Monday, November 17, 2014

All Around the World: France and Monaco

Wanderlust: A very strong and irresistible impulse or desire to travel the world.

France and Monaco

Chocolate croissants, lavender fields, cherries to die for, and amore all around you? Welcome to France!

The first time I went to France was shortly after my grandmother had passed away. I wasn't expecting to have the best time in my life, rather I was hoping to take my mind off of recent events. Paris, however, helped me heal in ways I hadn't expected. First of all, I had no choice but to laugh when I wound up staying at the edge of the Red Light District. Not on purpose, mind you, but more so due to a lack of thorough planning and research on where exactly the hotel was located. There's only so much sadness you can have when your hotel is right next to a bright red Sexodrome store.
My hotel, in blue. The sex store, in red.
Before we carry on with the magnificence of France, let's cover a few key things first:

Fact or Fiction: Everyone in France is rude.
  • Fiction
I've been to France twice now and I've never had an issue. I've heard that it depends on where you are, whether you're in a more highly populated, thus more touristy area, or not. I've been to both and I've only ever met very nice people. However, I'm sure this all has to do with how we act while we're there, too. Regardless of what country you go to, as long as you go with a smile on your face, a respect for their culture, and kindness in your heart, you will always (or at least 99.9% of the time) meet friendly, kind, arms-wide-open people.

Fact or Fiction: If you're not good at speaking their language, don't do it. It will just insult them. 
  • Fiction
Find a few key phrases and use them while you're there. It's the effort that counts. I highly suggest learning this key phrase: Ou son les toilettes? It's critical, trust me.

Fact or Fiction: The Eiffel Tower is amazing.
  • Ohmygoodness FACT!
The Eiffel Tower might just be the most memorable and beautiful landmark I've seen to date. I was sure I was going to enjoy it, but I had no idea I would fall in complete and total love with it. The Tower is beautiful, amazing, glorious, breath-taking, all around WOW-ing.

The lovely view you see below is from the top of the Eiffel Tower. If you can, go on the tour offered and enjoy lunch at the restaurant in the Tower. Give yourself plenty of time to take in all the views.
Paris - Society 6
Black Lace - Society 6
While this will sound like a lot of work, I highly suggest you go see all of the sights during the day and then go back to them at night as well. Paris isn't called the City of Light for no reason. The two differences are, honestly, day and night. At night the city lights up with colors all around you and it genuinely feels different- magical. During the day you can see across the city for miles and get a better look at all the beauty Paris has to offer.
Everything You Imagined
You'd think someone who travels alone would be better at navigating, but no. I get lost going from one room in my house to the other, so when I say that the metro in Paris is easy to use, you know it has to be real easy. Like 5 year old operating easy. Not to mention how very Gothic and awesome the signs are.
Metropolitan - Society 6
Montmarte is my favorite area in the city to visit. There's something about it that makes you feel like you've just walked out of a big city and into a little slice of history heaven. The cobbled streets, the shops, the restaurants. It is pure magic.
Montmartre at Night
A trip to Paris isn't complete until you've seen all the sights, and that includes the Louvre. The museum is unlike anything I've ever been to. It feels like you walk out of one era and into the next, room after room. Of course, there's Mona Lisa to greet you and, well, that is just worth it all in itself.
A Dramatic Dusk - Society 6
The Raven and the Louvre
A visit to the Notre Dame is also highly suggested. Inside you'll find big magnificent chandeliers lighting up the interior. On the outskirts of it are vendors selling all kinds of French knick-knacks, but some sell pieces of art. I enjoyed looking at their art work as much as I did walking through this great cathedral.
Notre Dame
While there, why not get a look at Paris from underneath? The Catacombs of Paris do not disappoint. I've been on a similar tour in Italy and I must say these are 10x as impressive and 10x as spooky. Make sure you arrive early because the line for this can be incredibly long.
The Catacombs - Society 6
A day trip to Normandy may also be something you want to consider if you have enough time in your trip. Mont St. Michel is a UNESCO world heritage site for good reason. This monastery survived the Hundred Years' War and (calling all fellow nerds) was the inspiration for Minas Tirith in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. If that doesn't get you there I don't know what will.
Mont St. Michel - Society 6
Nice is quite nice, if you ask me. For quite some time I've wanted to go to this popular destination but didn't have an opportunity until last year. I wish I had more time there, which would be my recommendation to you. I only spent a short day, but it deserves much more. The buildings alone are worth the time to stroll through the city. My favorite part, though? The antique market. Ohhhhhhh, the antique market! If only I had brought along a suitcase just for antiques. The range of items available was extraordinary. I've never seen so many timeless, beautiful things in one place before. If you're interested in going to see this specifically, double check when it's available because on certain days throughout the week it's a flower market.

