FRANCE

Un­for­get­table A small, off­beat per­spec­tive.

Woman's Era - - Con­tents - By Savita Singh

e had been plan­ning our trip to France for over two years. Our plan was to see France but not as the usual tourist through a group of op­er­a­tors who have a set itin­er­ary. So we made our own. We de­cided to spend a week in Paris and see all that tour op­er­a­tors show and also take a few off­beat tours out of Paris and then go on to Lyon, which is con­sid­ered the food cap­i­tal of France. In both places, we de­cided to stay in apart­ments.

As our knowl­edge of French is al­most non-ex­is­tent, we planned to buy a phrase book—english to French—as we had heard that the French are no­to­ri­ous for not un­der­stand­ing English or at least claim­ing not to. We some­how never did man­age to buy the phrase book but found out that like peo­ple any­where in the world, there are good and help­ful peo­ple in France

FRANCE

also, who would go out of their way to help us and, like ev­ery­where else, there were grumpy, crotch­ety peo­ple also here, who re­fused to help us even when they could un­der­stand per­fectly what we were say­ing.

The very first help­ful per­son was our taxi driver, who not only took us to our apart­ment but, on the way, went out of his way to get our cell phone fit­ted with the lo­cal SIM so that we could at least con­tact any­one in France, like our land­lord.

In Paris, our apart­ment was right next to Mono­prix, a depart­ment store that is some­thing like our Big Bazaar. So we had no prob­lem in buy­ing pro­vi­sions for our daily use. There was also a Mcdon­ald’s right next to it, and the en­trance to the un­der­ground metro was barely 20 me­tres from our apart­ment.

Apart­ments gen­er­ally are equipped with wash­ing ma­chines, hot­plates, ovens, mi­crowaves, and TVS and have free wi-fi, etc, as was our apart­ment. Of course, the TV was use­less as the chan­nels were all in French.

On the very first day, we took a hop-on-hop-off tour of Paris so that we would be able to de­cide what ex­actly we wanted to see in the four days we had free. We vis­ited the Eif­fel Tower and went right to the top. The view from there was breath­tak­ing. But that was in the morn­ing. We re­turned at night when at the stroke of eight, nine and 10 ev­ery day, the fa­mous tower is lit up like a Christ­mas tree. It is a treat to watch. We vis­ited the cathe­dral of Notre-dame, or NotreDame de Paris, as it is called, and tasted our first hot choco­late with piped cream out­side one of those fa­mous road­side cafes. That cream on top was some­thing! I have never tasted any­thing like it.

On one of our free days, we vis­ited the war mu­seum, Les In­valides, which houses not only the weapons from var­i­ous wars fought by France but also some of the best pieces from the Se­cond World War. It also houses the tomb of Napoleon, where his body lies in­side a sar­coph­a­gus lined with lead.

We took two trips out of Paris. One was the wine tour, where they took us to two vine­yards where they showed us how fa­mous French wines are made. At Moet & Chan­don, which is one of the most-famed wine­mak­ers,they took us on a tour of their un­der­ground cel­lars, which stretch for over 28 kilo­me­tres and are damp and re­ally cold. There are hardly any lights as the wine stored there in mil­lions of bot­tles can spoil if ex­posed to too much light. It was pretty scary there and re­minded me of the un­der­ground tun­nels men­tioned in Enid

ON ONE OF OUR FREE DAYS, WE VIS­ITED THE WAR MU­SEUM, LES IN­VALIDES, WHICH HOUSES NOT ONLY THE WEAPONS FROM VAR­I­OUS WARS FOUGHT BY FRANCE BUT ALSO SOME OF THE BEST PIECES FROM THE SE­COND WORLD WAR. EIF­FEL TOWER

Our se­cond trip out of Paris was to Nor­mandy. I was keen to see the beaches where in World War II the Al­lied land­ings had taken place. This was an ex­pe­ri­ence out of this world. Some of the bunkers used by Hitler’s troops are still there. We en­tered one and looked out upon the English Chan­nel, and I could just imag­ine what those look-out sen­tries must have felt when they sud­denly saw thou­sands and thou­sands of ships loom­ing up over the hori­zon and sud­denly re­alised that the in­va­sion had be­gun. Those bunkers were made of such solid con­crete that time and weather have hardly dented them. Of course, most of them were blown up by the Al­lies.

