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At 10:30 pm on 7/6/15 (Mon), Corey mentioned he could feel a weird energy and a sense of anticipation/excitement, even Sophie was running around like we hadn’t seen her do for a long time. At 11:00 I came to bed and I could feel the membrane separating from the uterine wall while I was lying on my side. I immediately started having one massive period cramp-type feeling low down in my abdomen along with low back pain that would not go away. After 20-30 minutes the cramps and back pain started organizing into contractions, about 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off. The back pain quickly started surpassing the familiar period cramps in the front. I got on all fours on the bed and started swaying my hips and head back and forth vigorously. The sensation rapidly got to the level of my worst period cramps (and I thought I generally had bad period cramps). At 11:45ish Corey texted my doula and called some family to let them know my labor had started. Corey and I took a long, hot shower, and though the shower itself was relaxing between contractions, it did not seem to help alleviate pain during the contractions. Contractions were 30 seconds to 1 minute long and 4-5 minutes apart in the shower. I coped with contractions at the end of the shower by pushing my back into the wall and my feet into the opposite side of the tub.

We got out of the shower at 1:00ish am and I moved to the couch, where Corey created a tall pile of pillows and blankets. A hoot owl was loudly hooting just outside the window (the closest we’ve ever heard), cutting the silence and darkness of the wee hours of the morning. With my back to the pillow mountain, I pushed my feet into the opposite side of the couch each time I had a contraction, along with some moaning. By 1:40 am, the contractions were starting to organize into 1 minute long and 2 minutes apart. We called Kara, my doula, and she listened to a few of my “surges” to determine how I was coping and to see if I needed to call the midwife. They slowed down a bit while talking to her and picked back up when I got off the phone. The pain level surpassed anything I had experienced with my “bad” period cramps, but I was still rolling with it okay. We talked to the midwife, Jewell, and she said it sounded like it was time to come in for an evaluation. Corey was frantically running around the house like a chicken with its head cut off trying to get the last things together and making me some sandwiches to take with us to the birth center. At 3:15 am, we left for the birth center.

Corey says I had four contractions on the way to the birth center, and I fell asleep mid-sentence between contractions. Unfortunately I was already quite exhausted from not having slept well the past few nights, and I had taken half a Unisom just before labor started! The unintentional Unisom was good and bad because I got some rest between contractions but I didn’t have the energy to handle them until it wore off. Jewell checked my cervix and it was 3 cm dilated, and I believe I was almost fully effaced before going into labor. Jewell and the nurse Rebecca were not able to replicate the set-up we had made at home on our couch. I was discouraged by this issue combined with the fact that I wasn’t dilated much. Kara arrived around 3:45 am, along with some family. I labored on the bed for a while with my legs pushing against the headboard. Rebecca mentioned that it seemed like I was working against the contractions pushing this way, and I agreed (though very unhappy about it, as I didn’t know which other positions could help). I was “toning” and using controlled breathing techniques through all the contractions. Jewell was impressed with my breathing technique (I’m sure she never told that to anyone else, ever!) I was told to try lying on my side and was warned that it’s always more uncomfortable at first when switching positions. Corey squeezed my hips as hard as he could for each contraction, as I was having back labor (entirely in the low back at this point). Throughout this time Kara was there and resting on a yoga mat on the floor, and I tried to sleep between contractions. I actually managed it sometimes since I was thoroughly exhausted. Contractions were still about a minute long and 2 minutes apart.

At 6:00 am I had not made any more progress, so I was encouraged to go home, as they were thinking it would be a long labor and I would be more comfortable at home in early labor. I decided to stay because I didn’t think I could handle two more car rides. Mom and Debbie went home and Dad and JM left too so they could come back when labor was progressing. Kara decided to go home too so she could get some sleep (she just had a 21 hour shift the previous night). I started going to the bathroom many, many times. Then I just stayed on the toilet for quite a while and labored on my own. I lifted up off the toilet and squeezed my own hips, sometimes pushing against the railing next to the toilet. I started having more pain in the front in addition to the existing back labor.

There was a shift change and Stephanie, the midwife, came in at 8:15. She asked my plan for when I would want Kara to come back, and I said when I was in active labor. Stephanie smiled and said, “You ARE in active labor!” I was 7-8 cm dilated!! I was so surprised how fast I had progressed (5 cm in about 2 hours!). Corey called everybody to get back to the birth center. Kara barely had time to put her things down at home when he called! I went back to the toilet for a bit and Stephanie suggested a walk. I walked up and down the halls for a bit behind Corey with my arms around his shoulders, stomping my feet during each contraction. We said ‘hi’ as we walked past some family in a waiting room. We walked to the sink in the birthing room and I labored in front of the sink, shifting my hips back and forth and leaning my head all the way into the bowl. Corey held my hips and leaned over me putting some weight on my back, which felt good. Corey said the bowl amplified my moans like a concert hall. I moved my head back and forth and he tried to make sure I didn’t bang my head on the faucet of the sink. All of a sudden my water broke with a dramatic gush. Corey ran out of the room to tell the midwife and let everybody know. I stayed at the sink with Kara, who was toning with me.

