Finally, we get to my favourite part of my university year abroad – travelling! As you can tell by the title, I was thoroughly bitten by the travel bug when I was in France. I was in a really fortunate position financially throughout the year which gave me the freedom to travel. And travel, I did!
As I mentioned in my last post, I travelled locally within Picardy and its surrounding regions throughout the 7 months that I spent in France. I travelled largely with my two best friends from the group of assistants I knew and we got around by train or by car. The map below shows the places we visited that were in the near-ish vicinity of Amiens (in the centre of the picture).
We didn’t just stick to this area though; we also visited Blois and Bourges in the centre of France, as well as Strasbourg in the east, and across the German border to Stuttgart for a weekend. I also went travelling with some uni friends from back home and visited them where they were staying. I crossed a few borders visiting my best friend in Switzerland and even my aunt in Brussels for my 21st birthday! I was really lucky to be able to spend New Year with another good uni friend at her home in Luxembourg so I managed to get a lot of travelling in!
Now, there’s no point in me spending this whole post just listing all the places I’ve been to, I wanted to talk a bit more about some of them that I enjoyed the most and would recommend visiting.
1. Geneva, Switzerland
Just three weeks after arriving in France, I was already off with a friend from uni to visit my best friend in Geneva, where she was spending her Erasmus placement. We left Paris on the Friday evening after school and arrived in Geneva around midnight, staying at a hostel. We wandered around a local park, had Swiss cheese fondue and checked out my friend’s university, from the outside, of course. We also visited the Kathedrale St Peter and went up the tower, getting a great view of the city, Lac Léman and the Jet d’Eau. We even made homemade battered fish and chips for the family she was living with at the time. It was a short weekend but it was great to see some familiar faces after settling into life in Amiens and enjoy some surprisingly nice weather in Switzerland in October!
Although this was only a day trip, I really enjoyed spending time in Lille. We visited at the end of November while the Christmas market was on and had a wonderful time wandering around it, buying little bits and bobs for ourselves and for Christmas presents with a lovely cup of hot cider to keep us warm. Since we only had a few hours to spend here, it was mostly spent at the market but we also visited some of the sights in the city, admiring the beautiful buildings they had to offer. It was such a relaxing day and I’d love to go back sometime.
3. Christmas in Paris
As I mentioned in my Life as an ELA post, I made the decision not to go home for Christmas in December 2011. The school holidays were two weeks long – 17th December to 3rd January – and I didn’t want to risk getting stuck in Scotland due to snow/bad weather and miss work. Instead, my best friends and I reunited in Paris to spend 3.5 days together before spending some time in London. Although one of them was coming from Scotland, she had longer university holidays, giving her more flexibility if the weather conditions grounded flights.
Christmas Eve was spent sightseeing. We went to the Notre Dame, Place de la Concorde, and the Louvre. We also spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find an open Hermès store so that my friend could buy her mum perfume for Christmas, since she could no longer get in the UK. We also scoped out a restaurant to have Christmas dinner in since I had read that it might be a struggle to find somewhere open or available on Christmas in Paris but turns out it wasn’t all that difficult and we booked a table at a lovely little restaurant near the Notre Dame.
On Christmas Day, we were off to the Eiffel Tower. It was such an exciting and cool way to spend Christmas – at the top of the Eiffel Tower with a glass of champagne and my two best friends. Such great views of Paris and beyond! (Side note: definitely book your tickets online in advance – check out the picture below for the ticket queue!!) We were wearing flashing santa hats with our outfits which made for a useful way to find each other in a crowd and also encouraged festive cheer in people around us! We spent some time there, exploring the various levels before we went back to the hotel to get organised for dinner, fitting in time to call home and catch up with relatives.
We ate at the Restaurant Jardin Notre-Dame and while it wasn’t a traditional Christmas dinner with my friends eating escargots as a starter, (though as a pescatarian, what exactly is a traditional Christmas dinner anyway?), it was delicious. We even had a few drinks at a nearby pub after dinner before calling it a night.
Before we left for London the next day, we visited the Arc de Triomphe, the Moulin Rouge (which was a lot less awkward than the first time), Montmartre and the Sacré Coeur. Admittedly, these sights would have been a lot easier without the suitcases but, c’est la vie, it was enjoyable all the same. All in all, it was a pretty awesome Christmas and easily a highlight of my year in France.
4. Bourges & Blois
In mid-February, I spent a weekend with my fellow assistants visiting two cities in the centre of France – Bourges and Blois. If I recall correctly, they were recommended to my friend by the woman she was staying with. We did a lot of walking in Bourges, visiting the Jardin des Pres Fichaux, the Jacques-Coeur Palace, the old Hotel de Ville, and Cathedrale St Etienne. There was also this crazy epic vending machine that was about 3 or 4 times the length of a normal one. We had a nice day exploring there and then we were off to Blois, where it was still very wintery with snow (and ice) on the ground!
We drove back up to Amiens later that day so we didn’t have a long time in Blois. While we were there, we wandered around and visited the Château de Blois which is a very beautiful building and although it is a museum now, it was closed so we couldn’t go in. We also saw the Maison de la Magie which faces the castle. It is a museum relating to the famous French illusionist, Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin (the inspiration for Houdini), who was born in Blois. They have a collection of all things magic but again, it was closed so we missed out on that. Overall, we had a great time in both places and enjoyed getting away from the north for a weekend. I would quite like to go back to Blois some time, maybe when the museums are open!
5. Rouen & Rambures
Another day trip, this time to Rouen. Here, we spent time at the Church of Joan of Arc and admired the medieval half-timbered houses, picnicked by the River Seine on a lovely Spring day and enjoyed the Gothic Notre-Dame of Rouen. We even toured the tower where Joan of Arc was held captive. Rouen is an incredibly interesting historical city and it is worth visiting.
On our way home, we took a slight detour and stopped at the Château de Rambures. It’s a military style fortress from the Middle Ages and from the pictures, it looked lovely. Small, but lovely. Obviously it had to just be the size of the picture. Colour me surprised when we arrived and it genuinely was small, in comparison to your typical castle. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the tour we went on, visiting inside and outside the structure, and it is beautiful. It just wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Still, a great wee detour at the end of an enjoyable day!
6. Château de Versailles
Unlike the Château de Rambures, the Château de Versailles does meet the expectations of a large castle, though it is actually more palatial than castle-like. It is an incredible place, to say the least, with its appartements, Hall of Mirrors (more impressive when there’s no people) and gardens; it is definitely worth a visit. I don’t know if I can say much about this impressive structure that is actually articulate enough so I’ll just let some pictures do the talking. Though, rest assured, I don’t think they do it justice. If architecture, castles and history take your fancy, please go visit! It only takes about an hour on the train from Paris to get there.
I hope you all enjoyed reading this post and finding out about some of the trips I really enjoyed while I was in France! Maybe it will inspire you to visit them. Catch you next time for my last Year Abroad series blog!