Sunday, October 18, 2015

Back to reality

Day 16:  We have to leave Paris

We had reserved a G7 cab to take us to CDG, pick up at 8am.  Our flight departed at 1030am.  We picked up around the apartment, put the towels in the washer/dryer as instructed, schlepped our bags down the four flights of stairs and waited a couple of minutes past 8 for the cab.  The only complaint was that it was smoky.

I cried as we left central Paris and again when the cab driver said, "you're now no longer in Paris."  I really enjoyed this trip (except for the cold, wet weather in Paris) but know husband wants to see other places so I can't predict when we'll be back.  He's about the nicest guy ever, though, so when I told him this he said "it's easy to go back. We can just get the direct flight from Houston."  Gotta love a man who understands your Paris obsession. :)

Anyway, traffic was much heavier than we had anticipated.  Thankfully the taxi driver had some app and knew our check in gate was at Terminal 2E instead of the normal 2D.  He took some shortcuts around the traffic and got us there with a little less than 2 hours to spare. 

We checked in with no problem but had a good wait at passport control.  We chatted with nice Columbians in line--they encouraged us to visit their country.  Once through passport control, it was a long walk to the gate.  Boarding was chaotic but then we were back in our tight economy seats.  I don't know why I picked the same ones coming and going.  All the seats were taken this time.  The food was edible.  It was super warm (again).  The man across the aisle from us kept drooling onto the tray table and floor (so gross).  The man in front of husband was obnoxious and wouldn't even raise his seat back for meals.  Yup, typical economy. 

Way too many uncomfortable hours later we landed on time in Houston.  I continued on to New Orleans several hours later.

After two wonderful weeks in France and a renewed love affair with Paris, that was that; back to reality and work the next day. 

1.  Give yourself plenty of time to get to CDG.  Traffic can be atrocious any time of the day.
2.  Buy Premium Economy seats.
3.  Always believe that there will be a "next" time. I would be seriously depressed if I thought I'd never return to Paris.

Merci for reading.  Au revoir.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Our last sighseeing day in Paris

Day 15:  N'opera, shopping, 3 museums

I woke up sad: it was our last sightseeing day in Paris.  On the agenda was a tour of the Opera Garnier, shopping at Galleries Lafayette, and whatever else we felt like. 

We ate the last of our breakfast supplies (why do eggs taste so much better over here?) and headed out.  A short Metro ride later and we were at Opera Garnier.  It was gloomy and cold so the gold on the roof was not sparkling but the building was still beautiful. We headed in to buy tickets as I had procrastinated and not bought them ahead of time.  That's when we noticed a sign saying "The Auditorium is Dark.  We're sorry for any inconvenience."  Since a major reason I wanted to see the Opera Garnier was the Chagall ceiling in the auditorium, we decided against visiting.  I know there's a lot more to the building than just the Chagall but I want to see it all!  We'll plan to visit on our next trip to Paris.  I hope the "third time's the charm" since it was closed for tours on our 2012 trip.

We walked over to Galleries Lafayette and somehow chose the building with the beautiful dome.  We did a little souvenir shopping, took pictures of the dome, walked out on the terrace (the weather was better: we could see some blue skies!), got lunch and planned the rest of our day. 

We decided on the Army Museum and Napoleon's Tomb (free with museum pass) which we hadn't visited since 2005.  It seems to have undergone restoration since then because the buildings in the courtyard were clean and shiny, there were new wood beans in the walkway ceilings, and the displays were different (better) than we remembered.  Husband always talks about Napoleon's horse and his tent so we set out to find them. The Army museum is in several buildings and was a little confusing to navigate but we enjoyed our walk through rooms with cool uniforms, guns, armaments, etc., until we reached the Napoleon stuff.  The horse was in a kind of dark hallway display.  The tent with the leopard print rug was something to see.   A military enthusiast could probably spend days here; there's so much to see.  I liked the displays of the cavalrymen from different wars and eras. 

We were able to briefly visit the Saint-Louis des Invalides church before they closed it for the day.  It was plain but beautiful inside. 

Next was Napoleon's Tomb.  The building is ornate, over the top and beautiful which of course fits the man for whom it was designed.  The baldachin over the tomb reminded us of the one at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. 

We walked around the garden outside, took some pictures and decided to head over to the Rodin Museum.  When we arrived the sign said the museum was closed as its ~still~ under renovation but to visit the garden was free.  They also had a nice special exhibit of Rodin's plaster casts and information about his process of creating his masterpieces (free with museum pass).  The weather had changed once again (cold and wet) but we took our time wandering around the gardens which were, honestly, not as pretty as on previous visits.  The roses by the Thinker were lovely but elsewhere there was a neglected feeling--dead hydrangea looking bushes, scraggly plants, leaves all about, slippery muddy spots from all the rain.  I guess they were working so hard to finish the renovation for the grand reopening on 12 November that the gardens were somewhat of an afterthought.  I look forward to seeing the renovated museum on our next trip.

It was only 4pm and since we hadn't been to the Louvre (free with museum pass) yet, we headed there via Metro.  We made the mistake of getting off at the Carousel de Louvre exit and were routed outside into the Tuilleries for "special access, including museum pass" entry.  Terrible signage!  I remembered a Rick Steves tip from our trip in 2012 and we headed back across the street, into the courtyard, past the restaurant, into a side corridor, to a quiet security checkpoint for groups and those with museum passes. No waiting, thankfully.  But by time we did all of this, we would have been through the security in the Carousel du Louvre, grrr.

Once under the Pyramid, we decided to first visit the Napoleon III apartments (in the Richelieu wing) and then maybe the big French paintings, like David's huge canvasses.  Our way to Napoleon's apartments, we got turned around--impossible not to do in the Louvre--and walked into a really pretty (new?) exhibition on armory and decorative arts (some items were from the Nissim de Camondo collection).  It was a gorgeous detour.

We retraced our steps and found our way to the Napoleon III apartments, which we had seen only once before (2005). They are spectacular!  I was amazed at the chandeliers in the first few rooms but then we entered the grand salon (or whatever it's called) and I gasped (literally) at the size and beauty of the chandelier there.  And I was not the only one astonished, I heard exclamations from several people behind me!  Even unlit it was stupendous.  Every room was ornate, gilded and gorgeous.   Exiting the apartments, we paused at a jewelry case with Josephine's tiara, brooches and a crown--they were almost an afterthought.  The Louvre just has too much of everything!

