Tuesday, November 19, 2013

France, I Will Miss You!

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Sunday, March 1, 2009

I awoke before the alarm, to the enticing aromas from the kitchen below. We opted out of breakfasting at the hotel. I'm sure it would have been delicious, but at 11 Euros per person, it seemed a bit pricey. We finished our final packing and then headed downstairs, where we had two taxis waiting. It was very difficult to say goodbye to Darcy as we sent her off to the train station. We will miss her terribly. Our week together had flown by all too quickly. It was such a fun and relaxing vacation, and was a time of catching up with our daughter. We had also enjoyed spending time with Mathieu, and getting to know him. 

We breakfasted at the airport, and the food was surprisingly good. Our flight left on time, and here I sit, somewhere over the Atlantic ocean, with my journal, reading over what we have done, and jotting down a few "observations":

1. I had always read that the hotel rooms in France are tiny, and that the bathrooms are minuscule. Our experience so far has proved that to be untrue. Even the public bathrooms are different than expected. Most of them were very clean. Each one was a bit different. A couple of them had self-cleaning seats, and some had no seats at all, but at least provided antiseptic wipes with which to clean the porcelain rim.

2. The French love their dogs, and take them everywhere. So - watch where you step. 

3. Orléans has very little crime. We felt safe there, even when walking late at night.

4. The French seldom strike up conversations with strangers. They rarely make eye contact. Shop clerks are very businesslike, and hardly ever smile. If you attempt the language, they will usually respond in a friendly manner, even if you have mangled the words.

5. Food is meant to be slowly savored. It's a very visual experience. Each dish is beautifully and artfully presented. (And keep in mind that we were not dining in expensive restaurants). And no doggie bags! It's almost unheard of.

6. No ice. The only time I had ice in a drink was at the Hard Rock Cafe.

7. The pastries, breads, and candies are phenomenal! They are all works of art. The variety of breads is unlike anything I have seen in America. The pastries and cakes are beautiful; the tarts almost too pretty to eat. The candy shops are amazing, with outstanding quality and variety.

8. French supermarkets are quite interesting. The meat department has, in addition to what we would find at home, rabbit, lamb, horse, tripe, tongues of several different species, ditto the heads, ostrich, kidneys, pig ears, whole (with heads and feet still attached) ducks, geese, chickens, turkey, quail and their eggs, and other birds. And then there's the fish: oysters, mussels, scallops, squid, octopus, and every kind of fish you can imagine, all without wrappings, displayed on beds of crushed ice. Vegetables are mostly inexpensive, with a huge variety available. A large bag of onions was priced at 1 euro, but three ears of corn would set you back 3 euros. (We later learned that most French people consider corn on the cob to be animal feed.) Dairy products are mostly unrefrigerated. And the CHEESE! There are around 350 different types of cheese in France. It's a cheese-lovers paradise. There are several aisles of wine, and you can purchase good ones for only a few dollars. 

9. Household furnishings are expensive. A small bath rug was priced at a minimum of 12 euros. A small, freestanding wooden shelf was 40 to 50 euros. We did manage to find a cheap toaster for Darcy. It was only 13 euros. The crock-pot we bought for her was 30.

10. Everyone wears scarves. Men, women, and children. I saw them on at least 90% of the people there. I love scarves, and consider them to be a great fashion accessory.

11. The soft drinks we had were expensive, and were served in the bottle or can. It's uncommon to find a soft drink for less than 3 euros. And no straws! 

12. Sidewalk cafes! Yes, they are everywhere. It's such a pleasure to sit and enjoy people-watching while sipping a fragrant cup of coffee. During cold weather, most cafes simply hang heavy sheets of plastic, and turn on the space heaters

13. Not one of the hotels in which we stayed provided washcloths. I found this to be odd, but later learned that the French use bath mitts. However, I still found it strange that none were ever provided. Pack your own! You may want to consider taking along some of those disposable types. There were also no hair dryers in the rooms. We had to ask for one each morning at the front desk. We invested in one of our own after the first couple of days.

14. It's rare to find an electric kettle or coffeemaker in a hotel room. A cup of coffee can cost between 2.50 and 3.50 euros and is usually served in tiny cups with no refills. Hot chocolate (chocolat chaud) is served in larger cups and is rich and delicious.

15. French children seem to have better manners than American kids. They are carefully watched by their parents in public, and not just turned loose to run wild. The fathers seem to take a very active role in caring for their children. 

16. I loved my experiences in France, even though ours was a budget vacation. We tried new foods, saw some spectacular sights, and learned a lot about the people, their history, and their culture. I can't wait to go back!

A view toward the Eiffel Tower from Montmartre.

Craig and Darcy in Montmartre.

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