Trip Start Jul 05, 2006
Trip End Jul 26, 2006

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Friday, July 7, 2006

In the past two days, our path has been accentuated by serendipitous moments of beauty, surprise, warmth, and rejuvenation. Prior to this trip, I have been to Paris six times and feel fairly comfortable with the city. So one of the things I have looked forward to the most in the past few weeks of planning is heading outside of this city to explore the rest of France. My expectations have been met and even surpassed. Driving has given us the time to enjoy the French countryside as we weave our way from Paris to Aix (8 hours south). Our drive has offered up pastoral scenes of orderly fields of wheat and sunflowers, tan, placid cows grazing, all presided over by small villages easily picked out by the church bell tower rising from the midst of the ancient villages. The French countryside is, in a word, quaint.

Last night we stayed at a french castle and enjoyed a meal served by a Count and Countess. Yet more serendipity. As we drove into the unassuming driveway, we were greeted by our friendly French host as he waved excitedly from his car, informing us in perfect English, "I am on my way to buy wine, of course, for dinner. My son will welcome you." His son, as it turned out was a 16-year-old who neglected his game of Halo for a few minutes to show us to our room (apparently the video game addiction crosses all cultural boundaries). In this chateau, we were not given to a key to our room, which was hidden in a rabbit's warren of hallway mazes, but our view was truly breathtaking. The perfect corner of relaxation after a day of travel and exhaustion.

After resting for a few hours, we joined our host and a British couple for a pre-dinner drink of Beaujoulais--the wine of the region. We poured our small cups from an unmarked bottle still chilled from the wine cave. As our host invited us into the dining room for dinner (at the oh-so-chic hour of 9:00 pm), we were joined by other guests from Holland. The dinner conversation, as expected, scanned the globe, and was only highlighted by mouth-watering French cooking, compliments of the Countess. Chicken with prunes, capers,and olives, basted in a mouthwatering sauce of herbs and olive oil. A salmon tartar salad with a bare sprinkling of rich balsamic vinegar. A bottomless basket of brown bread passed in never ending circles around the table. A terrine with zucchini picked that evening from the Chateau garden. A cheese course of local cheeses. Topped off by a chilled mousse of chocolate and eggs. Last but not least, I must mention the eight exquisite bottles of Beaujoulais which somehow disappeared into our wine goblets over the course of the evening.

We left the table with our minds and stomachs satisfied, with visions of the soft blankets and pillows awaiting us. From our window in our room, the gardens spread below us in the soft moonlight, and the Chateau's three border collies lounged languidly on the patio. Apparently, even the dogs in France know how to live.
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