Giant raisins in the Loire

Giggling and eating les raisins secs géants by the handful, we dialed her number. Curious if we'd correctly remembered the U.S. country code, we waited to see if the phone would ring and Claire would answer. She did, and in a blubbery, drunken voice, Tom said, "Mom, help us solve an argument: what did King Wenceslas look down upon?" "The Feast of Stephen. Why? Where are you?" she replied with good humor.

"What a sport," I thought, while cursing under my breath because her answer meant Tom was right.

We were staying in the guest house of a vineyard deep in France's Loire Valley. Amsterdam was our home that summer, and we took as many European excursions as we could, knowing that such an opportunity might not come around again. Newlyweds, every jaunt seemed the height of romantic spontaneity, even if we were swindled here or stuck in a dingy train station there.

Our week in the Loire involved no such challenge because it is beautiful and great wine and crottins of fresh goat cheese are everywhere. Going there was my idea, a way to satisfy my dream of drinking Sancerre every day while at the same time exposing Tom to a place he'd never been nor expressed much interest in. "The French?" he'd sniffed, unknowingly. "Aren't they rude?"

"Bah," I said, "Just wait until you try the cheese, drink their wine, live there for a brief bit."

Before our trip to the Loire (and Normandy), I teased him with a long weekend in Paris. From the first crêpe au Nutella et à la banane, bought from a street vendor on the banks of the Seine, he was hooked. We traversed Paris by the mile, a walk of epic proportion punctuated by breakfasts of warm croissants and coffee, picnic lunches in lush parks and boozy dinners at wine bars and neighborhood haunts.

After Paris, it wasn't hard to convince Tom of the need to return to France. This time, once arriving at Gare du Nord direct from Amsterdam's Centraal Station, we rented a car and headed south toward Sancerre, embarking on a circular path that would let us experience the Loire Valley and some of Normandy before landing back in Paris and heading home.

We'd wanted to stay on vineyard grounds if possible, and at that time, the "agriturismo" movement was hot. It was somewhere near Vouvray, which sits near the Loire River and almost to Tours if you've left Bourges roughly two hours back, that we checked in to the chambre d'hote from which the infamous King Wenceslas call was made.

As an aside, I should tell you that when traveling, Tom and I like to stay casual. We have, for the past eleven years, prided ourselves on: finding and frequenting the best markets and grocery stores wherever we are because we prefer to rent apartments or rooms rather than hotels and then eat breakfast at "home" and/or lunch via picnic; eating at a restaurant's bar (versus a table) whenever possible, especially for dinner; learning the word for "sale" in a multitude of languages -sconto in Italy, solde in France, etc; and adhering to the "See it or so be it" mantra we coined in Vienna. We did not like Vienna at all and became bored with trying to find reasons to love it. Hence, see it or so be it.

Anyway, we had, on the outskirts of Bourges, stopped at a Carrefour which we'd decided was our preferred French grocery. You can't always go to fresh markets, you know? There, our eyes, palates and stomachs had thrilled at the bags of giant raisins - les raisins secs géants- primarily because of their sheer size. Literally giant. It was on those that we were snacking when we drunkenly called Tom's mom.

Why on earth were we talking about King Wenceslas? Because we were planning a trip to Prague, Budapest and Vienna (the very trip during which we came up with "See it or so be it.") and got to talking about Wenceslas Square in Prague, named after Saint Wenceslas who's the patron saint of Bohemia, probably because Wenceslaus 1 was the Duke of Bohemia before being assassinated. Anyway, long, circular story, but whilst talking about Wen Square, Tom started singing the carol, Good King Wenceslas, and I disputed the then-ridiculous-sounding line telling us that he looked down on the Feast of Stephen.

And that is why we called Tom's mom while drunk and eating giant raisins and talking randomly about Wenceslas while in a guest house in the middle of Val de la Loire.

To be continued.