On our last big trip, a few weeks ago, we skipped the Cascades du Herisson due to time constraints – so we decided to go for it on Saturday.
You know that saying...”Getting there is half the fun”? Well, I think that’s crap. Mostly, being stuck in a car going someplace fun is not fun at all, especially when you have 3 small children. It might be interesting, at times, to look at the scenery you pass, but in all, that is just not worth the pain of being trapped in an enclosed space for hours at a time. Maybe getting there is slightly fun – but half? I think NOT!
Well, today, I was proved wrong because getting there actually was half the fun.
It was raining when we woke up – and looked like it would be a rainy all day. We had been having some beautiful weather this spring and I was a bit disappointed to see the clouds but, I know, this is Besancon! We heard, from others, to bring water shoes and clothes that could get wet at this trip – so we figured – what’s a bit of rain if we are going to get wet anyway? We all had water shoes but Callie so we stopped at Emmaus hoping to get some. Luckily she got some black canvas ones that worked great and I scored awesome brown leather boots that will be perfect for next winter… all for less than 10 Euros heh, heh, heh…. Fun stop #1!
Then we headed for Doucier, one of the towns in the Lake region where the cascades are located. Lately, attempting to get in touch with the modern world (and save trees), we have been attempting NOT to print out directions to where we are going but rather email them to ourselves before the trip and use our phones on the road. Man, we are so 21st century! Unfortunately, this has not always been working out as well as we would hope. Last weekend, on the way to Regis’, I bumped the ‘oh so delicate’ touch screen on the new phone (twice) resulting in 5 minutes of pullover time while we attempted to re-figure out where we needed to go. Even then, the directions were messed up, directing us to a different town – how frustrating. This weekend we realized (about half an hour in) that we were accidentally following the directions from another trip. Whoops! We corrected for that but then got confused at one point and headed about another half an hour in the wrong direction before we realized our mistake. Keep in mind, I have also purchased extensive paper maps of France that we are also consulting! The towns are so small, lots of them aren’t on the maps – and often things are just not where they are supposed to be. And it was raining, often pouring which lowers visibility, right? Plus, (ok, I admit it) my sense of direction is seriously lacking.
So, here we are at noon and NOT at the waterfalls. We were in Tasseniers. Never heard of it? Us neither. BUT this blunder led us to my favorite store in the history of all time. And no, it’s not a thrift store. We passed it and I told Andre’ to turn around. Doesn’t look like much from the outside right? Well, don’t judge a book by it’s cover – or a store by its bland exterior. This was simply the most incredible fossil shop I have ever had the luck to be in. (Right is one very small section of one wall of the display). The Jura region is famous for fossils and minerals (jurassic is named after jura) and the old proprietor must spend a lot of time hunting for them because he had thousands. And the prices!!!! Chunks of mammoth tusk were 9 Euros – trilobites were 3 or 4 euros each – selenites 5 or 6 euros. Giant polished chunks of petrified wood for 500 Euros (OK – that’s not chump change but I would bet the same in a museum would be thousands of euros). Andre’ and I have been diligently searching for that one special thing we want to spend the money to ship back to our home in Philadelphia – we think we may have found it here. Imagine this giant amethyst (favorite color and my birthstone) as our new glass topped coffee table…. Hey, I can dream right? Also, super cool - he had these dowsing wands. Andre’ and I recently read a great book Water Witches together and it talks all about modern day dowsing. Yes, that’s right, there are real people who still use rods to dowse for water. I was fascinated by this book and couldn’t believe my luck – Here was a real live dowser right before me. I asked for a demo and he showed me how it worked. So then I tried it – and it worked. Zander tried it – and it worked. I’m telling you – it was FREAKY. Here you are – holding these rods in front of you, walking along and thinking ‘Where is the water?’ and, when you get to the well cap, Snap! The formerly parallel bars form an immediate X. I wonder if this is where the tradition of X marks the spot comes from?? He said they work not only for water but for whatever you want, if you practice. Like – he was holding them saying - “Where is the road?” and they swiveled to point at it. He uses them to hunt fossils too – he goes out to where they are breaking up the ground to put in a railroad or new construction and hunts around (obviously it works for him). The L-rod beauties were 54 Euros…sadly! He takes cash only and it is a good thing, really, because I think we wouldn’t have been paying our rent next month if we could have bought all we wanted. We did buy some stuff but Zander was really sad that we couldn’t get a mammoth tusk. I told him we would return another day – I shall put the address here as well as on the photo left for when we return – 19 route de Dole 39120 Tassieniers…. I’m saving my pennies. Oh yeah, fun stop #2!
