Transcript for Episode 440: Budget Family Travel in France

Categories: Family Travel, France on a Budget


[00:00:16] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France episode 440, quatre cent quarante.

[00:00:22] Annie Sargent: Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent and Join Us in France is the podcast where we talk about France, everyday life in France, great places to visit in France, French culture, history, gastronomy, and news related to travel to France. Generally, but not today.

Today on the podcast

[00:00:39] Annie Sargent: Today, I bring you a trip report with James Olson about Slow Family Travel in France. Because they had plenty of time, they saw a lot of France, and I think there’s going to be something of interest to all of you.

[00:00:53] Annie Sargent: He was great. He made specific recommendations, things he would avoid next time, he was a fantastic guest, I think you’ll like it.

Podcast supporters

[00:01:00] Annie Sargent: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my Itinerary Consult Service and my GPS self-guided tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app.

[00:01:13] Annie Sargent: You can browse all of that on my boutique And you can of course get those tours directly from the VoiceMap app from your phone.

[00:01:25] Annie Sargent: I am on vacation this week, so this is going to be a shorter episode than normal with no magazine part of the podcast.

New Patrons, Thank you!

[00:01:33] Annie Sargent: But I do want to thank new patrons this week: Sylvia, Hillary Schultz, Catherine T. Jill, Bonnie Cusack, and Ashley Atkins. Your dedication to keeping this podcast going is wonderful. Thank you so much. Thank you also Mark Samson for editing your pledge up, much, much appreciated.


Slow Family Travel, trip report

[00:02:08] Annie Sargent: Bonjour James Olsen and welcome to Join Us in France.

[00:02:12] James Olsen: Bonjour, Bonjour.

[00:02:14] Annie Sargent: Oh, it’s lovely to have you on the podcast, we’re going to talk about your trip to France, and specifically how to have a wonderful trip in France on a budget. Because not all of us can spend 5,000 a night. Some of us are restricted to a smaller budget, and especially you were traveling with your family, right? Tell us who was with you.

[00:02:35] James Olsen: Yes, so my wife Jessica, and our two kids, our son is eight years old now. He actually turned eight while we were in France, and our daughter Avery is 10.

When did the trip take place?

[00:02:46] Annie Sargent: Okay, so this was a family trip and when was that trip?

[00:02:50] James Olsen: We arrived in France on the 15th of August of 2022, and we were there for six weeks, 45 days approximately.

[00:02:58] Annie Sargent: Wow. How come you get to spend that much time?

90 days in the Schengen space

[00:03:01] James Olsen: Well, we were fortunate enough to actually take a year off of our lives back in the States and travel for 14 months. People from the States may be familiar that on a US passport, you can only stay in Europe for 90 days out of 180 days. And so you have a lot of options, but they’re all fairly expensive.

[00:03:24] James Olsen: And when we sat down and looked at it, we actually identified France as a somewhat budget friendly way to get a lot out of our 90 days. So we spent half of our Schengen zone, 90 days in the country of France.

[00:03:38] Annie Sargent: I see. Well, that’s an interesting way to look at this. Where did you stay, how did you keep it within a reasonable budget? You just said again that it’s relatively inexpensive. And I do agree that in general, France is less expensive than the US but what did you do to make your money stretch?

The gîte system in France

[00:03:56] James Olsen: Well, there’s a lot that goes into that, that it’s kind of a loaded question because you certainly can spend a lot if you’re in a high end hotel somewhere, in Paris especially. But if you, I’m sure your listeners are familiar with the gîte system.

[00:04:14] Annie Sargent: Mm-hmm.

[00:04:14] James Olsen: I used to think of it as the French sort of equivalent to I guess, VRBO in the States, but it was way less commercialized.

[00:04:25] James Olsen: And I was always sort of fascinated by the system and I would spend time sitting in my cubicle at work and I’m looking at these gîtes in the middle of nowhere in France and I thought they looked very budget friendly. For $50 a night, it looks like you can stay in these very nice accommodations.

[00:04:46] James Olsen: The only catch is, it’s not going to be in the top end city, so to speak. That’s the trade off, but that can be a pretty fascinating trade off. You’re going to go see parts of France that you otherwise wouldn’t. They’re not really in the guidebooks. And so we chose to go the gîte route.

[00:05:05] James Olsen: And really for a nightly cost, it was a real bargain.

Airbnb vs gîte

[00:05:10] Annie Sargent: So what happens, I’ll just explain just a tiny bit here, because if you have an apartment in the middle of Paris, especially in a desirable part of Paris or any large French city, then obviously you can set up with Airbnb and if you’re any good at customer relations, at taking photos of your property, at kind of selling your services on Airbnb, then Airbnb is going to do a good job at showing your property and getting it rented out a lot.

