Posts in France
Unexpected Finds

The best thing about France was that sometimes, you could almost forget you were in France (almost). You could be driving for miles down a road and one turn, around the bend, there is something out of nowhere that leaves you breathless, reminding you that you are, indeed, in France. 

I pulled off the main highway to find something to eat in Crozes Hermitage. The town was completely vacant so I kept driving. I stumbled upon this little village, Gervans, up in the hills. Everyone was closed for lunch, because, well, I guess they were home eating lunch. The air smelled of salt water, olives, and an afternoon ocean breeze. There wasn't a soul around. I drove up through the winding hills between the Spanish roof-tiled houses. The vines were everywhere and much further along than they were at home, flourished with huge, bright green leaves. There were no green lawns here, no pastures, no field untouched by grape vines or olive trees. Each house had their own lot of them. 

The vines and olive trees intermingled with the village and the houses. They were all entwined as they danced up around the hills together. Everything was built into the landscape, becoming part of it. Nothing here was wiped out to make room for more houses, more construction. It all sang together in perfect harmony, as if the land was made this way, with this little village here, since the dawn of time.


Further down the highway, I stopped again trying to find a Chateau that I wanted to visit. I never did find the Chateau, but out of nowhere, around a bend, I stumbled upon a city made entirely out of stone, singing above the valley below. It was unlike anything I had ever come across. I had to stop. 


Sitting there, atop the mountainous stone city that is Gordes with the wind whipping my hair around violently, the birds singing above the valley below, with a bottle of Domaine de Fondreche, Nadal. And none of this was in the plans. I am late to meet my next host and I don't care. Life at home isn't this way. We drive on autopilot, racing to our next destination, and we don't allow time for exploring, for getting lost, for discovering and having our breath taken away. Here, in this small random moment, in this small turn down side streets, I have found a beautiful peace and awe. One that could not be found on the highway, the fast track. One that would have been missed entirely, if I had not allowed myself to get lost. And it's for moments like these, that I had to come alone. 


It was as if I were transported into a different time period, a different world. Walking these stone pathways around the city and up the mountain, I was someone else. I realized that I could be anyone. And I wondered who I would have been had I lived life here before the tourists. When the city was just a home like any other. Would I have wondered about the rest of the world and still longed to go explore it? Would I have skipped along these stone ways and raced friends down the hill as a child? Would I have fallen in love here and never left, raised a family?

But none of that really mattered, although I always tended to play into the dream. What mattered was that I was here now. And in this moment, this very one, everything was the way it ought to be. 


If northern France is miss prim and proper, turning her nose up at nude shoulders and thighs, than the south of France is her slutty little sister. Here I am sporting a one peice, which I might add I thought a bit too riske for the States, and when I turn over, I realize I am the biggest prude on the beach. Eighty year old women were showing me up! 

At first, I thought this person in front of me was just another white haired man in a speedo with a flabby chest, lying on his back. (Unfortunately, there were more than a few of those). But when she got up to let her hair down, it was affirmative - she was definitely somebody's grandmother. Maybe great grandmother even. I scanned the beach and not one but dozens of women her age were scattered, washed up on shore with nothing more than a scrap of underwear for bottoms. None of the men seemed to notice. In fact, I was the only one gawking. 

Despite the unappetizing nudity, Marseille was a gorgeous place. You could lie on the beach for hours, swim in the crystal waters, jump off rocky cliffs, and eat lunch on other cliffs jutting right out above the sea. There were the most beautiful and delicious salads you could ever imagine with jambon ham, goat cheese or baby octopuses. The run along the sea was as refreshing and breath taking as the views that surrounded it and the people seemed much lighter and happier than those up north. There is music everywhere and artists of every kind creating in the streets. Hundreds of sail boats covered the old ports like ancient dust and the old cathedral atop the hill was visible from every point in the city. 

I hadn't planned on visiting this southern part of France until July on my way to Italy, but after weeks of cold rain, I was desperate for a little sunshine. Three nights turned into five and I wondered if I would ever leave. 

Road Trips with Joffre: Part 2

Part 2: Beaune to Marseille

Joffre had a severe defect (one of many) and that was that he was incapable of directing me to an exact address. His navigation skills were limited to towns only, which was, as you can imagine, very inconvenient. Thus, Joffre could get me to the town (if we were lucky), and then Siri had to take over from there. 

The drive to Marseille was almost 5 hours so we set out early, in hopes to stop in a few towns on our way. Lyon, Cote du Rhone, Crozes Hermitage, Bonnieux & Aix-en-Provence were on the list. Of which, Joffre found only Crozes Hermitage, and Gordes by accident in attempts for Bonnieux. It's safe to say that we had more than one argument on our way. 

The tolls in France were absolutely criminal. Every major road had a price and then another price to get off on each exit. So when Joffre took me off the wrong exit, multiple times, and then we had to get back on after driving around aimlessly in "unmapped zones," I was livid. Unlike the U.S., French tolls took credit cards, which clearly is the way to go because who has cash all the time? Unfortunately for me, however, there were no EZ pass zones or something of that nature that I could blow through when every other option failed, like I did at home. None of the tolls had actual people in booths either. Just machines. These machines did not take Mastercard or Visa, but they did take American Express ... which I found supremely odd. Anyway, thankfully I had gotten an AMEX before I left. It worked fine for the first few tolls until we hit a major road block.

Toll number 3 spit my AMEX back at me and declined it several times. Glancing in my rearview mirror, I saw that several cars were waiting behind me. Frantically, I searched through my purse and other bags for any and all coins (tolls did not except bills). I had 1.7 euros. The toll was four. Cars were beeping now. Jumping from the car, barefoot and windblown, I went to the car behind me to see if he had any spare change. The man behind me was clearly annoyed and I attempted to explain the situation. He shrugged exasperated and searched his car, reluctantly handing me the 2 euros he found. I thanked him and put it in the machine; I was still 30 cents short.

He layed down on his horn, startling me as I was leaning into the car looking for more change. Slamming my head into the ceiling with the sound of the horn, my skirt whipping around my legs with the wind, I went back to him, again trying to explain. He didn't care. Running down the line from car to car like a touristic lunatic with no shoes and no language skills, I desperately tried to find 30 cents. Not one, but six cars, in two different lanes, shrugged at me and simply replied "no." Some didn't say anything and just looked at me like I was completely mad. Not my proudest moment, this one did not give a good rap for the Americans ... my apologies. 

I walked back to my car through the symphony of horns all singing for me, and apologized to the man who had given me the two euros. He rolled his eyes like a teenage girl at her mother and without a word, started trying to reverse, laying down again on his horn so the people behind him would retreat. Wincing and with warmth flooding my cheeks, I turned back to my car. As I did, he yelled at me, now in perfect English, "I want my two euros back. Give them to me." In a panic, I pushed every button on the toll booth trying to have them returned. Apologizing to him over the violent wind, I told him I couldn't get them back. "Bitch!" he yelled and then turned around as all of the cars began to reverse. So now he knows perfect English. How convenient for him. Slayer. 

I put my flashers on so I wouldn't have to face any other cars pulling up behind me, and helplessly sat there pushing the bright red "assistance" button, but it was just a French recording that I couldn't understand, repeating herself over and over again. Fighting the tears that I knew were coming, I sat there for a few very long moments.

"What do I do now, J?" I asked Joffre. 