My mom and mother-in-law came in the room. I got in the tub, lying on my back, aggressively flinging my neck side to side, and squirming because I couldn’t find anything to push my feet against. Corey sat behind the back of the tub and gently held my head still with both hands (considering the neck issue I just had two days prior). Eventually, Corey held one hand and Kara held the other, while Stephanie, Anne (the nurse), and Kara coached me. I toned almost as loud as I could while Kara toned with me. The tones for the worst contractions were sing-song, almost like chanting. My mom said the toning sounded like a song, very spiritual. They kept telling me to relax my jaw, shoulders, and let the energy in my face push all the way down my body. Mom said every time I would relax my muscles, she would relax; it was contagious. This was the transition stage, and I had to stay completely focused inward, tuning out all external stimuli and people. I was dealing with a force so powerful I could not put into words what control and concentration it took to get through it. Transition was beyond anything I ever thought I could handle. I felt like I needed to push and Stephanie told me to go ahead and follow what my body was telling me. I had been very loud up to this point, but I was told not to make as much noise as I started pushing. I thought the contractions during the pushing stage would be less intense, but that was not the case. I had the transition-level intensity plus the feeling like I needed to poop. After pushing a while on my back, I squatted in the tub, holding onto the side of the tub. I was having trouble figuring out how to push effectively, and Stephanie and Anne were giving me pointers.

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Stephanie said I might be more effective outside of the tub, so we moved to the bed. Stephanie coached me on how to push effectively. Corey held my leg out and I started pushing better but it still wasn’t working. Stephanie suggested that I needed to go to the bathroom to make pushing easier so they quickly moved me to the toilet between contractions. That was tough. I couldn’t pee and was pushing as hard as I could during contractions. Eventually we gave up and moved back over to a birthing stool that was set up next to the bed. More coaching and I finally got down how to push. I had been sort of ignoring the poop sensation and instead was pushing too much in the front. The effective pushing worked with the poop sensation; I directed my efforts fully downward and very little in my lower abdomen. Stephanie then warned me that I would start feeling a really powerful burning sensation and that it would not go away. I must not be afraid of the pain but embrace it. I was starting to crown when Stephanie put a mirror under me. I didn’t want to look at first but finally did at the end. I was a bit discouraged because it was not a full circle of the head I saw, just a sliver. I couldn’t really tell that the baby’s head was actually a few inches out already! Then I was told the baby’s head was about to get past the pubic bone and I should get on the bed.

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It’s at this point that I fully understood how labor builds on itself; I now had all three sensations: those of transition plus the pushing sensations plus now the crowning sensation! It was overwhelming! I was so determined at this point, I pushed even harder than I had been. A couple more pushes while lying across the bed sideways and Stephanie caught her as she flew out. It seemed like the baby never crowned fully, she just came out suddenly. I think the speed is why I had a second degree tear. Stephanie immediately put her on my chest, and I didn’t even think about whether she was a girl or a boy, I was just happy to have her. She started crying immediately and we marvelled at her little body. The midwife asked Corey if he wanted to make the gender call since nobody knew yet! Corey took a look and made the call that “it’s a girl!” and his expression was one of pure joy and surprise. We did not find out the gender ahead of time. Most people thought it would be a boy, and we did too, up until the very end. Corey and I had a feeling in the last couple weeks of pregnancy that it would be a girl 🙂

Afterward was a blur. We were so focused on our new little baby Scarlett that all the things that the midwife was doing down below almost didn’t matter. Corey cut the cord then they gave me a shot of pitocin to help get the placenta out and then stitched up a second degree tear. While all that was going on, Scarlett rooted around on my chest to find the breast. It took her a while but she found it and fed like a champ on both sides for over an hour! Corey kept asking me if I was cold because I was shaking so much, but it was just shock. It was all worth it in an instant. I would not say I fell in love with Scarlett instantaneously; immediately after the birth I felt so relieved more than anything. But it did not take long after recovering a bit from the shock of it all to feel for Scarlett the deepest love I’ve ever felt.

