Wow, it took awhile to write down everything that happened in France and what I took away from this trip. The history tour was amazing, starting in Le Mans, from there to Saumur, Fontevraud, Chinon, Poitiers, Tours, and a day trip to Amboise. All done by public transport. Would I do it again like this? Probably, although we had one hiccup and I remember that I wanted to rent a car by then. But all’s well, that ends well. So here are my tips for France and everything else I learned while chasing Richard Lionheart. Yours, Pollybert
1.) Traveling with Air France was a pleasant surprise. Drinks and a sandwich were served on the short trip to Paris and there was free WiFi to send messages while on board. For streaming you needed to purchase an upgrade. There was also a USB plug to charge your phone. So far I have only seen that on long distance flights. After my experience with Lufthansa and Air Canada on route to Costa Rica, this was certainly a pleasant surprise.
2.) Le Mans is a very clean city. Except for some dog poop you can almost eat from the street.
3.) Look at the timetable of your train tickets. We missed ours because we thought we had already missed it and stopped rushing.
4.) You can re-book your missed TGV train on the ticket machine by scanning your old ticket. Great service!
5.) Read the restaurant menu carefully otherwise you miss the best stuff.
6.) Inflation has arrived in France as well. Some things at the market seemed super expensive, like a kg of new potatoes at 4,80 EUR.
7.) It’s possible that some places opened only after we went to bed. Like the bar Le Saint-Flaceau in Le Mans. It was never open when we passed. And we passed often.
8.) As progressive as SNCF is at their ticket machines, their website could use an update. It’s easy enough to book one ticket, but how to add a second person? Especially if you want to sit together. After more than 30 minutes I managed to book two tickets, both in my name, sitting in two different carriages, but getting them sent to the email address of my friend. A resounding success!
9.) The difference between the Angevins and the Plantagnets lies in the details. The Angevins are Henry II. and his sons, because they ruled over Angevin lands in France. John I. was the last Angevin, since he lost the lands. All rulers after him until Richard III . are the Plantagenets. Easy, no?
10.) On market day you can buy your croissants at a bakery stall and eat them with your coffee in the café beside.
11.) Dogs are treated as second class citizens. There are no dog parks for them to run, there is only something like a littler box for cats.
12.) The French have luminous advertising for books.
13.) Some train stations have a piano standing around for you play a little music.
14.) Check the opening times of you hotel because in some rural areas hotels are closed during the day and you are left wandering around with your luggage. As so happened with the Sohotel hotel in Saumur. Note that there are no lockers for luggage at any train station available!
15.) Even though paying right away annoyed me at first, it’s convenient when you can get up and go without waiting for the waiter.
16.) The biggest challenge of traveling climate friendly. aka without a car. is where to store your luggage when the hotel is not open etc.
17.) A 35h work week sounds like a dream, but it’s also inconvenient for tourist, because the opening times of stores and businesses are downright weird.
18.) Even the French have sometimes awful food, as happened to us in Fontevraud.
19.) I was astonished to learn how religious the French are. Not only do you see random young people praying in a church while you yourself walk around and look at the artwork. But also during mass the churches were full with old and young people. The Austrian Catholic Church would love such an attendance.
20.) The French ignore international tourists if they don’t speak French. Every museum, every castle, and every other interesting historic site only has information in French. Exhibitions that are only available for a certain amount of time will have English information. But not the permanent collection.
21) Some churches have detailed information on all the artwork within. Of course only in French, for the international tourist only the highlights are translated.
22.) Poitiers, which has evidently no tourists so to speak of (we met the same three couples everywhere), had the best information leaflets in four languages (French, English, German and Spanish).
23.) A big dollop of mustard in a sandwich improves its taste immensely.
24.) You need to be on time, between 12-14, for your lunch). Otherwise restaurants will just send you away. They are very strict.
25.) Hades is not only a mythological Greek place for the underworld, but also a Crêperie in Tours.
26.) France has a lot of local tourists. It’s not great to travel on a weekend with a national holiday since so many people are around.
27.) Amboise was a nightmare for me. Seeing suddenly so many tourists at one place felt surreal. Not that I put a mask on, but just that there was always someone in my picture.
28.) I feel bad for vegetarians in this region. We went for French food every night and most dishes consisted of meat, and more meat. Vegetables only graced the plate as a side appearance, like an afterthought. Honestly, I am not sure where all the good produce goes that is sold at the markets. It never made an appearance on my plate.
29.) Even churches need to be vacuumed. Ever wondered where the electricity was coming from for that?
30.) Luggage Hero was our hero in Paris. Since there is no storage available anywhere, this system of dropping off your luggage in small shops in whatever area you are, suited us just fine. Worked perfectly as well!
31.) When the Champions League Finale is in the same city on the same day when you are leaving, better plan with an extra hour to get to the airport. Instead of taking the direct train we needed to go to change the train twice and made it to the airport with 40 minutes before take off. You won’t believe it, but we made the flight, could buy some magazines, and even had time to go back to the shops to buy some water.
32.) With only a couple of hours to spare in Paris, make sure that you know beforehand where to eat. We drank some wine, searched online where we wanted to eat without reading the menu in detail. Went to the restaurant, sat down, opened the menu and instantly disliked what we saw. In the end we went back to the place where we had had coffee earlier. The menu was a bit of a miss, but at least our Luggage Hero was around the corner.
33.) The best baguette I had was the one I bought in Poitiers for breakfast. Together with salted butter it was the perfect breakfast. Most restaurants had stale bread except for the one in Paris. There the bread was the best part of the meal.
34.) Sometimes street signs make no sense. Like the one here in Le Mans where you are not allowed to cross the street on foot or on your bike, even though there is a crossing.
35.) My French was better than I thought. Lots of things came back to me after two days France and forcing myself to speak a lot. Also, I quite love the language again.