“What a view…” I whispered, not wanting to disturb the brillance of the morning unfolding before me. I walked to the belvedere’s edge and grab onto the railing. When one is at the top looking out, it feels sacred and powerful. Looking down into the valley, I see for miles ahead and as far from right and left. Rolling hills are like a patchwork quilt covering the farmland in shades from forest to moss green and taupe to walnut brown. All against the immense sky of multiple shades of blue. Back home my view would only include one front yard, a tree, green grass, a hydrangia, vinyl covered houses, an asphalt road and cars, so many cars filling the air with the hum of traffic. A crowded feeling. But here, standing on the balcony on the top floor of our rental home on Dec. 24, 2021, I have an expansive feeling.
Hungry, I head out in search of a cafe serving breakfast. As I step outside, it seems as if I have traveled back in time to the middle ages. Before me is a large stone wall acting as a defense. I wonder if the ladies-in-waiting were excited to dine with the knights and royal family each Christmas Eve? This setting easily sparks my imagination. My time machine remains in full force as I step out onto a cobblestone road. The rocky surface causes a slower pace insuring I don’t fall and I notice I am surrounded by stone. Every home and shop in this fortified town is made of yellowish-tan stones, piled 2 and 3-stories high. At this early hour, the few windows on the fascades are still shuttered, many in wood painted powder blue like my rental. As I walk, I wonder how many people have walked on these oval stones creating my path. Hundreds of thousands or is it millions, as this town celebrates its 800th birthday this coming year? I step carefully down the almost 90-degree steep path to reach the shops at the edge of the town. This careful pace allows me to to go slow and really see. I find myself stopping and snapping many photos with my iPhone of this ancient unique environment. An arch, a gate, a vine-covered wall, a Christmas decoration, a gargoyle. Walking and seeing gives me a peaceful feeling on this sunny morning.
With no confidence to order in French, I enter the cafe and point to the croissant and hold up one finger. I say “Earl Grey tea” and the waitress says, “Te and croissant” and I smile. Success. I take a seat outside at a curbside table. The man to my right is smoking but luckily the wind is blowing away from me. The waitress brings him a beer and places my teapot, a mug and the croissant on my table. I think to myself , “I should say Merci” but instead, I sheepishly only smile and nod. As I take a bite of the warm breakfast treat, flakes fall into my mug and on my lap. This bite tastes nothing like the processed bakery treats I buy back home at Starbucks. It is flavorful and buttery and so fresh. I sip my tea and wonder if the man next to me always has beer for breakfast. I wonder what the knights who defended this town from the barbarians centuries ago drank in the morning. I do know that sitting here at the edge of this towering stone town and looking now up at where I slept last night is quite a site. Definitely one worth defending and protecting year after year across centuries.
Before returning home, I walk through the farmers market occurring across the street. I am surprised how the oyster table was so busy. Maybe oysters are served as a Christmas tradition in this town. I notice an intriging item on the fruit and veggie table. It looked to be part of the broccoli family. Yet it was more chartreuse in color. And each floret spirals to a spikey tip. I could image the lords and ladies enjoying such a dignified vegetable during their Christmas feast.
I begin my steep climb back to my home for the next few days. The castle-fortress architecture, its cobblestone roads and even its produce give me the feeling I am strolling in another time. On this Christmas Eve morning, it was the perfect vacation tonic.