We were aiming for the French Paintings but navigating the Louvre is just so hard.  We went through the sculpture garden and made it back under the pyramid, up the escalator to the Denon Wing. The signage was now pointing us to the Mona Lisa and all the those masterpieces.  We've been underwhelmed by Mona three times in the past and didn't want to see her again so, confused and thirsty, we bailed.   We'll be back to the Louvre on our next trip, I know, and see more of its endless treasures.  But we'll be sure to buy the water from the touts outside (1E/bottle) before venturing in!

The exit under the pyramid was closed so, along with hundreds of our closest new friends, we were routed out via the dark and narrow escalator under the Richelieu wing.  One thing we couldn't understand was why there were signs prohibiting touts selling stuff on Louvre premises while several plied their trade in this space, with one boldly roasting chestnuts and blocking the doorway.  Security guards were nearby but did nothing to stop them.  I guess they've given up the fight.  And it would be my own fault if the hot coals burned me as I tried to leave the building since (I believe) you can't sue if injured like we can here (it's excessive here, please don't get me wrong, but sometimes it would be good to have that as a threat)... 

We came out at the Place du Palais Royale where they had an exhibit of fashions celebrating the 150 years of Printemps.  We settled into an outside table at Les Fontaines Saint Honore for drinks and to watch the world go by.  We watched a family of 6 load into their minivan (baby in a stroller, three older kids, mom and dad) and leave. We busted out laughing when a Fiat 500 couldn't fit into the huge spot vacated by the minivan! Hilarious. 

Around 645pm we headed back to our apartment via rue de Rivoli.  We stopped at C&A where I bought socks and a tank top.  I wished I had more time to shop there--good prices for pretty cute clothes.  We crossed the bridge by Hotel de Ville and decided to have dinner at La Reserve de Quasimodo (4 Rue de la Colombe), which we had passed several times and was recommended by Thierry of our apartment. 

The place was half full so we were seated immediately.  Here we encountered the second "ugly American" of our trip.  This is a tiny restaurant, maybe 18 covers, and this man was talking so loudly and patronizingly at his companions that I wanted to hit him.  He sounded like the comedian Stephen Wright (slow nasal voice) and was an obnoxious, patronizing know-it-all.  This was the second time that I felt compelled to tell a waiter that "not all Americans are like him." The waiter happened to speak Spanish well and told me that the man was even worse than I knew because he demanded to be seated at a larger table (like for 6) when his party was just 3.  They left when we got our main, thankfully.

The menu at La Reserve de Quasimodo is on blackboards hung on the restaurant walls.  I had two different lovely glasses of red wine (probably the best wines by the glass of the trip) while husband had beer.  We started with salads: tomato and olives for husband, goat cheese for me.  Our mains were curried duck with pasta (recommended by waiter) and a vegetable sandwich like thing for me (not what I was expecting).  We shared a hot chocolate cake for dessert.  All of it was pretty good, although nothing was exceptional.  Next time I'm making reservations at a more special restaurant on our last night!

We went for one last long walk around Ile Saint Louis and Ile de la Cite before heading back to the apartment to pack up.  It had been a lovely last day in Paris.

1.  The 4 day museum pass was worth it to us
2.  It's not always a good idea to buy tickets in advance--I would have been disappointed to spend the money and not see the Chagall ceiling
3.  The Louvre is best in small bites so we'll be back next time
4.  Make reservations at a special place for our last night in the future
5.  I hate that it's over because I love Paris. 

Next: Finally, we have to leave Paris.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Unforgettable experiences

Day 14: City Hall, Monet, a special lunch, and more Monet

On our first trip to Paris in 2003, we stayed in the Marais for three nights at the Axial Beaubourg Hotel.  We walked past the Hotel de Ville at least twice per day and I was intrigued by this beautiful building.  On subsequent trips (2005 and 2012), we didn't have time to finagle a tour of Hotel de Ville.  But this year I was determined that I'd get inside this building.

Per the instructions on the website, I called 2 months in advance to request a visit.  The man I spoke with said I needed to email him 2 weeks before my visit and they would try to accommodate us.  While we were in Lyon I received the email confirming our visit for 16 October on a French only tour.  Yes!

We woke to a rainy, cold day.  This was the worst weather of the trip.  We walked over to the Hotel de Ville and got there a few minutes before the appointed time of 10am.  I asked the guard about the tour and he said to wait with another group of about 6 people.  A group of about 8 American students on a French immersion trip came after us.  We all hovered under umbrellas trying to stay warm and dry until about 10:10am when we were allowed through security and into the first room.  Up the stairs bathed in red and blue lights to the ballroom reminiscent of Versailles' Hall of Mirrors.  We gaped in wonder at each the beautiful room (I think we saw 7 or 8).  We couldn't understand a word of the French being spoken but the place was so spectacular that it didn't matter!  I remember calling it the most beautiful City Hall in the world and, now having been inside, I think that must be true.  We were ushered out around 1120pm.  I'm so glad we were able to do this tour! 

We had a 130pm reservation at Restaurant le Meurice Alain Ducasse for lunch.  We decided to visit L'Orangerie which was nearby the restaurant.  We took the Metro because the weather was still crappy.

L'Orangerie (free with museum pass) is a Monet lover's paradise.  We visited Giverny and this museum in 2012 but I think I enjoyed it even more this time.  The canvases are huge and beautiful and perfect for the rooms in which they're displayed (just as Monet intended).  I loved it.

On our last visit, we didn't see the rest of the collection and what a nice surprise it was! We quickly walked through a photography special exhibit then started looking at the paintings in the galleries.  Renoir was prominently featured along with other impressionists.  We ran out of time and will need to come back to this lovely collection on a future trip. 

While planning this trip, we had decided to have one splurge meal while in France and this was it: 3 Michelin star Restaurant le Meurice Alain Ducasse (228 rue de Rivoli).  From the moment we arrived until we left 2 hours later, everything was perfect.  No detail was overlooked.  Examples: Husband had to borrow a jacket and the hostess was extremely apologetic for bringing him the wrong size the first time; my purse was given its own special little leather stool instead of resting on the floor.  The staff were efficient and helpful without being overbearing.  It was a lovely experience with exceptional food. 

