Two Months of France: Short Travels Part 1
France is wonderful! Just thought to say that in case I haven't told you that before. The train system is so great (as long as its running on time and not on strike). Everything is so close together and so easy to get to, that is if you have a car or you live in a city with a train station, both unlike me. It's been two months that I've been in France now, so I thought why not update you on my day trips I've taken in the two months?! While I was in Paris, I visited Vimy and Arras in one day, and while I was in Lyon, I visited Toulon for a day as well. The train system is just so well thought out, to a degree, at least much more thought out than the Canadian train system (yes, I'm talking about you VIA Rail). Here's a little recap of all the short travels I've taken since arriving in France. Prepare yourself, it's gonna be a looooong newsletter!
To help you better understand the geography here, the names are listed as Commune (City), Department (think County but bigger), and Region (think Province).
Vimy and Arras, Pas-de-Calais, Hauts-de-France
I'm sure almost every Canadian knows about the significance of Vimy, or as we call it, Vimy Ridge. A central battle of World War 1 that the Canadian troops triumphantly succeeded in defeating the Germans, after the French and British both failed. Since then, the French nation have given, in perpetuity, to the Canadian people for our troops efforts in liberating Vimy. Today, there stands a 30-metre tall monument on Hill 145 dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the Battle of Arras. The list of names, sorted alphabetically and separated by military rank, names each known soldier who lost their life in the Battles of Vimy Ridge and Arras.
To get the the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, is quite a task, at least on the weekends it is. It is important to know that the town of Vimy, though it has a train station (unlike Yssingeaux), is only a few buildings, with no taxi service. You'll need to take a train to the city of Arras, and then a taxi to the "monument canadien" as they know it. The taxi is approximately 40€ one-way and takes about 25 minutes. Once there, there are tours of the grounds that take place every hour (except during the French lunch "hour" from 12:00 to 14:00) alternating between French and English. After touring the battle fields, tunnels, and trenches, you are free to roam around the grounds, visit the two cemeteries within walking distance, and of course visit the monument. Be sure to make a stop back at the visitor's centre to visit the free museum, buy a few postcards, and also take advantage of their landline phone to call a taxi, as cell signal out there is very spotty (aka mostly non-existent).
Heading back, make sure to stop in Arras to walk around the Grand' Place (grand square) and the Place des Héros (heroes square). The Place des Héros has great food and a stunning view of the city hall, which is definitely Instagram-worthy, Google describes it as a gothic clock tower with amazing views (which it truly is). I really enjoyed visiting Arras.
Tip: There is a poutine shop in Arras that you know is authentic because there's a Habs jersey hung up on the wall!
Toulon, Var, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
We've all heard of how beautiful the French Riviera is, and boy are the rumours so true! I think by the end of the day, my friend got annoyed with how often I said the view is amazing. The train station in Toulon is very close to the marina, just a ten minute walk, and you get to pass by some of the best views on your way, including the Place de la République, with a beautiful fountain and statue of Marianne. Just a few minutes away is the Mediterranean Sea. The Musée National de la Marine (National Navy Museum) is a great spot to spend the morning at. Going through France's history of their navy, which began in Toulon, and continuing through the Kingdom, the French Revolution, the Empire, and the Republic. There are so many amazing paintings and scale remakes of boats and ships. You'll also find painting of Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon I), as he did play an instrumental role in the start of the French Navy, as well as his first battle was in Toulon. Afterwards, you can walk across the street to the Ferris wheel which has great views of the city and port.
For lunch, there's nothing better than moules et frites, or mussels and fries! Being so close to the water (literally being able to touch it), seafood is just the right choice. L'Ostrea La Criée was an amazing stop, and I highly recommend the moules frites marnière, soooo good! After a great lunch, walking around the old town is a great way to relax and visit some great stores and boutiques. I truly enjoyed visiting Toulon for the day, and might be back for more for much longer.
Geneva is a very interesting city. It reminds me a lot of Ottawa, a rich and expensive Ottawa. It's a very small centre that a weekend is enough time to spend there. The lakefront is so beautiful, with crystal clear water. Visit the Jet d'Eau while you're there and then head to the roseraie, a beautiful rose garden. Stop by Auer Chocolatier for some amandes princesses, these amazing chocolate-covered almonds make a great snack while walking around the city. While in the old town, shop all the luxury brands and luxury thrift stores. Walk up the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre Genève to get some stunning photos of the cathedral and the city from the top of the hill. Dinner was absolutely amazing at Le Baroque, especially their truffle pasta - soooo good!
Also had a greatttt time at Restaurant Tehran, and made a very happy stop at Paquis Bazar for some spices and other Indian foods! And don't forget the Ferris wheel as well - it's just a theme with European cities apparently!
I've been having such a great time here in France, and can't wait to explore France, and Europe, more! Until next time, happy adventuring!