Travels with Food

wine and cheese tablePat here:

I’m just back from a two-week vacation and wondering why we call it a vacation. Perhaps in the days of maids and butlers time away from chores was a relaxing getaway, but I spent a year of research on the itinerary, and weeks on packing, and now that I’m home. . . I’m sure you all can relate to the stacks of laundry and bills, overgrown grass and weeds, and all the work (like this blog) that didn’t get done while I was away. Where are the magical fairies when we need them?

But in exchange for mounds of unfinished work, we had two wonderful weeks of maid service and catering, so I really have no reason to complain. I’m five pounds heavier and I’m here to tell you, the food was worth every ounce. Well, it was France, after all. If only I could bring that cheese home with me. . .

From a small airport in California, reaching Europe is no picnic. We spent roughly 24 hours in airports and planes, and that’s not counting the time driving and parking. Air travel isn’t for the weak of will these days. But we hadn’t been  back to France in decades and we never saw Pope's Palaceenough then. . . Still haven’t, but we did get a larger sample this time around.

We started out in Avignon, the home of the popes for roughly the better part of the 14th century, after they fled the conflicts in Rome. We toured both palaces, the original, more monastic one and then the magnificent one built by more… extravagant… popes. That tour was blessedly inside, out of the rain. However, the Roman arena in Arles, quite similar to the one in Rome, was a fascinating side trip, but we ran away after the cold drizzle turned to a downpour. Arenas aren’t under a roof!

Roman arena Arles France
Roman Colosseum

Apparently the weather in France had been quite unusually wet for some time, so the Rhone and flooded riverthe Seine had reached capacity, making it difficult for our small boats to cruise under low bridges. Obviously, we didn’t need that sundeck anyway!

We moved on from antiquity to indulge in wine and cheese tastings. Forget sunny Napa style wine tastings—these were conducted in caves! Blessedly out of the rain. I learned that Burgundy or Champagne or Beaujolais may be blended from chart of grapes for Provenancemany vintners in a particular region, but other French wines are blended by master oenologists, using only grapes from that region, and labeled by the name of the winery, not the type. So, unless you’re familiar with the wines produced by a particular winery, you ain’t got a clue what you’re buying. (Since two-buck Chuck works for my plebian palate, we thoroughly enjoyed the tastings but didn’t indulge much more than that)

bottles of wineThe cheeses. . . France has somewhere in the vicinity of 1600 varieties of cheeses, but who’s counting? If you want pasteurized, then there are classifications for nearly 300, I think. My memory reached overload and never quite recovered. We just ate whatever anyone set in front of us and I don’t believe there was a bad one in the bunch. I’m pretty sure I could live on cheese and baguettes, grapes, and wine, but we were eating so many other fabulous foods, that I didn’t have the opportunity to try.window of chocolatier

And chocolate! OK, this is turning into a food blog, sorry. The chocolatiers and patisseries. . . Why can’t we have more of those here? Well, the bread makers, too. Our guides tended to rate villages by the number of boulangeries available. A village without a bread maker might as well not exist. One guide said Parisians eat roughly four baguettes a day and walk them all off. I’m bakery windownot sure he was exaggerating.

Oh, you want to hear about historical sites? Well, winemakers have been in France since Roman times. . . OK, I have more pictures of gorgeous ceilings, medieval buildings (of particular interest since my Gravesyde Priory village hasn’t changed since its medieval origins), destroyed castles, medieval buildingsand. . . They’ll have to wait for another blog, after we’ve sorted them all out (another task!) so I’m not calling one crumbling wall by the name of another. I’m just utterly amazed that Europe (despite two World Wars!) manages to keep their fascinatingly eclectic architecture for centuries, while here in the US we tear out fifty-year-old houses to replace them with indistinguishable McMansions. Although granted, I’m not certain I want to live within cold stone walls lacking adequate heating, plumbing, or light. So, there is that.

All right, tell me your favorite parts of France or where you would go if you went there!



