The Recollection Diaries: France

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France is the first post in the Recollection Diaries series where we visited more than one city, so it was suddenly a whole lot harder to pick out just five particular memories. Our main stay was in Paris, where I was reunited with my mum (after 2 short weeks!) and my cousin Summer, whom I hadn’t seen in almost two years. The trip was centered around the French Open, but after that we ventured on to Strasbourg and Colmar before crossing the border into Switzerland. Paris is definitely one of those places that I could visit time and time again and always feel like I’m doing something different.

My recollection

Strongest memory: The French Open. Hard to argue with as this was the main reason we went to Paris! We had a mixed bag of weather, when the sun was out it didn’t take long to warm up but the wind and rain and clouds sure did their best to make themselves known. As Australian Open veterans (the rest of us riding on Mum’s status basically) it didn’t take us long to identify that the Australian Open is just a million times better in terms of infrastructure and access to toilets, outdoor areas and food and drink. Last minute court changes literally resulted in a stampede that made headlines on one of the days that we (thankfully) weren’t there. The radiance of the orange from the courts was magnificent to see and as we all know, my family adores tennis.

Memorable meal: I have two; I just could not decide! The first was our meal in Paris’ Latin Quarter,  where I indulged in some delightful pesto snails as a starter and my whole family was treated to a three course experience. We considered ourselves to be on a budget and then Summer showed us just what a budget really was when she could barely afford to eat out at all! However this one of her splurges and it was a really delightful (albeit touristy) experience. The other is the night we went for Flammekueche (a style of Alsatian pizza) in Strasbourg. Hidden down a side street in a wee underground cave (at least that’s what it felt like) we were presented with the menu. We encountered a slight problem when we realised the whole menu was in French and our waitress didn’t speak a drop of English. Thankfully at this time Andy was still faithful to DuoLingo so he successfully navigated us through the menu and onward to enjoy a really lovely meal of traditional style pizza and prized Alsatian wine.

Best activity: A French picnic is hard to beat. It is such a cheap and easy meal, achievable by visiting a bakery, grocer and deli or even just the supermarket. On many an occasion, we would pick up a baguette, some meat, cheese and fruit and pick one of France’s many scenic spots for a picnic. A highlight was definitely doing this on the grounds under the Eiffel Tower – certainly a meal with an iconic view. This meal was made even better by the accompaniment of a selection of delicious pastries from a local patisserie – they were absolutely mouthwatering. A longstanding memory I have of this picnic: rather than joining the rest of us on a typical French spread, Andy instead opted for an unappealing looking hot-dog for that particular lunch! Such sophistication.

Favourite place: Our little Parisian apartment in the 17th Arrondissement was the most amazing place to call home for five nights. It was light and airy and just another apartment in yet another block of apartments, adourning the streets of Paris. We had so much fun exploring all the artisan shops, cafes and parks in our little neighbourhood and it is easily an area I would recommend to others for its overall ambiance and elegance, and also its general proximity to the tourist sites. I felt so authentic each morning, waking up and swinging open our shutters onto the balcony with cute views of the street below.

Unforgettable sight: The cobble-stoned, winding pedestrian-only streets that line the river in Colmar will never cease to amaze me. To this day, when I see pictures of Colmar on various online travel bucket lists (as I frequently do) I can barely believe that that actually, I’ve already been there. It is truly like something out of a fairy tale and it is exactly like the pictures! It would have to be one of the cutest places in the whole world.

Andy’s recollection

Strongest memory:  My strongest memory for France is more specific to my own trip than my memories of other countries.  One of the reasons that we visited France when we did (to the detriment of more time in the Netherlands) was to attend leg two of our lifetime grand slam – the French Open.  Two of our five days were spent watching the action on the clay courts of Roland Garros, so naturally it is the most enduring memory of our time.  Of particular note: the long lines caused by the fact that there are only two entrances to the complex; the dense crowds caused by the cramped layout of Roland Garros (I was shocked to find the entire complex wedged between two busy roads); and the inclement weather.  That all sounds rather dire, but the fact that I left after day two wishing that I had more tickets is testament to how fun the atmosphere created by the French fans was. 

Memorable meal:  The meal that first comes to mind is an Alsatian wood-fired pizza (known as flammenkuchen) that we enjoyed in the cellar dining room of one of Strasbourg’s most popular eating spots.  The name eludes me, but I particularly enjoyed the combination of the setting, the pizza, and traditional Alsatian Riesling, as well as being able to test out my French on wait staff that didn’t cater to English-only customers.

Best activity:  I’ve already spoken about my time at the French Open, so I’ll talk instead about the second best activity: picnicking in Paris’ parks.  Paris has beautiful urban green space in generous supply and there is always a top-notch boulangerie or patisserie within short walking distance.  We had picnics in two iconic Parisian spots: the grounds beneath the Eiffel Tower and the Luxembourg gardens.  Each came with a convivial festival atmosphere, and the combination of grazing and people-watching meant that the long afternoons spent in each of the parks just flew by.

Favourite place:   The city of Strasbourg is an underrated destination that only improves in my memory as time goes by.  The layout is very favourable to pedestrian tourists – a picturesque old town ringed by canals.  The buildings are a showcase of Franco-German architecture, and the city is overlooked by a truly stunning cathedral – one of the most striking exteriors of any cathedral that I saw in all of Europe.   The food scene is also particularly appealing, combining French baking with the German sweet tooth, all drenched in the regional drink of choice (and my favourite grape variety), Riesling.

Unforgettable sight:  The interior of the Sacre Coeur cathedral.  It took until I was standing at the foot of the building to truly appreciate how tall the cathedrals domes and spires are.  My surprise at the exterior height was quickly usurped by my awe at the interior of the dome.  I am not often moved by buildings, but this place really did have an effect on me.  I could happily have spent longer in there, which is something I don’t often say about visiting churches.   An honourable mention obviously goes to the sight of seeing the burnt-out shell of Notre Dame, having recently been gutted by a historic fire.  Once it is repaired, it will be exciting to be able to say that we managed to see it while it was still in ruins.

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