The French Countryside
And so the bitter end has finally arrived. I’m on the last 2-hour leg of the 8.5-hour bus ride back from Berlin with the same boy I picked up at the Stuttgart hauptbanhof exactly 5 months ago.
We all thought Croatia was going to be our last trip, but then Antoine graciously invited all 7 of us to his home in Berthenay, France; a small town in the French countryside about 15 minutes outside of Tours (about 2.5 hours southwest of Paris). None of us turned down the offer, of course, so we rented 2 cars for the weekend to drive 8.5 hours from Stuttgart across almost the entirety of France (…the largest country in Europe). Somehow we ended up with an Audi and a BMW, so that made the drive better. Despite how long the drive was, outrageous tolls, and gas prices, it was absolutely 100% worth it. All the trips I’ve taken the past 5 months have been special for different reasons, but if I had to rank them, this one would be #1 on the special scale if that can be a thing.
We left around 5:30 last Friday so we didn’t get to Berthenay until 3:30 in the morning. We drove down windy streets in the pitch dark and easily stumbled upon the meeting point, which was the church, since I don’t think there was more than one main road in his town. But we found Antoine, and he led us back to his home. We stepped out of the car, looked up at the clearest night sky, and then looked forward to the cutest home I have ever seen. We went straight to bed since it was so late and were even more pleasantly surprised when we woke up in the morning.
Chris and I woke up to the sound of roosters and steam rising from the ground from the view from our tent. Upon leaving our humble abode (the tent), the outside tables were already set for breakfast with chocolate croissants, plain croissants, baguettes, jam, orange juice, and coffee. I had a dream the night before about being there and it still felt like I was dreaming because it was all so perfect.
After eating the delicious breakfast that his parents prepared for us, we got ready and headed out to the château not too far from his home, which was gorgeous and we all actually enjoyed going inside (usually we’re too cheap to pay for it or people tell us it’s not worth it). We explored the castle’s surroundings as well and then headed back to his house, where his parents were already preparing lunch for us. We were showered with more wine, cheese, baguettes, exquisite (can’t think of a more appropriate word) meats, and crêpes than we anticipated. It was beyond generous and I am incredibly thankful for all his family did for us last weekend. It’s one thing to host a small group, but there were 7 of us who all eat a lot. If you put food in front of us, we’ll probably eat all of it.
After the delicious lunch we went to Tours for wine tasting! It was only 5 euros to taste 6 different wines, which I’d never done before. They were all delicious (I discriminate against no wines) and we bought 2 bottles to thank his parents. After that we explored Tours a bit, headed back to his house, and then out again to a beach nearby on a beautiful river just as the sun was setting. We sat there with some drinks for a while and headed back home for a late dinner and a “house party”, since his parents let us have the house for the night. It was the first night all of us had where we actually just enjoyed each others company the entire time with no goal of going out to a club or another party. We had many, many times hanging out together in ZC (Scott’s room) but we always left at some point. Sometimes it’s nice to just enjoy the people you’re with, and that’s exactly what we did.
The next morning we woke up a bit later and were greeted with a table set with a brioche, nutella, jam, and orange juice. After breakfast, we took a nice walk along the train tracks to the river. When we got back, we were once again greeted with a table set and ready for lunch. His parents made us tabbouleh and grilled sausages and other meats that were delicious. And of course afterwards we had a platter of cheese and ice cream for dessert. We took some time to digest and then we went back to Tours to check out the cathedral, which I thought the inside was prettier than the Notre Dame in Paris and Strasbourg. We saw the high school Antoine went to, had a drink at a restaurant on the river, and saw the statue that the US gave to France for reasons I forget but I think it had something to do with World War II? I don’t remember but I guess that’s the ignorant (part) American in me but I remember the reason being an ignorant one as well. Anyway, we went back to his house and played games together in his front yard before dinner. We had an incredible last dinner all together, once again made by his lovely parents. They made us something similar to a quiche, a cucumber & yogurt salad, and a few baguettes on the table, of course. And for dessert, his mom made us homemade crêpes, which were also incredible. We learned the proper combination of toppings to dress a crêpe: lemon juice and sugar, just nutella, just jam, or just caramel sauce. We all thought that we should put everything on the crêpes at once, which his brother said was very American of us. His family noticed various things that we do differently at the table and it was really interesting to actually see the differences in cultures, which none of us really had the opportunity to see anywhere else. His mom also used Grand Marnier to flambé some of the crêpes, which were so, so delicious. After dinner, we all sat at the table together and looked back on the semester by looking at all our photos and sharing some of our most favorite memories. Emotions were already flowin, and then we had to go to bed to wake early and drive back in the morning, which meant actually saying goodbye to Antoine. After spending almost every day together for 5 months, goodbyes are hard, to say the least, but I’m hopeful that we will all meet again in the future.
Antoine woke up at the break of dawn to drive down to Cognac for his internship. We all woke up a bit later, but his parents still fed us breakfast. Their generosity was so amazing and so appreciated. We had the crêpes that we (surprisingly) didn’t eat last night and some brioche, packed up our things, and began the long journey back to Stuttgart through the Black Forest and a stop in Tübingen.