So I got back from France last weekend, and have been remiss in making a full report.
It was cool. Not sure what else to say. There were lots of neat buildings. I navigated a strange train system and saw a lot of new birds. My mom and I had a good time. Neither of us were eaten by rabid mimes.
Everybody asks about the food in France, and it was…actually, it was food. The pastries were amazing, the cheeses were generally very good, the chocolates were quite nice, but most of the meals were just meals, the same as you’d get in the States, not knee-weakening epiphanies in culinary form. Restaurants were good, bad, and points in between. I had one really extraordinary dish, which was a kind of savory pancake with cheese and potatoes and ham, but I cannot say that it was a culinary journey to change my life forever (and yes, I know the tricks of going and eating in a strange place with the asking the locals and going into little hole-in-the-walls and whatnot. It was still just food. Sorry.) Salads were very problematic, as they all came with this bitter mustard house dressing that I found quite inedible, and very few other veggies were in season, but for the most part, it was like eating anywhere else I’ve been—some good, some bad, some incredible.
And that’s okay. French cuisine has been built up so much that you could easily go in expecting unicorn pate with every meal and be very disappointed.
(The orange juice, however, was incredible. I can only assume that in this country, where orange juice is shoved into vats for up to a year and flavored heavily and it’s all legal,* we have no experience with truly good orange juice.)
There were lots of things that were different from the States, and lots of things that were pretty similar but with quirks and a few things that were exactly the same. Everybody was very nice, even in Paris, despite the reputation thereof. Most of the hotels lack elevators, which means I lugged my suitcase up an average of three flights of stairs per hotel, and the definition of a “double” is different on either side of the Atlantic. (In France, it apparently means ONE double bed. You want two beds, you get a twin.) Public toilets were…present. Let’s go with that.
We walked a lot. Sidewalks in Chartres and Chinon (where we stayed) are very peculiar, as if the designers had tried for vanishing perspective on the plans and gotten the numbers wrong. Sidewalks would shrink farther and farther and then dead-end into walls. I assume it’s exactly what happens when streets of irregular width that have existed since the 11th century are dragged into the automobile age and you have to leave a car width but the sidewalks are negotiable. Common moorhens were insanely common and adorable and rather grumpy little birds.
Loved all the small towns. Did not much care for any of the larger cities we visited. They were large and city-like and I’m not a fan at the best of times, let alone when feeling the mild dislocation of not speaking the language and waiting on train connections. Many of the buildings in Nantes and Paris had better bones than you find in most cities in the US, but there were still plenty of reasonably hideous buildings that resembled the dorms at U of M or ASU. Nantes had a very nice botantical garden, though.
All the towns had far more windowboxes and balcony gardens and densely planted traffic islands than you find over here, and they were lovely. Some of the windowboxes deserved medals.
The French countryside was very pretty, as seen from trains, but you know…either I live in a very beautiful part of the country already or when people say “beautiful countryside” they’re actually talking about the buildings. Barring some quirks of vegetation that are probably mostly invisible to the layperson, it looked like any number of landscapes I’ve driven through over the years, from North Carolina to the more agrarian bits of Wisconsin. Big golden fields, hedgerows, occasional muddy bits with reeds, more fields, more trees. Nice stuff, but not significantly different from any other nice temperate landscape given to a mix of trees and farmland.
The buildings, thought, were marvelous—all the old little stone houses and the occasional dramatic church steeple and little clustered villages surrounded by knots of trees. Big pedestrian walking areas with cobblestones, quirky little shops, window boxes, random gargoyles on apartment buildings. We need more of those, particularly the stone buildings. Somebody get on that.
I’d like to go back and take Kevin—I expect I’d be more relaxed when I was not being The Responsible One, which is not a role that I play often or well! Although I am rather proud of myself for navigating the train schedules and bus schedules and hotels and flights and everything, and in short managing a long trip with no linguistic safety net where nothing went horribly wrong. We didn’t get badly lost, we didn’t get on the wrong train, we didn’t get arrested, we didn’t get pick-pocketed. So that was pretty cool.
I am still rather bone-deep tired, since I did a crap-ton of traveling in the course of the last month, and it’s left me in that vague anxiety of what-is-the-next-thing-I-have-to-worry-about-what-am-I-forgetting, but hopefully that’ll pass with time and gardening. (And if you’re waiting on something from me, and I’ve forgotten, e-mail! It’s not you, it’s planes!)
*Seriously. It’s kind of a thing.