Sunday, October 23, 2011

Paris and the South of France - July 2011


Dear Reader,
Come with us on a journey through time that will take you from the dark, shadowy world of the prehistoric cavemen, past the ruins of the Roman Empire, through the stone fortresses of medieval France, the elegant chateaux of the Renaissance, the revolutionary ideas of the Enlightenment, the devastating remnants of World War II, and into the modern glitz and glamour of the Cote d'Azur.

Bon Voyage!
Rob and Joan


Thursday, June 30
We'll always have Paris
Arrival in Paris, a Walk Along the Seine, and Jardin des Plantes

Paris had been our very first international trip together thirteen years ago, so it just felt right somehow that Rob and I should be arriving in the La Ville-Lumière on the morning of our tenth wedding anniversary.

Admittedly, we weren't feeling particularly festive as we landed. Our arrival was at the end of a twenty-hour journey from California. We had set three alarm clocks for 4:00 a.m. on June 29th, but both of us woke up a few minutes before they rang. We roused poor daughter, Libby, who took care of our house and menagerie for us during our trip, and she had us at the airport by 4:30...and I would like to add how great it was to fly right out of Bakersfield, instead of starting with our usual drive to Los Angeles!

The trip went as smoothly as could be, although I didn't sleep at all, but watched movies, listened to music, and read books on my brand new iPad. As we touched down in Paris, Edith Piaf was crooning LaVie en Rose into my headphones.

We landed at Charles deGaulle Airport at about 8 a.m. in the morning, changed a little money, and immediately caught the Roissy bus. It was rush hour, so the bus inched its way slowly along through the parade of Peugeots, Renaults, Citroens, and Bugattis that filled the highways. As we entered the outskirts of Paris, we drove through a working class neighborhood. This one was filled with rather shabby shops, an open air bazaar of both foods and clothing. There were quite a number of Muslim women wearing head scarves and long - but colorful - robes. Finally the white turrets of Sacré Coeur came into view, followed a few minutes later by our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.

The bus dropped us off right in front of the phantom's old haunt, the Garnier Opera House and we immediately headed for a local restaurant, L'Entreacte, where we had an absolutely delightful waitress. She didn't speak a word of English, but I was able to translate the menu for Rob and order a good (and typically French) breakfast of croissants, café crème, orange juice, and a nice ham omelet for Rob. I started to take Rob's photo and our waitress immediately came over and offered to take one of the both of us so our very first photo of the trip was a slightly blurry one of the two of us together! Très romantique, n'est-ce pas?
Jetlagged but happy at our first petit dejeuner in Paris

The frieze on the Garnier Opera House















After breakfast, we bought three-day metro passes and took the metro from the Opera to the Bastille (which is no longer a building but only a big commemorative pillar in the middle of a huge traffic intersection.)


The Bastille Monument
After a little confusion on the several streets radiating out from the pillar, we found the boulevard that led to our little Rue Castex and the Hotel Castex. We were greeted very pleasantly and - oh, happy day! - our room was already ready for us!  We had a little wrought iron trimmed window on the third floor that looked out on the the balconies of the apartments across the way - very Parisian.

Castex Hotel


The view from our room at the Castex Hotel
Rob in our window at the hotel.
We unpacked and showered - and had our one frustrating moment of the entire day when I discovered that I had lost the metro pass that we had just purchased. We looked through every little pocket of the luggage, but the ticket has just magically disappeared. I can only chalk it up to my extreme fatigue by this time. The bed looked awfully inviting, but I knew the only way to turn my internal clock around was to march on through the first day, so we set out immediately to do some exploring.

Where does one start to explore in a city that is crammed with memorable sights on every street corner? Our choices were made a little easier because we had visited all of the “must see” spots on our first trip here in 1999. This time, we chose the “road less traveled” for our first couple of day, and our first adventure was to one of the hidden gardens of Paris that we had learned about on one of Rick Steves’ radio podcasts.

The Seine River was just a few blocks from our hotel, so we crossed the river, getting our first view of Notre Dame, and a peek at the Eiffel Tower in the distance, then strolled along the river bank past a colorful little kids' playground and a series of very modernistic sculptures. The weather was perfect for walking...slightly cool, with blue skies and puffy clouds.

The back of Notre Dame
Parisian rooftops over the Seine

A tiny Eiffel Tower in the distance

A Parisian playground on the banks of the Seine

Rob on a walk along the Seine
Our destination was Le Jardin des Plantes, a huge formal garden surrounded by a zoo, and various botanical and natural history museums, including La Galerie d'Evolution.
Le Jardin des Plantes
Tucked into the far corner of the garden was the hidden treasure, le Jardin Alpin, or Alpine Garden. We walked down a ramp and through a tunnel lined with rooms containing piles of gardening tools, and emerged into the most charming little garden...shale rock paths criss-crossing through flower beds filled with blossoms, trees and willows shading the paths, and the smell of lavender filling the air.
Le Jardin Alpin - the Alpine Garde
I had ulterior motives for getting Rob here today…it was described in the podcast as “the most romantic place in Paris for a kiss,” and oo-la-la, it was!

A most romantic spot to spend our anniversary!
If I had a country home, this is the garden I would plant.

A hidden forest in the heart of Paris.
By now, we were really beginning to fade, so we walked back to the hotel (making a detour to the neighborhood patisserie for a luscious fruit tart), and took a short nap.
Rob and his seafood medley at
 Brasserie Bofinger

We ended our day at the Brasserie Bofinger, which .was very attractive, with white tablecloths, brass trim, crystal goblets reflecting the lights of the chandeliers, but we were disappointed with the service and the food. The waiters were professional but very formal. I was still a bit intimidated to use my poor high school French, so we selected dishes that looked familiar without being able to ask questions about the choices. I chose sole meunière, as this was the dish that first introduced Julia Child to the joys of French cooking. Sadly, if she had eaten this mushy and bland version, she might have ended up as a bored housewife! Rob had a seafood medley that looked very pretty, but included a blob of something unrecognizable – and inedible - that was dyed black with squid ink. Ah, well, why do we travel if not to experience new things?!







Happily, this was NOT a hint of things to come. Some of the meals that follow in this tale were quite spectacular!


Friday, July 1
A Day with Friends
Montmartre, Sacré Coeur, Place des Vosges

In a happy coincidence, our good friends, Tom and Barbara, were also visiting Paris! Tom is a cartographer and was there for a big mapmakers’ convention, so they had rented an apartment for a month in the Montmartre neighborhood. We had sent a flurry of email messages the previous day (thank goodness for the internet!), and finally settled on a time and place to meet. Being an excellent cartographer, Tom sent us perfect instructions for the metro from Bastille to the Montmartre area.

J'aime le metro de Paris! It is convenient and inexpensive, and it delivers you to within walking distance of any place in the city you could possibly wish to visit. It is also a great opportunity for people-watching. The tunnels serve as mini-concert halls echoing the sounds of street entertainers. At one stop, a woman stepped on board our car, set up her karaoke machine and started serenading the crowd. Some passengers were memorably Gallic – a rail-thin man with a large hooked nose looked like a character right out of a Disney animated film; another, a stereotypical European professor, with a mane of silver hair and a rumpled suit and battered briefcase. I eavesdropped with abandon, rapidly improving my French comprehension, and did my best to look bored, chic, and non-touristy. (The French I encountered were very gracious and friendly, but they didn’t go around grinning at strangers the way we sometimes do!)
Karaoke on the Metro

Rob, Tom, and Luis in Montmartre
We met Barb and Tom near the iconic red windmill of the Moulin Rouge and started up the steep hills of Montmartre toward Sacré Coeur. As we walked, we were approached by a cute young man, Luis from Cuba,who was not sure how to get to the Basilica. He turned out to be a delightful companion and joined us for the rest of the morning. He was 17 and now living and going to college in Miami, studying the classics...Greek, Latin, and literature...AND was fluent in English and French!  I had to laugh at Barbara. She took him under her wing, and by the time we parted, they were life-long buddies, friends on Facebook, exchanging emails, etc. Barbara is the greatest social butterfly of my acquaintance… out almost every night at a club, party, movie. I really admire her ability to connect with people!

La Basilique du Sacre Coeur
Sacré Coeur, perched on a hill overlooking the city and gleaming white in the sunlight, is one of my favorite buildings in the world. Our first views of the church were obscured by a massive ramp for the filming of some “extreme jump” event, but we worked our way around the crowd and went inside. The interior displayed the typical grandeur of most European cathedrals, (ho hum…have I really traveled enough that I am getting blasé about cathedrals?), but the great adventure of the day was climbing the narrow spiral staircase 300 steps to the dome, which afforded us 3600 views of the city far below. Rob naturally loved the good workout on the way up – and I thoroughly enjoyed the 300 steps DOWN!
Rob, Joan, Barbara, and Tom at Sacre Coeur

Six of the 300 steps to the top of the dome of Sacre Coeur

La Defense in the distance -
the modern Paris that most tourists don't visit

Rob and Joan in the done of Sacre Coeur
The next stop was the Place de Tertre, a little square below the church. It has a distinguished history - a place where Parisian artists such as Toulouse Lautrec used to hang out. It is now a tourist mecca filled with street artists painting thousands of versions of Le Tour Eiffel in dozens of different artistic styles, but the square is fun and full of color.
Barbara, Luis, and Rob at Place de Tertre

Place de Tertre
In Paris, even the cemeteries are notable attractions, in part because they are filled with interesting tombstones, but mostly because they are filled with interesting people! Although Cimetière Pere Lachaise is the most famous, primarily as the final resting place of Jim Morrison, Tom and Barbara wanted to pay a visit to the Cimetière Montmartre. Alas, Tom’s legendary directional skills failed him for once and we spent over half an hour walking all the way ‘round the high walls of the huge cemetery until we returned almost to our original starting place and finally found the entrance. But the neighborhood was pleasant, and we all chattered away the entire time, enjoying our visit together.
The map at the entrance marked the locations of the notable occupants, including Edgar Degas, Alexandre Dumas, Hector Berlioz, Vaslav Nijinsky, Francois Truffaut.  We were pretty worn out by our earlier climb and our recent trek, so we just wandered a little way into the maze of ancient tombs and mausoleums. One tombstone had 18 generations listed on it!
Cimetière Montmartre
We ended our visit at a busy sidewalk café and made promises to visit again a little closer to home.
Barbara and Tom
Rob and Joan
Rob and I took the metro to St. Michel and the Latin Quarter, where we enjoyed a cheap, but tasty, gyro in one of the many Greek restaurants that line these streets...
Greek fast food in the Latin Quarter
...then we walked the long way back to our hotel past the gorgeous Hotel de Ville (City Hall) and the modernistic Pompidou Centre, which houses a modern art collection. We were thoroughly worn out from a long morning filled with walking, so we collapsed for a nap before heading out in the late afternoon.
Hotel de Ville (City Hall)

Pompidou Centre - Museum of Modern Art
Hotel Castex is in the Marais district, the old Jewish quarter of Paris, and also the home of the Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris, built by King Henri IV in the early 1600s, a lovely park lined by formal brick buildings that used to house the king and members of his court, and later such notables as Cardinal Richelieu and Victor Hugo. Most people in the city live in apartments with no yards, so the park was filled with Parisians sprawled on the grass enjoying the gorgeous summer weather.
Entrance to Place des Vosges

Parisians enjoying the Place des Vosges

Last night had been our actual anniversary, but knowing how jet-lagged we would be the first evening, we had planned our anniversary dinner for tonight…and what a special dinner it turned out to be! Prior to the trip, I had searched the internet for an authentic Parisian bistro, someplace beloved of the locals, and had settled on Le Bistrot des Comperes, just a short walk from our hotel.