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I was super lucky my labor started on its own in the last hour because I would likely have been induced with pitocin two days later. Kara said maybe my body and Scarlett knew they had to make it happen before the “deadline”. There had been a lot of concern on the part of the midwives and neo-natalogists, due to Scarlett’s small size (less then 10th percentile). They ordered extra screenings and several specialized ultrasounds. At the last ultrasound she had grown to the 12th percentile. The “deadline” for delivery before I would be medically induced kept being moved later and later because Scarlett passed every test with flying colors. The final deadline was 41 weeks, two days after she was born naturally. I’m so happy I got to have the natural birth I had hoped for.

I did not reflect on the labor much until days later. In my mind and to my surprise, I went very quickly into active labor and stayed there (I understand that’s rare for first-time labors). Since the contractions were about one minute long and two minutes apart for the majority of the time, I did not have that early labor phase of being able to walk around, go about daily life between contractions or talk through them. Ultimately, I think I’m glad my body meant business and I did not have a long early labor. I had prepared all these tools like focal points and playlists, and used none of it. I had to focus inward and concentrate entirely on what my body was doing; all of the tools I had prepared would have just been unwelcome distractions. In the end, toning and changing positions helped. But most of all, I got through it with this absolute concentration, allowing me to relax as much as possible in order to meet the pain head-on rather than try to work against it. Corey was amazed at how in control I was throughout the whole thing, with calm responses to questions. During transition and pushing, I was riding the contractions like waves, and the excellent coaching I got was the icing on the cake. I’m very grateful to Corey, Kara, Stephanie and Anne for their dedicated care and support. Thinking back on it made me terrified to re-live it, but at the same time overjoyed at the amazing-beyond-words feat I had accomplished, the enormity of bringing life into the world naturally, and at giving my daughter the best possible start to life.

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My husband (C) and I (B) just got back from a month and a half trip through Europe. We kept thorough journals and took a ton of pictures. We didn’t have easy internet access most of the way, so we waited til now to post it all on a blog. Most of the posts will have two parts: the first will be my journal entry for that day and the second will be my husband’s. Amazingly, we have very little redundancy since we wrote about completely different aspects of our trip. He wrote mainly what we did each day, and I wrote about impressions. The whole premise of the trip was to stay in small towns and countryside to have a more genuine experience than we would have just hitting the highlights in large cities. It all started with visiting family in Florida. Oh wait, that’s not Europe, but we’ll get to that.

The posts will be opposite of the order of most blogs. Instead of the most recent entry being at the top, the most recent will be last so the journals can be read in the order they were written. There were 46 days in all. Once you finish reading all the posts on the first page, just click on the “Older Posts” link at the bottom of the page for the next page of posts (in chronological order.)

Our pictures and videos are grouped in albums by country, so every post for each country will have a link to the same album with all the pictures or videos from that country. The picture link will be at the top of the first post for each country and at the bottom for each subsequent post.  The video link is in the first and last post for each country.  *A note about the videos: They are best viewed in thier original small size, so click on the tiny “Google video” button to the right beneath the video screen, make sure “original size” is checked, then click play.

When we left Raleigh, we were standing in the Amtrack station looking at the perfect view of downtown skyline all lit up – and a close-up view of the newly alive “warehouse district” they call it now – a fitting goodbye to our grand re-introduction to Raleigh. The city is completely re-developed and ever more populated than the one we had left behind a couple years ago. The rate of change was just daunting: now Raleigh had a “Midtown” AND an “Uptown!” So we watched as the train pulled in right in front of us, breaks screeching as it robbed our view, about to embark on our 13-hour train journey. It would be a mostly sleepless, uncomfortable, and often very bumpy ride. Can’t wait to compare to the smooth rides on the European trains!

Southern Florida is very different from any other part of the country I’ve seen. It reminds me of Costa Rica somewhat. There are palm trees littering the landscape and lush jungle-like woods with vines and Spanish moss hanging. Except for the many palm trees, most of the landscape looks like any other part of the country – the same old box and chain stores you see all over. Most of the streets are much wider than Raleigh’s, and the sprawl never ends (Raleigh’s ends eventually.) There is a lot more ethnic diversity here, too – we’ve seen (or heard) many languages already. The black culture of Sanford reminds me of Atlanta’s – pimped out old cars with wild colors and tacky rims. We saw some old Cadillac today with a pink top, baby blue bottom, and pink rims. A guy was driving it!

