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Totally Not a Travel Ad for France 

By Emma Dognin 




 

Traveling can be a tedious slog, consisting of the monstrous stuffing of bags, airport lines that move as fast as a sloth, and the nauseating stench of plane food that threatens to poison you. Once on the plane, you scorn the three-year-old child with the luck of getting a window seat, who still spends the whole flight crying — meanwhile you have a seat next to the bathroom, the most popular spot on the plane! You tremble with tummy turning turbulence while you fly in a tube with wings that cuts through the sky like a poorly sliced sponge cake. Finally, the nightmare ends, and you land. You didn’t get any sleep, but that’s okay! You bask in your paradise, whether that be the volcanic, hibiscus infused Hawaii or the coasts of Tuscany, ready to sunbathe your skin away like a melting popsicle. Much like a nightmare, you will forget the terrors of your voyage…that is until the way back!    

 

For spring break, I traveled to France to visit family. When people think of France, they think exclusively of Paris and La Tour Eiffel. However, that is not all of France. In the crevices of France, there are little towns resembling a time capsule of medieval kingdoms. Driving to them, you cross evergreen hills stretching from the depths of the earth to the peaks of mountains. You will find many shades of green you didn’t even know existed in the grass so long you feel you could run your hands in it and never find them again. In the grass, farm animals such as cows, sheep, horses, roosters, and hens graze endlessly. While these towns may not be as bustling as Paris, they still encompass a unique otherworldly beauty.  

 

I specifically went to the region of Le Forez, visiting Rozier-en-Donzy, Montbrison, and Feurs, all in the Loire Valley. Despite the size of these towns, there is no limit to shops. In a matter of a few blocks, you can find about twenty different bakeries, fromageries, and chocolateries. You can also find more modern influences such as stores exclusively for manga. There’s a surplus of men’s clothing stores, unlike in the U.S., which is dominated by primarily women’s fashion. In places like these, you can find authentic French cuisine restaurants with full chalkboard sized menus (they literally put a chalkboard in front of your table). You will also find some cultural differences being in French restaurants. In this part of France, it is normal to greet everyone in restaurants and stores when you come in. Upon entering, everyone says “bonjour” or “bonne soirée,” regardless of whether you know them or not. You can go to cafés and find snacks that are miniature sized, but within good proportion; if the cups are small, the sugar cube accompanying it is equally petite. Shops are small, but people are very friendly and always happy to help you. Also, if you are not fluent in French, most people also speak English, or at least attempt to. Being there for only a week, you start to feel part of the fabric of the community as the towns are so small. (I saw the same dog walker about twenty times in a week.)  

 

All houses are unique yet carry a uniform style with Roman tile rooftops and colorful wooden doors with matching shutters, painted with colors from sage green to bruised stormy gray. Street cats roam like in Disney’s Les Aristochats, ready to follow you as though you are the Pied Piper.  

 

You can also see the influence of American fast-food franchises like Burger King. In grocery stores, they have a type of bread that is labeled as “American Bread,” which is essentially just soft sliced white bread. Also, in some bookstores you can find sections of American literature and literature in English.  

 

If small town life is not for you, you can also drive a bit and get to the exceedingly different city of Lyon, the culinary capital of France. Lyon is one of the next biggest cities after Paris and has similar architecture, but it is a bit less touristy. There you can do more extensive shopping and view historical architecture. The city is packed with history, ranging from the Roman Empire till now. You can see things such as cathedral statues that the French public beheaded in the French Revolution, as well as lots of references to Guignol, a puppet performance that represented social unrest in the nineteenth century. You can even take a funicular to the top of the city and view it from above, seeing both the old and new Lyon.  

 

Seeing both areas will reveal the contrast of places to visit in France. There are primarily small rural areas or large cities, but not much in between. However, both have a different feeling from cities and small towns in rural America.  

 

The next time you go to France, you should consider taking time in your trip to view these cities too, especially if you want to see a different but equally ethereal area of France.

 

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