We were greeted with an enthusiastic "Happy Birthday!" (It turns out that “happy birthday” in French is joyeux anniversaire, so my comment when making the reservation that it was an anniversary dinner was misinterpreted.)  Our waiter was a darling young man named Kevin.  We had arrived at 6:30 p.m., about an hour earlier that the usual dinner crowd, so we had plenty of time to visit with him. He spoke English quite well, and by the end of the meal, we were chatting away like old friends. He was amazed by stories of Lily, our parrot. (If I had been Barbara, I would have had him on my Facebook friends list before we left!)
Our waiter, Kevin, in on the right.
Les Bistrot des Comperes - great restaurant
Dinner was delicious, the staff was delightful, the bill was very reasonable, and I got the sweetest card from Rob…an altogether wonderful anniversary dinner! We walked home at 8:45 with the sun still shining brightly and feeling thoroughly happy!


Saturday, July 2
The Paris Catacombs, Musée Carnivalet, and Meeting our Tour Group


Rob and I woke after a very good night’s sleep.  Today was the last day “on our own” before joining our tour companions in the evening.


Once again, we were exploring a new corner of Paris, taking the metro to the Montparnasse area and the famous Paris Catacombs.  We had been warned that there would be a line. Arriving only 15 minutes after the opening hour of 10:00 a.m., the line was already nearly around the block.  It took a full hour and a half to reach the entrance, but it turned out to be a delightful morning because of a group of college kids standing right behind us in the line.  They were on a summer abroad program from BYU, visiting businesses around the world to observe international business practices.   They were smart, interesting, darling kids and we all chattered away like old friends.
Our new friends...BYU students in line at the Catacombs
The catacombs were fascinating…and bizarre!   Only a few people are allowed to enter at a time, so in spite of the long lines, Rob and I entered the passageways alone.  We walked down, down, down a narrow stone staircase then through a long series of cool stone passageways...just higher than Rob's head and scorched with the lantern lights of those who preceded us in earlier centuries. 

The long passage into the Catacombs

Rob descending into the Catacombs

We came across some religious carvings in the rocks,
Sculptures carved into the walls of the catacombs
and finally reached the entrance to the ossuary, with its eerie message, Arrete!  C'est ici l'empire de la mort.

Stop!  Here is the Empire of Death

The empire of death indeed!  What followed were room after room of the stacked bones of around six million souls who had once filled the ancient cemeteries of Paris.  The poor of Paris were often buried in mass graves, and the cemeteries had become reeking pools of stench, decay, and disease.  In 1786, the government decided to make use of the old stone mines outside the city gates and began the task of moving the bones to the deep chambers in a parade of wagons that condinued for years.

But what makes these catacombs so remarkable is the care with which these bones are displayed.  In 1810, Louis-Etienne Hericart de Thury, the General Inspector of Quarries, began the project of creating a fitting place of rest.  The bones are stacked in decorative rows of skulls, femurs, and tibia, with the millions of smaller bones piled high behind the formal facades.  On the walls are plaques commemorating the date and original resting place of the bones in each chamber, and between the chambers are poems reminding the visitor of the ephemeral and fleeting nature of life.  The final chambers before the long staircase back to the surface gleamed with the constant drip of water seeping through the earth and weeping for the dead.  It was a very somber and moving experience.

Some of the millions upon millions of bones
in the Catacombs.
Lunch was a much cheerier affair…Croque Monsieur at an outdoor café under sunny blue skies.  We sat for almost an hour, people watching.  I played a game with myself of trying to guess which of the passers-by were locals and which were tourists.  The woman with the huge suitcase and frantic look…definitely tourist.  Handsome young man with stylish long hair and cigarette dangling from his mouth…definitely local.


Entrance to Musee Carnivalet
We rode the metro back to our Marais neighborhood and the Musée Carnavalet, the museum of the city of Paris.  It is the oldest museum in Paris, in a lovely old building, and filled with artifacts and art from the 17th through the 20th century.  The upper floor was devoted almost entirely to the French Revolution and did not shrink from describing the horrors of that bloodiest of revolutions.  As we wandered through the rooms, jet lag suddenly set in with a vengeance and we headed back to our nearby hotel for a nap.  While Rob slept, I went out on my own to get toothpaste and conditioner at the local Monoprix, the Parisian version of Target.  As I left the store onto Rue St. Antoine, I was amazed to see pedaling toward me from the Place de la Bastille hundreds of bicyclists, many wearing costumes, (one with an Eiffel Tower on his head), playing music on kazoos and other noisemakers, bouncing and dancing on their seats, and generally making merry.  Wouldn’t you know!  It was one of the few times on the trip that I didn’t carry my camera…but it was a sight to preserve in memory!
Gardens of the Hotel Sully

We went down at 4:45 to meet our fellow travelers.  Rolinka Bloeming, a lovely slender blonde, originally from the Netherlands but now a resident of Paris, would be our guide for the next 12 days.  We all introduced ourselves, then we walked as a group through the Marais, with another stop at the Place des Vosges and a visit to Hotel de Sully, a beautiful old Renaissance residence.

Garden decoration at Hotel Sully

We love the many flower shops and outdoor fruit and veggie stands.












As we walked through the Marais, we enjoyed the sights of a French neighborhood, the shops, patisseries, charcouteries, fruit and vegetable stands, flower stands...and even little petrol stations that sit right on the sidewalks!
Gas stations on the sidewalk




















































Along the Rue St. Antoine, the earlier bicyclists had been replaced by trucks filled with swat team police, dressing into battle gear.  Apparently the little parade earlier in the day had been some sort of protest.  Rolinka explained that every demonstration in Paris starts at the Place de la Bastille, the site of the beginning of the Revolution.



Our first tour group dinner








Our walk ended with our first group dinner.  What a lovely surprise to discover that we were returning to Le Bistrot des Comperes!  Kevin, our darling waiter from the night before, was still there and I surprised our group when we greeted each other with a friendly kiss on each cheek.  I have to admit, I felt just a bit smug at entering the restaurant like a local!
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Sunday, July 3  
Sainte Chappelle, Notre Dame, Musée Orsay
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Today marked the first full day of our Rick Steves Tour of Paris and the South of France.  With all due respect to a friend of mine who was told by someone he met in Europe that “Rick Steves gets it wrong,” I must agreeably disagree.  We have traveled with his company before and have found his guidebooks to be extremely helpful when we travel in Europe on our own.  His guides are organized, friendly, and knowledgeable, the groups are kept small (with full size modern buses, so each of us had two seats if we wanted for sprawling out and resting), our hotels were charming and comfortable, and best of all, each day is a perfect mix of guided time with the group (which saves on lines and costs of the “tourist sites”), and plenty of time to wander on our own and explore the more hidden gems in each location.


Rolinka's orientation outside Sainte Chappelle
I have to admit, there are a few downsides to being on a tour.  We had to wake to an alarm at 7:30 this morning to be ready for an 8:30 departure...and breakfast was followed by what was, for us, an unnecessary orientation on logistics like how to navigate the metro.  (One of the Rick Steves’ goals is to help people learn to travel on their own…but if you already have that knowledge, this initial orientation can be a little tedious.)  But by 9:00, we were on the move and headed into the metro for our first stop in Place St. Michel.
Place St. Michel




Saint Michael slaying the dragon

Sainte Chappelle
The downstairs sanctuary at Sainte Chappelle










Then we moved on the Ile de la Cité and the spectacular Sainte Chappelle.  This cathedral was built by Louis IX in the mid-1200’s to house what he believed was the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus at his crucifixion.  Unlike many of the European cathedrals, which are now bare marble and concrete pillars and walls, the walls of the downstairs chapel are still painted in the vivid colors of the medieval times. 
Medieval colors in the chapel.


The windows of Sainte Chappelle
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But the real glory is displayed upstairs.  We walked up the narrow stone staircase and emerged into a long chamber filled with light pouring in through walls made almost entirely of tall glowing stained glass…70% of which is still original! 

Upstairs chapel
Photos can't do these windows justice!

Notre Dame
After our own private meditations inside Sainte Chappelle, our group met in the courtyard outside and walked the couple of blocks to the Queen of Cathedrals, Notre Dame de Paris, whose origins date all the way back to 1163!  Here we appreciated one of the benefits of being on a tour.  Although we had visited this famous spot before, we had not understood or appreciated all that we were seeing.  
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Rolinka explained the Judgment Day façade over the doors of the cathedral, with the souls of the saved on one side looking up at Christ, and the damned chained in an unhappy line walking away from him. 
Christ and the Judgment

St. Denis carrying his head






































We also learned the fascinating story of St. Denis, the patron saint of Paris, who, legend says, walked six kilometers holding his own head (removed from his body by the Romans) before finally dropping dead.
The restored statues of the saints






























For me, the most interesting story was that of the statues of the saints that stand in a row along the façade.  Apparently, some of the more radical of the Revolutionaries took them for statues of hated French kings and tore them off the building.  In more peaceful times, replicas of the originals were placed back on the cathedral, but those first statues were thought destroyed and gone forever until a man digging in his garden one day came across a buried pile of the heads of the original statues!  He reported it to the government, which thought at first that it was a prank, but he persisted, and an investigation found the discovery to be authentic!

