Studying French language in France
My husband Anthony and I left Brisbane, Australia, on 25 May to fly to Toulouse, France via Singapore and Paris. Everywhere, except New Zealand, is a long way, so we like to stay a day or so in the Singapore Airport. We booked into the Transit Hotel at the Airport for about 8 hours and had a much-needed sleep; so we missed seeing Singapore and all the delights it has to offer, like the amazing scene in the picture below.
The next stop was Toulouse, our home for a month while we studied French. We stayed just 200 metres from the school, Alliance Francaise, which is located in the splendid Place du Capitole, in one of the buildings in the photo below.
Toulouse is a vibrant, exciting city with so much happening, it’s hard to keep up! There were funky little bars in every street, a wide variety of restaurants, and music everywhere. I was surprised to hear mostly English music in shops, restaurants and bars. In fact, the only time I heard French music was when I looked for it on television, and it was fabulous! I hope the French people support their local talent, which is every bit as good as that found in the USA and England (and Australia).
I studied in the Intermediate class and loved every minute. The plan was to study in the morning and then practise speaking French in shops, restaurants, etc. However, often when I spoke to French people, they decided to be friendly and help me by speaking in English! Alas, everyone under 70 speaks English. There was a musical festival while we were in Toulouse and we could hear a lot of the music from our apartment. I recall hearing Rag’n’Bone Man singing (very well) in English!
My worst experience in Toulouse was when we went to one of our favourite restaurants and I mistakenly ordered Tartare de boeuf, which is raw beef. I know that it’s a popular dish (with whom I don’t know) but I only saw the word ‘boeuf’, not ‘tartare’, on the menu so when it arrived, I was so shocked and appalled that I didn’t think to ask for a replacement.
Every meal I’d had at this chic restaurant had been wonderful, so I said to myself, “How bad could it be? It won’t taste like raw meat, surely?” I bravely accepted my fate. And, what did it taste like? … Raw Meat!! All I could think of was the episode of “Mr Bean” when he makes the same mistake and orders ‘Steak Tartare’. For your enjoyment, here is the video:
One of my most memorable experiences in Toulouse was having tea and cake in one of the many tea salons. The window of L’autre Salon de Thé looked so inviting that Anthony and I just couldn’t resist. When we entered the Salon, we were confronted with a wide selection of cakes similar to (maybe identical to) those pictured below. What a dilemma! What to choose!
We decided on two equally appealing cakes thinking we would share them. Well, we could have shared them for afternoon tea, dinner, and breakfast the next day! The picture on the left is not an exaggeration of the size of the serving. Our cakes tasted even better than they looked. True! We felt like we had stepped back to a time when people enjoyed simple things like tea and cake well-prepared and beautifully presented.
After a month, we said goodbye to Toulouse and caught the train to Avignon. What a gorgeous place! We spent our four days there wandering around the magnificent old city and relaxing in the hotel bar (right). The friendly, cosy Bristol Hotel, where we stayed, was located in the middle of the old walled centre. It was perfect for our four-night stay, more like a home away from home. Everyone who worked there was very friendly and helpful and they upgraded our room even though we hadn’t requested it. The location was ideal. We stepped outside the reception into the heart of the action.
Next stop: Besançon, another charming old town that looks like it’s out of a movie. We stayed at the delightfully and imaginatively decorated Hôtel de Paris. Check out the breakfast room, below.We started each day with a delicious and healthy breakfast and the best coffee we tasted in France. Hôtel de Paris is a 3 star hotel with 3 star prices, but we thought it was all very luxurious. We loved the daring decor! We booked a standard room for four nights and when we checked in, we were told that we had been upgraded. Hurrah! Have a look at the room they gave us (below). Remember, we paid 3* prices. Jackpot! France was experiencing a heat-wave when we were there, so we spent a lot of time indoors in air-conditioned comfort. How lucky were we to have such a lovely place to relax in?!
We were sorry to leave Hôtel de Paris, but more adventures awaited!