Back to similarities to Costa Rica/Latin America: almost all buildings have a stucco exterior and many seem to have a concrete structure (probably to be hurricane-proof.) The houses have low-pitch roofs. Many houses and buildings except for the big box stores and chain restaurants have pastel colors. The neighborhood near where we were staying is a mixture of Latin American-type houses – colorful pastels, arches, flat roofs, bars on windows! – with beach-type houses with “Florida blinds” and regular ugly ranches that you’d see almost anywhere in the country. I thought the barred windows were only found in places like third-world Latin America and the Philippines, but this is a bad neighborhood. There are lots of Spanish-language signs and Spanish-style architecture with Spanish tile roofs, probably due to the heavy Cuban influence. Large fountains are all over the place – in downtown Orlando through to Sanford. Small lakes are scattered about. The place we’re staying is even on a pond. My brother-in-law (whom we’re visiting) and his roomie bought remote-controlled boats. They raced them on the pond and ran into each other, so funny!

His house is truly unique, never seen anything like it. It’s open and airy with that Spanish influence again. You can see it in the multiple arches and high ceiling that is open above the kitchen through to the adjacent living room and dining room, giving the classic Latin feeling of a courtyard. There are lizards and fireants everywhere, even in parking lots. The sun is brighter and there are more birds flying around than up north, and there is sand, not soil.

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France Pictures

We flew to Barcelona today! We got very little sleep and I’m wiped out right now on the train to Latour de Carol, France. The plane ride was entertaining despite the lack of sleep. There was a rowdy group of Spaniards with seemingly boundless energy. They surprised a high school Spanish level 3 class with their cheers and bravos upon hearing that the class was going to visit Barcelona and Tarragona. A couple of good-looking young guys were part of the mix with middle-aged and young adults. The young Spaniards flirted with the American girls – the only real communication being body language & the occasional interpretation from their teacher. The Spaniards’ loud cheers made me miss Spain and remember what I loved so much about the Spaniards: their gleeful desire to show off their home and culture, their contagious and cheerful energy, and their need to share every experience with a group of friends and family (their social nature.) I remember the crazy, exaggerated stories the Freixa family would tell me when I stayed with them near Barcelona four years ago. It all made me wish we were spending some time in Barcelona – or at least Spain. But the purpose of this trip was to try the new and different, mostly staying out of cities. That means leaving Spain as soon as we arrive for the French Pyrenees. I’ll be out of my comfort zone in all the countries where I don’t speak the language!

My Spanish came in handy several times in the Barcelona Sants train station – and beforehand – particularly when we got our Eurail passes validated and confirmed our train time and platform. Too bad it won’t be useful the rest of the trip!

We sat on the wrong side of the airport train station – on purpose since it had an open bench – but a large, intimidating security guard came over and asked if we knew to use the other side. I said we did and brushed it off, but I realized I should have been more appreciative.

We ate real Spanish tortilla sandwiches, first time my husband had a real one. I had made them for him, but nothing compares to Spanish food in Spain! We also had plain, natural yogurt in a glass jar! It was good once I put the sugar in it that the cashier made sure to give me.

Riding over on the train from the airport to the Barcelona Sants train station (central), I was reminded how completely awful Europe can look. I had forgotten how ugly many of their city outskirts – and even their hearts – can be. The concrete tower apartment buildings with awful green shades that look like they fell apart a decade ago are all too common – with clothes hanging on all the balconies. It looks like the old communist block to me. I don’t know if I could survive in such a repulsive environment.

We’re now halfway through the foothills, I guess they’re called, and it’s much nicer than the city. Scenery is pretty! (though it’s raining.)

[Now writing much later in the evening]…The bus ride was exciting to say the least due to the sheer cliffs hanging off one side of the narrow road and a steep slope often with fences to catch falling debris on the other side. The driver was bold – going very fast even on curves when passing large trucks and other long buses. Rightfully reminded me of northern Spain bus ride in 2004 with the App group – similar mountain scenery – when we visited my favorite Spanish town, Molina Seca. It was also reminiscent of the crazy chicken bus drivers in Guatemalan mountains who seem forever determined to tip over their reused school buses. Even in the dense fog near the peak of the range before coming back down to the town of Puigcerda, no signs of slowing down!

We finally arrived at the charming little town of Latour de Querol(e)? as the Catalan spelling is – or Latour de Carol (French) or Latour de Querol (Castillian Spanish). I love visiting towns like these (villages, really) – ones with stone buildings that are older than you can imagine and yet they’re still inhabited. I like visiting because they are so entirely different from everything I am familiar with, but at the same time I would never want to live in a place like this (even for a short time.) I think I’d get depressed! Not enough activity, thought we did see several folks walking their dogs and one baby stroller. The streets are all brown/grey, not enough natural green to keep the spirits up.

