[This letter was given to my father on the occasion of my father’s 91st birthday]
I have you and mom to thank for taking me to France for the first time. Do you remember how it all started? January 1, 1978. New Year’s Day. You announced, “We’re going to France!”
You told the family we were going to France the following August and we would be staying not only in Paris, but also in the south of France. Was I excited to go? OMG…a dream come true! From that first trip I learned the importance of creating unique experiences because that first trip was filled with lots of neat experiences.
Starting In Paris….
I was incredibly fortunate that my first trip to France was not on a bus tour because I feel I really got to experience more unique things, particularly after our stay in Paris. While I appreciated getting an overview of Paris on a bus tour the day of our arrival in Paris, [my sister] Catherine probably missed a lot. She fell asleep.
Not a lot has changed since 1978.
Arc de Triomphe-The Eternal Flame
Paris was a blur, but Provence certainly wasn’t. When we arrived in Provence, our friends, the Quan’s met us at the Avignon train station and we followed them to their home in Gordes in our Peugeot. That car took us everywhere in the Luberon. We had so many unique experiences during this trip. Do you remember all the places we visited? Menerbes, Roussillon, St. Paul de Vence (art galleries), Cavaillon (melons), Abbey de Senanque, Orange (Roman theatre), Avignon (Palais des Papes), Les Baux (chateau), Cassis (renting paddle boats and seeing les Calanques), Nice and Monte Carlo (casino). Since then, I am constantly on the search for the “unique”.
Gordes and the Luberon
Every time I return to Gordes, I look for the Quan’s home, built into the actual stone of the town. I think, during my last trip, I found it. I also recall there was an emblem from the time of the Crusades near the entrance. Sadly, I couldn’t find it during my last visit.
I remember it was 3 or 4 stories tall and was cool inside thanks to being built into the rock. In late August, when we were there, it was incredibly hot and the mistral winds were fierce but they cooled things down slightly.
You and the Quan parents went out a few nights and left us kids to amuse ourselves. I recall drinking Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine, playing cards with Catherine, Lance and Lianne, and feeding a stray cat. Not a bad holiday and what a wine to get hooked on! Certainly not “plonk”! [a derogatory term used by the English for poor quality wine].
The Quan’s house was amazing. It was co-owned by Mrs. Quan and Jack Pollack, a well-known painter and art dealer in Toronto so we were definitely spoiled with the design of the house. And thanks to the Quan’s we were introduced to some very unique museums and art exhibits: the Vasarely exhibit in Gordes and the Fondation Maeght in St. Paul de Vence. It is in this museum that I was exposed to Joan Miro and Alberto Giacometti and I am always on the lookout for their art. Recently I saw some Giacometti works at the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris.
As expected, Gordes has changed in the past number of decades. It is much more touristy and one cannot usually park in the centre of town. There’s a parking lot down the road. When the tourists leave at dusk, however, it is the same town I remember from 1978. There is still the boulangerie. I know you always remember going to the boulangerie in the early morning for a fresh, hot baguette. There is still nothing like it. That’s why I love renting homes: heading out to the boulangerie for baguettes and croissants and then the markets for fresh produce.
The pharmacy is there too. I had to go there for help when my eye turned to jelly. Remember? I had some allergic reaction (severe hayfever?) and my eye became very itchy and ……jelly-like. I know it sounds gross, but it wasn’t.
When I returned to Provence a few years after we were first there, I searched in vain for the restaurant that had that amazing pizza. I remember it was in the town called Beaumettes. Sadly, I couldn’t find it. I think it closed. I know you don’t like cheese, but I recall you LOVED this pizza. The crust was like a croissant and the restaurant was small and unassuming.
We also visited Roussillon with its large ochre deposits and had lunch at “Restaurant David” (which is STILL in business and has superb panoramic views of the valley). This was the first time I ever had truffles. Mrs. Quan ordered a dish with truffles and I remember she gave me some to try. I know it was a very expensive delicacy but I think it tasted like ham. What did I know?! I was only a teenager!
Going to France also included a quick overnight trip to Nice and Monte Carlo. I was able to sneak into the Casino de Monte Carlo thanks to you. At the time I was only 19 and one had to be 21 to get in. I remember taking your arm and you escorted me past security to get to see the gambling rooms. We then went to the Café de Paris, which was beside the casino for a drink. I can’t believe I remember this but I had a Dubonnet. How French! Do you remember when we were leaving that you drove through the red light and got pulled over by the police? Fortunately, the officer just gave you a warning!
Dad, thanks to you and mom, I got my first taste of France but that first trip also created such a passion (obsession?) and, as you know, I have now visited 25 times. That trip opened my eyes to the beauty of France and I will forever be grateful to you for introducing it to me.
To read more about Gordes, check out this post: The Most Beautiful Hilltop Village In Provence.
And, here’s a rundown of the unique experiences in my other trips: Past Travel Itineraries For France
MarieMay 14, 2016 at 8:43 am
What a lovely ode to dad; Should’ve posted this on Father’s Day! But I bet you have something else up your sleeve for then!
