Welcome to the podcast show notes and transcript for Episode 6: Travel Tips from 27+ Trips To France. In this episode Rachel Heller and I speak with Francophile travel blogger, Janice Chung, who writes an everything-related-to-France Travel Blog at France Travel Tips. Janice loves France so much that she has made 27+ trips to France (with no signs of stopping anytime soon). So you figure this lady knows what she’s talking about – including tips on must see France, where to take the best French immersion course and the best active holidays in France such as cycling and running. Janice’s love for France is contagious.  Listen and see if you catch the Francophile bug, too!

Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France by a Francophile

Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France by a Francophile

Time Stamped Show Notes

00:42 27+ Trips To France

1:56 Janice’s Must See France

  • 2:00 I love Paris In The Springtime (… and Summer, Fall and Winter)
  • 3:22 Provence Makes Three In This Love Affair
  • 6:37 Cycling in France (With Pitstops at Wineries)

8:35 Why French Women Don’t Get Fat

12:22 Tips on French Faux Pas To Avoid

16:27 Running Marathons in France

21:23 Staying in a Hotel versus Renting an Apartment

23:21 French Immersion Courses

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Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

A Francophile tells us travel tips from her 27+ trips To France

Transcript

This is a transcript of 1001 Travel Tales Podcast: Episode 6: Travel Tips from 27+ Trips To France (Transcript). The text has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

A conversation with Shobha George (Just Go Places Blog), Rachel Heller (Rachel’s Ruminations) and Janice Chung (France Travel Tips)

RH: We’d like to welcome today Janice Chung of Francetraveltips.com. We asked Janice to come and talk to us because of her particular obsession with France. She doesn’t just keep a blog about France but she has visited a lot. Tell us about that Janice, how many times have…

27 Trips To France And Counting

JC: Yeah one of my best friends actually coined the term, it’s a made up term is called Frenchcentric and this is even before I had done a ton of trips. So I just completed my 27th trip to France.

JC: I went with one of my friends who’s been 10 times. It was quite the journey because I think we covered too much ground. Just after Christmas, we visited Paris, took the train down to Bordeaux and saw the brand new museum La Cite du Vin which is the Wine Museum. We headed to Toulouse and Cotes de Ciel and then onwards to Marseille. So one of the things when I travel to France I like to see new places and or I like to see places that I’ve written about that I’m dying still to see. To everyone’s surprise, you know there’s so many places in France I still haven’t seen. Well it’s so big and so different all around.

RH: Now you have established that you’ve seen a lot of France but not all of it. I assume the goal is to see everything?

JC: Yeah, I mean I guess the time will come when I’ve run out or I don’t have the ability to travel physically anymore.

Janice’s Must See France

RH: Of all the places you actually visited what would you say are your must-sees?

I love Paris In The Springtime (… and Summer, Fall and Winter)

JC: Well definitely Paris. I love Paris. There’s something about it. There’s so much to see. First of all, I know it like the back of my hand so I don’t need to use a map. I mean I do for little things but for the major things I don’t.

Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

A view of Paris with the Eiffel Tower and La Defense in the distance.

SG: Do you always stay in the same area? Is there a particular neighborhood you love?

JC: The Left Bank in the 5th, 6th, or 7th arrondissements so that’s on the South side of the Seine. And I really like it because it’s so accessible. Not just walking somewhere but there seem to be Metro stops or Metro connections that are most accessible.

On our last trip with this friend of mine, we stayed near the Eiffel Tower. Great hotel but I probably wouldn’t stay there again because I found that we were traveling much further distances on the Metro than usual to get to places. Nothing wrong with where we stayed very safe and everything. Certainly close to the Eiffel Tower which was great because the Christmas markets were going on.

Don’t like the Right Bank as much because there didn’t seem to be as many restaurants that were in my price range which is like not cheap but medium. Because the Right Bank has the Champs Elysees part of it. So you’re talking about a more expensive area.

RH: 12 Euros glass of wine I remember the last time I was there.

Provence Makes Three In This Love Affair

JC: Exactly. So after Paris my heart is in Provence. My very first trip when I was 19 I went with one of my sisters and my parents and we did Paris. We took the train down to Provence to visit friends of ours that had a house. I fell in love with that area. In particular, the hilltop towns like Gordes, Menerbes, Roussillon that kind of thing.

RH: What is it about them that’s so special?

