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« Momofuku Milk Bar: A quick bite | Main | Eating my way through France »

Je suis parti mon coeur en France

~I left my heart in France~

I wouldn’t consider myself an avid traveler, but I do feel as though I’ve done my fare share of traveling. Despite having ventured to faraway lands, I consistently returned home convinced that NYC was the center of the universe.

Instead of accompanying my fellow high school seniors on a trip to Europe or studying abroad during my college years, I opted to stay stateside. There was always some ridiculous reason (or person) that I never took advantage of seeing the world (chasing the guy I worshiped in college would be a perfect example).

While I’m still convinced that NYC is the greatest city in the world, after my recent trip to France, I realized that NYC isn’t the only wonderful city in the world; or the only place I’d consider moving to for a brief stint of time.

France was everything I didn’t expect it would be, yet so much more than I had hoped for. Though the air was chilly, the people were warm, helpful, sophisticated and polite. From the hotels we stayed in, restaurants we dined in and shops we browsed in, the service we received was consistently impeccable. Stereotypes be damned!

Our adventure began in Nice (located in the South on the famous Cote d’Azure), followed by Lyon (located in the Rhone-Alps) and finally, Paris.

The coastal city of Nice and its sister towns, Eze Village and Monaco, truly bore the most attractive scenery that I've laid my eyes on. The mysterious turquoise and navy blue water, flora, emerald green mountains and colorful 400+ year-old buildings truly made me gasp. It was during this time that I finally comprehended the literal meaning of the word “breathtaking.” The regional cuisine of Nice is driven by fresh seafood and local Mediterranean ingredients and produce. Two of my favorite savory dishes included a creamy risotto with fresh scallops and prawns and a pizza topped with black olives and French ham. While crepe stands, artisanal chocolate shops and ice cream vendors seemed to grace nearly every corner, I simply could not get enough of my favorite French sweet, pate de fruits. Since the Italian border town of San Remo is located an hour’s drive from Nice, I had the pleasure of sampling a local specialty, focaccia stuffed with egg and legumes.

Lyon was our next stop, and I wasn’t sure what to expect besides a colder climate and highly anticipated Lyonnais cuisine. With wonderful advice from two of my fellow coworkers who were born and raised there (thanks for all of your tips, Fabien and Pierre), my sister and I put together a great itinerary and stayed in an incredible villa perched on a mountaintop. Lyon instantly captivated me with its narrow cobblestone streets and buildings dating back to the 1600’s. In “Old Lyon,” where we spent most of our time, many of the buildings had traboules, which are tunnels that are accessible via nondescript (and unlocked) wooden doors. They aren’t labeled, so one would need a map to locate each traboule. Simply push the door open and travel from one side of a building to the other. Our last day in Lyon began with a private cooking lesson from the chef of Villa Florentine’s restaurant, “Terrasses de Lyon.” Chef Davy Tissot took my sister and me on a tour of Les Halles, the local indoor food market. No regional delicacy or ingredient was left out of this massive space. Each vendor specialized in one or two products: cheese vendors only sold cheese and butchers only sold meat. It was a delight to know that local business thrived here and the evil Super Walmart-esque empire did not. Upon return to the kitchen, Chef prepared fresh scallops (shucked directly from the shell) with sliced black truffle, a medley of assorted sautéed mushrooms and a shot of creamed potatoes. As a parting gift, we were given a box of handmade French macaroons filled with lemon curd. After our outstanding lunch, we walked to the city center and went ice skating.

Our final French destination was Paris. We arrived on New Year’s Eve and celebrated the beginning of 2009 at Bobin’O, a cabaret. In the days that followed, we visited the Picasso and Pompidou museums, took one too many pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower, made a pilgrimage to the flagship Chanel boutique located at 31 Rue Cambon, walked through nearly every arrondissement, drank our share of vin chaud and ate our way through the city. My favorite meal was had at La Petite Chaise, which claims to be the first restaurant in Paris. I started with a bowl of French onion soup, followed by filet of beef that was laden with a creamed mushroom sauce. Haricot verts neatly held together by a slice of prosciutto sat next to a twice-baked potato that accompanied my entrée. Paris was truly inspirational, beautiful and addictive. Our trip ended with a flight on Air France back to JFK. I’ve never been treated so well by a cabin crew or had such a *decent* meal on board a plane. What a pleasant way to end a perfect vacation.

During our travels, I can’t count the number of times I told my sister, “I hate myself for never studying abroad during college!” This trip changed my outlook on life and leaves me questioning whether or not NYC is the only place I’ll live. I’ve never experienced genuine beauty, hospitality and history until France; not to mention exposure to preservative-free wine and homemade, farm-fresh food (from animals who roamed freely on green pastures and not cooped in cages or stalls). Though I missed having access to NYC's infamous 24-hour bodegas on every street corner, I realized that the French actually take time for themselves and follow a more laid back lifestyle. Isn’t this is ideally the way in which life is supposed to be lived?

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