Of course, he was silent now and of no help. I dumped out my backpack and purse on the passenger seat and sifted for anything at all. A 50 cent coin flickered underneath some pens and brochures. Oh, thank God. Popping it in, the assistance recording finally stopped and the gate went up. Holding my breath for the next toll, Marseille couldn't come soon enough.  

The Lemon

The place looked like it was hanging on for dear life, painted a cheap lime green in attempts to mask it's struggle. It looked like I was maybe one of three guests here. Inside, it smelled like ciggarettes and incense. The woman at the counter had pixie dark hair, a starfish nose ring, and the kind of brown leathery skin that only came from a careless outdoor life that saw the better of her twenties and thirties. What little English she did speak, came out in a hoarse smoker's rasp that felt all too American. 

The hallways were bright green as well and the rooms had coral doors with cut out limes displaying the room numbers. Room 203. I felt like I was walking through the barracks of a watermelon themed cruise ship. The room was okay. Cement decopauge walls with bright plastic things around to draw attention and detract from others. The shared bathroom down the hall looked exactly like an airplane bathroom, except void of all color. It even flushed the same way. And the shower was practically military - one you had to turn back on every 10 seconds like a public bathroom sink. 

Well, I was out of the dank, cold city and in the rolling hills of Bourgogne (Burgandy). Wine Country. This was more like it. Although, this wasn't exactly the quaint, French accomodations I had imagined. But, when you are traveling proudly unemployed, you can't have it all. The "wifi" that was advertised was hardly that. I could get a very slow connection on my lap top but nothing on my cell. Roaming or not, there was literally no service. It began to rain harder and get dark (seriously). I could hear the wind beating against the cheap siding of the building. A mild panic set in that I was committed to three nights here with no way to reach anyone if I needed to and no way for them to reach me. 

The sun came out that fast, as the way it had been doing all day. So, I got in my car to try to find some food in this hick town. I drove a little ways and saw a Buffalo Grille. Standing alone, bull horns and all, in the middle of French wine country with miles of rolling vineyards at it's back. Well, this was strange. I walked in and was immediately greeted by country music. I'm talking Taylor Swift, Darius Rucker, American country. I smiled and felt the first sense of relief in days. There is something about a good ole American honky tonk in the middle of France, world's away, that just eases any pangs of homesickness. 

I ordered a steak and a beer and laughed when the waiter brought it to me. I was eating steak and drinking beer in France when I had come for anything but. The steak was shit, all gristle, and the fries were stale but I didn't mind. It's funny when you think about it ... leaving home to see the world and experience all things different, and then sitting in a bad food joint just to feel closer to the very home you left. 

I covertly covered all the partialy chewed and inedible steak with my napkin, payed my bill and walked out. That was the end of that. I had my bearings and now I was ready for my next French adventure. 

I drove a few more miles down the road and now I was really in France - Beaune, the beautiful city center and capital of Bourgogne. Had I just waited to eat and kept driving, I would have had a proper French meal.

The weather was downright schizophrenic. It kept doing this thing where it would get dark and pour down rain for 10 minutes and then just as fast, the sun would come out and brighten everything up for 10 minutes before plummeting into rain again. It made for the prettiest rainbows I had ever seen.

I walked the old, narrow cobblestone streets between ivy covered stone buildings and didn't even mind getting drenched every now and then. Passing fountains, and courtyards, and terraces full of people.  I sat at a small cafe in a courtyard full of outdoor seating, (the French do love their terraces), and ordered 6 Les Escargots de Bourgogne (snails for days in France; for days) and a glass of Bourgogne Aligote 2012* since I had never heard of it. I watched people scream in laughter as they got soaked, only to be followed by the sun once more. 

I decided again that I loved France (a viewpoint subject to change at a whim). On the way home, I pulled the car over to stand out in the downpour and take pictures of the rainbows that covered the sky. I chased them down street corners and allies where they lit brightest. 

Back at the Lemon, there were now lots of guests. I asked two french men in the lobby if they had a wine opener, through means of defunct sign language and charades. They both disappeared and I was left standing in the room with a bottle of wine. Not two, but four men returned, carrying wine openers, key chains, pliers, and knives ... at my service. I laughed and between the four of them, they were able to open the bottle. Merci Merci. 

I noticed that now all of the guests at the Lemon were men in their fifties with electric company trucks. I was beginning to see the draw here ... and I was out of my jurisdiction. 

Nuit St. Georges & Chaux

There is so much to see here in terms of wine that it is overwhelming. I decide to head to Nuit St. Georges. After driving around and getting lost in hillsides full of nothing but vineyards (which I didn't mind), I stopped in the city centre. It was difficult to know a household from a winery and I didn't want to knock on random doors of family homes. I followed a small road - Chaux - up through winding roads and rolling hills of vines as far as you could see. It was incredible. Every so often, a small stone and dirt village would pop up with tiny family wineries. I learned quickly that you had to call ahead to visit. These wineries were made up of four family members, max, and they did the vineyard management, the wine making, the tastings, and the sales. At 4 pm, most of them were out tending the vines and none of them spoke English. 

I pulled into a small gravel parking lot next to a barn with a sign reading "Simon & Guy." Just as I did, another car arrived and we got out at the same time. There were three of them, an older couple and a boy about my age. The older, white haired gentlemen said something to me in French. 

"Bonjour, tu pal engle?" I asked.

" We are English," he exclaimed with a twinkle and a british accent.

"Oh, thank God," I said with a big sigh of relief and they laughed. 

An elderly French woman opened the barn door and led us into the dark room displaying her wines. We tasted a few of them and I was grateful for a French speaking man to direct the conversation. There were no windows inside or indication of the outside world. We rinsed our glasses in between wines from a water spicket in the corner as mice scurried about our feet.  


Chris, Christine, & Patrick were their names and they had just come from Provence. They were outrageously tan and, after a week full of cold rain, I was outrageously jealous. Christine had short, silk straight, white hair with silver accents that even more accentuated her tan. Patrick, the father, sported a white hairstyle as well. He was goofy in a way that I liked and he spoke to the woman without offerring me any translation. I didn't understand a thing or know what I was drinking. The son, Chris, seemed about my age and was handsome in an American university sort of way. I wanted to not leave them all day. I envisioned many more wine tastings that day and laughter throughout. They'd take me to dinner and joke about how they wished they could keep me and nudge their son with a wink. We'd part ways with hugs and kisses and promises to keep in touch and never forget one another. But none of that happened. They were headed one way and I, the other. 

Patrick bought what they had come for and I asked the woman for the same bottle. Chatting with Christine and her son while the transactions were made, and then they left. I was alone in the barn with no windows and stood in silence with the woman who spoke no English. I handed her my credict card; she charged it and handed me a box of 6 bottles. I looked at the receipt ... 50 euros?? 

"No, no. One bottle!" I tried to tell her. 

She smiled and showed me the door. Crap. I walked to the car with half a case of the same wine and pretended that I meant to purchase it, as I waved to the family backing out of the driveway. 

Meursault with Nicolas

DISCLAIMER: Lengthy with a predisposition to attract wine geeks, and possibly bore others. 

NOTE: If you ever find yourself in Bourgogne, France, you must go to Meursault; and if you ever find yourself in Meursault, you must find Nicolas of Domaine Michelot. 

As I had previously learned that it was best to call ahead before visiting family wineries, I decided to do so that morning. I was headed to Meursault, infamous for it’s brilliant white wines, and by random chance decided to call Domaine Michelot. A French man answered the phone and he did not speak English, but quickly returned with his son who did. I told him that I was a writer from the States traveling through France to find the best wine to feature in my book. (....)

