Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

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Northwestern France, days 1 and 2

Finally, I am writing about my trip to Brittany and Pays de la Loire during the Christmas holidays. It was almost a last-minute plan. I wanted to go somewhere far for Christmas (Prague or somewhere in Italy), but could not find anyone to go with. By the time someone DID want to go with me, prices for everything had been completely jacked up. Boo.

So, I decided to go solo. I wanted to just go SOMEWHERE outside of Bordeaux. It didn’t even have to be anywhere far anymore; I just needed to be alone for a few days. Well, I suppose Nantes and Rennes were far away enough. Nantes is a 4-hour train ride north of Bordeaux and Rennes is a further hour north of Nantes.

Not many people knew where I went during the four days after the Christmas meal. It felt a bit like a secret escape, actually, and I liked it. (See all photos.)

Day 1: Nantes, Pays de la Loire

Nantes, the capital city of the Pays de la Loire region in the north west of France, was historically a part of the region of Brittany (Bretagne in French). In fact, it was the capital of Brittany before it officially separated from the region, and that’s why the city still retains much of its culture from its Breton roots.

The Château des ducs de Bretagne is a prominent structure situated right in the city centre of Nantes, close to the train station. Back when Nantes was part of Brittany, the castle served as the residence of the dukes of Brittany. Today, visitors are allowed to take a walk around the various parts of the castle and its courtyards that are surrounded by old walls and ramparts.

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Paris, days 3 and 4

If I were to compare Paris with Bordeaux, I would say that Paris is an audacious beauty whereas Bordeaux is an elegant beauty. Three months in Bordeaux, and my impression of it hasn’t changed from the beginning – it is still as elegant as ever. Paris, shouldering the responsibility of representing the entire nation of France, tends to be bold and splendid, flashing its grandiosity as if saying, “Hey, look at me, I’m Paris!” Bordeaux, while beautiful, hides in a corner and radiates its own delicate style.

Of course, they say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. I’m biased towards Bordeaux because I live here, and so I am able to immerse myself within this city more finely and appreciate the little exquisite details of a Bordelais life.

During the trip to Paris, I started a list of “DO’s” and “DON’Ts” throughout my travel. Now, the list may very well be specific to Paris, because it’s the only city I’ve visited in Europe so far. I will review this list once I get a chance to go around a bit more. Anyway, here I present 3 top “DO’s” and “DON’Ts” of being in Paris by myself for the first time.

DO

Research before traveling. Even though I was almost sure that I was going with plan “no plan” during my visit, it was still nice to know where I would have liked to visit and what to look out for. For example, there was no way I would have known that Trocadéro is THE place to go to see the Tour Eiffel, unless I looked it up beforehand. I didn’t have a set itinerary, so my schedule was quite spontaneous. However, I definitely took some time to familiarize myself with the metro system before venturing out and prepared myself for facing some scam/pickpocketing attempts – it was well worth the effort, because I did encounter some rather sketchy folks in Paris. Know what you’re doing so you’re not caught off guard by unpleasant surprises.

Observe people. There’s no fun rushing and constantly being on the go from one place to the next. Sometimes I love spending time sitting on a bench and just watch people for a few moments. The way they speak, the way they walk, the way the act – so diverse, especially in a city of tourists. I also enjoyed glancing at passengers on the train and trying to differentiate between visitors and locals of the city.

Be aware of your surroundings. Self-explanatory. Not being colourblind definitely helps in metro stations, because sometimes colours say more than numbers or words – no offense intended for those of you who ARE colourblind. Being in a completely new environment, no one is going to accommodate you, so you will have to adapt to find your way around. Read signs fast and avoid looking like you’re lost – even if you are lost – and becoming the next target for pickpocketing.

DON’T

Don’t put on your headphones. Paris is a large city, and a large tourist city. One thing I liked about it was that you could hear a myriad of foreign languages wherever you go. Also, there are often random musicians that would hop on the metro, play music, and ask for money (of course you don’t have to give). I ditched my headphones for 4 days and immersed myself not only visually, but also in an audio experience. Sometimes it’s just fun to hear a conversation spoken neither in English nor French, and contemplate the types of people that came from all over the world to just pass by each other in this city. Quite a thought.

Don’t be afraid. I’ve been told countless horror stories about pickpocketing in Paris and the messed up gangs and random acts of violence in public. As a solo traveler for the first time, I was a little intimidated at first, but that fear was quickly overcome by the desire to explore and the excitement of discovery. Paris wasn’t all that scary, and while you may indeed encounter some sketchy people, as long as you are cautious and use some common sense, the experience should be in general a positive and very pleasant one.

Don’t be a fool. This goes without saying, and it ties in with some of my previous points. If some random lady comes up to you on les Champs-Élysées and asks you to help her buy a limited edition LV bag to bring back to China for her friends because she couldn’t buy more than one (yes, she will offer you the money too), you ignore – or if you’re nice, politely tell her no – and walk away. Think (quickly, as is required sometimes) before you act and frankly, just try not to do something too stupid that could get you in a whole lot of trouble.

Anyway, that’s already quite a lot of words. This post took long enough to put up, a lot longer than I had anticipated due to being busy and exhausted the previous week. I do apologize for the delay. Here’s your weekly dose of photo spam, though next week it should revert back to the normal Bordeaux scenes. As with the previous entry, mouseover each photo for a brief description and click on it for a larger version.

Musée du Louvre

The famous Musée du Louvre was my first stop on day 3. I originally intended to go in and drown myself in art and culture for a full day, and I was even ready to pay, though I would have had a chance at getting free admission for being a EU “citizen” under 25. However, when I saw the line-up in front of the pyramid, I gave it a second thought. Then I walked slowly from the beginning to the end of the line and that itself took me 10 minutes – perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but it felt like it. I estimated that getting in would have taken 2 to 3 hours of time, and immediately I discarded the idea of joining the line. A date with Mona Lisa will have to wait till next time, when there is someone to line up with me.

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