I started with a delicious glass of rose champagne (which proved to be very expensive!) while the head waiter explained the menu.  Husband decided on the 130E option (everything!) while I went with just the starter and main (85E) figuring I'd taste his cheese and dessert.  We ordered a half bottle of red wine (delicious Domaine Faury Cote-Roie) and still Evian.  Because I don't like oysters, my amuse bouche was a poached quail egg taco to husband's oyster taco.  Followed by vegetables (in rock salt) to dip in a savory green sauce.  Next was more vegetables, some with a subtle pickled flavor, and fruit.  The bread, with choice of salted or unsalted butter, was delicious.  The main dish was guinea fowl, liver, salad and veggies.   I didn't like husband's desert which was figs and cream in a fig leaf bowl which he loved.  I liked the ice cream with red wine granita.  We both enjoyed our finale sorbets (passion fruit for me; grapefruit for husband) served from a cart with artfully displayed tropical fruits. 

Everything was delicious, beautifully presented and unique.  The dining room was gorgeous--we could have been dining at Versailles or Hotel de Ville! The price for lunch, without alcohol, was reasonable for the quality and the exceptional experience.  The booze made it pricy, as always ("that's where they getcha" lol)!  Husband agreed that lunch at Restaurant le Meurice Alain Ducasse can be our new tradition whenever we come to Paris!

Pleasantly full, it was on to the next sight: Musee Marmottan Monet which we had only visited once before in 2005 (no museum pass).  We took the metro from Tuilleries to La Muette and walked through the pretty neighborhood and park to the museum.  No pictures, no coat check (it was kind of hot inside).  We got the audio guide.  We arrived around 4pm so only had two hours to view the collection.  The art and displays in the house itself were fabulous.   They had a number of illuminated manuscripts, some really pretty china and furnishings.  The rooms themselves were very pretty (I love house museums!).  The Berthe Morissot exhibit was outstanding.   I felt like a knew her after seeing it. 

We made our way to the basement for the Monets.  The paintings are displayed chronologically and the audio guide was helpful in explaining what we were seeing.  I listened to every number!  Sadly, my favorite, Impression Sunrise, was on loan.  I lingered here until it was about closing time.  This Monet collection is probably my favorite because of its variety.  Monet was prolific and so very talented.  He's definitely my favorite artist.  I'm so lucky to have seen so much of his work!  

I spent a few Euro in the gift shop and we walked out with the security guards.  We decided to stop at Tabac de la Muette for drinks before venturing back to Ile de la Cite.  We watched a frustrated Audi owner who was blocked in by a double parked Smart car.  He was apparently there for 45 minutes unable (to not figure out how) to get out of his spot (we had some solutions for him) until the person behind him left.  Just at about this time, the owner of the double parked Smart car (a young woman) came out from wherever she was hiding and got into her car and ended up pulling into the Audi's spot.  We thought the Audi owner was going to block her in and chew her out but he just peeled out and left.  The consensus from four Americans (a couple from Arizona had been watching the scene for about an hour) was that he was nicer to her than we would have been.

We paid up and headed back to Ile de la Cite.  After trying unsuccessfully to make reservations at L'Ange 20 and L'Florimond for dinner the next night (our last), we walked down to Ile St. Louis looking for a place to eat (and to check out some of the recommended restaurants on that Ile).  We ended up at Sens'o (, a mediocre pizza place that did pretty brisk delivery business.  The weather was still cold but not wet so we took the long way back to the apartment for the night.  It had been another fantastic day in Paris!

1.  Hotel de Ville is spectacular!
2.  Splurging on a special meal Paris is a very good idea :)
3.  There's no such thing (to me) as too much Monet in a day
4.  There's a reason I research and keep lists of recommended restaurants...
5.  We may stay in the 16th next time.
6.  I really love Paris!

Next: Our last day, n'opera, shopping, 3 museums

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Passages and Museums

Day 13: Walk with a Greeter, Arts and Crafts, Picasso, Monet and all their friends.

We had a 1030am appointment with our Paris Greeter, Joel.  He decided to meet us at the apartment because of our interest in history.  It was a very cold, windy day with a few sprinkles of rain.  Miserable for walking, really.  Joel is a 60-something retired engineer who lives with his wife and adult son in the suburbs.  His daughter, her husband and their baby live in Australia.
Joel started the Greet by talking about the origins of Paris.  He lead us to rue des Ursins where we had walked several times in the previous days.  He showed us markings on the street that delineated the old roman wall.  He explained how the city grew and changed over time and showed us drawings of the walls and settlements.  Fascinating.

We went from Ile de la Cite over the bridge by Hotel du Ville up past St. Merri Church (gorgeous red door), through passages--some nice, others very seedy with prostitutes lingering about--past the gates at Pte. St. Martin and Pte. St. Denis.   After one last passage (Prado), we were too cold, tired and disheartened by this poorer, seedier side of Paris to continue so asked him to lead us to food and drinks.  We ended up at  Le Cerceau (129 Boulevard de Sebastopol) for a very nice lunch.  Joel then lead us over to the Musee des Arts et Metiers where we said goodbye.  Overall, we both enjoyed this walk with Joel.  I liked learning about the history of Paris more than walking through the passages and we were certainly unlucky with the cold, windy, damp weather, but we definitely appreciated Joel's time and energy!

The Musee des Arts et Metiers (Arts and Crafts, free with museum pass) is filled with interesting old and new objects.  There is way too much to see!  We stopped and marveled at Pascal's calculator (he may be a distant relatives of mine), Lovoisier's laboratory, Foucault's brilliance (dude figured out how to measure the speed of light in 1862!), the robots, the looms, cameras, machinery, cars, bikes, etc., etc., on our way to the Chapel which has Foucault's pendulum (fascinating!) and so many incredible vehicles and airplanes cleverly hung from the ceiling.  We climbed the ramp to the top--it is really high and a little scary at the top and took lots of photos.  This Museum merits a lot more time than we gave it but I'm so glad we saw what we did.   