We had dinner at our hotel – L’Auberge Catalane. It was a proper French meal that Ive never experienced before. C and I now both know the true meaning of Fois gras, we tried and like a gelatin appetizer that involved olives AND anchovies (two things we would steer clear of if we weren’t traveling), and we have the best vanilla and raspberry icecream, chocolate pastry and apple tart ever in our lives! What a night. And on top of that, our hostess (hotel & restaurant) was very nice. We chatted a while, and she eventually offered her advice on where to go on the next leg of our trip when we’ll be based in Sete (on French Mediterranean.) She’s the only one who speaks English here.

At dinner –

  • We were given a decorative glass bottle full of room-temperature water. You never see this in the US but I love it b/c I always ask for water with no ice, and half the time the server forgets.
  • Everyone was talking so quietly they were practically whispering – hard to feel at ease.
  • A couple brought their young daughter to dinner there – how could they torture her that way?! She must have been bored out of her mind – and to have to eat all that adult food?? – maybe the French start their kids at 5 with gourmet food!
  • There were several courses – pre-appetizer (gelatin anchovie thing), bread, real appetizer (entree), meat, seafood (or one or the other), and dessert.
  • After each course, they would take all the silverware & give new silverware catered to the dish (we’re not used to this b/c we never eat gourmet)
France Videos

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(starting Thursday April 17)

Ryan got in about 1:00 am from his flight to Dunellen. Amazingly, they scheduled him for a 9:00 am flight today! We got up with him and said our goodbyes at 0800; unfortunately he couldn’t take us to the airport because we had to be there at 1130. Jamie was able to take us down to the airport though. We ended up there very early, at 1030, but our flight to Philadelphia wasn’t until 1330. We took our time and got some food from Miami Subs before getting on the B-757. On the way out of Orlando, I got a cool picture of Ryan’s neighborhood and the Sanford airport. I saw the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in daylight finally. The pilot slammed the plane onto the runway very nicely in Philly. The layover there was about two hours long, and we spent it walking from terminal C to A-West, eating, and talking on the phone. We boarded the 767-200ER at 1300 and took our seats in the back on the right side. We finally got off the ground after 12 other planes and headed east, with my last sight of the USA being a barrier island stuff with white houses. They ran out of the pasta dinner options, we were stuck with the BBQ beef, green beans, and mashed potatoes. There were also chips and salsa in the pack, which I thought, was pretty cool. Somewhere along the way it changed to …

…another restless hour of trying to sleep on the plane. I got maybe 20 minutes of sleep (so did B) before the rude awakening of lights and coffee jolted us awake. Around 0800 local time we broke out of the clouds right above Barcelona and made a wide sweeping turn over the city into the airport. I saw a couple new airlines like Clickair, Spanair, and Veuling. We disembarked from the rear of the plane into a bus that took us over to the terminal and customs. Customs was no problem and we bought a few snacks and waters before trying to find the train station. We both were amazed at how the Catalan language spoken here is a weird mix of Spanish and French. For example, ‘Exit’ in French is Sortie, Salida in Spanish, and Sortida in Catalan. Anyway, the pedestrian bridge to the train station rejected us due to construction, so we had to take a shuttle bus over. We got there just in time to watch the train’s marker lights leave the station, but we got a free ticket out of the deal. 30 minutes later, the next train took us to Barcelona Sants, the main (huge!) train terminal. We successfully validated our Eurail tickets thanks to B’s Spanish, but we were less successful touring the area around the station because our bags were so heavy, it was raining, and the area was not very appealing. We grabbed some food at the cafeteria that included a Spanish tortilla sandwich, a salad, straight unflavored yogurt, and juice for about 15 EUR.

Finally at 1210 we boarded the Rodalies regional train to Latour de Carol, France. The ride was uneventful until we had to get off at Ripoll and board buses because of track work. We were expecting this so it wasn’t a surprise. The ride on the bus was wild because the road was very narrow and curvy. It went over a high mountain pass where there were several inches of snow on the ground with more coming down. On the other side of the pass, we reached the town of Puigcerda where the bus dropped us off and headed back to Ripoll. This left us wondering how to get one more stop to Latour de Carol because we apparently just missed the bus there despite following everyone else. Conveniently, a thunderstorm rolled through just at the right time to match our mood. Despondent and completely exhausted, we decided that taking a taxi was probably the best option, if one ever showed up. A half hour later, two cabs showed up and we flagged one down. 15 EUR to Latour he said…deal! 10 minutes down a bumpy road and past a little white sign saying ‘France’, we were in the town and were dropped off right at the hotel.

