Travel Series: Wanderlust takes France

“Better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times.” ―Asian Proverb

Whenever I think of France, I think of the city of Paris. Paris was the goal, initially. But you cannot want what you do not know, and all I knew of was Paris. Of course, I would love to see the Eiffel Tower, shimmering in the night sky. However, when a company you work for offers to send you to France to present a topic on one of the articles you’ve written, all expenses paid, you jump on that opportunity! So that’s exactly what I did. I had no idea what to expect, or what part of France we would be. Honestly, I didn’t care. All I knew is that I was grateful to have this opportunity. As a matter of fact, this trip taught me the art of gratitude and the beauty of disconnection. I will admit that this trip was far different than any of the other places I’ve traveled. A pleasant surprise. But more importantly, this trip taught me what it really means to step out of your comfort zone. Ironic- that was the topic I was presenting while in France. I had no idea that I would be pushed even more outside of my comfort zone than I already had prepared myself to do.

Our flight was on a Monday night at 7:45 PM. I was traveling with my manager and her husband. While waiting to board the plane, I overanalyzed my presentation and wondered if it was up to par to present in front of other people, let alone to my colleagues. I wondered if I would remain poise during the presentation. This particular topic meant the world to me because I was currently living it. My life had changed so drastically over the past year, that I am barely recognizable to myself- and it’s great! But still, I wondered if I would be considered ‘good’ enough. I am one of the youngest in the company, so it can be a bit intimidating. Finally, we boarded the plane and I prepared to settle into my seat. After 10 hours, 2 movies, and in and out of the worst sleep I’ve ever endured, we landed in Frankfurt, Germany for our layover. What seemed like a short wait, we then proceeded to board the plane to head to Toulouse, France. So I thought Toulouse would be our final destination, but it was not…in hindsight, now I know why we rented a car. We drove two hours to the small, quaint town of La Salvetat-Peyrales. Way high in the mountains, where civilization is questionable, stores are borderline non existent, with dirt roads lining miles of land, and not one sign of a street light lol. Turns out that one of the big bosses in the company bought a house in France with her husband about 5 years ago after finding it during their honeymoon. Honestly, the house is stunning and very much reminded me of my favorite Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast. When Belle sung about ‘this poor, provincial town’ she was talking about here. But I do not mean one ounce of disrespect. It is a very simple lifestyle filled with beauty.

The house came with 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2 kitchens, an outdoor sitting area overlooking a pool, an upstairs lounge area placed outside of the house, and a family room. Some of us were able to stay here, while the rest of us stayed in a cottage about 15 min. walking distance down the road. I was one of the guests who did not get to stay here, but day in and day out for the next 6 days, we spent the majority of our days here presenting, strategizing, and taking trainings in an attempt to better the company and keep it growing- very cozy and family style. Which speaking of the cottage, I know the country life is not for me for the simple fact that it is way too dark and quiet for my liking. Every night while I was in France, I barely slept because I felt the place was either haunted or there would be some crazed killer out there to get me!

We arrived to the house around 5:00 PM where I met the gracious host for the first time. Between the 6 hour time difference, the long flights, and the long drive over here, I could have used some perking up. And that is when we were greeted with glasses of champagne and wine lol. One thing this trip allowed all of us to do is BOND. And I’m not talking that fake kind of bonding where you try to impress one another and hide all evidence of any flaws. Throughout the trip, we got REAL. And I realized in these moments that I DO NOT work for a conventional company- I loved every minute of it! France has a tradition called apéro which means cocktail hour, served with drinks and small appetizers. We celebrated apéro each day we were there so I ate and drank A LOT. The first night there, while enjoying the cocktail hour outside in their hosting area, I couldn’t believe my surroundings. Candles lit everywhere, a cozy fire burning, and GREAT red wine (I don’t even drink red wine like that unless it’s sweet). Total vineyard vibes.

The next few days we dived straight into work. There was not much sight seeing throughout the week, but in our off hours, we gathered together drinking more wine and champagne, and eating more food lol. This was definitely a social trip, for sure. I was worried I would be pre-judged and stereotyped (which was very possible, since I decided it was perfectly ok to wear my Poetic Justice hoodie with an enlarged picture of Tupac on the front lmao one time for the culture though!) After my experience with my last job, you could say I’m scarred but it was the complete opposite. Everyone was so authentic and encouraged one another to do so. So many jokes and laughs. But anyways, back to the food and drinks!

This is common drink in South France. It smells of black licorice and is definitely an acquired taste. Usually served with one ice cube and diluted with water because it is STRONG. But by all means, if you feeling froggy…

A lot of pork is eaten in France from various hams to salamis to bruschetta. The French also consume a lot of bread, olives, and various vegetables such as tomatoes and lentils. However, all produce has to be in season. Nothing is imported to France, so all produce is locally grown. If it is not in season, it does not exist to eat or sell.

A fig picked from a tree in the host’s backyard

We did venture out to a few restaurants where we ate authentic French food. It was definitely an adventure trying to decipher the menu and then order the items in French lol. Google was my best friend throughout this trip!

We went to a restaurant called L’oustal del Barry. As you can see the portions are much smaller than we are accustomed to in the U.S. However, these are three course meals- appetizer, main entrée, and dessert. Add that with wine and bread and trust me, you’re good and full! I ordered the ravioli, lamb, and a Nutella mousse cake.