We also saw some of the ar­tillery guns used then still in their bunkers. Till a few years back, we were still us­ing those in our army. We vis­ited a World War II mu­seum where one sin­gle man had col­lected all the mem­o­ra­bilia over a pe­riod of 40 years but un­for­tu­nately had died just be­fore the mu­seum opened up. We saw doc­u­men­taries of some of the veter­ans of those land­ings who were still alive and were moved to tears. They are still griev­ing for the com­rades they left be­hind on those beaches that day on 6 June 1944.

We vis­ited the Amer­i­can War Ceme­tery,the only piece of land owned and ad­min­is­tered by Amer­ica in France, where so many thou­sands of Amer­i­can sol­diers who died in that in­va­sion were buried. Here we saw the graves of two broth­ers on whom the pic­ture Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan is based. His third brother had gone miss­ing but re­turned af­ter the war. Here some of the graves of the sol­diers who could not be iden­ti­fied are marked as “Known only to God”, which brought a lump to our throats. Here also lies the time cap­sule buried by Gen­eral Eisen­hower, the over­all com­man­der in chief of the Al­lied troops when he vis­ited this area as US pres­i­dent in 1958, con­tain­ing all in­for­ma­tion of that time, with news­pa­per cut­tings, etc, to be opened a hun­dred years later.

Back in Paris, we took a trip to Ver­sailles, the old seat of the French kings. The gar­dens of Ver­sailles are fa­mous. We went one way by a mini­train, but walked back, which was tough on my knee as it is up­hill, but it was worth it. We got some un­ex­pected com­pli­ments from peo­ple who com­mented on the fam­ily pic­ture we made as my daugh­ters helped me. The wing of the palace open to the pub­lic was beau­ti­ful.

We also went to see the fa­mous Mona Lisa, which is kept at the Lou­vre. Sur­pris­ingly, it is not in­sured as no one knows its ex­act worth. It is con­sid­ered price­less and the pre­mium would be stu­pen­dous. They pre­fer to spend the money on its pro­tec­tion. The other paint­ings stored here are also breath­tak­ing, and there are so many. There are also so many sculp­tures here. We saw the orig­i­nal Venus de Milo, which a farmer dis­cov­ered in his fields, and no one knows who is the model for it.

The night be­fore we left for Lyon, we vis­ited a small choco­late mu­seum and the fa­mous cabaret Moulin Rouge. It is the orig­i­nal one and the old­est and has been go­ing on for over a hun­dred years or more. Pho­tog­ra­phy is pro­hib­ited, and the top­less beau­ties are some­thing! But, sur­pris­ingly, ex­actly af­ter five min­utes, ex­cept­ing for the first gasp, you for­get their nu­dity be­cause they dance so su­perbly. Peo­ple who had or­dered food and drinks for­got to eat and drink and watched with their mouths open but with­out leer­ing or even a sound. It was an ex­pe­ri­ence!

One day, we walked down Champs-élysées, which is very crowded and has shops on both sides, some­thing like our Jan­path, and the girls went up the Arc-deTri­umph, which again has no es­ca­la­tor or lift and more than 300 steps – not rec­om­mended for the el­derly or the in­firm. There we saw a work­ing model of the hand­gun used by Napoleon. But it was too heavy and ex­pen­sive for our pocket.

Let me warn you about an­other

VISIT TO NOR­MANDY THE NIGHT BE­FORE WE LEFT FOR LYON, WE VIS­ITED A SMALL CHOCO­LATE MU­SEUM AND THE FA­MOUS CABARET MOULIN ROUGE. IT IS THE ORIG­I­NAL ONE AND THE OLD­EST AND HAS BEEN GO­ING ON FOR OVER A HUN­DRED YEARS OR MORE. PHO­TOG­RA­PHY IS PRO­HIB­ITED, AND THE TOP­LESS BEAU­TIES ARE SOME­THING! CROWDED PLACE

Nantes Bordeaux Li­mo­ges Toulouse Di­jon Greno­ble Stras­bourg Cnainc­nees

Nor­mandy

Ruby Sinha –

Amer­i­can War Cemetary.

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