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Interview: First Trip To France

Recently I met with my friend Jan (yes, another Jan) who made her first trip to France this past Fall. I asked her about her trip and the things she learned. Hopefully others will find her insights helpful.

In late August, Jan and her sister travelled to Paris for 7 nights and then took the train to join up with friends in Normandy for another 7 nights. I provided Jan and her sister, Diane, with information prior to them leaving and fortunately, some of the helpful hints paid off.

Question: Why did you choose to travel to France?

Answer: France has always been on my wish list

Question: Why did you go in September?

Answer: A friend had rented a house in Normandy, so that is the time that was available.

Question: What was your favourite place to visit and why?

Answer: Paris…due to the ambiance, excitement, cultural aspects, walking along the Seine, the Marais, and all the “different things you could do in such a compact area… within a 5 miles radius you could do so much.”

Question: Where was your favourite place to eat?

Answer: Lunch at the Mini Palais located within the Grand Palais in Paris.  I remember the huge popover encrusted with cheese that we were served when we first sat down. My main course was roasted salmon. There was also dinner at Café Constant (on Rue Dominique). I think I had the same meal you did when you went. (Main course was pork cutlets with potatoes and a carafe of red wine). I remember the chocolate profiteroles!

Question: How did you choose where to eat?

Answer: In our apartment previous renters had left notes about restaurants and they gave recommendations, so we checked those out. We were also close to Rue Cler [which is known to be a popular area for restaurants] and we checked Yelp.ca

Question: What is an experience that you remember in France?

Answer: We found the people really friendly. The only exception was at a grocery store where the service wasn’t great. It seemed like it only catered to the locals. There was an interesting experience where a salesperson totally ignored us and continued talking to a local. The local lady finally told the salesperson, “You should attend to this customer”.

Question: What surprised you about France?

Answer: The closeness of the area—one didn’t have to travel far. In Normandy, we were 30 minutes away from Bayeux; everything we wanted to see was less than 60 minutes away. {In September] during our 2 weeks we only had rain on the first day and a half. The rest of the time it was in the high teens (Celsius) and there was clear sky every day. It was really pleasant.

Question: What advice would you give to someone who visits France for the first time?

Answer: Plan your itinerary and cut it back by 1/3. Give yourself time to stop and enjoy being in a café and enjoy the ambiance. Enjoy the moment. The advice you (Jan C) gave was great: don’t do more than 2 things a day. Don’t be eager to cross things off your list. My trip was like two trips: Paris was busy all the time. You were taking in so much information and history….almost an overload of the senses In Paris, you are constantly passing by sites on the way to your destination. We were physically active every day—walking everywhere. We only took the train to Notre Dame and Versailles. We walked everywhere else. The second trip was in Normandy and it was much less physical. We had a house and one place to live and we drove to all the sites.

Question: What was your favourite place in Normandy?

Answer: I loved Honfleur—-there were so many shops and it was quaint with many cafes serving seafood. I had oysters and poisson (fish) soup.

Question: How did you manage speaking French?

Answer: I didn’t speak any French because my friend (Monique) did the talking and in Paris, there was always someone willing to speak English. People were very friendly. One day when we pulled out a map trying to find a place, a woman came along to help us.

Question: In Paris, you decided to get the Paris Pass. Would you get it again?

Answer: Yes. You can buy it for different lengths of time. It gives you access to museums, the metro and buses. It helps you avoid lining up when you arrive at the museum. We bought a 5 day pass (4 day access to museums) although we couldn’t use it to go to Versailles. We did use it to go on the Bateau Mouche and the Hop on Hop Off bus which was really good.

Question: Anything else that you found helpful?

Answer: The French mobile SIM card giving us cellular and data coverage. Everything was arranged in advance and all I had to do was insert my SIM card and activate it upon arriving in Paris.

Question: What advice would you give to a newbie to France?

Answer: If you are a foodie, do research. There are cafes on every corner and they all serve the same thing, like a local pub.

Many thanks to Jan for allowing me to interview her and share her views with others in this post.

Check out “50 Reasons To Love Paris” for more ideas about what to do and see in Paris.

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