Learning French is tough..Understanding the French people speak is tougher..Imitating their accent is toughest..
But the effort made is really worth every euro and more as the locals seem amused by your efforts to stumble through their language and actually make more effort to try and understand your feeble efforts at speaking the “beautiful language”
I wanted to visit France since a long time and was always put off by stories of rude locals, difficulties in communication and that it is a very expensive place. I am happy that all of these are misconceptions started by people who don’t want to give any effort to planning their vacation.
I started researching about the place since 2012 and bought “lonely planet – France” , which I consider a useless book. ( I have since then stopped buying the Lonely Planet). I happened to chance upon the Rick Steves series on Europe in a online sale where they were literally selling them at dirt cheap prices. The books led me to the website, the website to the free audio guides and provided me with most of the material required. This may sound like an advertisement for the series but I stayed in the recommended hotels and used the travel tips and found them to be “cest excellente”
I chose October as it is not peak tourist season and Paris sites don’t resemble a Mumbai train station during peak hours. As I zeroed in on my itinerary, I chose the places which had the most suitable weather for the period I had chosen, the French Riviera ( Nice, Villefranche, Eze Village, Monaco & La Turbie), a place which my better half wanted to visit, the French Alps ( Annecy & Chamonix) and the place everyone in India and the tour operators considers to be all of France, Paris ( including Versailles and a sweet little cathedral town called Chartres). As I had eleven days I could cover most of the must see places and a few of the off beat places as well.
My policy with hotels is to book no frills hotels in central locations, walking distance from the tourist sites. Most of this hotels had no elevator or had a elevator which could barely fit us or our bags but not both. The rooms were of decent size , had comfortable beds and I didn’t intend to spend much time in the rooms anyway. All hotels were booked direct with the hotels themselves and that got me the best rates.
For transport in between regions we used the extremely efficient railways in France. Tickets were booked 3 months in advance (when booking opens) and doing this helps in saving a lot especially for tickets of the high speed tgv trains. Local transport in the Riviera was by the excellent bus service which is cheap and reliable. The shareable multi ticket is a great money saver and usable on all buses and trams in the region In the Alpine towns of Annecy and Chamonix all the tourist attractions were walking distance from our hotels. In Paris we used the super efficient metro system and by the last day we were experts at using the metro. We used the set of ten tickets called a carnet as it is shareable and turns out much cheaper than the Visite card for short duration travellers.
Sightseeing was on our own. Using the free audio guides mentioned earlier and using the guide books for the information needed. That gives you the freedom to see what you want and skip when you get bored or the crowds get too much to handle. As most of the travel sites will tell you in Paris the Museum pass is a super money saver. Will cover the other sites and tips for the same in separate posts for each region.
Food with me is never a problem as I am not a choosy eater. The better half is a vegetarian and had to survive on pizzas, sandwiches, salads while I ate every type of meat possible. But every restaurant will have a vegetarian option. There are Indian restaurants if you search in every big city and I didn’t go near the places.
Overall the trip was a eye opener for me. Never again will I go with a big tour company. Never again will I take coach bus day trips (Unless the region has no public transport – then I will have to swallow my pride and sit in a overpriced coach seat). I know its difficult for people to invest a lot of time planning their vacations but doing that makes you enjoy every attraction and every meal even more.
Till I get time to write about the individual regions… Au revoir!!