France is a nation with nearly 70 million people. It is the third largest country in Europe with many regions. From Normandy to the French Riviera, to Alcace-Loraine. It would be practically impossible to cover the whole nation. We decided to cover what we could: Nice and Bordeaux for the south, for the north, Paris. Finally, for the rural countryside, we choose Strasbourg and Colmar.
Nice was the first of our destinations. After a long and cold trip to Switzerland, we needed to relax and take a break from glacier climbing and sight-hunting. The drive there was very scenic, as was most of the French Riviera, with wonderful cliffs and mountains through the final minutes of the journey. After that, we slept.
The next day, we began our day quite uneventfully. We took pictures of my sister in the Airbnb garden, but we didn’t go anywhere. It was afternoon when we got out of the Airbnb. Nice is known for its beaches. When I hear beaches, I think of sand, not stone, but Nice’s beaches are stony beaches.
My opinion on stony beaches? They were disappointing. You can’t wear sandals on them, they hurt your feet, you can’t make sandcastles on them, and in a stony beach, it’s near impossible to find sea shells. Compare that to nice, soft sand. The only plus is that you can’t get gravel stuck to you. You can, however, get it stuck in your shoes. The only good thing about the beach is the view. You could see the harbor and the city of Nice from the vantage point, and the huge boulders, unlike the gravel, added to the experience, firstly by making it easier to sit, and secondly by making a fun climbing spot.
We weren’t in France during Bastille Day. My parents thought we should get out since a year before we arrived, a terrorist killed 86 people. Instead we visited Barcelona. We thought we’d escaped the trouble, but trouble came anyway. Someone punctured our car tire, creating stress and delays (read more in the Spain chapter). We rested for the day, and by the evening, we’d mustered enough energy to visit Monaco, a small micronation. The glamour, cars, and views of Monaco were enough to convince us to visit Monaco the day after. Which is why we ended up only spending a single day in France despite living there for half a week.
Our next stop on the France trip was Bordeaux. Bordeaux is really only famous for one thing, and that’s wine, which basically meant that I was doing nothing for half of the trip. We got to Bordeaux from Nice, and we passed near Toulouse on the way. I was asleep. Then we arrived in Bordeaux. Our Airbnb was a little different this time. Why? Because we would be living on a ship. Not a cruise ship, a mini-yacht docked at Bordeaux. It had the basic necessities: a bathroom, a bedroom, and a basement, as well as considerable room to move around. The toilet worked a little differently: the waste would be collected and dumped into the ocean. If we wanted to, we were allowed to sail the ship, but of course, we didn’t. Living on a ship is a quite similar experience to living anywhere else. The only difference is that a ship is a little smaller and rocks a little. It was still a fun experience though.
We started the next day at the wine museum (which looked like a golden boot). It was mainly just about where wine came from, and some other boring, useless details about wine. The only somewhat interesting part of the whole experience was the view of Bordeaux from the top of the building. My parents tasted some wine, while I got a view of the city. We then went on a tram to the city center. This would be much more enjoyable. We then went to Porte Cailhau, a sort of castle building, perhaps one of the towers in Dracula’s castle.
Afterwards, we went to the Water Mirror, a reflecting pool in a huge square in Bordeaux. The reflection probably looked great, but we didn’t see it. Firstly, we were too close to even see the reflection properly. Secondly, the Water Mirror had people on it, and even when there weren’t people, there were birds. So in the end, we saw only one version of the building. The building I was referring to was a fancy Baroque palace-like building. It was a repetition of the same modular design, so it wasn’t that interesting. One building that was interesting was the Church St. Louis of Chartrons. The building is a typical Catholic church with its two towers and glass panes, with the supporting flying buttresses. But the Church of St. Louis did an exemplary job of that typical build, perfectly pulling it off, making it feel and look French.
Next, we visited the Girondins Monument. Basically, it was just a big fountain, kind of like the Trevi Fountain, but smaller. There was also a big obelisk, for an unknown reason.
The next day, we visited San Sebastian, which is in Northern Spain. After that, we went on the long (and painfully slow) journey from Gascony to Northern France. We were visiting Paris.
On our first day in Paris, we visited the Louvre. If I had to choose my favorite place in Paris, it would hands-down be the Louvre. With artifacts from literally anywhere, plus artwork such as the Mona Lisa, it isn’t a question of why. The first place we saw had to do with Persian items (carpets, mosaics…). Then we went to the Egyptian area, which itself felt unending. We spent a few hours just going through and looking at the Egyptian artwork. Then we moved to the Greek and Renaissance areas, which were both worth hours. We saw hundreds of white marble statues, worth more than I could comprehend. And sometimes the roof was decorated. The roof. It was covered with frescoes, gilded with pounds upon pounds of gold.
We couldn’t miss the Mona Lisa. Such a famous piece had to be photographed, but it came at a cost of a
half-hour. When I revisit the Louvre, I’ll probably spend that time elsewhere. Nevertheless, Da Vinci’s work was genius. There was no detracting from the Mona Lisa’s beauty. The Mona Lisa is overrated in the Louvre, as it’s a blue whale in an ocean of sharks.
