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January 15, 2002
Visitors from home (Russell)

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Russell's sister Joanne, her husband Matt, Gail, and Russell at home in Crest

It has been a very exciting time around here lately, as the World Trippers had our first opportunity to host family members from back home: Russell's sister Joanne and her husband Matt.  With Matt's mother volunteering to watch their two children for a few days, Joanne and Matt scheduled a trip to Europe for January 10-21.  Joanne's trip goals include spending time with Russell, seeing the Alps, and touring Paris.  Matt's trip goals include seeing as many places in Europe as possible, but especially Italy.  Their resulting week-and-a-half trip may end up being more like a marathon, but luckily their plans have included spending their first few days with us here in Crest.

On January 11th, Joanne and Matt arrived in Paris and took the TGV ("train de grande vitesse" or bullet train) down to Valence, where they picked up their rented Alfa Romeo.  Russell drove up to Valence to meet them and guide them down to Crest, where they were greeted by a colorful "Welcome" sign that Joss had drawn and taped to the front door.

There were greetings and hugs all around.  Joanne brought several "care package" items from home, including prescription refills and some good-old American junk food (such basic staples as microwave popcorn and large bags of chips do not exist in France).  Our guests literally brought good weather with them; the bleak grayness of the last week suddenly gave way to crisp sunny days that lasted for the duration of their visit.  As Joanne and Matt spent their days recovering from jet lag and getting used to being in a foreign country, we alternated day trips and driving excursions with periods of just loafing around next to the wood-burning stove and sharing each others' company.

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Joanne hand delivers some long-craved "Chex Mix"

On January 12th, we began a somewhat regular routine of driving into Crest and having morning coffee and croissants at our favorite café (Joanne was impressed that we are able to leave the boys at home for hours at a time while we go into town).  Afterwards, we drove to Chabrillan, a restored village five minutes west of Crest, and walked among the ruins.  We then headed further south, where Gail, Joanne, and Matt took an English-language guided tour of the castle at Suze-la-Russe while Russell and the boys ran through the village streets playing hide-and-seek and having swordfights with sticks.  Our last stop for the day was Grignan, where we saw a gorgeous sunset over the ramparts of yet another castle.

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Joanne and Matt at the medieval ruins of Chabrillan
Joss and Cameron sword-fighting at Grignan

January 13th was Matt's birthday, so he and Joanne took the day for themselves and drove all the way to St. Tropez on the south coast of France.  (On a blind guess, Matt ordered a birthday dinner of andouille sausage, which turned out to be stuffed with tripe.)

January 14th was Joanne and Matt's last full day here, so we supplemented our in-town coffee with crêpes this morning.  In the afternoon, Cameron and Joss took their guests on a long walk through the woods in the back of the house, and both Joanne and Matt were quite amazed by how peaceful and relaxing it was -- they both later regarded it as the highlight of their trip so far.  Joanne, Russell and the boys played a rousing board game of Les Colons de Katäne ("The Settlers of Catan"), while Matt set out on his own to see how fast he could drive on the autoroute.  We finished the day with a very rare dinner out at the Restaurant Pinocchio in nearby Loriol, where we stuffed ourselves silly on pasta, entrecôte, galettes, and the most fabulous desserts we've had in a long time (both Gail and Russell had banana splits).

On January 15th, we bid a reluctant farewell to our guests -- it seems like they just got here.  Joss stood on a chair and showered them with homemade confetti that he had colored and cut out himself.  Joanne and Matt are off to Chamonix, Geneva, and Florence, taking two sleeper trains before they end up in Paris this weekend.  Russell has the thankless job of taking the TGV up to Paris to serve as their guide, while lucky Gail gets to stay at home with the two boys.  (Comment from Gail: "I'm not even going to comment.")

And as if to symbolize our sadness at their departure -- and the fact that they did indeed bring the good weather with them -- after Joanne and Matt left, the sky clouded over and it began raining.


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