We took the metro to the Picasso Museum (free with museum pass).  We visited this museum on our first trip and remembered it fondly.  We had liked that the art was displayed chronologically in the rooms of the house.  The museum has undergone a major renovation and some rooms were closed for the upcoming one year celebration of re-opening.  I'm not a big Picasso fan; I like his early stuff more than the later.   I like when a museum shows the artist's life and progression but I don't feel this new Picasso museum does that.  I didn't get a sense of Pablo, it just felt disjointed.  The house is gorgeous but cold.  I don't need to go back.  My favorite one-artist museum is still the Van Gogh in Amsterdam--it was biographical, comprehensive, and I "got" Vincent after visiting.

Husband was hankering for his favorite Parisian treat--falafels at L'as du Fallafel.  We've eaten there every time we've visited Paris.  On our way we popped into two pretty gardens, Square Georges Cain and Jardin des Rosiers-Joseph-Migneret, and enjoyed a bit of tranquility in the busy Marais.  Husband enjoyed his falafel immensely while I snacked on fries and wine.   We decided to cancel our reservation for dinner at Le Florimond because no way would we be hungry in a couple of hours!

Just like husband needs to have a falafel every time he visits Paris, I need to visit the Orsay (free with museum pass).  It's, hands-down, my favorite museum. We arrived close to 7pm and it was pretty crowded.  We started off in the Toulouse Lautrec rooms, passed by the gorgeous sculptures and the model of the opera house on our way to the Impressionists.  I looked at every single painting and lost husband along the way.  There are so many paintings in this collection that I love but I discovered a new favorite, Edouard Manet's L'Evasion de Rochefort, which lifted and broke my heart at the same time. 

Back among the sculptures to the Post-Impressionist rooms then on to the decorative arts section with the gorgeous belle époque furnishings.  We walked through a few more galleries (Georges Clairin's intense Sarah Bernhardt caught my eye) but our energy was lagging so we headed out.  Goodnight, L'Orsay, until next time!

We took the RER back to Ile de la Cite, walked by gorgeous Notre Dame then stopped at Au Bougnat again for snacks and drinks before bed.  Another fabulous day in Paris!

1.  A Greeter can provide great insight into a city.  It's a fantastic program.
2.  Love the museum pass!
3.  The Chapel at the Musee Arts et Metiers is outstanding.
4.  L'Orsay never disappoints.
5.  I love Paris even when it's cold and gloomy. And I HATE cold weather. :)

Next: City Hall, Monet, a special lunch, and more Monet.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

St. Germain and the Latin Quarter

Day 12: It's cold, 3 museums, 4 churches, a special lunch, and a concert at Sainte Chapelle.

We slept pretty well in our little apartment.  We broke our fast on eggs and toast we'd bought at the little store nearby.  Tasty!  It had turned cold, windy and gloomy overnight.  Sadly, this weather would prevail throughout our stay.

Today we'd be venturing into a part of Paris we'd explored but little on previous trips:  St. Germain and the Latin Quarter.  On the agenda: Musee Delacroix, buy 4 day Museum Pass, St. Germain des Pres and St. Sulpice churches, lunch at Les Papilles, the Pantheon, St. Etienne du Mont church, (Musee Moyen Age Cluny, St. Severin church), concert at St. Chapelle. 

We bundled up and took the metro to St. Germain des Pres stop.  One great thing about staying on Ile de la Cite was its centrality.  We felt this location was busy and touristy but super convenient.

We found our way to the somewhat hidden Musee Delacroix, bought our tickets and toured this small, un-crowded and interesting museum.  How I would love to have this as my home! No wonder Delacroix could create his gorgeous works of art here: it felt peaceful with light filled, comfortable rooms.  The studio in the back and the garden were delightful.

We next headed to St. Germain des Pres church.  We popped into the garden at Square Laurent-Prache because the Blue Guide talked about the Picasso sculpture in the center and the remains of sculptures from the Lady Chapel at St. Germain des Pres.

St. Germain des Pres church was founded in 558 as part of a Benedictine Abbey.  It was desecrated in the Revolution and has undergone many changes as a result. The 6th Century chapel was closed for renovation but we were able to follow the Blue Guide around this interesting church.  It was dark inside and hard to see the remaining frescoes.  It is badly in need of restoration.
Back outside, we took in the confluence of the three brasseries, Café des Deux Magots, Café de Flore and Brassiere Lipp, before making our way over to St. Sulpice.  We passed a Pierre Herme and just had to get macaroons (oh so delicious!).

St. Sulpice is handsomely situated on a nice little piazza with a pretty fountain.  The church itself was also very impressive.  Per the Blue Guide:  The organ is humongous and supposedly one of the biggest in existence; the two clamshell water holders were presented to Francois I by Venetians and are on rare marble pillars by Pigalle (we didn't know Pigalle was a sculptor, thought it was just the sketchy street in Montmartre!); we found the bronze meridian line but the sun was too weak to illuminate anything.  And unfortunately, the Delacroix frescoes were under restoration and not visible at all.  I liked this church.
We had a 1230pm reservation for lunch at Bistroy Les Papilles (30 rue Gay-Lussac) so routed ourselves there.  It was a bit longer walk than I had anticipated so we didn't get to meander through the Luxenbourg Gardens.

We arrived to an almost full restaurant.  Les Papilles is tiny with really fun, colorful floor tiles and a pretty bar area.  The wines are on shelves along the wall where we sat.  The service was great.  We both got the beautifully presented and delicious cauliflower soup.  Husband followed that with lamb shoulder and vegetables (outstanding) and I had a tuna steak (I don't love fish but there was nothing else on the menu for me).  I loved husband's veggies and sauce!  We shared his panna cotta which was outstanding--the best dessert we had all trip.  Excellent lunch.  I'd love to go back.

We walked outside to light rain.  We were headed to the Pantheon but noticed the Institut Oceanographic, the Institut de Geograpie and a sign about Musee Curie.  We asked the guy at the door but he said the Musee Curie was closed.  This was contrary to our Blue Guide but we didn't speak enough French to clarify. Per google, it looks like it was a block away from where we were.  At any rate, we missed it.
Our next stop was the Pantheon (free with museum pass).  This is a humongous building.  It felt cold to me, both in temperature and aura.  I think it's just too big, too ostentatious, too much.  It was softened somewhat by the beautiful frescoes depicting the life of Saint Genevieve.  I liked watching Foucault's Pendulum swing; it's fascinating to me, and to many others by the number of folks around it. We visited the tombs of Victor Hugo, Rousseau, Voltaire, etc.  I'm not surprised I didn't like this Pantheon since I also don't like the one it's based on in Rome.  The outside is almost completely renovated and was clean and fresh. 

