It’s 3:AM and I was shaking with excitement. As the thunderous beats of my heart continued to pound heavily against my chest, the harder it was for me to contain the squeal I’d been yearning to let out. I’m going to France baby!! and this to me was so much more than just a simple dream come true. From dazedly scanning and scrolling through pinterest, to now waking up at three in the morning to pack my bags and ensure that I’m all set for my solo travel, I literally had to pinch myself twice to see if this is truly unfolding in my reality. Based on the manner in which I pinched my arm confirmed that was indeed happening. OH.MY.GAWD.
I’m actually travelling to France and I’m going on my own. Sure, I was pretty excited but at the same time, I felt that my journey would’ve been a little more exciting had my parents travelled with me. It was their constant support and encouragement that kept me going. The moment they dropped me off at Dubai International Airport and bid me a safe and happy trip, I found myself smiling and giggling even harder that I’m going to be on a plane that is taking me to the wonderland called France.
The moment I landed in Charles De Gaulle International Airport, I couldn’t believe it. With the cute snow drops falling from the sky…to the serene yet joyous cheers that can be heard on the streets of Paris, I was stunned and for a good reason. I saw snow for the first time in my life and it felt great. I know this may sound a little weird to some of you…but honestly? Because it was my first time travelling to a country that is unknown to me, I was excited to see and experience snow falling and greet me the moment I landed.
I had exactly eight days to see and visit every region I had included in my bucket list and one of them was the North of France.
The first day had given me ample time to visit and uncover the entire city of Paris and it also gave me enough confidence to know which area was where. The place I was staying had metro stations which was only a five minute walk away from where I stayed. A cute and warm air BNB.
The second day had me all pumped up.
Visiting Rouen, the capital of the northern region of Normandy, was my first destination. Rouen was everything I wanted it to be. Serene, a bit of liveliness and you’ll find Gothic architecture everywhere you go. Dominated by the spires of Cathédrale Notre-Dame, much-painted by Impressionist Claude Monet, to say that I was mesmerised would be putting it too lightly. Rouen was beyond enchanting, similar to the places often described in fairy tales that have a relatively darker touch to it. The same can be said for Reims, which was destination number two on my list. Again, Reims left me more than just stunned and tongue tied.
A city in northeastern France’s Grand Est region. It’s the unofficial capital of the Champagne wine-growing region, and many of the champagne houses headquartered there offer tastings and cellar tours. For more than 1,000 years, French kings were crowned at its Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims. This grand cathedral is known for its stained-glass windows and Gothic carved portals, including the Smiling Angel. Visiting the palace of Tau which is literally a walk away from the Cathedral, happened to be the inspiration for my upcoming book, which is a Gothic Romance. It felt I was being watched 24/7 and while that may have people a bit fearful…it left me excited. Thrilled, even. If you ever happen to visit France, be sure to not leave Reims or Rouen from your list.
On the third day, I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful Orschwiller, which is a commune in Alsace in north-eastern France. The beauty of Orschwiller, is that it has a lovely combination of German and French touches to it. Visiting the Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg to me, was the most memorable part of the trip. Perched on a sturdy yet cute hilltop, this castle will make you believe that time has come to a beautiful standstill. Drawbridges, walls, tower and keeps: everything you’d perceived about mediaeval establishment takes form right before your eyes. Once you’ve passed the high gate, you’ll walk through the lower courtyard with its adorable inn, with blacksmiths shop and various mills. Then comes the long awaited spiral staircase which leads you directly to the furnished residence of the lord of the castle.
On the fourth day, I dedicated my time by visiting the beautiful Lake Annecy. Annecy is an alpine town in southeastern France, where Lake Annecy feeds into the Thiou River. It’s known for its Vieille Ville (old town), with cobbled streets, winding canals and pastel-colored houses. Overlooking the city, the mediaeval Château d’Annecy, once home to the Counts of Geneva, contains a museum with regional artefacts such as Alpine furniture and religious art, plus a natural history exhibit. If you happen to be a Gothic, history buff like me, visiting the Castle of Menthon-Saint-Bernard is one such attraction you shouldn’t leave out on your list. Overlooking Lake Annecy, the Castle of Menthon Saint Bernard has been adorned over centuries with such scenic, and romantic subtlety that it inspired Walt Disney’s iconic rendition of Sleeping Beauty. The Chateau offers an opulent and sublime view of the lake and the mountains.
The fifth day was my most memorable one. I’ve said this before and I’m saying it again…but Amiens takes the cake in my list of favourite communes that I’ve visited in France. Not only is it accessible by the metro, but Amiens literally makes you want to visit over and over again, simply because it has everything I wanted. History, art, architecture with a harmonious combination of mediaeval and slightly modern vibes…Amiens is one such place you shouldn’t ever leave from your list. Possessing a gem for Gothic art, immerse yourself in the middle ages by visiting the Rambures Castle. With its enormous round towers, machicolations and path round the battlements, this castle is a superb example of 15th century military architecture. The Rambures name was first heard in the middle of the 11th century.
On the sixth day of my visit, I made sure to visit the timeless Bordeaux. Just the name of this gorgeous city, is eponymous with viticulture, art, history and if you’re a major wine lover…then you are definitely in the right place. Bordeaux broke free of its old town walls when this majestic square on the left bank of the Garrone was built in the 1720s. Louis XV’s favourite architect, Jacques Gabriel, designed it, and the square didn’t take long to become a symbol for the city. On instinct, you may be beckoned to cross the road to the Water Mirror, created by the lovely landscape artist Michel Corajoud. On the left hand side of the Garonne is by far one of the best waterfronts in the entire world at large. It’s also part of the 18th century world heritage ensemble, where the majestic facades of grand neo-classical buildings line a riverside promenade 80 metres wide.
Because I had only one more day left…I decided to make a short trip to Lyon which gave me ample time to cover the entire city by having done my research beforehand. the capital city in France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, sits at the junction of the Rhône and Saône rivers. Its centre reflects 2,000 years of history from the Roman Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules, mediaeval and Renaissance architecture in Vieux (Old) Lyon, to the modern Confluence district on Presqu’île peninsula. The best thing about Lyon, is the fact that you don’t have to be worried about getting lost, since you’ll find plenty of students everywhere in different areas of the city. Because it’s a hub to a lot of educational institutions, I figured my way around by asking and interacting with students of my age who were kind enough to show me which place was where. In Vieux Lyon, and La Croix Saône, are an architectural feature unique to this city: Traboules are delightful renaissance passageways. Some 40 of which are open to visitors, running beneath buildings in the direction of the Saône River. Nearly all of these passageways are part of residential properties, so it’s a good idea to go quietly.
To me, what makes France special is that it gave me more than just a lifetime of an experience. I craved for a change of setting and adventure that came with it…the universe responded accordingly by making my thoughts transpire into a reality that I’m grateful to have relished. I have so much to say and so much to share. But when it comes to describing my travel experience to France or every other country I’ve visited…be sure to be on the lookout for a book release that will detail my experience!