July 15, 2011

France

I had forgotten how much I love this beautiful country.

A TGV to Montpellier and an easy rental car acquisition and we were on our way (through the ridiculously expensive toll roads).

We spent two days with friends in Provence near St. Paul Trois Chateaux -- gorgeous, and more importantly, relaxing in a way that the U.S. never seems to be for me. There was very little to do except sleep, read, listen to crickets, walk, run, enjoy the views of lavender fields, swim in the pool during the hottest part of the day, and, of course, visit a few small local towns (populations 200, 600, and 5,000) with the obligatory breaks to eat and drink extremely well.

My French started to return to me. I dreamt in fitful spells of Spanish, English, and French as my brain traded its usual daily efforts of law and Californian life for linguistic puzzles of fun. The first night in the country, with no light except the stars, E and I slept for 10 hours.

Languidly, when our time was up, we drove north to visit my childhood pen-pal, her husband, her children, and her parents.

I had forgotten how their hospitality was beyond anything I'd ever experienced before in my life. They reminded me. Daily.

They prepared several meals for us based on their memories of what I liked most on my last visit, 10 years ago. My pen-pal and her husband gave up their bed and slept with their children so that we could have their bedroom. I offered to seek out a hotel, but this was not well-received. They were so pleased I had returned after such a long absence and that they could meet my husband. They would have nothing less than us, in their house, as their guests.

The rental car sat unused while they insisted on taking time off work and personally driving us throughout the region -- treating us to walks in beautiful local towns (from middle age castle and tower-filled stone villages through more recent establishments like Beaune, the capital of Burgundy Wines).

L's husband, G (who has passed one of France's more difficult wine-maker exams and has been making small production wines for almost 10 years) spoiled us with his own version of the tour of the largest winery in Burgundy.

E was wonderfully patient with the great conversation and catching up for days (almost entirely in French), and of course, there was so much cheese.

After we said our goodbyes, it was amazing to return to Paris after more than a 10 year absence -- you truly do not *need* French to get around in this city anymore.

This has been, without a doubt, my favorite visit to Paris.

The hotel points splurged on a free luxury hotel in the Place Vendome? Simply brilliant. The service and attention to detail here are amazing. For example, our room came with complimentary hot beverages every day. So each morning, we call for our capuccinos and they are delivered within 10 minutes so that we can enjoy them on our balcony.

Walking everywhere we feel like going without a rush to see it all has been the best part. I tried to count yesterday, and I believe this is my 4th or 5th visit to Paris. At this point, I have a decent sense of where things are in the city, which, combined with the large visible landmarks means we can just walk with a map and seek out the things we wish to see. No need for a guidebook or checklist. The tourist pressures (oh, so difficult!) we felt in Madrid and Barcelona are almost non-existent, which leaves us with plenty of time to just walk, eat, and watch the world go by. The air-swing? The Ferris Wheel? Sure, why not?

And yesterday? Bastille Day? What a pleasure.

I woke to hit the gym while watching the parade on TV. After our cappucinos, we left our balcony window-doors open and listened to the planes as they flew over Place de la Concorde a few blocks away. Then a day in Montparnasse, and a wonderful surprise meet-up with friends of friends who squeezed us into their reservation at the delicious Spring.

After dinner, E and I and our new friends settled on the ground along the Seine to watch the fireworks near the Eiffel Tower.

Today is our last full day in Paris, which is sad. I am, however, certain that I will do my best to make certain it is not 10 years before my next visit to France.