3 Reasons To Go To France



 

France is the undisputed leader in international visitors, totaling upwards of 84 million a year. This surpasses the US, with around 75 million, and far outpaces Britain with around 32 million. What are some of the reasons France is on so many travelers’ bucket lists? And which of these reasons might inspire you to follow suit? As a start, consider these three motivations for taking a trip to France.

 

Reason #1: Cultural Discovery

A trip to France is endlessly entertaining and fascinating. France is proud of its heritage and celebrates its history. Everywhere you go you will find atmosphere and old-world charm and historic buildings with stories to tell. You will constantly be reminded that you are walking in the footsteps of kings and artists, conquerors and queens. Every day will be filled with discoveries.

A trip around the Loire Valley to visit Châteaux will take you along the travel route of the extravagant 16th century King Françoise I, who mounted up astonishing national debts in order to live large and well. His castle in Amboise, perched high above the river, is a source of many stories. There are the large round turrets, with wide spiral roadways inside to allow horse-drawn carriages to ride up into the castle grounds to deliver its passengers-especially handy when one of the queens was pregnant. Here on the expansive lawns, firework and festival displays were performed, designed for Françoise by his cherished friend Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci himself lived out the final years of his life across the street from the king, in a fascinating mansion that is now filled with models of his many ground-breaking inventions. A secret tunnel connects the abodes of these two close friends, used for late-night visits between the king and his brilliant buddy.

In Blois, Françoise added an elegant wing to the already impressive palace, accessed via an exquisite external stone staircase. Here you will see the study of Catherine de Medici, wife to Françoise’s son and successor, Henri. The wood paneled walls provided her with secret hiding places for her acclaimed collection of poisons, the political “solutions” of those perilous times.

Then there is the stunning Chenonceau, with its glorious gardens and the vast ballrooms that extend out over the river. Initially this gem was home to King Henri’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers. But when Henri was killed by a large splinter in the eye during a joust, his wife, Catherine de Medici, threw Diane out of her Château and took it over for herself. Not to be outdone by the mistress, Catherine then proceeded to construct an even more splendid garden on the opposite side of the chateau from Diane’s, and an even grander balcony than Diane’s to overlook it. She placed a huge, glaring portrait of herself, looming over the bed in what had once been Diane’s bedroom. And she had the initials on the tiles reengraved, replacing the “D” for “Diane,” intertwined with an “H” for “Henri,” with a “C” for “Catherine.” This was a woman determined to make her point. As you enter these lives from long ago, and experience their luxurious surroundings, you will gain a true and immediate sense of the culture and the history.

And on it goes. The people, the history, the passion, and the humanity… All of these surround you on a trip to France. You will be intrigued and awed, captivated and enthralled. Every day of your visit will be intensely interesting, as well as surrounded by carefully orchestrated beauty.

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Reason #2: A Feast for the Senses

Your senses will be stunned for the entire time you are in France. The sights are beautiful beyond description. The Eiffel Tower in Paris rises up like a giant erector set, with an elevator to take you to the top for views out over the Seine and the city. At night the tower is set aglow, best to be viewed from a boat as it drifts along the Seine, passing under one lovely bridge after another.

The Orsay, once an elegant turn-of-the-century train station that was built to welcome guests to the 1900Paris Exposition Universelle, now houses a startling collection of impressionist art – Monet, Renoir, van Gogh, Dégas, Gauguin, Cézanne, Seurat – within a building that is itself an historic, architectural treasure. Here you will be able to lunch in the grand ballroom of the former grand hotel attached to the train station, and look through the glass of the giant clock that faces the river and makes this building distinctively easy to spot.

There is more and more to come… The glories of Notre Dame. The remarkable stained-glass windows of Saint Chapelle Chapel… The beautiful flowers and statuary of Tuileries Gardens… The onslaught of visual sensations of the Champs-Élysées… The towering Arch de Triomphe, facing the smaller Arch in front of the Louvre at the other end of the five-mile grand boulevard where Napoleon pictured himself leading a march of his victorious armies.

There will be the glorious tastes of the food and wine. You will hear marvelous music of all sorts, from the Vivaldi at Saint Chapelle, to the lively piano bars and boat bars along the left bank of the Seine in Paris and atop Mont St. Michel, to the mighty organ of Notre Dame. You will walk through flower markets, vivid with colors and scents, and shop at weekly markets, alive with people and all manner of tempting offerings.

This assault to the senses will remain with you in memory long after your travels are over.

 

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Reason #3: Intro to the Good Life

The last, but certainly not the least, reason to visit France is that it will introduce you to another, and a better, way of life. You will experience a different manner of interpersonal interaction in France – more engaged, curious, outgoing, and animated. The French truly recognize the importance of enjoying the best of life.

