I spent a considerable amount of my summer holidays in France and as winter closes in on the Northern Hemisphere, I find myself pining just a little for sandy shores, steamed mussels and chilled rose.
Nonetheless, beggars cannot by any means be choosers and I realise that for now I have to settle for cosy Sunday afternoons indoors, with warm food and good company. Not all that bad, really.
Although, I have to say, I am disgraced at myself at the amount of time it has taken me to get to writing this blog. Don’t think that I don’t care about you, dear blog. Quite the opposite. I care a lot. It’s just that the more time I neglect you, the harder it is to say hello to you again, without showing up a little shame-faced. I am sorry. But I’m here, and I haven’t gone away. I think my brain has just been taking a winter hiatus, along with the rest of my motivation.
Anyway, where was I? France? Aah. So in tune with my current state of laziness, I decided to lump my travel learnings in France all into one big blog post. Numéro un in blogger faux-pas. Lengthy blog posts. No, what would be smart-blogger technique, would be to feed you bit by bit in digestible chunks but I fear the longer I put it off, the more my procrastination on the ‘keeping the blog up-to-date’ front will prevail. So without further ado. Here we have it.
How to spend summer in France
I should re-title this to How not to spend summer in France. Not because I didn’t enjoy myself. No, no, no! Because I didn’t exactly do it in a smart way. Most of you know, I took this summer’s travels by chance. I left Spain for three months and the only plans I had consisted of fly straight to England to work for three weeks and then see where the moment takes me.
I was quite determined to focus on seeing what is on my doorstep, so-to-speak. At least as far as travel for a New Zealander might be concerned (26 hours on a plane versus… two?). I wanted to return to France and I wanted to see a lot more of Spain that I hadn’t yet seen. That’s exactly what I did. Just in a really bizarre and nonsensical manner.
On a whim and with a buddy I met during my summer job in England, I went from London to Marseille and Bormes-les-Mimosas in the South, to Paris (in-transit, for one night only) and onto Reims in the North-East. Then, parting ways, I went on my own to Saint Malo, Mont Saint Michel, Dinan and Rennes in the North-West. Then it was back to Paris in-transit, to fly directly to North Spain. Only to return to France again three weeks later. To where? Oh just Paris. Again.
As if I hadn’t been there in donkey’s years I went back. I stayed there this time though, for four nights in a sketchy area of Montmatre in a dim hostel but it was friendly enough. But that didn’t matter because I had the world’s happiest reunion with Mog. It was her first time ever in Europe and the first time we’d seen each other in an entire year. Yes, there were tears. Hear the violins play?
From there, accompanied by Mog, I went off, again, as if it had been donkey’s years, to the North-East. Can’t. Get. Enough. All drug references are reserved as a sole consequence of watching too much Breaking Bad. This time, I was in Brittany, and then Mog and I made our way down to my old haunt in the South-East, Lyon for a mere two nights and finally, on to Toulouse in the South-West. Thus, I snaked my way through the country and I saw a lot. Learnings? Well, there were loads.
- Don’t leave it until the eleventh hour to book train travel in France. And preferably don’t be older than 25. It’s expensive. Plan where you want to go and plan it in a logical manner or you will end up forking out far more than you ever intended to spend on transport. Here I was thinking I was all cool and avant-garde and well, yeah. On that front it kind of back-fired.
- France is pricey. Even more so if you are used to living in Spain. Food, accommodation, transport. Make sure you have more savings than you have budgeted for as you will always come away with less.
- Go to Dinan in Brittany. A little off the beaten track but a seriously worthwhile €2, one hour bus journey from Saint Malo – this place is magical and escapes the summertime hoards. A highlight.
- Speaking of hoards, remember that in August, unless you are near the beach, the cities in France are deserted. This makes for a very unrepresentative snapshot of the culture because none of the locals are there! And if you are at the beach, be savvy as to which you choose or you will be there along with the rest of France… and some. In general, I would advise against visiting France in August. I’d hold off to September when life starts returning to normal again.
- You’ll never appreciate cakes more than you will in France. If you are there on holiday. Don’t hold back for goodness sake. Eat them!
- The bread is good too.
- And the wine.
- Always take the opportunity to be shown around by a local. Don’t know any? Then join Couchsurfing and make arrangements! Meet for a coffee or a chat in the park, or request to stay with someone. Mog and I had a great time staying with a couple in Toulouse. They gave us all sorts of tips on what to see and do and they were so friendly! It gives you a chance to uncover the things you couldn’t possibly achieve on your own in two days in a city.
- So I might speak French but Mog doesn’t and whatever pre-conceived idea you may have in your head about French people not speaking English. It’s not true. I was blown-away at people’s eagerness to practice their English with me while here I am in France, willing to speak French! In saying that – I would never discount the idea that you needn’t try. I shouldn’t need to tell you how stupid you feel when you walk into a shop and you can’t ask for what you want.
- The best way to see it all and soak it all up is to walk. Endlessly and aimlessly walk. Find a cafe here. Stop in a square there. Watch city life pass you by. If you feel brave, talk to someone and become a part of it. Wherever you end up, there is usually a bus stop or a metro station near by to get you home if you get lost. But I think the same goes anywhere in Europe, really.
So there you have it. I will eventually be bringing you more highlights from my Summertime Travel Fix. Be patient with me and please stay tuned.