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Nobody wants to be stuck in France without knowing what to do. One of the challenges for North American or British travelers is the language. You may be able to say ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ or ‘thank you’, but you’ll need more. It’s true that most large hotels employ bilingual personnel, but what do you do in the small villages, late at night when you’re looking for a place to stay. The answer is in language. It’s no different in Italy, Spain or even China. My suggestion is to bring along a dictionary or take a few basic lessons.
Another problem is connected to ‘planning.’ Yes, a map will help, but without having done your homework, you won’t know which place to visit, unless you preplan. Even taking a bus tour may take you to places of less interest than you hoped for. Again; plan ahead. Lay out a map, get a guidebook, look up the itinerary and make sure you see the places that might interest you.
A trip to the Loire valley is a rewarding idea, especially the ones associated with water like Chenenceau and Azay. The Valley of the Kings is a package of special delights. Still, you’ll enjoy it more if you plan ahead. Try Chambord, It’s epic.
da Vinci’s home in Amboise Chenenceau Azay Le Rideau
But that’s not all. Ask yourself a few questions and seek professional advice.
Is the terrain too rugged or mountainous?
Do you have enough insurance?
Is your passport up to date and is it good for longer than your return date, in case you are hospitalized or must stay longer than the passport is good for?
How do you plan for personal security? Are your pockets secure? Is your purse properly strapped over your shoulder? Never carry it in your fingertips. Purse snatchers or pick-pockets abound in Europe.
Cash is available at ATMS but don’t carry too much cash in your pocket. American Express is usable in most of Europe.
If you’re driving, know the hours for petrol stations to be open. Ask how far the next one is, if you think you’ll need it.
Read the parking signs before you get towed away. Don’t park with too little space between cars. I’ve seen people back out of a spot, hit or push the car behind them, dent the other car, and drive away. The deductible on damage never seems to pay the bill. Car insurance on rentals is recommended.
Do you plan to camp? If so, get a map of the sites in advance. Go to www.FFCC.fr for information, before you go.
If you want a low cost rental for more than a day or two, lookup what the French call, ‘Gites’.
High speed motorways skirt many villages which you might enjoy seeing. There is a speed limit too. Be careful. Follow the rules.
If you ask a policeman for directions, smile and say “Bonjour” before getting into a conversation. The French are basically helpful and polite.
Divide the number of days you have into the distance you’ll have to travel from one section to another. Remember that France is a large country and one cannot see it all in a short time. The Loire Valley and the Cote D’Azure around Nice are miles apart and separated by slow moving, mountainous terrain. Speak to an expert, a travel agent or consult a travel book.
Choose your theme…See the Chateaus, vineyards, hill villages, beaches, cathedrals, historical cities like Albi or Tours, Dunkirk, Lyon, Bordeaux, Bayeux, Mont St Victoire, Antibes, Chalons, Pont du Gard, legendary Rocamadour (visually splendid) and, of course, Paris. But keep in mind, there’s always more.
See the poppies in the northwest and enjoy the rivers like the Seine and the Rhone.
I’ve been to France countless times in my life, but I doubt that I’ve seen it all. You don’t always know what there is to see until you get there.
I had occasion to lecture in Culoz, the country home of Gertrude stein. That trip took me to Annecy on the lake, Belly, just south and to Culoz itself at the foot of the Grand Colombier, where the Alps begin. I made friends there and today, I wouldn’t think of returning to France without visiting them.
Rocamadour Montignac, Veyzere Sarlat
Here are a few words you may need…
traveaux…road work Le petit dejeuner …breakfast
(not served unless asked for)
and always say, ‘thank you’…merci
There are hotels at every price. One of my all time favorites is the Hotel Negresco on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, facing one of the city’s most beautiful waterfronts. Hotel chain I like include: Ibis, Mercure, Sofitel, Balladins, and Logis de France.
Time in France is precious even for those who live there. 60,000,000 Frenchman can’t be wrong.