JC: First of all, smaller towns. There’s something I don’t know. I don’t even want to say friendlier because I do find Paris to be friendly maybe because I can speak enough French to get by. It’s a slower pace, it’s not go, go, go. I can actually relax.

SG: I find the light in the South of France amazing. And it’s quite gentle and it falls and  kind of bathes everything in a happy glow.

RH: Well, Van Gogh certainly loved it down there.

SG: True, that’s a good point.

Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

Abbey of Senanque in Provence with lavender fields.

JC: I think another thing is the wine. I love Chateauneuf du Pape. We were staying in Gordes which is not too far from Chateauneuf du Pape. As a 19 year old who did not like wine at that time, that’s when I started… Boy, that’s a high bar.

SG: I know, you started with Chateauneuf du Pape?

JC: We were drinking it like water because it was so cheap. So it’s my favorite wine now.

RH: France was the first place I ever drank wine out of a box.

The people that I lived with everyday at lunch had a whole meal – you know several courses which I cooked. They had a box of Cotes du Rhone they would always want to open. We would have Cotes du Rhone. That was where I learned to drink wine. It was having wine everyday at lunch and everyday at dinner. It was just part of the routine which you think would be bad but it wasn’t.

JC: No, because you’re right. The first time I rented a house in Provence we bought a big thing of wine and the quality is really good. It’s like at most restaurants their house wines in restaurants anywhere in France are quite good.

RH: Yeah it was like a milk carton. Like one of those long-life milk cartons but it had a little faucet of sorts on the bottom.

RH: And you perch it on the edge of the counter and pour from that. First trip there was when you were 19. Is that what made you such a Francophile or that happened gradually later?

SG: When did you learn to speak French?

JC: Oh yeah. In Canada in Toronto we start learning in grade 4 so when you’re 9 years old.  So I took it through high school. In university actually I didn’t take French. It was after that I’d take it as continuing education. Then I’ve done a few immersion courses in France for weeks at a time.

SG: Getting back to Rachel’s question so you were pretty fluent already.

JC: So what happened was it wasn’t that first trip. I was 10 years old and there was a movie and it was called Two For The Road with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. And it’s about a couple who are traveling from England to the South of France and that’s when I fell in love with France.

RH: Wow, before you even got there.

JC: Yeah. I remember going through travel brochures thinking I got to go to France. I need to see these places.

RH: In fact, your must see list. We’ve got Paris, we’ve got Provence.

Cycling in France (With Pitstops at Wineries)

JC: The Loire Valley is known as the Valley of Kings so we have a lot of Chateaus from the, 17th century and probably even before 15th [century]. There’s Chateau du Chenonceau which you see usually in photos, travel mags that kind of thing.

RH: That’s the one that’s built our over the river, right?

JC: That’s right the River Cher.

RH: It’s funny that you mention the Loire because that was what made me fall in love with France. I went when I was 11 with my family. It was my parent’s first trip ever overseas and I don’t know how many of those castles we visited but I just couldn’t get enough of it. I just loved it.

Amazing, they’re just beautiful and each one is so different from the one before and they’re also from different periods. Like Blois is older – it’s from the middle ages at least parts of it. I was 11 and I just loved them and always will.

JC: And unfortunately I have not done a bicycle trip in that area but for listeners, that’s certainly one of the most popular areas to do a bike trip because it’s all flat.

I’ve done 2 bike tours, 3, I’ve lost track. My very first one was the Dordogne and Bordeaux and parts of it were very hilly but you compensate that with stopping at wineries. Having a little wine and you have a van that takes your luggage,

SG: I really do hope the wineries are at the top of the hill because then you can just skate on down.

JC: It was tough and you know sometimes when you’re taking a bike tour if it’s a summer in France it can be extraordinarily hot. That trip was wonderful.

I hadn’t been to the Bordeaux area the Medoc and it was a lot of fun. Then I did another one with a friend in Burgundy and that was also hilly at times. Going to wineries and you know fortunately you wear off all the great food that you’re eating. You’re biking for a big chunk of the day.

Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

Chateau de Rully with vineyards in Burgundy.

Why French Women Don’t Get Fat

RH: This is the other thing about France is the food. Which is so extraordinary I mean even just any hole in the wall place will just have amazing food. And just a loaf of bread for breakfast is so much better than bread pretty much anywhere else.

