France has gotten a bad rap over the years with the story that its residents are not only unfriendly, but downright hostile to tourists. That peaks with the feeling that Parisians are in the forefront of the disdain.
“Don’t take offense if a Parisian disses you,” commented a travel writer. “They don’t even like other Frenchmen.”
The truth of the matter is that, contrary to the above, the French are no different than, say, New Yorkers. For the most part, they are friendly and even helpful. They’ll welcome foreigners and many go out of their way to help those with little to no fluency in French.
Parisians have even been known to walk over to tourists trying to figure out the maps in the Metro (subway to you Americans) that light up to highlight the route to take and the stop to get off.
Are there those who are nasty? Absolutely. But think of New Yorkers walking down Broadway with their eyes to the ground, ignoring all those around them. Or visualize Los Angelinos lost in a world that exists only in their minds and who are cold to strangers or those of lesser station.
One way to get to know the French is to meet them on their own ground and their terms. Europeans have developed a unique method of travel, one that is highly popular in France; river cruising. The comfort of a river cruise has to be experienced to be understood.
Uniworld River Cruises has turned river cruising into an art. The company’s elongated ships have become a familiar sight throughout Europe and Asia with trips ranging from the Danube to the Yangtze.
This season, they are featuring a series of cruises through France that will bring the visitors face-to-face with both the beautiful French countryside as well as the average Frenchman him/herself.
The beautifully appointed ships offer comfort and a wide window or balcony with sliding doors as a portal to the scenery. But even without debarking, the mixture of nationalities and cultures aboard ship is exciting.
The dining room offers the opportunity to take a meal with people from any number of nations. You’ll come away with an appreciation for others, and in many instances make friendships that could last a lifetime.
An eight-day cruise called “Bordeaux, Vineyards & Chateaux” sails three rivers, the Garonne, the Dordogne and the Gironde, as it moves slowly and comfortably through the countryside.
Port stops permit you to sample the famed French wines in Aquitaine with its delicious reds. You can explore Emilion and Medoc while pedaling a bicycle through the vineyards.
While savoring the wines, you can also enjoy the history of France such as Emilion’s 12th century Monolithic Church.
The Burgundy & Provence eight-day option aboard the beautiful SS Catherine passes through the wine regions as well as UNESCO Heritage Sites such as Avignon where you can enjoy time with the locals at the Les Halles food market.
Provence, once an independent country, retains its unique identity framed by the Rhone Delta to the Mediterranean coast. There is a Roman amphitheater still in use a millennium after it was built.
In Burgundy, visit the Maison des Chevaliers, the House of Knights, and spend some time in Beaune, the wine capital of the region. You can explore the unique medieval hospital where wine auctions have taken place for centuries.
Yet another option is the eight-day Paris and Normandy itinerary that will bring you to the sites of the famed World War II battles that finally put the Nazis on the run. On the River Seine you can marvel at the gargoyles that seem to be flying off Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and enjoy the city’s cafes.
Passengers will have the opportunity to visit the square where Joan of Arc was martyred. Art lovers will revel in Giverny where Monet created masterpieces, the beach at beautiful Honfleur where Courbet and Boudin painted on the beach; and Auvers-sur-Oise where Van Gogh set his canvas and spent his final days.
There are select sailings in summer designed for families bringing the younger set along.
Staff members on Uniworld’s ships are native to many of the regions the ships sail through and have a personal and intimate knowledge of the area, and they are both willing and happy to share insights of the route.
Early reservations may be able to take advantage of special rates. For information on itineraries and rates, call 1-800-257-2407. Or check out http://uniworld.rivercruise.com/
Bob and Sandy Nesoff are members of the American Society of Authors and Journalists.