(I have chosen the Weekly Challenge, because I feel certain that I’ve written about the Daily Post topic.)

Think of a time when someone, or something, didn’t meet your expectations. How did you come to terms with the disappointment?

We set off for a trip to France with great expectations. My husband, the only French-speaker among us, brushed up on his language skills for months so we could use it in the countryside of southwestern France we were visiting. We wanted the rural, vineyard region of France, and more of a cultural experience we would get in a big city — my husband and I had both been to Paris before on quick trips, but for the family we wanted something more authentic. We got a two-week vacation that was very different from what we expected.

My husband’s parents joined us from England (my husband’s English) in June of 1989. When I tried to book an auto I found that they had nothing big enough for 8 of us, so we had to get two cars. Oh, the excitement of driving in France! The French are crazy drivers and fast — I’m not convinced there are any rules of the road, except to get where you’re going as quickly as possible, alive. We made our way south from Bordeaux and spent the night in a quaint bed and breakfast (and dinner) owned by an English couple who had decided that they wanted a change of pace, and they seemed well-satisfied with their choice. (Many Brits have moved to France for the better, more predictable climate.) Overnight there was a violent thunderstorm which cut off the power for a while and seem bent on shaking the foundations of the centuries-old house, but all was washed clean and clear in the morning.

On day two we left the peaceful haven, and again joined the road-war to reach our destination of St. Privat des Pres. Trusting the listing in the Financial Times for a house in a quaint, medieval village sleeping 8, with four single beds in the loft, we were looking forward to seeing our home-away-from-home for the week. That was our first surprise. The place itself was practically medieval with a kitchen the size and age of an antique postage stamp. The furniture was old and dusty as was the whole place had a dank smell, no doubt from the old stone. The “loft” had obviously not been used for eons, and would have required half-day’s cleaning to put our kids in it, so we managed by doubling them up in the two main bedrooms on the second floor.  My mother-in-law and I got busy and cleaned up enough so that we felt comfortable and bought food for dinner from the local bouchere and boulangere. Milk came from the local daily, straight from the cow. The village was so small that we needed my husband’s French — no English speakers in rural France.

Then on our second night there, we had an unexpected surprise: It was the village’s celebration of the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. In the natural square formed by house, shops, and the early medieval church, people lined up tables in long rows for a communal meal and party. The next night there was a Son et Lumiere play performed in front of the church to commemorate the Revolution. What a time to be there! We may have been suspicious of our lodging, but the spirit of the town was wonderful.

We had another surprise one night: there was a massive thunderstorm with violent hail. We all lay in our beds waiting for the roof to blow off, but I guess the old roofs have endured a lot. Electricity was supplied to the houses by wires running from house to house, not very strong-looking, which made us nervous. The next morning we noticed that our cars were dented all over from the hailstorm. (Fortunately when we returned the car to the vendor, they we aware of the bad weather and we didn’t have to pay for the damage.)

We had long walks through the countryside, and fortunately the owners of the house left bicycles so the kids rode down the lanes while the adults walked. Most spectacular were the acres and acres of sunflowers which actually seem to impart a golden glow. Made me think of Vincent Van Gogh, and generally this was the area of France where he painted some of his best work. (Well, to be exact, Arles is further to the south and east.)

Several lakes dot the area where people go to swim and sunbathe: This is where we met the unanticipated sight of topless females. We should have expected this, but it was nevertheless a surprise, perhaps even more-so to our kids.

Vineyards abound in the Dordogne, and we spent many hours in vineyards and wineries sampling the vintage. One day was devoted to St. Emilion, not only a center for the wine business, but a beautiful, twist-turney, hilly town, a blend of business and culture, new and old.

The next stop on our personal tour of France was Lourdes. It’s like two sides of a coin: Outside the shrine it’s chaotic — street vendors, crowds speaking all languages, buskers — but once inside, all changes, and even with thousands of people strolling around, the atmosphere is tranquil and spiritual. It is quite a moving experience, one filled with hope, but even more faith.

We finished our trip in Bordeaux, a large city, but with the most incredible beaches! The sun and strong waves were splendid the day we visited, and all of us remember it fondly. It was like a roller coaster, scary yet fun. We did not go topless.

The whole trip was one of clashing expectations and wonderful surprises, reinforcing my belief that sometimes it’s just better to go with the flow!

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