“Bonjour! Je suis désolé, mais mon francais est tres mauvais. Parlez-vous Anglais?”
First of all, I didn’t pronounce it nearly as cleanly as it looks right there. Secondly, I only remember very basic French from high school, and this is what I ended up saying most of the time because French is hard. Oh, and it means, basically: “Hello! I am sorry, but my French is very bad. Do you speak English?”
So I didn’t use French as professionally as I’d hoped. Oh well. I still got to explore a large chunk of the country for the first time, and it was great! There is SO MUCH to see in France. I don’t think I’d be able to cover everything if I’d given myself a month. Let’s just start from the beginning:
After Spain and Morocco, Brody and I went up to Foix, in the Southwest of France, where we had an AirBNB set up for a few days. Foix is the main hub of the Ariège region, despite being an extremely tiny mountain town. We stayed at a house on a hill above the town with a host from England who was a really friendly, energetic guy. He had ditched all his belongings back home to come to Foix on a motorbike and pursue a dream of working in the Alps someday.
The house also had two dogs, two cats and, thankfully, a swimming pool. After so many weeks in scorching hot weather, that first dip in the pool was heavenly. Anyway, our first night in Foix we decided to YOLO the crap out of the night by driving to Andorra (only about an hour away, and adds another country to the résumé!) for dinner.
We got there later in the evening and were awestruck by the endless mountains and quaint ski villages the tiny country had to offer. We wound our way through the hills to the main town of Andorra and parked to find dinner. We stumbled upon a Cirque du Soleil performance there and watched from the side of the amphitheater for a few minutes, before carrying on with our dinner search. Unfortunately, coming from Spain, Brody and I had gotten used to eating dinner at 10 or 11 when nightlife began. In France, things are a little different.
We took our time wandering Andorra and then started looking for dinner just before 10. Most places, even on this Friday night, closed AT 10. Our awesome, fancy, YOLO, Andorran dinner that night ended up being McDonald’s. This sort of became a theme in France, but what can you do? Now it’s just a funny story and another good memory.
Overall, Andorra was truly enjoyable despite the dinner fiasco, and I actually would love to take a trip back in the winter sometime and try snowboarding at some of the resorts (apparently it’s the only affordable place to ski and snowboard in that part of Europe).
We spent Saturday in Foix doing an underground river tour, taking in the nearby Saint-Girons market and driving to Toulouse to grab dinner (again, got there late and ended up with admittedly delicious kebabs instead of a real meal). And on Sunday, we did a really interesting tour of a cave with centuries-old paintings and writings from as early as the 16th century. Our last real activity in Foix was a beautiful waterfall hike that rivaled views of almost any hike I’ve ever done.
Brody and I set off for Carcassonne the next day, where we were spending two nights and taking in Bastille Day. The town itself was fine, but nothing special jumped out at me. Exploring the old city and castle in Carcassonne was interesting though, and we got to watch Bastille Day fireworks that they shot off from the old city walls – it was one of the better firework displays I’ve ever seen!
After Carcassonne, Brody went East and I went up North to Paris. I spent one night there and immediately hopped a train the next day to Carhaix, which is in the Bretagne region West of Paris. I was on my way to spend on night at a music festival to see Muse live, which I’ve wanted to experience for years. As advertised, Muse killed their set at Les Vieilles Charrues, and now I just want to see them play a full set at a show in the future.
One highlight of Les Vieilles Charrues (highly recommend the festival, by the way – who wants to go next year?) was that after hours of travel and lugging all my stuff around, walking to an outdoors store to buy a tent for camping at the festival, and nearly turning back and just retiring to Paris due to sheer exhaustion and frustration, I met a group of awesome people in Carhaix.
I was setting up my tent and a couple curious, friendly Frenchmen wandered over and found out I spoke English. They offered to help me with my tent and then invited me over to their spot to meet their friends and have a few drinks before the show. It’s amazing how one little act of kindness or one new friend can completely change the outlook (and memory) of an experience.
They took my time in Carhaix from tiring to spectacular. It’s also a good statement on music festivals in general being a breeding ground for new friendships. Anyway, here’s a photo of me jamming out to Muse with two of the new friends. It was a great night!
After the concert, I headed back to Paris (after a weird, impromptu train station concert by a French dude in a Dodgers hat) and spent the next five or so days exploring the city I’d always heard so much about but never actually seen. I stayed one night in a hostel and three on the couch of my very generous friends Brad and Georgina (both from Melbourne!), who were renting an AirBNB there at the same time. I met Brad, Georgina and another friend of theirs from Melbourne, Lorraine, and we went to Sacre Coeur at Montmarte and ate baguettes and shooed away pesky beer salesmen, while admiring the view of Paris below. On the way, we ran into one of the most French spectacles you’ll ever see:
Later that night, we did the whole bread-and-wine-by-the-canal thing while the sun started to set before heading off for some delicious burgers Brad had remembered eating when he studied abroad in Paris. The following day, we wandered the Bastille Markets and got crepes. We also saw the Latin and Jewish quarters, before I split off from the group (now Brad, Georgina and yet another Melbournian, Esther) to check out the big must-see’s of Paris.I split around the Louvre, and wandered down the Champs-Élysées (with this song stuck in my head the whole time), to the Arc de Triomphe and eventually the Eiffel Tower. It was crazy to see all these things in person, after hearing about them for years growing up. The next day — my final full day in Paris — Brad, Georgina and I met Esther and Liz (ANOTHER MELBOURNIAN! HOW MANY ARE THERE?!) for breakfast, and then we went over to Père Lachaise Cemetery to see the graves of Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde. We all went our separate ways after that and I bought a ticket to the Louvre. Breathtaking, spectacular and overwhelming are the words I’d use to describe the Louvre, but after seeing the Mona Lisa, and a handful of other things I really wanted to check out (probably walked about three-fourths of the museum at warp speed), I had to get out of the crowds. If I ever got the chance to take a private tour of the Louvre I’d certainly do so, but there were WAY too many people for me to enjoy it as much as I should have. I went inside Notre Dame to conclude my “seeing everything you’re supposed to see in Paris” tour, and then went out to meet my friends Samantha and Marco (who I met in Iceland at Saga Fest) for dinner downtown. All in all, Paris showed me a good time with all the big must-see’s and the pleasant company. I could definitely spend more time there if I had the money and patience, but actually found that I preferred places like Foix and Carhaix to the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Speaking of, I rented a car for my last two days in France, and drove West to Giverny. Monet’s garden is there, and though I didn’t buy an expensive ticket to get in, I could see the whole garden from the outside and Giverny itself was a beautiful little town to explore. I then carried on through the picturesque town of Honfleur and eventually made it to Bayeux, just South of the D-Day beaches in Normandy. I drove out to Omaha Beach, where many of the American forces landed on D-Day in 1944 and took in the sunset, dipped my feet in the water and took a handful of sand as a souvenir. It was pretty surreal to be sitting in a spot that may have seen so much spilled blood in the war, and looking out at the horizon where Allied forces sailed in and started their march up the beach.
After that, I spent the night in the back seat of my rental car in a hotel parking lot in Bayeux (why not?), and got up early to go back to Omaha Beach to see the American cemetery. I rushed off to Mont St.-Michel later in the day and wandered around the old town and castle, before calling it a day and driving back to Paris. I decided to camp out in my car again in Versailles, which is just South of Paris, and is quite a good-looking town in itself (the Palace of Versailles is RIDICULOUS!).
Upon returning the car in Paris the next morning, I jumped on a train to Germany and started my trek East, which will sadly represent the last portion of this trip. More to come from Munich, Slovenia, and more in the near future!