After entering France, several things happen quickly that let you know you have left the Iberian Peninsula. Immediately the most notable, and the most reality inducing differences, were the prices. Prices on regular gasoline instantly shot up 30 euro cents. A cup of coffee with milk went up around 40 euro cents (Nothing like paying $3.50 U.S. for a coffee!) Meals in restaurants also spiked. In general, I guestimated that prices in France were across the board 30-40% higher than in Spain. This reality was painful to swallow, but we had braced ourselves to some extent before the trip began. As Mitchell and I said many a time: if only we were in France about a century ago, before the Federal Reserve had devalued our dollar by 95%, we would be living like kings.
Another observation, very related to the first, is how expensive interstate highway tolls are in France. Spain has some toll roads, but most are free access. Mitchell and I tried our best to avoid the tolls like the plague, but at some points we had to break down and hand it over to the coffers of the state. In order to understand the toll situation, imagine you have to go from Knoxville to Atlanta for the day by car, but the road is tolled. That four hour journey ends up costing you about $60 in tolls alone. That’s what tolls are like in France.
On a more positive note, Christmas seems to be more celebrated in France than in Spain. Yes, Spain celebrates Christmas, but it never feels very festive and January 6 is a lot more important than December 25. But in France, we started to see Christmas trees, decorations and more of a Christmas mood. It was refreshing.
France is also a slightly larger country than Spain, and in terms of sites of interest, it’s a lot denser country. We quickly realized that we could spend weeks on end in the areas of France we were covering. More specifically, we realized that were trying to squeeze what should be about 3 separate trips all into one. The Dordogne/Lot region deserves a week. Provence/Languedoc deserves at least a week. Rousillon/Costa Brava deserves another week. We just skimmed the surface.
Finally, we all found the French people we encountered to be very friendly and hospitable. We had nothing at all like the stereotypical and exaggerated American experience in Paris, where everyone is rude and won’t speak English. I was surprised at how patient and receptive people were to my limited French, as well as their ability to speak some English. Overall, France is one of the world’s tourism capitals for good reason… if only it weren’t so expensive.