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So this is France. The first thing I notice is that it is so, well, French. Although we have travelled a mere 22 miles, and have entered a geographical mirror of the countryside we've just left, it is very different. And the first thing I exclaim about is someone walking along carrying a loaf of bread under his armjust like the illustrations in my French text books of over 30 years ago! I expected at any time to see Toto, the nightmare figure of my first year French course.

France — some notes by a beginner:

France is a big place.

It has a flat and boring middle bit that you have to cross to get anywhere more dramatic.

French country roads are almost empty, unlike their crowded English equivalents. Get off the main roads as much as you can.

French road signs are great except at roundabouts, when they don't give the numbers of the exiting roads.

Even in dull little towns, the architecture can be fun. We loved the avenues of trees that edge many roads (many of which are apparently threatened because people keep colliding with them...not the trees' fault we feel).

There is dog shit everywhere, on every pavement. Strange in such an ostensibly cultured country.

French people are mostly very pleasant if you attempt to speak to them in their own language. We only experienced a single example of bloody-mindedness.

France is an impossible place for vegans to eat out. We only managed to find a single (Indian) restaurant at which we had any choice. Everywhere else was meaty to the extreme...

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