He asked what time I would like to come in and I proposed noon.

He laughed and said, “No. That is lunch.”

Um, okay … “2:00?” I asked.

“Fine. See you then.” He hung up.

Meursault was beautiful. Rolling planes of luscious green vines raced alongside my car daring me to outrun them. Small stone cottages popped their heads up from behind hills and plains, and tiny, clustered villages rose from the ground out of nowhere. The town of Meursault could hardly be called that. Quaint and remote, it was comprised of narrow dirt roads and sharp corners, leading you to believe you could possibly get lost and then popping you out on the other side right after. The buildings, all dressed in large grey stone, seemed to only have the freedom to express their individuality through shutter and door color, which ranged from teal, to red, purple to yellow … however creative one could be. 

At the fringes of the town lay Domaine Michelot, much more confident and independent than her surrounding brothers and sisters. With her Spanish tile roofing, white washed stone walls, and pink accents (doors and shutters only), she stood proud with a respectable, yet humble defiance … if there ever was such a thing.

As I pulled up in between the skyward stretched vines and their Domaine, I could see a woman in the garage working on what looked to be a bottling line. She could see me but neglected interest. I walked around, awkwardly, searching for an entrance, but to no avail. So, I stood by my car and gazed outward at the unending green lushness, soaking in the temporary warmth of the sun as the vines did before it was overtaken

Coming up from the field, a French man grunted at me and beckoned me inside. After a few very silent moments with the man and the woman, the clinking of bottles and the exhausted efforts of the machine, the son, Nicolas, walked around the corner. He wasn’t much taller than me, but strong and stocky; he had an explosive, mushroom cloud of dark hair that stuck straight up and out in every direction, giving him a good 6 inches on me. I noticed his hair before I noticed him and had to bite my lip to force my laughter into a polite smile. It was the most outrageous, best thing I had ever seen. He had a friendly, toothy grin and a mere smattering of freckles that danced along his nose and cheeks, betraying his Italian-looking appearance. I liked him instantly

He walked me through the upstairs room and explained to me, in very rough, broken English, that the woman was not bottling, but labeling. The bottling was done a long time before the labeling and the bottles were aged in the cellar until that time. Nicolas was a 6th generation member of the Michelot family. As the weather currently still had a personality disorder, dodging between downpours and sunshine, Nicolas said that he was very happy to have a break from the vineyard work to welcome the American journalist (I didn’t quite know how to correct that in French, so I didn’t...). I asked him if this weather was typical of Meursault in May and he shook his head with wide eyes and told me this was March weather. However, this year in March, they had June weather, so they were hoping it would all balance out somehow. He explained to me the concern about the weather, although I knew it all too well, and told me that in 2013, they only had a 50% harvest due to a cold, rainy spring. It was begining to seem that 2013 was a bad year for most places. 

We went underground to the 15th century cellar and it was absolutely gorgeous. Renovated in a way to preserve how old and rustic it was, while still exquisitely showcasing clean, modern design. Further underground, it was not so clean, nor renovated; dark, yet completely authentic. The ceilings hung low and a pungent, damp stone surrounded us. There were bottles everywhere stacked up in corners on wooden and steel shelves. Massive old barrels were built into the stone walls in the first few rooms. We had to duck under archways and around corners as we followed the maze. I was going in completely blind as Nicolas lit each room as we entered. Around several corners, the biggest room stretched out with new French oak barrels, which betrayed the rest of the cave with their unstained casks and fresh forest smell. Nicolas did his best to answer my questions and explain to me their process through a means of French/New Zealand slang and charades. I mainly leaned on what I formerly knew. 

Following him from this room, we then entered a small cave. It was the old tasting room from several generations before. Dark and damp with mold covered, black stone walls and ceiling, Nicolas asked if it was okay if we tasted down here instead of the nicer upstairs tasting room for the public. It was 100% okay with me. The only light in the room came from an old handmade, wine bottle chandelier that hung above us. Complete with rust, cobwebs, green, yellow, and rose tinted bottles, his great grandfather had made it many years ago.

I sat at the small wooden table in front of Nicolas and noticed at least two dozen open bottles behind him. They all looked much the same with plain white labels stating only the vintage year and region, or scribbled in sharpie on the bottles with no labels at all.

Pouring the first wine into my glass and then his, Nicolas began to tell me about it. In search of the correct word and using his hands in attempts to portray it, he swung his right arm out toward me, sending his glass flying across the table and landing in a pool in my lap. I laughed, but wide eyed and frozen, Nicolas panicked trying to find something around the old cave to clean it up with.

I learned that Meursault was comprised of many different sects (large and small areas), each containing different soil and possessing different elevation levels. For this reason, there are so many types of white wine that can be made from Meursault and they are all named after the sect from which they come from, rather than the varietal (as in the U.S.). All of the subtleties, inflictions, notes, and artistic designs of these wines lie in the vineyards from which they grow. Therefore, a single wine cannot be characterized as a Chardonnay among a world of Chardonnays; so much as a person could be encompassed solely by the surname they were born with. Each has a personality, a story, a history, family, and a home from where it is rooted and developed.

Nicolas started us (and then restarted after the spill) with the Bourgogne Blanc Stel Vin 2012. A Chardonnay; this wine can be made from any region in Bourgogne (Burgandy), however, Domaine Michelot uses only grapes from Meursault, a region that yields the very best whites. This wine was very fresh and easy to drink. Open, with a tingling acidity in the front, a buttery warmth in the middle and a smooth melon finish. It was your everyday table white and nothing particularly special. 

We went on to the Meursault Sous la Velle 2012. Nicolas showed me the “jam cork” that they are now using, which is made from breaking down the cork and pressing it into a very compact material, eliminating larger air holes. Although young, this wine has a fuller body and a pineapple taste. Nicolas presses his first two fingers against his thumb and flexing his wrist back and forth to search for the words, says it has “more fat on the tongue.”

Nicolas poured for us a glass of 2012 and 2010 Narvaux, a sect colder than the others with a higher elevation. We tried the 2012 first. With a lot of minerality on the nose, this wine starts fresh and then becomes spicy, warming the mouth in the middle, and ending with a salty finish. The 2010, however, was entirely different and much fruitier. It was very refreshing with flavors of prickly peach and mandarin oranges. I was transported to Baltimore on the brink of summer, sitting outside on Thames Street by the water.

The Meursault Charmes 1 er Cru 2012, which I expected to be good, had almost a vegetable quality to the nose and taste. Celery salt jumped to mind but that’s just because it’s one of those frequent and “appropriate” descriptors that weasel their way into filling the space while you are trying to place the smell. It wasn’t quite that; although, it was reminiscent of the celery aftertaste, the stringy part. It had a spicy finish that didn’t quite fit either. Nicolas tells me that this wine is very young and you are not to open it for 5 years.

“When too young, all taste same,” he explains as he dumps the rest into the pitch pot.

Nicolas poured us the Meursault Clos St. Felix 2011, whose grapes came from the Clos directly behind this Domaine, where I had looked out upon on my way in. He explained to me that “Clos” simply means a lot of vines that are enclosed with a stone wall. The sun warms the wall during the day, allowing the stones to hold that heat and warm the vines through the night. For this reason, they grow the quickest and are the first parcel picked during harvest. St. Felix has a compact limestone and clay soil with gravel overlay, “like a river,” Nicolas says. He points to the black, rock walls of the cave and says, “same.” The Clos St. Felix had a vanilla and perfume nose like spring flowers, and was much fruitier to the taste than the previous wines we had tried.