Here dining is a delightful experience, not just a stop to refuel. Food is an art form, combined always with the ideal wines to enhance the meal. Waiters take pride in their work, striving to make dining a memorable occasion by offering up their expertise, and carefully guarding your right to take all the time you need to enjoy your meal without feeling rushed.

People in France are carefully polite with each other, and will be with you. You always will be addressed as ma’am or sir, and asked with a please, followed by a thank you. Cordiality is not only suggested in France, it is expected and omnipresent. You will quickly grow to anticipate and appreciate this.

From the first moment you walk down a street passing all the umbrella-shielded outdoor tables of the cafés, you will notice that this is a culture where people gather together to enjoy each other’s company. Old, young, families, singles, rich, modest, fashionable, artistic, intellectual – everyone is out in the squares and along the avenues, drinking in cafés and eating in restaurants. It becomes easy to join in and be stimulated by the lively, friendly atmosphere. Musicians wander the streets, from old men playing accordions outside the restaurants, to full jazz bands playing in city squares. And because the house wine is so inexpensive, stopping off for a glass or a carafe is a customary, not an exceptional, occurrence.

At the tables that surround you at these cafés, you will notice couples engaged in animated conversation, looking intently into each other’s eyes. France is a culture of philosophy and art, science and technology, style and literature, and of love. As you take all this in, you may begin to find it has an impact on you and how you yourself relate to others. You’ll notice yourself listening more actively, expressing yourself more earnestly and clearly, paying closer attention, acting more considerately, showing more curiosity and interest.

The luxury of time for all this gathering together is in part thanks to the French commitment to keeping an optimal balance between work and life. Shops close for lunch so workers can focus their attention on enjoying a good meal and the company of friends and colleagues. Employees who work 39 or more hours a week must receive more than the legally-required five weeks of vacation per year.

While you are traveling in France, you will come to enjoy and to expect this higher level of connection, this enhanced appreciation of food and wine, this better balance between work and life. You will never forget what you have learned about a different, and better, way of living life.

The Sum of these Three Parts

Taken together, the cultural discovery plus the feast for the senses plus the introduction to the good life, create a travel opportunity that is second to none. You will have a great trip to France, particularly if you travel independently and avoid the bus, possibly by using a preplanned trip-in-a-book to guide your explorations and adventures, and to ensure that you have the full experience while you are there.

Your trip will enrich you. It will refresh you. And it will change you. When you return home, you will find yourself incorporating elements from your travels into your lifestyle, and plotting to return to France.

Carolee Duckworth is an avid traveler, an experienced trip designer, and co-author (with Brian Lane) of the book “Your Great Trip to France: Loire Chateaux, Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy & Paris,” now available on Amazon. For more tips, and to view videos about making travel more fun, visit http://www.YourGreatTrip.com. Join our list as a Great Trip Travel Insider to receive a complimentary copy of “How to Pack Like a Pro” and periodic emails with helpful travel ideas, tips and updates.

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15 Things Not to Do in Japan



If you have plans to visit Japan, there are some things you need to know. Familiarizing yourself with some basic Japanese cultural practices will go a long way in making your trip there enjoyable. Also, you are not likely to get into trouble. Here are things you should not do based on Japan culture.

1. Don’t enter a house wearing your shoes

Are you used to walking around in your house in your shoes? Well, you might get yourself in trouble if you do that in Japan. There is a special place where you should keep your shoes before entering the house. Also, there are slippers for guests when entering a room.

2. Don’t shout on the train

Trains are very common in Japan. However, people don’t make noise while in trains. They are always silent. If you have to speak to someone, do it in a low tone. Use your earphones if you have to listen to some music.

3. Don’t use your phone on trains

As indicated earlier, Japanese don’t like any noise in the trains. You will rarely find someone using his phone to make a call in the train. If you have to use your phone, send a message or talk in a low tone so as not to distract other people.

4. Don’t eat on trains

Japanese do not eat when traveling on commuter trains. Drinking is okay unless the train is too crowded. However, in long distance trains, eating and drinking are allowed. Food and beverages are also sold in such trains.

5. Don’t forget to remove toilet slippers

Once you get to Japan, you will notice that there are slippers only used when going to the toilet. These slippers are easily noticeable since they have particular words or pictures. Always remember to remove them when entering your house or walking on the streets.

6. Don’t tip anyone

While it is common to tip anyone after an excellent service in many cultures, Japan is an exception. No matter how satisfied you are with their service, they never accept tips. In fact, someone will come running after you, returning the tip!

7. Don’t ignore someone you are speaking with

If you are talking with a Japanese person, always stay calm and attentive. You may sound impolite and rude by just failing to show that you have understood a point. Whenever speaking, show your attentiveness by talking back.

8. Don’t photograph everything

Despite Japan being a beautiful country, you are not allowed to take photos everywhere. It is advisable to always ask someone before taking photos. You must be granted permission to take pictures in museums, temples, and shrines.

