Fifteen Fabulous Days in France

IMG_0557

I walked into a bar in Paris. (No, this isn’t a joke!) As I was waiting for the toilette, I stared at old books on a shelf opposite me. I had to touch them. I gently pulled one off the shelf; the cover was falling off, the pages falling out. It was gorgeous, reaffirming my belief that old things are beautiful. Then I saw the author and the year. Oh my! I wanted this book.

IMG_1375

I went to the young bartender. “Bonsoir. Je voudrais compre un libro. This one. Si vous plait. Is the owner here?” I said mixing my Spanish with my one semester of French.

“I am owner.” He said in crisp English. “You want this book?”

“Yes, please.” I replied, trying not to sound too enthusiastic.

“How much you pay?”

“How much do you want?” I asked.

He was adamant: “You say. How much you give me?”

So I said a ridiculously cheap price.

“Ok.”

I couldn’t believe it! I gave him the euros and strutted away with my 1832 book by François-Marie Arouet, known by his pen name, Voltaire—one of my favorite French authors! I teach Candide, so I was thrilled and couldn’t wait to share this treasure with my students.

IMG_0777

As a Greek-American English professor who resides in (and absolutely loves) Los Angeles, my destination of choice for a holiday shall always be Greece. Every summer, after grading hundreds of student essays, there is no place in the world I would rather go than to my Greek Yiayia’s cottage by the sea. But my husband, whose grandmother is originally from Le Mans, always yearned to visit France. So after years of summer holidays in Greece, we decided to spend fifteen days in France. I was a bit grumpy, wanting—like Odysseus—to go “home,” but it was time to see something new. So, we booked our trip, and I was pleasantly surprised. It was a flawless, magnificent holiday.

IMG_0605

Paris.
I was told that staying near the Eiffel Tower is not ideal because the metal structure is, in fact, not centrally located. But we found the First Hotel, in the heart of the 15th arrondissement, convenient and a pleasant fifteen-minute walk to La Seine. I secured rooms about nine months in advance and usually try to not spend more than $125/night. Our rooms, a month before travel, ranged from $200 to $400! Booking ahead is the key. The hotel was right across from the train station, but we are walkers and clocked between 12,000 and 18,000 steps a day.

3bfda527-5e70-42dd-8474-e75c34c83adb

After a guided tour of the Eiffel Tower, we learned that seven million visitors come to this structure in a year (whereas fifteen million go to Paris Disney!). When Gustave Eiffel proposed the tower, many opposed its construction, thinking it was “ugly.” He hoped to recoup the thirty-four million euros he had spent (converted to today’s cost) in twenty years, but after it opened in 1889, he made all his money back in six months!

IMG_0577

River Dinner Cruise

 

The next six days were filled with guided tours and solitary exploration.

After six days of sensory overload—majestic churches (Notre Dame, Sacre-Coeur Basilica, and St. Sulpice), stunning structures and luscious gardens (Luxembourg)IMG_0806

 

fountains, palaces, history, and a colorful art district (Montmartre), I was ready for wine.

IMG_2085

Beaune.
From Paris we took a morning train to Dijon, then switched to a local train, and arrived by noon to a quaint, cobble-stoned village. IMG_0877Our Hotel Abbaye de Maizières was a 12th century Abbey with a miniscule entrance to a medieval lobby with red velvet tablecloths, a small wine cellar, and original stone walls. IMG_1588A windy staircase took us up to our tiny room. Despite the size, we loved the feeling of sleeping in a room where monks had lived more than eight hundred years ago.IMG_0875

IMG_0968

Our first private wine tour by Emmanuelle, at a winery in town, was a tasty start and only twenty euros per person. The following day, we were told at the town’s information center that a gorgeous winery, Chateau de Pommard, is just outside of Beaune.

Oui, only twenty minutes, oui, by foot,” she said, “oui, oui, oui, very close.” The path took us dangerously close to a small highway, walking non-stop for more than an hour!

On our tour, again private only because there were no other English speakers, we learned all wines are Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes and that is “not important at all!” It’s about the climate and soil. There are about 304 bottles approximately of wine in a barrel and a barrel “is oak from France.” “Sorry,” she said, “not Californian Oak!” Then she laughed. But what is Californian are the owners. We learned in 2014 a couple, Carabello-Baum bought the entire estate. For the return trip, again by foot, we walked through vineyards—Sideways style, accompanied by a bottle, stopping along the way to enjoy the views, pouring a glass as well as tasting a few grapes along the way.

After three days and endless bottles of wine, it was time for the beach!

IMG_1049

Nice.
For as much as I love exploring cities (Paris) and drinking wine (Beaune), nothing compares to a dip in the Mediterranean. After a seven-hour train ride from Beaune (ninety-eight euros per person) we arrived to Nice. IMG_1023We stayed at Residhome Nice Promenade, a studio apartment that had a kitchen, a balcony, a nice rooftop, and only two blocks away from the promenade. From Nice we took tours to Cannes, Monte Carlo, and St. Paul de Vence.

But it was Nice that captured my heart with the endless cafés and beaches. I love the freedom of sitting on a bench with a baguette, cheese, and a bottle of wine.

It seems freedom comes with cost. It was a bit disconcerting to see the young military folk pass with the machine guns. On one hand, it makes one feel safe; on the other, it reminds me that it’s, unfortunately, a different world we live in. We met a Moroccan-French man who was on the promenade the night of the fateful attack in 2016 (87 people lost their lives and 434 were injured) and had to hide in a café for seven hours with his wife and baby. Strolling down Promenade des Anglais on a starry, warm night, I did think about it, but I will travel anywhere, speak to anyone, and will not allow fear to be my guide.

French People.
Have you heard that French people are rude? Well, that was not our experience. Two cute, little old men stopped and asked us if we needed help the first day when they saw a map in our hands. In Cannes, a young man sitting on a bench, playing on his phone, got up and walked us a block to guide us to the train station. On the last evening, our server at a cafe at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, a lovely French woman and single-mother, told us she dreamed of “going to America.” IMG_1360It seems we all want to be somewhere else—my husband and I would move to Greece or France in a heartbeat, but we also know that Los Angeles is home for the next two decades until a suitable pension kicks in. A friend said to me, “People were nice because you and Hugo are nice.” I guess people see that we are genuinely interested in their stories and their country. Sites are fine, but we travel for the sounds, the smells, and the people. And we always said “bonjour” before asking a question; we left shops with a “merci beaucoup and au revoir.” We also smile a lot—because that’s the universal language.

When I returned to the US, my colleagues asked how Greece was this year. I shrugged my shoulders, inside still feeling a bit melancholic that I did not feel the sweet soil of Greece on my feet in July, but then smiled widely and said, “We spent fifteen days in France. It was fabulous!”IMG_0781

 

This entry was posted in English. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.