The Meursault Grands Charrons 2010, was one of the more interesting wines that I tried. Immediately, upon swirling and smelling the wine, you could pick up flint and salt on the nose. Nicolas called this “yod,” the first smell you get after just opening an oyster. He mimics shucking an oyster and then opening both hands, smells them as if he were inhaling the oyster. For the most part, this I how we communicated. He said it also was the smell of being served a plate of fresh seafood. It tasted entirely different than it smelled. There was high acidity on the front, but an unexpected honey in the mouth, followed by a citrus finish. It didn’t make any sense and I liked it for that reason.

Although we tried many of the different Meursault region wines, Nicolas focused on a few in particular to show how different they were – Charmes, Genevriere, & Perrieres. He described the differences to me in a way that made perfect sense to him but probably won’t to the rest of us. Charmes produced a more charming, fine, and fresh wine, while Genevriere lent to more of a generous one, and Perrieres was simply “straight.”

We compared the 2009, 2008, 2007, & 2003 Charmes. (A private vertical tasting by the winemaker and I was in heaven!) Nicolas told me that 2009 was an easy year with beautiful weather the entire season and an early September harvest. Nicolas said this wine smelled like “a forest after big rain, with mushroom.” I didn’t know about all that. To me, the aroma was reminiscent of dried fruit and the taste a more candied apricot or prune. But he was the expert and I liked his descriptions. They seemed to be just as off the wall as mine tended to be.

With a nose of Brioche, patisserie, and almond, the Charmes 2008, had a much fruitier taste, like ripe peaches. This wine was lovely - fully open and ready to drink. The Charmes 2007, however, strangely seemed younger than the 2008. With more acidity, it was harsher and not as well integrated. There was brief nuttiness on the nose and oak on the tongue, but it lent quickly to a citrus and salty finish.

Pouring the Charmes 2003, Nicolas told me that this was a very warm and dry year – too much so, that they had to harvest in August because the grapes grew too fast. Nicolas said, “you can smell the sun, the maturity.” It did have a burnt characteristic to the nose and mouth, but it smelled like salty ocean air to me, and tasted like salted caramels.

I liked to think of these wines as living things and give them personalities unique to themselves. I imagined them all to be siblings, born from the same family, growing up in the same town (Charmes or Perrieres), but in different time periods. They all had a similar foundation, but a different life. Growing up with the influence of their specific spot in time, as well as, experiencing different hands and circumstances along the way, they each yield an individual outcome. No two years and regions developing in the same way.

Genevrieres was the most forgiving of the families (sects) within Meursault. There was more soil in this region and thus produced a more generous wine. We tasted the Genevrieres 2009. The aroma of this wine was doing all sorts of things; I smelled herbs, flowers, and a slight licorice that was uncommon to me among white wines. It had something for everyone and the combination was not off putting as one might suspect. The mouth was filled with smooth flavors of dried fruits and nuts and had a long finish. One might call Genevrieres a skilled people pleaser; too reluctant to stand out overwhelmingly, she has a subtle way of relating to everyone she meets.

The straight shooter and fighter of the group was Perrieres. The vines in this sect grow out of volcanic rock above a quarry. Nicolas poured us the Meursault Perrieres 1 er Cru 2007. “It smells just like that place,” he says, “you can walk under Perrieres vines, drinking a glass of Perrieres.” I had never heard of anything like that before and was fascinated by the idea of a tunnel below the roots of the vines. This wine had very stubborn minerality on the nose and front, but if patient, finished softer and sweeter than expected.

Being the last bottle and 2 hours into this tasting, I thanked Nicolas and motioned that I would go now. He hesitated and drawing his finger, insisted that I wait for one last bottle, a “surprise.” He left the cave and returned several minutes later with a different looking, older, and unlabeled bottle bearing no indication of what it was. Blowing the dust off it, he looked up at me with a playful grin.

Discovering that the cork was all wet and no good upon opening it, he explained to me that, usually, every 15 years they take bottles like this one and transfer the liquid to newer bottles and re-cork them with current corks, in order to preserve them. This one, however, may have been skipped.

Pouring us each a full glass, he announced, "Le Limozin," and pushed it over to me. “Say vintage,” he said, watching me with amusement.

It was a deep golden hue, and I knew that it was going to be funky. I couldn’t help but think of a co-worker back at Boordy that would go crazy over this wine. At first, it smelled like dried fruits and toast, but it began to constantly change by the minute.

Dried fruits, toast, foie gras, bread, pâté on toast, mushrooms, salt. It was all of that. One of the most interesting wines I had ever tasted, between aromas and flavors, it was a complete meal. To me it was, quintessentially, sitting somewhere on the sea and eating some sort of duck pâté on buttered toast points, and couldn’t be anything but.

Nicolas beckoned for me to return with the year of this wine.

“2000?” I guessed, not wanting to seem presumptuous that he would open anything older for a stranger.

He shook his head, “Earlier,” he said, with his nose in the glass and his eyes on me.

“1990?” I said, skeptical and feeling that it was even older than that.

“1982,” he said as if it were no big deal. 

“Wow. When you said special, I didn’t know I was that special!” I said with a grin.

He shrugged and with a smile said, “When it raining, I open ’82.”

I laughed. “Do you sell this?”

Nicolas shook his head, “No, no, we drink this.”

It turned out there were stacks and stacks in rooms that stretched out along the underground tunnels from years dating back over all 6 generations, that the family saved to simply drink together. This wine, Nicolas explained, would not be drunk with food. This wine was only drunk here, at Domaine Michelot, with the Michelots.

After finding out that I was headed to the south the next day, Nicolas gave me the contact information of a friend of his in Bandol, and thus the gypsy wishers were blown from winery to winery from then on; the present contact sending me on to the next and so forth. Hooked blissfully on a path designed and unfolded by fate, I smiled, knowing that this was exactly how it would go. 

Road Trips with Joffre: Part 1

DISCLAIMER: Dad, if you are reading this ... I didn't write it. 


Part 1: Reims to Beaune

I met Joffre by chance. He was not supposed to be mine, but through a series of mix-ups and mishaps, our paths crossed. I hadn't realized that an automatic car was so hard to come by in France and was so much more expensive. Everyone here drove stick. I did not. Thus, Joffre was all that remained. 

A grey, modest, four door car - spacious and comfortable- he had clearly been worn in and he was severely outdated in terms of mental cabability (navigation). He had a superior British accent and spoke to me in that gentle yet, matter-a-fact, butler type way. We had several issues right away. First of all, he talked to me as though I understood the metric system - meters and kilometers - and I assure you, I do not. This was not good. I barely could follow directions from Siri in feet and miles. I was virtually inept perceptually in this area. (I can see my brother shaking his head right now, because, to him, this sort of thing is an innate skill that only misfits are born without, but it's true - I don't have it.)

Also, can I just say how outrageous driving in France is? Frist of all, there are no double, yellow lines. In fact, there are no yellow lines at all. Only white dotted lines, so it was almost impossible to tell a one-lane, two-way street from a two-lane, one-way street. I managed to avoid a handful of head on collisions while trying to turn left in a lane that I should not have been in.  More than dozens of wrong turns were made as Joffre instructed me to turn in 250 meters, like I knew what that meant. 