We made our way over to St. Etienne-du-Mont church which is a shrine to Saint Genevieve.  It's a really pretty church; I loved the purple doors.  Inside is light, airy, and expansive but still intimate feeling.  The "Reinaisssance jube" or "rood screen," 1525-1535, (Blue Guide) was spectacular.   I don't remember ever seeing one of these "jube's" before.  We paid homage to Saint Genevieve at her shrine and found a somewhat hidden room, just off the rectory, to see the stunning 1605-1609 stained glass windows that are at eye level. The Cluny has stained glass windows at eye level but I don't remember ever seeing them so up close in a church before.  I really liked this church.

It was only 4pm so we looked at the map and headed to the Musee du Moyen Age/Cluny (free with museum pass).  There were lots of students from the nearby universities walking around in costumes doing skits and busy getting to and from classes.  A semester at the Sorbonne would probably be the experience of a lifetime--wish I'd had the opportunity when I was younger...

We visited the Cluny in 2003 and 2005.  But I did not remember all of the incredible items it had on display.  Yes, the original statues from Notre Dame, the stained glass fragments from various churches, including Sainte Chapelle, the remains of the Roman Baths, and the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are all here.  But the altarpieces, tapestries, the late 7thC Visigothic votive crown, the 1330 Golden Rose, illuminated manuscripts, medieval weaponry, a book of combat techniques, etc., etc. are all outstanding too.  The Blue Guide is heavy but it sure is informative!  Husband and I both very much enjoyed this return visit to the Cluny.

Around 530pm, we headed back to Ile de la Cite but popped into St. Severin on the way.  Nice church.  We were looking for a place to have a drink but no place called our name so we kept walking and just went back to the apartment to refresh before the 7pm concert (Vivaldi's Four Seasons) at Sainte Chapelle. 

Husband groaned when I told him about the concert but it was actually very nice (he liked it).  I bought tickets ahead of time on for 23E per person.  We went through security and were directed to the right and up to the second floor of the Palais de Justice, so we entered via the Upper chapel (not via the lower chapel like on regular tours).  When we arrived, it was still light enough out that some of the stained glass windows--now all renovated--were glowing.  So beautiful.  We were in the middle of the three sections which was just fine.  It was not sold out.  The concert was about an hour long and it was lovely.  It's such a beautiful setting that it's hard not to enjoy the music.  Very glad we did this.

It rained very hard right after the concert ended so we all lingered as long as possible in the Palais de Justice.  Finally, security ushered everyone out into the wet night.  Husband and I made our way back to Au Bougnat and snagged a table at the bar where we had fries and eggrolls and drinks before heading back to the apartment for the night.  It had been a wonderful day in Paris! 

1.  So many churches, so little time!
2.  The Blue Guide Paris is heavy but wonderfully comprehensive.
3.  Les Papilles--outstanding!
4.  Musee National du Moyen Age Cluny--outstanding!
5.  Concert at Sainte Chapelle--outstanding!
6.  I love Paris! :)

Next: Walk with a Greeter, Arts and Crafts, Picasso, Monet and all their friends.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

To Paris!

Day 11: Traffic jams derail the plans

We breakfasted with a bunch of americans at the B&B.  All very nice and all on longer holidays that us, sigh.  We paid Ms. Yveline, thanked her and were on our way pretty early.  We had our last long drive of the trip and wanted to stop in Chartres for the Cathedral before getting to Paris.

We routed ourselves using our Michelin maps.  We debated about which AutoRoute to take: A28 to Lemans to A11 to Chartres, or A10 to Orleans up to Chartres on N154.  We decided on the A10.  This turned out to be the wrong choice because of a multi-car and semi truck accident that stopped traffic for TWO hours between exits 13 and 12 (ours).  Three lanes of traffic completely stopped for TWO hours = misery and no Chartres for us.  

We got off at the first possible exit after the traffic started moving again.  Filled up with diesel and munched on grocery store sandwiches and chips.  Because we didn't want to arrive in Paris really late, we (very disappointed) decided to skip the detour to Chartres.  Without the traffic delay, we would have been there in plenty of time for Malcolm Miller's tour at 1130am.  The Cathedral will be high on the agenda next time.

Traffic flowed pretty light and easy right until the outskirts of Paris.  We had turned on the GPS and also had a printout of the route (from google maps) and were confident we were headed to Hertz at Gare de Lyon to return the car.

The GPSs estimated time of arrival proved to be off by an hour because of ANOTHER multicar accident that was blocking two out of three lanes on Quai Branley.  We were beyond frustrated.  Husband has driven in Europe (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain, England, Belgium, Netherlands) numerous times in the past 18 years and we have NEVER encountered one major accident, much less two in one day!  Aargh.

We parked the car in the garage, hoped that it had enough fuel to pass the inspection, then went upstairs to the Hertz office.  This process took about a half an hour but all was well and we didn't owe anything more than the extra 132E that the agent in Lyon had tacked on.

We decided to have a drink at Le Train Blue since we were at the Gare de Lyon for the first time.  It was a nice break but we were not lucky enough to get seated in the section looking at the beautiful dining room.

Husband had his Navigo Decouverte from 2012 (I forgot mine) and it was rechargeable for 25E.  We decided against doing that because we would not need the metro that much.  We got the Carnet of 10 tickets and took the train to the Hotel de Ville stop.  Very easy. 

We came out of the Metro station to the beautiful Hotel de Ville and I was immediately happy!  I was back in my favorite city on a gorgeous autumn afternoon! 

We found our building and went up the four flights of winding stairs to our little rental apartment ( crazyview), let ourselves in and called Thierry who would meet us in 90 minutes to go over stuff and collect the fee.  I took pictures of the magnificent view then we went looking for groceries and refreshment.