[00:05:41] Annie Sargent: But say you have a wonderful family home in the middle of nowhere, then chances are nobody’s looking for that on Airbnb, and there’s no point listing it on Airbnb. You would do much better listing it on a place like Gîte de France because there are plenty of French people who want to go spend a week or two or three in a place that is lovely but is not super touristy. Just because they want to explore out of there.

[00:06:11] Annie Sargent: And the cost is typically very good, and the other thing is you have to be realistic about what’s touristy and what’s not. Because just a few days ago on the Facebook group I asked, what are kind of out of the way places that you’ve enjoyed?

[00:06:26] Annie Sargent: And some people respond with a place that’s in the middle of Provence. I’m sorry, no, that is not unknown. Everybody knows about Provence. We’re talking about parts of France that are just not, that don’t get a lot of visitors and are yet very, very nice. Okay.

France with with your kids is different than France without your kids

[00:06:43] Annie Sargent: So what sorts of activities did you do while you were there?

[00:06:47] James Olsen: Sure. So that’s another thing, when I looked at the trip, we have young kids, my wife and I already really enjoy France. We had been to Burgundy in the past, and France with your kids is different than France without your kids.

[00:07:01] Annie Sargent: How come?

[00:07:02] James Olsen: If it’s just you and without your kids you can really soak in these longer meals, you can line up, a week’s worth of reservations at Michelin starred restaurants. But with kids you have to look at it a little differently.

South Normandy

[00:07:16] James Olsen: The first stop was Normandy, South Normandy, it was just inside of the Calvados kind of limit.

[00:07:23] James Olsen: But it was over an hour to the D-day beaches.

[00:07:26] James Olsen: So this was one of these off the beaten path towns. But the kitchen was very nice.

[00:07:30] Annie Sargent: So you had a car, right?

[00:07:32] James Olsen: Yes.

[00:07:32] Annie Sargent: Okay. Sorry. Tell us about the kitchen.

[00:07:35] James Olsen: Sure. And we can get to the car. That’s a huge part of the whole formula. But we had a very nice kitchen, so right off the bat we identified the fact that we were going to be cooking a lot of meals at home.

[00:07:47] James Olsen: And actually, I think one of your previous guests on the show had mentioned that the Airbnb and the gîtes, it was a game changer for families because you can kind of dictate your own eating schedules. And I couldn’t agree more. I think it really opens the door to much more comfortable eating for Americans.

[00:08:09] James Olsen: They can kind of go on their own schedule.

[00:08:10] Annie Sargent: Yeah,an excellent point because in rural France, if you want to go eat at the restaurant, you need to eat on time. They’re not going to be open 24/7.

[00:08:19] James Olsen: Yeah, and it’s a painful lesson that Americans really have to learn because your trip’s more enjoyable when you, you have to join them. If you can’t beat it, join it. And once you go on the French schedule, you really, that would, that happened. I don’t want to digress, but that happened on our trip.

[00:08:37] James Olsen: It really opened up for us a true enjoyment of the culture once we just embraced it. We’re out in the countryside the first two weeks and there really weren’t many restaurants to eat at dinner. So we’d pack it in and we’d cook ourselves a fabulous dinner on the barbecue.

[00:08:53] James Olsen: But the other, the flip side of that is I didn’t want to have my family sequestered away. You know, the part of the point for me was to get to know French people and talk to people that really worked and lived in the town. So the trick there is you go to the markets and you go buy your groceries and you go to the epicery, you go to the charcuterie, the boulangerie. All these small towns have these wonderful little shops.

[00:09:18] James Olsen: Yeah. Yeah. So long as it’s somewhere with 1000 or 2000 inhabitants. If it’s 50 people, there’s not going to be anything. But if it’s at least a thousand inhabitants, then that’s when you start seeing, you know, boulangerie, bakery, in my village we have a wonderful butcher. I don’t know how this guy gets so many customers, but you go in there to buy something, you never get out in under 30 minutes. Because everybody is in there. He’s really popular.Yeah, I mean we were four kilometers from Pont-d’Ouilly which was a reasonably sized town, on the Orne River. And our town had about 50 people. The river was where we were staying, but we could drive in and yeah, we instantly identified that we had a terrific butcher, a man and a woman who, they never spoke a word of English to us, but they could not have been more pleasant, and they were helpful.

[00:10:15] James Olsen: They didn’t mind me stumbling through and asking for things in French. The prices were phenomenal and my son really likes that aspect, you know, picking out his own meats to grill. And so we got to know them.

[00:10:29] James Olsen: My wife loved the epicery, got to know the people in there, and they knew by the end of it, they knew the cheese we liked, you know, and just wonderful friendly folks.

