As a dedicated Francophile, and in trying to understand the foundations of my admiration for all things French, I have been reminiscing about my first cross channel trip in the summer of ‘86.
I can’t quite remember when my parents first announced that we were going to spend our summer holidays in France. But I can remember using the fading wallpaper by my bed to start counting down the days like our very own summer Christmas. The planning seemed to last forever; maps were studied, routes were planned, and I even began to take something of an interest in GCSE French.
A month prior to departure my parents returned from a trip into the town centre sporting a new addition in the form of a grey linen bag. The grey bag was to be used to hold the travel documents; passports, travellers cheques, French Francs, tickets….. It took on an almost mythical status, our low rent Golden Fleece. It became our holiday lifeline and travelled happily with us over a number of years surviving capsized canoes, tropical downpours and even an unfortunate incident with a hedgehog.
The bag was slung over my shoulder the first time I entered into a boulangerie in the back streets of Boulogne. Full of the fresh faced confidence of youth after an entire year of language study, I offered to go in and buy our very first taste of buttery croissants and pain au raisins. Whilst continental food is easier to come by these days, nothing beats the authentic experience and the mild sweat to ensure you get what you want. I even got carried away and proudly told the French lady that I came from Liverpool; a large door in the north-West of England.
Our first destination was Pornic in the Vendée region on the west coast. By any normal estimation, this should entail roughly a 6 to 7 hour drive. However as my dad had insisted that there was absolutely no way on earth ever that he was paying to use motorways that were free back home we took the tourist route. Whilst the tourist route was the tarmaced equivalent to flicking through an old packet of postcards and French text books, it wasn’t the most efficient. Particularly with our stand-out trailer tent bouncing about like a boat in a storm from the back of our red Sierra Sapphire.
The emergency B&B was unforgettable. For dinner the owners called their friends from the neighbouring village who happily cooked up a small feast for their hungry guests. This happened to be in their living room with the dog and the rest of the family. My first experience with a French pillow system (think large linen sausage roll) went well and the atmosphere was more like staying with relatives. I believe this is what is known as classic French hospitality.
We eventually arrived at our campsite a day later than planned, but already armed with the sort of memories that I still care to mull over from time to time some 25 years later. It is clear to me that this first trip fostered my francophilia. I love the food, I love the people, and I even love the tunes.