I have a confession to make: I’m taking the easy way out with today’s post. I’m stealing some memories from my France 2006 travel journal rather than writing brand new stuff. I even tried to sneak it in like the post’s events were currently occurring, but my own conscience and Big Friend’s skepticism wouldn’t let me do it. So full disclosure: the bulk of this post was written almost half a decade ago. (Wow. That officially makes me older than I feel.)
Why the recycled writing? I’ve made a list of a few things to blame.
#1: Me and writer’s burnout. I need a vaca from this part-time job for which I’ve hired myself. What can I say? The hours are long and the pay’s not great. Luckily, my summer vacation is ramping up for next week, so I’ll have a mental break.
#2: Me and running. I’ve been saying for years (no exaggeration) that I’m going to run a half marathon. To date, the most miles I’ve clocked is six. A half marathon will tack on an additional 7.1 miles. For a book-loving, couch potato like me, running for over two hours is crazy talk. I’m talkin’ crazy. The training plan, which has been printed and stuck to the front of my fridge, is forcing me to begin tomorrow with a five-mile run. Oooh, I just can’t wait to get up at six and run five miles. For more background on my thoughts on running, revisit this previous post.
#3: Me and motherhood. My full time job (mothering) consumed my weekend as Little Friend is going through that 19-month-old clingy period (normal, I hope?). As in, yesterday’s nap (aka my writing time) consisted of an hour of fussing and crying in her crib followed by 27 minutes of sleeping peacefully…in my arms. We’ve (read: I’ve) decided that today’s nap WILL be back to normal.
(Notice the common denominator in my list: Me. When it comes right down to it, I can really only blame myself for not getting my act together–washing the dishes, preserving the wilting herbs languishing in my fridge, putting away the laundry, weeding the flower beds, etc.–in time to write a new post.)
There. I’ve gotten my moans, groans, whines, and complaints out in the open and feel purged of all writer’s guilt. Really, you don’t want to listen to my thoughts today anyway. I’ll release you now to more pleasant pastures and share some travel memories from a summer’s evening in Troyes, France.
Six small tables lined the courtyard, white tablecloths shivered in the breeze, the last rays of sunlight spackled the well-manicured square of lawn like a pointillism painting. Forks and spoons laid heavy as corpses on the table, the antique and roughly-polished silver anchoring the dancing tablecloths in place. From the kitchen, the breeze served up shades of olive oil, roasting meats, marinating figs. The sonorous clang of the cathedral bell punctuated the muffled conversations of guests. Our waiter materialized next to our table with a mischievous smile flickering across his lined face as he deftly proffered a bottle of local champagne, proclaiming it “A bit of local sparkling water” and proceeded to chuckle as he poured us each a complimentary glass of the local vineyard specialty. Watching the miniature bubbles burst forth joyously from the liquid depths of the champagne, we caught a peek of heaven in Troyes, France, capital of Champagne country.
Just like Wonka’s delightful candy, the Everlasting Gobstopper, which produces one delicious flavor after another as you work your way to the center, the city of Troyes changed as we drove toward centre ville. First, the layer of golden wheat fields recently shorn of crops and laced with rich, orderly vineyards (working hard in the punishing sun to produce yet another crop of grapes to satiate the world’s thirst come January 1). Next, a layer of industrial housing, dirty sidewalks, and billboards advertising the latest Swiss cure for cellulite. After which, a layer of stone buildings and chain boulangeries: a hint of what was to come. And finally, after following the promise of “Centre Ville” signs, we reached the heart of the Gobstopper: the old city itself defined by countless numbers of centuries old churches built with stone that seems to be simply crumbling from age, gothic and Romanesque fronts, and ornate ironwork towers proclaiming the endless march of time in doleful clanging of bells. The pedestrian cobble-stone streets led us past Neoclassical buildings paying homage to structure, symmetry, and refined elegance, as well as half-timbered cottage-like structures still holding faded washes of once-optimistic color: pink plaster, light green shutters, a yellow door. Open squares were defined by ornate carousels flashing in the sun, fountains laughing in the shade, and cafe crowds drinking the final dregs of the day.
Troyes is located just an hour and a half southeast of Paris-an easy and relaxing daytrip from the bustle of the City of Lights. Unlike any other place that we visited on this trip to France, Troyes seemed more medieval and darkly Germanic, as if plucked and preserved from an age when cod pieces were all the rave and everyone was just dying to get a new fitted tunic from the summer collection at Ye Olde Gap. Surely an oversight by the travel guidebook publishing companies, Troyes doesn’t appear in a French top-ten must-see-list, but the savvy traveler who enjoys sampling roads less travelled through life will want to log a few days in Troyes.
For an evening’s amusement in Troyes, we prescribed to our never-fail tourism strategy: the “wanderlost.” Driven by wanderlust, we wandered the streets until lost, happily exclaiming over each quaint site encountered after another wrong turn. In this way, we experienced Troyes as it closed itself down for the day; shopkeepers flushed the last minute shoppers from H&M’s displays, the golden sunshine scaled higher and higher on the buildings, and a watercolor dusk brushed corners and doorways with shadow. We had a pressing time commitment for the evening: 8pm dinner reservations at La Maison de Rhodes, and so eventually our blistered feet turned toward the comfort of “home.” In this case, we had found one of our nicest “homes” for the trip: La Maison de Rhodes, a four-star, recently renovated timbered mansion boasting bright-red courtyard doors large enough to accommodate the stage coaches and prancing horses of another age.
As a dinner of local, organic fare commenced, the bubbly began to tingle the tops of our heads as we chatted through our reminisces about our journey. Each delectable dish that appeared in front of us seemed determined to outdo its predecessor—a hulking portion of salted foie gras weighing down a glistening maroon slab of beet, ghostly slices of mozzarella cozying up to scarlet slices of tomato and drizzled with freshly pressed olive oil and shredded basil, a tagine of chicken (so much more poetic in French: tagine de poulet) with prunes and apricots imbued with the herbs of Provence, a slow roasted daube of beef redolent in a wine-tomato sauce, and anchoring it all, a ruby-colored rosé whose spicy chill had far more attitude than its lighter Provençal-vintage cousins.
It may have been the wine which lent an almost magical air to the evening, but I think the atmosphere itself had a bit of fairy dust in it. Between the courtyard twinkling with the glow of candles, the fragrant breeze leaping over the courtyard walls, the deepening twilight of the blank velvet sky, and the nagging impression that we shared a seat at a table with history, we were certainly drunk on more than just wine.
For one of our final evenings in France, Troyes and La Maison de Rhodes Hotel hosted an impressive dénouement to the three weeks in France. Our final sip of bubbly was saved until after dessert, at which time it was replaced with the customary conclusion to any French meal:un café. As Big Friend pressed his third and final dark cup from the French press coffee pot delivered tableside, we knew that we were slowly compressing the final few moments out of this French countryside experience. Our plane had not yet taxied from the gate, but thoughts of departure hunkered at the edges of our evening. Beating back the inevitable future, we welcomed the effervescence of champagne bubbles as they lifted our spirits with hopes of more unexpected moments to come.