This post is written in honor of my Grandpa Jachym for his 95th birthday. Thank you for your constant love, beautiful hand-made wooden objects, and sharing all of your travels with me over the years. I cherish each moment I get to spend with you, and each story that tells me a little more about the young man you were. This post, this journey, it was inspired by you.
In my life I have traveled to many different places. I’ve gotten to see natural wonders like the Cliffs of Mohrer, incredible homes like Versailles, huge cities like New York, but none of them meant as much as this little town just outside of Reims, France.
As Jackson and I were planning our Europe trip there were many places on our must-see list. Places like Edinburgh, London, and Paris, were absolute musts for us, but when I knew for sure we were going to Paris, I knew I had another place that made it to the top of my must-see list. You see, my grandpa used to tell me these amazing stories about the times he was overseas during WWII. He would tell me about visiting Versailles, about running around England and stealing chickens (I didn’t say his stories were legal…. but brilliant and hilarious, nonetheless). He would tell me of his home outside of Reims where his unit was stationed. He shared the photographs of the places he visited, which always made me long to visit these locations. So, when I found out we were going to Europe I asked if I could borrow his photographs to take with me, and he gave them to me without question.
One day, while researching places to visit in France I found writing on the back of his old photograph that read, “Our home at Pargny Les Reims.” I showed it to Jackson because I thought it was cool, and he asked if I had “Googled it”? For some reason that had never occurred to me, but I am thankful every day that it occurred to him. After a quick search, he found a photograph of the exact same home that was in my grandpa’s photo some 73 years ago… and the best part? The home has become a bed and breakfast. Friends, when I saw that I was instantly in tears. Even now just thinking about it I am holding back tears. To find a very specific non-famous location continents away from my home just seemed unfathomable, but here we were staring at the beautiful home on our computer screen. That was it for me. I booked our stay immediately and it instantly was moved to the top of my list.
We left Paris for a one night stay in the small town of Pargny-les, Reims at La Baleiniere Bed and Breakfast. When we arrived we were greeted by the lovely owner of La Baleiniere, Patricia. She and her family were some of the most kind and helpful people I have met. We were having trouble connecting to the internet, so her daughter set up our phones. When we wanted to take a trip into Reims to see the famous Reims Cathedral, her husband drove us. I can honestly say they were the best hosts we have ever had, and I would go back a million times over.
When we arrived Patricia gave us a tour of the rooms, and told us about the history of the home. When I found this place I emailed Patricia and explained my grandpa lived there during the war, so she already knew my side of the story. The home was owned by her husbands family for three generations previous. During WWII the home was first taken over by the French army, then the German army, and ended with the American army.
She showed us the places in the walls where the American soldiers carved their names in the stone. She showed us the burn marks on the floor where they put out their cigarettes. She told us how during the winter, they would chop down a tree and shove the tree in through the window, then chop it up to go in the fireplace. Unfortunately, the Americans didn’t really know about the history of the home, so they kind of beat it up back in the day. Looking on it now, so many years in the future was really incredible. I could just imagine my then-young grandpa standing at the fireplace and watching men play darts.
We had the entire half of the bed and breakfast to ourselves because we went in February, which is an off-season. We had full roam of the dining room, library/game room, living room, and our room. We arranged to stay in the Hélène suite, which was honestly divine. I have never stayed somewhere so lovely.
In the morning our hostess made us a lovely breakfast, then we had to head back to the train station to make it back to Paris. There were so many amazing moments on our trip to Europe, but for me this one topped the cake. It was not only beautiful, but emotional. I wish my grandpa could have been there with us.
When I got back to the U.S, I made a trip up to Ohio to visit. I got to tell my grandpa about my trip. I got to show him my photographs of La Baleiniere. I’m not sure how much he understood, but I will never forget his smile when I showed him the picture of me standing in front of the place he used to call home in that little small town in Reims.