… and it was magical.
Really. I was never one to get all misty-eyed at the idea of Paris by moonlight. When I was in eighth grade, my entire family pushed me to take French. I rebelled. “No, I’m taking German.”
Typical eighth grader, huh?
I guess I’ve held off on writing about our trip because I didn’t really know how to put it into words. In a way, I still don’t. But I’ll try to muddle through anyway.
We had such an extraordinary time. And I’m not saying that because the trip was perfect – actually, we both ended up getting sick, and I probably would have ended up in the emergency room one Saturday morning if not for the kindness of our hosts and France’s socialized medicine. But we handled all the stressors without stressing out or hollering at one another. It was thrilling.
We spent the first week in Paris, and we rented a car for the second week and drove all around the country. Kevin drove (I can’t drive a stick), and I navigated, with the help of his Michelin France Road Atlas and a 99 cent compass suctioned to the windshield.
Although I thought a week would be too long to spend in Paris, we ended up seeing maybe 1/200th of the city. Paris is the size of San Francisco and the similarities don’t stop there – terrific shopping, incredible food (I swear, it’s a good thing we walked as much as we did or else my clothes would no longer fit) and the friendliest people! I was very surprised. Last time I was in France, the people were so horribly snobby! This time, they could not do enough for us. With the exception of a crotchety old mapseller, every person we spoke with was warm and friendly. I was even trying to speak French and they *still* treated us nicely (my French is murderous. I arrived in France armed with nine polite French phrases and one *really* dirty one, and that was enough to get us through).
Paris was enchanting. It’s nearly the best place in the world to be in love. We did a lot of walking, shopping, talking, and eating. We had duck nearly every other day. Yummmmm…
Kevin celebrated his birthday while we were in Paris. We went on a boat cruise of the Seine, the river that runs through the heart of Paris. That night, we had dinner “at the most beautiful brasserie in all of Paris” (so claimed my guidebook – and they were right!). It’s called Bofinger. I had a duck there that changed my life.
Both in Paris and the countryside, we stayed in some of the most amazing hotels I’ve ever seen. In Normandy we stayed in a 18th century chateau all done in pink brick. Our room overlooked the grounds and pathways. They even had a hotel dog who greeted us every time we drove up to the parking lot. Their closest neighbor was a stud farm (Kevin joked, “I have an appointment there at 2:00 this afternoon.”), though we could hear the bang bang of trap shooters in the distance.
Another place we stayed was an ivy-covered Tudor-style home in Tiffauges, home of Blue Beard’s castle. The proprietress spoke no English, but was quite happy to chatter at us in rapid, lilting French. The next morning we hiked around Blue Beard’s castle ruins and admired his catapults and siege tower. The castle was actually closed for renovation, but nobody was there (except for five suspicious-looking goats) and the door was unlocked so we just walked in. It was a foggy day, and a bit creepy to roam about on a site where infanticide and alchemy were committed (the former much more successful than the latter). We took a self-timer picture of the two of us on the ruins of the chapel steps.
From Tiffauges we drove to Cognac, where the buildings are covered in a gray soot that is acutally the evidence of evaporation in the cognac-making process. We drove through to Bordeaux, well, Cestas actually, the home of my neighbor Sabrina’s family. Sabrina moved to the US to marry an American, and her family insisted that we stay with them while we travelled. Meeting them was the high point of the trip (well, nearly the high point). The night we arrived, we ate homemade duck pate, duck confit, and an incredible prune-custard torte that tasted *much* better than it sounds.
While in Cestas, we hooked up with Sabrina’s best friends, none of whom I’d met but it seemed as though I had, based on all the stories I’d heard and pictures I’d seen of them. They all spoke English pretty well and we had a great time eating at a Turkish restaurant until one in the morning.
After Cestas, we drove through a city I can’t mention because that’s where I did the bulk of my Christmas shopping, and I don’t want my friends to know what I got for them. We then drove back up to Paris, after spending the night in a roadside automated hotel (if you arrive after 11:00 p.m., you stick your credit card into a machine and it spits out a room key, very cool).
We went to the very top of the Eiffel Tower on our last night in France. We’d hoped to do that on Kevin’s birthday, but it had been cold and rainy that evening so we figured the view wouldn’t be as spectacular. The night we went, though, the overcast day turned into a beautiful clear night, and we could see lights for miles and miles. After going to the top, we went down to the first level and had a drink at Altitude 95, the bar in the Eiffel Tower. I caught Kevin peeking in the mirrored wall while we were kissing. After leaving the bar, we hopped into a cab and went to Ile Saint Louis, one of the two islands in the Seine where we spent most of our time. We had dinner in a small restaurant, lingering until we’d burned through not one, but two tableside candles. We didn’t leave the restaurant until past 11:00 (I knew what time it was thanks to the beautiful Tissot watch Kevin gave me earlier that day).
Our flight back to San Francisco was uneventful. Customs cleared both of us, with no hassles (Kevin didn’t even have to pay taxes on the amount he’d spent over $400). For the first time ever, no security guard opened my suitcase and pawed through my dirty laundry. Guess I don’t look as suspicious at 25 as I did at 17. Good.
We were met at the airport by Dave and Sabrina, who drove us home in their late-1960’s Lincoln Continental. Kevin spent the night and left the next morning.
I watched his train until I couldn’t see it anymore.
And yes, my vow has been broken. Unregretfully.