What do you want to see and do when you travel abroad?
St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. No, I haven’t been there.
Do you visit museums, famous buildings, cathedrals, mosques and temples? Do you go on African safaris, climb volcanoes or traipse through tropical rain forests? I have done some of these things and enjoyed them (or not: I once broke my leg in a rainforest in Africa), but I’m often equally enthralled by the little stuff, the funky details, the touching scenes and small happenings you find in foreign climes. Here’s a few I “collected” in France.
Bread wrappers and French wisdom
Bread wrappers? Yes, I can hear you moan. You’d prefer to see the Magna Carta? Or the American Declaration of Independence?
Yes, how insignificant is this paper in the great scheme of things! But I liked watching it being wrapped around the warm bread and twisted closed in one smooth movement. And then later I enjoyed reading the expressions and truths about bread imprinted on the paper. Mieux vaut un demi-pain que pas de pain du tout. Better half a loaf than no bread at all. Okay, a bread wrapper is not the Magna Carta, but the Magna Carta wouldn’t help me with my French.
Low couture hair
Perhaps when you’re in Paris you’d like to treat yourself to a trendy cut at Carita, the famous House of Beauty (if you can get in sooner than two years from now), but here’s another way to get a hair cut in France: The Coif’ Mobile.
A mobile hair salon. How cool is that? I came upon this one in a small village, but once a month one just like it visits my own French village. And you never know, the owner may just be the next Vidal Sassoon.
The next Madonna: A free show!
Do you enjoy attending big shows, say at Le Moulin Rouge? Great fun, I’m sure, but I got a kick out of a small performance by a four-year-old girl in pink shorts. Picture this:
My man and I are sipping a pre-dinner rosé on a terrace alongside the main square of a small town. A band is getting organized for a performance a bit later and the guys are practicing their music. Teens will come out in an hour or so and dance the night away, but there is no one there yet. No one except the mentioned four-year-old girl.
All alone, in front of the stage, she is dancing her little heart out, waving her arms, shaking her butt, tossing her hair. Who else but a tiny tot can be that unselfconscious? The music stops. She stops. Frustrated, she grabs her sagging shorts and yanks them up into place. Then she stands there, legs apart, all alone in the square, waiting impatiently for the music to start again. She may well be the next Madonna.
Have you ever been lucky enough to see the Great Migration in East Africa? Sadly, I have not, but walking through the French vineyards one day Mother Nature offered me this Tiny Snail Migration:
It was a hot afternoon and I can’t imagine where these tiny snails thought they were going to find relief. No, these are not the real deal escargots, but apparently they are also edible. La caragouille rosée is the lovely sounding name of this tiny critter for those of you interested in snail trivia.
Don’t we all love coming to France for the food? You might covet a table at the iconic Le Fouquet’s restaurant in Paris, but more simple fair is available in the markets. Food of the sort I did not grow up on in my native Holland (but then Dutch cuisine does not have a stellar reputation):
From left to right: Tripe, tongue, ear. I’ll buy some next time I’m here, maybe. And for what it’s worth: We eat raw herring in my country.
Not the Borobudur Temple
Lots of wonderful relief sculptures are found in Egypt, Greece, the Far East and other tourist places, but here’s what I discovered in a medieval French village. Have a close look at the stone carvings to the left and right at the top.
Here’s a close-up of the one on the right:
Not as famous as . . .
the door knockers in Cartagena (Colombia), or the majestic brass lion head on Number One Downing Street, but I love the funky door knockers found on some of the century-old doors in ancient French villages. Here are two:
Where do you go to find great art? The Louvre? The Egyptian Museum? The Prado? Well, you can find art anywhere, even on garbage cans in the streets.
Is this great art? Not so much, says I, but you be the judge.
Great little drama
One sunny afternoon in yet another village my prince and I witnessed the future Tour de France cyclists in training. Picture this:
A small square. A squirming huddle of a dozen or so 3 and 4-year-olds wearing helmets in rainbow colors. They are perched atop tiny bikes without pedals. The tots have their feet on the ground, but are barely keeping their balance. In front of them stands the instructor, in full fancy cyclist regalia, calling out instructions. We watch as the kids scramble back to the side and line up. A dozen tiny helmets in a row. (Do I have a picture? No. I did not bring my camera that day.)
More instructions follow, and the tikes struggle forward with their baby feet walking their tiny bikes. The instructor calls out encouragement (or so I’m hoping). Riveted, we watch this for a while before moving on. As we walk away we hear the wailing of one of the kids. Desperate sobbing, full of despair. I don’t want to do this anymore! It is too hard! I don’t want to be in the Tour de France! I wanna go home. I want my maman!
Such drama! Trust me, you don’t have to fly to the Sydney Opera House to find great theater.
And with that piece of wisdom, I’ll close. I know you don’t have all day to waste on trivialities.
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Have any small stuff to share? I’d love to know. And if you have pictures, link them.
I love these quirky things! I’m sure there must e a load around my area too…will have to have a hunt round!
Oh, yes, lots of quirky things in Italy 😉
Lovely post. I like the idea of a mobile hair dresser, how cool!
I like this. I feel pretty much the same way about foreign countries. It’s the small things that catch your eye, because they are unexpected, different from home. That’s why I prefer living abroad over mere traveling, because invariably you catch many more of these. Well observed!
You’re right. The little things fascinate. Love the door knockers and the picture of Pezenas.
Karen. If there were true justice in the world yours would be The Best Expat Blog every single year! This post is wonderful, too – not least because it covers France, my all-time favourite country (which I blogged about in May).
Just by the way: I saw St Basil’s in 1965, when it was much shabbier. Either it has been superbly tarted up recently, or the photo has been enhanced! But, yes, it is spectacular, in any condition.
Gordon, thank you so much for your words of praise – made my day. I enjoyed your post about France and understand why you like France! (There was no way to respond to your post, so I could let you know.) I’ve never been to Russia but that picture of the St. Basil’s Cathedral really spoke to me ;).
Deeeelightful travel post! I enjoy the small stuff too, I look for them everywhere. I dream of visiting museums, shows, everything, in many countries. Ha.
Hope you get a chance to travel!
Lovely “trivialties”… I could spend all day (well, at least half the day). Everytime you mention a place, it sends me off in search of a map to see where you are and what this is close to. How I can work it into an itinerary is the real question! Fun bits and pieces- thanks!
We were staying near Bezier, south of Montpellier, and were exploring the Herault area. We’ll go back there again.
Lovely! I have to say I went back and looked at the “potential escargot” photo in amazement. I had never really thought about where they come from, or how the become so large, but apparently the ones we eat (for those who indulge) must come from good stock!
Thanks for the geography tip!