Monday, September 26, 2022

A visit to France while living in Italy

Our Washington friends in Paris
Lucy and I are just wrapping up a 12-day sojourn in France, our first time here since we started coming to Italy regularly in 2001 (save for a half day trip just across the border in 2002). With France being relatively close to Tuscany, what has kept us away all these years? After all, France is the most visited country by tourists (Italy is number five). And what are our impressions now that we are here?

Lucy in Monet's garden, Giverny

We hadn’t traveled to France before because my interests have been focused on Italy as my primary ancestral homeland (we’ve also taken shorter trips to Holland, England and Germany, where Lucy and I both have roots). My dad’s parents were raised and married in Montecarlo, between Lucca and Montecatini, so I wanted to renew ties with relatives and gain an understanding and appreciation for what my grandparents had left behind when they moved to Washington for good in 1909. We’ve invested quite a bit of time and effort learning Italian and trying to fit in with the culture, and we don’t even travel much now when we are in Italy.

We were serenaded on the Paris
metro by this guy.
We would not even have taken this trip to France had it not been for a group of long-time friends from Washington who were coming here on a two-week vacation. Since we were already in Italy, we decided to fly from Pisa to Paris and join them on some of their explorations. It has been well worth the while, mainly because they are such amazing people and dear friends. Some we have known for as long as 50 years. One of them, Greg Heath, is an experienced traveler and born planner, so  we basically had the services of a free sweetheart  tour guide to lead us.

And what about France? Well, we can see why so many people come here. The countryside is beautiful, the food exceptional, the cities lively, and every place is packed with history and amazing architecture. In these respects, it is a lot like Italy, which is one reason we had no strong desire to come. We still have a lot of places we haven’t seen in Italy—and at least we understand Italian and can pronounce the names of the city, something we struggle with in France.

Of course we had
to see La Gioconda.
But to state the obvious, there are poignant places in France that one can’t see in Italy. We visited several of the battlefields of Normandy, sobering reminders of the valiant soldiers, airmen and seamen who gave their all to free the world from Nazi occupation. We saw the home and garden of the brilliant impressionist painter Claude Monet. The Louvre, L’Orangerie and other museums overwhelmed our senses with brilliant art.

We observed other obvious differences between the two countries. Black people are much more fully integrated into French society than they are in Italy. France has many more people of Italian descent than the opposite, and this was obvious as we saw many stores and mailboxes with Italian names. In fact, I recently read that France is home for 4 million people of Italian descent as well as 460,000 Italian citizens living abroad.

Utah beach monument
We also encountered more people in France who speak English than we normally do in Italy, though this could be skewed because we spent much of our time in heavily touristed areas. We had heard that French people can be impatient or even rude with Americans because of our ignorance of their language and culture. Instead, we were always treated with the utmost kindness and respect.

All in all, it was a great experience. While the best part was just being with our friends, France is definitely worthy of its high ranking as a tourist destination. But as we head back to our Montecarlo home, we look forward to a few days of rest before heading out to our next adventure—South Africa.

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