By Wendy Wood-Prince
Les Invalides in Paris. This monument to war veterans houses the tomb of Napoleon.
Two years ago, I had the privilege of going to France with my sister, Sandy and my cousin, Loraine. Loraine is originally from France and she makes an annual trek back to visit her parents and this time, my sister and I joined her on a memorable trip to Paris and the Cevennes region of France. I had not seen any of my French family in years and was happy to reconnect with everyone.
The view from the back seat of “le pot de yaout,” as my cousin Barbara affectionately calls her Fiat 500.
We flew to Paris on an Air France flight. Air France was our airline of choice, primarily because of the complimentary champagne served to all passengers, even those riding in coach, which was us! When we landed at DeGaulle, Loraine’s sister, Barbara, picked us up in her Fiat 500, which she affectionately calls “le pot de yaourt” – the yogurt cup. I wonder to this day, how we managed to pack the four of us plus our luggage into that car!! We headed to yet another cousin’s house after a requisite stop at the boulangerie for our morning pastries, on the way. Everyone said their hellos and we sat down for a delicious breakfast before tucking away for naps, much needed after our night in coach.
Love locks on the Pont des Arts bridge.
My sister and I stayed at Hotel Castex, just down the road from Place de la Bastille. A diminutive hotel, hotel Castex has teeny rooms but they are big on style with beautiful Osborne & Little drapes in every room.
The primary reason for this trip was to visit with Loraine’s parents, and we soon headed over to Les Invalides, the magnificent monument to military history in the 7th arrondissement in Paris, commissioned by Louis XIV and housing the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. Les Invalides still serves as a hospital for war veterans, which is where my cousin Pete, Loraine’s father, was residing. On a bittersweet note, Pete passed away last December, so reminiscing about this trip is tinged with some sadness. Pete, or formally known as Phillip Jackson was an amazing, highly decorated war veteran who helped the resistance during World War II. Just 16 years old at the time, Pete took photos of the Nazis’ comings and goings and secretly passaged them to the resistance. Pete’s father, Sumner Jackson, was an American Doctor at the American Hospital during the war. Pete, his father and his mother, Toquette, are the subjects of the bestselling book Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw. I miss him.
Photo Credit: Loraine Riemer
My cousin, Phillip Jackson, wearing the Order of Legion, the highest decoration in France for his help during World War II.
We wandered around Les Invalides, with Pete leading the way and showing us the different points of interest. We also ventured out to a few of Pete’s favorite restaurants where we feasted on seafood at Le Pichet de Paris and enjoyed Kir Royale aperitifs. These visits are sweetly etched in my memory and I am very grateful to have had those times with my cousins.
The magnificent Gare de Lyon.
After a few days visiting in Paris, we headed via the TGV south towards the town of Saint-Hippolyte-du-Fort, near the Cevennes National Park area. After a quick sandwich of fromage et jambon inside the beautiful Gare de Lyon, we boarded the train and started our journey to visit Loraine’s mother, my cousin, Suzy. Another bittersweet note is that Suzy has since moved into an assisted living facility. That time we spent with her was so filled with laughs and easy days that the fond memories have stayed fresh in my mind.
A beautiful afternoon in Nimes.
Once we arrived in Saint-Hippolyte-du-Fort, Suzy’s landlord was gracious enough to let us stay in an empty apartment in her beautiful apartment building, with amazing views of the countryside and the little village. This visit severely stretched my knowledge of the French language and I literally watched in utter silence and confusion as my sister and my cousins spoke and laughed about who knew what, while I comprehended a word or two per hour!
The ancient street in Saint-Hippolyte-du-Fort.
We wandered around the village with Suzy as she greeted her neighbors and they exchanged gossip and tidbits about their days. We ate delicious sandwiches and pastries and explored nearby towns. In the evenings we looked at Suzy’s photos of ancient relatives and talked about their exploits from times that seemed impossibly far away and exotic.
My cousins, Loraine and Suzy, with my sister Sandy and me, enjoying a Kir Royale at Le-Comptoir-de-lEvèsque in Sauve.
We spent a day exploring the nearby town of Ganges, and another day we wandered around the ancient town of LaRoque, with its primitive stone walls and passage ways. At the end of our trip, we celebrated at an exceptional restaurant in Sauve, called Le-Comptoir-de-lEvèsque. Just as I was beginning to grasp the language to the point of having a conversation, it was time to head back to the US. The time spent with my sister and cousins was precious, and I can’t wait until we plan our next adventure.
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