France

Besides Japan, France is by far our next most visited destination. So many journeys long and short had been made to many parts of this beautiful country. Now they say it is hard to do a road trip in France if you are not familiar with its language. But that’s a myth. Look at the hordes of English that drive their right-hand drive cars into France. Or better yet, see them drive all the way to the southwest of the country (don’t know why) to live in tiny villages. As if those do not exist in England…

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Our trusty Opel Zafira

As you can observe, many of the beaten track attractions and locations have been touched by our travel handprint. I have to say that buying the DK guide was actually useful. Not because it helped us plan or really provided guidance, but for the fact it gave us ideas. Unlike Suan, Mel had not been to Paris before 2002. While she had the pleasure of joining package tours that rounded Europe stopping at its major cities, Mel was a neophyte when he first came to Paris in the summer of 2002. That trip could still be recalled because it wasn’t quite what I had expected. First – it was cloudy, rainy and actually cold (even for me). Second, the city seemed friendlier than Suan had prepared me for. I did not experience any snootiness that she mentioned.

Perhaps I was lucky. The weather did turn warm as it was supposed to when we went to Versailles. Maybe it was reward for being persistent. Perhaps that’s why we came back for more in January of 2003 at the height of winter.

Things did not pick up until late 2004, when we finally had begun to road trip first to Normandy and then expanding to the rest of Northern France.

Road tripping

The focus in 2003 and early 2004 had been to make the best of exploring Holland and Germany. Especially Holland, since we are only expected to be there for a short time. But by mid 2004, the focus has changed as Mel was asked to seek out the next posting. France appeared on the radar along with Italy. With proximity we took advantage to see more of the potential new country we intended to move to.

Our road trip planning was very simple.

Objective : work out a circuit route that takes us from Amsterdam through France and loop back. We usually gave ourselves a minimum of 4-5 days. Being ~500km from Amsterdam, the region around Paris was considered an easy target. Where was that? The Loire valley.

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It helps by coincidence that the Loire is home to Chateaux a plenty. Not so much as military installations as in fabulous homes for the nobility and the wealthy. Many were built on the back breaking taxation of the peasantry in the 17th and 18th century. Such opulence juxtaposes with the poverty and servitude of the poorer classes that struggled for a living. No wonder the revolution happened.

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Fields just flower on their own in spring

And wine. It all begun with an introductory excursion from Paris in November 2003 during a business trip. Actually I did not recall being billed for that excursion. But it was a combination of both a chateau and wine tour. It was there that we first discovered red sparkling wine in 2004. Pity they don’t export them. Friends of ours tried to set up import for it but failed.

Normandy was another obvious place to turn up, least of all at that famed monastery on an islet that is linked to the land at low tide. And Champagne is a must do, since the bubbly is a rather pricey luxury, we wanted to see how it is made. An interesting mélange at Alsace, which blends elements of German and French in this historically contested region.

Round all of France

The crowning glory of all was our 16-day ‘tour de France’. Fortunately it was not a cycling trip, and we had 4 wheels for it. It was early summer of 2005, and we were preparing to leave Europe for home. For good. Did that sound bad? Hmm…ok, we cried on the way home.

It was time to make a choice: get to see much more of France or go on a series of journeys to Iceland, Cyprus and of all places – Faeroe islands. Yes, I know that some would not even know where that is (hint : well north of Scotland). Suan picked up a brochure one day at the local tour agent and it suddenly appeared on the radar.

As history would attest, we chose the former. So road trip it was.

How we arrived at an exact number of 5,840km cannot be recalled. But at least we can tell you the breakdown of how much it cost us:

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No this is not highway, but a road way in the mountains

For this distance we drove on a fair stretch of tolled highways, costing us a total of ~€142. And for lodgings there was nothing fancy, mostly staying in the Ibis chain of hotels. That came up to a total just shy of €980 for 16 nights for an average of just over €60/night. Not too bad actually but that was in 2005. Inflation would probably have pushed this way higher.

For meals it was even better. For instance, we had the ‘menu du jour’ in a small tavern in the southwest of France (on the way to Carcassone). Costing us just €12pp, it came with a bottle of Rose wine on top of the 4 course meal. Try beating that for value elsewhere! It was by no means an exception.

However, all good things do come to an end. For us this was in June of 2005 and we had not been back in France since. A lot has happened since that time and many things have changed in France (and all over Europe), perhaps forever. But if there ever an opportunity, you can bet we will be on a road trip once again in France.