I’ve been to France on only a few occasions and it’s been a long time since I last visited. My first journey there was a day trip from school at the age of about 11, we went from Folkstone to Boulogne-sur-Mer. I remember we were let loose on the unsuspecting French public with our extremely fledgling French language skills which I used to attempt to purchase gifts for the family. We wandered around looking at all the things that were different about France (this was the very first time I had ever been overseas) and taking photos of the things that were most striking. I still have some of those photos and I looked back on them recently; they include things like lampposts and traffic lights which were different in design and the houses and shops which seemed architecturally to be quite grand compared to the buildings in my home town. How strange to look back now at what I thought was significant then!
My next visit was when I was 17 and doing “A” levels. It was a long weekend in Paris and I went with my first boyfriend who was on the same course as me. We stayed in Paris and spent the whole weekend drinking French wine, eating baguette and brie and wandering around. I don’t think I made the most of that visit; I was just pleased to be off the leash, having only recently left home. Back in the day, there existed a one-year passport and I remember applying for it at the post office in order to travel. Hard to imagine that such a situation was ever possible.
A great many years passed before I went to France again. I was about 34 and my boyfriend, now my husband, and I went to Lille for our first weekend away together. It was Bastille Day, July 14, that weekend and I’d somehow managed to get some discounted travel on the Eurostar, I can’t remember how, but we went for next to nothing. The boyfriend booked the hotel and off we went. It was an absolutely roasting hot weekend and he caught a dreadful cold on the first day, but he didn’t let that stop us having a lovely time. Bastille Day was wonderful, the fireworks being a colourful ending to the celebrations.
A few months later, just before our first Christmas, he suggested a day over the Channel together, so we sailed to Calais, drove into the near countryside to look around and have lunch and a walk, stopping on the way back to stock up on French wine, baguettes and brie. I also bought my first coffee maker there, a little machine that frothed the milk as well as brewed the espressos, a feature which my previous machines had all lacked. We also bought two or three Camembert cheeses which didn’t last until Christmas. They were so delicious they were devoured almost as soon as we got home. Frankly I’m surprised they made it that far.
Then began my love affair with Italy, which meant that France became somewhat neglected. When our little chap was two we went to Brussels on the Eurostar, Belgium of course, not France, but French speaking. And that was our last visit, until a couple of weeks ago when we went to Disneyland Paris. Although it’s an American concept, French was heard everywhere, the staff were French, in the main, and we conversed happily in French in the shops, to the limited extent that shopping requires. It was a delight to listen to the language being spoken all around us.
I’m hoping that we will be able to make more frequent visits across the Channel in the future. Whilst Eurostar will get you to the glamorous places quickly (Paris, Brussels, Lille), it can be quite expensive. Ferry is the cheaper way to go but it’s more difficult (although not impossible) to go further afield in the space of a weekend. I’m sure there are many undiscovered treasures along the north coast just waiting to be found!