[00:10:40] James Olsen: And that was how we tried to become part of the culture during the day. And then we could go cook a meal at home, settle in and that rhythm really worked well in Normandy.

Same price for locals as for visitors

[00:10:50] Annie Sargent: Yeah, and one tiny thing to mention as well, there are countries where you have the price for locals and the price for visitors. It’s not like that in France because prices are on every piece of meat that you might want to buy. So the butcher is not going to try and rob you blind, you know the price per kilo, and you can look at your receipt afterwards and see if you paid the right amount. But I know that in some countries that’s a concern, so not here.

[00:11:18] James Olsen: Yes. It’s very conspicuous. You can look at your receipt. The first couple of times we bought our beef, we were shocked at how cheap it was, you know, coming from the States, and the quality was terrific. And those are just the standard shops. We called it the trifecta.

[00:11:32] James Olsen: We’d hit all three of these shops during the day.

Small town markets

[00:11:35] James Olsen: And then you don’t want to forget about the markets because nobody does markets like France. And all these small towns had markets, you just have to find out what day they’re going to hold their market.

[00:11:47] James Olsen: For anyone that is trying to learn French, I think the markets offer a real fun opportunity. Even if it’s crowded, even if it’s a little intimidating, the merchants are not going to speak English to you. They’re going to keep it moving, but you’ll know enough to ask for the right amount of fruit, vegetables. And it was a good way to kind of practice and engage and get some really good products.

[00:12:12] James Olsen: So that became a regular part of our trip.

[00:12:14] Annie Sargent: So let’s go over all the places you went. So you went to Normandy, you mentioned that. Where else did you go in France?

[00:12:20] James Olsen: From Normandy we worked our way south and we went to Mont Sacre,which is near Lascaux four, kind of in that area.

[00:12:29] James Olsen: And that was en route… yes. Dordogne. And that was en route to eventually

[00:12:35] James Olsen: going to Céret. That was the second two-week stop, in the Pyrénées-Orientales.

[00:12:40] James Olsen: So basically it’s broken out in Normandy, two weeks in Normandy, two weeks in Céret and then one week near Amboise coming back North.

[00:12:50] James Olsen: And then one week in Paris.

Favourite activities – Collioure Beach

[00:12:52] Annie Sargent: Okay, and then one week in Paris. Okay. So you got to see a lot. I also asked you to rank your favorite activities, and the first one you put is swimming in Collioure. So you went, did you just do a day trip to Collioure from somewhere?

[00:13:05] James Olsen: Yeah, from Céret. Five separate day trips to Collioure.

[00:13:09] Annie Sargent: You loved it, huh?

[00:13:11] James Olsen: Five days in a row. We liked it so much. The main beach in town was phenomenal. When you first walk up to it, you think, what’s going on here? It’s a pebblely beach and there’s not, doesn’t seem like there’s much, but it was so much fun.

[00:13:26] James Olsen: The kids loved it. I even loved swimming there and I don’t always like to get in.

[00:13:31] Annie Sargent: That’s great.

[00:13:32] James Olsen: That town is terrific.

[00:13:34] Annie Sargent: Yeah, Collioure is a fun place and we did an episode about it and it’s come up on many trip reports and whatever. It’s really a nice place. Now, were you there at the beginning of your trip, because middle of August would be when it’s really busy in Collioure. You didn’t start there, did you?

[00:13:48] James Olsen: No. That would’ve been the beginning of September.

[00:13:52] James Olsen: Into the middle of September. It was kind of quieting down, it wasn’t packed.

[00:13:57] James Olsen: That’s one of those towns, where if you only have a week or a two-week trip, you know, you ought to splurge and stay there.

[00:14:06] James Olsen: It was too expensive for our budget and so we couldn’t stay right in the town.

[00:14:10] Annie Sargent: Right. But if you have a car, you can go a little further.And parking in Collioure can be a little difficult. In August, it would be hard. In September probably it gets a little bit easier. But you do have to pay for parking most days, right? You had to.

[00:14:23] James Olsen: That’s correct. The trick we used, and again, you’re right. I mean, August might be almost impossible, but we just would go straight up to the train station. You can use an app to pay. You don’t have to wait in the line. You know, we felt bad, people were waiting this long line to pay and you can just do it on an app.

[00:14:41] James Olsen: You pay nine euros for the whole day, which we felt was very reasonable. And the walk from the train station was nothing. You know, it’s 10 minutes, 10 peaceful minutes on a beautiful Mediterranean Street and nobody complained about that.

[00:14:58] Annie Sargent: Right. That’s good.

[00:14:59] Annie Sargent: It’s uphill a little bit, right? Going back from the beach.