The gargoyles of Notre Dame - but no Hunchback!
Notre Dame

Our group (and others) waiting outside Notre Dame






Statue of Charlemagne in the courtyard
beside Notre Dame Cathedral







The flying buttresses of Notre Dame






Deportation Memorial

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The line to go inside the cathedral was very long, so Rob and I walked around behind the Cathedral to one of the lesser known sites in Paris, the stark Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, which stands at the very tip of the Ile de la Cité. We were only allowed in a very few people at a time, and signs reminded us to view in silence the long narrow cavern lined with thousands of little lights which honor the 200,000 Parisians deported to concentration camps by the Nazis.

When we returned to the courtyard in front of Notre Dame, the line was much shorter, so we entered the cathedral.  It was Sunday, and mass was being held, so the interior was crowded with worshippers.  We worked our way very slowly through the crowd around the perimeter of the church.  I was feeling a little claustrophobic and frustrated, when suddenly the organ started and the choir master led the congregation in a beautiful hymn that filled the huge space with gorgeous music.  My mood lifted and I stood for the remainder of the hymn just looking up into the soaring arches and soaking up the sound.
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Rob in the bird market.
Rob and I were a little early to meet the rest of the group, so we also walked over to the nearby flower market that always holds a Sunday bird sale and looked at the colorful parrots, then we returned to Notre Dame where I ensured my return to Paris by standing on Point Zero, the point in front of the cathedral from which all distances in France are measured.
My feet on Point Zero - ensuring my return to Paris!












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We rejoined our group and walked past the famous 1920s hang-out of Ernest Hemingway - Shakespeare and Company Bookstore –

The crowded Latin Quarter




















then through the very touristy Latin Quarter
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and on to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where we stopped at a Paul Sandwich Shop to buy picnic sandwiches which we ate in a little courtyard in the shadow of the oldest church in Paris, which gives its name to this neighborhood.  Buying the sandwiches was a mini-adventure, as the ladies behind the counter spoke no English and hurried us along with no time to ask questions or look carefully at the selections, so we all just pointed and gestured and hoped we ended up with something we enjoyed, but the sandwiches turned out to be delicious. 
Rob, Bill, and Diane feed the pigeons


The picnic was a nice respite from our busy schedule and Rob and I enjoyed getting to know Bill and Dianne from Illinois as we fed the flock of pigeons that had gathered the minute we showed up.  
Picnic in the shadow of St. Germain



Musée Orsay
After lunch, we continued our walk to the great museum of Impressionism, the Musée Orsay, which was built in the beautiful buildings of the old Gare Orsay train station.

Impressionism is my personal favorite period of art, and the rooms here were filled with some of my best-loved painters: Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, Lautrec, Gauguin, Manet, Cezanne, Seurat.  The museum is undergoing some renovations, so it was a bit more crowded than I remembered, but it is still easy to navigate.  By late afternoon, Rob and I were exhausted and had to go back to the hotel to rest.  I was torn…it was a gorgeous sunny day, there was still so much to see in Paris, and our time in the city was growing short, but I guess there is only so much you can do.  
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Margaret, Bill, and Rob
We perked up after our nap and met up with some others in the Castex lobby and went to dinner together...Bill and Dianne, Margaret and Tim from New Jersey, and Blayne and his son Andrew from Seattle.  After some exploring, we found a cute bistro where we enjoyed good salad and fun company, (although Bill wasn’t too thrilled with his whole fish with head still attached!)  And just as we were finishing up, a troupe of street entertainers put on a lively show of drums and acrobatics.  A fun ending to another great day!
Street entertainers in the Marais neighborhood




Monday, July 4
The Louvre,  Jardin de Tuileries, Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe
and an evening in Montmartre


We woke to another day of perfect weather and immediately after breakfast departed for our guided tour of the Louvre (which, by the way, Rolinka pronounced with the distinct sound of “vre” at the end of the word…not the abbreviated “Loov” that many of us seem to say).  From the metro, we ascended into the large courtyard with a great view of the entire mall. From the Louvre Palace with its famous glass pyramid, we could look through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel that mirrors the larger and more famous Arc de Triomphe d’Etoile standing way off in the distance beyond the Jardin de Tuileries and the Champs-Élysées.
The Pyramid of the Louvre
Arc de Carrousel near the entrance of the Louvre
We entered the Louvre, not through the pyramid’s entrance with its very long lines, but through one of the two "secret staircases" on both the right and the left of the arch. 

Our Louvre guide, Vincent
After checking our bags through security, we met Vincent, our guide, in the large open lobby which is lit by sunlight coming in through the pyramid above. 
Under the Pyramid


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The walls of Napoleon's apartments





Of course, the Louvre did not begin as a museum.  It was the palace used by a number of kings and queens until Louis XIV moved his court to Versailles in 1682.  The palace wasn’t used again as a residence until the 1870’s when Napoleon decided it would be an appropriately grand location from which he could rule his empire.  We started our tour in his apartments, which were  as lavish and ornate as you might expect from the little General, with gilded decorations on the walls,  gold filigree and paintings on the ceilings, rich tapestries, Chinese vases, fine furniture, including these interesting “gossip chairs” from which ladies of the court could share news of their juicy scandals.


Napoleon's "living room"









"Gossip Chair"


From the windows of the palace, we could see the very long line snaking through the courtyard and into the Pyramid entrance. 
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We continued through rooms filled with cases filled with thousands of objets d’art,.  I snapped photos right, left, and center and included a few of my favorites below, including a vase used by one of my favorite historical characters, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and a cabinet holding both the crown of Charlemagne and the crown that Napoleon had used to crown himself emperor. 
The vase on the right belonged to Eleanor of Aquitaine
Crystal container














Decorated nautilus shell








Charlemagne's crown sits next to Napoleon's crown
















Winged Victory


















































We then made our way past another of my personal favorites, Winged Victory, and into the Grand Gallery.  I still remember the thrill I got on my first visit to the Louvre in 1970 seeing this beautiful sculpture, already so familiar to me from school studies of the Greek myths. 


I loved seeing this part of the Louvre with a guide. The collections are so vast and overwhelming that it was quite an advantage to have someone who could take us immediately to the most noteworthy sights and share information about the artists or the history.  So many of the paintings were familiar from art history classes and books...what a thrill to see them in person!

The Consecration of Napoleon and the Coronation of
Empress Josephine by Jacques-Louis David



La Grande Odalisque by Ingres





Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix








The crowd paying homage to Mona Lisa









































































The crowd around the Mona Lisa was almost laughable.  We didn't even try to approach the painting – what a contrast with my first visit so long ago, when I walked through an almost empty room to pay my respects to the mysterious lady.  We learned from Vincent that Leonardo probably melded the face of La Giaconda with that of his male lover, and that that same blending was also used as the face of John the Baptist in another of the paintings we saw.

Venus de Milo
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The last hallway contained Greek and Roman statues, including The Slave by Michealangelo and the Venus de Milo and her fully armed twin. I wonder why the armless version gets so much more attention.

The Slave by Michaelangelo



After the tour, we were on our own for the rest of the afternoon. Rob and I got lunch at a Paul Sandwich stand just above the entrance to Jardin de Tuileries, (camembert cheese with sesame baguette for me, and tuna sandwich for him), where Rob naturally made friends with a darling big dog, who sat very patiently waiting for handouts.  

Looking back at the Louvre and Arc de Carrousel













We followed lunch with a very pleasant stroll through Tuileries Gardens toward the Champs-Élysées. 

The Eiffel Tower from Jardin de Tuileries


The Obelisk at Place de la Concorde












Fancy lamppost of Paris

Fountain at Place de la Concorde



Shopping on the Champs-Élysées. 












































Rob was in dire need of some more comfortable walking shoes, and Rolinka had directed us to the Adidas store on the Champs-Élysées, where he found exactly what he needed.

Rob and Joan at the Arc de Triomphe
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We ended our walk at the Arc de Triomphe and got some photos but just didn’t have the energy to climb to the top.  Instead we took the very crowded Line 1 of the metro back to our hotel for a nice nap.  (Hmmm, I’m beginning to think I’m getting older.  Once upon a time, we would have climbed the steps for the views!)

Abbesses Metro Station

That evening was a special treat.  Rolinka and her husband have an apartment in Montmarte which they sometimes rent out, but it was vacant at the moment, so she invited all of us to come for a glass of wine and a look at a real Parisian home.  Rob was ready for a little “down time, “ so I left him at the hotel and took the metro up to the Abbesses station, one of only three remaining original art nouveau stations left in the city, where the group was asked to meet.
Rolinka and our tour group































































The "I Love You" wall in Montmartre
Rolinka gave us a wonderful walking tour of the whole Montmartre neighborhood.  We started in a little neighborhood park with a large blue tile wall covered with “I Love You” in hundreds of neighborhoods.  We had each been assigned a partner for the tour (to ensure that no one was ever missing when we departed for our next location) so this was a perfect spot for photos with our new “buddy.”

Jeg Elsker Deg - I love you in Norwegian




Sacre Coeur

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Some of the sights of Montmartre included new glimpses of Sacré Coeur above us, Le Clos Montmartre, the only vineyard in Paris, (which Rolinka said has a great history but makes terrible wine), the Lapin Agile, a little café made famous by Picasso’s painting and Steve Martin’s play, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” (which I had seen several years ago without realizing that it is a real place!), several art studios which had been used by many of those early 20th century painters, and an odd little sculpture of a man emerging from a wall.  We learned that it was based on a short story, “The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls,” by French writer Marcel Aymé.  (The story is quite fun.  You can find it on the internet.)
We learn about the artists who hung out in Montmartre

The Washing Boat - artists' studio

Another artists' studio

Le Moulin de Galette -
one of the old windmills of Montmartre

The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls

These guys invited us to a party as we passed by.

The Agile Rabbit


The steep hills of Montmartre
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Rolinka’s apartment was charming…a tiny downstairs leading out into a rather wild garden, and a large cozy upstairs withkitchen, sitting rooms, and bedroom.  We sat and visited for an hour or so, enjoying the wonderful Kir Royale and snacks she had prepared for us.
The group in Rolinka's garden

Aminah and Margaret

Rolinka, Adrian, Carolyn, Margaret, David, and Tom

Kelsey, Mikie, Pat, Joan, Justine, and Marie

Bill and Tom visit in the kitchen

Heading back on the metro.























































































































































































Pat and Ronnie and I came home together on a very crowded metro, and I found Rob back at the hotel, back from his own pleasant evening of sitting in a bistro people-watching and visiting with some of the locals.
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He and I spent the last few minutes of the evening packing up our bags in preparation for leaving Paris and heading south for new adventures.
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Tuesday, July 5
Loire Valley, Amboise, Clos Lucé, Chenonceau, and Hotel Diderot in Chinon
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Joan in the courtyard of Hotel Castex
This morning, we bid adieu to Paris.  Our bus arrived at 8:00 a.m. and we immediately headed south to discover a quite different side of France.  There were a few glimpses of modern life along the way…the occasional cones of nuclear power plants off in the distance, the first in a series of quite wonderful “truck stops” with sparkling clean (and free!) restrooms, a deli counter and general store…but for the most part we were surrounded by a rural landscape filled with little stone villages, deciduous forests, wide open meadows, and many fields of sunflowers in full bloom. 





