FROM gothic architecture to ruins typifying Roman influence, from the magnificent clock towers of churches to simple delights of chocolate vendors in the market place, France is by definition an old soul.
Her most popular exports are probably the French cuisine, culinary delights with wine specific to it - and when one is in wine country, you can use capital letters for delight - and her language, from which English borrowed heavily.
My sojourn in France was mainly in the Southern-Western area, stationed at a language school (CAREL - Centre Audiovisual de Royan pour l'Etude des Langue) in Royan, a small seaside town at the estuary of the Gironde, the largest estuary in Europe, the river which cuts to the heart of Bordeaux.
France, administratively-speaking, divides itself into regions, department, arrondissements and the communes. Royan belonged to the Poitou-Charentes region, in the department of Charente-Maritime and we came under the Rochefort arrondissement.
Royan is nestled between Bordeaux and La Rochelle - this is wine and cognac country which never run short of rewards for you if you make time to take the department road. Our road trips always featured a new dish/meal, a new wine or cognac for that matter; adorable book stores which are open for the love of books as opposed to the commercialization of these treasures, les huitres and the list goes on: all these driving past massive vineyards; find the chateau and you can buy a crate of wine for the month and at a price Parisians would die for.
Charente-Maritime is littered with French history including Roman influence and if you read the Da Vinci Code, you were pretty much in the book around this area. You had your Roman amphitheater and your black statues of the Virgin Mary; rambling ruins of fortresses spikes up the imagination.
No matter where you are in France, it is good if you remember what Einstein once said: "Imagination is more important than knowledge".
The Charente-Maritime area was dominated by the Romans for 40 years and the amphitheater in Saintes, is one of the oldest and largest in existence in France, dating back to 40AD. Its construction began during the reign of Emperor Tiberius and completed under Claudius - in gladiator time, 18,000 people could fit into this arena.
There is a piece of a Fijian heart in Saint-Ã‰milion - the oldest wine area of the Bordeaux region. Now a world heritage site, Saint-Ã‰milion wines are considered the most robust of the Bordeaux; it is one of the principal red wine areas of wine country. But it is the town itself, there's a deep calm about it - you have to be there to feel her.
Paris is Paris - the Notre Dame is jaw-dropping, when one remembers that work on it began in 1163. The hills of Montmartre that overlooks the city remains the art village it was in the time of Edith Piaf and those before her who suffered the anguish of trying to make it big in these winding streets.
Montmartre continues to have a hold on artists today: you can get a portrait done in the street or just soak in the atmosphere in one of their cool restaurants and pubs.
For a real and deep appreciation of the Louvre, a whole afternoon must be set aside. The Mona Lisa remains the ultimate 'must view' - she appears lonely albeit aloof as throngs of people shuffle past, as if paying their last respects.
But the one memory etched in my mind of Paris is from the highest point visitors can reach on the Eiffel Tower, on New Year's Eve- now that view, I can't even begin to describe.
nAriela Zibiah is a member of France's academic alumni in Fiji. She is now currently the Communications Officer with UNFPA Pacific Sub-regional Office.