“Check out that body!”, was the first thing we thought here at TraveLinkSites, as Laurence threw us some very aesthetically pleasing photos via our inbox. But then we saw what he had to say about travelling France. Not just a pretty pile of bones this one!
Head honcho at Finding the Universe, Laurence has been on the travel blogging block for a while. Finally getting the chance to sit down with him, we talk about why he made France his home (for the time being) and what to check out travelling the country.
1. Hey Laurence! Could you briefly introduce yourself, your site and your experience travelling in France?
Of course! Hi, I’m Laurence. I’m the editor, author and general dogsbody behind Finding the Universe. It’s a travel blog which focuses on photography, as well as travel tales, tips and advice, all gleaned from my world meanderings. I’m currently living in France as a full time base, in the Dordogne region. I’ve also spent time in Paris, which is one of my favourite European cities!
2. How does France compare to the rest of Europe in terms of things to see and do, its food and its culture? Is it very similar to other countries or very different?
France is a country which is proud of its food and wine, and justifiably so. (I would probably be lynched by a pitchfork wielding mob if I didn’t say that). Seriously though, the food here is really incredible, and great value for money. The French are obsessed with their wine too, and it is very good, and wonderfully cheap. Compared to the UK at least!
In terms of things to see and do, well, where do I start? France is bloody huge. There are the cities, like Paris, which can entertain for days or weeks on end with art, sights, and romance. You can’t not fall in love with Paris! Then there are the huge mountain ranges bordering the country, where outdoor adventurists of all kinds can get their fix on. The whole country is stuffed full of castles, and brimming with history. There is literally something for everyone.
3. How much money can someone travel around France for? What are the greatest expenses? What things are relatively cheap?
Food is certainly a tremendous bargain, at least, in terms of quality and quantity versus price. If you go out for lunch, and don’t mind having a bit less choice, you can normally pick up a fixed price menu, sometimes even including wine, for around €10. Not as cheap as some countries to be sure, but you probably won’t want dinner afterwards!
The other two corners of the travellers expenses triangle (patent pending on this model) are transport and accommodation. If I’m honest, I’ve not really used either that much, but I know that there is a really excellent train system, which rewards you if you book well in advance, and the local guest houses I’ve stayed in have always been good value for money. Like anywhere in the world, you can travel cheap if you try, or you can spend until your wallet groans in pain.
4. What are your favourite destinations in France and why?
I absolutely love Paris. I think I mentioned that already, so I’ll stop banging on about it. Plus there is so much to see beyond the cities. One of my main passions in life is mountains, and I love the French mountains. I’ve skied at a variety of French resorts, and I’m always amazed by the splendour and beauty of a snow covered mountain range. North France is also magnificent with the craggy cliff lined coastline, whilst the south coast is all about beaches and warmth.
Other than that, I have to admit that the area around where I am living is also quite wonderful. It’s very rural, with old mills and lovely towns, with bit of history dating right back to the Roman times, and even before. There are towns with monasteries hacked out of the limestone, 17th century mills that still crush walnuts to make oil, and stunningly beautiful rural landscapes. It keeps me entertained!
5. What cultural activities and events would you suggest everyone seeing or taking part in while travelling in France and why?
You have to visit a market whilst you’re in France. Nearly every village or town that takes itself even slightly seriously has some kind of market going on at some point. These are usually fairly food focused, and are a great way to try a variety of cheeses or grab a baguette to nibble on. Before you know it you’ll be wearing a beret and enjoying accordion music with the best of them. A garlic necklace is entirely optional.
6. What is your favourite thing about travelling this country? What is your least favourite thing?
The little villages are adorably cute. I’m not sure I should describe villages in the same way that I would describe small kittens or puppies, but well, they are. There are so many to explore, with their shuttered windows, stone buildings, and general sense of age and rural contentment. You can often feel you’ve stepped back in time to a simpler, more hobbity land.
My least favourite thing is the language barrier, which I’m working to overcome, and is entirely my fault. My schoolboy French gets me about as far as being able to ask where the train station is, and to explain that I have a cat (even though I don’t), but it’s not so great when it comes to discussing things like the election results. Luckily, where I live in rural France, the locals are incredible patient and understanding, and let me massacre their beautiful language. Which is nice of them!
7. What things do you focus on most when you blog about this country? Why do you choose these things?
I’m fascinated by the little things that are different, and the things that amuse me, and the things that I discover that I had no idea about at all. For instance, since I moved to France I have learnt that Richard the Lionheart, possibly one of the most famous English Kings ever, spent most of his time living in France and didn’t even speak English. That was mysteriously omitted from my history lessons. I’ve also learnt that Laurence is a girls name in France, which has caused no end of amusement with the French bureaucratic system. I’ve decided that a sex change is probably going to be easiest all round.
So I write about those things. Things that surprise me, or open my eyes a little wider, or just amuse me. I’ve also written about the recent unspeakable horrors that occurred during the wars. France suffered rather terribly during the two world wars, and there are reminders of this in memorials and monuments nearly everywhere you go.
One of the most moving places I’ve visited and written about is the memorial town of Oradour Sur Glane, where the Nazi’s butchered all 642 inhabitants, seemingly on a whim. It’s been kept in the same state as it was left on that awful day, and is an amazing place to visit and witness how incredibly inventive humans can be at being terrible to each other.
8. What’s one thing you can’t travel around France without?
My camera. I take a lot of photos, and I’d be a bit lost without it!
9. If you could have lived anywhere else in the country where would it be and why?
You know, I don’t know. Maybe somewhere by the sea, because I just love beaches and walking on them. (If I was single, my dating profile would be seriously clichéd.) Or somewhere high up in the mountains, because I love walking on those too. But really, I’m very happy where I am right now!
10. If you could think of one thing you wished someone had told you before you started travelling in France what would it be?
I can’t think of anything! I love to go into places wide eyed and learn as I go
What an interesting little interview! Richard the Lionheart of France eh? Who would have thought it. Massive thanks to Laurence for doing his research for us.
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