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A peak into the French countryside

NAIROBI, August 12 – I recently returned from a two-week vacation to France that I can describe in one word as “sublime”. A little-known fact is that at 15 million tourists, France receives the highest number of tourists in the world! In comparison, Kenya’s highest recorded number of tourists, which was in 2007, was 1.2 million.

France, bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Andorra and Spain, and covering about 550, 000 square kilometers is about the same size as Kenya, only slightly smaller (Kenya covers about 587,000 square kilometers).

The comparison ends there!
My vacation covered a number of locations from Paris to several small towns including Branges, Gray, Auxionne and Seurre. This tale is about my fabulous time from Branges down the River La Saone through several towns.

We flew into the Lyon Saint Exupery Airport, and my first impression of France came to me through my olfactory senses! Does the air smell different, I questioned myself? Do all cities smell different? Think about it, when you arrive in Mombasa, you smell the ocean air, in Kisumu, you smell the lake air. Here in France, I noticed that the air was, for lack of better words, dry but inviting, a hint of smoke, the concrete jungle, perhaps?

For at that precise moment, I was in Lyon.

They say the best way to see France is with your best friend, soul mate, partner, but preferably someone you are romantically entwined with! I was fortunate to share the French intimacy with my fiancé.

We journeyed through the French countryside, (and doesn’t that sound quaint!) and visited over six beautiful towns from Auxionne, Seurre to Gray. We observed several beautiful churches from ancient times still standing. Whoever said that once you’ve seen one church you’ve seen them all has obviously not traveled this far! Each town we went through had a glorious church, some very small, while others were towering magnificent works of art.  The years of history and preservation was spectacular, taking you back to ancient times, and making one feel honoured to even be allowed to enter such a place.

Many of the churches are still in active use. I can only imagine the spiritual presence one must feel to worship in such a beautiful artistic space. During our tour we even walked in on a few funerals plus a wedding that had a story book appeal! No wonder the French can afford to be so romantic, so eccentric, for how can they escape it with such beauty in their architecture?

As we walked through the towns and villages, I just loved the “old” look of the cobblestone streets. In addition, the French have flowers everywhere, making any space come alive with splendor, no matter how drab the area.
One French habit I loved (and wish we could adopt this in Kenya), is that at high-noon the entire town takes a siesta till two-thirty in the afternoon, so you will not find a single shop open! You can tell life is laid back in these small French towns, especially when the fire departments state their job description as “watering the plants!”

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No description of the French countryside is complete without talking about the food. The French are known for their “rich” food and great wine….and after such a meal, you surely need that siesta!

We visited old-world restaurants with stuffed goats and sheep in the hallway and on the stairs, garlic, pots and pans hanging from the ceiling, and disposable table-cloths!! I jest not! Compare this where you would be crazy to have a stuffed goat in your restaurant in Nairobi (it wouldn’t survive a slaughtering!) and we’d be looking for the nearest asylum if you had pots hanging from the ceiling!!

The first two days on the boat were exquisite – like typical Frenchmen and women we dined on cheese (variants of blue cheese, Albray, Camambert etc) bread, wine and grapes.
There was also a wide selection of meat and sausage as well as fresh salad – all this we would get from the shops we visited when we docked at the various towns, careful to make sure we made it before the siesta started!

Children were out of school for the summer and by the way, French children don’t attend school on Wednesday as it’s their day off (in addition to the weekend)! I couldn’t help but compare the Kenyan education system where kids even go to school on Saturday…no wonder they complain their workload is too much!

My fiancé and I cycled through the country side – my list of 100 things to do before I die got shorter that day – from admiring cornfields, to vineyards, sun-flower farms, windmills, picking apples off trees like truant children as we went with the sun on our backs, the wind in our faces, the sweet smell of the earth filling our senses and not a care in the world. It was a near perfect day.

But as often happens; all too soon it was time to jet off to Paris and leave the countryside behind and this is where I say part two of the globetrotter in France shall return, next week.

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