At first, I thought there might not be any speed limit in France because I had yet to see any mention of a thing. I passed a white circle, outlined in red, with "110" written on it. 110?! That surely could not be the speed limit. But cars were whizzing by me. Drivers are not too keen on disguising tailgating in France. Highbeams on in midday with their bumper against yours and you got the point. After a ways, and seeing many more circular signs reading 90 and 70 and 130, I figured that this must be the speed limit, so I sped up. (It wasn't until at least 2 hours in that I realized this speed was kilometers per hour and not miles.)

There were all sorts of road signs that meant nothing to me. One - a triangle, yeild-type looking sign (only it wasn't because those were different) with an exclamation point on it. Just "!" Okay? And, I am supposed to be excited about what exactly ...? There were blue circlular signs everywhere with a red slash through them. I assumed the slash meant "no" or "don't", but I could draw no further conclusion except for "dont' blue."

I had a four hour road trip in front of me down to Bourgogne, so I had better get the hang of this thing fast. I switched the radio until I recognized something and settled for Nikki Minaj (ugh) because, well, it was American. 

A funny thing happens, even after 3 days, without anyone to talk to ... and that is that anyone, really, will do. Joffre and I bickered for the first 30 minutes trying to work out each other's differences, but by hour one, we had settled into a peaceful routine. 

J: "In 400 meters, at the roundabout, take the second exit." (please read in a british accent)

My God, how the French like their roundabouts. There was one at least every 2km (no, I do not know what that translates into in miles), the entire way. Everywhere - on little roads, major roads, highways, neighborhoods. 

Me: "Why, thank you Joffre."

J: "Turn. Right. Now." (please read in a British accent)

{screaching breaks and a sharp right turn}

Me: "A little slow on the draw there, Joffre!"

By 1:30pm, Joffre knew me better than some of my friends and by hour 2, I was serenading him with Total Eclipse of the Heart in English while the radio blasted it in French. Joffre and I had become kindred spirits. He was the Wilson to my Castaway, and I, his Tom Hanks. It wasn't long before I had settled into driving and was cruising down a back French road, (shamefully) dancing to Katy Perry's birthday song. That's when I saw the light flash. Oops. I asked Joffre what happened when you got a speeding ticket in a foreign country in a foreign, rental car, but he didn't know. I guess we will see. 

Well into hour 3, we had a major falling out when Joffre decided to spew nonsense. The trust relationship was broken.

J: "At the roundabout, take the second exit."

Me: "There is no roundabout here, Joffre..."

J: "If possible, make a U-Turn."

Me: "It's not possible,  Joffre!!"

J: "Make a U-Turn."


J: Silence

Me: "Come on man. Get it together. I'm driving blind here."

J: Silence

Squinting and trying to cover the screen of the Nav Guide to see what was happening (which by the way, went completely dark whenever the sun was out - severely inconvenient), I could barely make out the words, UNMAPPED ZONE, where the street name was supposed to be. 

Me: "What do you mean an unmapped zone!?"

J: Silence

Me" "You know what!? You are off the team! Off. The. Team. My friend!"

Needless to say, we were not on speaking terms after that. I was forced to cheat on him with the very costly, roaming and snobby Siri. Turning her on, she took over right away in an arroggant way that seemed to say I knew you'd need me. We drove in silence for 45 minutes until I couldn't take it anymore. I missed Joffre and decided to give him another chance. We settled our differences and he was able to pull it together to get us safely to Beaune. 

I knew after that, it was going to be very difficult to part with Joffre come May 24th and that we may have to run away together. 

Raining in Reims

If you are ever to visit Reims, I suggest you stay down in the caves and not stop drinking.

Let it be said that I am overly aware that my negative biases has to do with the following: the cold and rainy weather, being sick and completely alone for the first time in my life, living in a cubicle with no wifi or means of communication and no one to talk to.

The Champagne was amazing but not even that could keep me there. It was an abrupt and harsh start to traveling on your own for 6 months. Those who know me, know how social and outspoken I am and there was no one there but me. The loneliness was expected and all part of the reason for this journey – to be alone with myself and know and accept all those parts of me. However, these past three days were not fun, nor magical like Paris had been and no one spoke English. I mostly talked to myself and thought nonsensical things.

There were 3 characters in Reims. Only 3 that I had experiences with and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from them.

Character #1 … we’ll call him “Z”, for Dragon ball Z, because he seemed that type.

He was the first and only person I spoke to arriving off the train at Reims. It was cold, raining, and I was hung over. Not a soul spoke English in this train station … not a soul but Z. A Guido-looking, French guy with a cleft lip who, after seeing the vending machine steal my 2 euros, began body slamming the machine in attempts to rescue it for me. Taken completely off guard, as one would expect to be if a stranger hurled his body across the room into the vending machine you were standing in front of, I backed up and just stared at him.

When I realized what he was doing, I tried to tell him to stop and that it was fine but all he would say was “No. Not fine,” and throw his short and stocky weight into the machine again and again. I feigned a smile, horrified but trying to be polite, and looked back at his friends who just chanted “He get it. He get it,” with huge smiles on their faces. Tripping over my feet, I retreated and turned to go, smiling and waving that it was fine and it was not necessary for him to bleed internally any longer for 2 euros. I heard the thumping continue behind me as I walked away.

A shocking and panic-stricken sort of adrenaline now pumping through me, I was trying to contact the host whom I would be staying with my first night in Reims. She had given me the address and I kept plugging it in and getting results that were an hour and forty minutes away. It was pouring and I had been planning on walking but now I didn’t know where to walk. No one in the station could help or understand me so I plunged out into the downpour blind as I saw Z and his friends approaching from around the corner.

This brings me to Character #2 … we will call her "A", for Angel, because that is what she was… an English-speaking angel.

A was the host that I had to requested to stay with just the night prior through a social network for traveler’s called airbnb. She was currently staying in her apartment but said she would gladly accommodate me if I didn’t mind her sleeping on the couch since it was so last minute. I didn’t mind. I had an instinctual draw to her and felt safe immediately.She texted me to tell me she would come get me from the train station and to meet her on Clairmaris side of the station. Her place was only 5 minutes away. I had no idea what Clairmaris meant and bartered spare French words for English ones with the staff at the station to find out. They pointed and I took off in that direction.

I had to pass Z and his friends to get down into the tunnel I had been directed too. They beckoned me to come over and then Z proceeded to point to my sandals and ask to kiss my feet … to which, I declined. I bolted down the stairs underground but saw nothing reading “Clairmaris.” Every stairway I walked up, I was only entering where I had just been, but one track down. Z and his friends pointed and hollered each time I rose to the top of yet again another wrong stair case within their view. This was a terrible time.

Finally, rounding the corner of the tunnel, I almost ran right into a girl who exclaimed, “Kristen!?” It was A. She had come to look for me. Helping me with my bags and driving me to her place, she gave me her bed and told me her home was mine. I was so exhausted and sick that I fell asleep almost immediately. I barely spent any time with her at all, but I will never forget A and the kindness she showed to me as a complete stranger.

I had already arranged the next 2 nights stay in downtown Reims with a different host. I left A’s the next morning, rented a car for the first time, (who knew that would be in a foreign land?), and headed to pick up the keys from my next host …

Character #3: we will call him "S" for Slayer, because that is what he was.

