Hopefully we’ll leave France on a high note, but for now I am still struggling with the head cold I brought along from Strasbourg, and trying to get my energy back. We’ve optimistically booked a Friday afternoon wine tour to the area south of Bordeaux, and plan to spend Saturday afternoon in Saint-Emilion, but otherwise are just taking it easy and hanging out close to our apartment. We were going to go to Saint-Emilion today, and even got as far as getting to the station and on the train, but I must have looked and sounded awful because Brett strongly suggested we get off the train and go back to the apartment and try again another day (thankfully we hadn’t bought our tickets; we were going to buy them on board from the conductor). I have no idea why I thought it might be a good idea to undertake that major of an outing today, but I was glad I took Brett’s suggestion.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about all of our time in France, the things we’ve seen and experienced, and with Brett’s help I’ve ranked the four very different areas of the country we’ve visited:
- Strasbourg: We felt comfortable in Strasbourg from the moment we got off the train, and loved every minute of our stay, including our tiny, efficient apartment. The city was warm and welcoming, and filled with friendly, helpful people. We thoroughly enjoyed the local cuisine with its German influences, from bretzels (giant pretzels) to kugelhopf, from tarte flambeé to choucroute with its delicious sauerkraut and sausages. The entire city and public transportation system was easy to figure out and find our way around, and the central area compact enough to walk from place to place (as long as we looked out for bicycles!) without becoming disoriented or lost. The city held loads of both the old and the new to explore and appreciate. Also, everything, from food to transportation, was very affordable. Strasbourg’s location also made it easy for us to make a short getaway visit to Lucerne, Switzerland. If things ever get to the point where we feel like we need to bug out from the U.S., Strasbourg is probably where we would go.
- Normandy: We spent four wonderful days here, even if it was cold and windy for most of that time. Brett got to eat a huge bowl of moulin-frites (steamed mussels with french fries) at Mont Saint-Michel, we ate locally produced camembert, fresh-baked apple tarts, and drank homemade Normandy apple cider. We lucked out with our cozy, comfortable little apartment in Balleroy, well-placed to easily visit the landing beaches and American cemetery, Bayeaux, and get out to Mont Saint-Michel. We loved driving through the beautiful Normandy countryside and old villages, and what at times seemed like the crazy routes our GPS provided from place to place. And the history, both old and more recent! Everywhere we went was a reminder of the past. There was far too much we didn’t get to see in four days and we’d love to go back if we can some day.
- Paris: I think if we had not arrived so exhausted, and had more than four days to spend in the city, we might have liked Paris more than we did. I love city life, but Paris was almost too much for me. Still, we had a wonderful time and it was thrilling to visit so many places we had only seen in pictures before – the Arc de Triomphe (my favorite), Notre-Dame, and the Louvre Grand Pyramid – and to sit in the park and relax in front of the Eiffel Tower and watch the sun set and the lights come on. Montmartre was the perfect neighborhood for us to stay in as well – we could have happily spent several more days exploring the area surrounding our apartment, including its boulangeries, patisseries and markets.
- Bordeaux: Poor Bordeaux. It’s not its fault that I’m still sick and we’re so far not able to enjoy our time here as much as we could. It’s also been a bit gloomy, weather-wise, but we hope it will improve. Besides our weird introduction to the city courtesy of our taxi driver, we’re finding it a bit grittier than Strasbourg, with lots of renovation and building going on, and streets torn up (a new leg of the tram system is being installed), and it feels a bit more stand-offish and less warm and inviting. I’m hoping by the end of the week that I’ll be feeling better enough to appreciate the city, the wine tour and the countryside, and able to actually taste the wines on our tour! I’m also looking forward to walking through Saint-Emilion without fear of collapsing.
What will we miss when we leave France? Cheese, so many different kinds of delicious, stinky cheese. Wine – even an inexpensive bottle of wine here is wonderful. Boulangeries, and fresh, warm baguettes. Patisseries. Charcuteries and paté. Mirabelle plums. Café au lait. French cookies from the supermarket. Receiving a cheery “Bonjour!” and giving one in return before starting any encounter. So many people putting up with my horrid French. Most of all, being encouraged to take our time and relax, and appreciate the joie de vivre of daily life in France.
Next Monday though our suitcases will be packed once again and weighed and re-weighed – we are flying RyanAir for the first time and know they are super-strict about weight limits. When we land though we will be in Italy!