Last weekend I spent 3 days in the South of France. The Pyrenees, to be exact. Have a small family house down there – nothing extravagant, just a bit of a bolt-hole to escape to.
The weather wasn’t bad overall. Warmer than the UK – as you’d hope and expect. A bit showery in places but this is May so couldn’t really complain.
I like France a lot. I’ve been going ever since I was a child (both parents are big Francophiles). As a kid I could take it or leave it. I dreamt of Disneyland and suchlike. Now I’m an adult I really appreciate the Continent and having it on our doorstep is something I’d miss if I lived anywhere else. The food – even from the local supermarkets – is amazing. So much fresher and tastier than we have here. But it’s because it doesn’t have to travel. Down in the South of France – on the Spanish border – every type of food you can imagine is grown locally – avocados, peaches, cherries, artichokes, etc. The more exotic stuff comes up from Spain. And the wine is about 10x better value for money than in the UK (because it isn’t loaded with tax) so a 5 euro bottle of wine is actually incredibly drinkable which is quite often not the case back home.
My big regret when I’m in France is not being able to speak more French. I have always wanted to learn more (I gave it up at school aged 16 having studied it, like all UK school children, from 11 onwards). So when the neighbour (who doesn’t speak a word of English) starts talking to me, it’s rather challenging. Thankfully I can answer questions such as ‘ca va?’ fairly well, and ask her how she is. But that really is about it. And I can order food in boulangeries and restaurants, that type of thing. I do talk about learning French again. I want to. Like so many things in life – it’s wondering where I’d find the time.
Among other things I enjoyed a 4 hour walk through the mountains which was pleasant. Caught a fair bit of sun that day too. Had friends from a neighbouring village round for dinner one evening which was gastronomic and enjoyable – and long. Had a good morning out at a local market (you just cannot beat French markets – it was just like Borough Market, actually, in terms of sheer variety and also quality). And on my final day we spent the morning in Perpignan exploring the old town (which is now where all the immigrants live, is quite atmospheric), then lunch, then I bought shoes. They’re Spanish and look a bit like slippers but are very comfortable.
Ryanair was surprisingly painless each way. I even got back early. From Stansted I decided to take the bus to central London (far cheaper than the train which is a rip-off) and that was quite interesting, actually. You approach and enter London from the East, starting in Newham (high rise, run down), then up to the Isle of Dogs where Canary Wharf and its skyscrapers are, then into the City (London’s financial district) proper, past the Tower of London, Gherkin, etc, then down the Embankment with the London Eye on your left over the Thames, right into Westminster and directly under Big Ben, then down Victoria Street to Victoria station. The coach was full of (mostly young, European) tourists who were loving the journey in (as, surprisingly, was I). And it was that ‘golden hour’ before sunset. The sky a dark blue/purple colour but the sun, very low in the sky, still shining. The whole city felt very pleasant to come back to.