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Lost in a Meal in Dijon: a Travel Story

I'm not sure how we got there or exactly where we were, but there we sat at a streetside bistro table in the beautiful city of Dijon, France. What I didn't realize is that we were about to share one of our best meals ever. It was a meal years in the making, but one I'd never forget. We were lost in a meal in Dijon, France. How we got there, I'm still not exactly sure.

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unforgettable meal in Dijon, France

Where It All Began

You'll have to rewind about 20 years to understand.  I'd long wanted to visit France. As a child, I'd have colorful conversations with my grandfather about our French heritage.

We would talk about his experience as a French-speaking child in New Orleans in the early 1900s. Back then, children, like him, were punished for speaking their native French language in the school yards.

He'd tell stories of him and his younger sister hiding from the nuns at school. After, we'd practice French phrases and words; he was trying to teach me Cajun French.

Proud of his French heritage, he'd later go on to extensively research his genealogy,  sparking a life-long love of history and culture in me. I remember how proud I'd feel when he spoke of our French heritage. It was as if our blood lines could magically transport us there anytime we wanted.

As Time Went By...

Throughout my life I was fascinated by French culture. I'd read Madeline books and daydream about adventures in Paris. Audibly, I'd exclaim "oh la la" pretending to discover something fun.

In fifth grade, I enrolled in my first French class. Our teacher taught us a French lullaby that I can still sing to this day. I grew up eating French-inspired foods in Louisiana, wearing Fleur-de-lis necklaces and saying phrases like "laissez les bons temps rouler" as often as possible.

Fast forward to high school and, later, college. I continued to immerse myself in French studies year after year, in hopes that I could become fluent. In my mind, learning the language was the step I needed to carry out my life-long dream. I was going to escape to Paris, eat croissants, and live near the Eiffel Tower.

For years I longed to visit France, but the desire grew stronger my I lost my grandfather in 2007. I surrounded myself with everything French. French classic radio hits played loudly from my speakers, while I prepared traditional French dishes. French wine, French cheese, French novels. There was no end to how French I would go.

Finally, a Trip to Paris!

As you can tell, I'd become quite the little Francophile. So, it was no surprise that I nearly screamed aloud the summer of 2009 when my beau suggested we visit Paris. Later that summer, there I was.

Nervous and exhilarated, I boarded the long flight from New Orleans to Paris. My parents dropped me off at the airport. I could tell they weren't entirely convinced I'd actually come home. They knew how badly I wanted to take that trip.

Now, the train from Charles de Galle airport in Paris is nothing special, but that train ride was simply intoxicating to me. Craning my neck at the window, I could hardly wait to see what lie around the next turn. My heart beat faster the closer we got to the city center, suburbs whizzing by in the window. Finally, I was there. I was finally in Paris.

Oh, La, La

The next five days were a dream. We wandered, as though in a trance, through the historic streets of Paris, baguettes in hand. Memorable meals over candlelight, unforgettable cultural experiences, and joyous conversations were abundant in Paris. Wine, cheese, fresh fruits, and pastries filled our days.

Near the end of our dream-like Parisian vacation, I experience a sudden sensation while walking through Montmartre. I was home. Perhaps it was the wine (or maybe the magnificent cheese), but I knew deep down inside that Paris was the birth of something special.

The next day we were setting off on a four-day road trip through Burgundy. As we prepared to leave Paris, I found myself wondering if anywhere could be as special as this city? Certainly not.

I felt disoriented when we stepped onto the train to Dijon. My sense of direction, literally and figuratively, was off. We'd just spent a dizzying week in the most amazing city in the world. The experience had left my edges blurred.

Exhausted, I watched the French countryside pass by in the window, much the same as I'd done on the train to Paris. But this time it was bittersweet. Had we left the best part of our trip back on the platform in Paris?

a Meal in Dijon: Mission Accepted

We arrived in Dijon hungry and weary from our whirlwind Paris adventure. After dropping off our bags, we set off into the city center in search of dinner. Relying on our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook, we were headed to a highly recommended cafe where one can find authentic, and affordable, regional cuisine.

Unfortunately, we'd underestimated the distance from our lodgings to the city center. We walked for what seemed like hours, passing cute but modest homes in the residential neighborhoods which ring the city. Finally, we arrived at the restaurant only to discover what I secretly feared all along. The cute little cafe was closed. Shuttered. No more.

Exhausted, starving, and irritated, we stood in the center of one of the main squares. Suddenly (but not unexpectedly), we began to bicker in the quiet city streets. Looking around, we were desperate to find recommendations. But the summertime streets were abandoned. All the university students so typical of Dijon had all gone, leaving us to fend for ourselves.

Mission Accomplished!

Desperate, we started again. It wasn't long before we stumbled onto a quaint little cafe. The charming green awnings and dusty chalk board out front beckoned us to "entre vous." There's food here.

As we approached, a stout man in a white apron approached us. He cheerfully ushered us to sit at one of the empty street-side tables. Unsure of what to expect, we settled into our seats asking simply for "deux vins et un menu."

We soon realized that, at this small cafe, we'd have a meal we'd never forget. I was lost, hungry, and tired. But I found a part of my true self that evening over freshly-baked baguette, house-cured meats, fresh cornichons, local cheeses, and delicious Pinot Noir. I'd found the part of me that I'd been hoping to find in France: a sense of being, belonging, and connection.

A Meal We'd Never Forget

To this day, I can't tell you the name of the cafe in Dijon we'd found that evening. It didn't matter what we ate, where we were, or how we got there. We were lost. We were lost together. We were lost together in a moment. We were lost together in a meal in Dijon.

That trip to France started my travel journey. Since then, I've visited multiple countries, several US cities, and moved cross-country. While I may not be the most experienced traveler, I do know the art of losing oneself in a travel moment. And, to me, that is traveling.

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