"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Country Girl in Paris

The Newlyweds
We recently got home from a wonderful trip to France. We went there to celebrate our daughter’s marriage to a young man who is from that country. It was a splendid celebration in a small town near Tours that went on for the better part of two days. That is how they do weddings in France. Lots of food, wine, dancing, and friendly people who truly enjoy having a great time.

Looks a lot like home!
For me, this was a completely new experience. I’ve been in nearly every state in the U. S. but I’d never been to Europe.  There was so much about France to fall in love with. Being a person who has lived most of my life on a farm or ranch in Idaho, I particularly enjoyed the driving tour we took after the wedding to explore the French countryside. I’m not sure what we expected to see, but my husband and I were both surprised to see miles upon miles of farms, mostly covered with golden fields of ripening wheat --wheat that would eventually become the wonderful bread we ate each day while there. As we drove through small villages in the morning we would see both men and women carrying baskets or bags with several baguettes sticking out one end, fresh from the bakery. Yes, wheat is a very important part of the French cuisine. It’s no wonder it’s one of their main crops.

Trying new food was one of the trip’s highlights. My favorite thing: the plate of fromage (cheese) served after the main meal. Sampling new foods was only part of the eating experience; discovering a new way of eating was the other. The French don’t rush their meals. They eat in courses and with a wonderful array of wine and that scrumptious cheese and bread I mentioned earlier. My new son-in-law’s mother was an excellent cook and fed us well during the days we spent with them.

In Ouistreham
St. Georges Hotel (back garden)
When we went off on our own to see the sights, we drove through out-of-the-way villages, old and quaint, as if time had stopped a couple of hundred years ago. In the larger towns, there was always a narrow cobblestone street or two designated off-limits to anything but foot traffic, sidewalk cafes and bistros, the omnipresent ice cream stands, and the boulangerie and patisserie shops. We fell in love with the pistache ice cream in Pierrefonds, gobbled up the traditional French raspberry macarons at a little pastry shop in Tours, and had a dinner to die for at the St. Georges Hotel and Restaurant overlooking the English Channel in Ouistreham. Nor will we forget the oriental waiter at the pizzeria in Paris who was so tired from being on his feet for hours that he could barely wait tables, but he spoke English and was so funny and friendly he made our day. 

Chateau de Pierrefonds
Chateau de Chenonceau
Mont-St-Michel abbey

We were awed by the architecture of cathedrals and castles both on the beaten path, and off: Chartres Cathedral, Chateau Royal de Blois, Chateau de Pierrefonds, Bayeaux Cathedral, Notre Dame, Chateau de Chenonceau, Mont-St-Michel abbey, and the Palace of Versailles. We visited the thousand-year-old Bayeaux Tapestry and solemnly walked along Point du Hoc and Omaha Beach where so much American blood was spilled in World War II. A favorite and unexpected sight was the white cliffs on the coast near √Čtretat and Dieppe.

Cliffs at √Čtretat
We spent the last few days of our trip in Paris. In the city, at the height of tourist season, I had to take a deep breath and relinquish all of my personal space–not an easy thing for a person raised in the wide open spaces of the American West. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the many sights, the city’s welcoming atmosphere, and all the traditional tourist stops. I particularly loved seeing the Eiffel Tower. It was much larger and grander than I had imagined it to be, and although I took many pictures, no photo can do it justice.

There is so much more I could write about, but I’ll not waste more of your time except to say that you should definitely put France (not just Paris) on your list of places to see. It’s truly beautiful. If you go, make a point of getting off the beaten path, for it’s there you’ll see the true face of France and its people. Au revoir.