I only visited four cities in France, but I can still say that France was just as enchanting and delectable as it was the first time I visited in 2009. It has become a places that I could go back time and time again. What stood out the most for me this time around was the hospitality that I encountered throughout the entire trip. Of all the places that I went to, the people were overwhelmingly welcoming and willing share their own version of France with me. It may have been purely luck that it turned out this way but it’s something that redefined my perception of French people.
The second thing that I loved the most about France was of course, the food. No matter where you are, you’re not too far away from something to eat or drink. Whether it be a bakery, fresh food grocer, or a market; you only need to follow your nose. From the freshly baked pastries to enjoying what seemed to be an endless supply of cheese, wine and cured meat; I never went hungry for too long.
France is probably Mecca for us gluttons. I don’t think I ever had a bad meal (although I probably overdosed on bread) in France, but that may have just come down to the approach to the social interactions surrounding the meal occasions. It was as though that during those moments of eating, regardless of whether formal or social, it would always be the catalyst for an entertaining conversation.
I kicked off my adventure with with my first visit to Paris, and despite my previous apprehensions about going, I soon realised that I should have visited a long time ago. I found the Parisians to be quite endearing and contrary to what others may say – they were quite hospitable. An extremely easy city to get around, it’s flat enough to easily navigate by walking, and if I had enough then a metro station is never far away. I must have walked nearly ten kilometres each day.
I was in Paris during the 14th July (Bastille) celebrations and it brought back memories of the New Years Eve celebrations in Sydney. It had felt like half of the city decided to turn up on a beautiful summers day, but despite the enthusiastic vibe in the air as everybody enjoyed themselves and the contents of their picnic baskets.
I then went to Lyon for my first couchsurfing experience. It was also the first time for my host so we were going into uncharted waters. Lyon was a very clean and orderly city with some charming little alleyways, beautiful cathedrals and it’s fair share of gelaterias that I fell victim to on a few occasions. I stayed there for three nights with my host and her flatmate and during that time, was taken out for dinner to test out some local cuisine and was invited to a picnic with her friends the following evening. On my final night I returned the favour by making a Vietnamese/French variation of Vietnamese pork rolls; which I thought turned out pretty well.
I then left for my birthday in Provence with my friend Elise and her French husband, Benoit. I hadn’t seen Elise for nearly ten years and it was good to finally catch up again to see how life in country France was treating her. It was also my first taste of a proper bed in the six weeks I had been on the road in Europe. Each night in that bed was pure bliss, like I was floating on a cloud. On my birthday evening we had a dinner party with some of their local friends which involved plenty of cheese, BBQ and a taste of home – a Pavlova. As usual, I cooked a Vietnamese stew for them from the back porch with views overlooking the valley below.
I finished off my time in France with off with a quick stopover in Nice for two days. I didn’t have much on the agenda there except to visit the old town as well as Monaco just to dream of what life as a bazillionaire would be like.
What would I do differently next time? I’d spend more time in the country, especially in the south in between Provence and the Riviera. I caught the slow train on my way from Digne to Nice on the Train de Paignes; a route that snakes through mountains and valleys along rivers and the smallest of towns. Some places aren’t even accessible by road and for the three hours that I spent on the train, I was glued to the mindblowing scenery. I had never contemplated camping in France before then but I knew that I have to revisit this area that managed to hold my attention for the entire train ride.
There are many other regions in France that I want to visit; from the wine region of Bordeaux to Mont Saint-Michel in the north coast and many more. There’s too much history and natural beauty there, and what I saw, ate and experienced is still fresh in my mind like it was just yesterday. It will be a while before I do go back but next time, it will be for more than just the very short two weeks that I spent there one summer in 2014.
What are the countries that you could return to time and time again?
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