Afterwards, we took the metro to the Eiffel Tower. Though we had a car, we didn’t want to deal with the traffic, and opted for the train instead. Plus the metro system in Paris is great. If you see the Eiffel Tower, get off at Bir Hakeim. From there, you get a great view of the tower from across the Seine. It is a little crowded, though, and you should be aware of pickpockets.
We ended the day at the Eiffel Tower. We got up close and in person, and took the elevator to the top. Though the view was good, there was no denying that, there are other places with a similar view that you can visit for cheaper. All in all, it’s better to skip the elevator. If you want to take the stairs, you can, but it takes some determination.
The beginning of the next day was spent at Notre Dame. My thoughts? Meh. It is beautiful, but there are other buildings at that scale, such as the Cologne Cathedral. If I had to choose between Sacre-Coeur (which we would visit later) and Notre Dame, Sacre-Coeur would be my choice. Why? Because Sacre-Cour has better views from the top, is bigger, and has a more interesting and compelling architecture. Plus Sacre-Coeur is less flammable. In short, it is plain better. But that isn’t to detract from Notre-Dame, which is a beautiful Gothic masterpiece. For lunch, we met up with my grandfather’s friend Gopi. He took us to a thin-crust pizza place, and my parents talked with him. For me, it was a little awkward, since I didn’t remember the last time I met him.
Afterwards, we visited Tuileries Garden. Not to enjoy the wonderful ferris wheel, but to view the Tour De France’s last leg. The competition had ended, and this leg was simply ceremonial, but we would be able to see at least a little of the most prestigious biking event in the world. We waited for hours, and then they finally arrived. We knew they were coming from the motorcade in front of them. Then the bikes came, hundreds of them like yellow and green and black blurs of color. They were gone, as quick as that. When another wave arrived, we took more photos, but it was very little for a lot of waiting. I guess I’m not the most hardcore fan of bike racing.
We went to La Madeleine church after the wait. Yes, it is a church. It was built in the Napoleonic Era with “classical influences”. To me, it looked like a carbon copy of the Parthenon.
On our last day in Paris, we went to two places. First was the Arc De Triomphe, and second was the Sacre-Coeur. We knew what the arch would be like. From the Champs-de-Elysees beautiful streets and expensive brands, to the arch itself, a simple Roman arch resembling Constantine’s arch. Sacre-Coeur was different. A huge church with three major domes, and about a hundred little ones. The church was beautiful, whitewashed with the beautiful gray dome. We went up the building, and got a panoramic view of the city. From the skyscrapers of Concorde to the suburbs in the far distance, the best view of Paris comes from the Sacre-Coeur (though Sacre-Coeur lacks the clear divisions and order which comes with the Eiffel tower view).
That was the last day in France for the year. We would unexpectedly visit France again the next year: our car got broken into in Greece, so we decided to end our trip in the Balkans since we couldn’t use our car. We arrived in Munich, then took a tour of the cars in Stuttgart. Afterwards, we visited Paris. We revisited several previous attractions, such as the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, and Eiffel Tower. One unique thing we did was visiting the Palace of Versailles. After braving an hours-long line, we finally got entry. The palace itself was astonishingly well decorated, with gold and paintings and luxuries everywhere. The most interesting part of the palace was easily the Hall of Mirrors, where the German Empire was created, among other things. As the name suggested, it was a Hall of Mirrors. Or maybe the football field of mirrors, because the building was around that size. Mirrors lined the walls, showing off the king’s wealth. It was an amazing place. Then we visited the gardens, which as usual, were lavishly decorated. Imagine how many people could’ve been educated using the palace’s wealth.
After that, we visited Strasbourg. We stayed in a small village near the city, where our Airbnb host was extremely hospitable, even giving us a few eggs from their farm, and some scrumptious French pastries. Strasbourg is a wonderfully beautiful city in Alsace-Lorraine. It is one of the two headquarters of the EU with Brussels. It is also insanely beautiful: from it’s churches, which can be viewed from the Ill River, to its wonderful riverside views. Walking the streets is very rewarding for the eyes, and you should especially walk by the river to get the best views, which come right out of a beautiful movie town.
Then we visited Colmar. Colmar is kind of like the little brother of Strasbourg – just as beautiful, but smaller. We walked across the town, which had similarly beautiful views, and even took a boat ride. Alsace-Lorraine is an extremely scenic part of France which is under traveled. Do visit if you get a chance.
We didn’t cover all of France. We didn’t get to Normandy, nor the Alps or Lyon, Marseilles nor Toulouse, but what we did explore was a kaleidoscope of different cultures and areas of the same, wonderful country.
- Alsace-Lorraine: Do visit, as it’s one of the most beautiful places in France, though it gets less tourist attention than the South or Paris.
- Visit the Louvre, since it is the largest museum on Earth, featuring some amazing art.