The apartment is small.  It's long and narrow, with sloping floors and a lower than 8 foot ceiling.  The dining table, sofa (bed), and kitchen are all in one.  The very small bathroom is across from the dining table.  The bathroom is really tiny.  The bedroom is separate with a good sized bed (probably a US queen) up against one wall.  It was pretty comfortable.  The bedroom had a good sized closet as you enter and I was able to completely unpack; husband chose not to.  Did not like: no hooks for towels or jackets so we ended up draping them over the chairs.  No place to put an unpacked suitcase (why can't they have at least one of those luggage racks?).  No lighting at all in the kitchen: we took the shade off a lamp and placed it on a shelf in the kitchen which helped.  Hot water ran out one morning (we don't take long showers, either!).  No place to put a book or my glasses on my side of the bed.  Loved:  The view! Great location.  Liked:  The apartment was very clean.  It was well stocked with soap, toilet paper, detergent, etc. etc.  Thierry was very responsive about the hot water issue.  Washer/dryer worked.  Good price.  We would have liked it a lot more had the bed had been a bit bigger and it wasn't up four flights of stairs.  We also decided we like staying in the 7th more than in this area.  Bottom line: Overall, the apartment was what I expected and I can recommend it to others if you know its limitations.  The view is amazing!

We walked over to Notre Dame Cathedral and walked in briefly since a mass was going on.  We found a little grocery store and picked up essentials for breakfast.  We carried our grocery bag into Au Bougnat which has a nice bar.  We sat at the bar with beer and wine and decided to eat dinner there that night (made a reservation before leaving).  We walked back up to the apartment and met with Thierry.

Dinner at Au Bougnat was quite good.  It was pretty crowded, with tables for two lined up against one wall, very close together.  One waitress spoke fluent Spanish (she's French but lived in Argentina and is glad to be back home) so I could communicate.  Husband loved his beef with vegetables and I enjoyed my risotto with shrimp. 

We took the long way back to the apartment, passing by Notre Dame and Hotel de Ville.  It was wonderful to be in Paris!

1.  You cannot prepare for traffic accidents.
2.  Hope there's a "next time" so you can do the things you couldn't because of the stupid traffic delays.  (Malcolm Miller please don't die before we get there...)
3.  If all train stations had a Le Train Blue like Gare de Lyon, we might take more trains!
4. We'll be returning the car to the airport in the future.  Driving to Gare de Lyon wasn't hard, just frustrating because of the traffic accident and delays.
4.  Paris is beautiful.

Next: It's cold, 3 museums, 4 churches, a special lunch, and a concert at Sainte Chapelle.

Monday, October 12, 2015

More castles, of course.

Day 10: Chenonceau and Amboise Castle

After a leisurely breakfast of pastries, yoghurt with honey and nuts, and coffee, we "chatted" with two ladies from Northern France and our proprietress.  They spoke some English but mostly rapid French and neither husband nor I could catch a word.  It was nice, though, to sit there and listen.  We need to learn more French...

We were both looking forward to seeing Chenonceau.  We'd seen pictures of it everywhere, even on the cover of our Michelin Green Guide for the Loire Valley!  We got there around 10am and there were lots of people around.  It was the most crowded attraction we'd visited but the crowds weren't oppressive once we got inside. 

We could certainly understand its popularity!  It's gorgeous, well maintained, with beautiful grounds, and a riveting history.  Its guide had pictures of each room (which I loved) and was easy to follow.  Each room seemed prettier than the previous.  And the flower arrangements were gorgeous!  We toured all the rooms then lingered in the special exhibit which detailed the history of the chateau through the people that have owned it or lived there.  Very interesting and very well done.  We took pictures from both Gardens: I liked Catherine DeMedici's best but loved the little caretaker's "cottage" on Diane de Poitier's side.  We also visited the little village where carriages where displayed.  We walked through the well tended gardens (flowers, plants, vegetables) and said hello to the goats before leaving.  This chateau vaulted up to Number 1 on my list (after Cheverny).

We stopped in the village and had sandwiches at the open patisserie. Delish.  We decided to head back to Amboise to see the castle and possibly Clos Luce.  We got totally turned around heading to the castle--ended up in a really ritzy looking neighborhood high on the hill--but wound our way down to the castle parking.  It was actually a nice detour.

Amboise Castle is old and, like Beynac in the Dordogne, is positioned high over the river and town.  But that's all they have in common.  Amboise castle is very well maintained, the guide is well done, the displays in the castle itself were helpful and we were lucky to see beautiful pottery from Gian in each room to commemorate Francois I. There were also fresh flower arrangements.  The views were outstanding on this beautiful late afternoon.  We found DaVinci's grave marker in the chapel, saw his bust in the gardens, took tons of pictures and headed out.

It was now 4pm. We had plenty of time to tour Clos Luce but we were tired, so we had drinks instead.  We seated ourselves inside a bar, away from the smokers, looking at the castle and relaxed for a good while.   It was such a pretty evening that we wandered around Amboise, after getting ice cream at Amorino, window shopping.

We drove back to the B&B only to find our street blocked off because of road work.  The proprietress helped us move the barriers but husband couldn't manoeuver into the very narrow driveway because half the street was torn up.  She got in the car and took us to her parking spot a block and a half away (so nice!).  We asked her where was a good place for dinner and she recommended La Reserve and made reservations for us for 730pm.

We headed out around 645pm.  We went back to the bar and had drinks before dinner watching the setting sun beautifully illuminate the castle walls.  When we got to La Reserve, we were glad for our reservation since it was packed.  This is a nice modern looking but comfortable place with efficient staff and good food.  I, unfortunately, developed a bad headache and couldn't enjoy it as much a husband did.  Short walk back to the room to pack up and sleep before leaving for Paris the next day.

1. Some slacking is ok on vacation (two castles in one day ='s slacking, lol).
2. Drink more water.
3. Win the lottery so we can buy a place on the Loire river.

Next: Traffic jams derail the plans

Sunday, October 11, 2015

We see three castles

Day 9: Blois, Chambord, Cheverny

It's castle time!  The weather was overcast and cool.  We asked for breakfast at 9am, which got us off to a bit of a late start.  No matter, we planned to hit three, maybe four castles today.  There were many more people around than we'd seen in the Dordogne. 

We started with Blois.  We got turned around trying to find it and wasted a few minutes running around the town below.  We parked and walked up to the entrance.  There was some kind of old car festival going on and husband was hooked immediately (me, not so much).  Dragged him away to tour the castle.

