My first trip to Europe, and I absolutely fell in love with it! I will be putting up itineraries for each place separately, as there is so much to do and see in all of these cities and villages. For now, I would like to share some must-dos while you visit France.
1) When in France, say Bonjour (good day)
I cannot over emphasize this fact. The French are an extremely helpful and warm bunch of people who will go out of their way to make you feel at home, BUT.. only after a friendly exchange of Bonjours. Whenever you enter a shop, walk into a restaurant, get into a bus, at the metro station, or anywhere you see a person – say it! It just makes your day happier and easier.
Picture this -
Bus stand near AirBnB, Nice, 6 am. My friend and I were frantically waiting to catch bus #21 to the train station from where we were off to Paris. 10 minutes and still no sign of bus #21, and our train was set to leave soon. Instead, bus#4 arrives, so I run to the driver to ask if it goes to the Station.
Me: Does the bus go to SNCF station?
Me: (Thinking he didn’t understand me, try to ask in French, or something like that) Gare de Nice? SNCF?
Me: Does it go?
Driver: Oui, Bonjour (Oui = yes)
I ecstatically signal to my friend to get on the bus, and am in the middle of lifting my slightly heavy suitcase when he suddenly shuts the doors and speeds away faster than light. *Wonder for a good 5 seconds why he did that, before it dawns on me :/*
(Lesson learnt – Just wish everyone a good day!)
2) Restaurant Etiquette
French chefs treat their plates like a canvas, and the result - a visual treat to say the least. To experience the French cuisine and hospitality in the best possible form, it is indeed important to understand and respect the etiquette that need to be followed.
- Always order at least two courses per person (unless it is a huge main course. It is fine to order just that).
- If you are two people dining out together, never order just one appetizer or one main course and share. Order a dish each, then you can share.
- (I repeat) Wish your waiter as soon as you enter - Bonjour or Bon soir depending on the time of the day
- Finish everything on your plate! (Not at all hard to do that though) Nothing is more rude for the French than leaving your plate half-eaten.
3) Eat Croissants
The first thing I bit into in France, and the last thing before I left. It would be blasphemy to not eat at least one a day while in France. The butter croissants are unlike anything you have eaten before – Crispy outer layer, puffy interior with layers of air and soft pastry, and just the perfect amount of butter (neither greasy nor dry). If I may suggest, try the croissants at Sadaharu Aoki in Paris. REALLY REALLY good! If there is one thing I would go back to Paris for, hands down it would be this.
4) Visit the countryside
Even if it is for half a day, make that trip. Personally, it was the best part of France. Horses grazing on lush green fields that stretch as far as your eye sight, narrow cobble stoned streets that wind up the hill, creepers that cover the walls of houses on either sides, breeze that makes you forget yourself and joyful silence that you will always remember. Couple that with the warmness exuded by the villagers, and some amazing food. That’s the French countryside for you.
5) Walk, walk and walk some more
The best way to go around any city in France is by foot. It is the only way to experience the joy of discovering hidden gems – you never know what you will run into and where! You could be lured into a hand-made soap shop by its smells filling the street outside, or end up eating the best banana-caramel crepes ever, or find the most exciting stationary shop. Plus, you get to indulge in all the food that you want guilt-free!!
6) Visit the markets
Every city that I have been to in France has these markets on specific days of the week. And what a sight they are! Exotic fruits, fresh vegetables, flowers, flower pots, soaps, dishes, cheese, meat, freshly made bread, all kinds of jams, a fifty varieties of tapenade, dips and spreads, freshly made couscous, roasted chicken and potatoes and I could go on! Each market is different in its own way, and my favourite till now has been the one on Cours Salaya in Nice. So delightful that I would go to Nice just to visit this place.
7) A train journey
The landscape that changes constantly – from the flat Northern area to the hilly Rhone region to the vast blue sea of Cote d'Azur. It is the cheapest and most enjoyable way to travel between cities. Make sure to book in advance if it is a long journey, it could get booked out easily. Also, the trains are terrifically on schedule – to the second!
8) Stay with the locals
AirBnb is by far the best way to know the local way of life, experience the place better and make friends all around the world. It is so much more affordable than hotels and hostels (yes!, hostels too) with extremely kind and welcoming hosts. Do make sure you choose your Airbnb carefully, as it could make or break your holiday.
- Read reviews - ALWAYS. Make sure your host has got enough reviews and good ones.
- Check the location of the place. If you will be depending on public transport, make sure the airbnb is well inside the main city/town. Transport could prove to be a problem otherwise.
- Book early! All the good ones get booked out in the wink of an eye, so plan ahead to get the nice looking ones :)
- Once you have stayed in one, do make sure you leave a review. It really helps others just like it helped you.
I could go on mentioning some more basic essentials, but will stop here in the interest of time (mine and yours :)) and space. Shall reserve the rest for another post.
Also, do reach out to me if you want help planning your trip, I would be delighted to help!