[00:15:02] James Olsen: It’s uphill at the end of the day, but you have some gelato.

[00:15:07] Annie Sargent: That’s right.

[00:15:08] James Olsen: And everyone’s kind of tired from swimming and we felt that those day trips were terrific. But the town of Céret itself is also fantastic. It’s a lovely town.

[00:15:19] Annie Sargent: Yeah, yeah. It’s a French town, so it’s going to have all the amenities that French people want. It’s just not one that people go to that much for tourism. But that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Kayaking in the Dordogne

[00:15:29] Annie Sargent: The second thing you listed is kayaking in the Dordogne, as your favorite thing.

[00:15:34] Annie Sargent: Tell me about that.

[00:15:35] James Olsen: Yeah, I mean a lot of the activities that I listed were things that the kids really liked.

[00:15:41] James Olsen: Because as a parent, if your kids love something, you just kind of end up liking it too. You kind of put up with it more, you know? And kayaking isn’t always my thing, but I could tell that the kids really enjoyed it and it ended up being these wonderful trips.

[00:15:57] James Olsen: We did that long trip on the Dordogne, and it just, it really hit a home run for us.

[00:16:02] James Olsen: They told us it was supposed to take about two or two and a half hours to do all four of these bridges. We ended up taking six hours.

[00:16:11] Annie Sargent: Because you’re new, you’re not used to it.

[00:16:13] James Olsen: Yeah, and also we stopped a lot and it was kind of this sense of adventure, you can stop on the side of the river. There are several cute new towns, we had lunch in one. There was a restaurant that was kind of set back in the rock wall, that was memorable. It was a hot day, the kids started diving off of the boat. That’s something that they had been taught to do in their summer camp, apparently. The counselor thought that was a fun thing, so they were diving off the boat, and we just were in no rush at all.

[00:16:45] James Olsen: And that’s one of those activities that very budget-friendly, they’ll rent you a kayak pretty cheaply. I recommend it. We also did it in the Orne River in Normandy. Same thing, really enjoyable activity.

[00:16:58] Annie Sargent: Right. So this is something,you didn’t even list which kayak company you went to because you don’t need to, if you are somewhere that has a good kayaking activity, you’ll see signs along the road, along the river, you’ll see the piles of kayaks. So stop and see what they have to offer.

[00:17:17] Annie Sargent: This is not the sort of thing that you necessarily need to plan in advance because it also depends on the time of year. Sometimes these companies just close for the whole winter. Well, not sometimes, all of them, they close for the winter. Now what day exactly are they going to close for the winter?

[00:17:32] Annie Sargent: That changes from company to company. But if you’re there and you see kayaking and you’re with kids, hey, go do it. And if you go to the Dordogne area in the summer or in September, there’s going to be kayaking opportunities in a lot of places.

[00:17:46] James Olsen: Yes. Yeah, there were, there were many, there were several companies. They all looked reputable to us.

[00:17:52] James Olsen: I did a little bit of internet research and that was enough for that.

Favorite food

[00:17:56] Annie Sargent: Then it seems that the next few things that you list are all food related. You like the food, huh?

[00:18:03] James Olsen: Yes. Yeah. That was my trick to try to get the family hooked on France. Our family loves to eat, we’re all kind of amateur cooks andI thought that was going to be the way in and it worked.

[00:18:15] James Olsen: I don’t think I even listed specifically. The beef, we love that.

[00:18:20] James Olsen: My son and I love the foie gras.

[00:18:23] James Olsen: I don’t think I had ever had it. I had never been to the Dordogne so I hadn’t really had it. And my son and I, kind of got addicted for a few days where we would, we’d track down a shop, we’d get a big tin of it and get a baguette and just kind of dip it.

[00:18:37] James Olsen: And that was like our meal for a few days.

The pears in Normandy

[00:18:39] James Olsen: Oh, the other thing in Normandy, my kids, their favorite fruit is

[00:18:44] James Olsen: pears – poires, and I kept telling them, just wait to get to Normandy. I’ve heard the pears are good. And I was kind of bluffing a little bit.

[00:18:54] James Olsen: I don’t know. I hadn’t researched it that much, but they were better than I expected.

[00:18:59] James Olsen: We were blown away. So, you know, when you have young kids, one of their highlights is going to get 10 pears and watching them ripen and then digging in a day or two later.

[00:19:09] James Olsen: And it’s funny the things that kids will remember when you ask them what was fun, and then they’ll talk about the pears. Before I forget, Bonne Maman jelly, confiture. So in the States at Whole Foods we can get that for $6.sometimes $7 with inflation.

[00:19:27] James Olsen: We got it for two euros.

