20 Hour Trip to Meet New Friends

Samuel is proud of his sunglasses

The night train from Salzburg to Zurich was only my third experience in a sleeper car, my first two being in Russia.  I found the facilities a bit inferior to what I encountered in Russia, contrary to my expectations.  I had a top bunk, and found it a bit disconcerting that there was no guard rail to keep me in the narrow bed.  If the train had a sudden lurch, I could have had a nasty fall onto the floor and ladder below.  Also, there were no convenient compartments or shelves to store your night time sundries, such as my cell phone or toothbrush.  The bed itself was rather firm, a bit too conducive to cutting off the circulation to my limbs.  I was tired enough, however, to sleep quite well for the 4 hours before the lady came by to wake us up for breakfast and return our passports.  I had just enough time in Zurich to do a little shopping before catching my next train to Geneva, with stops in Bern and Lausanne.  I slept most of the way, though I woke up between Bern and Lausanne enough to admire the stunning lakeside vista outside my window.  Once again I was amazed at how utterly perfect a scene can be found almost anywhere in the European countryside.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen any blight in these countries other than around cities.  Splendidly rolling hillsides, textured with the precise lines of terraced vineyards, cascade down to Lake Geneva.  Perched on a rise is a church, surrounded by a tiny cluster of overtly quaint stone houses, it’s spire pointing to the heavens, the piedmont of the village.  A green, hedge-lined hill is dotted with a few white sheep, perfectly garnishing the scene.  Across the lake, the big, brassy, snow-covered Alps, complete the picture with a stunning backdrop.  No artist could concoct a more perfect scene.

In Geneva, I hopped in a 2nd class cabin, even though my tickets were for first.  I shared an 8-seat compartment with a young lady from France, an old Lady from Geneva, and a mother with her two young daughters, from Zurich.  The two little girls instantly engaged all of us in conversation, wanting to practice their French and English.  It turned into an interesting, if exhausting, conversation mixed with English, French, Swiss German, and High German.

In Lyon, I had no troubles finding Hertz and within minutes I was set up with a brand new BMW for my long drive to Limoges.  I paid a hefty surcharge to upgrade to a luxury class vehicle, but I very much wanted the help of a GPS.  Hertz has a bizarre policy with their portable GPS systems.  There is no fee to return a car to a different location, but if you return a rented, portable GPS to a different location, there is a 250 Euro fee added on to the 18 Euro/day rental charge!  Upgrading my car to the BMW only cost an additional 75 Euros a day–150 Euros for my two days.  Not only was this option half the price of a portable GPS unit, but I got a MUCH nicer ride!

Babette arrived with her friend, Amandine, just as I was ready to pull out of the parking lot.  I thought they were in one of the quick, drop-off zones next to the station, so I decided to pull out and find them.  That was a mistake.  I ended up driving around the station about 4 times, realizing that Lyon Part Dieu has no such place for vehicles other than taxis and buses.  Amandine and Babette had in fact, parked in the underground garage, so after a bit of confusion, I ended up parking in the same garage so I could enter the station and meet up with them.  Had I just left my car in Hertz’s lot, I would have saved about 20 minutes and a few wasted Euros.

After all that confusion, I felt we should all sit for a few minutes and have an afternoon gouter in the station.  This gave me a chance to properly meet Babette’s friend, take a few photos, and allow Babette to say goodbye to her friend.  Some minutes later, Babette and I were finally on our way to Limoges.  With the help of the navigation, we successfully threaded our way out of Lyon and then onto the long, scenic auto route.

While I appreciate the GPS in my own car back home, I find it particularly indispensable when traveling abroad.  The highways in France are quite similar to those in America, and are very easy to follow.  Once you’re off the highway, however, things get much more interesting.  Roads intersect in complicated traffic circles, sometimes with 7 or 8 spurs leading off in different directions.  In town, most roads are quite old and narrow, and certainly nothing is straight and orderly.  We made our way into Limoges with no troubles, but after a quick stop to refuel, the GPS started to get rather confused.  We were on some roads that looked like they were fairly new, so I’m guessing that the GPS had an outdated map.  It kept telling us to turn right when there was no road, and then it showed our vehicle to be driving straight across empty fields.  We ended up driving quite a bit in the wrong direction before I resorted to the GPS on my iPhone.  Fortunately, the iPhone uses Google maps, which get updated constantly, and we soon found our way to the Chenier’s house.

Matthieu and Timothee Cheneir both attended camp Arc-en-ciel with me last year.  Matthieu is one of two boys in particular who seemed to really take a liking to me last year.  We kept in touch a few times over the past year, and when I decided a couple of weeks ago to go to his church in Limoges on the Sunday before camp started, I asked him if I could stay at his house for one night.  My original plan was to put Babette up in a hotel in town, but the Cheniers invited both of us to stay with them.  So I ended up staying in a camper in their back yard while Babette had a room in the house.

I hadn‘t realized that Matthieu had 4 brothers.  A family with 5 children is rather uncommon in France, and a family with 5 boys is rather uncommon anywhere.  We met the parents, Christophe and Isabelle, and the three brothers I hadn’t met before: Nathaniel, Johan, and Samuel.  Ironically the only two of the family that I already knew, Matthieu and Timothee, were both away visiting their grandparents in Brittany.  So Babette and I pulled into their driveway, complete strangers to the rest of the family.  Their hospitality, however, was immediately evident.  We ate a very pleasant meal out on their patio, the late afternoon sun bathing us in golden light.  Conversation stretched a bit into the night, and I was encouraged to hear the parents talk about how beneficial the camp was.  Last year they sent two of their sons.  This year they are sending four.

During our conversation we were able to talk about how important it is for we Christians to be with other Christians.  The Bible compares us to sheep who need a shepherd.  Sheep also need other sheep.  My dad gave an illustration during one of our church meetings last year about some sheep he had found deep in a valley in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming.  They had gone astray, and he spoke about how very afraid they were… and for good reason.  There are many predators and other dangers for sheep that are separated both from the flock and from the protection of a shepherd.  As Christians, we face similar dangers when we allow ourselves to stray away from our local church–our flock.  I had learned from Pierre Knickerbocker (Pierre has been serving as the interim pastor at the church in Limoges) that the Cheniers hadn’t been to church in quite a while.  I was pleased that we were able to talk about this a bit during our conversation.  Also, when I had contacted Matthieu to ask if I could stay at his house and go to church with them on Sunday, I didn’t know that they hadn’t been going to church for a while.  They would, of course, be going with us the next day, so I am praying that our visit might help serve as a small catalyst for their return as faithful members of their church.

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