I was blessed to go on a two week European Adventure in 2015. We travelled by bus to 4 different countries via a really amazing tour company #Contiki. I have used Contiki on two occasions prior to this trip. They offer value for money on most of their trips. Contiki really does offer overall value for money and if you are lazy like me to plan an itinerary then this is a sure way to travel.
We arrived on a nippy but crisp Tuesday morning in the city of love. Our initial reaction to Paris was very blasé. It could have been the fatigue but I had imagined magic in the air, splendor and the wonder that people so often experience here. But to my dismay, there were crowded train stations, paid toilets and littered streets. We were warned of pick pockets on arrival. Rude reality check much?
On arrival, only French was spoken, with the exception of the people at the info desk. You know how people say the French are so patriotic they will never speak back to you in English? Well, they were wrong. I found that a lot of French people genuinely don’t how to speak English. Major misconception cleared. Side bar:I have always loved the fluidity of spoken French, melodious soothing and refreshingly pleasing to the ear. The little French I recalled from High School saved us from a few sticky situations, thank God for that.
We found our way by train to St Ouens. I found the metro system quite efficient and user friendly. The area we stayed in was on the rather dodgy side of town if you ask me. However on the bright side, we didn’t let that distract our mission to find Minnie and Mickey Mouse.
We checked in, freshened up and jolted out to Disney land. Be sure to pre book your tickets as it works out cheaper this way.
I am convinced that a spell is cast on each person that walks through those gates .
My mind slowly began to change. I loved the strolls down this district. This is the Paris you see in the movies, cabarets, luxury brand shops, cafes, restaurants and theaters litter the streets. This side of Paris screams a flamboyant je ne sais qoui. Pairs is rich in culture pregnant with history and filled with countless tales of opulence, war, triumph and resilience of the French nation.
My highlight was the Abercrombie Fitch clothing store -simply amazing and looks like a club, dimly lit with music blazing in the background. Apparently models are hired as staff. This explains how they had perfect bodies and were strikingly good looking.
We then saw the world renown Eiffel Tower I was happy to see this majestic mass of steel and tick off my bucket list.
We all know that the French have a reputation for being culinary geniuses. I had to sample the famous delicacies that the French are known for., specifically, snails and frogs legs. I honestly enjoyed the garlic infused snails which were incredibly tasty and crunchy. The frog’s legs were rather gross, tasted like a really soft mushy version of chicken. I had the tastiest Duck L’Orange here. Oh boy my taste buds were in heaven most of the time.
Bagels, shwarma stores (not French) croissants and all sorts of pastries tempt you from glad window. I gave into a lot of temptations. My hip area can testify to that. I disliked the fact that there were a lot of fast food places such as McDonalds and Burger King. In my humble opinion, globalization has really taken over cultural diversity and robbed countries of unique authenticity. Apologies for my rant but this is something I feel very strongly about!
We could not, not go the Louvre in search of the world renowned Mona Lisa. It was packed. In the process of finding Mona, we found astounding art and sculptures that withstood the test of time. My mind was blown at some of the sculptures I saw. It was a totally enriching and exhilarating experience. We found the Mona Lisa, she wasn’t as impressive as I had imagined in my head. Friendly note of caution do not go on a Tuesday as all museums are closed.
From Paris we set off to the small town to Fountain Bleu for a pit stop then headed to Beaujolais wine region for some wine tasting and scenic panoramic views of the hills and valleys on our way to Lyon to spend one night.
We spent the night in Lyon. I fell in love with Lyon. Lyon is clean , scenic and less chaotic than Paris . Little narrow passages twist and turn as we walk up and down the cobbled roads that are lined with cafes pub bistros. The old town is separated from new by a bridge. Lovely seeing people sit along the river beds, drink and socialize late into the night.
The atmosphere in Lyon is so light, lively and jovial. Gelato stands were everywhere, this was not good for my already stretching waistline. We grabbed French dinner al fresco at a corner café. I found it interesting and imposing how the tables at the restaurants are so close to each other making you feel like you are eavesdropping in the next person conversation.
We found a club that played Hip hop, RNB and sprinkles of French House tracks, which was a pleasant surprise. We danced the night away. Oh what a night! We were up early the next morning for our 5 hour drive to Avignon the papal palace. Quaint town where the papal was moved from Rome to Paris during instability in Italy in the early 1600’s.
We drove some more to Grasse, a place known for its perfumeries. Before getting to our campsite, we stopped at the local perfumery called Fragonard and was established in the 1926. It is family owned they make perfume from exported fruits and herbs from across the world. Highly fascinating, I learnt about the “nose”, which is someone who develops new perfume blends, ranging from the blends used in personalized perfumes to scents which will be added to things like soaps and shampoos. There are 8 noses in France and they undergo extensive training for 6 to 8 years. Most noses are trained in Grasse in France.
We drove to Antibes, the campsite we would be staying in for two days. We had dinner at the campsite i didn’t like it much because the accommodation felt like I was on a school camp. We woke up the next morning took the bus to Nice to go site see. Nice was something short of spectacular for me, pretty and idyllic. There were beautiful pebble beach’s with refreshing cool waters, mountainous terrain, houses on the hill. We tried the paragliding which was a scary but a really adrenaline pumping experience. It was liberating swimming in the Cote d’ Azur. You can walk up to the end of the beach street and either take the stairs up to Castle Hill or you can wait for the elevator. Trust me the elevator is way quicker. The view is astounding, panoramic views and that capture the landscapes so magnificently. By the end of the day I was two shades darker but much happier for all the beautiful sites I experienced here.
The next day we travelled to Monaco for dinner. The drive is literally an hour from Antibes. Monaco is an independent monarchy and second smallest country in the world after the Vatican. It was founded by the Genoa family its home to 40% of the world’s billionaires. It is home to the Monaco Grand Prix. The streets of Monaco are characterized by tight corners, narrow streets and famous tunnels. It’s mountainous with luxurious houses adorning the hills and yachts lined up in the marina. We went past the Royal Palace, however the royals were out of town as the flag was not at mast.
We went to the Monte Carlo casino where Lamborghinis, Rolls Royce’s and fancy cars adorn the roads. You can smell the opulence in the air. We went past the Fairmont to Nicki beach roof top bar. The drinks were super pricey and the bartenders literally snickered when we asked for the menu. One of them muttered in French to his friend that we were probably looking at how much the drinks cost. Obviously, the rich folk that come here don’t blink an eyelid to paying 80 Euros for a Cosmopolitan. Monaco was delightful…I wasn’t too sad though ..an exciting adventure awaited in Italy.
The food was amazing everywhere. Restaurants are pricey especially in Paris. Actually on second thought everything is expensive.
- Culturally Rich in History Art and Cuisine
- Gelato is divine and available everywhere.
- Alcohol is pretty cheap.
- So easy to get around. Transport systems are efficient.
- The people are friendly if you make an effort.
- Be sure to carry enough money, credit and debit cards for any unforeseen expenses.
- It won’t hurt to learn a few useful French words and phrases.
- Be careful in the trains and guard your belongings.
Have fun and be open to meeting new people and absorbing the beauty of this fascinating country.