Our destination was the Loire Valley, with its many chateaux.  I was especially excited about this part of the trip as this region had been on my “Places to See Before I am Old and Doddering” List for many years.  We arrived in Amboise around 11:00 a.m. 

All the ladies of the tour
Rolinka had Philippe, our driver, stop outside the city first, and told all the women to get off the bus and come with her while the men were restricted to the bus.  Intrigued, we followed her down the slope to the river where we discovered a huge, nude statue of Leonardo DaVinci lounging on the riverbank.  Leonardo had spent the last three years of his life, from 1516 to 1519, living in Amboise at the invitation of Francois I, the King of France, who lived at the time in the beautiful castle perched on the cliffs across the river from us. 
Joan and Leonardo





We all giggled like schoolgirls as we took turns climbing into Leo’s ample lap for photos, and returned to the bus under strict instructions not to share our adventure with our husbands, although our photos eventually betrayed us.
The Chateau of Amboise













We were given about three hours to have lunch and explore Amboise on our own.  Rob decided to wander around the town, so I joined the group that headed up the hill to Clos Lucé, Leonardo’s residence. 

The street leading to the small chateau was fascinating.  It followed along the base of the large limestone hill on the outskirts of the town, and along the way, we could see doorways leading into homes built right into the walls of the cliff.  You can read about these troglodyte homes at this link:  http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/A-Tour-of-Frances-Cave-Homes.html

Troglodyte home in Amboise
Troglodyte home








Troglodyte home
Clos Lucé
At the top of the hill, we walked through an unassuming gate into the wonderful grounds of Clos Lucé.  I started with a tour of the interior of the lovely red brick chateau, enchanted by the knowledge that I was wandering through rooms where Leonardo DaVinci, one of my most admired figures, had actually lived and worked.  He had been a favorite of Francois I, and legend holds that he died in the young king’s arms. 
Leonardo dying in the King's arms.

Bedroom

Portrait of Lady with African grey parrot

The study

This girl was serving tidbits from Renaissance times.
The basement  of the house was filled with models of some of his many inventions and some of these were duplicated life-sized outside in the extensive gardens.  I spent a happy hour just wandering through the grounds by myself, admiring the ponds, the flowers, the vegetable gardens, and the various bridges and machines scattered here and there.
Leonardo's flying machine

Parachute

Catapult

Another of Leonardo's inventions


Still more machines from Leonardo's fertile imagination.

Joan on the walls above Leonardo's gardens.

Children play with a model of another flying device.

Just think!  Leonardo actually worked in these gardens!

Leonardo's double-decker bridge

One of his many war machines.





















Rob and Joan in front of Chenonceau Chateau




























































































































Our group met again in the center of town, and we continued on to our second stop, the chateau of Chenonceau, which is distinguished by the arched bridge that spans the Cher River.

Chenonceau












We learned on our tour of the chateau that it is known as the Chateau of Women because of the number of royal mistresses and queens who had lived here.  One of the first in this line of women was Diane de Poitiers, mistress of King Henri II.  She loved it here and is responsible for beginning the beautiful gardens that surround the chateau, as well as the passageway over the river, now known as Pont de Diane, or Diane’s Bridge.  Diane was quite a woman.  History records that she jumped naked from her window into the river at 6 a.m. every morning...both winter and summer…then, still unclothed, rode her horse for an hour, before returning to her bed until noon.
Pont de Diane - Diane's Bridge





Unfortunately for Diane, Henri’s wife was the infamous Catherine de Medici, and as soon as Henri died, Catherine had her rival thrown out of the chateau and moved in herself, making additional improvements to the building and gardens.
The Gardens of Chenonceau
Tower of Chenonceau

The dark bedroom of Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont
The most tragic inhabitant was undoubtedly Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont, Catherine’s daughter-in-law.  Her husband, King Henri III was assassinated, and she went into a deep and life-long mourning, covering the chateau’s interior walls with black tapestries and living in darkness.  We visited her bedroom, which has been restored to show the gloomy atmosphere she imposed on herself.  The rest of the chateau was lovely, though, filled with beautiful Renaissance furnishings and fresh flowers.

The hallway inside the Pont de Diane

Salamandar fireplace in Chenonceau

Bedroom in Chenonceau

Another gorgeous fireplace

Floral decorations in Chenonceau












Chenonceau did a good job disguising the restoration work.


Rob napping on the grounds of Chenonceau














Rob in the sunflowers






























The day was quite warm and Rob and I rested by the river for a while before departing for our final destination of the day, the village of Chinon. 




























 Along the way, our bus stopped by one of the many bright fields of sunflowers, which were in full bloom all over the countryside.
Rob and Joan



















The castle above the town of Chinon













The town of Chinon, like Amboise, had a large castle perched on the hill overlooking the town.  What a treat waited for us at the end of the day!  At the back of a large gravel courtyard stood the Hotel Diderot, which had begun life as a 14th century monastery.  The only remnants of the original building are the large dark beams of the dining room, but it was delightful staying in a building with such a long history.
Rob at the gates of Hotel Diderot



We arrive at the Hotel Diderot


The lobby of the Hotel Diderot














Our cheery room at the Hotel Diderot










































































Our second story room was small but cheerful, with a flowerbox filled with blossoms outside the window and a view of the town beyond.
Our window flowerbox




Courtyard of the Hotel Diderot

















































David, Susan, Rob, and Joan at dinner




After settling in, we all walked through a light drizzle to our final treat of the day – a delicious French dinner at the Oceania Restaurant, followed by a unique frothy dessert of spun sugar and a surprise visit from Rick Steves himself, who happened to be staying the Hotel Diderot while doing his annual guidebook research. 

A gorgeous (and delicious) dinner in Chinon



A surprise visit from Rick Steves












French cotton candy for dessert!


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Wednesday, July 6
Villandry, Azay-le-Rideau, Wine Tasting

Dianne, Rob, and Bill in the Hotel Diderot breakfast room
Our day got off to a wonderful start with a traditional French breakfast from baskets full of baguettes and croissants, an array of the hotel’s homemade jams...rhubarb with citron, framboises, fraises, red currant...and logs of fresh goat cheese, local yogurt, chopped fresh fruit, tea or coffee.  The atmosphere in the large dining room was as good as the food, as we all chatted away like old friends, surrounded by the huge hand-hewn beams and stone walls of the ancient room.
The ancient dining room of Hotel Diderot






















Chateau Villandry
I had expected Chenonceau to be my favorite of the three chateaus on our agenda.  What a surprise to discover that it came in at third place!  Our first stop of the morning, just a short bus trip from Chinon, was Villandry, a large grey stone castle, surrounded by acres of gardens laid out in geometric designs formed by shrubs and flowers.  The tour of the chateau started in a small theater with a video of the gardens throughout the seasons of the year.  The film was quite charming, with silhouettes of leaves, swans, birds, and flowers gliding across the screen dragging new scenes behind them.

Our bus trip that morning had started with the heaviest rain of the trip so far, but we walked out of the theater under cloudy but dry skies.  Rob and I headed directly up to the roof for the aerial views of the gardens before touring the inside of the chateau.

Rob and Joan on the roof of Chateau Villandry


The formal gardens

The lavendar beds

This garden reminded me of something out of Alice in Wonderland

Another spiral staircase

Fresh flowers from the gardens

Villandry bedroom

A puppet theater and doll house of the chateau






The vegetable garden and garden house











After browsing through the castle, we finally stepped out into the glorious gardens themselves.  I snapped photos like a maniac, finding every view prettier than the last.  We speny a full hour just wandering around the grounds, strolling through the grape arbor, admiring the lavender that filled the air with its perfume, and laughing at the big carp that swam over looking for a handout.  By the time we left, the clouds had drifted away and the flowers were glowing in the sunlight.

The gardens of Villandry

Not all the flower beds were in bloom
but these blossoms were flourishing.



Chateau Villandry across the lavender


The village church

The grape arbor

Hungry carp looking for a handout

Kelsey and Mikie on the bridge of Villandry





Joan in the garden
Rob in the Grape Arbor








Rob and Joan at Villandry










Our darling chauffeur, Philippe




Chateau Azay-le-Rideau








































































































































































































































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The next stop was Chateau d’Azay-Le-Rideau, another lovely chateau at the edge of a cute little town.  It’s a tough call, but I think I liked this one the best of all...it was smaller and more "livable,” than the other two, looking more like a grand country home than a castle.  It was built right on the banks of a large reflecting pool and surrounded by green woods. 


Chateau Azay-le-Rideau...I think we could happily live here!

The beautiful woods around the chateau












The blacksmith's shop

Joan by the river that flows through the grounds of Azay-le-Rideau

Carriages and the guest house
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The rooms of Azay-le-Rideau were beautifully furnished, with the salamander, the emblem of King Francois I, prominently displayed on walls and fireplaces.
Salamandars decorate the walls...

...and the fireplaces of the chateau

A parlor of the chateau


Balzac Street
After our tour of the chateau, we walked down Rue Balzac into the little village and had lunch with Pat and Ronnie, two of our tour companions, at a little outdoor cafe standing beside a small grey Romanesque church.  My French had been gradually improving throughout our trip, but today I was having a bit of trouble.  Rob and I decided on omelets for lunch, but I kept fumbling the order.  I either didn’t know the right word, or I would throw in a Norwegian word in place of a French word (my usual default when I’m speaking another language and can’t remember the correct word).  I was getting more and more embarrassed and finally said to the very patient waiter, “Excusez moi, s’il vous plait.  Je parle Francais tres mal.”  ("Please excuse me.  I speak French very badly.”)  He looked down at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Moi aussi!”  (Me, too!) 

We made a quick stop in the little church to see the statue of Joan of Arc, then walked through the very pretty little village to get on the bus for the drive back to Chinon. 
The Romanesque Church of Azay-le-Rideau





Statue of Joan of Arc in the church











A beautiful village

Every town was filled with flowers




Andrew and Rob finally get their tour buddy photo!












