Parlez vous anglais? :)

I wonder what I could write about traveling through France that hasn’t already been written about before. And since I’m harbouring the delusion that long-form travel reads are still a thing, I have to try…

Ruki and I took a long-awaited trip to France earlier this month, and it turned out to be an experience of a lifetime. We haven’t travelled a lot together in the short time that we’ve been married, and this was my first time outside the subcontinent for reasons other than work. But we were very clear from the start that we wanted to explore the world, one country at a time, and not really travel the way our parents did – covering multiple countries in a fortnight or less, constantly on the move with barely any time to soak anything in.

Our nine-day itinerary covered three cities and started from Paris, known for social media pictures of people pinching the Eiffel Tower. Our first stop was the Louvre, one of the largest museums in the world. It’s pretty much impossible to cover its three wings and all they offer in one day. If you’re a dilettante and indifferent to art, then you’re probably there to see Da Vinci’s most famous work, The Mona Lisa, with the added attraction of walking the same halls that Tom Hanks did in The Da Vinci Code, concluding with the Piramide Invertida, the supposed tomb of Mary Magdalene in the movie. There’s enough literature available that talks about what each of the three wings carry, and you could pick one and spend the day there. There are Nintendo audio guides available as well, but they’re a little pointless; it takes time to figure out how to operate them and it’s an added distraction when there’s already a lot to see and do. There are two entrances to the museum, and the smaller one near the Tuileries Garden is generally less crowded. The highlight of our day was an early dinner (with lots of champagne) in a double decker bus that took us through Paris and its pretty sights.

By the second day, we’d become “experts” at riding the metro and taking the bus, one of the cheapest and most convenient ways to travel in Paris. When you travel for the first time, purchase a wad of 16 tickets at any station. This works out to be cheaper than buying a card, and is convenient since you’re not under pressure to use the card a minimum number of times to break even. There’s also an app called Rome2Rio that’ll tell you exactly which lines to take and which stations to change, and it’s always a good idea to check with the travel desk or your host where you’re staying. There are metro maps, mobile apps and enough literature about do’s and don’ts available online 🙂

On day 2, we summitted the Eiffel Tower, spent time in the Trocadero Square, famous for its Instagram-worthy views and vistas of the Eiffel Tower, and then took a cruise down the Seine. We ended the day with a bus trip to Notre Dame, which was closed for repairs after a devastating fire in 2019, and Shakespeare and Co., one of the oldest bookstores in Paris, if not the world. Founded in 1954 on the Left Bank and named after another bookstore that closed its doors in 1941 during the German occupation of Paris, this mecca of sorts for writers and bookworms has a vibe that’s hard to describe. It’s motto: be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.

Day 3 was spent at Disneyland Paris. We took the train to Marnee la Valley with a change at Chatelet les Halles, without realising that the tickets we had were valid only for travel within Paris and not for a trip to a station one hour from the city. Oh the panic that ensued… Disneyland Paris has two parks: the Walt Disney Studios Park and the Disneyland Park. Both are huge, attract crowds in record numbers on weekends, and pretty much impossible to cover in their entirety in one day. Thus, if you aren’t considering an overnight stay at one of the many overpriced hotels that Disney operates on campus, it might be a good idea to buy premier passes that cut down the hour-long wait time for key rides to almost nothing. I’d looked up the must-experience attractions in both the parks, mapped them out on the app, purchased premier passes for the ones that had a long wait time, and managed to cover almost everything that the parks offer for adults. These passes are expensive (available for purchase on the Disneyland Paris app on a per ride and a bundled basis) but totally worth it!

We left for Avingnon the next day, a sleepy little town in the Provence region of France, known for all things lavender. About three hours from Paris by train, Avignon used to be under the aegis of the Catholic Church and the residence of the Pope for a number of years until its secession to France in 1791. We left for a guided tour of the villages of Rousillion, Gordes, and Fontaine de Vaucluse the next day and spent the second half of it walking around the Pope Palace gardens, taking pictures along the banks of the Rhone and a riding a Ferris wheel giving us a birds-eye view of the old city and its ramparts.

Three hours by a train from Avignon that offers some of the most breath-taking views of France’s Mediterranean coast, Nice was the final stop in our trip. It used to be a holiday refuge for Europe’s rich, and continues to attract record tourists every year. We didn’t really have a lot planned for this last leg with the exception of an hour-long tour of a perfume factory in Eze, and a day trip to Monaco where we witnessed the ceremonial changing of the guard at the city palace. We walked around the streets of Nice and rode on a Segway, trying out its cafes and bistros and ice-cream shops. It was a wonderful end to a trip that capped some of the most stressful months we’ve seen as a couple.  Walking around, hand-in-hand, happy and high… Thank you France.

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