Animal House.

This is truly an animal house. No frat brothers and no kegs of beer in sight; instead, the denizens are six dogs and two cats, and we are enjoying quiet cups of tea while watching the World Cup. Murray and Julie’s Normandy colombage house is incredibly cozy, and I’m just having a ball sitting here, sipping on some tea and trying to decide which of the dogs to cuddle with or the cats to pet. This is worlds away from where we were this morning, but still every bit as French (kind of) and lovely.

This morning, Steve and I woke up and promptly got about cleaning everything in sight and packing the rest of our things. Yesterday, I had already run errands to replace some of the household goods we had used and to mail off more postcards and a package. We had also done a farewell visit to the park and our favorite boulangerie. Before we knew it, we were on a train speeding out of Lyon. It was really hard to believe as the morning went on, as we carried our things out of the apartment, turned off the gas, and deposited the last of the trash, that we were really leaving. This is the second longest time we’ve spent in any one place, the only one  longer being in Taiwan! It’s been hard to say goodbye to all our favorite corners… Lyon is not a must-visit place in France as far as that goes, but it is a most livable and comfortable and nice corner of the country. 

At the Gare Part-Dieu, we boarded the TGV which carried us  into Paris at the Gare de Lyon (so named for the primary city which it connected Paris with) barely two hours later. We then had the shortest layover possible in Paris for 20 minutes as we took the metro to  the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris’s northwest corner. There, we boarded an Intercité train bound for Caen that took us through a very different landscape —  less rolling fields of wheat and flat pastoral landscapes, slightly more hilly and infinitely more green. We arrived in Lisieux two hours later. It is the biggest town in its region, about thirty minutes from the English Channel, and a mere 15 minutes from the house where Murray and Julie live. Right away, we spotted some beautiful churches and cathedrals. While exiting the station, I also spotted some decor on the of the regional Normandy trains that said “I have a dream!” in English, with an image of France that had a small sun over this part of the country and rain clouds everywhere else. This was how we learned this part of the country has weather that is rather similar to England. Small wonder, but it’s good to know people here have a sense of humor about it! We passed the afternoon at the café, and Murray collected us around 6 pm to drive back to their house.

Our hosts Murray and Julie are British but have lived outside a small town in Normandy for the past ten years.  They own this passel of animals at home and also a dog grooming business. We came up on them when they advertised for Workawayers to do 4-5 days of work at the salon/ around their countryside house, in exchange for accommodation and food and two days off a week, which is the typical arrangement. We’re here for ten days to two weeks, and I already wish we could stay for longer. The environment is beautiful, and the dogs are absolute dears — all six are large hunting breeds, four waist-high Italian Spinoni (or Spinones) and two Bracco Italianos, obviously all Italian breeds. The Spinoni remind me of Weimaraners, but have wirier hair and are white and red patches all over. They also have incredible jowls and drool a whole ton. The two Braccos are of a similar size and stature, but have a much closer-fitting, softer coat and darker coloring, with very long basset-hound like ears. I was the tiniest bit intimidated, because four greeted us when Murray drove us with boisterous barks, but calmed down after they got a chance to sniff and greet us.

Julie made us a wonderful dinner of lasagna that made both Steve and I think fondly of home, and the four of us also enjoyed a dessert of Normandy apple tart. Murray noted that this part of France is well-known for its apples and dairy products… and apparently, not too much more, but that’s just fine by me. Afterwards, I walked around the yard for a bit, and admired the landscape — fields green and gold, a neighbor’s house on the same lane and some horses in their yard, but otherwise, very quiet. There is a decaying barn next to the house, partially surrounded with weeds and wildflowers chest-high, and most of the dogs sleep in the kennel in the front of the house. The colombage house is typical Normandy architecture, a timbered house. The dark beams are prominent throughout the house, and thread through the ceilings. The inside is thankfully quite modern though well-decorated and comfortable. The couches all have large, thick blankets so the dogs can jump up at leisure and spread out. We have a room upstairs and an ensuite bathroom. After all this good food and the fresh air of the Normandy countryside, I think we’ll sleep quite well tonight! Moreover, there is satellite British TV, so we’re currently listening to British commentators debate the USA men’s team’s playing style as they battle against Belgium. And of course, there is steady Internet so I can write to the world. This is the kind of countryside living I can get behind.

Tomorrow, we start miscellaneous jobs around the farm and the day after that, some work at the dog grooming salon in town. It’s a new slice of France, and I think we’re going to enjoy it thoroughly.

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