Being here long-term and adapting to French culture doesn’t preclude our being tourists – far from it. It is obvious that we are foreigners [étrangers] as we practically run down the street at our normal speed, passing most of the locals who stroll at a bit more leisurely pace. As we stride along our eyes are constantly looking about at all the new sights that present themselves to us everywhere we look; even on streets that we have walked multiple times before. Like watching a good film for the second or third time, you see things that you didn’t see before.
And we smile. We have been told before (in Italy) that Americans smile … a lot. While that may be true, it’s because we are in wonderment of the surroundings. The architecture, the flowers, the food, the styles, the sounds, the language, the way of life is all so different, yet is a fascinating blend of the modern and the ancient that we find intriguing. So we smile.
Evidently we are capable of blending in a little. Some people have made the mistake of approaching us to ask directions or something similar only to quickly realize that we are of little help when I say “Désolé, je ne parle pas français” [Sorry, I don’t speak French].
Anyway, we had to do the tourist thing and journey to Fougères, to visit the Château de Fougères (literally, Castle of Ferns), one of the best preserved fortified medieval castles in Europe. Begun in the 10th century as a wooden fort at a location protected by high palisades on a rocky outcrop in a basin of the River Nançon, it wasn’t until two centuries later that the massive fortress emerged as a formidable stronghold.
The town is a “Ville Fleuri” or Flower City with floral displays and beautiful gardens. The belfry, high atop the city was built in 1397, and gave ordinary people access to timekeeping, previously the preserve of the church and nobility.
The day was beautiful, and after the hour bus ride we were ready to walk. After stopping at the tourist information office for a map, we wandered the town. Since there is an upper town and a lower town, we climbed and descended hundreds of steps throughout the day. The fortress itself was magnificent, with its 13 surviving towers and keeps which we also climbed. All told we logged about 20 km (12 miles) throughout the day, and by the time we returned home we, again, slept the sleep of weary travelers.