When I was in seventh grade, I began studying French, in room 55 of our “Junior High” (now called “middle school”) Last month, shortly after turning 55, I traveled to Europe for the first time. The only country I visited this time was France … but I’m hoping to go back next year! I visited Paris, the Loire Valley, Avignon, Arles, and Nice.
I speak enough French (badly) to get by, but in many places people were willing to speak English. One notable exception was employees the Paris metro. Not that I blame them – that’s got to be a tough job. I found people to be generally friendly and helpful, even in Paris, which has a reputation for being the opposite. The ones who speak English are generally eager to practice, if you make it clear you will be polite and friendly. I always would start out in French and often wind up with a mixture of the two languages. Unless I heard them conversing in native-sounding English.
Many people have said that the initial “bonjour” is important. Meaning, always greet the person before you start asking questions. It’s the French way. Probably a good idea, though sometimes it was not effective, and sometimes it was not necessary. Mostly, if you’re polite and friendly, people will be polite and friendly back. It’s pretty universal.
You’ll also find lots of multilingual tourists, and trading tips with them is a great way to hear good stories and find cool places to visit.
I took several thousand photos, some of which you can see from the photo feed that should be adjacent to this blog.
Hopefully some of the images and insights I will present on my blog will help future travelers, as I enjoy the memories of a challenging but fulfilling trip.
As a vegetarian, I was hearing horror stories, and was very worried about finding anything to eat. It turns out these fears were unfounded. I would not attempt to be purely vegan, however. I am sure it would be possible, but it would be a lot of work. The question is: would you rather be scrapping with weird logistics, or seeing the country?
Boulangeries are a place to start. Baguettes are plentiful and easy to find, and I found them handy to stash in my pack for a day trip, along with a few apples. Most of the boulangeries would also sell sandwiches, the vegetarian ones generally with chevre (goat cheese). I found myself a few times eating chevre, even though I do not eat cheese here in the U.S. My general sense is that it’s better quality than typical American cheese.
Indian restaurants are plentiful. There was at least one in every city I visited. Mediterranean food is also abundant. Though in some places you have to search for the ones that serve “Fallafel,” the ones I found were superb. (e.g. L’As du Fallafel in Paris) There are also a lot of Asian restaurants, of various (purported) nationalities – Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, &c,) and they could always come up with wok-fried vegetables and rice. Tofu, however, was scarce.
AND … in some places, there were the daring innovators who bucked the trend of the French foule (crowd) smoking everywhere in their brasseries, to serve up “Biologique” (organic) genuinely vegan offerings. I plan to cover a few of those in subsequent posts. Serving from the passion of heartfelt belief, these were some of the best restaurants ever.
If you see a green AB, that’s probably a symbol for the French “organic” produce. It stands for Agriculture Biologique. (the green symbol gives the B two leaves that look like rabbit ears) There is also a growing “Fair Trade” (commerce équitable) movement .
And I should mention a few sites:
- http://www.happycow.net/ – Some valuable information, but these listings are often out of date. Be sure to verify before counting on them.
- http://www.tripadvisor.com/ – the listings of vegetarian places wasn’t too helpful, but searches for Asian, Mediterranean, Italian, &c. were.
- https://www.evernote.com – this site lets you keep notes that will be available via web or smart phone. I found the pages difficult to edit via phone, but entering them via the web and then accessing via phone turned out to be quite useful. One thing I uploaded was a copy of my passport, a nice thing to know you have in case it gets lost. Also a good place for the phone numbers on the back of your credit cards.