9. Don’t hug anyone you meet

Hugging is common in western countries. However, in Japan, it is not. You don’t hug someone you come across in Tokyo streets. Most of the older folks don’t like the habit. If you want to hug someone, then it’s best to know their age group and whether they are comfortable with it.

10. Don’t eat or drink when walking

It is uncommon to find Japanese eating or drinking while they are walking. Even on the streets with food stalls they always find a place to sit. Now you know how to behave when you are on Japanese streets so you don’t look foreign.

11. Don’t receive a present with one hand

Whenever receiving a gift or a visiting card from a Japanese, use your two hands and bow. Then tell him thank you. On receipt of a gift, don’t open it until the person who has given it to you has left.

12. Don’t throw away trash haphazardly

Another thing you might find hard to get used to is how to handle your trash. In most cities around the world, there are a lot of trash cans however, Japanese cities are different. People are encouraged to carry their trash until they find a place to dispose of it.

13. Don’t fail to say “thank you”

The verb “thank you” is highly valued in Japan. Learn to say it after being served in a hotel or store. Familiarize yourself with how bowing is done in Japan. You must always bow and say thank you when you meet with elders.

14. Don’t write down a person’s name in red ink

In Japan, it is OK to write “goodbye” in red ink but not a person’s name. The Japanese consider it to be disobedient. Therefore, if you have to write down your Japanese friend’s name, you know which color to avoid.

15. Don’t be shy

It is common for tourists to ask for help from locals. When you get to Japan, don’t be shy or afraid of asking for anything. They are very friendly and helpful. Even when you accidentally forget something somewhere, go back as no one is going to take it away.

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Travel Planning? Currency Exchange? Here’s How Not to Get Ripped Off



If you are planning on doing some International travel, you’ll be faced with converting dollars to the local currency. I’m going to show you some traps and pitfalls you may encounter, and then I’ll give you a few helpful tips that could make your travel go very smoothly.

When I first started traveling, it was always a hassle to go to my bank a month or so before departure and get a bundle of cash converted to my destination’s local currency. The alternative was to convert a few hundred dollars at the airport “Foreign Exchange” booths. I came to find out that it was not only dangerous to carry large blocks of cash, it was also unnecessary.

Along the way I discovered that Las Vegas didn’t have a lock on “One-Armed Bandits”!

Scam Artists

I can not emphasize too much that the world out there is ready, willing, and able to scam you ferociously. Money scams abound. Some are right there in plain sight.

Let’s talk first about the “uncommon scams”.

You’re traveling through, say, a park near the Louvre in Paris, when someone comes up to you with a sob story in broken English and a bundle of local cash. He/she needs dollars for ‘something’ and he/she’s willing to give you a fantastic exchange rate to get it. You bite. Money changes hands. They leave. You open the bundle and Surprise!!! It’s a stack of newsprint with a real bill on the top and bottom.

GOTCHA!

Bank-O-Mat

The second ‘legitimate scam’ is waiting on the corner for you: it’s a stand-alone ATM machine. It might even say “Friendly Bank-O-Mat”. Believe me, friends, it’s anything but. The hidden fees that little darlin’ will extract will make Bonnie and Clyde proud! Don’t do it!!!

Currency Exchange

The third, which is more of a rip-off than a scam, in my book, is the “Foreign Currency Exchanges” places. They’re legitimate businesses, but since they are businesses, the have to charge a fee for their services. Even though they say “No commission,” They are still pulling money from your pocket.

Bank ATM

My suggestion? Go to a bank ATM. It will cost you about 3% to take money from the bank ATM. The good news is that the ATM operates at the current official exchange rate, and since it’s a bank, its fees are regulated. Check with your home bank to find out which banking symbol to look for. In my case, my bank is a member of Interbank, so I use ATMs that display the Interbank symbol. I know the fees are fixed, fair, and the exchange rate is the best I can get.

How to Find Banks

Before I travel, I use Google Maps to look at my destination city. I locate my hotel, and then I use Google’s “Bank” filter to locate and make a list of all banks close to my hotel. On the day I arrive, I ask the desk clerk where the nearest bank is. If it matches one my list, we’re off to the bank!

Other Considerations

I have found that no matter where I travel, I can always buy a taxi ride from the airport to my hotel with dollars. So I carry a minimal amount of dollars. (I’ll need a few dollars when we get back to the States to pay for taxis and other transportation).

Norm Huffnagle enjoys traveling almost as much as he enjoys writing about traveling. From Beijing to Lisbon, Norm and his family are always looking for new adventures, new sights, new experiences, new restaurants! Along the way, they have discovered methods and techniques that have made their trips more enjoyable and almost hassle-free. This article on “Money Exchanges” is one of them. An excellent resource for the first-time international traveler is by an author that Norm recommends: Penelope Middleton. Her book, “Survival Guide for the First-Time Traveler: A Reference for the Rest of Us”, is available on Amazon at http://amzn.com/B018F0WWN4

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