Having never been to France before, I expected it to be beautiful, but everywhere I went, nearly everything I saw and so much of what I tasted exceeded my expectations.
Our time was spent primarily in Versailles and Paris. Although Paris was amazing in the preservation of the city and the beautiful structures, I believe our family enjoyed Versailles best because it was — simply charming. Versailles' palaces and gardens were breathtaking. The paths running along the fields of goats and sheep created a relaxing place to walk through each day. The village itself was full of kind and helpful people as well as lovely outdoor restaurants and a great outdoor market. We could have stayed there for another week just relaxing.
Possibly, what I enjoyed most about Versailles were the people we met. While waiting in line at the palace, there was a lovely French family: An Aunt taking her nephew on holiday for his 10th birthday with a couple of cousins that had joined them. I was trying not to be the typical American, talking too loud and inserting myself in conversation, so I just stood in line watching France. But this dear French woman kept smiling at me. So I asked if they were on holiday. For the next hour as we waited to get into the Palace, we had a lovely conversation about our cultures and even enjoyed a conversation about misconceptions. From her perspective, at least, the French are at times uncomfortable trying to use their English because they feel uncertain whether they’ll be understood. So, at times they may seem “stand-offish.” In reality, they are just uncertain about using a second language (who can blame them). She said that if you try to speak French to them they are very ambitious to be helpful and encourage you in your French. We found this to be true. Very true in fact. My daughter and I went shopping in a local French grocery store. She listened and heard that you could order slices of bread at the bakery, so she steadied herself and conducted the entire conversation in French. If they saw her mother standing off in the corner knowing hardly a word of French and trying not to give her away, they didn’t show it. They were very kind and encouraging to my daughter. She felt very satisfied that she actually went shopping in France, in French and was understood! I, on the other hand, can speak only a few words. I tried. But as soon as they knew I was unable they spoke up in English. I was so blessed by how gracious everyone was to us. For me, experiencing the people was one of the things I enjoyed most about our time in Versailles.
Of course I do need to comment on Paris! A friend of ours told us that every building in Paris is beautiful. Frankly, I found that hard to believe, but she was right. I felt as though I spent a good portion of the week looking up. We walked to so many different places and enjoyed so many different things and tastes: Palace Garnier (the setting for the Phantom of the Opera), Victor Hugo’s home (quite moving to be able to stand at his desk where he wrote so many amazing stories), the Gardens at Luxembourg (hard to express the beauty and especially the charm of the little boat races), ice cream in the shape of flowers at the local ice cream store, the richest hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted at Angelina’s and the unforgettable Eiffel Tower that sparkles for the first five minutes of every hour when it turns dark.
We did take a one day excursion to Proving, France to see the best preserved medieval village in all of France. It was quite impressive. To stop and pause and think that this village has stood since the 1100’s was awe inspiring. The church has not ceased being in use! Staggering. As well, this was one of the first walled cities that used a passport system to protect its people and those who came to trade.
Truly magical time in France! Before traveling to France we were given Eye Witness Travel guides which can be purchased from Read France. This book is extremely helpful for anyone who is going to spend time in France. We were so helped by all its suggestions and historical descriptions. It was broken down by region, and within each region it offered things to see and places to eat.
France! An amazingly well preserved, charming and beautiful part of our world.