10 years ago JR and I went on an agriculture and dairy study adventure to Switzerland during May term. I extended my stay for a few days with 4 girlfriends to visit Munich and Rome while JR and his buddy spent a few more weeks crisscrossing Europe with stops from Budapest and Vienna to Milan and Amsterdam. We haven’t been back to Europe since. Work, farming, and life seem to become fuller and busier all the time. I dislike that word, busy, but I don’t know what other word captures the lists and schedules and work that I can never quite complete. We love travel, but it’s hard when you are a dairy farmer. And maybe even more complicated when you’re a parent — though I love bringing Speedy with us wherever we can.
Early this summer we got an email with a European itinerary and instructions to buy plane tickets for mid-August. Our dairy farm has been part of a University of Minnesota research study for nearly a decade which looks at cross breeding Holstein cattle with two European breeds — the Montbeliarde from France and Viking Red from Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. The European dairy genetics companies from these breeds wanted to host the participating farms as we near the study’s end. We have been pleased with the process and design of the study, and I must say the results are looking promising in many areas. We also like the red and white cows a whole bunch!
While we worried about scheduling and hay and how much we would miss Speedy, we ultimately bought our plane tickets and crossed our fingers.
On Friday, August 18th we took off for Paris. We spent a day touring the city including a dinner cruise on the Seine, and the next day we made the 3 hour trip to the beaches of Normandy and the US military cemetery. JR had the pleasure (or pitfall) of being one of the few in our group of 18 who brought his driver’s license. So guess who drove one of the three cars from Paris to Normandy? 😄 I’ll spare any suspense and tell you we all made it safely, but I felt sorry for the farmer driving the big manual transmission van through the giant roundabout beneath the Arc de Triomphe on the Avenue Champs Élysées.
The emotion and sense of loss at Normandy was nearly stifling even next to the beauty of the grounds and the sea. I left more grateful than ever to those who serve our country and fight for freedom and justice around the world.
After a late return to Paris we decided we needed to see the Eiffel Tower at night. With one extra partner, lots of walking, a stop for oysters and wine, and a taxi for good measure we made it about 20 minutes before the tower’s lights went off for the night.
The remaining two days were spent in the Southwest part of France for the main event — touring farms and seeing purebred Montbeliarde cows.
All our hosts were gracious dairy people and 100% farmer. JR mentioned several times that “a farmer is a farmer” truly anywhere in the world. The farmer mentality isn’t constrained by language, geography, or appearance. It’s a lifestyle and way of being. I wish I had the energy and the writing prowess to tell you more specific stories here, but this post has already lingered several weeks longer than I wanted it to. On the farms we enjoyed learning about their grass and meadow hay based feeds, seeing their style of barn and milking parlor, and appreciating many herds of quality cows.
Every single French farmer we met was wearing shorts. It wasn’t even that warm, but they claim it is standard attire all summer. And it seems that is true.
Tasting cheese also provided endless entertainment, as some of us didn’t quite have the palate to appreciate the varied flavors and aromas of the many cheeses. The endless wine and the delicious courses of food always helped to balance things out. We did dub a few “stinky cheese,” but I can honestly say I enjoyed all except the extremely pungent Morbier. That would be an acquired taste. Definitely.
Because scheduling and our hay crop were not entirely cooperative, we separated from the rest of our group in France. We made our way back to the Pairs airport and home while they headed on to Copenhagen and tours of the city and Scandinavian dairies. While we were both disappointed to miss the final stops, we had agreed this was the right compromise. Our hosts were so good to us, and I know I will carry good memories of the French countryside, Paris, and Normandy with me for always.
In case you are curious, my training was a low priority but I managed one glorious daybreak run in Paris. The winding streets intimidated me a bit, but I couldn’t be in Paris on a summer morning and let the opportunity pass. (Twin Cities is still calling.) After turning down a few confusing streets I made it to the river. Then it was a leisurely 4 or 5 miles navigating the cobblestones, the pigeons and the street sweepers. Oh, and running by Notre Dame. Like one does in Paris.