We train-ed it at 5am in the morning from London to Paris and arrived nice and early just as the city was waking up. Our friend met us at the train station and we walked a few blocks to catch a train to her neighborhood, Montmartre. Montmartre is wonderful, very typically french (think Amelie) with hilly cobbled narrow streets. Picked up our bread and pastries and walked to the Eiffel Tower-meh. We walked on the river, passed a few neighborhoods, hopped on a bus and went to the train station to buy our tickets for future travels. Got back to the main part of Paris in time for a gorgeous sunset and then it was back to Montmartre for dinner with friend.
Our host picked a wonderfully authentic little restaurant near her place in Montmartre and we tucked in some amazing french fare. Finished the day with a walk to to Basilique du Sacré-Cœur
set on the top of the hill, some drinks at a local bar and back home. We left early the next day to pick up our car for our drive out to Versailles and then the countryside of Normandie and Brittany. Versailles, was grand, majestic, ornate and over-the-top. The gardens were painful to walk through but Marie Antoinette's estate was absolutely lovely.
Set out for Normandie and arrived by nightfall at a little town of Caen where we had a delicious meal of mussels and fries and cider (local specialities) and then finally found a little pull-off deep where we can see Mont St Michel in the distance. Woke up to a fiery red sunrise but we did not make it all the way to Mont St Michel as we woke up late and tourists were swarming in. Detoured to Saint Malo for gorgeous blue waters and beach where Henry took a swim.
We picked Dinan, a true French medieval village straight out of a fairytale for our next base, found a cute little converted farmhouse outside of it for the night and set out for dinner and drinks. Met some fabulous french folks who 'adopted' us into their weekend drink/dinner ritual. Got back to our room happy and set out next day for Paris again. Got lost a few times and arrived in Paris during their 'Nuit Blanche'. Next day we attacked Paris with a fervor-flea market, the Louvre and back to Montmartre for the evening.
We settled easily into the delightful French pleasures of eating and drinking, met some great locals and had a rip roaring time!Conclusion: France is the clear winner for best food & drink culture and nightlife. The French clearly enjoy the pleasures in life and this shows in every way. We lived off their fabulous boulangeries and patisseries (bread and pastry shops), and in Brittany, the creperies (crepe restaurants). They took time to enjoy their meals , drinks and chat and the cities and towns were often lively at all hours late into the nights with jolly folks crammed into outdoor tables at the bistros, cafes and restaurants that pepper the urban streets, not unlike the hawker stalls back home in Southeast Asia. It was also in France that a friendly group of young Bretons adopted us and took great pains to include us in their 5-hour long weekend dinner and drinks ritual. This was the most memorable mingling with locals of the entire trip. The winner of best dining experience was in Normandie, on route to Mont St Michel, where we stumbled upon a random restaurant for dinner-a well-valued and delicious meal of Moule Frite (local delicacy of mussels in cream sauce and boat shaped fries), local hard cider and apple sorbet accompanied by a friendly waiter and eaten outdoors in the patio-tres bon!Stereotypes: We had heard about the French being rude but we met some of the nicest folks of the trip in France, though we did have two so-absurd-it-bordered-on-hilarious 'rude' encounters. Yes the food is every bit as good as they say, but our worst dining experience was also in France! Paris is beautiful and romantic at sunset but was stark and dull and stank of urine during the (hot) day. French urban gardens and parks are beautiful in pictures and plans but were excruciatingly monotonous at human scale level to walk through.