France 2013: Trip Overview


Bonjour, messieurs et madames!  I just got back from a très magnifique, two-week trip to France.  Unlike my typical trips with friends, this one was a family vacation.  My parents just had their 40th anniversary, and I wanted to take them on a trek in Europe while their health was still in good shape. 
Our trip was spent entirely in northwestern France.  It was the second time in France for all of us. Aside from Paris, all the places we visited were new to us.

Trip itinerary & blog article index:

1) Flew in to Paris (A). With a long layover in Berlin
2) Normandy coast (B): The historic sites of the WWII D-Day invasion
3) Le Mont. St. Michel (C): The medieval city built on an island mountain (photo at top of this article)
4) Loire Valley (D): Region filled with beautiful chateaux (castles/mansions) built by French royalty
5) Chartres (E): Home of the beautiful gothic Cathédrale de Chartres.
6) Paris (F): 4+ days wandering the most beautiful city on the planet

As I write more, I will link to blog articles on the above locations. 

Here are maps of our trip.  The one on the left is a macro view, showing where we were in relation to France overall.  The one on the right shows more detail on the specific locations.

Getting Around

We rented a car to travel to all these locations. It was a great experience. The Normandy coast has a lot of small sites that you can visit, so having our own car allowed us to visit them at our own pace. The car was great for the Loire Valley too, since there are 10-20 chateaux you could visit. We planned around the big chateaux(Chambord, Chenonceau, Villandry); for the rest, we played it by ear. The French countryside was beautiful too. We really enjoyed driving through all the small towns and peaceful country roads.

When you rent a car in Europe, most cars you get are manual transmission. I was the sole driver, and I can only drive an automatic. So I reserved an automatic for a lot more money… but hey, it was a “premium class” rental – so they gave us a BMW 5 Series! What an awesome car for a road trip! The photo above is me with the BMW, in front of Chambord, the most grand of the chateaux in the Loire Valley. It also came with an excellent built-in GPS system, which saved us from getting lost many times.

Driving in Europe has its good points and its bad points. On the bright side, highway driving is great. Everyone is taught to drive very well, it seems. You rarely see slow drivers in the passing lane. People move aside to let faster drivers pass. And you don’t see clueless cell-phone users cluttering up the roads. On the other hand, driving in cities and towns can be a pain! The streets are very small and crowded, and directions aren’t marked clearly. Parking spots are tiny too. Most cars are very small compact and sub-compact cars; our BMW was quite a behemoth on the roads! Luckily, I managed not to hit anyone or anything…

The one place I did not drive in was Paris. Driving in Paris, just like any of the world’s largest cities, is a complete mess! No way! We took public transporation instead. The metro and bus systems in Paris were excellent. Trains ran very frequently and were comfortable (and not smelly and rickety like Chicago’s El hehe). The bus system was great too. Although the buses ran less frequently than the trains, there were more buses, and they covered lots of ground. It was nice to gaze out the window and admire the beauty of Paris during the bus rides. Tip to travelers: you can buy a “Mobilis” ticket that gives you unlimited train & bus rides in central paris for the great price of 6,60 EUR. Or a 5-day “Paris visite” card.

The French

Everyone seems to be curious how the experience was when dealing with the French.  I guess they get a bad rep in the States hehe.  Actually, just like my previous time in France, the French were great.  The French, on the whole, have a great sense of taste – whether it’s in architecture, food, or fashion.  They are well-read, cultured, and have a good sense of what’s going on in the rest of the world.  I think where Americans sometimes rub the French the wrong way is either from being ignorant (“I’m American, I don’t care who you are”) or not showing interest (“I don’t want to try your food, where’s the McDonald’s?”).  If you’re gonna visit their country, you just need to be open to their ways.  The French are very proud of their culture and seem to want to share its greatness with you.  We had a great time talking to the locals.  All three of us can read and speak French too, so it made things much easier.  Many were impressed that these strange looking Asian visitors could speak their language.  But even if your French is poor, you get a lot of points by simply trying to speak their language.

Conclusion

It was a great trip!  Hmm, I think every trip is a great trip 🙂  We saw a lot, experienced a lot, and had spent some good family time together as well.  More blog articles and photos to come!

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