Rob up in our room

Waving from the window











































































































































When we got back to Hotel Diderot, Rob went up to our room for a nice nap, (after making friends with the hotel's kitty), while I explored the town. 
A Rob magnet.  He never met an animal he didn't like.





The elevator up to the castle of Chinon





































I took the glass-fronted elevator up to the castle that sits on the cliffs overlooking the village and the countryside beyond.  There was a fee to enter the castle, and I had neglected to bring any money, so I missed the exhibit dedicated to the Maid of Orleans, who met with Charles VII in this very spot and convinced him to place her at the head of his army.
The castle tower in the distance.
Joan of Arc met with the Dauphin Charles here.













I walked down the hill and strolled along the river, stopping to pay my respects to Rabelais, who once lived in Chinon, and Joan of Arc, who was busy trampling the evil English.
Chaucer...Rabelais...Balzac
(My mom and sister will understand.)

An unfortunate soldier
A statue of Christ looks down on Chinon
The maze of streets in Chinon


Returning to the hotel, I got lost in the maze of medieval streets, so I popped into a little store to ask directions, and happily, my limited French served me better this time and I was able, not only to ask directions, but to understand the response!

The evening included another of the many highlights of our tour.  Laurent, the owner of Hotel Diderot, prepared a wine tasting for our group.  He presented five wines – one sparkling, two white, and two red – all from the Chinon region.  We got a very interesting, (and very funny), lesson about how French wines are grown and labeled.  Each wine was served with traditional foods…his own aged goat cheese, a port paté, and other tidbits…and the event was ended with a quiz on the wines, with the lucky winner receiving a jar of Laurent's wonderful homemade jam.
Our wine selection



Marie, Carolyn, Julie, Justine, and Sheila enjoy the wines
Tom, Blayne, Rob, Joan, Ronnie, Pat, and Dianne REALLY enjoy the wines!It was quite late by the time we went to dinner, but of course, that meant we were eating at the usual dinner time in France.  We found a nice outdoor café on the main square of the town where we ordered the menu fixe du journey, the special menu of the day.  By this time, we had learned that the entrée is the appetizer, not the main course…and doesn’t that really make more sense?  It is the entry into the meal!  The main course is the plat principal.
It was almost 10:00 by the time we were finished, but still twilight in these northern latitudes, and we strolled slowly back to the hotel, feeling quite happy at the end of a very good day.
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Thursday, July 7  
Mortemart, Oradour-Sur-Glane, Sarlat

Saying good-bye to our favorite hotel of the trip.
We ate our last delicious breakfast in the Hotel Diderot, bought some fruit at the little open air market beneath Chinon’s large statue of Joan of Arc, then departed for the long bus drive to the medieval city of Sarlat. 

We drove for several hours through the rain, finally stopping for lunch in the pretty little village of Mortemart, which is one of approximately 150 plus beaux villages de France, the most beautiful villages of France. 

The town of Mortemart

Inside the church at Mortemart

Flowerpots were scattered around the square

An ancient door

The town seen from our sheltered square


Our shelter from the drizzle


Rolinka had brought all the fixings for a real French picnic lunch, including several kinds of paté, many cheeses, breads, fruits and vegetables, and of course, wine.  It was still a bit rainy, but we found shelter in the covered town square and everyone pitched in to help prepare the meal. 

Marie and Rolinka make the salad

while Joan prepares the pate

and Dianne prepares the cheese and sausages

and Philippe and Susan get the drinks ready

and Sheila, Adrian, Justine, and Nancy enjoy the meal!







Rob and the swans of Mortemart








































































































































































































Anyone who knows Rob knows that animals are like magnets for him, so naturally he quickly discovered the town’s wildlife, a gorgeous pair of swans – one white and one black – and a flock of ducks who happily accepted our leftover bread crumbs.









The Village of Martyrs
This pleasant break was followed by the saddest and most somber afternoon of our entire trip.  On June 10, 1944, the little town of Oradour-sur-Glane was invaded by Nazi soldiers of the 2nd Waffen-SS Panzer Division (Das Reich) who were seeking revenge for the capture of a Waffen SS Officer.  The people of the village, from the youngest baby of one week old to the oldest in their nineties, were ordered to report to the village square immediately – “to have their papers checked.”  Once there, the men were herded into a number of barns around the town, and the women and children were taken into the town’s church.  The German soldiers then massacred every man, woman, and child in an unimaginably vicious way…shooting the men in the legs so they could not escape, then setting the barns on fire, then setting the interior of the church ablaze, and shooting any women or children who tried to escape through the tiny windows.  The entire village was then torched and reduced to rubble.

642 people were slaughtered in the peaceful little town that day.  There were only 20 survivors.

The ruins of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane
Following the war, the government of France made the decision to maintain the village just as it was left by the Nazis as a testament to the atrocities of war and a reminder of what we are capable of doing to each other.  “Forgive, but never forget.”




















Rob and I walked silently through the ruined streets of the town, stopping  here and there to see the remnants of the townspeople’s former lives…a burned out car, the bent and rusted frame of a bicycle, a bed frame, and most horrible of all, a baby carriage in front of the bullet-scarred altar of the church.  The gloomy grey skies contributed to the overwhelming sense of sadness. 

The dentist's office

The town's garage
Bicycles

An iron bedframe

Another garage

One of the several sites where the men of the town were massacred.
"In this place of torment, a group of men were massacred and
burnt by the Nazis.  Remember."
The church where the women and children were slaughtered.

The memorial to the women and children

A baby stroller in front of the altar.
Memorial to the family that lived here

The Memorial Tower
The caskets in front contain the ashes of the dead.










When we reached the cemetery, with its many memorials to the Martyrs of Oradour, including gravestones displaying photos of the beautiful children who were killed on that day, I could no longer contain my tears.

Another of the families killed in Oradour-sur-Glane



















The bus ride the rest of the way to Sarlat was very quiet.

Even now, as I write this several months later, it is hard to make the transition from the heavy memories of that sad visit to the lightness of the rest of our tour, but the remainder of the day was very pleasant.









Hotel Montaigne in Sarlat





We arrived in Sarlat around 4 p.m. and settled into our rooms at Hotel Montaigne. 

Rob in our room in Sarlat



The main street of Sarla































Rolinka led an orientation walk around the city, whose medieval streets were filled with crowds of visitors and locals out enjoying the antics of the street performers jumping rope on stilts and juggling, alongside various musicians and street artists.  The old stone buildings of Sarlat glowed golden in the late afternoon sunshine.
One of the stone manors of Sarlat


The Cathedral spire


Our group walks the hills of Sarlat


The oldest building in Sarlat

One of the beautiful homes of Sarlar







Justine, Marie, and Adrian take a break.

Rolinka leads us through Sarlat

Street entertainers in the city square
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The day ended with a lively group dinner at the Glacier Restaurant, enjoying the local specialties of goose liver paté and a main course of canard, or duck, and a dessert of the famous Sarlat walnut cake.
Walnut cake made from the other local speciality -
walnuts!







View of the town square from our restaurant table

Tourists and locals mingle in the town square

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Friday, July 8 
Rouffignac, Canoeing on the Dordogne River,
and the gorgeous Provincial Towns of the River Valley

I had been holding my breath for days hoping for fine weather today.  Our itinerary read, “Canoeing on the Dordogne River – weather permitting,” and alleluia, we woke up to sunny skies and a delightfully warm day.
The sunroom of Hotel Montaigne













































The proprietors of Hotel Montaigne provided us with much more than the usual croissant and coffee breakfast and we departed for a special adventure – one of the highlights of the entire trip.  The bus trip took us about an hour through a lovely pastoral landscape - fields of sunflowers, asparagus, corn, tobacco, and wheat - and into the forest covered hills, which are honeycombed with caves filled with the art left by the prehistoric inhabitants of the region.
Country farmhouses in the Dordogne Valley



































We did not visit the more famous cave of Lascaux, as visitors are no longer allowed to enter the actual cave, which deteriorated more in the 50 years after its discovery than it did in the 17,000 years prior.  Visitors to Lascaux now visit only a replica of the chambers containing the artwork.  We instead had the thrill of visiting the cave of Rouffignac and seeing the actual artwork left by these ancient people.

Our group gathered by the low entrance to the cave.  It had been formed by an ancient underground river, so it was essentially just one long passageway that extended deep into the mountainside. 
Waiting at the entrance to the cave of Rouffignac
Kelsie, Blayne, Rob, and Andrew
A little train took us several kilometers into the cavern, the guide stopping occasionally along the way to point out interesting sights.  We first passed the dens of the enormous cave bears, which were oval beds scooped out in the soft rock and worn smooth by the slumbering giants.  Above the beds were gouges left by huge claws being sharpened on the walls of the cave.  After some time, we arrived at the first artwork, mammoths scratched into the wall…and at the end of the line, we all got out to explore the large room that was filled with drawings on the ceiling and walls.


The people of Rouffignac were ice age people, as evidenced by the animals on display…woolly mammoths, woolly rhinoceros, bison, and horses.  The older caves at Lascaux, in contrast, contain drawings of warm weather animals.
A parade of rhinocerous

Ibex and Mammoth

An Ice Age Horse

A woolly bison














The most amazing thing to me was that the people of that time ventured so far into the pitch black to create these beautiful drawings!  By the time the cave men arrived, the cave bears were long gone, but the idea of exploring so deep with only torches to light the way gave me the willies!  Naturally there was no flash photography allowed in the cavern, so I stopped by the gift shop to purchase a few postcards of the artwork we had seen inside, then we boarded the bus again for our trip down to the Dordogne River Valley.
More troglydyte homes in the cliffs of the Dordogne region.
Dordogne River





































































On the banks of the Dordogne River below the town of LaRoque-Gageac, Rolinka and Phillipe prepared another picnic lunch while we browsed the little outdoor market with its cheeses, sausages, and colorful bars of floral soaps which I bought as little gifts for my Rosedale office partners, and explored the village.