We hit the road again, munching our lunch and heading (we hoped) towards the Cascades. It is often hard to find street names and we were soooooo ridiculously off course we were wandering through roads that normally only locals tread on. Here is where it was nice to have the web as we drove – adjust where we were and get new directions. I’m not sure why, but often, in France, we see ancient people walking alone along the country roads. Are they too old to drive? Is this their exercise? I’m not sure what the deal is but we see them in pretty much every town we go through. Well, the wise ones walking around these little villages often stopped and stared at Mr. Liberty as he passed. I’m sure they were thinking, “Hey, you don’t live here – I know because I have lived here for 80 years and I know every man, woman, child and vehicle that should be in this town – and YOU are not one of them!” We did get to see this interesting piece of modern art in a random back yard. Creativity is simply everywhere.
Then, driving through Passenans, we saw a sign for a chateau and (of course) decided to check it out. There was a break between the storms and we headed up the mountain. The chateau was actually in Frontenay hence the name Chateau de Frontenay. The place was unique because, unlike most of the places we’ve seen, it was neither a museum nor a ruin. It was still being lived in by the ancestors' of the dukes that lived there in the 1600’s – there was even a swing set! So, we didn’t get to go inside but we were welcome to wander around outside. The rain had let up but it was thundering again and another deluge was approaching so we ran around the outside as quick as we could. We ran back to the car and got in as the torrential rain hit and headed (slowly) down the windy mountain trail. We passed a grotte (cave) that we had wanted to check out but the rain was just too intense. We tried to take a picture but all you can make out is the rain – and perhaps the Virgin Mary tucked in a niche? This would be Fun stop #3 by the way. I’m having fun getting there… are you?
So now, here we are and we are wet and cold and it is like almost 2 and we are still not at the Cascades….. and Callie (who is terrified of thunder and storms) is claiming she absolutely refuses to get out of the car when we get to the Cascades. "I want to go home!” Well, we were not going to give up yet and managed to find our way to the goal in about another half an hour. Before we got to the Cascades (which are located in a lake region) we had to pass Lac d’Ilay and the water was, I am not exaggerating at all….green. I’m sure the photo does not do it justice. It looked like someone had poured a mega bottle of food coloring into the lake (a bit like how they dye the Chicago river for St. Patrick's day) but this was supposedly natural. To tell you the truth – it kind of disturbed me. Water is not supposed to be that color! –It should be various shades of blue, sometimes clear, muddy brown is ok – but not turquoise! (Unless, maybe you are looking at the ocean in the Caribbean or something). We wonder, is it high copper content in the water that causes this phenomenon? Although this was only a drive by it still qualifies as fun item #4…..
Finally, finally, finally (after 5.5 hours en route) we arrive. The rain has let up for the moment and we get out. (OK, Callie is dragged out kicking and screaming and the rest of us get out). Supposedly we are about to see 31 waterfalls in a space of a 3 hour hike. Sounds good. We get over to the stream and, not bothering to get to the first big waterfall, immediately start to play. Callie cheered up as soon as she saw the water. It was a magical place, filled with green light that filtered down through the canopy and a perfectly lovely babbling brook. It was my favorite kind of stream – deep enough and fast enough to have fun in but not so deep to be dangerous. I think the kids would have happily stayed all day in this spot but we moved on after about 15 minutes to the first, and largest (65 meters), cascade, La Cascade de l’Eventail.
First we gazed in wonder for awhile – smiling madly. Other people were passing by and they all had big grins plastered on their faces too. When we used to have Nellie Belle (our VW bus), the best thing about her was how she made all the people who saw her smile. She just made people happy. Waterfalls are like that too- who can see this and not want to smile? Maybe that is why people seek them out. Then Griffin, Callie, Andre’ and I wanted to play around at the bottom for a few minutes. Zander took the camera and took the second shot (above) of us at the base of the falls and the third shot as well (by lying on the ground and pointing up!) Although it wasn’t raining, for the moment, it was incredibly treacherous and slippery rock hopping since everything was not only wet, but also either mossy or coated in a thin layer of mud – we all got our feet wet – but were prepared so it was fun, not distressing. The last shot (above, right) is from the top of Eventail – looking out over the valley.
We played around at the top for a while before heading on towards the next major waterfall, La Grand Saut (60 meters). Unfortunately, the path leading to this fall (and a famous cave next to it) were closed. We were confronted by this sign, right…. I wonder who designed this beauty? I mean, it’s got it all. The two triangular falling rock signs flanking the gigantic-font DANGER. The giant minus sign (this translates into “Do not Enter”) next to the skull and crossbones (not sure about this one…. poison???) Finally, lest we forget, the warning in three languages – English said: Strictly forbidden access: strong risk of stony fall. Alright, alright already – we get the message. I wonder if someone died? Of course, there was a clearly carved new path where those who ignored the dire warning obviously snuck around – but we were not going to take any chances. We ended up going on a steep slippery path over the waterfall and didn’t get a very good view but I did get a chance to see some gorgeous clover – what cool veining. It started to storm again so we stopped in a sheltered niche and had some cherries (bought that morning from a local house near Emmaus – yum) and pistachios. Callie and Zander work as a team on pistachios. He likes the salt so he cracks the nut and sucks the shell while Callie eats the inside. Not sure how much nutrition Zander is getting but they seem happy enough.