I had been trying to communicate with him via text for the past two days, but he didn’t speak English (only “The French” as he called it), and I had to use a translating app to decipher every text and how to reply, which was okay because I was in his country after all. He had left the apartment keys in a lock box outside of his home for me to collect, and left with me with the address of the room and no further instructions.

The building was located directly next to the ginormous, gothic cathedral of Notre Dame. Literally, right next to it. I entered the building and realized that he didn’t tell me which number was mine inside. I searched the mailboxes for his name, walked three flights of stairs looking at all of the doors, and then reached the fourth floor. This floor was completely dark with at least 20 rooms down both hallways. This had to be mine, up in the slave quarters. But there were no names or numbers on the doors that I could see in the dark. I sat down on the stairs to relieve the weight on my back and text S to ask him which room was mine. He didn’t answer, so I rephrased the text so that it would come out maybe in better French. Finally, he responded. Two responses came through.

The first translated: “Fourth floor, second door on the right.”

Second response translated: “Do you have any holes!? My name is written on the door in any fine print!!”

Slayer! Defined right then and there. I took “holes” to mean “eyes”? I found the room and after about 30 minutes, discovered how to work the electricity. It was a cubicle but it wasn’t too bad, if it had only had wifi. Oh, and maybe a bathroom. I had to walk down the dark hallway to the bathroom in the middle of the night when I had to go, so I just tried not to go (or found other measures).

Oh right, and maybe if I wasn’t next to a huge, scary church with gargoyles and disgruntled pig statues coming off of it right into my window. No need for an alarm clock since I was practically LIVING in the cathedral. The bells started at 6: 50 am and went for a full 10 minutes before every hour. Every single hour. The first time literally jolted me from my bed and put me on the floor. (Those of you know me, know I do not, cannot wake up for anything, so I leave you to imagine.) These were not just your ordinary church bells. They were a series of gonging, eerie high pitch, low-pitch, and I don’t even know what pitch combination of tones, all mashed up together.

Finally, on my last morning, after waking with seizure by the bells, I arranged to drop the keys back off to S before his next guest arrived. I decided that I would from this point on, leave a little something in my wake for the next traveler. I left him the wine cask that I had walked home from the bar with the previous night (not the wine, just the cask; I drank the wine) and scribbled a note, shoving it inside.

I didn’t even ring S’s doorbell. I left the keys in the lockbox and text him in English while walking back to my car: “Keys are in the lockbox.” He said something, assumedly, asinine, like “I only speak the French! Don’t you have holes?? I don’t know; I didn’t translate it. I only replied, “translate it,” and then turned off my cell service. Never even met the man.

Yep. So, other than the Champagne, that's all that I can offer you for Reims. Those were pretty much my only interactions. Dragon ball Z. Angel A. The Slayer. The gongs. The rain. The cold. Oh, and the Champagne … the lovely Champagne. But no, that was still not enough. Glad to be onto the next town and adventure! Heading south and I'll see you there. 

The Champagne Houses of Reims

When in Champagne, drink the Golden Nectar. When raining in Champagne, drink copious amounts below the earth, and come up bubbly. 

Most of you probably know that Champagne is indigenous to the city of Reims and surrounding region and that, technically, you are not allowed to call anything made outside of this region Champagne. (What we have been drinking all these years is merely "sparkling wine".) What you may not know is that deep in the earth, underground the city, stretches 150 miles of Champagne caves, housing over 200 million bottles. These caves date back to Roman times, 2000 years ago in the 3rd and 4th centuries. When Galo Romans were looking for building materials, they found a soft, chalk-like stone in the earth of Reims that they could carve out by hand, transport, crush, and mix with water to form a type of cement. They took what they needed and left deep holes everywhere in the city afterward. The tops of these holes are now tiny windows from the city below to the city above. 

The chalk walls and the depth of the caves keep them at 8 -12 degrees celsius, depending on the depth of the level, which is perfect for aging Champagne. The caves have not only been used for centuries to make and house Champagne, but were ways for the monks to transport wine underground to different religious buildings, a bomb shelter for soldiers during the war, and an underground refuge for the people of Reims to live, shop, and eat during the Germain invasion (at which time, the making of Champagne had been put on pause.)

I stopped in Reims for percisely that reason - the Champagne. How many times in your life can you say you have drank actual "Champagne" from Champagne, France in Champagne, France. However, I clearly did not plan well seeing that it is, yet again, another Holiday weekend in France. That means that most of the more commonly known Champagne Houses - Krug, Ruinart, Pierre Moncuit, Veuve Clicquot - were all booked and have been for the past month. There were still some great ones that had openings. 

I was able to book two tours in English at Champagne Pommery and Taittinger, and attempted to sneak into Ruinart (they have guards everywhere - literally). It was raining and cold and I looked like the ultimate American tourist dressed like a soccer mom of 9, with skinny jeans, tennis shoes, a north face, AND a backpack (I can't even...). I had not anticipated such weather and frankly did not care much for what I looked like right now. 


My map said that Champagne Pommery, among others, was only an 8 minute drive from my place. Once away from the Cathedral and cobble stone area, the road looked much like any other road that you could find anywhere in the world. But at the end of it stood Champagne Pommery, overly gigantic and colorful, right on the edge of a major road. The slate blues and burnt pink hues of the castle struck me as odd and distasteful at first. As if, I were coming for Disney Land and not one of the oldest Champagne Houses in the world. 

Something felt very off about the whole thing. Like a Christmas store at a beach resort, or the remnants of the Enchanted Forest among a shopping center on Route 40. Come get your discounts at K-Mart but don't mind the giant king and sea creature lurking above the rooftops, reminding you of your childhood and a better time. (Sorry, that one was for the Marylanders). 

To it's left was Ruinart, which at least was modeled in the color sphere that I had expected them all to be. And to it's right, a dollhouse looking mansion stood, as if built out of gingerbread. Shapeless stone apartment complexes lay directly across from these expansive displays of luxury. The whole thing, from the outside, was just strange. 

Inside, with ticket booths and gates, I was still skeptical. But upon the first member of staff that I talked to, until the last, I became increasingly and pleasantly surprised. Despite the expansive touristic pull, this staff was genuinely a delight. I was 45 minutes early (I know, shocking), so I ordered a glass of Pomm's Summertime Brut *- a Blanc de Blanc (100% Chardonnay). The bartender graciously attempted English and did quite well explaining all the varieties that they offered. He also gave me a free glass of the Rose Appenage*, because he had accidentally poured one too many. He even went so far as to bring me over an English version of the history and tasting notes when he noticed me writing afterwards at a corner table. 

The quote on the inside flap from Madame Pommery made me forgo my initial impression, despite all of the exterior perceptions. Yes, sometimes, it is that easy. 

" I wanted this estate to be like an open book, facing the world and time. Leave your imprint on it, as I have left mine, for posterity. And let it be worthy of respect, I have wanted these walls to express each day for this Champagne, a wine that has now become a shared part of our souls and carries the memory of our art forever."

I knew then that would I would find underground would be something of unique beauty. If not only, for the reason that such love and devotion had gone into it. 

I know they said it was an English tour but the French woman who gave it sounded like she was still speaking French. I admired her effort but strained to catch maybe, every 5 words. She was dressed like a 1950's flight attendant with scarf and tilted hat and walked up and down the 116 steps of the cave with ease in heels. It was practically a private tour, aside from a group of four Belgians who scoffed heartily when hearing I was from the States and asked the tour be given in French. They were pleasant and welcome company during and after the tour. I hadn't realized how little genuine human interaction I had had in the last 3 days, if any. 