Farmers Market in LaRoque

French cheeses
Rare tropical foliage in France















































The little stone town hugs the cliffs above the river, with some of the shops built right into the walls of the cliffs.  The steep path took us past tropical vegetation, unique in this region (possible only because of the southward face of the village on the curve of the river), and up to enchanting views of the valley below.
A striking flower










Rob and Joan in LaRoque
Rob explores a gift shop built into the cliffs



The stone houses of LaRoque
Canoes in the Dordogne River below us.
Tom and Margaret, Rob, Dianne, Carolyn, David, and Susan
Marie, Judy, Joan, Sheila, Kelsey, and Mikie
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We returned to the river below for our picnic.
A Picnic on the banks of the Dordogne
The village of LaRoque
Picnic time

Enjoying the day




Joan and Rob - ready for canoe-ing on the Dordogne River





























































































































After our picnic lunch, which was made more exciting by the visiting wasps, we took the bus upriver a few kilometers to the village of Cénac-et-Saint Julien, where we boarded our canoes.  What a fabulous day!  The current was slow, which gave us more time to enjoy the sunshine and the views of the charming hillside villages and chateaux on both sides of the river.  The clear water was filled with little fish and waving river grasses. 



Our "Official" Group Tour Photo

The first bridge. 
Our instructions were to canoe to the beach just before the third bridge.

The current took us back past LaRoque

The stone village along the base of the cliffs


Rob ...

and Joan - enjoying a great day!

Lovely chateau by the Dordogne River

It was a long way to bridge #2 under the chateau of Fayrac...

...but soon after, we reached bridge #3 and our destination,
the village of Beynac.


The castle above Beynac
































































































































Our destination was the village of Beynac-et-Cazenac, which was used as one of the filming locations for the movies “Chocolat” and “Ever After,” but I have to say, the song that kept floating through my head all today was from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”  Belle laments about life in her little French provincial town, but if her town was as lovely as this, she had little reason to complain!  Our bus took us to the chateau high above the village and we walked down the steep cobblestone streets past the little stone houses, made bright by flower boxes lining their windows and entrances, and back to the river below.

Castle Gate

Rob and Joan above Beynac

A French Provincial Town

Walking down through Beynac

The gorgeous Dordogne countryside


...on the steep streets of Beynac

Cute little stone cottages...
A beautiful evening in Sarlat




































































































































































































































































Dinner back in Sarlat was on our own tonight and Rob and I found enjoyed a delicious and colorful salad at an outdoor table at the Auberge de Molinard, then followed dinner with a stroll through town, which was once again filled with crowds and street entertainers.  We met us with tour mates Carolyn, Marie, and Sheila and joined them for hot fudge sundaes – a delicious ending to a very special day!


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Saturday, July 9
Market Day in Sarlat

The main street of Sarlat transformed for Market Day
Saturday is Market Day in Sarlat – a tradition since the middle ages!  Our tour was timed so that we could participate in this special event.   I had known it was market day, but I had no idea the scope of the event.  The entire town was filled with market stalls, every narrow street as well as the large town square crowded with covered booths and filled with thousands of people and their dogs.  Pet dogs are more tolerated here than at home, and are frequent visitors in the outdoor cafes.



The best strawberries we ever ate!




Rob and I walked slowly down the main street…getting pulled in by the vendor demonstrating his slivers and dicers just like at a Home Show at the Bakersfield Fair Grounds.  Language was no obstacle.  His rapid fire demonstration of a great little device that neatly shreds carrots or zucchini into spaghetti-like shreds convinced us, and we bought one…forgetting that the sharp blades might cause a problem going through airport security!  We sampled and bought some of the most fabulous strawberries and apricots…fruit that tasted like candy…and cheese, ham, and potato salad for our picnic lunch the next day, and enjoyed the stands filled with shoes, purses, artwork, jewelry, and whimsical little knick knacks.

We liked these happy frogs.

Sausages

Local specialities - olive oil and walnuts

Coffee, tea, and chocolate!

French bread...mais, bien sur!

The main specialty of Sarlat - fois gras






This salad was prettier before I dove into it!











































































































When we had finally had our fill of browsing, we returned to the Auberge de Molinard, where the same waiter who had served us the night before served us another fresh and colorful salad de crudités of lettuce, corn, beets, carrots, and melon.









The Molinard Restaurant had its own cave.
The entire town of Sarlat becomes a market on Market Day!
Rob went back to the hotel for a nap while I went on a scouting mission to find a tin of fois gras for Libby.  It didn’t take much scouting!  Fois gras is the regional specialty, and many of the booths in the main square were piled high with tins ranging from tiny little tidbits that would cover a couple of crackers to huge tins that would feed an army.  Some of the merchants were already shutting down to move on to an afternoon market in another town, so the main square was filled with trucks and noise, but it was fun to be part of the crowd and just shuffle slowly along, dodging baby strollers, the many dogs, and the hundreds of people.

In the evening, Rob and I returned for one more walk through the much quieter town to take a few more photos,

Rob in Sarlat

The town was filled with lots of hidden corners

Street entertainers - jumping rope on stilts!

A brewery?

The stone roofs of Sarlat

Artwork displayed outside a gallery

Pretty stone doorway

The geese of Sarlat

The boy of Sarlat looks down on the town square
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then after our stroll, we joined our friends for a group dinner at the Brasserie Glacier.

Marie enjoys a brew

Group dinner in Sarlat

By now, we were good friends

Good food and good company

and good dessert!  (Can't believe Rob actually got an ice cream!)

Of course, it was no surprise that I got one!




















By the time we were finished, I was surprised to see that it was already 10 p.m.!  It was still quite light.  We walked slowly back and packed up once again for the next stop in our trip
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Sunday, July 10 
A Picnic on the Canal du Midi and the great walled city of Carcassonne

Ugh…Up at 6:00 to be ready for our early departure today.  Our tour group has been wonderful about being on time, and we never wanted to be the ones to break the trend!   It was a very rainy morning, but we truly have been so lucky with the rain.  It always has hit the hardest when we are on the bus, and today was no exception.
A farmhouse of the Languedoc region
We left Sarlat for our trip through the Languedoc – a sparsely populated region of rolling hills and forests, with glimpses of a few little golden towns, and an occasional mansion or castle on a hill.  






















We spent some of the bus time watching some of Rick Steves’ film clips on Sarlat and Beynac.  It was fun to recognize the sights we had just seen.
Rob passes time on the bus
More sunflowers (from the bus)



































The first two hours of the trip were very overcast, our views clouded by fog on the hills, but then the sun began to peek out and by the time we arrived at our first destination, the rain had completely stopped.   Lunch was a picnic of the goodies we had picked up in the Sarlat market while riding on a little barge floating down a short portion of the Canal du Midi, a 240 kilometer canal built in the 1600s to allow transport from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. 
Boarding our barge on the Canal du Midi





Damien, Aminah, and Rob enjoy our picnic on the barge


Ronnie, Pat, Philippe, and our pilot






The Canal du Midi
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We went through one of the many locks that dot the canal and noted the memorial to Thomas Jefferson, who had visited the canal to learn how to improve transportation in the new United States, and waved to the bicyclists who enjoy the path along the canal.
Entering the lock

Wathcing the lock fill with water

Bicyclists along the Canal du Midi

Memorial Placque of Thomas Jefferson's visit to study the lock

Languedoc countryside seen from the barge
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In the afternoon, we moved backwards through time again, leaving the Enlightenment and returning to the Middle Ages in the huge walled city of Carcassonne.  We stopped first at a viewpoint along the highway for a view of the entire city, which is amazingly well preserved...so much so that it almost looks like a replica of a middle ages city built for a movie set.
The walled city of Carcassonne

History of the city displayed from the viewpoint

An aerial view of the city as it looks today

Our cozy room at Hotel Montmorency




































Before exploring the city, we checked in at the Hotel Montmorency, which stands just outside the old city walls.  Our room was very pleasant, decorated in French provincial florals…quite a contrast with the rather odd neon décor of the lobby.  The main hotel building included an inviting pool surrounded by flowers and trees.
The colorful lobby of the hotel

The hotel's pool



Rolinka led our tour of the walled city.  Walking through the gates of these massive stone walls was truly like walking into Camelot…well, that is, a Camelot lined by tourist shops selling little models of knights and toy swords and filled by people in shorts and tank tops.  Just outside the gates is a statue of Madame Carcass.  Legend says that she saved the city from a siege by Charlemagne's army by stuffing the last remaining pig with the last of the city's corn and heaved it over the wall.  When the army saw the "well-fed" pig, they finally gave up and left the city in peace.

Madame Carcass
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We visited the cathedral...
Carcassonne Cathedral

Carcassonne gargoyle

More gargoyles

Inside Carcassonne Cathedral

Another statue of Joan of Arc
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...and the Hotel de la Cité, a very ritzy hotel in the center of the city, which displayed four paintings of the castle throughout the ages, and its beautiful gardens looking out over the modern city below.
Rob in front of Hotel de la Cite





The beautiful hotel gardens



The hotel gardens

Joanie and her prince

The view of "modern" Carcassonne below the castle

Painting #1 - The inhabitants before the castle



Painting #2 - Carcassone in the time of the Romans

Painting #3 - Carcassone in the Dark Ages

Painting #4 - Carcarssonne at its height of power


Exploring the interior of the city









The horses of Carcassonne - protected from the strong sun!













Ronnie, Pat, and Sheila enjoying the warm afternoon































































































































































This was the first taste of the warm weather of southern France, so following the tour, we joined some of the others for a refreshing dip in the hotel’s pool.
Marie, Rolinka, Aminah, and Yoga Man

Our restaurant outside the castle

































then Rob and I returned to the city for an outdoor dinner right next to the castle keep, followed by a stroll down into the modern city, past a beautiful mural spelling out Carcassonne in illuminated letters, and out to the bridge where we got some gorgeous views of the walled city in the glow of the setting sun.
Rob in front of the massive city walls

Mural of illuminated letters spelling Carcassonne



Carcassonne in the glow of the setting sun

The city walls
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After our walk, I returned to the city for one last visit without the crowds that had filled it earlier.  I walked along the ramparts alone and enjoyed the romance of feeling myself back in the age of chivalry.
Walking between the outer and inner walls

Sunset over Carcassonne
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Monday, July 11
A Winery in Provence, Pont du Gard, and Arles


A lovely view from the breakfast table
The day started with a very good breakfast on the patio above the pool.  To Rob’s delight, we were joined by three friendly doggies.  

Rob makes a friend

Breakfast at Hotel Montmorency

Blayne and the hotel dogs

Carcassonne walls





























































Last night had been our only “one night” hotel of this trip.  This morning, I had just enough time to zip up the hill for a few more photos of the castle in the morning light, then we were off again today for another long ride all the way to the south of France.

