After three fabulous weeks in France we arrived home last night – exhausted. We’ve crammed a lot into our time away and come back richer for the experience.
On the road-trip leg of our holiday, we travelled over 3000 kms – from Lille into Belgium, the Netherlands, down to Champagne, Burgundy, Lyon, the Loire Valley, and finally to Paris.
I put my Fitbit back on for the trip, and we racked up a massive 238,900 steps. Given that my 5km morning walks usually measure out at just under 5000 steps, that’s an awful lot of kilometres walked.
We consumed about the same number of litres of wine as kms that we walked…ok, a slight exaggeration…and almost as much again in baguettes and cheese.
We visited about a hundred churches (another slight exaggeration), took more photos than I have time to download at the moment, and bought a daggy tea-towel at every stage of the journey.
We also learnt a lot about France, it’s foods, it’s culture, and it’s quirks – and that is, I think, the best part about staying and travelling with friends and talking to a number of expats. Aside from the laughs and the company, you learn about a country from those who live there.
I’ll be posting more about each region over the next few weeks, but for now here are some of our observations. Settle in…this is a loooong post.
1. France is an absolute contradiction – on the one hand, there’s a formality and structure about things we’re quite laid back about, and on the other, there’s chaos and disregard for many things that we’d consider necessary here in Australia. I’d love a euro for the number of times I heard expats say something like ‘it makes no sense, but it’s how it is.’ It might be frustrating to live with, but I love it.
2. France is pretty much closed on a Monday – so check the opening hours of shops and museums. It’s a weird feeling hitting a village at 1 pm and finding the streets deserted.
3. France pretty much closes for lunch – between 12 – 2 pm. That includes banks, post offices and even police stations in regional areas.
5. You can often park for free between 12 and 2 pm – the parking inspectors are at lunch.
6. Meetings aren’t booked between 12 and 2 pm – business interferes with digestion.
7. French workers don’t tend to run errands at lunchtime – they sit down or go home to eat. Besides, most services are closed anyway.
8. Other than for essential deliveries, trucks are off the road on Sundays (and public holidays). Sunday is still considered the family day.
9. France, in general, is not really disability friendly. Many places – especially in regional France – are not wheelchair accessible.
10. There are also a lot of stairs and not many places with lifts – one of the reasons, I suspect, that French women don’t get fat.
11. Merely adding “le” to the start of a word doesn’t make it French.
12. You can make yourself understood with a few basic French words – the effort is usually appreciated.
13. There is history everywhere.
1. The French sit down to eat – or stand at a bar. You rarely see locals walking along drinking coffee and eating a croissant from a bag.
2. Lunch is lunch, dinner is dinner, and you don’t eat in between – unless you’re a child.
3. Nothing interferes with lunch – especially not work. Besides, some workers even have restaurant vouchers in their packages. Now that’s civilised.
4. The French really do buy their baguettes daily and really do offer bread at each meal. Weirdly, butter is only offered at breakfast or if you’ve ordered oysters. No, I haven’t figured that one out either.
5. Most supermarkets don’t have chocolates, cold drinks or other snacks at the check-out – if you want these products you need to get them from the aisle. This is not a bad thing.
6. France will never need to spend euros on a buy local program – why would you want to eat (or drink) from anywhere else?
7. Wine is sipped and savoured and often served in small glasses.
8. Cheese is sliced into small portions and often eaten with a knife and fork. It’s can be served with baguette, but not crackers – which are difficult to find in a supermarket. Also, it doesn’t get eaten before a meal, but after it – before dessert (if a dessert is being served) or instead of dessert.
9. Dips are not really a thing. You can usually get hummus, taramasalata and tzatziki from the deli in the supermarket – but see above comments re crackers.
10. The French drink very little fresh milk, and most take their coffee and tea black. They do, however, eat a lot of yoghurts – most of which comes in little portion controlled glass yoghurt pots.
11. Salads are not necessarily a light option and are always perfectly dressed.
12. The French like to talk about food all the time – but especially when they’re eating. My kind of people.
13. You can eat really well for not a lot of euros – even in Paris. Many places have a two or three-course special that is great value.
14. Unlike here, house wine is a good choice – and tends to showcase a region and the restaurant you’re eating in.
15. In many cases you can’t just rock on up to a cellar door for a tasting – many places require these to be booked and often involve a tour.
16. Done well, escargots (snails) are yummy. The garlic butter and parsley sauce with baguette is even yummier.
17. Each region has its specialities – and these are absolutely worth seeking out. Except for andouilettes in Burgundy and (especially) in Lyon. There is no excuse for these.
18. The cheeses are incredible.
19. Shop windows contain airborne calories – and the patisserie really is fabulous…even for this non-sweet lover. As for artisan chocolates – don’t get me started.
20. Especially in regional France, the food on offer is French or the cuisine of that particular region. There is an exception to this rule for Italian food – which seems to be the universal cuisine.
21. Spice is unheard of. We were craving a decent dose of chilli.
22. Some food hygiene things that we take for granted aren’t considered a problem. As an example, on more than one occasion we saw cooked cold meats and charcuterie displayed in the same space as raw meats – and served by the same gloves that had just finished cutting raw meat.
About art and cultural stuff
1. You don’t need to go to museums to see great art.
2. Churches are full of incredible art – and not just on the walls. The windows took my breath away. Reims Cathedral has a Chagall stained glass window that I could have stared at for hours.
3. There are a lot of churches and each of them is different and awe-inspiring in their own way.
4. Wineries often have great art.
5. The French nobility seemed to do little more than pose for paintings and sculptures.
6. The chateaus of the Loire really are that big – and that ostentatious. It’s no wonder they had a revolution.
7. There really is such a disorder as chateau fatigue.
8. The Spring flowers and blossoms need to be seen to be believed.