The caves were vast and dark; the air cold and damp. Millions of bottles lay down here covered in years of dust and debri, just waiting to be ready, waiting to be popped. I had no idea that Champagne aged for so long. The vintage Champagnes, only made during exceptional years, aged for 5 -8 years before the yeast was removed and the bottles were corked. The non-vintage for 3-4. The Grand Cru of Champagnes aged for even longer and could be cellared up to 15 years after purchased and before opening. 

Some extremely old vintages lay covered in caves waiting to be ordered and go for hundres of thousands of dollars. The only two bottles that Pommery would never sell were the last 1878 and 1874 bottle that remained. 


Taittinger, while a name not so old as the original families, has universally exploded and become the 3rd largest Champagne House to be known around the world. Due in a major part to it's exceptional market strategy and artistic expression, Taittinger has made his brand a household name. This original Champagne house before Taittinger owned it, however, is the third oldest in Reims. 

This tour was much larger than the previous one and given by a very lanky, very ginger, scottish boy (and I say boy for a lack of better term to describe his youth) in a suit, who walked exceptionally slow and stood absurdly straight, with his hands clasped behind his back at all times. He was very matter-of-fact and seemed quite uneasy with the large crowd, only relaxing momentarily with a small dry joke (that was actually quite funny) before immediately recovering his face. 

I was fascinated to discover that here, they turned all of their bottles by hand. While in a slanted, upside down position, there was a perfect clockwise/ counter-clockwise equation to turning the bottles in order to coax the yeast down into the neck of the bottle. Two of their most experienced turners, could finish over 8,000 bottles in an hour. 

Here I learned about the various uses of the caves over the centuries and how the tunnels that once connected all of them were now closed up. Now all separate and (somewhat) competing Champagne Houses, they wouldn't want the other team sneaking into each other's caves unnoticed. Made sence. Still, how incredible it would have been to be able to walk the underground tunnels of the city the way that the cloister monks did so many centuries ago. 

It's safe to say if this is my last post .... you know where to come look for me. 

Tasting Notes:

(bear in mind the head cold!)

*Pommery's Summertime Brut ~ Non-vintage. Blanc de Blanc. Made from a dozen selected Champagne vineyards. Light, crisp and refreshing with a tinge of bitterness in the mid palate. 

*Pommery's Rose Apanage ~ Non-vintage. Not made in the Saignee method, but by adding Pinot Noir wine. Salmon appearance, aromas of delicate pink rose petals. Light, crisp, fruity with a hint of sweetness. 

*Taittinger's Brut Reserve ~  40% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir, 25% Pinot Meunier. Crystal, gold hue. Muted nose. Crisp and fresh taste with granny smith apples on the front and almost a brief nutty finish.  *Favorite*

10 Things I learned in Paris

Things to know while traveling to Paris ...


#1.) I don't care how funny you were in your previous life, how witty or outrageous, but once your plane lands, your humor is no more. Your sarcasm will fall amiss on everyone you pass, even those who speak English. (Slayer is not a word taken lightly). If you are prone to telling elaborate stories with lots of hand gestures and facial expressions ... just don't. 

#2.) Cars will kill you. Whether on bike or foot, they will not stop. If you are in their way, you will die. 

#3.) Tennis shoes with glamorous outfits IS indeed a fasion these days in Paris. (Michele, you were right you little fashionista). Apparently wearing flashy tennis shoes with million doallar suits and designer label dresses says, "Look, I can afford to wear this, but I'm still chill." Looks pretty asinine to me but hey, I'm not French. Nor do I live in one of the fashion capitals of the world, so what do I know. 

#4.) Why May is the best month to be a Parisian: Every Thursday is a holiday and every day after a holiday, employees are not allowed to work. Four day weekends and three day work weeks for a month? Bring it on May. 

#5.) Forget the Louvre. If you go to only one museum, make sure it is the Musee de' L'Orangerie. Monet's rooms of Water Lillies will leave you breathless and dazed when you leave as if you awoke from a dream. Make sure you sit in there for at least 20 minutes. Time literally stops. 

#6.) If you don't understand the Metro and don't have a French guide, don't get on. Just don't. 

#7.) Do not go out the night before your train leaves. Going out in Paris means leaving your house at 1:30 am and getting back with the sun at 7 am. You will miss your train. Even if it is at 3:30 pm.

#8.) Keep friends who don't let you get on the back of mopeds at 5 am. 

#9.) Don't buy wine at restaurants. You will find out (most likely on your last day) that you can get really good bottles of wine at the store for 2 - 5 euros instead of 18. 

#10.) Bring proper shoes to France that will last longer than 5 days. Or a scrub brush to remove the black stains from your feet if you don't. 

Getting Lost in Paris

It's my third day in Paris and the first one I've had alone. After spending two days with a lovely, French college friend as my guide, I was finally on my own. It was terrifying and wonderous all at once. It took me a bit to work up the courage to leave his apartment this morning. I kept making up reasons not to, which I found odd. This is, in fact, exactly what I had wanted and why I had come. But the reality of being in a foreign city alone with no knowledge of the language rang alarmingly daunting. Eventually, I pushed myself out the door.

The French have a genius system here for transportation. Eight euros gets you an unlimited week access to bike rentals (which are on every street corner) and does just about the same for a car rental. You have a half an hour with each before you must return it, but can just take out another one 5 minutes later. Why didn't we think of this? I had used the bikes for the past two days, following my friend around the city. Today, after renting a bike, getting entirely lost, and pissing off too many Parisians along the way, I decided to walk. With the Eiffel Tower as my goal and no idea how to get there, I followed the river. 

There was something magical about Paris. I know we have all heard that before, but there really was. Something in the air. Turning down random street corners for no reason at all other than the look and feel of that street. Stopping under a remote bridge just because that particular spotcalled your name. With no wifi, no contacts, and no one to answer to. It was breath-taking.

Give me a Summer in Paris and I'd need a thousand more. Give me a year, and I'd give you the best Romance novel you'd ever read. Romance sang through the streets and beckoned around every corner, each remote cafe terrace, and underpass. Echoes of countless past lovers hid under every bridge and thousands of lives and stories untold whispered by the riverside. I was lovestruck. Overwhelmed and in awe. 

The excitement of the busy Paris street was electrifying as you ventured through them alone, like going in blind without any idea of what was being said around you. Music filled the air on every bridge and the rumble of cars and horns felt strangely comforting. But a small turn down by the water, just below the chaos, was as silent and still as an old abandoned city. Just bird songs and the river lapping against the stone wall where I hid, were the only accompaniment I had. I could stay here for hours. 

The occasional tour boat came under the bridge by me. Hundreds of tourists waved as they passed me and took pictures as I sat in the remote cove under the bridge. Water crept up the sides of the stone, splashing my feet as they passed. And I wondered what they would talk about years from now, reminiscing over photo albums and their trip to Paris; about the mysterious Parisan girl with the long black dress and colorful scarf secluded below the sights and street chaos, writing by the water. Would they make up stories about who I was and why I was there? Would time fabricate me into a fanciful, romantic, Parisian character in their memories? And would I somehow live on in this moment, in this place, because of it? This exact version of me. A snapshot forever standing still, caught in time. 

