A Breath of France Air
Next stop... Le France.
Now before I begin this blog, I have to mention how much I absolutely adore Zelda (ZeeCee) and Richard. They are... how should I put this?... my step-cousins? my step-cousin and my step-cousin-in-law?
That makes more sense than explaining the entire damaged & deranged history of the Halpins and the McBrides, despite what a fascinating story it is. Anyway, apart from that kin chaos... I have the best step-cousin and step-cousin-in-law in the entire world. I'm so lucky they came into my life... and it's difficult to fathom it was actually only 16 years ago. I met them at the funeral of my beloved Uncle Eugene.
I have visited Zelda and Richard in France three times now. I'm sure they're sick of me, but they manage to put on a good front... and even continue to invite me back time & time again,.. It's about time for them to venture to The Great White North...
I keep waiting...
They even came to New York to celebrate my 30th birthday!
Of course, I couldn't go anywhere near Europe without popping in to eat an abundance of cheese and drink copious amounts of wine with them. It was a must must must.
They are the most gracious, hospitable, kind and wonderful people I think I've ever met... and a trip through Europe would NOT be the same without popping into Longueval-Barbonval. Richard picked me up upon arrival at CDG and off we went. The airport is about an hour away from their home, where Zelda was waiting.
The weather wasn't exactly fantastic... but when you're in France, there is really no reason to complain. It's still fabulous... It's France! Because I'd been there a few times, I'd already done most of the top sightseeing attractions in the Champagne Region. Yes, there is always more to see... but I was still suffering from travel exhaustion, and I was very much looking forward to some down time.
Lounging around was high on my list of must-do's...
My exhaustion is still lingering and I find myself smack dab in the middle of these yawning spurts that come and go between the hours of 12-8pm. I try to stiffle them, but it hardly works. Once I start, the yawning doesn't stop... regardless of how long I slept in, how early I go to bed, how lazy I'm being or how many naps I take. I think I might be low on some essential vitamins? That definitely makes sense as I don't think I've had one single vitamin since the end of November.
The next three days were magnifique.
Zelda and I got slightly lost on a brisk stroll through the farm fields & forests, but managed to survive without any wild boar attacks, gun shot wounds or guard dog bites.
We meandered through tiny villages and Zelda introduced me to the secret world of France's complex tunnels & caves that lie underneath this lush, rolling landscape. During the first World War, these caves were transformed into underground cities, shelters and barracks. Some houses are now even built into them, though most look like they are used mostly for storage and parking.
We also cruised through the Champagne Region countryside, stopping occasionally in a couple picturesque villages for mandatory photographs and sightseeing... and an obligatory glass of rosé champagne.
It really does surprise me how quiet the countryside villages are though.
Yes, they're small...
Yes, they're sleepy...
Yes, it's off season...
BUT... it's such a vast difference to Britain, where you'd be hard pressed to find a town of any size that didn't have a pub, a bookie and a wee shop. And a kebab!!!
The weather wasn’t great while I was there, as I did already mention, but the sun popped out and made an appearance for us at the most crucial parts of our touristic afternoon exploration spurts. We got lucky.
If anyone read my blog from last year, they might remember my new favourite French/Swiss meal... Raclette! I have only had Raclette twice in my life... and both times have been with Zelda and Richard. I remember the first time, Zelda kept giving me a hint as to what we would be feasting on... and her hint was "to scrape."
Were we having scraps?
Her hint thoroughly confused me.
Well... Raclette comes from the French word "to scrape," but as I'd never had it, nor heard of it... I had no idea what was being served. Scrape did nothing to clue me in. Once it was in front of me, it all made sense... and has since become one of my favourite French feasts... though I think it is technically Swiss, according to Richard!
Why ruin a perfectly good story with the truth?
Raclette is basically melted cheese served on top of boiled potatoes. Simple. You can also serve grilled veggies, cold cuts or various meats with it to make it more of a well balanced meal. Regardless, it's delicious. Seriously. I think I could eat it every day.
In addition, the wine was bountiful and my glass was rarely empty.
Funny how wine can wake you right up!
These two certainly spoiled me... and if they're reading this... they'll be treated like royalty if they ever make it to my side of the world.
On the final day, we headed into Paris to visit their son, Matthew, and his girlfriend, Laura.
Of course, when do I decide to visit Paris?
During the riots.
Yes... for the past week, Paris has been under attack. A protesting group is currently terrorizing the streets of this beloved City of Love. They are smashing windows, burning garbage and causing chaos... because they're upset that the retirement age went from 62 to 64.
I can't make this shit up.
Anyway - when we arrived, I was genuinely envisioning walking through a torturous version of war torn Beirut... but there was really nothing. France's national security threat alert shot to medium with a 'threat risk,' but really... there was nothing to write home about. There was not one moment during our time there that I felt even remotely uneasy or uncomfortable. Sure... a couple smashed windows and some burnt garbage lying around, but nothing particularly terrorizing.
Not during the day, anyway.
... and not when we were there.
Our lunch was formidable, in a place called Bouillon Chartier.
This historical building was once an old train station, but converted into a restaurant around 1896. The 1950's style dining room was still reminiscent of an old station, equipped even with the overhead brass rail luggage holders. The restaurant boasted authentic French food and great value and they certainly delivered. I asked Zelda to order for me, as my authentic French food language ability wasn't as up to snuff as I would have liked.
There was something fun and quirky about Bouillon Chartier that I thought was fascinating. The waiters wrote your order on the paper table cloth. Then when it was time to pay, they just looked down, added it all up and there you were! No disputing the bill when you're watching them write down everything you say!
I love Paris.
I love wandering through the back alleys and the cobblestone streets of Paris. I love breathing in the city and enjoying everything it has to offer from the history to the monunments to the cafés to the flower stands to the bouquinistes (booksellers) on the banks of the Sienne and everything else in between. I love it.
Even our Bed & Breakfast was incredible. It was a little ways outside of the main centre, but in a quite posh and characteristic part of the city.
You could tell it was a single man living there... but man, did he have taste. I've actually never seen such a colourful and ecclectic display of funky art mixed with interesting sports equipment... all in one house!
We received one rule... DO NOT USE THE DINING ROOM TABLE.
We were tempted... but we did not. Fair enough... it was pure glass with antique gold candelabras decorating the top of it.
But he didn't say anything about not touching his extensive wine collection...
We were good though...