After paying for the entrance, we walked into the courtyard where the buildings are from markedly different periods (13C-17C) but still seem harmonious in a funky kind of way.  Really pretty.  We quickly walked through some rooms on the bottom floor with close up displays of the statues, gargoyles, etc. that were left from the restorations.  Then up the staircase (so beautiful) to the rooms.  It was a royal palace so these rooms were sumptuous and gilded and over the top.   The guide was well done as were the displays in each room.  I loved all the fleur de lis stuff, the colorful tiles, the fabulous ceilings and the history.  Some rooms were closed off for a conference but that didn't detract from what we were able to see.

Possibly my favorite thing was the special exhibition (which didn't cost more) of Francois I's library.  It was room after room after room of priceless illuminated manuscripts.  We stumbled into the exhibit and were awed. 

Afterwards, we took in the views over Blois from the terrace, popped into the chapel, took a few more pictures of the gorgeous courtyard buildings and left.

Our next stop would be Chambord.  Before touring this palace, we munched on sandwiches and drinks from one of the vendors as you walk up.  It was fine and helped us keep on track.

Chambord is out in the countryside, unlike Blois, so it sits there in massive isolated splendor. It's surrounded by a moat which seemed puny and insignificant compared to the size of the place.  Did I say it's massive?!?  I'm grateful that husband could make heads and tails of the guide because I found it impossible to follow.  There were tons of rooms to see all off the gorgeous (how the heck did DaVinci do it?) double spiral staircase.  The rooms were sparse and needed work but I'm sure they're doing the best they can to maintain the place since it's so huge.  We saw all that we could, including the lovely special exhibit of photographs by a Korean artist, and made it up to the roof which is!  The day was pretty so we lingered taking lots of pictures and admiring everything.  Back down the amazing staircase to the exit.  Chateau #2 was fantastic!

Checking our time, it looked like we had at least 2 hours until Cheverny closed.  This was actually the one I most wanted to see so we rushed there.  It's close to Chambord but on tiny roads so it took a good while.  The countryside is lovely.

Cheverny is also on large acreage so it too sits alone in splendor.  It's not massive, rather (to me) perfectly proportioned.  There was a special installation of butterflies that at first looked weird but were actually beautiful.  Cheverny has been in the same hands for-ever so it was well maintained and each room was beautifully appointed.  The current rich dude and his wife live on premises. Her wedding dress and  pictures of the wedding were in one room and family pictures in others.  Nice touch.  We took our time touring the rooms.  It was easy to follow the informative guide which had pictures of each room on it so you knew you were in the right place (loved that).  The ceilings in some rooms were crazy gorgeous. The interior was really something special. 

We exited and headed to L'Orangerie for drinks.  The grounds and flowers were beautiful so I detoured to take pictures while husband grabbed us drinks and a table.  He was the last customer of the night...  We sat out in this beautiful setting for awhile just basking in the beauty all around us.  We reluctantly left our idyllic spot and went looking for the hounds.  We saw more of the gorgeous grounds, said hello to the doggies, took some more pictures and left.

Back to the B&B in Amboise we headed on the pretty roads.  It was very easy to drive in this area.  We parked the car and refreshed before heading out to the main strip by the castle.

No reservations for dinner tonight so we took our chances with the pizza place on the main drag in front of the castle.  We had a pretty good green salad but the pizza was mediocre.  It was one of those overly complicated pizzas that I don't enjoy.  Give me a simple pizza margherita and I'm happy.  The service was good and the place was attractive.  As we sat there two men and a woman with a baby in a stroller passed into the back door (I guess to a courtyard leading to an apartment) and we were amused because they were Bill and Ted, total dudes, but married with kids!  Even talked like Bill and Ted. Funny.  We finished up and strolled back to the B&B to crash.

1. With an early start, three or four castles are quite possible in a day, if they're relatively close together.
2. Walking around the following day we noticed there was another pizzeria farther down the strip, past Chez Bruno, that looked less touristy and we wished we'd tried that one instead.

Next: More castles, of course.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

To Amboise we go, with a sad detour

Day 8: Oradour sur Glane, arrival in Amboise

We departed Le Grenier apartment in Sarlat-le-Caneda at 9am.  We thanked the nice proprietor, Barry, encouraged him to fix the rope railing which had remained broken during our stay, and walked down the spiral staircase for the last time.  We'd like to return to the Dordogne area and explore some more of its charms, but we won't be staying at Le Grenier.

We had a long drive to Amboise but knew we definitely wanted to stop at Oradour Sur Glane, and maybe a castle, too. 

We plotted our course and followed the signs to the A20 to Souillac and onward toward Limoges and Oradour sur Glane.  We kept ignoring the GPSs and arrived at the welcoming center for Oradour in good time.  It was a spectacularly beautiful sunshiny day.

We had read about the atrocities committed in this town in the Michelin Green Guide and didn't feel we had time to do justice to the museum so went directly to the ruins.  It's an incredibly sad place (I cried a lot).  We saw the church where the women and children were burned.  We saw the burned houses and businesses.  We walked toward the cemetery and husband noticed an entrance to a Memorial museum that had all the names of the victims and items that survived the massacre.  I mention it because it's easy to miss but so worth seeking out.  We walked through the cemetery and then made our way back to the entrance.  We bought a book that detailed the massacre and its aftermath and then were on our way.
On 10 June 1944, 642 inhabitants of Oradour sur Glane were savagely killed by Nazis.
The women and children took refuge in the church and were burned inside

This is the somewhat hidden entrance to the excellent museum on the site

The names of all those killed
They recovered some of the inhabitants things
We were not exactly in the right frame of mind to see a castle so just headed to Amboise but routing ourselves there was challenging.  We laid out our huge Michelin maps on the hood of the car and determined that we'd head toward Poitiers then get the A10 toward Tours.  We made the GPS take this way by putting in small towns along the route. 

The GPSs were brilliant in getting us directly to the door of La Grange Amboise (18 rue Chaptal).  I recognized the red door and rang the bell.  The proprietress, Ms. Yveline, opened up and husband maneuvered the car into the driveway in the pretty courtyard.  She was very nice but had very limited English and of course we have extremely limited French so not much conversation was possible.

She welcomed us, showed us around and allowed us to pick our room (we chose the one with the big bed!).  We were pleased with what we saw and knew we'd be comfortable for three nights.