I followed the narrow Parisian streets, keeping the tip of the Eiffel Tower as my point of reference whenever it came into view. No map. Just the Tower as my guide. Determined to get there before sunset and see it light up the night sky. I was never one to be hugely into tourist attractions, but this was something I had always dreamed of experiencing. I felt giddy as I neared it, almost gasping internally, as it would appear even closer and bigger around every bend.

I didn't know what I had expected but it wasn't this. Grandiose and majestic, it stood beautifully above me. But directly below it was almost amuseument park like. So I sat on the grass a bit away from the crowds next to a rose bush. Affectionate Parisian couples were splashed in color along the grass like a painting. Laying in each other's laps and stroking one another's hair; reading or laughing, picknicking and sipping wine. I couldn't understand anyone and I didn't need to. 

Dusk began to settle gently and it occurred to me that walking home after dark may not be as easy or magical as the day had been. But I had been assurred that it was safe, so I pushed that from my mind for later. 

The lush green lawn was speckled with flowers of all vibrant colors. Yellow and white, purple blossoms, orange and red dotted all over the grass. I could almost picture the artist who would have painted this canvas, dipping his brushes into the radiant hues on his palate and dotting them wherever he felt necessary. The trees were trimmed in funny-looking shapes as if they were puzzle piece states to a U.S. map. Sharp edges and absurdly straight edged tops, as if once they grew to a certain height, they hit a glass wall that stunted their tops at an even playing field so not to distract from the view of the Tower. 

You could tell the tourists from the locals. While the Parisians lounged on one another soaking up the last light of the day, the tourists took pictures everywhere, posing ridiculously against rose bushes or taking selfies in front of the Tower. It occurred to me that I probably didn't stand out as a tourist at all. Just a girl writing by herself under a tree. I liked that evassiveness. It was an unfamiliar and welcome feeling.


Across the street, I attempted to sit at an outside cafe with a glass of wine to wait for the tower to light up, hoping that it would. I had heard that the French were considering greener energy saving alternatives, so they did not light it up all the time. It was a bit anxiety provoking each time I approached someone to ask them if they spoke english, "Tu Pal Engle?" To which, more than a normal share, responded "maybe." Well, that didn't really help me at all now, did it? You either spoke English or you didn't. So, I would stutter uncomfortably, shifting feet trying to maneuver some form of conversation from there. Responding to all French inquiries with the only other two words I knew, "Merci" (thank you), and "wi" (yes), was bound to have negative reprocussions eventually. But as of today, it was all I had to work with. 

I had not a clue where I would go from here after, when and if, the tower did light up; or any idea how I would get back. But right now it didn't matter. Right now, all that existed was this street corner, the Tower rising above the buildings in front of me, this glass of red wine, the clanging of dishes inside, and the background French chatter, the cars and busses rumbling across the street, and this pen and paper against a white and red checkered table cloth. 

After fumbling around languages with the waiter like a teenage boy at a middle school dance, I finally got the Cafe Le Dome password. And just as I began to update this blog, the Tower lit. Beautiful, glowing against the darkening sky. I was in love. 


Hesitantly, I ventured back over to the Eiffel Tower in the dark. Laying there on the lawn below, no amount of time could be enough to take in all of this beauty. Of all the monuments in all the world this one could never be surpassed. No picture I took could do it justice, so I stopped taking them. I lay alone under a tree on my back looking up at the romance that lit the sky before me. Paris may be the city of love, but I'm not sure there is anything like being here alone. I couldn't help but wonder about the people that saw this every night. Did it lose something? Did they pass by it without having to stop and catch their breath? It's majesty knocked you still and held you captivated. You literally had to pull yourself free of it's spell to leave.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any more bueatiful, the whole thing began to sparkle. Flickering pixie dust against the magical Parisian night sky. No wonder this city was for lovers. Never have I come across a more romantic setting in all my life. 


Riding a bike back alone in the dark proved to be much less scary than I had imagined. In fact, it was liberating riding by the river's edge, the breeze blowing through my hair. The air smelt of passion and fresh bread, and sounded like a quiet French pur. Once past the bridge, I left my bike and walked through a surprisingly alive city street. Night life in Paris didn't stop for a Monday. I sat again out on a small terrace and watched the city dance around me. I ordered a glass of wine and something from the menu where the only words I understood were "chicken wings." What came out was not chicken wings in the least. More of a toast tapenade with some sort of spread. Ah well, that is the beauty of ordering food in a country you cannot understand. I was loving this. No one knew me and no one cared. The world was my play ground. 




Getting lost in Paris at night was an entirely different thing and in no way magical. I found myself lost in a much darker part of town trying to make my way back. Here, away from the music and lights, it felt as everyone were asleep and I should be too. I didn't want to ride a bike at night in this part of town but my phone battery was now on 11%. I turned on my data roaming and my GPS said that I was a 40 minute walk from my friend's place.

Trying not to panic, I found the nearest metro station. It felt abandonned and the promise of the air above was lost down here, leaving a dank smell of piss and trash. I stared at the pink metro line map trying to remember my friend's stop. I couldn't. All I could remember was that his line, number 9, was green and this was not it. I bought a pass anyway, walked down to the metro and then right back up. No sign of a person or sound of a train on it's way, I wondered if the metro closed at this time. There were two metro women inside the information booth when I came back up. They spoke very little english and all that they could tell me was that this was the right line. However, after two stops on the metro, I began to panic that it was taking me even further than I had been before, so I jumped off. 


With my phone battery now at 9%, bikes were my only option. When I found a bike station, a harmless-looking, young man began to speak to me in French. I apologized, telling him that I did not speak French. "Oh, thank God," he said, "neither do I and I am so lost." The perfect English comforted me and I apologized that I could not help him for I. too, was lost and heading in the opposite direction. We parted ways as the phone battery decreased. A few wrong turns corrected and I finally thought I might recognize my surroundings. My phone dropped to 2% and then it went black. Heart thumping and praying that I was on the right track, I peddled on through the dark streets. Amazingly enough, I was able to make it back to the square to find Bastille Street and now I knew how to get home. 

My friend's street was much darker now and almost abandonned. I dropped my bike at the closest station and made my way to his building's door. Panic flooded through me as I realized I did not remember his building's entrance code. I had saved it in my phone for just this reason and now my phone was dead. I attempted an array of combinations with the numbers I remembered. All failed. 

Frantically, I searched left and right on the dark street for any sort of wifi refuge. And then I saw them ... the golden arches. The American safe haven of McDonalds at the streets end. I made my way towards the only glistening light left on the street. Once inside, I attempted to bargain with the casheir for the wifi password. Maybe I could contact my friend through my lap top. In broken English and French (mostly French), it appeared that he was telling me I must buy food to use the wifi. So, I bought a Cajun Chicken Sandwhich (which was no good at all, I must add) and then asked him if I could have the wifi now. "No wifi after midnight," he waved his hand and dismissed me, looking towards the next customer. My mouth fell open. Shit. I brought my tray of food to a corner table and sat there picking at it, fighting back tears and weighing all of my options. 

Exhausted by the idea of asking one more person "Tu pal engle?", I worked up the courage, as a last ditch attempt, to ask the man who had just sat down at a table by me. "I do," he said and relief rushed through me. He had an iPhone 5 charger and handed it to me. I quickly charged my phone with my lap top and retrieved the apartment code. Writing it down on my hand, I thanked him and made my way home. Feet black and aching, I resolved that lesson number 1 would be: Never leave the chargers at home!