A French Connection

Last year, my housemate and I made a much-awaited trip to France for about 2 weeks. It was the first trip in a long time that I’d actually needed to apply for a visa for, which meant it was kind of a Big Deal for me. It was a great trip, and I dutifully uploaded the requisite photographs to Facebook right after, but it still felt like I hadn’t done justice to the trip. I mean, photos can only do so much, right? In the future, if I’m reminiscing about the trip, I think I’d like to do more than just look at photos, which is why I’ve taken up this project of blogging about it.

Unfortunately, I’m not the travel blogging kind. There’s just too much work involved in that – keeping track of every single detail of a trip, taking the right photographs and then collating all of that while coming down from the holiday high – and while I appreciate every single of those blogs out there that I’ve referred to for my own trips, that’s not what this is going to be. No, this is simply me picking a few moments of the trip to savour, so I have something to come back to when I’m feeling nostalgic. Here goes.

1. That Lost-in-Time Feeling

If you’ve looked at pictures of Europe, you know it looks… well, for lack of a better word, “old-timey”. What pictures don’t prepare you for, however, is that feeling of being out-of-place in that environment. I’ve never been anywhere where there’s such a distinct disconnect between the people and the surroundings. You know how you sometimes see behind-the-scenes pictures of actors on period pieces and they’re in full costume, but they’re holding an iPod or wearing sunglasses and it just looks SO WRONG? That’s what being in France feels like. All around you, people are walking about in their fashionable clothes and being French and sophisticated, but everything else feels like a leftover from another era. I guess this isn’t such a big deal, but being mostly used to India (where both old and new architecture tend to be concentrated in specific places) and Singapore (where the architecture is mostly ultra-modern), it really made a big impact on me. It’s probably also why I had such a difficult time imagining people having actual, functioning lives there – going to school, working in an office, seeing a movie – it doesn’t feel like there’s any place to do anything modern.

2. The People

The French have a notorious reputation for being… well, the word “snooty” comes to mind. Particularly, you hear a lot about how the French love being French and hate obliging tourists who can’t speak the language. I can’t vouch for how much that’s true, because my housemate could make small talk in French enough for us to make a good first impression, and maybe we were just lucky, but we were helped every step of the way. No, it’s not enough to say that. People went out of their way to help us, even without us having to ask them. We’d be standing around, looking lost, and someone would come up and offer to look up information on their iPad or help us choose the right train to get to our hotel. In cafes and restaurants, people were patient when we tried to converse in French, and where they could, they switched to English to help us out. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of these people, so you’ll have to take my word for it. These people are NICE.

Another thing I found amazing about the people there was how relaxed their lives seemed. No one seemed in a hurry to get anywhere, the people serving us never seemed frazzled and it was so common to see people just sitting down in a patch of grass and chatting. In Nice, I saw more babies in strollers in one day than I’ve seen anywhere else. I often commented how it felt like everyone there was on holiday like us, and while that may not have been the case, I appreciated how relaxed it made the whole environment.

3. The Food

Okay, so there isn’t a lot of variety if you’re looking for vegetarian food in France. The list is usually limited to a thousand and one varieties of bread, and while I would never have tired of those soft, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth croissants at breakfast, and could have gladly had onion soup at every meal were it not for the mountain of cheese that usually accompanied it, I’ll freely admit that by the 4th day there, I was feeling protein-deficient and getting antsy at not having seen vegetables on my plate in what felt like ages. I didn’t get either of those until we landed in Dijon, a tiny little town that ended up having a bigger variety of cuisines than we’d found anywhere in Paris! We had Moroccan food that day, and I remember the sense of satisfaction that flowed through me as I devoured an entire meal devoid of bread. In Nice, we settled for take-away CarreFour dinners, which was not only dead cheap compared to restaurant food, but also really tasty. Our hotel was nice enough to microwave the stuff for us in nice restaurant dinner-ware, so it never felt like we were settling for less.