We were kindly greeted by the owner of L’Auberge Catalane who spoke English, and in a few minutes we completely crashed in our TINY room #2. Eventually, the weather cleared up and we went for a short walk, spanning the entire town in about 10 minutes. At 2000, we had a very nice (but very expensive) dinner, at 25 EUR a pop, downstairs. Between the appetizer of some sort of gelatin with anchovies and olives, the ‘entrée’ of fois gras wrapped in ham, and my main dish of steak and pomme frites, it was a memorable meal. I can’t forget desert, which consisted of 100% legit raspberry ice cream, a fantastic fondent de chocolat, and a wafer thing. After dinner we spoke to the owner for a while about our trip. She wasn’t sure that Sete was worth five days, but we’ll find out. Bed late!

Breakfast was fit for kings! Water in fancy almost-wine glasses, croissants, chocolate-filled pastries, small rolls made of French baguette-type bread (soft, moist and fluffy on the inside, hard on the outside), and some other kind of folded flaky pastry in a real bread basket! Everything was so fancy – or old-fashioned – the glasses, saucers for our cereal bowls, and milk in a pitcher, not a jug or carton. They love chocolate here – chocolate in their pastries, chocolate cereal, and even chocolate powder for your cereal! We also had all-natural yogurt again with no sweetener added – but they gave us sugar cubes and packets. Even the cereal was in a “proper” glass container, not the original box.

  • All this with the whole dining area to ourselves and a great view of the rocky, craggy mountain and boulder with very old wall, outside our window. The mountains have a crude beauty.
  • As always in European countries, the hall light has a motion detector and is only on when needed. (Sometimes they have timers, which can be good but also problematic when they time out way too early, leaving you stuck on dark, narrow, winding stairs.)
  • The town (Latour de Carol) has a church on the hill & the bell rings at 7 am and 8 am. Later the bell in the town of Olette rang at 7 pm.

Now it’s much later in the day (11 pm). What a day it was. We bought groceries, enough for all meals in Thues Caranca/Thues-Entre-Valle. We’re staying in a place that’s like a real apartment, what the French call a gite. A full kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom. It has all an apartment needs with rustic charm. The fireplace is really cool – completely open, VERY wide, and incredible old molten-black stone.

The people here are very nice. The people in this region – the Train de Jaune and Upper Tet Vally in Eastern Pyrenees – seem to be very proud of their home. Emily at Latour de Carol last night was happy to live there in the peace and quiet rather than Toulousse where she’s from, and she even pointed out that we’re seeing the REAL France by staying in small towns instead of just big cities. My thoughts exactly. Two others we met today in Olette, a town three towns east of Thues-Entre-Valle on the Train Jaune rail line, mentioned how they love where they live also because of the peace and quiet, the people are nicer than in the big city (especially Paris), and because of the natural beauty. One guy pointed out the Gorge de Caranca, where we will hopefully hike tomorrow!

The people of Olette are right – the people are nice around here! Did I mention that?? When we arrived, the lady who showed us around at our gite, Mas de Bordes, asked if we had our own food, etc. when Corey asked about dinner. We said we didn’t have any of our own food – not even for lunch and it was already lunchtime – and she offered us some of her own food! There is no restaurant in town and no market. We heard later that this kind of generosity, especially with food, is not uncommon in rural French lodgings. She told us when the closest market was open in nearby Olette and her brother Nemo found a train and bus schedule for us. When she handed me the pasta and veggies (onions, artichokes and broccoli), I didn’t see it was open on one en and spilled a good bit of it on the ground!

How embarrassing, in front of the whole crowd – the host’s son and family. Nemo’s dad who actually owns the place is gone for the weekend. Nemo and his family live in Toulouse – his British wife Gemma, toddler son and baby daughter. His two sisters live at the gite with their dad. It’s a small world – Gemma is a research biologist (as is Nemo) and spent some time in NC-RTP doing an interview with a company or university (she wasn’t clear where) and had even visited some part of the Outer Banks. The two of them had lived in Ithaca, NY for two years because Nemo (or both of them) was doing research there. The whole lot – toddler included – speaks very good English.

Not only did the folks at the gite help us out but a guy we met in Olette gave us a ride back to Thues-Entre-Valle after the train didn’t show up. His car wouldn’t start and C saw the opportunity to ask him about a taxi. He said a taxi would be expensive and offered to give us a ride if he could get his car started. He ended up getting some neighbors to jump it. His name was Guillermo Absorbe – currently lives in Olette but had originally lived in Toulouse. He’s into music – learning to dj and mix beats/music – especially hip-hop and drum and bass. I asked for his full name in case we hear him on the radio one day!

While we were waiting for Guillermo’s car to be jumped, we talked to a lady in the town who just came over to watch. She and her dog chatted with us the whole time. She was the third person to seem surprised we were from the US – probably because they don’t get many American visitors here. We’ve seen a lot of Brits and the lady said there are a lot around here.

