A successful trip isn’t determined solely by a well-appointed itinerary or significant sights. It is a collection of memorable moments strung together in a story. We take pictures so that we can revisit those memories, but sometimes that isn’t enough for me. I need to recount it with words so that I can record what it felt like to be in the moment–in full technicolor with all five senses. Hopefully my recounting will allow me to revisit that memory again and again.
Because my blog is about 60% helpful information and 40% self-indulgence (or perhaps that should be reversed), I am going to indulge myself for a few paragraphs as I relive a nearly perfect traveling moment in France. As a bonus, I hope that it persuades you that you ought to add traveling to your to-do list if it isn’t already there. (If you need more convincing, try this post, this post, and this post.)
Café Marlot // Chateau La Rochepot // France
I audibly exhale as I settle into the simple, modern black cafe chair and rest my travel-weary feet. Three O’Clock always feels like the perfect time for an afternoon coffee, so stumbling across a little cafe in an old stable near the entrance of the forest-wrapped Château seems serendipitous (and only when describing European travels do I feel like I can be as pretentious as to use a word like serendipitous…especially in reference to coffee).
I settle in for a break, and I am surrounded on either side of the round, white lacquer bistro table by my traveling companions — my sweet younger sister and my handsome husband. We are all slightly delirious with jetlag which seems to heighten our humor. We try not to annoy the composed French people sitting nearby us on the outdoor terrace as we laugh and reminisce about the day’s events.
Situated a few hours southeast of Paris, Burgundy is a quiet and picturesque region known for good food, better wine, and idyllic little villages. We wanted somewhere that wasn’t filled with American tourists, and the fact that we have only heard maybe one other native English speaker all day seems to confirm that we made a good choice.
Even though it is only mid-afternoon, we have already had a full day of Burgundian sensory overload. It started with a stroll through the bustling Saturday market in quaint but central Beaune. We sampled regional cheese and charcuterie from boisterous vendors who assumed we could understand their French sales pitches. We tried not to smell the Camembert cheese as we tasted it, but it’s difficult to separate the taste from the dirty laundry smell. We carefully counted Euros into the hands of a Boulanger in exchange for a perfectly browned, crusty loaf of French bread.
We selected a small cardboard carton of fresh strawberries and raved to each other about how perfectly juicy, sweet, and red each one was. It feels like it was the best batch of strawberries I’ve ever eaten, and I’m not sure if it really was exceptional or if the experience of eating a berry underneath the striped awning of a French market simply enhances the taste of anything.
I lingered in the booth lined with woven baskets and ran my fingers along the ribbons tied around their handles as I tried to convince myself I could fit one in my suitcase. I stopped at the flower booth to feel and smell every shape and color. I watched all the elderly patrons walking home with their baskets full of baguettes and thought how quintessentially French everything felt.
After a full schedule of market shopping, vineyard tours, wine tastings, and a beautiful drive under blue skies on the Route des Grands Crus, a cup of coffee is just the thing. We all hope to order an Americano or a similar beverage, but after staring at the mostly French menu for a few minutes in bewilderment and consulting our handy Rick Steves translation book, we all settle on something labeled “Long Coffee” and hope it will do the trick. We then debate out loud (after the waitress is comfortably out of earshot) what exactly could make a coffee “long.”
Once I have my lengthy coffee and classic white mug in hand, I can focus on the view. The air is warm enough to signal the end of Spring, but it is still crisp, so I keep my cardigan on over my sleeveless, black and white embroidered sundress. The birds are having animated conversation above our heads, and the wind rustles the leaves around on the trees and the forest floor.
Directly in front of our table, there is a gap in the crowd of dense, lush trees that allows us to see a rolling hill a few hundred yards away. Three white cows and a new Spring calf graze leisurely, completely unaware that their primary purpose in life is to be made into the most delicious Beouf Bourginion like the dish that our bed & breakfast host prepared for us last night.
To our left, the compact but stately Chateau de la Rochepot rises above the trees. The tile roof is patterned with burgundy, green, yellow and brown tones in the style so common in Medieval buildings in this region. Past a line of forest, the entrance to the drawbridge is visible. The castle reminds me of a cardboard pop-up castle that my sister played with as a little girl. The stereotypical moat around the stone wall and the round towers lining the outskirts are reminiscent of the medieval history studies I loved in elementary school.
As we look out on the 21st Century Burgundian countryside, it isn’t hard to imagine what it would have been like to walk up to this fortress on foot centuries prior. I conjure up romantic visions of knights in shining armor and damsels in distress, and I keep grabbing my husband’s and sister’s arms with emphasis and saying, “Just imagine what it would be like to be here in medieval times.”
I take small sips of my coffee to make it last longer so that I can savor this moment. The peacefulness of the scene stands in stark contrast to the hectic life I left back home. I needed this escape. I needed to remember that the world is much bigger than my seemingly endless list of responsibilities in everyday life. I needed to sit in this place and breathe in this air.