We caught the train to Colmar, another beautifully preserved old town near the border of Germany. Once again, we had booked a lovely old hotel in the middle of the old city. A happy discovery in Colmar was the perfectly proportioned green-stemmed white wine glass, made in France, which was used in many cafes and bars. I usually buy very few souvenirs but when I saw this elegant little wine glass (only 100 mls), I knew I had to get some to take home (all the way in my hand luggage to Australia). In fact, I have one beside the computer as I write this.
One thing that surprised me in Colmar was the fact that despite the heat (high 30s centigrade) the French people were quite happy to sit outside on the terrasses drinking beer and wine. We sought the refuge of the air-conditioned interiors, which although more comfortable, were not always as charming.
Five days later, we set off by train to Paris. I had booked accommodation in the heart of the city, just a few minutes walk from the Seine river which flows through the middle of Paris. I wondered how good an inexpensive, centrally located 3* hotel in Paris would be. Would it be a tiny room with a hard bed and a view of the plumbing next door?
Well, I need not have worried. Hôtel Prince de Conti was superb! We had a gorgeous, large room with a king-size bed. The foyer and reception were welcoming, the decor intriguing, and the location was perfect. What more could we want? Perhaps a jolly little cafe for wine, coffee and a tasty French snack? We didn’t have to walk far. No-where was too far. We even walked to the Eiffel Tower one day.
It was very crowded at the Eiffel Tower. While many patient people were prepared to wait in a queue for the lift to take them to the top of the tower to see the apparently amazing views of Paris, Anthony and I decided to rest in the generous shade of some ancient trees and admire the Eiffel Tower from a short distance and forget about seeing the view. If we had gone up in the lift to the top, we would have seen a view similar to that below. Impressive, isn’t it?
We spent our time in Paris trying out the food and wine and didn’t attempt to fit in too much. We visited the Louvre museum. There were dozens of signs directing us to see the Mona Lisa painting. I think that at any one time there must be dozens of people trying to get close enough to see it. There is even an organised queue. This means that if you don’t join the queue, you won’t be able to see it clearly. It is quite small, just 77 cm x 53 cm. My view of the Mona Lisa was not quite as good as this:
I thought how strange it was that all these people were crowded in front of this painting while there were hundreds of magnificent works of art in the Louvre. What was the big attraction of this one small painting of a not particularly beautiful woman? I much prefer the exquisite face of Leonardo da Vinci’s, Teste di Giovinetta, on the right. What makes one portrait one of the most famous artworks in the world, and another largely unknown and hidden away in a lesser-known museum? What do you think?
Yet, I was one of ‘all these people’ crowded in front of the Mona Lisa. Was I a sheep? Had I just unthinkingly followed the signs to see a painting I didn’t really care about? If I hadn’t seen the signs directing me to the painting, I wouldn’t have bothered. Would you?
Call me a Philistine, but the only WOW factor I experienced at the Louvre was the window display in the Pylones shop in the base of the museum. As for the glass pyramids outside, they are just plain disturbing. The less said about them, the better.
Well dear students, this brings me to the end of the recount of my French holiday. There were lots of things we didn’t do. We didn’t eat frogs legs and snails, we didn’t see Frenchmen wearing berets and striped t-shirts, we didn’t see French women dressed like Audrey Hepburn and we didn’t visit vineyards.
However, all in all, it was great fun and we accomplished a lot. We learnt a lot of French language. We enjoyed an afternoon sieste most days. We ate very well. Good French food is simple, fresh and correctly cooked. We drank delicious wine. The only fat people we saw were tourists. We found French people to be courteous and ready to laugh. I would highly recommend France.
Just try to learn a few words of French before you go. In fact, wherever you go in your travels, it’s always advisable to learn a few words of greeting, requests, thanks, etc. I think it’s the assumption that the people in the country you’re visiting should speak your language that gets the locals annoyed. Fair enough.
Now, it’s time to start dreaming about my next adventure …