[00:19:29] James Olsen: And we were blown away by that. Everyone’s so excited about that, that’s just one of those like, simple pleasures. And if I were only there, if I were only in France for a week, I don’t know that we would’ve kind of been digging that far, or I guess going beneath the surface layer, you just don’t have time to enjoy little things like that.

[00:19:47] James Olsen: And that was the beauty of the longer trip. The highlight of the day was sometimes just going to the grocery store.

[00:19:52] Annie Sargent: And you know, also talk to the people. Even at a grocery store, if you see a, I mean it is harder in a grocery store, but if you go to open air market and they have several kinds of pears, which is typical in France, they won’t just have one. When pears are in season, there’s lots of different types. Just ask them, you know, what’s the sweetest one?

[00:20:11] Annie Sargent: My husband, he likes crunchy pears and so I always get him a few crunchy pears. I like them sweet. So I get different pears, I get two for him, two for me, and yeah it is very fun to talk to people about that, your preferences.

[00:20:24] James Olsen: Yeah, and they’ll tell you which ones are ready and how long to wait to eat them, which is pretty important information.

[00:20:31] Annie Sargent: Yeah, usually, yeah, you do need to wait a day or two because they are sold to you a couple of days too early so that they have time to sell them is honestly what it is, you know?

The Salvador Dali Museum, Figueres Spain

[00:20:40] Annie Sargent: Then another thing you listed is the Salvador Dali Museum. Is that the one in Montmarte or somewhere else?

[00:20:47] James Olsen: That is inSpain, in Figueres.

[00:20:51] Annie Sargent: Okay. Oh yeah. That was really fun. That’s a fun museum.

[00:20:54] James Olsen: From Céret it’s just a short little 30 minute drive.

[00:20:57] Annie Sargent: Yeah, that’s a fun museum. I’ve been to it several times with different people and it never disappoints. You always go, huh? And I don’t know how it is organized these days, but last time I went, at the very top of the museum, you have some of his early works, you know, they’re very small. He started doing a lot of etudes. They were kind of small. Oh my god. You can see how messed up in his head he was. Just, you look at those things and you go, what exactly did he draw there? And then you’re like, oh, I see now. Okay. He was

[00:21:28] James Olsen: Yeah. I don’t know why, a lot of interesting things going on in his head and his wife too, they both were, they’re kind of partners in crime on some of, on laying out the museum. And I’m not some Salvador Dali fan, but I am now, I mean, you can’t go to that museum and not come away being impressed.

[00:21:46] James Olsen: One of your prior guests had said it’s very crowded. That’s fair, it is crowded.

[00:21:51] James Olsen: Especially if you compare it to the crowds at the Musée d’Art Moderne de Céret, the museum in town in Céret. That’s not a fair comparison because I haven’t been to a museum that good with so little people ever.

[00:22:08] James Olsen: We were so fortunate and kind of blown away to have that access without the crowds.

[00:22:14] Annie Sargent: That’s cool. That’s cool. Fantastic.


[00:22:17] Annie Sargent: Then next you list Mont-Saint-Michel as something you enjoyed. Tell us what you liked about it. I mean, other than it looks fabulous.

[00:22:24] James Olsen: Yeah. Mont-Saint-Michel, I’ve never heard anyone on your show, I’ve never read anything from anyone, saying anything but they were thoroughly impressed. It’s hard to come away from that place and not be thoroughly impressed and think it’s magical. And I’m very skeptical. When I go into something that could be like a tourist trap or something, I’m very paranoid about it. And we took your recommendation andyour co-host had recommended to stay at a hotel there. And we went ahead and did that. We splurged for a night to stay there, and that was very memorable. And I do recommend that.

[00:23:07] James Olsen: You know, you’re not that far if you stay at just one of the hotels right there. It’s hard to know how it’s going to be. You don’t know what it’s going to look like when you get there. Is it some like cattle car, shuttle bus, is it going to take 30 minutes? Is it going to be a hassle?

[00:23:21] James Olsen: And it’s none of the above. The shuttle’s frequent. It’s free. It’s not very far. We walked it at night, we saw it at night and did the abbey nocturne, you know, it was all lit up.

[00:23:32] Annie Sargent: So you did not stay on the Mont-Saint-Michel, you stayed off the Mont at the hotel row kind of thing?

[00:23:39] James Olsen: Yes.

[00:23:39] Annie Sargent: That’s what I recommend everybody does. I know people swear by staying on the Mont-Saint-Michel and I’m sure it has its charms, but I don’t want to be carrying my stuff up that hill. And you cannot see it when you’re on it, so I’d rather you know,it’s like Disneyland.

