Having recently rediscovered the joys of the disposable camera (a strict regime of twenty two photos, the anticipative wait whilst they are developed and shelling out far more than I remember it costing to discover that only half of the pictures actually came out) I was provided with an overexposed reminder of a few trips I’ve taken over the past few months and thought it was time for a general travels-round-France entry.
Starting, as you do, at the beginning, we have Paris; the most romantic city in the world, not only on the coldest weekend known to man but also Valentine’s Day. So the happy couples were comfortably snuggled up in penthouse suites /fur lined carriages/tables for two, with champagne (ice not necessary) on tap. Meanwhile, along with a couple (couple as in two, no gooseberry-ing involved thank you) of friends, I risked a frost bitten face to see the sights. Arc de Triomphe – check, Notre Dam – check, Sacre Coeur – check, a nice big collection of skulls at times in artistic arrangements…check. Yes, in a bid for the ultimate anti-Valentine’s and to escape the biting wind, we journeyed down to the city’s Catacombs. In the sixteenth century these former mines became home to thousands of exhumed skeletons from the city’s overflowing graveyards. Interesting, but you don’t feel like hanging around too long admiring skulls in the outline of a heart. For those of you of a more sensitive disposition, on icy Parisian days I can recommend Les Deux Moulins, the café made famous by film studies’ favourite Amelie, for a surprisingly not too touristy and reasonably priced bite to eat, with a macaroon or two for desert at Ladurée, the quaintest tea ‘salon’ you ever did see. Also worth a look is Shakespeare and Company, a homely bookshop we stumbled across in the Latin Quarter, only later to find out that it was the meeting ground for American authors in Paris, including Hemingway and Fitzgerald, in the first half of the twentieth century, and famed for publishing Joyce’s Ulysses.
For warmer climates, Bordeaux was a better bet. Wide boulevards, beautiful architecture, some of the world’s most respected wines and a fun fair where I discovered the French for candy floss is barbe à papa (Daddy’s beard) was more than enough to stay entertained. Sunday was a slight failure being that it was France, a Sunday and therefore impossible to find a bus, a car or even a bike to rent to reach our destination of the Dune of Pilat (the largest in Europe). Luckily, we managed to make it to a slightly smaller stretch of sand at the beach in nearby Arcachon for some slightly windswept sunbathing.
Most recently I ventured north to Normandy, full on school trip style with other Erasmus students, coach ride, shared dorms and all. The youth hostel was charmingly Faulty Towers-esque, the (pre-booked) arrival of the forty of us met with slight bemusement by our seemingly overwhelmed hosts. Despite a few hiccups with questionable interpretations of a vegetarian option, condiments a few years past their sell by date and a town that turned their street lights off at 11pm, we muddled through. Day times were occupied with quite successfully dodging extreme downpours in gale force winds, as we visited the picturesque abbey of Mont Saint Michel, town of Granville and a few of the World War II cemeteries.
So I have crossed many a French cliché off the list but hopefully I can fit a few more in before I depart. Watch this space.