Annie and I were on one of our long walks discovering our new home of Toulouse. These walks had become a fixture of our first days in France, a way to break up the stress of trips back and forth between the bank, the post office, and governmental agencies.
We envisioned our time studying abroad as a constant party but the reality upon arriving in Toulouse was different. We needed metro passes and bank accounts, we had to buy phone cards and call the electricity company, several agencies required down payments and deposits. Being in France, none of this was easy. We spent hours waiting in lines, struggling to communicate in a foreign language, and realizing we had no idea what we were doing.
Our walks taught us about Toulouse and helped us get oriented to the city. With no destination in mind, we strolled, turning down any street that looked interesting and finding ourselves lost after awhile. Around the city center our hunger overcame us. A café looked promising and as we got situated at a table, the server explained that they were no longer serving lunch. Disappointed and starving, we were getting up to leave when the server exclaimed, “But mademoiselles, we have the best cheesecake in France!” That was all it took for us to stay.
Soon two slices of cheesecake appeared. The cake was firm and dense, creamy, and just tart enough to balance the sweetness of the salted caramel drizzled on top. At that moment, we knew the initial stress was worth it and we were going to do just fine during our time in Toulouse.
To me, ‘the best cheesecake in France,’ symbolizes a moment of growth, pride, and self-discovery. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be back in Toulouse, and even if I tried, I don’t think I could find the cafe that served the cheesecake. But, I’ll never forget the taste of the cheesecake or the memories and feelings it recalls from my time in Toulouse. Just one bite takes me right back to that cafe table.
Daily life is exhausting in a new country, but it’s never boring. I felt alive by the challenges of getting through each day. I felt fear when terrorism shook our city. I felt a bittersweet sadness when I had to leave the city I had grown to love.
The best kind of travel encourages you to take risks on the unknown, leaving you stronger and more courageous, and leading you to better experiences than those you could have planned. I may prefer the fun aspects of travel but it’s the challenges that change and reward me the most.
SALTED CARAMEL CHEESECAKE
Also known as The Best Cheesecake in France
The cheesecake is easy to make but does need to be made the day before serving and then refrigerated overnight. You can make the caramel the day before and then refrigerate it overnight and warm it gently until it’s thin enough to drizzle over each piece. The caramel can also be made the day you’re serving the cheesecake, but make sure to let it cool to room temperature before drizzling it on each slice.
You could garnish each slice with fresh whipped cream, but I opted to sprinkle some flaky sea salt on each piece before serving.