It’s hard to believe that two weeks can go by so fast, but I guess they can when you pack so much into them! We arrived home from our trip to France on Saturday (after a very long travel day that involved three flights), and it was back to reality as of yesterday.
So, exactly where were we for the last two weeks? Short answer: everywhere! Here is a map showing the main cities that we visited (you can click the link underneath to make it larger):
We started in the Normandy region, and then headed to the Lorie Valley, and on to Paris. Then, we flew to the Marseilles to hang out in the south of France. From there, we visited several towns in Provence before making our way to the French Rivera to visit Cannes, Nice, and Monaco. We were in a different city almost every day of the trip, except for Paris where we stayed for about 4.5 days.
We had a car for our travels through Normandy and Provence, and Chester did an amazing job of getting us where we needed to go and negotiating the round-a-bout turns. He was only pulled over once, early on in the trip, for making an illegal right turn while we were en-route to Bayeux. The police officer was not surprised at all that Chester was American, and just let us go. Driving in Paris was pretty scary. The streets are narrow and the names change right in the middle of them, and the drivers are ridiculously aggressive. It was like driving in New York City, times 100. I was so relieved when we got to drop our rental car off. As for me, I did pretty well with my navigator responsibilities on this trip, if I do say so myself. I think I only fell asleep on the job twice.
Parts of the trip involved getting lost in small towns, getting in the credit card lane to pay the toll and finding that our cards didn’t work (much to the annoyance of the highway staff people who had to come out and take the Euros we were frantically waving around) and lugging bags up multiple flights of stairs to get to our (sometimes very random) hotel rooms. All of it was fun. As a bonus, we even got to make a visit to a French emergency room when Chester hurt his foot. In spite of him having to spend part of the trip on crutches, we got to see so many amazing sites and do so many cool things.
Most importantly, we ate some excellent food. I think I got through quite a bit of the items that I mentioned on my wish list of things to eat. In making our plans for restaurants to try, the only thing I requested is that we avoid had things that would be frilly or fussy. I didn’t want to eat anyplace that was known for weird things like green pea foam and the like. We chose some really good places (with the help of Trip Advisor) and everything that we had consisted of simple, fresh ingredients that were prepared and presented well.
This being a blog about food, I wanted to take photos of all the amazing things that we ate, but I didn’t want to be that crazy tourist. So, I tried to limit my photos to the exterior shots of the restaurants we visited and only took food photos in the more casual restaurants or those that were so crowded that no one would notice me being a freak.
I plan to write a bunch of posts to cover what we did, ate, and saw and to share some photos. In the meantime, here are some general things I learned—food related and otherwise—while visiting:
1. The French are lovely people. Forget all the stereotypes that you have heard. If you are nice to them (for example, if you say “Bonjour” when you go into a shop and “Merci” when you leave), they will be nice to you. They’ll even put up with the fact that you don’t know a lick of French and will try to help you. They will however, look at you like you are slightly crazy, when you try to talk to their dogs (I couldn’t resist. They were all so cute).
2. The French have no regard for their own personal safety. Or, maybe they are just fearless. They walk or bike right out into the middle of the street, into oncoming traffic. Or, they weave in and out of heavy traffic, in the narrow space between two lanes of cars, in the crowded tunnels of Paris. While I seem to have no problem jaywalking at home, I was scared! We sought out crosswalks and waited on the sidewalk until the little green man told us we could move.
3. The French adore eating. It’s an experience for them even to sit down in a café for a cup of coffee and a croissant at breakfast. They linger over meals in restaurants. It’s not like here where we sometimes eat on the run (in fact, I didn’t even notice a place where you could get a cup of coffee to go, unless you went to a Starbucks) or have the server drop the check off at the table before we’ve even finished the last bite of dessert. They’ll order the cheese course and the dessert course and they don’t even seem to feel guilty about it. I was filled with regret if I ate dessert two nights in a row. Next time I go, I’m definitely eating more. I think I walked off most of my meals anyway!
4. No one is fat in France. A paradox, when you consider my third point. Okay, maybe I saw two or three overweight people. But, for the most part, everyone is thin and chic looking, in spite of the fact that they seem to clean their plates at each meal. Walking, biking, and chain smoking must allow them to accomplish this.
5. Paris is not the only reason to visit France. I will say when I thought of our trip, this was the part that I got the most excited about. But, there were so many other parts of the trip, to my surprise, that I loved just as much (or maybe even a little more). Don’t get me wrong me, Paris truly lived up to the hype. It is, in my opinion, the most beautiful city in the world and was the most perfect place to celebrate our first anniversary. But, I was so glad that we had the chance to see so much more than that and to drive around and just take so much in outside of the city.
6. Steven Seagal is huge in France. Seriously. Every time we turned on the television, one of his movies was on.
7. French radio only plays music in English that has explicit lyrics or is otherwise inappropriate. they are also huge fans of Brittany Spears’ new song, Till the World Ends. I’m pretty sure that we heard that song six times in a row at one point when we were shuffling through various stations.
8. If you have to visit an emergency room in France, try to do so in a small town. You’ll probably be in and out in 45 minutes. We visited the hospital in Amboise, and can verify that there is at least one English speaking doctor there. Another tip—don’t listen to the U.S. Embassy website when they tell you that there’s one in Tours—we called and that seems to not be the case.
9. Related to number seven is the fact that every third person in France has some kind of foot injury. I attribute this to all the walking up hills and cobbled streets that they do. We saw so many people in casts, on crutches, and leaning on canes. Chester was right on trend with his injury.
10. Don’t expect Starbucks-sized coffees at any of the cafes that you might visit (unless of course, it’s a Starbucks). Even if you ask for a “grand café,” you will only get a cup slightly larger than a thimble.
11. Butter is not generally served with bread. I was kind of looking forward to having bread slathered with real butter on this trip, and I think we only had it twice on this trip. However, butter was pretty much the base ingredient for most of the sauces we had at meals, and the bread comes in handy for soaking that up! Speaking of bread—a baguette is kind of like an accessory for most of the locals that we saw. No matter what time of day, everyone seemed to be carrying a baguette around.
12. Northern and Southern France are very different in terms of the people, culture, and even the way the language sounds. In the South, it sounds like people are speaking Italian. While the north seemed more laid back and down-to-earth to us; parts of the South of France are like Rittenhouse Square or Fifth Avenue on steroids.
13. Ikea is very popular. I lost track of how many we saw in our travels and many of our hotels were fully furnished with Ikea items.
14. Climatise is the most beautiful French word ever. Basically translates to air conditioned. I loved seeing this on the signs outside our hotels.
Thinking about food had made me kind of hungry, so that’s all for now. Needless to say, after two weeks of amazing food, it’s disappointing to have to resume my routine of Lean Cuisine lunches. Off to the microwave I go.