Yup, I had to name this little series with a pun! "Souvenir" in French also means “memory,” and some of the best things I will be carrying back to the US with me after three years of life abroad are the memories I hold of this place. Last week I painted a picture of some of the places we’ve traveled to within France. This week, as promised, is the first batch of my favorite moments experienced within the country.
The one with the bubbly: Reims
What would you do after your first full week of living in Paris? Go on a day trip ASAP, of course!
We didn’t often day trip from our home in NJ, rarely even into NYC (which, when you commute into daily during the week, loses some allure). But suddenly with a newfound life in Europe, we had access to a great train infrastructure and many weekends ahead of us.
Lesson #1 came shortly after we rolled up to the train station Saturday morning. The trains are great and convenient, but tickets can be pricey when bought on the day-of. But lesson noted, we went off on our first excursion, to Reims.
There’s lots I can say about Reims - its stunning cathedral, the beautiful Chagall stained glass windows inside, and the Musée de la Reddition where the Nazis signed their surrender to WWII. But the highlight, as you might have already guessed, involved a bit of bubbly.
Our tour through the Mumm cellars introduced us to the fascinating and tedious process employed to create champagne. It certainly gave me some more appreciation as to why this beverage carries the price tag it does. But perhaps the moment that stands out the most happened in the tasting room. We met an American couple living on a military base in Germany, and connecting with another couple who had moved abroad and were doing the same thing as us on a Saturday afternoon made me feel more peace about the tough transition I was experiencing. Our move felt more “normal” instead of crazy and impulsive -- and I know it wasn’t the champagne talking because there wasn't that much in each glass!
And from that one day trip was just the start of many places we would visit in France...
The one with the surprise: The Loire Valley
I'm the first one to admit, it's easy to surprise me. I don’t try to figure things out, I can be gullible (read: doesn’t catch onto to sarcasm at all times), and overall can be oblivious. Let’s just say there was a time in high school when I noticed one of my friend’s father’s car suddenly had an analog clock instead of the digital display that used to be there. So I thought his dad switched out the clock in the dashboard...when, in fact, he had bought a new car.
All this to set the stage for the one day when I went to visit Michael for lunch at his office. My sister-in-law had just left the day before, and I was feeling a bit homesick and missing family. I arrived and Michael walked me into the cafeteria. And then, the biggest surprise of my life happened. My brother and his fiancée were sitting there, ready to join us for lunch. They flew from NYC, landed that morning, and got to my husband’s office in time to surprise me for lunch.
And that’s not even half the story. The boys had coordinated a whole weekend trip to the Loire Valley, complete with fabulous dinner reservations, wine tastings, and chateaux visits. I was blown away at the fact that my brother and hubby managed to pull off such an epic surprise just for me. That's why the Loire Valley will always have a special place in my heart filled with the joyous memories of being whisked away for a weekend trip with some of my favorite people.
The one with the pizza: Antibes
This statement always outrages half of my friends and family hailing from the great state of New Jersey with its strong Italian-American heritage. But some of the best pizza of my life did not come from Italy. It was made in France.
To be fair, a large portion of the French Riviera used to be part of Italy. With that in mind, perhaps it’s not so controversial that delicious pizza could be a product of France. But the lunch we had in Antibes was a perfect combination of so many elements coming together to create a beautiful moment. There I was, in the gorgeous Mediterranean town of Antibes, accompanied by my husband and one of my closest friends, eating pizza and drinking cool rosé wine with the sound of accordion music being played live in the background.
The girls next to us had different tale to tell, one of cultural shock and outrage, These Californians weren’t accustomed to how eggs and bacon are prepared in France. After ordering two dishes not to their likening, they decided to take matters into their own hands when their plan to make a scene to detract other people from patronizing the restaurant failed. They threatened to take down the café on TripAdvisor. Even their drama couldn’t ruin our lovely lunch though. Moral of the story: order the pizza!
More favorite memories in France coming soon! We're in the midst of moving out of our apartment now, but more posts on the way as time allows :-)