1. Randomly selected hotel staff (in that they were within a randomly selected hotel, this being what all indications suggest is my university's booking policy) in France have an amazing grasp of English. When a tired academic stumbles in at half eleven at night, they can even ask whether he has enjoyed his seminar.
Well, his "seminary", actually, but that's close enough, as well as very funny.
2. The castle at Pierrefronds is absolutely beautiful, all hunched
grotesques and climbing stone crocodiles, plus a cavernous interior that
almost bludgeons you with its oppressive tranquillity. You can argue,
as some did, that the fact the castle was extensively re-modelled by
Napoleon III in the nineteenth century makes it too much an artifact of
imperialistic folly to truly enjoy, but it worked for me.
That said, though, a statue of "a griffon's head" is just a fucking eagle, and we all just need to be OK with that.
3. Picardy cider is... OK. It's not all that different from Magners, which isn't really one of my favourites, but it has a bit more flavour to it, as well as being a hair sweeter. There's also the bonus of it coming in bottles no smaller than 75cl, meaning you have the added bonus of watching locals gag in horror as you announce in broken French your intention to buy one and a half pints of cider just for yourself.
4. The Deputy Mayor of Compiegne is either very spaced out or a subtle comedy genius. After a slightly surreal conversation regarding the future of French youth which I didn't entirely understand (due to the social differences involved, not because my companion had less than excellent English), I tried to change the subject by pointing at my panda tai-chi t-shirt and asked what one called these creatures in French. "Un panda", she told me, proud to be educating so clueless a foreigner in her native language.
"Makes sense", I responded, "And so-".
"WAIT!" she suddenly said, as if having overlooked something critical. "Are they girl pandas?"
"Er, I don't know," I replied, "Why? What is the French for that?"
She smiled knowingly. "Une panda".
Good to know.
5. Double-decker trains. What. The. Fuck?