I kicked off my first European travel with a mini tour of France. Knowing that I’d have only a temporary visa initially (that confined me to stay within borders till I got the ‘visa de sejour long’) I planned my first trip 3 months in advance – the only vacation done with so much foresight!
French school kids are wonderfully lucky – they have 2 months of summer vacation in July & August, 10 days of Toussaint starting end October, 2 weeks for Christmas, 2 more for winter (which is in February!) and yet another 2 weeks for spring end of April. Needless to say, as an English teacher, I am not complaining!
Having commenced work on October 1st, I had just 3 weeks before Toussaint (All saints) started. As the trip was planned in advance, I got some super cheap fares on the TGV, the speed-rail network. Moreover, my cousin sis was making a small trip during the same time so we were all set to have a blast together.
2 days in Paris
We did everything a tourist would do in Paris. Pored over the metro maps and filled our stomach at local crêperies.
We visited the Louvre (Bless the french education ministry for little benefits like free entry), the Sacré-Cœur and the colourful and bustling Montmartre market (note to self: repeat visit next time). We walked down Champs-Élysée treating ourselves to a Häagen-Dazs just for the Parisian effect while we posed stylishly in front of Louis Vuitton and the likes. We saw the Eiffel Tower shimmering on a full moon night – magnificient and overwhelming, in short. AND, we also saw Paris from an Audi – thanks to Remy, brother of Lucie and gracious host who kindly chauffered us around for a day.
But are 2 measly touristy days enough for Paris? Ofcourse not! Soon, very soon….
5 days in and around Bordeaux
What better way to travel than stay with a french family and have them take you around? And what a better way to start the Euro experience!
I admit that I got super lucky. Lucie was one of my first ‘french forum‘ friends whom I got in touch with to write emails, improve my french and in turn let her know that there was more to India than snake charmers, slumdogs and cows. She was 60, retired in profession but not in her quest to travel more (and she had already traveled half the world). So we got mailing till I told her of my proposed 7-month stay in France and my first vacation. The next thing I know, I was booking tickets to go to her little town, south-west of France close to the famed city of Bordeaux to the for the holidays. And there she was, excited and preparing my itinerary and making plans on what we could do and see in those few days.
Lucie and Christian’s (her husband) enthusiasm for the road clearly showcased a few truths:
- Ya never too old to travel
- Ya always should be eager to visit the same place like ya visiting it for the first time bcos ya see it from a different perspective each time
- Ya always maintain a travel photo book with select ones from every trip – yes, a hard copy, not one of those e-books
For 4 days we woke up at 8, got ready and hit the road by 9. Christian did all the driving – the good ol’ fella! We passed through towns, stopped in little villages for lunch and returned home for dinner. We did the château-visits and the red-wine tasting. Got invited to a ‘grand’ lunch by Thierry, a meat-eating friend who had spend hours fretting on what to cook and ended up with a varied spread of chopped vegetables! We visited Lucie’s sisters house and greedily pocketed fallen walnuts off a tree (yes, we behaved like citizens of a third-world country). We gorged on sugar-crepes made by Lucie’s charming cousin and charmed her into giving us more by highly appreciating her culinary skills. We stared awestruck at some of the most exquisite houses along Pays Basque (Basque Country) and even made an illegal (for me) drive into San Sebastian in Spain.
In short, this is what our road trip looked like (with Cestas being the home base)
- Day 1: Cestas – Bordeaux – Cestas
- Day 2: Cestas – Archachon – Lanton – La Teste de Buch – Cestas
- Day 3: Cestas – Saint Sebastian – Saint Jean de Luz – Bayonne/Biarritz – Cestas
- Day 4: Cestas – Saint Emilion – Sarlat – Perigueux – Cestas
- Day 5: Cestas – Pauillac – Andernos les bains – Cap ferret – Cestas
Merci encore Lucie & Christian et votre famille. You gave us the first positive glimpse of french hospitality and an interesting insight into french family life!
2 days in Montpellier
In hindsight, Montpellier could have been better than we made it out to be. Having had such a brilliant 5 days at Cestas coupled with all the hype of moving towards the Mediterranean Coast – the place ‘to be’ – this little town dampened our spirits in the first afternoon we were there. Lack of vegetarian food worsened it. We starved and sulked for a while and when dusk arrived, a couple of drinks followed by dining at a nice inexpensive tapas bistro with a customised menu just for us, ended the evening on a high note.
After a hectic week, two lazy sisters decided to go the lazy way out, bought a day-pass for the tram and spent most of the next day moving from Point A to B across the lines till we got tired of the city and its graffiti-laced walls. In a last desperate attempt to do something more meaningful, we took a bus to the beach (we were here to see the Mediterranean coast after all, weren’t we?) and spent a couple of hours looking at blue waters and sun-tanned women with their Chihuahuas.
Till it was time to head back, get on to the TGV and return to good ol’ Stras.