Spoiler alert. Francophiles beware. In this post we’ll be expressing our love/hate relationship with France. Don’t judge too harshly. It gets better towards the end.
I can’t believe that it took me 27 years to finally step foot in France. I had climbed Kilimanjaro, traversed Rajasthan, and licked salt from the floors of the Uyuni flats in Bolivia before I visited the country from where the language of love was born. The very same language that I spent nine years studying and have a bachelor’s degree in.
I envisioned disembarking the plane in Paris and being greeted by the smell of freshly baked baguettes, the sight of the glittering Eiffel Tower, and matching the friendly “bonjours” from the locals. In essence, I anticipated my arrival to be from the opening scenes of Beauty and the Beast.
In reality, Chris and I were welcomed by a surprise snowfall that had us literally sliding into our gate after a two hour delay, landing us in Paris at just after midnight. After navigating the metro kiosks (that don’t take CASH or cards sans microchips), we saddled up our backpacks and began our urine-scented ride into town. After the pristine rides we experienced on the London Tube just days before, the almost derelict metro cars of Paris left us wanting.
I wish I could say that it got better from there. It didn’t. To be fair, we have to take a large portion of the blame. We arrived in mid-March and didn’t pack appropriately for the cold. The blizzard that greeted us not only dampened our spirits but also the flimsy boots and leggings that I packed for our month-long journey through Europe. Being from the Seattle area, we are accustomed to March being the month where the weather starts looking up. This is when we slowly start to trade our dark flannel and black North Face jackets for brighter colored flannel and light windbreakers.
We were also poor. We were in between contracts and had two more weeks until we could expect a BIG paycheck. We had to live frugally and that meant setting aside money for provisions (like, you know,food) instead of visits to the museums and sights that the city is known for. All in all, it wasn’t an ideal situation for visiting the city. For that, I take some blame.
BUT, (and this is where I feel like Paris has some explaining to do) what no one prepared me for was just how dirty the streets in Paris were. There was dog poop everywhere. After every outing my calves pulsated from having to continually hop over spontaneous heaps of dog doo. To make matters worse, the snowy slush had turned the city sidewalks into treacherous slip and slides with inevitable pockets of highly questionable brown snow. Le gross.
Neither of us was particularly heartbroken when it came time for us to leave (aside from having to say au revoir to my beloved pain au chocolats). We were cold, broke, and disheartened. Did we set Paris on too high a pedestal? Would we give France a second chance?
We weren’t sure if France would ever pop up on a radar again. It wasn’t until when we learned that two of our dear friends were getting married in the French countryside, that we knew it was time to return. That and we kind of had to be there; I was a bridesmaid and Chris was officiating the wedding.
This time around, we only had a day to get from Paris to Chef-Boutonne, a teeny tiny village in the French countryside where the wedding was to take place. As soon as we landed at CDG, we picked up our rental car and headed south. Within minutes of leaving Paris we felt like we had entered a completely new country. The muddled streets and gray sidewalks gave way to miles and miles of gorgeous countryside.
Picturesque villages and sleepy fields began to greet us around every corner. I found myself humming the theme song to Beauty and the Beast as we approached the gorgeous French villa where we would be staying. Everything about Chef-Boutonne seemed magical.
The day before the wedding we spent the afternoon exploring the nearby town of Verteuil-sur-Charente. It’s hard to believe that this isn’t a major tourist destination as it boasts a whimsical castle with a bubbling stream that runs below it. There was even an old cemetery up on a hill that had graves that dated back to the early 1400’s. That’s almost 400 years older than our nation of the United States.
I was immediately enamored with the area. The locals were so incredibly friendly and overly patient when it came to conversing in French. I thoroughly enjoyed taking in my afternoon coffee while people watching. There wasn’t much happening in town but it seemed like everyone was out taking their dogs for a walk (mostly–get this–French bulldogs) as they ran their errands for the day. If this was what the rest of France was like, I was dangerously close to falling in love with the country.
My courtship with France didn’t end there. The day of the wedding was more beautiful than we could have ever imagined. The neighboring horses even came to watch the event. It was such an honor to witness two of our closest friends tie the knot and be surrounded by loved ones. We met Corey and Paul (hailing from Wales and England, respectively) while we were all living in South Korea. We’ve since met up with them in various countries around the world. Their union brought together so many lovely people from all corners of the globe and it solidified why we are so enamored with traveling. The world is small and there are some pretty kick ass people in it.
Once the festivities concluded, Chris and I decided to spend a few extra days in the city of Poitiers. After a week spent in the countryside, we wanted to see what a bigger city had to offer. Again, the city was filled with friendly locals, amazing food, decent prices, and some of the prettiest architecture we’ve ever seen. There were multiples times when we caught ourselves saying that we could live there.
We might have judged France a little too harshly on our first trip. While I can see why some people would find Paris to be exceptionally magical, I think I prefer the beauty and freedom of the countryside. That being said, after this last trip to France, I’m willing to give Paris a second try.