[00:23:56] Annie Sargent: They have a hotel row that’s just not very far. I think it’s a little more than a mile away from the Mont. And there’s shuttles that run all the time. And the shuttles drop you off in front of this hotel and that hotel and that hotel. And there you go. And then you can walk to it. And the shuttles run until midnight.

[00:24:14] Annie Sargent: It makes it very easy. You can also park right by your hotel if that’s where you’re staying. The one I’ve stayed at is the Mercure Mont-Saint-Michel, which I thinkis a really good place.

[00:24:25] James Olsen: We were right next door to the Mercure. Oh, I forget what it’s called now. It’s a Gabriel, I think, Hotel Gabriel.

[00:24:32] James Olsen: I think it’s the same kind of class. We didn’t go into The Mercure, but it’s right next door. I think it’s a similar concept.

[00:24:39] Annie Sargent: It’s a hotel row, so they’re all about the same, like I said, it’s a bit of a Disneyland experience, as far as that’s concerned.

[00:24:46] James Olsen: I would stress though that it’s not, it’s justthere’s not a hassle. It’s nothing. You’re closer than you think. I came away thinking it was a very good value. We missed the last shuttle to come home after the nocturne, and we just walked back and laughed about it and it was really magical.

[00:25:03] James Olsen: No complaints there.

[00:25:04] Annie Sargent: Yeah, yeah, you can walk it. It’s really not that far and it’s not difficult and it’s like a well-marked path. I’m not sure if it’s lit or not, but it’s well-marked, you can’t get lost or anything. Wonderful.

Baillou, The Tapestry

[00:25:15] Annie Sargent: Baillou, you enjoyed Baillou. What did you do there?

[00:25:18] James Olsen: Oh, Baillou. That was a very cute town. We were blown away by the quaintness of that town, the architecture. We took your show’s advice and went to The Tapestry. The Baillou Tapestry. And just a little bit of context, we we’re traveling for a year, but we are doing homeschool, so the kids can get some of their homeschool credits by going to these field trips.

[00:25:44] James Olsen: And so The Tapestry was a field trip. It was very interesting. The kids were engaged, they walk you through these battle scenes and you know, I learned something. I had listened to your show on The Tapestry and that gave me some great background, going in I kind of knew it.

[00:26:00] Annie Sargent: Yeah. And for kids, there’s a lot of kind of pedagogical supplements you can get about Baillou, about The Tapestry, about William the Conqueror. The BBC has a lot of videos and things where kids can answer questions afterwards. Anyway, there’s a lot of stuff you can do around that tapestry because it’s world-famous and it’s quite impressive to see in person.

[00:26:24] James Olsen: It’s a great piece of history that, it’s fascinating the interconnectedness of the English and the French societies. And I heard on your show the up to 40% of French words are English.

[00:26:38] James Olsen: And that’s just fascinating to me.

[00:26:39] Annie Sargent: You stole words from one another all the time. Still do, we still do.

[00:26:44] James Olsen: Yeah, you have a 40% chance if you’re just guessing it at some noun, of course my pronunciation would be terrible and no, they can’t, no one can understand what I’m saying, but I can at least read.

Loire Valley

[00:26:54] Annie Sargent: And then you liked Toure on Amboise, so now it’s in the Loire Valley. And again, I need to repeat, you were there for six weeks. That’s why you got to do all of these things. Don’t ask me to cram it all in one week. I can not. When I do itineraries with people, they’re like, yeah, but I heard on your show that this is cool and that is cool.

[00:27:13] Annie Sargent: I’m like, yes, but you need time to do all of that. You can’t do it all in one week. So if you have six weeks, oh, what you did is fantastic. So the Loire Valley, you enjoyed that as well.

[00:27:24] James Olsen: Yeah, that and I couldn’t agree more. You really have to slow down.My whole mantra here is trying to enjoy the culture and trying to go into a shop a few times to where people recognize you. And you just can’t do that on a whirlwind tour. And our family, my wife and I have been traveling since we met in our twenties and we’ve never been whirlwind people.

[00:27:47] James Olsen: Even when we were young, we just, for whatever reason, we were kind of old souls or something. And we love to just settle in. And this Amboise, this little farmhouse thing we found on gîtes, it was the kids’ favorite place. It was a working farm. The woman who ran it was, it was an equestrian farm and she had a full-time job it appeared. We didn’t talk much with her, but we spoke a little bit with her in French and she was very pleasant, but she was busy.

[00:28:16] James Olsen: And her friend came over to help her with the farm and brought thesecorgis with her. And the kids love the corgis and they love the cats. There were always chickens walking around.

[00:28:28] James Olsen: My wife and I loved all the room we had to run. We like to run and you could run for hours out there.

[00:28:35] James Olsen: And then we were 10 minutes from Amboise. So with a car we just shot into town when we wanted to go to dinner. Check out that town, which I thought was a great town, Amboise.