Carcassonne drawbridge
The tower at the entrance to Carcassonne

Rob took advantage of bus time to rest up for our adventures.
The landscape of Provence
We were now in the very south of France.  The landscape here was noticeable drier.  The rolling hills were covered with vineyards, and spruce and pine trees, rather than the deciduous forests we had seen before.  Just past the city of Narbonne, we caught our first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea.  Rolinka entertained us with stories of filming a Rick Steves show.  She was called from a France tour she was leading to join him in Amsterdam to help him hoist furniture up the side of one of the houses that line the canals.

Arriving at Chateau des Hospitaliers Winery

Then we napped for awhile until hearing Rolinka’s trademark, "Wakie-wakie!" rousing us for our next stop, a tour and lunch at the Chateau des Hospitaliers Winery.  The owner of the winery took us out into the vineyards and gave a very interesting talk about the cultivation of the grapes and the making of the wine, although we had to strain to hear her over the deafening buzz of the cicadas.  In order to preserve the integrity of the famous French wines, the regulations from the Department of Agriculture are very strict.  But due to global warming, some of these regulations are now changing.  Harvest dates have altered.  Irrigation, long banned, is now acceptable.  The use of pesticides is still discouraged.  The French vintners rely on a balance of nature, the use of animals, etc. to control pests.  The weather here was noticeably warmer than our previous days, but still very tolerable.
Learning about wine growing in France

Wine in the making
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Inside of the winery, our hostess told us more about the process, and we visited several rooms where the wine is made, aged, bottled, and shipped.
Our group learns about the intricacies of wine-making

Aging in the barrels

Rob explores the innards of the winery

Bottling machine

2008 Merlot waiting to be packaged
for shipping
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The walls outside the winery were called “green walls,” covered by thick vegetation to provide natural insulation, but there was very different vegetation on each side of the courtyard because of the sun.  One side was very tropical, covered with ferns and begonias, while the other was covered by plants that did well in arid conditions.
This wall faced the sun and was covered in drought-resistant plants

This wall was in the shade and covered with tropical vegetation.

The lunch goodies - delicious!




































Lunch was a fabulous feast...little tastes of dozens of various goodies all prepared by our hostess -   salmon mousse, humus, savories served on little edible spoons ( figs, ham, cheese, ratatouille, etc), puff pastry with sausage, a pie with octopus, cheese balls, many sliced cheeses, including goat, cow, and sheep, and all followed by  wonderful a chocolate tart.
Lunch on the patio












































Pont du Gard



More time travel…this time to the Roman occupation of Gaul and a stop at the Pont du Gard, the remarkably intact first century aqueduct that spans the River Gard.  We hit our first really hot weather of the trip.  When we arrived, it was 360 C (980 F) and by the time we left a couple of hours later, it was 390C (1020 F)!  I hadn’t realized France even got that hot!  
Joan and Rob at Pont du Gard
Crossing the river on the "modern" bridge
We walked across the modern bridge that has been built adjacent to the ancient structure, enjoying the views of the people splashing in the river far below, then visited the museum which showed the advanced construction methods of the Romans and photos of the many aqueducts that criss-crossed their vast empire.  


Tower near the aquaduct

Crossing Pont du Gard

Canoers below the aquaduct

Graffiti on the ancient stones
Olive tree - We were clearly in a Mediterranean climate
After the museum, I walked past the olive trees lining the banks of the river and climbed up the steep hill to get views of the aqueduct from the other side.  It was lovely, but even lovelier to sink down into my comfy seat on our air-conditioned coach!

The back side of Pont du Gard
Hotel Calendal


















































Our final stop was Hotel Calendal in Arles, right up the street from the old Roman coliseum.  Our cheery yellow room looked down on an open courtyard, and downstairs was a lively dining room and a lobby with a bar, gelateria, and computers for the patrons.
Our room at Hotel Calendal

View of the courtyard from our window

Hotel Calendal lobby

Our group members check mail from home on the hotel computers.
Rob in front of the Roman Coliseum of Arles























































































































Rob and I explored our neighborhood for awhile, walking down past the Roman Coliseum that stood just a block from our hotel, then joined everyone in the hotel for another dinner with our tour group.  I haven’t mentioned yet that this was a particularly congenial group of people, friendly, interesting, and fun to travel with! 
The street leading up to our hotel

Dinner in Hotel Calendal -
Sheila, Justine, Blayne, Julie, Philippe, Rolinka, Carolyn
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Tuesday, July 12
Les Baux-de-Provence and a Walk through Arles


Hotel Calendal offered a full breakfast buffet, including a pot for boiling your own eggs to order and a machine offering all types of coffee, cappuccino, and hot chocolate.

After the great breakfast, we set off an a special day trip that took us to Les Baux-de-Provence, the ruins of a medieval city high in the hills above Provence.  Along the way, we passed vast rice fields, the ruins of more Roman aqueducts, and the ever-present fields of sunflowers.  It is easy to see where Vincent Van Gogh, who spent his last years in Arles, got his inspiration.

Sign at the entrance to the town of Les Baux de Provence



Sign at the entrance to the castle ruins
Les Baux lay in impressive ruins, with helpful signs indicating the buildings that once stood here.  The castle was perched on a high cliff overlooking the Provence landscape of olive groves and farms far below.
Entering the city of Les Baux de Provence
Les Baux
The Provencal countrysite far below the city
The lavender of Provence was in full bloom
The castle had been built right into the rocks...
...so it was hard to see where the rocks ended and the castle started.
The stocks
The modern town below the castle
The castle ruins of Les Baux
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Here and there were various war instruments from the past, and a couple of costumed actors demonstrated the uses of the trebuchet with a demonstration that was hilarious, even in French!
Catapult
Battering ram
Trebuchet demonstration...

...by a hilarious couple...
...aided by volunteers from the crowd.




















The colorful products of Provence























































































































































After wandering the ruins, we explored the cobblestone streets of the little town, poking into the many shops filled with colorful souvenirs from Provence – sachets of lavender, petit santones (little saints…the dolls of Provence), dish towels and table runners in the yellows, blues, and lavenders of the region.  A little museum included a large collection of the santones and a large display of the creches made with the little figures.


Creche
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At an appointed time, our group all met up again and we were treated to a good lunch at the Reina Jeanne (Queen Joan – no curtsies required) Restaurant, with fish and a delicious napoleon atop a mixed berry sauce. 
We gather for lunch

Fish lunch at Reina Jeanne Restaurant




























Our guide, Sylvianne, in front of the Roman theater






















It was another busy day.  Upon our return to Arles, we were met by Sylvianne, our guide for a walking tour of Arles.  We walked past the ruins of the ancient Roman theater just below our hotel.  Amazingly, the columns that remain formed only the bottom of three levels that used to tower over the town in this spot.








The Roman amphiteater
We saw several reminders of Van Gogh’s life here.  At the Hotel Dieu, the hospital where he recovered from his self-imposed ear injury, a poster of his painting of the hospital’s gardens stands right in front of the gardens themselves.  The yellow arches of the hospital looked just the same today as in his painting.  In the Place de la Republique, we saw more reminders…a replica of Vincent’s painting of the Café de la Nuit is displayed in front of the actual café.  This square was also the location of the old Roman forum of Arles, although the only thing left is a bit of the forum embedded into the wall of a hotel.  We ended in the large square by the Arles Cathedral and the Hotel de Ville (the town hall).
Madonna in a niche in a building wall

An ancient door

Hotel Dieu - the hospital where Van Gogh recovered
and painted
The garden of Hotel Dieu...

...looks much the same as when painted by Van Gogh

The last remnant of the ancient Roman forum of Arles
The Roman Forum
Cafe de la Nuit...

...was also painted by Van Gogh

Inside the Arles City Hall

The Arles Cathedra

Cathedral details

Cathedral details

Diagram of the ancient Roman sites of Arles

Gladiator games inside the Coliseum

Gladiator games

The audience indicates their pleasure

The gladiators salute the crowd

And the children get into the act.
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Rob had napped during our guided tour, so he and I repeated this walk in the later afternoon.  I got us a bit lost, but happily, my French conversation skills had improved throughout the trip, and I was able to ask our way (several times!) and, best of all, to actually understand the answers.  One of the most enjoyable aspects of the city are the colored shutters…shades of blue, turquoise, green, and purple…that border the windows of many of the buildings.


The colored shutters of Arles

The shutters came in a variety of colors
The colorful fabrics of Provence
Modern art in front of the medieval cathedral
We ended our walk with dinner at the Voltaire Restaurant where I made the mistake of ordering the plat du jour…the plate of the day…which turned out to be something unidentifiable and rather inedible, complete with tentacles.  Oh, well, that is part of the fun of traveling.

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Wednesday, July 13
A Rainy Day, a Great Museum, and Arrival in Nice

Old drawbridge outside of Arles...
Hey, I thought people flocked to the south of France for sunshine!  We woke to pouring rain the sounds of thunder.  Following breakfast, we all made a dash down the hill to our waiting bus for our short trip to the Musée Departmental Arles Antiques, the museum of Arles antiquities.  On the way, Phillipe made a brief stop at a drawbridge also painted by Van Gogh.  I got out to take some photos, but foolishly, I had packed my raincoat and got really wet for the first time on this trip. 

...that was also painted by Van Gogh
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The museum was excellent - one of the best I've ever seen.  The rooms were spacious and filled with light from the large glass walls, in spite of the pouring rain outside.  There were a number of models showing how Arles must have looked at the height of the Roman era, statues of the gods, a very realistic bust of Julius Caesar from 46 BC, a room of beautiful sarcophagi, and a floor covered with the remnants of gorgeous mosaic floors.  I took photos of practically everything we saw, but here are some of the highlights:
A model of Arles as it looked in Roman times.
Our hotel was located between the Coliseum and the Amphitheater.

The Roman Amphitheater

The head could be exchanged to meet the politics of the day.

The Circus

Original pilings recovered from the river.


An interesting expression

Roman busts

A tiny gladiator

The Coliseum as it looked in Roman times...

...and as it looked in the Middle Ages when it was used
as a fortified city.

Amphoras

The museum included a whole room filled with mosaic floors
in remarkably good condition.


