey was: "Dad, it was so big, it was like bigger than Griffin. It was like as big as Grandpa's belly back when he had a really big belly. Do you know what happened when he stood still? His feet made, like, dents in the dirt." Then Callie added: "Mom said it would be really yummy for Thanksgiving dinner." Guess I know where to go next year, right? There was another part next to this with lots of exotic birds as well - man those things are loud and annoying. I really do wonder if we will ever see everything in the labyrinthian place!
We then headed home. On the way we passed a strange sight - 3 GIANT (much bigger than the turkey) bags of bread ends, apparantly left out for trash, on the street. Where would such a huge amount of bread come from? Is this leftovers from some down on his luck bread baker? (There was no boulangerie for at least 2 blocks, I know because I was looking for one). While we were stopped and wondering at the sight several locals passed by and also commented on it - guess it is not a usual sight for them either. Finally we made it home for a late lunch and, of course, reading some of our new books while lying down on the fake fur. Also Cecile came over to tutor Zander - he is trying so hard - I wish it wasn't so difficult for him to learn.
Wishing some of you could come experience the good life with us.