[00:28:46] Annie Sargent: Did you list that, because I’m not seeing a reference to that farm kind of gîtes in your notes.

[00:28:53] James Olsen: I forgot the name of it. I tried to go look at it again. It was a very small town. I could go try to dig a little deeper, but I couldn’t find it to give you information on that.

[00:29:03] Annie Sargent: Okay. So if you find it, yeah, do send it to me, because I will list all of these things that you enjoyed particularly. And so if you remember what it’s called, that would be good to find.

[00:29:14] Annie Sargent: Okay. We’re getting to towards the end of our chit-chat here. There’s so much here that will be on your guest notes.

Lessons and Mistakes

[00:29:21] Annie Sargent: But I want to jump around a little bit to what you learned about France on this trip, and if you made any mistakes, things that you want to warn people about.

[00:29:30] James Olsen: Sure. I learned a lot. I kind of confirmed my supposition that this idea of the French are kind of rude or cur in any way. That’s not true. I didn’t think it was, but I had tospend some time to kind of see that. I wanted my family and my kids to enjoy France and I think we succeeded.

[00:29:50] James Olsen: We engendered this love of French culture, and it was through the food, that’s kind of what got it going for them. Mistakes though? Not many, fortunately. I mean, I tried to learn some French on a computer program before heading over. I highly recommend that. I know that it’s difficult.

[00:30:10] James Olsen: It was very difficult for me. I’m not very adept at language. I felt that it gave me some confidence when I was over there. You’re not going to be fluent, you’re not going to be in any deep conversations with anyone, but it really is helpful.

[00:30:23] James Olsen: I failed that at maybe some opportunities where I should have probably understood what was being said to me, and I just, I kind of failed on a language level.

[00:30:34] James Olsen: But that’s part of the learning process. I mean, we had some successes too, where we did feel like we were doing more than just whipping through as tourists. We were really kind of trying to experience France on their terms.

[00:30:48] Annie Sargent: Yeah.

Speeding tickets and driving

[00:30:48] James Olsen: I got two speeding tickets.

[00:30:50] James Olsen: Yep. I got hit by the photo radar.

[00:30:52] James Olsen: It’s ubiquitous, the photo radar is everywhere. They’ll put it at the bottom of a hill, which I think is unfair, but…

[00:31:00] Annie Sargent: Mean. It’s mean.

[00:31:02] Annie Sargent: It’s just part of the game, you can’t let it ruin your day. We just have a glass of wine, laugh about it. .Yep.

[00:31:08] Annie Sargent: Those tickets got sent to your car rental company that forwarded the amount to you, right?

[00:31:14] James Olsen: Yeah, your car rental company will charge you 20 euros to just for that information, to forward it on.

[00:31:22] Annie Sargent: For the privilege.

[00:31:24] James Olsen: Ticket itself, like 40 Euros. So it’s not going to ruin your week.

[00:31:28] Annie Sargent: Yeah, but still it’s annoying. And I haven’t been caught in a long time. I think I haven’t had to take it in three years, but I use the speed limiter a lot, and I’m not a speed demon anyway. And if I don’t know, I just slow down. So, eh, there you go. That’s my thing.

[00:31:47] James Olsen: I use the cruise control.

[00:31:48] Annie Sargent: Yeah. And people who are in the US, I mean, I was just in Tennessee where the highest speed limit I saw was 65. Nobody drove under 75. Nobody. And if you did, you’re going to get run over. But that’s not like that in France. If it says 65, it is 65, not 66, 65. Okay. And they will put radars in mean places, they do that. So be warned.

[00:32:17] James Olsen: Yeah. And if you’re going to be, if you’re going to do a lot of driving like we did, just be very careful. It’s different than driving at home because while you’re on the right side of the road, you know you’re going to, you’re comfortable with that, but the signs are in French, and unless you’re fluent, you’re not going to understand everything.

[00:32:35] James Olsen: So take time to know what you’re looking at. Take time, don’t speed through these small towns. Just be extra careful. It’s tough. You’re looking around in a lot of beautiful architecture and…

Don’t be too timid

[00:32:47] James Olsen: Oh, the other thing, the elephant in the room for us is that I’ve always felt that France was an intimidating kind of country to visit because it’s kind of the home of high culture.

[00:32:58] James Olsen: There’s the language thing. There’s this unearned reputation that French people can be rude and you’re not going to be accepted.

[00:33:06] Annie Sargent: And then you met country bumpkins.

[00:33:08] James Olsen: Well, I, yeah, so of course it’s not true. People out in the country are great. Terrific. They remind me a lot of Americans, really, and just kind of the way that everyone’s fairly pleasant.

