France Trip 2012 by Julia
I’ve been very fortunate to have traveled a lot in my life. I grew up spending summers in the French countryside visiting my Grandparents, who on a trip to France in the early 1980s bought a rundown farm house in Burgundy, a region of France southeast of Paris. After the extensive renovation was completed several years later my mother’s side of the family has congregated there every summer to enjoy the simple joys of life in the French countryside. We’d take side trips to other countries throughout Western Europe, but always focused the bulk of our trip to France, our home away from home. Once I hit college age and beyond my trips became less frequent, the responsibilities of school and work took over and taking a month off wasn’t as simple as it used to be. I skipped summer 2008, managed to take a trip summer 2009, but since then it just wasn’t an option. So, this year when I realized that I could actually make it back to my second home I jumped at the opportunity and booked a 2-week trip to France for September/October 2012. I enlisted one of my closest friends, who hadn’t been to France before and was overjoyed at the opportunity to accompany me. I was even more excited that I could experience France in the fall, which I’ve never done and always wanted to.
We flew Icelandair, which I’d never flown before but knew of its great reputation for service and timeliness. We were not disappointed. All the flights were on-time, airport check-in was quick and efficient, the flight attendants were very attentive, and the layover in Reykjavík was short and easy. My only complaint is that economy class on Icelandair is not ideal, it’s certainly no Lufthansa. However, the price and overall quality of the experience made it more than worth it.
We arrived in Paris (earlier than scheduled!) and immediately took the RER B to Gare du Nord, transferred via the Metro to Gare de Lyon, and took the TGV to Dijon, the capital city of Burgundy. We spent the next five days at my Grandparents house in a tiny village on the Burgundy canal. Every morning we woke up, walked maybe two minutes to the boulangerie (the only store in town), and enjoyed croissants, pain au chocolat, and many types of French bread. After that we’d spend our time exploring the area, going on wine-tastings, wandering around beautiful Burgundian villages, and perusing local farmers markets. At night we’d cook traditional French meals or go to charming restaurants enjoying some of the best food you’ll ever eat!
Here’s my list of highlights from my time in Burgundy:
- Scenic drive through the vineyards South of Beaune, ending at the charming Château de la Rochepot.
- Be sure to stop in Meursault and Pommard for wine tastings!
- Renting bikes in Pouilly-en-Auxois and taking a leisurely ride along the Burgundy canal.
- Enjoying the big and bustling Saturday market in Beaune. Afterwards touring the Hospices de Beaune, a hospital for the poor built in the mid-15th century that is now a museum.
- Exploring Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, a medieval hilltop village with a 15th century fortified castle that looks out over the Burgundy countryside.
- Dinner in Vandenesse-en-Auxois at Restaurant de l’Auxois, run by the charming Mr. and Mrs. Juchem. They will treat you like family while filling your belly with delicious and authentic Burgundian cuisine. I highly recommend the escargot (snails!).
- Enjoy the tranquil atmosphere of the true French countryside with a good book and glass of red wine.
After our 5 days in Burgundy we took the train to Colmar, a town in the Alsace region of France. I’ve never been to this area and my friend’s one request was that we go somewhere that I haven’t been, so we can both experience something in France for the first time. It’s location on the border between France and Germany gives it a distinct German influence. It’s full of colorful, Bavarian style architecture and pedestrian cobblestone streets that make it the perfect place to leisurely explore. It’s also smack dab in the middle of the Alsace wine region, making it an easy base for day trips to the neighboring wine villages. We stayed for two nights at a charming hotel in the heart of Colmar’s old town, one block from the venerated St. Martin’s Cathedral.
Here’s my list of highlights from my time in Colmar:
- Wandering around Colmar’s old town, taking in the beautiful architecture while enjoying delicious sandwiches from one of the many local boulangeries.
- Visiting St. Martin’s Cathedral and the Dominican Church (located within two blocks of each other). Compare St. Martin’s imposing façade with the much more simplistic style of the Dominican Church.
- Renting bikes at Colmar’s train station, biking around the town and then heading toward the German border. The ride will take you through wonderful little villages whose German influence gets more and more apparent the closer you get to the border.
- Visiting the Unterlinden Museum, in particular it’s impressive Isenheim Altarpiece.
We left Colmar and took the train to Paris. We stayed for 6 days at a family friend’s home in Saint-Cloud, a suburb of Paris on the other side of the Bois de Boulogne. From their house it’s an easy 10 minute tram ride to La Defense, where we would catch the M1 Metro into Paris. From there, we’d tackle Paris arrondissement by arrondissement, making sure to stop at cafes for frequent espressos to keep us going. We spent the majority of our time in the Marais, Latin Quarter, and around Saint-Germain-des-Prés. These have always been my favorite areas. They feel so authentically Parisian, from their narrow streets, to the vintage clothing shops, to the classic cafes (Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore, Café Bonaparte, and Ma Bourgogne). We didn’t forget about the grand boulevards though. We spent a lot of time around the Louvre/Palais Royale, and walked up and down the Champs-Élysées. No matter how many times you travel to Paris, you’ll always find something new to experience or get more out of something you thought you already knew.
Here’s the list of highlights from my time in Paris:
- Having lunch at Café Bonaparte in front of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church. Afterwards, walking to Saint-Sulpice and Jardin du Luxembourg.
- Spending the day museum hopping from the Grand Palais’ Bohèmes exhibit, crossing the Seine to Musée d’Orsay, stopping for a quick snack of crepes in the Tuileries before going to Musée du Louvre.
- Having dinner at a small wine bar near École Militaire, then walking two blocks to the Eiffel Tower and taking the elevator up to enjoy the best view of Paris at night.
- Strolling through the Marais, stopping in small boutiques, spending an hour at Musée Carnavalet learning more about the history of Paris, then grabbing at quick lunch at a falafel stand down the street.
- Relaxing at a café in front of Jardin des Tuileries, having an espresso and people watching.
- Spending a few hours reading at the Place des Vosges in the Marais, a small square surrounded by some of the most beautiful apartments in Paris (including Victor Hugo’s old house). Afterwards grab lunch at Ma Bourgogne, a fantastic restaurant serving Burgundian cuisine.
I had to say goodbye to France after two wonderful weeks of vacation. As always, it was an amazing experience and left me with countless memories. I’m already planning my next trip to France, because I can’t ever stay away for too long!