“And could we get a SAT NAV, please?”
“Sorrrrrry. Only available if you upgrade to a vehicle with a SAT NAV. You can go buy your own at a big Tesco.”
“Oh, well, do you have any maps?”
“OK. We’ll figure it out.”
And thus began our own little Tour de France, you know, without bicycles and involving quite a bit more junk food.
Although Susan and I didn’t have the easiest time prying the car keys from the hands of the frigid anti-American rental agency, once we got on the road, we were happily rolling through the lovely English countryside, southbound to Dover.
We arrived eight hours later and were somehow both surprised that Dover really did have the white cliffs Vera Lynn sang about in the 1940’s:
After almost two hours on the ferry, we arrived in France, refreshed and excited! We drove three hours into Paris, where we parked our car in the smallest space of an underground dungeon-converted-parking garage and toasted to our successful driving on the right side of the car and effortlessly switching from driving on the left to driving on the right side of the road with a glass of vin rogue. Cheers to epic adaptability!
The next morning, we met up with one of Susan’s friends, an ex-pat with a habit of finding and helping struggling American students in Parisian public transit hubs. We walked along the canal, ate delicious food and stopped in at a bakery for coffee and dessert.
With bellies full of Parisian delights, we got in our car (again) and were off to GroinGroin, a sanctuary for pigs, just outside of Le Mans, France. We stayed at Groin Groin for the week, learning about pig husbandry by day and enjoying delicious (and cheap) French wine by night.
Groin Groin is home to 20 Vietnamese Pot-bellied pigs, 2 Kunekune pigs and 3 Large White pigs in addition to 1 goat, 1 donkey, 3 chickens, 1 turkey, 10 horses, 2 dogs, and 4 cats. I loved them all.
Every morning, we fed the pigs and let the chickens and turkey out of their “château.” Not speaking any French, aside from the few words I’ve heard via various pop culture outlets, I didn’t know how to say “chicken roost,” so I called it “Château du Poulette” and the name stuck.
We learned how to trim teeth and feet and give injections and oral medications. Trimming tusks is not a job for the faint of heart! One person holds the pig on it’s back with all of their strength and tries really hard not to drip sweat on the person who is sawing off the pig’s tusks with a wire. These pigs are strong! There may have been a moment in which the pig (on his back) lifted me ever so slightly off the ground and I screamed (just a little scream) as I felt myself plunging toward the one unsawed off tusk (images of the hogs attacking Old Yeller came to mind). Luckily for me and the two other people clustered around, I regained my composure and maintained positive control of the pig, who was squealing as loud as a fire engine about 20 inches away from my ear.
After my experience sawing off pig teeth, let’s just say, I find the “fire and brimstone” image of hell somewhat lacking. Holding down an angry hog in a hot confined space while he is squealing as loud as he can in your face – now, we’re talking!
This face may look cute, but it’s really saying, “Do NOT underestimate me!”
Our last night at the sanctuary, we got to feed the pigs day old baguettes and croissants that were donated from a local bakery. True confession: I may have eaten one of the pains au chocolat myself, and day old or not, it was fantastic!
Our time at the pig sanctuary was wonderful! It really must be home to the happiest little pigs on earth!
Susan and I joked about trying to take some of the animals back with us. We were wondering if we could get away with hiding a pig and some cats in the trunk and just claim “nothing to declare” when we went through customs. We abandoned this plan when I insisted that if we bring anyone back, it’s going to be my pal, the donkey!
At the end of the week, we bid our little piggies au revoir and drove to Vendée, France to stay the night with family friends who live in a castle there. After staying at Château Clemenceau, I understood with a new appreciation the hilarity behind my choice of words for “Château du Poulette.”
The castle was lovely! We walked in the gardens and ate fresh figs. The two youngest Clemenceau children gave us an in-depth tour of grounds, from their grand tree house to the enormous cedar tree marking the end of the estate.
We chatted with more ex-pats, happily living in France. We drank more great wine and ate more delicious food and slept under the roof of a building that has been standing in its current state since the 16th century, but can be traced back to the days of the Roman Empire.
The next day, we started our trip back to Scotland. Six hours of driving to the ferry, two hours on the ferry and eight hours back to Edinburgh. We intended to detour to Stonehenge and see the stones under the light of the Super Moon, but apparently you have to book tickets in advance and they don’t let people wander around famous ancient pagan monuments at night. So, we drove through the night and pulled off to take a nap after Susan saw an alligator on the side of the road and I saw an Indian War Chief standing by a road sign sometime after 3 am. You just shouldn’t be driving if you’re hallucinating non-native peoples and animals.
We made it home safe and sound, where I was enthusiastically greeted by a beagle who was either very happy to see me, or very happy that I still smelled vaguely of pigs. This was my last extra mural studies placement for my first year of vet school and I can’t think of a better way for the year to have come to a close!