JC: Yeah, rumor has it that the bread or the flour that they’re using is so different from the flour that they use in North America or I’ll just say Canada. Like people who say I can’t eat bread in Canada, they go crazy when they’re in France

SG: It’s like why aren’t French women bigger because I would be ODing on the butter, the cheese, and the bread.

JC: Mireille Giuliano wrote the book French Women Don’t Get Fatand they don’t snack, they eat smaller portions. There is the question of the wine paradox you know the red wine or actually, it could be white wine too.

SG: What’s the red wine paradox, I don’t know it?

Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

If the red wine paradox lets me drink more red wine, I’m all for it.

JC: But it’s very healthy for you drinking wine.

I think that it’s just that they eat high quality, small portions. In North America, we do the reverse we eat high quantities, low quality.

SG: And then when you go elsewhere it’s hard to switch the quantity out. In France I would eat large quantities of really good food.

RH: Exactly, when I lived there as an au pair I was in college. I was taking a term off college and working as an au pair. And that’s where I learned how to cook actually. I didn’t know how and they taught me.

Which was nice but yeah, the portions were just tiny and we had biftek – steak essentially. It was tiny. One serving was less than a playing card size and very thin as well. It was really small. But the meal that I would make for them at lunch would have several courses. There’d be a soup and there’d be the steak bleu I never could make it blue enough. Bleu means really rare. No matter how quickly I cooked it they would say no it’s not bleu enough. It was amazing.

JC: Yeah the French really love their rare.

RH: And there would be a vegetable course or salad course and there’d be a dessert. I mean there’d be 4 or 5 courses at lunch everyday. That sounds like a lot of food but for each course, the portions were tiny. So yeah, they just don’t overeat.

JC: I think the other thing too is they walk everywhere. That’s why you’ll see even in hotels (or especially in hotels) stairs. You won’t find elevators.

I remember reading some reviews on travel websites and people are complaining and there was no elevator. Yeah, I can imagine it would be hard if you’re carrying this gigantic suitcase up 6 flights of stairs. I don’t carry a gigantic suitcase over.

Anyway, I really like the culture and how they live. They really like at lunchtime you were talking about all the courses. They really do spend at least an hour eating lunch, You don’t walk down the street eating your burger.

RH: Yeah, the people I was working for, the father would come home at lunch time everyday, I’d prepare a meal for him. The mother was bedridden which is why they hired me. So she taught me how to cook without getting off the sofa you see. So it was great for all of us. But we would sit down and have a proper meal at lunch everyday. It was a social occasion and it included wine. Then he went back to work.

JC: What I’ve read to is that Sunday lunches where families would get together are really, really important. I don’t know if that still a tradition in France where Sunday family meals happen.

Tips on French Faux Pas To Avoid

RH: Yeah, I don’t know either. It’s been a long time since that au pair experience. That was back in the 80’s. But let me ask you another question? Have you ever sort of committed a faux pas in France that you’d like to tell us about?

JC: Okay, I haven’t done it maybe because I’ve been over so many times. I’ve read so many books for example. If there’s any book written about someone’s experience in France I’ve read it. One of the most common mistakes tourists make when they’re in France, if you enter a store or an establishment hotel or whatever the first thing you should do is say bonjour. You don’t go “where can I find the tea or the scarves?”. You say bonjour madamebonjour monsieur. It’s just a way that the French behave. If you don’t do that you’re frowned upon and you could be treated differently.

SG: It’s very polite. Good manners.

JC: It is and they’re very big on rules and procedures. That’s why there’s often this criticism about the bureaucracy in France. If a person, for example, wants to move to France the red tape that they have to go through is extraordinary.

RH: Well I think these things are true in most places.

JC: Yeah. So I think that would be one of the biggest things is to say bonjour, mercy. You know when you’re traveling to France, particularly if it’s your first time, learn a few phrases. It’s like going anywhere. I went to Bhutan back in October and it’s a difficult language but I learned one phrase and every time I went to say it to a Bhutanese person they’d giggle. I think they were giggling because well she’s trying.

SG: Yes. What was your one phrase thank you or hello?

JC: It was hello.

RH: You know the stereotype especially about Paris is that people are so rude. What’s your take on that?

JC: They’re not. You know maybe I’m the exception because I speak French.

I’ve only had one bad incident and what happened was a bought a sweater at a very well-known clothing store and I realized no, it  was either a bigger size or a different color that I wanted. So the next day I went back and the woman said you’ve worn it. It’s all wrinkled. I said I haven’t worn it. So I decided to argue with her and she backed down.

