Already, it’s been three months since I left the Land of Baguettes. Three months. Three speculoos éclair-less, greengage-less and crêpe-less months. Sometimes, it feels like it was just yesterday that I left Lyon; sometimes, it feels like a lifetime ago. There’s no place like home – that’s rainy Britain for me – but that doesn’t stop me missing one aspect or another of la vie française on a daily basis . . .
1 | Lyon’s marchés
I miss my bi-weekly pilgrimages to the local market for fresh fruit and vegetables and the occasional roast chicken, chunk of cheese or sweet treat. Crates piled high with seasonal fruits: juicy nectarines, crisp apples of seemingly endless varieties and ripe greengages, a fruit which only seems to grace the shelves of farm shops over here. Cries of stallholders, each proclaiming to have the freshest food for the best prices. Wafts of freshly baked pastries and sizzling roast meats. Sunbeams dancing across the stalls in summer; the familiar pitter-patter of raindrops on tarpaulin in the winter months. Sadly, Cambridge’s little market just cannot compare.
2 | Riding double-decker trains
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love Europe’s double-decker trains. Being assigned a seat on the lower level of a TGV was always a wee bit (read: very) disappointing. Luckily, I had my fill of journeys on the top deck aboard the local TER lines to Grenoble, Vienne and Pérouges. Oh, and actually getting a seat on the trains was a given, unlike the Great Seat Lottery of my commute.
3 | The many, many boulangeries
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of oven-fresh pains au raisin, creamy éclairs and crusty baguettes, so it stands to reason that I miss the boulangeries a lot. It was nigh-on impossible to walk down a street without catching the scent of freshly baked bread or a glimpse of someone with a baguette – minus its crusty tip – tucked under their arm. I confess: I was one of them. When presented with a still-warm baguette, I simply couldn’t resist the temptation to nibble the end of it. Fortunately, I can still have a taste of France from the nearby Maison Clément, though the prices aren’t quite like those I’d grown accustomed to in Lyon.
4 | Trottinettes on the trottoirs
Nothing – nothing – was funnier than seeing a suited and booted professional riding their scooter into work. For the French, it seems like an entirely natural, logical mode of transport to use, regardless of age. I’m pretty sure the average age of a scooter-rider in the UK is still below ten.
5 | Exposure to the French language
I miss being surrounded by the language: things as simple as exchanging pleasantries in shops, learning new words and phrases from friends and picking up free magazines and newspapers. Books seemed to be cheaper in France, so I took advantage of this from time to time. (My luggage allowance was the only thing standing in the way of me buying more books than I did.) Now that I’m back in the UK, I need to find myself a language meet-up as if I don’t use it, I’ll lose it. If anyone has tried any in the Cambridge area, do let me know!
6 | The abundance of jours fériés
If there’s one thing the French love more than striking, it’s a bank holiday. Why have two minutes’ silence when you could just write the whole day off? Or how about the Fête du Travail (Labour Day), a day off to celebrate the fact that some work does in fact get done in this bureaucracy-loving, strike-adoring country? They also have a day off to celebrate their national day, Fête de la Bastille. (Take note, England. Where are our celebrations for St. George’s Day?) The French even had the foresight to scatter their bank holidays across the months with the best weather, so you can actually use them to full advantage. Hats off to the grenouilles. The English, on the other hand, have made bank holidays synonymous with rail improvement works. Not quite so cool.
7 | Natural landscapes
Don’t get me wrong, the UK has some stunning landscapes: I consider myself extremely lucky to have places like Snowdonia, the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales mere hours away by train. But I just can’t seem to help myself from missing the limestone cliffs and aquamarine waters of the Parc National des Calanques, the jagged aiguilles of the Alps or the rolling hills of the Parc Naturel Régional du Pilat.
8 | Café culture
Is there anything more picturesque than a square lined with cafés, each with gingham-clothed tables and chairs spilling out across it? (Bonus points if the café plays good music, and not just whatever’s hot in the English-language charts.) On the Continent, it feels socially acceptable to buy a coffee (or, in my case, a hot chocolate) and then while away a couple of hours, book in hand, with just the dregs remaining. Heck, even without the book it feels acceptable. Over here, I feel like I’ve outstayed my welcome after thirty minutes.
9 | Water fountains in parks
Why isn’t this a thing in the UK? It was so handy to be able to go to the park and not feel like I had to head home when my water supplies ran dry. (The fact I lived a five minute walk from the park is beside the point.)
10 | Tarif jeune
When I first lived in France, I was still a student. When I lived in Lyon, this was (sadly) no longer the case. Luckily, many discounts in l’Hexagone are based on age, rather than student status, including railcards, entry fees to attractions and film tickets. While the Carte Jeune offers reductions across the entire SNCF rail network, it’s the regional railcards which offer mega savings. I bought mine at the reduced price of €15, and it gave me 50% off trains within Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes at any time, plus the same discount for up to three people travelling with me on weekends and bank holidays.