So fun to go back and find those places you visited. You have such a vivid memory – that’s amazing. I’ve started journalling on my trips because my memory is very poor. And I remember very little from my time overseas as a child. I will take many pictures this time so that my kids can have the same experiences you had. Thanx Jan!
JanMay 14, 2016 at 11:10 am
You’re welcome. Sadly all the details from that first trip are from my memory. I can’t seem to find the journal I wrote in. Fortunately, I have the other 24 journals on hand!
Donna JankeMay 16, 2016 at 8:42 am
I’m impressed with how much you remember about that trip to France. But then again, it does sound pretty memorable. I can see how it started a life-long obsession with France.
JanMay 16, 2016 at 9:20 am
I’m amazed too that I remember so many details of that trip, but it was so special to me.
Michele PetersonMay 16, 2016 at 8:52 am
What a wonderful journey back in time! I enjoyed reading about your family memories! Not many people can say they stayed in such a distinguished home on their first visit to France
JanMay 16, 2016 at 9:20 am
yes, that home was pretty special and unique. Wish I could see the inside and contact the children, but so far, no luck.
Linda FairbairnMay 16, 2016 at 9:27 am
What a charming walk down memory lane – figuratively through your old and more recent photos, and also literally as you have searched on more recent trips for the house you stayed in – That stone walkway to what you think is to the Quan home in Gordes is magical – medieval French stonework is magnificent and oozes history 🙂
JanMay 16, 2016 at 9:40 am
Yes, for a town founded in 1031 there still are signs of the stonework.
Arnie JacobsenMay 16, 2016 at 10:44 am
Wonderful! You have reminded us of how much we have left to experience in France. Thanks for sharing your memories with us.
JanMay 16, 2016 at 1:26 pm
You’re welcome. I keep going back to find new experiences!
Denis GagnonMay 16, 2016 at 5:12 pm
Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories of your first trip to France with your Dad. You certainly hit some of our favorite spots in France! Thanks for a great posting!
JanMay 16, 2016 at 6:15 pm
You’re welcome. It was one of the most memorable times I had with my family.
Jo ~ Lifestyle FiftyMay 16, 2016 at 6:55 pm
Love trips down memory lane, and we writers have a fair gift for remembering the detail I reckon. But it did sound like an absolutely lovely trip with some memorable moments 🙂
JanMay 16, 2016 at 8:21 pm
Thank goodness I remember because I can’t find my journal from this first trip!
Karen WarrenMay 17, 2016 at 5:45 am
What wonderful memories – I can see why you are inspired to keep returning to France. I had occasional day trips to France when I was a child and, like you, I find that there are some places that don’t seem to have changed much since.
JanMay 17, 2016 at 9:16 am
Maybe that’s why I keep returning….to see the places from my memories hoping they haven’t changed.
The GypsyNestersMay 17, 2016 at 7:05 pm
Those trips with parents really stay in our minds . We have had the chance to return also to some destinations and it has always brought back great memories.
JanMay 17, 2016 at 9:15 pm
I feel very grateful that my parents took us on many trips when we were kids. It really opened up our eyes.
Sue ReddelMay 17, 2016 at 10:09 pm
What a wonderful story Jan! The memories you still hold so dearly are just amazing. I see now how you developed a fine wine palate. Glad I let you pick the wine when we were in Paris.
JanMay 17, 2016 at 10:17 pm
I do love my French wines….and especially Chateauneuf-du-Pape!
Kay DoughertyMay 18, 2016 at 9:26 am
What a nice gift for your father! I first went to France in 1970 and the thing I remember the most is having a crush on one of the other kids (it was a school French class trip) and gazing adoringly/lustfully at him for 10 days! But on a subsequent biking trip I got to Roussillon and will always remember the beautiful light there that inspired so many painters. I haven’t been to France in years but am mulling a canal barge trip next year so thanks for keeping me inspired!
JanMay 18, 2016 at 10:22 am
Too funny! I admire you for biking in Provence. Lots of hills! Definitely go on a barge cruise! That’s something I have yet to do.
Grey World NomadsMay 18, 2016 at 5:44 pm
Very moving – it is so great to have travel experiences with the kids. I travelled with each of my kids and it are beautiful, unforgettable memories. I’m sure they also think back with joy.
JanMay 18, 2016 at 8:01 pm
I’m sure they will too! Too bad I can only find 3 pictures from that trip. Dad got rid of them by mistake. 🙁
Billie FrankMay 18, 2016 at 11:13 pm
What great memories of France and what a lovely letter to your father. I have wonderful travel memories with my dad and wish I’d acknowledged them to him though I think he knew how special our trips were to me.
JanMay 19, 2016 at 8:22 am
I’m sure he knew too. Although I was with my mother and one of my sisters, a father-daughter trip is especially neat.
RossanaMay 21, 2016 at 12:20 pm
Oh gosh… what a first experience! Such wonderful memories for you! How wonderful to be able to see some of the changes through out the years too. Traveling as soon as you can is the best experience! France… so much to see – I finally went last year but was a quick trip so I certainly have to go back . 🙂
JanMay 22, 2016 at 7:45 am
That’s certainly the fun part—seeing how places have (or haven’t) changed. Sadly, a lot of places in the Luberon have simply become too touristy.