And that’s very common from what I’ve heard. You will be argued but, if you stand up for yourself, they’ll back down. And it was fine. But I don’t find the French rude if you make the effort to speak French and you follow the customs.

RH: And that’s absolutely the key because I’ve had people say oh but people were rude to me there. I said did you speak French did you at least say bonjour? No, they didn’t they started right in in English. As soon as you say bonjour what I found is that I’d go ahead and say a whole sentence in French. I used to actually speak French and hearing my accent they’d switch to English with me. Then it was no problem at all.

JC: I think the worst thing anyone can do is to say parlez vous Anglais? No, no, don’t say do you speak English as the first thing that comes out of your mouth. I agree with you, first thing bonjour. The other thing I’ve heard about Paris (and I agree with this is) if you want to learn French don’t stay in Paris. The reason is they get such an influx of tourists speaking English that you’ll inevitably meet people who speak English. You won’t learn your French.

SG: Just about everybody I’ve met in Paris has spoken English well. Better than my French whereas outside of Paris you definitely could speak French more.

JC: And it’s more fun! What you’re really, really trying to speak the language and using sign language and making mistakes. And one thing the French love to do is (and I don’t mind this at al)l is they will correct you if you say something wrong. I don’t mind it.

Running Marathons in France

SG: So when’s your next trip to France planned?

JC: May and I’m having a great dilemma.

SG: Why’s that?

JC: So the dilemma is I have been to Mont Saint Michel with just the cathedral on the island. There’s water that separates it from the land and then when the tide goes out you can actually walk across. I’m doing a half-marathon race there. And then I thought well I’ll tour around Brittany. I haven’t been West of Mont Saint Michel to Dinan to all those places. I’m torn to go back to the South of France.

Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

The famous Mont St Michel monastery in Normandy.

RH: But back up and tell us about this marathon? I’m picturing Mont Saint Michel here, right. You know then you go across the causeway and you sort of wind your way up on the Island up to the church at the top. Does the marathon go up that or do you start at the top and then go down?

JC: No, this is a half-marathon so it’s 21.1km. It starts East of Mont Saint Michel in a town called Avranches. And you start there and you run towards the Mont Saint Michel. I assume it ends right in front. My guess is it just stops in front. As for the marathon, I can’t remember what the route is. I think they start at Mont Saint Michel and they do a loop. They go West and then they come back.  Training isn’t so good lately but anyways we’ll see.

SG: Are you a marathon runner as well?

JC: I used to be. I’ve done the Paris Marathon. I’ve done a whole bunch of half marathons.

I’ve also done the Marathon du Medoc which I have to tell you about. This is a marathon that is a big party. You don’t go for your best time. This one is 42.2 km and there are 22 water stations so basically every 2km. And at the water stations there’s water, there’s raisins, there’s cookies, granola you name it and there’s also wine. So…

RH: I love it.

JC: This is what I did. I would stop I’d have a little sip of wine, I’d eat something and drink some water and then I’d run on to the next water station. And I think I did that for 21 of the 22 water stations. One water station was so packed with people that I thought I’m not waiting.

There was grilled beef, there were oysters, there was ice cream, like little ice cream bars on a stick. There were cookies, there were chips and then there was the typical stuff that you find at water stations besides water. Sugar cubes, I know it sounds weird they don’t do it in Canada.

RH: So basically you run a marathon and by the end of it you’re drunk and you’ve gained weight.

JC: You don’t gain weight actually because you run. I think I burned 2800 calories maybe more. You don’t get drunk because everybody wants to cross the finish line so you just have a sip. Because you’re mixing it with water and food you just don’t.

When you cross the finish line you’re handed a medal, a knapsack, a wooden box containing a bottle of Bordeaux wine and a cup on a string that goes around your neck. So you can go to the beer and wine tent where there’s more free beer and wine and food.

RH: So you get drunk after.

JC: Yes. Remember I said Marathon du Medoc? People dress up in costumes so the theme when I did it which was 2013 was science fiction. So there were people dressed in different costumes.

Then there were these, there must have been 8 guys dressed as Flash Gordon. So they were wearing the red suit with the big Z or the lightning flash. I said can I have my picture taken with you? Not only did they say yes, they picked me up. It’s probably one of my favorite photos.

Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

Janice Chung with the Flash Gordons at the Marathon du Medoc (Photo credit: Janice Chung)

And that was at the oyster line after we had eaten oysters. It sells out very quickly and it’s usually the first, second weekend in September.

RH: That’s a great tip. Talk about off the beaten path. They do things with style.

JC: They do. It’s not just a race. It’s a whole event and that’s why it’s so much fun. Yeah, there are people who love marathons but actually I met 3 people from England and it’s very easy, right. You just hop on the Eurostar and you take a train down to Bordeaux. Actually, the race took place in Pauillac  which is just outside of Bordeaux. Lots of foreigners run because it’s a very famous race.

Staying in a Hotel versus Renting an Apartment

RH: Tell us about you particularly as a traveler. When you first arrive in a place what’s the first thing you do?

JC: So often I will rent an apartment for a week or a house or whatever I probably would go grocery shopping. I know that sounds so boring but going to a French grocery store is amazing, I love it.

It’s so different from in Canada or I would say anywhere in North America. For example, if you want yoghurt, good luck. I remember bumping into some Canadians in the grocery store. I was just staring at the yogurt because there were so many different types. Even the wine. Their grocery stores will sell wine and the quantity, quality but especially the price. You can get an amazing bottle of wine for like 3 Euros which is like $5 Canadian.

So I have great fun in the grocery store and of course, I’ll stock up, load my refrigerator. By the way, it’s a very, very small refrigerator so you can’t buy too much. You just won’t find enormous fridges in French apartments.

RH: So you rent an apartment when you’re there. You don’t stay in a hotel.

JC: A mix or I will get an apartment that has a kitchenette if I can. But I still do eat out, I just won’t eat out as frequently as you know one would. But you know I do like to try out some local places that might be recommended.

So after I do that then I just start wandering. I love to walk and wander around often I will rent a car. The one time I didn’t was when I went to Montpelier. I took a one week course and stayed there because everything is in the town. Then I flew back to Paris and stayed there a week.

Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

The pretty city of Rouen.

French Immersion Courses

SG: If you’re interested in doing an immersion course in France to improve your French what’s the best one that you’ve been to?

JC: Best experience I’ve ever had and I been twice and I would go back again is called Ecole des Trois PontsSchool of the 3 points literally. It’s in Roanne which is west of Lyon.

It’s a total immersion so you stay on the compound which has rooms with private bathrooms. I really can’t remember it’s not a lot of rooms. I would say maybe 8 to 10. You have breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. You have classes in the morning and perhaps in the afternoon depending what package you take.

The first time I look it I had classes in the morning and then I think 2 evenings and breakfast, lunch, dinner.  It was just a week. And you’re speaking French all the time and so that’s what made it so special. You know really a positive experience where I got a lot out of it.

The other thing was it’s student learning. They basically cater to your needs. Yes, they have a plan of how they’re going to teach you. If you start talking about food they might go in that direction. So it’s really good. It’s not so structured that you know oh, I’ve got to follow exactly what they’re doing.

RH: Is this one-on-one lessons or in small groups?

JC: No small groups. So at one time I think there were 4 of us in the class and then the second time there were 4 again. So the second time I did it, I had classes in the morning and then cooking in the afternoon.

It was unreal but all the cooking instruction was in French. Oh my Lord! And that’s a whole different vocabulary. These were not you know just one course. It was like French cooking, of course.

RH: Funny how we keep circling back to food.

JC: Exactly. And I’ve stayed in touch now with the couple and this other lady who I met back in 2011. It was fabulous. I can’t say it enough about this school because I really, really did improve my French and learn. I mean to the point where you’re making jokes in class.

That’s how the comfort level improved. And they do evaluate you. It’s not like it’s just a free for all. They show you how you’ve progressed and that’s what you want. You want to see that there’s been some improvement.

RH: Why don’t you live there if you’re so crazy…

JC: Well my father’s 91 almost 92. It’s more kind of like I want to be close to home. So that’s why. But yeah my heart is in France.

RH: I think we’re going to wrap this up then. I’d like to thank you, Janice Chung for talking to us. It’s been really fun talking to you.

JC: And thank you to both of you for having me on. I get so excited talking about France.

RH: Tell that. But Janice writes for France Travel Tips that’s one word Francetraveltips.com. So you should go and check out her site.

SG: Thanks very much bye bye.

JC: Thank you so much. Thank you. Bye.

{End of Transcript}

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