French Antique Market - Society 6
Antique Market
Eze. A little place I never knew of before and now, will never forget. Not far from Nice (you could do both in one day), this little community that sets high on the hills offers views, food, and memories you'll want to capture while walking through the little streets browsing the spice carts or the art galleries.
When in Eze - Society 6
Walking through Eze
The view from on top
If there's one thing I love more than anything else about France (yes, even more than the Eiffel Tower) it's lavender fields. What can I say? It's the aromatherapist in me. Unfortunately, I was about 3 weeks early to the full blooming lavender fields so I had to settle for seeing two tiny ones from a distance. I can hardly complain, though. Look at this view! In fact, this was my favorite part of the trip last year.
Outside of Marseille Society 6
We went to the Luberdon region, a picture perfect area of Provence dotted with little villages everywhere. We stopped briefly at Lourmarin and Bonnieux before heading to my all time favorite place, Roussillon. This little village hosts the breathtaking views you see above along with the best meal I've ever had in my whole life. Seriously. We had lunch at Hotel Le Clos de la Glycine where you must absolutely, positively dine if you go there. While I may have missed lavender season, I was right in time for cherry season, the best surprise of the trip.

The cherries they served have ruined me for life and I'm not even kidding. I like cherries, a lot. But these cherries...these cherries are (to this day) the best thing I've ever eaten, ever. My mouth doesn't even know what to do with itself when I eat "normal" cherries now. My taste buds are all like, "Ooo, cherries! I get to eat cherries!!!" and then after it realizes they're not the same ones I had in France it gets depressed. Have you ever had depressed taste buds? It sucks. Everything goes bland, the world turns gray. It's awful. And it's all this restaurant's fault. Between the sweet, rich cherries and the homemade cherry compote I will never be the same.
The most amazing dessert in all of ever
Cherries that rock your world
I needed a moment to cope with the fact that I would never eat cherries this good again. I might have taken longer than the 5 minutes I promised. Maybe.

The only lavender fields I got to see. From a distance.
Paint Splatters - Society 6
On this trip we also took the opportunity to go to Monte Carlo, Monaco. Thanks to James Bond I expected a much larger place than I found, however, it was still quite spectacular. The wealth in this place is out of this world. I enjoyed my day there, but I also felt out of place. You know, being normal and not wealthy and all that jazz. I could afford gelato and a post card and that was about it.
Monaco - Society 6
It should also be noted that James Bond and his film crew are a bunch of liars. See this picture below? That's the Monte Carlo Casino. In the middle of town. It was squeezed in between a bunch of other buildings and not at all what I expected. We took the opportunity to go in and check it out and let me tell you, it looks nothing like what Casino Royale would have you believe, my friends. Unless there's a secret walled off room or basement or something (which, I suppose, there could be) they just made the whole doggone thing up. It is impressive, but it's also...small. Like, really small. Fancy, though. You can't even go in unless you're dressed up. And they are serious about security there in ways I've never seen at American casinos. If you want to check it out be sure to leave your bags at the hotel and dress in your Sunday best.
The Monte Carlo Casino
If you ever have the chance to go to these places, take it. Don't hesitate for one single second. The world is a beautiful, magical place that deserves our awe.

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