The Stendhal Syndrome

Sometimes, you just get overwhelmed (Photo by Andrew Stawarz)
Sometimes, you just get overwhelmed

Saving yourself from sightseeing overload

The French writer Stendhal collapsed one day while visiting Florence, overwhelmed by the aesthetic beauty of the Renaissance and exhausted by trying to see absolutely everything. 

Stendhal's is an extreme case, perhaps, but he’s not the last one to break down from too much Europe. You may not faint in the piazza, but you might catch a cold, become irritable and tired, or simply cease to care whether there’s another Rembrandt in that museum. And that would be a shame. 

After a few days or weeks of pell-mell sightseeing, you’ll start wearing down. When the prospect of visiting the the Louvre elicits from you merely a groan and a desire to take a nap, it’s time to recharge your mental batteries. Here are some hints for working through the inevitable burnout on the daily tourist grind (see here for overall itinerary tips).

Planning the daily sightseeing grind

  • Forget fame. Don't feel like you have to see something just because it's über-famous. Don't make France into a giant checklist. Visit what truly interests you, and feel free to skip what doesn’t float your boat. If you’re going to wear yourself out, at least do it on the stuff you truly enjoy. 
  • Pace yourself. Soak up the kaleidoscope of France’s cultural pleasures a little bit at a time. Schedule in rest periods. Don’t pack too much into either your trip itinerary or your daily sightseeing agenda. Leave room to breathe, space to picnic, and time to stop and smell the pastries (also: to eat them).
  • Variety is the spice of your travel life. Vary your itinerary. Try not to hit one big museum after another. Visit a park or a church, or simply chill out in a café, in between. Give other areas of your brain a workout for a while. This way the whole trip doesn’t blur into one large, colorful blob of old masters and cathedrals from which your memory can’t distinguish where Nice left off and Normandy began. 
  • Take a siesta. A nap in the middle of the afternoon can do you a world of good, both mentally and physically. Sure, only by the Mediterranean does France really do that wonderful everything-closes-in-the-early-afternoon thing, but embrace the siesta concept regardless. Learn to take a riposo like the Italians, and you’ll not only appreciate their country more, but also get up the energy to finish the Florence sightseeing that did in good old Stendhal. 
  • Take a break. When the sightseeing starts getting to you no matter what precautions you take, stop sightseeing. If all you do is tick off museums and churches and such, you're heavily on the "tourist" wide of that old tourist/traveler distinction. Go see a football or cricket match. Go shopping. Whatever it takes to bring your cultural appreciation back from the brink. Sit down at a café table and write all those postcards you promised to send. Chances are just describing to your friends back home the wonders you’ve seen and once-in-a-lifetime experiences you’ve had will make you psyched to get more of Europe under your belt. Next thing you know, you’ll bop out of the post office raring to get back in the saddle and get on with the sights. 
  • Take a vacation. Stop racking up sightseeing points. Take a whole day to go to the beach, to sleep late and have breakfast in lunchtime. Get off the beaten path. Do anything but see the sights or attempt to engage the culture. (I once had a room in Venice's posh Hotel Danieli, and my windows overlooked the people-thronged Riva degli Schiavoni where the Grand Canal empties into the Bacino San Marco bay. I was nearing the end of a three-month research trip, and I was tired, so you know what I did all evening? I did a bit of people-watching from my window, sure, but largely I watched Charlie Chaplin's Gold Rush on the TV in my room.)

Remember: you are on vacation, after all.

Activities, walks, & excursions links
Useful French phrases

Useful French for sightseeing

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Où est? ou eh
...the museum le musee luh moo-ZAY
...the church l'eglise leh-GLEEZ
...the cathedral le cathédrale luh ka-teh-DRAHL
When is it open? Quand est-il ouvert?  coan eh-TEEL oo-VAIR
When does it close? A quelle heure est-ce que cela ferme? ah kell eur es kuh suhla fair-MAY
ticket billet d'entrée bee-YAY dahn-TRAY
two adults deux adultes dooz ah-DOOLT
one child un enfant ehn ahn-FAHN
one student un étudiant uh-NETOO-dee-YON

