Volumes have already been written by more eloquent folks about France and the wonderful experiences it offers to its visitors. I thought long and hard about what I can say that would not sound like I just ‘copy-pasted’ things from other articles I found online. I realised that the special beauty of my experience was that I stayed only with French families, sleeping on their beds (the French are too nice to offer you their couch), having dinner with the families, having them show us around on weekends, it was fantastic! Hopefully at least some of what I am about to blab away about is new and interesting.
Here is my version of the must dos if and when you visit this fascinating country.
|Walking down the stairs into the city of Lyon|
Walk!: Trust me when I say that this is THE way to see France. All you need is a map, metro routes and a good pair of walking shoes. Take the Metro to one destination everyday and chalk out a walking route, visiting all the sights in the area. Sometimes you should also wander in the narrow lanes to discover the many hidden treasures. This is especially fun in a big city like Paris. Cosy bars, quaint restaurants, quirky stores, inspiring street art; it’s in the narrow lanes that the heart of the country lies.
|Christmas festivities in the streets of Montpellier|
|Quirky souvenirs being sold on the banks of the Seine|
Take yourself to a Marche: Marche is French for market and there are many versions of these happening in every city. Local producers of meat, cheese, fruits and vegetables, wine and many other delights gather to sell their produce. There is no better way of experiencing the famous gastronomy of France. Also a good place to find kitschy garments and unique gifts for family and friends. Whether or not you shop, I am sure you will be delighted by the trip. Note however that these are not permanent establishments, more like travelling markets, talk to the locals and find out which ones will be operational when you are around. If you travel around Christmas like I did, there are Christmas Markets (Marche de Noel) everywhere. Make sure you drink some hot wine. Absolutely divine and surprisingly intoxicating.
|Local produce from Lyon, displayed in a Sunday Market|
· Gorge on French food: I am amazed at how this travelogue is turning into a food guide! Well, anyway EAT FRENCH FOOD! Forget your biryani and palak paneer and idli when you are here. Give in to the stinky cheese (stinkier the better), the sublime wine and gorgeous fresh bread. It is not true that there is a dearth of vegetarian options. You just need to know how to get the message across. I have spent days eating desserts for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Croissants, crepes, pain au chocolat, tarte aux pommes; the list is endless and these are very pocket friendly and just the thing you need while walking around on the streets. If sitting and dining is more your style, then check out my post Restaurant Hopping in La Belle France for a list of places to eat that I loved.
Use public transport: I am not giving this as advice to the planet, do this for yourself. It is a nice and easy way to hear French around you, observe the people and their culture. Each city is different, from the students of Montpellier to the hip young crowd in Lyon to the eclectic mix of nationalities in Paris. Take a seat at the back and watch quietly as France reveals itself to you. Special perk for me was dog watching while travelling; you just have to get your pet a ticket and he/she can travel with you on the train or tram or bus.
Revel in Public spaces: The beautiful ‘squares’ or parks located in all parts of the city. Green, open spaces where people come to chill, to read, to skate board, to picnic, to dance, to sing, to celebrate New year. Little islands of total freedom where you can do your thing, whatever it is. I sat here and took pictures.
|Peyrou, a beautiful park in Montpellier|
|The central square in Lyon, where a Vespa club meeting is in full swing|
Visit a small town: Find one that fits in your plan but absolutely you must do it. The French countryside with the large stretches of vineyards, clear blue skies, crisp pure air, and perfect fully formed rainbows. This is the stuff that dream vacations are made of. Nothing spells UNWIND like a couple of days doing nothing but eating farm fresh produce and sipping locally made wine.
|Quaint houses on the streets of Obernai|
|Vineyards, blue skies and sunshine|
As I read what I have written, it becomes evident to me that most of this can be done only if you spend a decent amount of time in a country. I spent almost a month in France, starting in the South with Montpellier, moving northwards to Lyon, then Paris, then Strasbourg then on to the border of Germany to Obernai. Take your time, see the sights but also experience things that are not written in guide books or blogs such as these.
|Finding neverland and a rainbow!|