One: The Easy ButtonSome day, perhaps years from now, we’ll find ourselves chatting over cocktails about our 2014 travels to France; how smoothly everything went. From the …drive along I-75 southward to 29 and 41, over to Miami International Airport, to the relaxed check-in staff of Iberia Airlines, to the tranquil and gentle flight to Madrid, the lack of haste and ease of customs as we made way to our connecting flight to Barcelona, the utter simplicity of retrieving the rental car (which is NEW and wonderful; thank you Dollar), to our supreme confidence in negotiating the Spanish highway system along the C-31/C-32/C-33/AP-7 into our beloved France. This was a truly exceptional travel experience! And if any of you think that I may be over egrandizing ~ take a moment to read my travel blog from 2013. I’ll wait. _____________ Ok…caught up? What a difference a year makes.We’ve learned quite a bit over these years of traveling. Learned them all by trial, and error, and correction. Like the year we returned to Miami, picked up a one-way rental car, and found ourselves faced with the new Toll-by-plate system. A few weeks later automated ‘fine letters’ arrived in the mail outlining our criminal activities by passing through these unmanned booths without having pre-paid the tourist toll program. And the times we arrived in Barcelona to find that the car rental was off location. Riding a shuttle van with luggage, carry-ons, and two exhausted cats is akin to a bad carnival ride. The time we found that same rental location didn’t open in the morning early enough for us to return the car prior to our flight; nor was there a drop box for the key. Then there were multiple times our printed mapping directions sent us round and round and round in circles on various Spanish highways. And the year we couldn’t find the correct exit out of Perpignan onto the D117 over to Axat, because the exit was closed…and we don’t carry a map for this part of France. We know these roads like our own backyard – except when everything is blocked, and it’s dark, and every business is closed.
But this is 2014; an absolutely perfect travel experience. All 10s from the olympic judges. Completely smooth sailing. No car issues. No passport troubles. No cat documentation concerns. No flight delays. No crying children. No map snaffus. Nobody peed their carrier. No construction. No rain. No worries. A lovely lunch at a highway caffeteria to refresh us. Snowy mountain view out the windows. Robbin egg blue skies. A wave of welcome from the guard as we crossed the border into France. A stop for freshly pressed olive oil along the route. The familiarity of terrain and the warmth of our little blue shuttered maison du village, freshly swept, a vase of flowers and a box of chocolates on the table, welcoming us home.
(we have the dearest, kindest, and most compassionate neighbors who keep watch on our home…thank you Pierrot and Liliane, pour tout)
We unpack the kitty boys and get them situated with litter box, fresh food and water, toys, etc. They’ve been exceptionally good travelers. 20+ hours is long for any person, but it really throws off the routine of an animal. Need to use the restroom? No big deal for humans, but a rather involved process with a cat in a teeny airplane restroom. Thankfully they now equip those mini rooms with a fold down baby changing platform, which is ideal for setting up a travel litter box. (tip: line the box with a puppy piddle pad instead of lugging along cat litter…weighs near nothing and it’s disposable) Somehow these two furry children have learned that once they get into a car, after the airport, they’re headed for home. They relax and snooze in the back seat for the nearly 3 hour drive from Barcelona to Axat (or from Miami to Fort Myers for that matter…it’s the same distance)
Then Joe and I open a few windows, lay down on white faux leather couches, listen to the wind blow through the trees and the birds chirp their afternoon songs, and drift off into nap land; snoozing just long enough to rest ourselves a little, freshen up, and drive barely 2 km outside of the village to our favorite Axat Restaurant, Le Rebenty. Belgian owner/house manager Christophe greets us warmly with cheek kisses and a hearty hello. His wife, co-owner/chef, Linda knew we were arriving this day because we keep in touch on Facebook. They are both very happy that we have returned, all is well, and that we are hungry for dinner.
Being the amazing host that he is, Christophe asks if we would like to start with the usual apperitif as we look over the menu. We agree, and he pours us each a glass of sweet, white muscat wine. He makes sure to note that Linda has added a featured menu du mois: 4 courses, plus amuse bouche, for 19€. May was featuring a beautifully presented Meditteranean salad, followed by freshly caught trout en papilliot, cheese course, and chef’s choice of dessert. I was full in for this menu ~ an easy decision. Joe opted for the menu 29€ with amuse bouche, starter of grilled prawns in vibrant green herb sauce, filet de boeuf in mushroom sauce, cheese course, and choice of dessert. Main courses also came with a variety of vegetables and a huge crock of Belgian style pomme frittes. Finishing our 2nd apperitif, kir royale, Joe opted for red wine to compliment his beef. I chose a glass of sparkling blanquette. Meals are impecable at Le Rebenty. From the service, to the ambiance, to the well crafted and yummable food. And being just minutes from home allows that glass of maury wine to be ordered with the cheese course without concern for the need of a designated driver. Joe’s dessert of house made crème catalan with fresh raspberries looked divine. And my trio of mini desserts (crème catalan, chocolate mousse, and crème speculoos) were perfect for me. I love to have a small taste of everything. We lingered, chatted, looked at photos of Christophe and Linda’s grandchildren, and laughed with our friends as we exchanged good night kisses and well wishes.
It’s good to be home.