Still haven’t pulled our Christmas hotel photos off the camera and onto the web, but thanks to Virginia I’ve been thinking about Paris, and our trip to France several years ago. Twelve years or so – has it been that long? Wow. Anyway, we once took a month long trip to France – week in Paris, two weeks driving around the country and a week back in Paris before flying home.
I really enjoyed all the time there, we took back roads and stopped in lovely small towns. Bobbie planned the entire trip, making reservations by fax with people that didn’t speak English (and us not speaking French). We mostly used Rick Steve’s books to plan things out, and stayed at many of the hotels he recommended.
What I liked most about Paris were the cafes, where you could sit in the sunshine, have an espress and watch the people walking by. This one was right across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower
One of the day trips by train was out to Versailles, where we walked the beautiful gardens (really damaged the previous winter by a wind storm that knocked down may old trees). We weren’t early enough to get a tour ticket, but did walk in the public rooms, impressed by the hall of mirrors
Our first night of the drive was the island of Mt. St. Michele. It’s a very famous place, a monastery on top of a rock, that you can walk to at low tide but at high tide was surrounded by water. There is a causeway out to it now so you can drive to a close parking lot, but the day parking and the causeway are under water at high tides. It was very pleasant in the evening, when the tour busses had all left. There are very few rooms on the island itself, most hotels are on the mainland, so it gets rather quiet when the tide comes in.
We stayed two nights in the Loire Valley and saw several of the big chateaus
My favorite city of the trip (besides Paris) was Baynac, a very small town on a river with a castle on the hilltop behind. The castle was used for one of the Joan of Arc movies, and during the long war the English controlled the other side of the river. We stayed a few nights at the Hotel Baynac and ate in their dining room, it was the first time I ever had foi gras (which the area is famous for) and it was marvelous.
One night was spent in a small flat inside the walled city of Carcassonne close to the Spanish border. For dinner we had cassoulette - a regional dish that seemed to be whatever leftovers were around - mostly white beans, with meat and chicken and vegetables. It was about the worst meal we had on our trip (I think Bobbie's dish had a chicken foot, mine had a lot of small bones). Like bouliabase, cassoulette was peasant food, made from the leftovers that couldn't be sold
Most of the time we hit the little towns and bought fresh bread and stuff for sandwiches and ate at picnic tables along the road. Most towns had little parks, and there were a lot of places to stop.
The mustard fields were in bloom, and I wondered if any of what we saw made it into my jar of Grey Poupon
We spent a night in Arles, the town where Van Gogh lived and did some of his most famous works. They had brass plaques around town with images of his paintings from where he did them, things had changed so little that almost everything now looked very similar to what he painted then. Arles also had an old Roman coliseum, it hasn’t been restored but still looked nice
Our easternmost point was the town of Chamonix, under Mt. Blanc, and we took the cable car up to the top – over 14,000 foot altitude for the restaurant and viewing station. Quite a change in temperature, people were still skiing, and we shared the cabin with a group of the French mountain patrol and a lot of Japanese tourists who all wanted their photos taken with the tall French guys.
You walked through an ice cave to get to the slopes, where the ski patrol were dressing for a slide down.
The city of Beune was on the list, where we toured the hospital with the lovely roofs
Dinner was at a small restaurant in the basement of the cathedral, good food and an interesting setting
I wasn’t the only one that liked the espress at the cafes
We did hit the Lovre, where I had to join the crowd in getting my picture taken in front of the Mona Lisa. We did spend a few nights in the small town in the Loire Valley where Michelangelo lived, and toured the big chateaus are.
And climbed the stairs in the Arc de Triump.
Enough photos for one post, hoping to make it back to France soon. With stops around the UK as well.