People here seem to love dogs. We saw several people in Latour de Carol walking their dogs and logs of dogs in Olette as well.

The train ride over was gorgeous! We took many pictures and a few videos. There were crazy rock formations and cliffs. Again, a very rough kind of beauty. There were a ton of tunnels and a couple arch bridges.

Corey got to practice his French several times today and saved us on a couple occasions – like getting us out of Latour de Carol on the correct train at the right time, etc.

I’ve now seen tow guys peeing right beside the train at a quick stop. They really need more public bathrooms here. I’ve heard it’s a real problem in European cities which is why London created a program to educate the public on the locations of public bathrooms throughout the city.

I can see this experience teaching C and me some valuable lessons on self-sufficiency, conservation, and simplicity/minimalism. We’re making fires in the open fireplace at our gite, had to find groceries at the little mini market – getting there and back was most of the battle – cook for ourselves using a gas stove that you have to light with a match (another feature that would be considered old-fashioned in the US but still somewhat common in Europe.) We have to refrain from being too gluttonous so that the food we hand-carried from the next town over lasts our full 3 days and we have sufficient energy food for all our hiking. We deal with the cold and wind – layer, layer, layer! – with no heat other than the fire. I had to be careful not to go to bed with wet hair since it was so cold at night (not an issue in a heated house.) Hmmm…Reminds me of our family friend’s place called “Bear Den.”

We’ve also had to be humbled twice today by relying on the kindness of strangers, knowing we had no alternative other than to accept and no way to ever pay them back! It’s comforting to know those good samaritans exist and that they were around when we needed them, but it’s a very hard thing to accept! I have to think I’ll help out strangers in the future, maybe I have in the past, and I would have done the same if I were them. People in general must know (with a little life experience) that sometimes you have to give a little and sometimes you have to take a little. It’s just the way life is. It’s still a hard concept for me even if it’s common sense. It must at least be common sense for the good people around here.

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Today started early and we were downstairs for breakfast at 0700. Emily had a nice spread of breads, yogurt, fruit, and cereal laid out for us when we came down the stairs. She normally starts at 0800 but was kind enough to set it up early for us. We were out the door by 0800 and walked about 1 km along the main road towards the train station which is 2 km out of town. I realized that we needed to be on the parallel road down the hill next to the river, so we backtracked to town, but still made it to the train station by 0845. A Petite Train Jeune train was at the station, somewhat confirming my sketchy timetable showing a 0905 departure towards Villefranche. The ticket desk was closed until 0930, and people starting asking me questionsin French, so it started to get ugly, especially because the digital departure board didn’t show a 0905 TER train to Villefranche. Instead, it showed a 0934 bus that involved a 1 hour layover along the route. Discouraged, we weren’t sure what to do until the board changed, now showing the 0905 departure! I managed to ask the engineer if we could buy tickets on the train and tell the conductor we were getting off at Thues-Caranças in French before piling on. The train was on the move 5 minutes later, the 1908-built train straining up steep hill and through sharp curves. B and I hung out the window a lot of the time along with some other tourists, but we had half of the car to ourselves. The train dumped us off at the ‘station’ and I felt like we had entered another world. The land was dry and steep cliffs surrounded the valley. After a short, steep walk up from the station, we stumbled into the courtyard of what we thought was our destination, Mas de Bordes. We entered an open door and a younger guy named Nemo came out to greet us. We also met his sister who showed us our intriguing gîte, and also some pasta and vegetables to cook in the common area since we had nothing. We cooked and ate all of it (hungry!) then took a much needed nap until 1530. We later walked back down to the station and caught the 1614 train to Olette, a small town about 5 km away. We found the small grocery store there and spent 26 EUR on food for the whole time we will be at Mas. Back at the train station, we waited for two hours for a westbound, despite what we thought were 2 scheduled trains that never came. It was now 1900, we had food, but no way to get back to Thues because there were no more trains or buses. At about plan D, I noticed a younger guy down the road who looked to be having car trouble. I walked over to him and fortunately he knew some English. I told him our story and he said that if he could get his car started he could take us back to Thues. I helped push his car down the street (dumping camera and phone on the road in the process) to no avail. He ended up finding some locals to help jump start the car and in the meantime Beth and I talked to a very nice local lady who was very curious of what we thought of France. Two kids were shooting pellet guns nearby too. After 10-15 minutes, we were on the road, and the guy, Guillome Absorbé, talked about his aspirations to be a professional dummer/guitarist and affinity towards American rap…cool guy. He dropped us off in the village and we walked up the hill laden with groceries. We started a small fire in the fireplace and had leftovers from lunch for dinner.