[00:33:18] James Olsen: But we had a tendency to be a little timid at times when we’re trying to maybe get a reservation or when you’re approaching a busy restaurant.

[00:33:28] James Olsen: It’s busy because it’s good. So you want to get in there. You got to step right up and you can say Bonjour and say how many people you are in French. That’s pretty easy. And if they’re going to ask you, you want inside, outside, they might tell you to wait 30 minutes and just got to roll with the punches on that.

[00:33:45] James Olsen: Try not to be too timid, but also Americans, I think we need to be more humble when we’re traveling and especially in France. You want to strike that balance of not being brash and not trying to act like you’re kind of better than the situation, but not be too timid.

[00:34:03] Annie Sargent: Yeah, you do have to strike that balance between, you don’t want to be demanding, that’s not a good attitude, it won’t get you anywhere in France.

Learn to negotiate

[00:34:11] Annie Sargent: But you also have to be assertive. Like, if somebody says no and you think there’s room for negotiation, then perhaps just ask them like, if you want to sit right now they might, say No.

[00:34:23] Annie Sargent: Yesterday, just yesterday, I’m looking for a thing to build a carport. And I went and I asked for a specific thing and the guy told me, no, we don’t make that. And I go in the yard and he had what I wanted and I’m like, well, what about, so I took a picture of it and I went back in and I said, what about this?

[00:34:39] Annie Sargent: He said, oh, but I thought you wanted circular. This is Square. And I’m like, I never told you I wanted circular necessarily. I just, so with French people, you have to negotiate things, repeat it, restate it. Just say it again. Yeah. Well, could we come back later perhaps, or something, you know, and it usually works. Like, talk to people.

[00:35:00] Annie Sargent: The secret is always to talk to people.

Don’t take things too personally

[00:35:03] James Olsen: Yes, and for Americans, don’t take things too personally. There were countless examples where we could have taken the response as, oh, they just don’t like us because we’re American and they’re treating us poorly. But once you get through that first layer, that’s not what’s happening.

[00:35:19] James Olsen: And we had a couple of examples of people we thought were being rude to us when by the end of the meal, we were joking with them and they kind of loosened up.

[00:35:28] James Olsen: French people, they’re not going to try to make a friend for life that they’ll never see again.

[00:35:32] James Olsen: That’s kind of an American thing. But they will be pleasant with you, and they’ll be honest with you. You’re just not going to make a friend for life.

[00:35:41] James Olsen: But it’s very tricky, and I would say one more thing. I know we’re out of time, but some of the nicest people that we met were in Paris. And it was so funny because we geared up and clenched our teeth, this is the part of the trip when we’re finally going to meet some mean people. And it was like the exact opposite. The French people were totally cool, so I don’t know, maybe we just caught them at the right time of year. It was September.

[00:36:05] Annie Sargent: Yeah, but there are three places that you said you didn’t really enjoy and that you wouldn’t recommend, but mostly it was because they were dead. And this is, and I’ll list them, people will be able to see them on your guest notes. But honestly, that’s often the case. Is you read some blog post somewhere that says, oh, this place was magical.

[00:36:25] Annie Sargent: And you show up and it’s dead, dead, dead. There’s nobody. So obviously, it’s completely different if you go on the day when they’re having that wonderful annual fair, and if you go in the middle of February or when it’s empty, you know?

[00:36:41] Annie Sargent: So use your judgment when you read about magical experiences in France, realize that it might just be magical because they were having a special event that made it magical. Go at that time, don’t go the rest of the time, or at least go knowing that it might not be exactly what you read about, you know?

[00:37:01] Annie Sargent: All right. Well James, it’s been wonderful having you on the podcast, fantastic advice. And again, you were there for six weeks, that’s why you got to do so much. But I love that you were on a budget.

[00:37:13] Annie Sargent: And this is also slow travel because you really took it easy. It’s not like you grew roots anywhere, but you did get to know each area, which I think is really important.

[00:37:24] James Olsen: Yep. It’s so much fun, we love slow travel, we loved it especially in France, and I’m proud that my kids love France and they’re 8 and10.

[00:37:34] James Olsen: So, a lifetime oflearning about France.

[00:37:37] Annie Sargent: Fantastic. Merci beaucoup. And I hope that you get to come back to France hopefully at some point because obviously, you had a great time. And who doesn’t like to have a great time?

[00:37:49] James Olsen: We will be back. And Merci beaucoup, thank you so much for the opportunity.

[00:37:54] Annie Sargent: Au revoir, James.

[00:37:55] James Olsen:


[00:38:02] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France Travel Podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2023 by Addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives license.

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Categories: Family Travel, France on a Budget