We love France. We honeymooned in Paris 7 years ago, where we became huge fans of the bread, cheese, and wine. It wasn’t until this trip, though, that we learned to appreciate the people of France.
Last year we met French couple Audrey and Pierre in Chugchilan, Ecuador, a remote little village in Andes Mountains. We were all there for the stunning views and hiking, and we stayed at a lodge that served communal meals. Audrey and Pierre were in the midst of a 6-month South American journey. We talked over dinner one night, exchanged email addresses like you do with tons of other travelers, and went our separate ways.
We stayed in touch with Pierre and Audrey over the last several months by occasional emails, and when Pierre read that we were in Belgium he asked us to come to France to visit them. It is a fairly easy train ride from Brussels to Lyon, France, and wet me up with Pierre at the train station as he was getting off work.
What did we do that next week? Well, we learned a lot about France and got a much-needed dose of family time – even if it wasn’t ours.
French family dining
The French are famous for their food, and they should be. What is more remarkable, however, is the way they eat their food. Meals are hours-long events in France, and we were fortunate to attend two family dinners in the gorgeous area of Annecy in the Alps – a milestone birthday party and a baptism. Both came with lots of people, incredible food, and flowing wine. It’s a multigenerational thing, too: We talked with neighbors and children and watched briefly as a grandparent played chess with an 8-year-old neighbor boy. Warren played basketball with adults and kids outside by the pool (and fished out an opponent after he fell in). We shared stories of travel and adventure, recipes for new foods, and joked about the differences between people from the US and France as well as the similarities. It is those long evenings around a table, drinking wine, sharing stories, and laughing into the wee hours of the night that are the most memorable parts of a trip like ours, and we felt very lucky to be part of Audrey and Pierre’s family celebrations.
Speaking of food, we had to try one of the delicacies in France: frog legs (“cuisses de grenouilles” en Francais). These buttery little delights were a surprise. Check out Warren’s reaction to his first frog legs while dining at a restaurant: (click here if you don’t see the video below)
Yet another culinary delight was the crepe. Pierre took us to his Uncle Hervé’s crepe stand in Rullily,
and we enjoyed some of the best crepes we’ve ever had. It is like watching an artist at work to see the thin layer of batter get painted on the grill and in seconds turn into a delicious crepe. Hervé used to have a more traditional job at a factory, but he gave it all up to make crepes. He says he likes it better despite the more irregular income because he sells happiness every day. How’s that for a job description?
Beaune, the capital of the Burgundy wine region
Beaune is the capital of the Burgundy wine region, and it is a short distance there by train from Bourg-en-Bresse or Lyon. We toured Patriarche winery’s cellars and sampled 13 different wines by candlelight below the ground. The winery is so big that they have 5 km of tunnels stacked with wine
underneath the city, and we walked through quite a bit of it. It would have been great to go out to the vineyards themselves, but since it was harvest time most of them were closed to visitors. We splurged and bought 4 bottles of nicer wine, and we loved sharing it with our new friends over the weekend.
One day, Audrey was off all afternoon so we decided to explore Lyon together. We rented bikes from the stands at the park after unsuccessfully looking for bikes at 2 other stands (the first 30 minutes are free, so you can see why many people use them to get around the city quickly and cheaply). We ate lunch by the river Rhône and biked from the park to the opera house and over to the Confluence, which is where the Rhône meets up with the Saône. Here we marveled at the very un-Lyon-like modern architecture in the area and stopped for a drink while we waited for Pierre to join us.
Annecy, France: the Venice of the Alps
We drove to Annecy on Friday evening when Pierre and Audrey got off work. This beautiful city sits in the foothills of Alps, and both the city and the surroundings are beautiful. There are canals running throughout, with cobblestone streets and bridges and lots of shops and restaurants around the castle. We walked around the park, watching a local dance club swing-dance under the stars, and then ordered a takeaway pizza so we could eat alongside the canal. It was a great introduction to the Alps, even if we couldn’t really see them until the next day.
We haven’t seen really big mountains since we left South America, so it was great to finally see the Alps the next morning. Pierre drove us to a nearby path and we decided to take a short 3-hour hike before rewarding ourselves with Uncle Hervé’s crepes. It proved to a little too challenging to me with my bum foot and I had to stop before reaching the top, but Warren, Audrey and Pierre scrambled their way up for a great view. I sat on the bench and took photos for families as they pit-stopped, and I got to practice a little French. (Mostly, “de sole, parle vous Francais en peu.”) It was a beautiful day to be outside and take in the first scents of fall coming.
What we loved most about France
One thing we love about travel is meeting people, but even better is meeting the people of those people: friends, parents, children, cousins, neighbors. New experiences shared with interesting people are always more meaningful. Our time in France was brief, but after making friends we know we will be back.
We have to give a lot of credit to Pierre and Audrey for inviting two relative strangers into their home for a week and driving us up to their hometown to meet both sides of the family on two important occasions. They exemplify how to live the good life – meeting new people, connecting others, and staying in touch. And after meeting their families, we can see where they get it. Thanks to all of you – Pascale, Patrick, and the whole family – for sharing your weekend with us.
Have you ever met someone on your travels and invited them to come visit? How did it go?
(Editor’s Note: Are you interested in a French holiday? Write about your favorite holiday on your blog, list your favorite travel tips or the restaurants or locations you think are must-sees. Travelizer is going to award the winner a trip to a European city of your choice – up to £800. Enter now – the contest ends on November 14, 2011.)