Anyway, my point about this is that while the actual food itself may not have been the highlight of the trip, our experiences with it left some pretty good memories.

4. The Weather

We experienced a lovely variety of weather in France. The day we landed in Paris, it was chilly enough to wear a jacket, but the lovely sunshine on our faces prevented us from feeling too cold. In Dijon, the weather got warmer, but stayed pleasant. We even got a small bout of rain! On our first day in Nice, the sky was overcast and the weather bleak, but the second day brought blazing beach-appropriate sunshine (and with it, an ugly tan). When we got back to Paris towards the end of the trip, it was chilly again. On our last night, we paid a trip to the Louvre amidst a slight drizzle and a light wind, and could barely walk around the grounds without our teeth chattering.

I can’t mention the weather in France without talking about how long the days were. All 3 days we were in Paris, we never had to worry about getting back to our hotel before nightfall because it literally did not get dark until 10pm! On the day we decided to see the Eiffel Tower by night, we ended up having to lounge around on the grass for an unreasonably long time because it stayed bright all through the evening.

5. The Travel

Travelling to Europe from Asia can be a lengthy and torturous affair, but with a good companion, no journey ever feels like a waste of time. My housemate and I took a Qatar Airways flight to Paris from Singapore, stopping over at Doha for an hour, where we were duly entertained by observing the sheer number of people transiting through. I swear, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more racially diverse group of people in one place than I did at the Doha airport. On our trip back, we stopped over through the night, and staying in a huge airport completely devoid of people is another fun experience in itself.

Within France, we chose to travel by rail. It might have been more time-efficient to fly from one city to another, but there was no way we were giving up the chance to travel on those super-fast express TGV trains Europe is famous for, even though they were pretty damn expensive.

Within each city, we opted for the most convenient form of transport. In Paris, the Metro is, of course, the most efficient way to get around, though it can be difficult to keep track of the lines and where they go. I think we consulted our tourist metro map more often than we bothered with any other form of directions, and thank goodness it was reliable. Being used to the Singapore MRT system, the metro was a bit of a letdown (a lot of the stations were dark, grimy and smelly), but we did see a bleeding drunk/dead man (we never found out which because we never saw any mention of it in any of the news reports the next morning) at the Châtlet les Halles station one night, and I don’t think we’d ever have seen a sight like that in Singapore, so I’ll take that as a win.

Dijon is so small, we covered the entire place on foot. I’m not kidding when I say I think we walked through most of the town in about half an hour. There are working tram lines running through the town, but walking gets you through all the scenic, little alleyways that make the place charming.

Nice was another story altogether. On the night we got there, we were forced to take a taxi to our hotel because it was too late for public transport. The trip cost us an hour and a whopping 60 Euros, and all the winding, mountainous routes we took left us panicking about picking a hotel so far from the city centre. We needn’t have worried. The next morning, we found a bus stop right outside our hotel that served just one bus, but one that took us straight to the Promenade des Anglais, which was exactly where we’d wanted to go, that too in less than 15 minutes. The only downside was that the last bus back up to our hotel was around 8pm, so we never got to see the Promenade at night. Still, for a Euro per trip, it was well worth it.

Special mention must be made to the bus ride to Monaco, a 45 minute trip with a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean Sea at all times.

Ah, what a trip. I’m glad I got to write this, because I found myself getting nostalgic through it, even though it’s only been about 6 months since the actual thing! Here’s to another memorable European adventure soon! Any takers? 🙂

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2 thoughts on “A French Connection

  1. GlassHalfWhat? February 18, 2014 / 7:00 pm

    Yes, I am! I’m going to go to France on a long vacation sometimes soon too, man 🙂 I’ve only ever been to Paris, and that too in the peak of winter. This post is so great!

    • Clueless February 20, 2014 / 12:20 am

      Go, go! I’m done with France for the moment, but it would be lovely to do Spain or Italy or Greece sometime. Ooh, and I definitely need to do some of these places in the winter as well!

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