Basic phrases in French

English (anglais) French (français) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you merci mair-SEE
please s'il vous plaît seel-vou-PLAY
yes oui wee
no non no
Do you speak English? Parlez-vous anglais? par-lay-VOU on-GLAY
I don't understand Je ne comprende pas zhuh nuh COHM-prohnd pah
I'm sorry Je suis desolée zhuh swee day-zoh-LAY
How much does it cost? Combien coute? coam-bee-YEHN koot
That's too much C'est trop say troh
Good day Bonjour bohn-SZOURH
Good evening Bon soir bohn SWAH
Good night Bon nuit  bohn NWEE
Goodbye Au revoir oh-ruh-VWAH
Excuse me (to get attention) Excusez-moi eh-skooze-ay-MWA
Excuse me (to get past someone) Pardon pah-rRDOHN
Where is? Où est? ou eh
...the bathroom la toilette lah twah-LET
...train station la gare lah gahr

Days, months, and other calendar items in French

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quand est-il ouvert? coan eh-TEEL oo-VAIR
When does it close? Quand est l'heure de fermeture?   coan eh lure duh fair-mah-TOUR
At what time... à quelle heure... ah kell uhre
Yesterday hier ee-AIR
Today aujoud'hui ow-zhuhr-DWEE
Tomorrow demain duh-MEHN
Day after tomorrow après demain ah-PRAY duh-MEHN
a day un jour ooun zhuhr
Monday Lundí luhn-DEE
Tuesday Maredí mar-DEE
Wednesday Mercredi mair-cray-DEE
Thursday Jeudi zhuh-DEE
Friday Vendredi vawn-druh-DEE
Saturday Samedi saam-DEE
Sunday Dimanche DEE-maansh
a month un mois ooun mwa
January janvier zhan-vee-YAIR
February février feh-vree-YAIR
March mars mahr
April avril ah-VREEL
May mai may
June juin zhuh-WAH
July juillet zhuh-LYAY
August août ah-WOOT
September septembre sep-TUHM-bruh
October octobre ok-TOE-bruh
November novembre noh-VAUM-bruh
December décembre day-SAHM-bruh

Numbers in French

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 un ehn
2 deux douh
3 trois twa
4 quatre KAH-truh
5 cinq sank
6 six sees
7 sept sehp
8 huit hwhee
9 neuf nuhf
10 dix dees
11 onze ownz
12 douze dooz
13 treize trehz
14 quatorze kah-TOHRZ
15 quinze cans
16 seize sez
17 dix-sept dee-SEP
18 dix-huit dee-SWEE
19 dix-neuf dee-SNEUHF
20 vingt vahn
21* vingt et un * vahnt eh UHN
22* vingt deux * vahn douh
23* vingt trois * vahn twa
30 trente truhnt
40 quarante kah-RAHNT
50 cinquante sahn-KAHNT
60 soixante swaa-SAHNT
70 soixante-dix swa-sahnt-DEES
80 quatre-vents  kat-tra-VAHN
90 quatre-vents-dix  kat-tra-vanht-DEES
100 cent sant
1,000 mille meel
5,000 cinq mille sank meel
10,000 dix mille dees meel

* You can form any number between 20 and 99 just like the examples for 21, 22, and 23. For x2–x9, just say the tens-place number (trente for 30, quarante for 40, etc.), then the ones-place number (35 is trente cinq; 66 is soixsante six). The only excpetion is for 21, 31, 41, etc. For x1, say the tens-place number followed by " un" (trente et un, quarante et un, etc.).

‡ Yes, the French count very strangely once they get past 69. Rather than some version of "seventy,' they instead say "sixy-ten" (followed by "sixty-eleven," "sixty-twelve,' etc. up to "sixty-nineteen.") And then, just to keep things interesting, they chenge it up again and, for 80, say 'four twenties"—which always make me thinks of blackbirds baked in a pie for some reason. Ninety becomes "four-twenties-ten" and so on up to "four-nineties-ninteen" for 99, which is quite a mouthful: quartre-vingts-dix-neuf.