Then we headed on to our favorite fall – Le Gour Bleu. What a great place. It was easy to cross over the stream and rest under the overhanging rock and the kids spent a long time just playing around. Zander was playing “Silly Guy” which is this strange thing he loves where he walks and talks all crazy. I find it incredibly annoying (though I don’t tell him that) but Callie and Griffin think it is absolutely hysterical – as you can see.
Finally we were able to leave by promising another fun waterfall in about 5 minutes. That was what was great about this hike. Often, when we are hiking, the beautiful views or cascades are few and far between but this was amazing – there were not only the named falls but tons of smaller falls in-between. Zander was counting for a bit but then gave up saying “There aren’t just 33, there are like, a thousand!” Of course, he counts any downfall over 3 inches as a cascade. It makes me wonder how high a fall has to be to ‘classify’? I’m afraid most of the ones Zander counted wouldn’t qualify – poor little guys – they are just like Pluto – used to be a planet until some astronomers voted it was too small…… Zander also spied this giant slug – it was at least 6 inches long…. urgh!
Soon we got to Le Chateau Garnier. Some settler decided, in the 1600’s that this would be a great place to have a house, and so they built one right at the top of the waterfall. (Who can blame them?) All that remains is some stones from the foundation – which Andre’ is standing upon. By this point the rain had stopped and the kids were pretty used to being wet and just waded right into the water – it was cold but not terribly so – even Griffin didn’t mind getting a bit wet. The kids were really getting tired so we decided the next fall (another 5 minutes ahead) would be our last since we still had to return to the car. Before heading onward I found this amazing dragonfly floating in the water. I love these creatures. Callie wanted to bring it with us and when I explained it was too fragile she got a bit sad – she gathered a few flowers and placed them lovingly next to the body on the rock. “It’s for if it has a dragonfly mommy or daddy or kids, Mama – so they won’t be so sad when they find her.” Sniff!
5 minutes later we found ourselves at Le Saut de la Forge. There was a little restaurant to be found here, selling ice cream, snacks and water (marketing genius). We took a quick picture and then headed back down the mountain. Turns out we only made it about two-thirds up the trail. There are 2 more major waterfalls further up (and probably another thousand little ones) but it was 4:30 and we were tired. It took us until about 6pm to get back to the car. We didn’t stop and play but the trail is steep and slippery – sometimes going down is harder than going up! I was half carrying Griffin who is getting better and better at hiking but still needs a hand. Zander is amazing to watch – he leaps down the hill with an agility of a billy goat – it’s cool. We were talking about why it is that a 3 hour hike took us 4 hours – and we didn’t finish! I think it is because most people don’t stop to play. They pause, look, take a picture and move on. We like to stop, look, play, experience – and when there are so many waterfalls, this takes time. It’s funny, because my sister Mel always says our vacations are too fast paced for her. Perhaps, in general, there are 2 types of vacation goers. The ‘let’s sit on a beach and relax’ type and the ‘let’s hike Mt. Everest’ type – and somehow, we want to do both. Anyway, we definitely want to return someday, possibly in August or the fall to finish up the route – and also to visit the waterfall museum that is located at the base and some of the other cool looking things nearby. The waterfalls would be Fun Stop #5, I suppose – but they seem worthy of at least 4 numbers for the waterfalls we played in – so I give it #’s 5 through 9.
We wanted to stop for dinner on the way home. I spied a place that said the grill was non stop from noon to 11pm. So, I stopped in and discovered that the ‘restaurant’ wasn’t actually open until 7:30 – you could only eat at the bar (2 bar stools)…. so typical. But, across the street a pizzeria was open and had some gluten free options so we decided to go for it.. I must say, this had to be the least French restaurant I have been in – at least in terms of culture. First, it was open before 7pm. Next, the waiter seated us immediately, and came back quickly to take our orders. Then, we ordered our food and it all came out within 10 or 15 minutes. I know, you are thinking it must have been frozen food or something but no – it was all fresh made, very good quality and quite affordable. I only saw other tourists in there (probably because it was so early) but, I would definitely return. In fact, I would even name this fun stop #10. We were able to eat an entire meal in less than an hour – unheard of for France! I was grateful since we wanted the kids to fall asleep on the way home. With all the stormy weather the clouds had been remarkable all day, and, on the way home, I found it beautiful the way they were rising out of the mountains themselves. Also, we passed this bucolic scene. It looks like it should be in some cheesy French tourist guide book, the church, the cows, the verdant fields….. No one would look at this and think USA! It really is different here, more different than you would think, and sights like that are actually pretty common.
So, getting there was fun, being there was fun and getting home was great as well. Callie and Griffin slept and I read “Danny, Champion of the World” out loud to Daddie and Zander. What a satisfying day, chock full of getting there, getting back and having fun the whole time…