H.E Emmanuelle d’Achon, French Ambassador to Ireland

I was appointed as Ambassador of France to Ireland in September 2010, and am delighted to be posted in such a friendly and fascinating country that is so close to France. Before coming to Ireland, I was Human Resources Director in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and have been posted twice in the United States, and also in Eastern and Southern Africa.
I have travelled to many countries for professional reasons; I have also lived abroad many times and enjoyed travelling in countries that I have always wanted to discover – both for pleasure and for the very essence of diplomacy of reaching out to people of different cultures and backgrounds.
I first travelled when I was still in High School. I went to the UK and Germany to improve my English and German. It was very exotic at the time to take the train and ferry boat across the Channel! Later then, as a student, I travelled more across Europe and also to the Middle East which had always appealed to me.
My first foreign language is English and because so many countries have adopted it as their main channel of communication, it is compulsory to master it when you travel nowadays. For a European to know other languages, like Spanish for example, is also very useful. I took German as a second foreign language and then studied some Hebrew and Arabic, but having not practised, I don’t speak either of them anymore, which is a pity!
My favourite form of travel by far is by rail, when possible. Firstly, you don’t lose time – it’s city-to-city transport and so convenient as you don’t have to be at the station hours before departure. Secondly, trains usually depart and arrive on time, more so than other means of transportation anyways. And thirdly, it’s safe – you can read or work all the way and move around to some extent. And you can’t really get train-sick!
I mostly travel for business, mainly between Ireland and France or other places in Europe. You don’t have a choice when travelling from an island; you have to fly if you don’t want to spend the night on a ferry. Very often, you experience delays for different reasons, but particularly because airports tend to be far away from the city centre. I also like travelling by car to visit the many different and lovely parts of Ireland – the distances aren’t too great and driving allows for more mobility and flexibility.
I have experienced a lot of train travel that I enjoyed tremendously. I remember taking the train alone for the first time to visit my grandmother in the middle of France. It was a wonderful journey which gave me my first experience of freedom and comfort – discovering the landscape from the window and sharing a compartment with new faces. I remember travelling in an old fashioned train between Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya, which took me “out of Africa”. And I also remember taking the high speed train (TGV) in France for the first time and going from Paris to Avignon in 3 hours instead of the 6 or 7 it took before! TGV changed our lives in France and is the best way to travel in our country. Trains nowadays are perhaps less romantic but both modern and efficient.
When planning a work trip, I go directly to the airline’s website and make a reservation online. For leisure, I take time to gather information about the destination, from travel books and from the internet. Many websites are useful but I haven’t found the ideal one yet. When travelling by trains, I go to the French SNCF website which is very user friendly and allows you to reserve the train, hotel, and rental car as one package.
Some of my best memories of travelling are from East and Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean – for the beauty of the landscapes and the people in South Africa, Tanzania, or Namibia. And also Mauritius and Zanzibar, where you could discover a mixture of different people, cultures, food, dress, languages, etc.
I have always been fascinated by the American West, the land of canyons and extraordinary landscapes that make you feel like a tiny part of the universe. I travelled down the Green River in Utah on a raft boat and we were alone on the earth for 4 days, camping in the wild on sandy banks, it was an extraordinary experience. But I must say that Connemara or Donegal can be just as wild and fantastic!
My advice for anyone that anyone who’s embarking on any kind of trip would be to be happy and excited about it and to be ready to open your eyes, mind and heart to enjoy every minute. There is always something positive in travelling!