France

French FlagWhen most people think of France they think of style. From Paris's tree-lined boulevards to the beautiful castles of the Loire Valley. The grandeur and romance of France keeps people coming back again and again. France is the largest country in Western Europe, home to almost 60 million people. Ecologically, France has everything you could ask for, from snow-capped mountains to wonderful coastlines. The country's history is present wherever you go: from Naploneon's empire to the battlesfields of World War II, when you're in France, you feel as though you are part of a living history. Traveling in France France Map Budget travelers can get by on around US$40 per day, but it means taking the notion of "living on a shoestring" very seriously. For a broader culinary experience than just bread and wine, and a comfortable room, a minimum of US$80 is needed. Of course, for the more high-end traveler, those rates may not accomodate you past noon; bank on dropping US$200 and up if you're really living large. Traveler's checks are the most convenient way to carry funds in France and are accepted basically everywhere, especially in larger cities and towns. However, France's ATMs accept all the major international credit and bank cards. Restaurants and hotels will add 10%-15% service charge to every tab, but most people leave a few coins in gratuity if the service was good. Weather in France Spring in France seems to offer the best weather and fewer tourists. Once summer hits, the coast swells with heat, activity, and people. The weather is generally still good in Autumn, but you should be wary of shorter days and plan accordingly. It can begin to get cold toward the end of autumn even in the south, but if you enjoy winter activities, the Alps and the Pyrenees can be winter wonderlands, with skiing, snowboarding, and a plethora of other adventure or cultural activities at hand. In July and August, most of the city dwellers take a (roughly) 5-week vacation; you may find the cities "shut down" during these times. What to know As with every country you visit, at least try learn a little bit of the native language. Parisians, in particular, are notorious for ignoring tourists who don't make the effort to speak French. Words as basic as bonjour (hello) and au revior (goodbye) will at least establish that you are trying to understand their language. Having a phrase book and studying common phrases you would use on a daily basis will help. You will get a much better response from the locals if you are trying to speak in French, and you may find that many of them speak English well enough to help you get your ideas across. Also, don't wear shorts if you want to blend in and not look like a tourist. In France, shorts are usually reserved for exercise, trips to the beach, and very hot days. France Information Europe MapPopulation: 59 million Government: Democracy Square Miles: 214,890 sq mi (551,000 sq km) Capitol: Paris Official Language: French People: 92% French, 3% North African, 2% German, 1% Breton, 2% Other Religion: 90% Roman Catholic, 2% Protestant, 1% Muslim, 1% Jewish, 6% unaffiliated Major products/industries: Oil refining, steel, cement, aluminium, agricultural products & foodstuffs, luxury goods, chemicals, motor manufacturing, energy products