Mosaic floor

Mosaic floor

One of the many sacophagi

The baths of Constantine - 5th Century Arles



Two gorgeous guys

Joan with Julius Caesar


The rain outside the museum
 It poured rain the entire time we were inside the museum, but we dashed out to the bus for the very last journey of our trip, the drive to Nice.  Along the way, Rolinka shared more of the story of Van Gogh and played the sad and lovely song, “Vincent”, (Starry Starry Night).
A rainy day in Provence
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We stopped briefly in St. Remy for lunch on our own.  Happily, the rain had let up enough for us to walk down the main street which circles the center of town, and Rob and I found a rustic and charming local place for an excellent salad.
More Roman ruins just outside St. Remy
Lunch stop in St. Remy

Lunch was a fabulous salad with goat cheese

St. Remy was holding its own little Market Day


Rain on the bus windows






































































Back on the bus, the rain started with a vengeance.  We could see almost nothing of the countryside as we continued on to Nice.  For the first time, we did not time our rest stop to correspond with the good weather, and my short run from the bus to the building left  me as wet as if I had jumped into the swimming pool!  It was a cold and wet trip the rest of the way to Nice, but we arrived in the city under clearing skies and much warmer weather.
A very wet Joanie





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St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Nice
Our first stop as we entered Nice was at the ornate and beautiful Russian St. Nicholas Cathedral, built by the Romanovs for the many Russian residents and visitors to Nice at the turn of the century.  This is supposed to be the most beautiful Russian cathedral outside of Russia, and that claim is easy to believe!  The outside of the cathedral is stunning with its blue tile onion domes and eastern arches, and the inside is filled with gold icons of Mary, Jesus, and the saints and glowing candles. 
The onion domes of St. Nicholas Cathedral


















Saying adieu to Philippe






















We said a sad good-bye to our driver, Philippe, who dropped us off at our final hotel, the Mercure Hotel, which stands directly across the street from the Promenade des Anglaises, the walking path above the beach, and looking right out at the astonishing turquoise water of the Cote d’Azure.










We unpacked in our very nice room at the back of the hotel, then Rob settled in for a nice nap while I joined the group for Rolinka’s orientation tour of our neighborhood to point out some of the places we might choose for dinner on our own.  The clouds that had still hung over the cathedral had completely disappeared, and we walked under warm blue skies that brought out the brilliant colors of this old city.


In the afternoon, the Flower Market becomes a craft fair.
 We walked first through the Marche des Fleurs, the huge flower market that fills a long rectangular square almost every day of the year.  Flowers of every size and variety filled the stands with color and fragrance.  At the end of the square, we turned into Old Town Nice, which reminded me somewhat of Naples, with its maze of narrow streets, colorful buildings, laundry draped over the iron balconies.  Rolinka explained that most of the streets here still carry two names, the French name and the name reflecting the close Italian connection retained by the city.

A composer lived here...Oops...I can't remember which one.

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That evening, Rob and I returned to the confusing maze of streets for dinner. With some difficulty, we found the restaurant I had noted during our orientation walk - Oliviera, whose amiable owner had charmed me with his enthusiasm for the various olive oils used in his cooking.  We were happily surprised to find several others of our tour already seated there, and we joined them for a leisurely dinner and great conversation.
Judy, David, Susan, Adrian, our host, Nancy,
Margaret, and Tim
The restaurant specialized in fine olive oils
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Thursday, July 14
Happy Bastille Day!  A Nice Day in Nice

Our Hotel Mercure - a little gem set between
the huge fancy places on either side.
We woke to warm and sunny skies, had breakfast in the hotel, and joined our guide for our walking tour of the city.  Once again, we browsed the gorgeous flower market, admiring the lovely little marzipan treats, and sampling the fresh produce.  The fruit here truly has been some of the best I’ve ever tasted in my life…strawberries and apricots that burst with flavor…very unlike the produce on our grocery shelves.  This incredible street market is here almost every day of the year, bursting with whatever produce and flowers are in season.
Lavender sachets

Some of the thousands of flowers in the Marche des Fleurs

More flowers


Garlands of Garlic

Fabulous, fresh produce

Mediterranean olives and delicacies

Marzipan Treats

Mushrooms of many varieties

The artwork added color

Squash blossoms - used in cooking
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After the flower market, we walked through the impressive Place Massena, the main city square...
Statue of Apollo

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...then we returned once again to the old town, this time stopping longer to admire the colorful facades and ornate decorations above the doors and to say hello to some of the kitties that looked curiously at us from perches above the squares or from behind the gates of the storefronts.  
Church of Nice
Government building - I think the residence of a high official
Colorful decorations on the window frame
Adam and Eve decorate the facade of a building in the Old City
The narrow streets reminded me more of Italy than France
The street signs all indicated the present and
former names, as Nice passed from one
allegiance to another
If you look closely...



 
...you can see the kitty who came out to peer down at us.
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Still in the Old City, we toured the ornately decorated home of a Renaissance merchant.
The entry hall of the merchant's home
Which included an old pharmacy...
Ornate doorways...
And a variety of musical instruments from the past.
Several of the doorways had blessings carved over the entries.

 Our tour ended at the Cathedral and the best gelato stand in town...a welcome treat on another very warm day!
Cathedral
Interior of the cathedral

Town square outside the Cathedral
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We returned to the hotel room to freshen up a bit...
The view from our balcony toward the Marche des Fleur
at the end of this pedestrian street

Our very comfortable room at Hotel Mercure
Salade Nicoise




































then  we returned to Marche des Fleurs for lunch where Rob and I enjoyed...what else? …a genuine Salade Nicoise!







Rob on the Promenade des Anglaises













After lunch, we spent a lovely afternoon on the beach just across the street from our hotel.  The beaches here are very interesting.  They are sectioned off into public areas, which are open and free for everyone, and the private beaches which require you to rent a space with chairs and umbrellas.  Actually, the chairs are a good idea!  These are not sandy beaches…they are covered with pebbles and walking was very difficult.  But the water was clear and fabulous and both of us enjoyed a dip in the Mediterranean.  In spite of the pebbles, the water right along the coast takes on a lovely turquoise hue in the sun, deepening to a dark blue shade as the shore drops away.
Promenade des Anglaises and Castle Hill
The public beach is open to everyone
Rob emerges from a dip in the Mediterranean
I was the most covered of anyone on the entire beach!
The gorgeous hotels above the Cote d'Azur
The private beach was only available to people who rented
a chair and umbrella
The people on the beach are also quite interesting.  I am quite sure that I was wearing the only one piece suit on the entire beach, and body shape seems to make no difference in the decision to wear a bikini.  Every woman, large and small, wore a two piece suit…or that is, most of them did.  Several chose to wear only the bottom piece of the two pieces, a completely acceptable choice in most of Europe.













































































































































































Soldiers getting ready for the Bastille Day Parade







We walked along the promenade for a while, enjoying the sunshine and the crowds.  The city was beginning to gear up for the evening Bastille Day festivities, with the police and the military beginning to gather along the Quai des Etats Unis, the big boulevard in front of our hotel.

Monument along the Promenade

Carousel in the park


More parade preparations

The police joined the military

Hmmm...there seems to be a problem!
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We went back to the hotel and cleaned up, then our entire group joined met for a walk up to Castle Hill, a large hill at the end of the town, for some beautiful views of the coast and the city below, and drinks and good fellowship with each other.
Nice and the Cote d'Azur

Pretty sails on the water

Ronnie, Julie, Carolyn, and Justine

Marie and Mikie

Sheila, Margaret, Tim, Aminah,
Pat, Dianne, Adrian, and Nancy

Rolinka and Blayne

Rolinka and Justine

Damien, David, Bill, and Rob

Julie, Susan, Joan, and Ronnie

Andrew and Kelsie

The harbor on the far side of Castle Hill

Full moon over the water


















































































































































































As the sun went down, the crowds began to gather along the boulevard, and Rob and I joined the throng to watch one of the best fireworks shows we have ever seen!  At least three times, a huge cluster of flashes filled the skies over the water and Rob proclaimed, “Well, that had to be the finale!”  Then a moment later, another rocket would blast into the sky and the show would start up yet again.
Bastille Day crowds on the beach

Bastille Day Fireworks

The crowd silhouetted against the lights of the fireworks.
Happy Bastille Day!
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Friday, July 15
A Trip to Monaco, a Haircut, and a Fond Farewell

Bus ride along the corniche into Monaco
Our last full day in France took us…out of France!...to the small principality of Monaco, which sits just a few miles east of Nice, on the border between France and Italy.  Rolinka showed us how to take the inexpensive local bus along the coast road with its great views of the swanky towns along the way and into the little country, which is really just one big city built into the hills surrounding a large bay.


The apartment buildings of Monaco

The yachts of the Rich and Famous



































The stairway to the Royal Palace






We walked up the hill to the royal palace and paid our respects to the statue of Francois, the first of the Grimaldis who still rule this little nation, then looked out on more wonderful views of the coast and the very upscale apartments of Monaco with their rooftop gardens and swimming pools.  
The first of the Grimaldis

The Royal Palace of Monaco

A palace guard

The colorful buildings across from the palace










Rob and the defenses of Monaco

A view of the elite homes of Monaco...

...which had rooftop gardens and swimming pools!
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There was no chance to visit the famous casino of Monte Carlo, which we could see far in the distance on the other side of the bay, but that gives us a reason to come back!
Monte Carlo (with the green roof)









Monaco's Cathedral

Le Jardin Exotique

Rob in the Exotic Gardens

Garden Pont


The Cactus Garden

The famous aquarium of Monaco.
Jacques Cousteau was the director for many years.
























Just down the hill from the Royal Palace is the Cathedral which is the resting place of Princess Grace, as well as many other of the royal family of Monaco, then strolled around the grounds of the Jardin Exotique, the “exotic garden,” which was lovely and uncrowded.












































































































































































































A haircut in Europe is becoming a tradition...


We finished our visit to Monaco with a sandwich in one of the little streets across from the palace, then took the bus back to Nice, where Rob finally had the chance to fulfill his now traditional custom…getting a haircut in Europe.  We found a very nice salon near the bus stop and once again, he had a great experience and got a great haircut!
...because they always do a great job!
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And what would be a trip to France without a stop in a perfumerie?  I stopped in a the Molinard Perfume Factory, and its little museum, to sample the fragrances.
Fragrances for every taste...or should I say smell?
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Our last day ended with a special treat…drinks and good company on the rooftop bar of a hotel with more fabulous views of the city and coast…and a truly magnificent farewell dinner.  The next day we would be winging our way home, but for tonight, we just basked in the pleasure of great food, wonderful new friends, and memories of another wonderful trip.
View of Nice from the rooftop

Justine, Andrew, and Kelsie

The end of another wonderful trip!

Nancy, Adrian, Dianne, Bill, and  Carolyn

Our last dinner in France...

...was the best of all!

Adrian and Nancy 

Dianne and Bill

Happy Travelers!
Au revoir, France.  Nous reviendrons un jour!