Today, the 14th of July, is France’s national day (Bastille) and although I spent the day in Switzerland (a.k.a. the most expensive country in the world, where everything is closed on Sundays), there are lots of things to celebrate about being in France again after too many years.
Nimes, in southern France, provided a very fine re-introduction to the country. My initial expectation was that it would be yet another lovely town filled with Roman ruins, gardens and one of the best-preserved amphitheatres in the world. Little did I know that every Thursday during July and August, the city centre transforms. At night it morphs into a vibrant outdoor festival with restaurants galore, free, live outdoor music at more than eight locations, artisan markets, dancing and food/wine stalls. The place buzzed with the joy of summer and I buzzed with it.
Further north, it was a celebration of being in the outdoor wonderland of the Alps region. Chamonix, the popular ski resort and mountain playground, is home to Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s highest peak at over 4,800m. With the influx of summer visitors, it is more difficult to get away from it all or have a true wilderness experience, but it's a great base and paradise for hikers, climbers, cyclists, paragliders and trail runners alike. With at least twelve outdoor equipment and clothing stores to lure in this deprived traveller, it was the ultimate test of willpower to walk out empty-handed.
I am habitually speaking Spanish to the French people and for some reason, they are just not understanding me. My English doesn’t seem to work very well either. Generally their first preference is to speak French........ and their second preference is to speak French.
Luckily I now have the essential words under control and can celebrate being able to find myself a toilet or order a chocolate croissant with confidence.
Happy Bastille Day.