Our room was a good size with quality furnishing. The bed was large and comfortable.  The bathroom was a good size, very clean, with hooks for towels, a basket for your toiletries in the shower stall, and Hansgrohe fixtures.  The room was not cluttered with dusty flowers or tchotchkes or non-functional things.  I really liked that! No TV.  Wi-Fi worked better downstairs than in our room. It was reasonable at E85 per night.

We refreshed and headed out to explore the town.  La Grange Amboise is very well situated for the old town--about 5 minutes walk and you're in the thick of things.  Stores were still open and husband was tempted by some gorgeous menswear offerings.  We also considered some kitchen accessories.  But we didn't buy anything (shocker!).

Our reservation at Chez Bruno (38-40 Place Michel Debre) was not until 8pm and with about 40 minutes to kill, we hung out at brightly lit bar a few doors down looking at the Castle.  The TV was showing rugby and the staff were very carefully cleaning everything.  Suitably refreshed, we went on over to Chez Bruno for dinner which was outstanding--it was completely packed while we were there.
Starters were escargot (husband) and onion soup.  Mains were fish (me) and veal in a flaky pastry (husband), dessert was pears and cream.  Everything was excellent, including the casually efficient service.  The waiters looked like "hipsters" but paid close attention to the customers.  We didn't have to ask for refills of bread or water, they noticed and took care of it.  One waiter reminded us of our cousin back home (sweet personality, cute).  We really enjoyed Chez Bruno and would have gone back but it was closed the rest of our time in Amboise.

 We took the long way back to the B&B for the night.

1. I'm thankful we were able to see Oradour sur Glane.  It represents "man's inhumanity to man" and must not be forgotten.
2. It's hard to feel frivolous enough to tour a castle after walking around a tragedy, and that's OK.
3. Learn more French!

Next: We see three castles

Friday, October 9, 2015


Day 7: Chateau Castelnaud, gabarres trip, Chateau Beynac, Chateau Milandes

This girl was ready to get inside some castles after days of prehistoric caves and cute towns.  It was a beautiful day--perfect clear skies, cool temps. 

First up was Castelnaud.  We loved this place.  It has obviously been reconstructed but was very impressive.  For future visitors, be aware that the parking lot is not a part of the castle, rather it's for the small town so you do have to pay to park.

We made our way to the entrance, paid our fee and took the brochure which guided us pretty well through the castle and displays.  There were maybe 10-20 other people about.  It's really a museum of medieval war with tons of weapons on display.  I had fun looking at all the trebuchets (catapults to me) and swords and imagining how I could use them to win the Game of Thrones!  The views from the keep and the lower terraces were spectacular.  Loved this place.

Castelnaud on its perch

We headed to Beynac because we really wanted to get on the river.  Of course, when we arrived, the gabarres were on lunch break (12-2) so we walked around the town a little, taking pictures, then bought sandwiches and drinks and took them to the river to eat.  At the appointed time, we bought our tickets and boarded the boat for the trip on the river. 

The guide gave us the English handout of what we'd be seeing because he spoke to the group in French.  The boat was about half full.  We were a bit disappointed because the boat just went from Beynac, under the bridge that the resistance used to hide ammunition during WWII, to the Chateau de Fayrac before turning back.  We thought it would get closer to Castelnaud.  Fayrac is not open to the public but was very picturesque and owned by "a couple from San Antonio." Must be nice!

Beynac from the water

Fayac from the water
Back in Beynac, we decided to tour the castle.  We drove up the hill and parked close to the entrance.  Almost no one was around.  We paid our fee and the ticket lady was too busy on the phone to offer us a guide, which we saw other people using once we got inside, so we used the scant information in the Michelin Green Guide to tour this place.  It's undergoing a 100 year long renovation. The views over the Dordogne were impressive.  But without the guide, it was hard to know what was what and what was there was a little faded (thus the renovation).  At any rate, we decided we could have skipped this castle (and maybe toured Marqueyssac instead).

Next up was Milandes.  On our first trip to Paris in 2003, the apartment we stayed in had CDs of Josephine Baker's music which we played every night.  She was something else! We wanted to see her home.

Milandes is much newer than the 13C Castelnaud and Beynac having been built in the late 1400's. It is fairy tale pretty and surrounded by gorgeous grounds.  We paid our entrance fee just after a large tour group that we never saw again--weird.  The guide brochure was very well done and there was also good signage in each room.  We enjoyed learning about the history of the house and Josephine Baker's story.  We liked that each room was decorated in her style. It's a beautiful place.  We bought a few things in the gift shop, wished the video playing was at least subtitled in English because the people watching it were enthralled, walked around the gardens saying hello to the gorgeous (sadly captive) birds of prey, had drinks in the café, and lingered.  It was a beautiful setting and still a beautiful day.

I didn't mention how much we enjoyed driving between these three places--the countryside in this area is spectacular, even though the roads were teeny.

As we left Milandes, we could see hot air ballons floating about.  We turned toward Marqueyssac and one was landing.  We parked and watched it for a bit and I walked up to the entrance to Marqueyssac, closed of course.  I encountered a few peacocks trying to relax after being bugged by tourists all day, took a few photos, and we headed back to Sarlat.

We had dinner reservations at L'Instant Delice (again).  It was quieter than the first time we dined there but the food was great again.  Husband had whole liver foie gras and a skewered salad while I had a veggie quiche like thing and salad for starters; husband had stewed goose with veggies and I had cepe ravioli for mains; he had stinky cheese; and we both had cakes for dessert.  Except for the dessert, we loved everything.  We enjoyed both our meals there--consistently good food, attentive non-intrusive service, comfortable environment. 

It was our last night so we walked all around Sarlat-le-Caneda taking pictures and feeling sad.  There was so much we didn't have time to do but we were happy to have scratched the surface of this incredibly beautiful and varied area of France.

1. Not all castles are worth touring.  I wish we'd have skipped Beynac and gone to Marqueyssac instead.
2. The gabarres trip from Beynac was just ok.  Maybe it's better starting from La Roque Gageac?
3. There's enough to do in the Dordogne area for weeks.
4. The weather and few tourists in October was wonderful. Sarlat was a perfect location for us.

Next: To Amboise we go, with a sad detour