When we weren’t going to restaurants, the host was cooking at the house. One of my favorite meals while there was the duck confit. If you’ve never tried duck, you’re doing yourself an injustice. Although I have eaten duck in the U.S before, I never tasted duck so amazing than I did in France.

Duck confit with spinach salad, lentils, and bread…of course!

Another item I tried was unpasteurized cheese…and this is not sold in the U.S. because it is considered unsafe to consume raw milk cheeses. But it is the best tasting cheese you will ever taste in your life!

In France, dessert IS THE LAW. Don’t ever turn down a dessert in a restaurant. I did that once and they looked at me as if I committed a crime. An honorable dessert mention was banoffee, which is basically banana foster pie. SO DELICIOUS…

As the week wrapped up, work slowed down. It was Friday and my presentation was pushed to Saturday due to all of us running behind schedule. In addition, we had to drive two hours to the small village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, where we would tour the Roquefort Caves. Legend has it, that after the Combalou Mountain collapsed and parts of the mountain disintegrated into a giant, chaotic heap of rocks riddled with natural faults and caves. These caves were ingeniously adapted for the purpose of cheese-making. Yes, I said cheese making. Fleurines, which are small tunnels that run throughout the caves makes it the perfect temperature and humidity to develop Roquefort cheese, with the help of microorganisms such as penicillium roqueforti. These caves have been transformed to a cellar that now holds as many as 300,000 loaves of cheese at a time. They had samples of the cheese, in which I tried, but it was a bit too strong tasting for my preference. This cheese is for the brave.

Saturday approached and it was the big day for my presentation. I wish someone could have recorded me or taken pictures. Everyone was so wrapped up in my topic and I had their undivided attention, which is great! My presentation included thought provoking questions that helped others realize the benefits of stepping out of your comfort zone. I got amazing feedback and was not mentally prepared AT ALL for how emotional my presentation made everyone. It was a room full of 10 people and not one person was dry eyed. I had stirred something in them emotionally and one by one, they started confessing things they felt they have held themselves back due to staying in their own comfort zones. It became a roundtable discussion with raw and honest answers of circumstances they struggled with. Each one would start crying as they openly became vulnerable and in return, provoked me to cry as well. But it was not until one of my colleagues opened up about her desire to be married with kids. That she felt she held herself back from finding someone to share her life with. That she feels she will spend her life alone. As she approaches her 30th birthday, she feels she has failed in this area of life. And I thought to myself, “maybe she has valid points, or maybe it’s just simply not her time yet.” And in that moment, I felt the need to share a painful truth of my own- the loss of a child. I didn’t share to be pitied. Honestly, it’s been one hell of a journey and I owe it all to my baby in heaven. If it wasn’t for me going through that situation, I would have never had the courage to write again. I would have never had the courage to leave my job and fall into a better one. I would not have the courage to submit my work to a local magazine and score a guest column. I owe everything to my angel. Sometimes, it is just the timing. Sometimes, we need the time and certain situations to happen to force us to learn and grow through. So that’s exactly what I told her. That her time will come, just like it will for me when the timing is right. And then we cried some more lol. I was so raw and vulnerable and yet, somehow poised. I was authentic and I caused others to take a deep look within themselves. Everyone raved so much about my presentation that I caught the attention of the CEO, so that’s an amazing feeling! I don’t want to overkill on this particular highlight of my trip but it was the main purpose of me going to France in the first place. I am just so relieved that not only did I execute it, I connected with my colleagues in ways I could not have imagined having the power to do so. A major accomplishment in my book.

After the presentation (and after we pulled ourselves together lol), we headed into the city of Albi, France for some more sight seeing. Albi was a charming city with streets lined with boutiques and restaurants. It was a nice change to see some civilization lol. We stumbled upon the Sainte-Cecile, a gothic cathedral dating back to 1280. It is considered the largest red-brick cathedral in the world. Every inch of the interior is decorated with extravagant tiles, gold leaf, and frescoes. You can visit the church and attend an audio tour for just 5 euros. It was definitely money well spent. Make sure you click on the slideshow to see inside 🙂

We had a late lunch in the city and continued to browse around in the small shops that paved the cobblestone streets. I was able to snag a cute shot glass that resembled a miniature wine glass, which seemed so perfect coming from France. The trip into the city was short lived and we headed back to the countryside to prepare for our last dinner spent together. We would all leave in the early morning. (Side note: in France, the majority of cars are manual aka stick shift. In order to get your license, you must be able to pass driving a manual before you can even think to be able to drive an automatic).

In the city square of Albi. I couldn’t help but capture this photo of these beautiful flowers splashed with the background of charming architecture.

France was not a typical wanderlust trip for me. I spent more time eating and drinking socially, connecting with my colleagues, and re discovering the importance of being present in the moment and putting my phone down. And in the nights that I spent alone in the cottage, I re discovered the art of solitude. I discovered that I am a force to be reckoned with. That I can stand powerfully in my truth and connect with others through shared pains. I learned that I have a voice. I learned that I never have to doubt myself again. This trip was for the soul. I opened up in ways that I have never allowed myself to before, especially when it comes to coworkers. I always felt I had to keep a certain level of professionalism. To prove that I am competent enough as a minority woman in what tends to be a white privileged corporate America. But the moment I displayed that authenticity, I was applauded. And I will forever carry that beautiful feeling in my heart. You see, often we think the action of traveling is meant to learn about the places we see and yes, to a certain extent that is true. But what about the things you learn about yourself being placed in an unfamiliar environment? I think this realization was my favorite part of this trip, after all ❤