22 thoughts on “Travels with Food”

  1. Sounds like a wonderful trip, Par. Thanks for sharing. Hope to to see more of your photos once you get them sorted.
    I have only been to France only once,back in 1985, for three fun and fascinating weeks. We stayed in Paris annd took many day trips to Giverny, Chartres, Versailles and other nearby places. Walking around Paris was endlessly fascinanting and the museums were wonderful as we re the cafes. And since the exchange rate was so amazingly favorab,e we got eat in some lovely restaurants, too.
    I am sorry we never got to tbe Normandy Beaches and the Bayeaux Tapestry. But it was a wonderful trip nevertheless.

  2. Food, glorious French food! I’ve seen bits and pieces of France and spent some days in Paris at different times, but the unifying thread is good food everywhere, even in motorway cafes! I’d love to go back and see more of the countryside, and most certainly the Normandy beaches and cemeteries. Maybe some day.

  3. That sounds absolutely fabulous, Pat, and you’ve made me want to go there now! I’ve only ever been to Paris so there’s a lot I haven’t seen. Definitely on the bucket list! And all that lovely food … yes, please!

  4. We lived in London and then Suffolk for 25 years so France was an easy drive, especially with small children and particularly once the Tunnel was built. I think I have been to most of France as a result and it is very special, notably the food. Walking to the boulangerie for breakfast pastries was a treat for us all. One of the most recent areas we visited was the Jura which is a mountain area just north of the Alps. We all swam in the river, ate the local cheese Comte and drank a lot of cremant de Jura, which is the local champagne alternative. However on the cheese front, there has been a recent huge resurgence in British cheese making and we have an excellent local fromagerie, which keeps us happy but no baguettes or cremant to have with it

    • oh, that is ideal! I am so envious of people who are able to travel so easily. And that’s really good news on the cheese front! Of course, I can’t bring yours home either, sigh.

  5. Sounds like a wonderful trip! Maybe someday it will fit into my schedule. My husband’s been there a couple times (business related) & has great memories.

  6. I loved sailing on the Seine in the evening with the Eiffel Tower shimmering its lights and then staying calm again. None of us knew when it would sparkle strongly and die down to begin the cycle. We had so much fun there and seeing so many sights in Paris and the surrounding area like Fontainebleau. Musee D’Orsay and Louvre Museum were spectacular.

    • oh, lucky you. We got to see a lot of Paris during the day. I was really looking forward to the night, although an open boat, rain, cold, and a flooded river… just not the best time.

  7. Don’t apologize for food posts, Pat — I always enjoy some calorie-free food porn — and I enjoyed this post. A little bit of virtual travel is always welcome. I’ve been to France a few times, but even though I spent quite a while there on my trips as an adult, it’s never enough, I agree. I actually planned to go back there and live in Brittany (in the summer) and Greece (in the winter) and write — but life got in the way of that plan.

  8. I loved Paris-I spent over a month there and still didn’t see everything I wanted to. I have never been to the south of France but I plan to remedy that on a cruise this fall. I plan to eat a lot better than when I was on my post-college $5 a day trip!

  9. My longest stay in France was at a language program in Vichy as a teenager. I liked the croissants but passed on the (what is this? It looks like) sheep brains. I also got to spend a few days in Paris and enjoyed visiting the Louvre.
    Thanks for your enjoyable and drool worthy post, Pat!

  10. My favorite part of France was Dordogne! The food, the wine, the people! So friendly and when I wanted to learn how to make something, they’d take me into their kitchens and walk me through everything.

    Mind you, I traveled to France while I was living in Istanbul, Turkey, which is another fantastic food place.

  11. Oh, to be in Brittany again, now that the strawberries are there! We stood in the market and ate them directly from the little boxes the vendors provided – they didn’t seem to have any connection to fruit with the same name at home! And because Brittany is known for its butter, there’s salted caramel everywhere, especially on crepes! And cider! And shellfish! I must check my passport…. Thanks for such a yummy post, Pat – can’t wait to see your pictures!


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