France Pictures

We hiked the Gorge de Caranca today!  It started out rainy – hard downpours during our morning (really early afternoon since we went to bed late & slept for 13 hours.)  We’re glad we stuck it out and went on the long hike instead of the short one as it eventually cleared up.  We could actually see our gite from the gorge – it’s that close!  The gite is actually a complex of one main building with a courtyard (where we’re staying) and a few other buildings/sheds.  The bulk of it was built in the 15th century!! and it was added on to in the 18th century.  It’s perched up on a large hill above the town – and we had the best possible view of it and the town below from way up above.  The gorge itself is the most spectacular of all – sheer drops hundreds of feet down from “grooves” as our French host says – the trail cut out of the rock face.  The entrance to the gorge is the narrowest part – like a slot!  As you go into the beginning of the middle part of the gorge (as far as we went), you could see a snow-capped peak in the distance.

As we were hiking, I couldn’t help but notice graffiti and Catalan translations on all of the French signs, something we saw yesterday on many of the Train Jaune signs as well as in Olette.  I know that the Catalan-speaking region in Spain, called Catalunya in Catalan (Cataluna in Castillian Spanish), has its own autonomous government and the Catalunans are very proud of their language and culture.  Once Franco died and the Spanish government was re-structured, the regions of Spain were allowed to reclaim their unique cultural identities and speak their unique languages and dialects (other than Castillian Spanish) for the first time in many, many decades.  The Catalunyans started speaking their language most of the time instead of Castillian Spanish, and re-made all of their signs so that Catalan was first and Castillian second (if at all.)  The Catalan-speaking region includes parts of Spain and France – mostly around the Eastern Pyrenees – but the French side does not allow the same autonomy for the Catalunyans.  French is mostly the only language on the signs, though we have occasionally seen Catalan second to French on some signs.  The Catalunyans are very proud of their language, so I’m not surprised to see graffiti on French-only signs that says things like “Orgull Cata” – Catalan Pride and “En Catala” – In Catalan, as well as the Catalan translations of French spray-painted on signs.  We even saw letters changed so that the sign had no French, only Catalan.  Catalan is a lot like French and Spanish mixed together, maybe with a little Portuguese mixed in, but you ask a linguist or a Catalunyan, and they will say it is NOT a mixture but indeed its own language formed as any other Romance language was.

I think we’ve gotten into the swing of this lifestyle a lot more in just one short day.  We had a lot more time to enjoy the mountains today, I was able to cook dinner much faster, knowing how to light the gas stove and use non-teflon cookware with no oil, and C made a much better fire that burned hotter and actually kept us warm.  It’s great to sit by a hot fire in an open fireplace.  Cloves playing with the fire 🙂

Houses and yards around here tend to be messy and cluttered with junk.  C mentioned that the “campground”/meadow area they have here at the gite is so cluttered that he would consider it a hole in the States, but that somehow it looks or seems okay here.  Maybe it’s because everything is so old that it looks unkempt anyway.  Our hosts have a plethora of junk laying around in the yard/ruins/and field like rusted stoves, antique-looking machinery, a few old-style mattress springs, wood scattered about, and so on.  C also said that this junk collection and untidiness seems to be a trend in the countryside – no matter where you are or which country you’re in.

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Today started very late because we didn’t set the alarm clock. I looked over at the clock and it was 12:45, wow! However, it was cloudy and raining, not a good hiking day at all. We had a brief brunch and Nemo drew a map for us of the gorge trails. We struck out into the cold downpour around 1430, down the hill past the train station and only a couple hundred meters to the entrance to the Gorge Caranças. By this point we were cold and soaked from the knees down (thank goodness for waterproof parkas!). We made the decision to go ahead and do the 3-hour trail instead of the 1-hour trail which was a good idea because it started to clear up shortly after. The rail took us high up on the side of the canyon with specracular views of the extremely rugged gorge, and the ‘grooves’ for the trail on the other side. After crossing the river, the trail became very interesting. There was a water diversion station that sent water into a pipe that went inside of the mountain. The trail followed the pipe (as far as elevation goes) so it didn’t drop much along the whole gorge. Long slots, or ‘balcones’ were cut out of the sheer cliffs for the trail…not one for those scared of heights. The trail followed the tube downhill where it came out of the mountain and down to a hydroelectric station which power the railway line. In some p laces along the trail, horizontal shafts were cut through the rock to the main tunnel, and we could see the 3′ diameter tube in there, and hear the deep rumble of moving water. A light rain chased us back up to Mas de Bordes at 1900. I made a blistering fire while B made a nice dinner of pasta and vegetables. Afterwards, we wandered around the property a little bit before calling it quits and enjoying the fire before bed.

France Pictures