Saturday, August 14, 2010

Home in California

Just a note to let you know that yes...I'm home again. A very uneventful flight that lasted for twenty hours....Paris to Chicago to Dallas to Orange County! Left Paris at 12:15 pm and arrived home at 10:30 pm the same day....gained back nine hours during the flights.

The missing boarding pass didn't raise an eyebrow and was replaced effortlessly by a very efficient staff at Charles de Gaulle Airport. I had to wait an hour before I could get in line for help....they don't want to talk to you until two hours before your flight! But their system works very well and the waiting times were minimal.

Thanks to "No Jet Lag" pills... I have not had any adverse effects from the long flight. My friends tell me it's in my head but whatever it is they do seem to help. Those along with my "First Class Sleeper" pillow that floats between me and seat makes for easier traveling. Check it out if you've got a long trip planned.

Again...thanks for joining us on Armchair Traveler.....

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Day Alone in Paris

Jim was packed and in the lobby as I walked out the door at 8:45 am. He’s waiting for his shuttle to the airport and I’m off to explore Notre Dame again. It’s misting but I have my umbrella with me. I mistakenly read that there was a 9:30 am Mass; wrong … it is in the evening. I spent an hour there really soaking up the centuries of “church” and people watching. There are a dozen or more flashes from cameras every minute….and what they are taking a photo of is so far away the flash won’t do them any good. I sometimes wonder if they really see the Cathedral; but then I’m guilty of taking too many photos also. They’re very good about taking off their hats but tend to talk loudly on their cell phones that are ringing all over the church.

About 10 am I walked to the park behind the Cathedral….yes the line for the bell towers was already past the back of the church….and enjoyed my breakfast watching the flowers and pigeons under the shadows of the church. Afterwards I decided to stand in the line that had now formed to get inside the church; it stretched from the door to the Crypt and I was surprised at how fast it moved. I was inside of the church in less than ten minutes. Walk to the exit and headed over to the right quay. I walked all the way to the Pont Neuf Metro Station and caught the Metro to The Bastille. Walked from there to Place des Vosges and stepped inside of the Victor Hugo Museum but decided to only use the rest rooms. I entered the park in the center of the buildings and enjoyed my sandwich that I’d purchased earlier.

I walked back towards St. Paul’s Cathedral seeing parts of the Marais including the gas station that sits right on the street with only the pump visible…everything else including a car wash is underground. I then entered the Metro at St. Paul’s and rode to the Champs –Elysees at the Rond Point. There I walked to the Grand Palais and found that it was closed for renovations. Huge exhibition halls created for a World’s Fair. The smaller one across the street: The Petit Palais was open and free. But, I stood in line for an hour waiting to get inside and the sun had come out and it was a warm and humid day!

Very nice; but what can I say....I’ve seen too many great ones in the past couple of months. To me one of the best things was the building itself. Started walking back towards the Concorde Square to look for some of the things that I’d read about in Rick Steves as I stood in line for an hour. I found the plaque on the ground that commemorates the fact that this was the place de la Revolution during the French Revolution and the guillotine sat on this square. King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette along with thousands of other lost their lives here. The obelisk of Luxor was put here by Louis’ brother Charles X during his reign.

I checked out the Pont de la Concorde Bridge as I walked over as it was made from the stones of the Bastille and lead to the House of Government. The pillars to the bridge are made to look like towers. It took be a bit of a walk but I made it back to our hotel about 3 pm.

This evening I plan to head out to see some city lights if it doesn’t start raining. More later.

About 5:30 pm I headed back to the Metro; stormy clouds in the sky but only a few sprinklers now and then. I arrived at Notre Dame and managed to get through the line…another long one that moved fast….and made it to Vespers at 6 pm. Beautiful ceremony and very well attended. The throngs of tourists continued to move in a circle around the inside of the Cathedral walls; they were much quieter though. Afterwards I walked over to the area where we stayed in June known as St. Michel’s. Checked out the hotel and our grocery store where we shopped for those fun evening picnics on the Quai. I picked up a sandwich for later while I was in the store.

Headed back towards Notre Dame and enjoyed my sandwich on a bridge while watching the clouds move and change colors from a beautiful clear blue to almost black within minutes. But the sky held its rain and I continued to enjoy my evening walk. I’d talked about staying out to see the lights on the buildings…but I did that in June I remembered! And, I noticed the lights were already on; it was only the sun that was still up that was holding up the show. I finally decided that I really didn’t want to stay out until 10 pm.

Walked over to check the Quai where we had fun in June; it was empty. Combination of cooler weather and everyone is on the side with the sun and the Paris Plages. As I walked towards that side of the island I suddenly noticed a plaque on a building; oh yes…another sighting of Heloise and Abelard….this building was their home for a short time in 1849!

The topper was that I discovered the section of the Paris Plages that has REAL SAND! Yes…it’s on the section between the Pont of Notre Dame and Pont D’Arcole. I walked a bit out of my way to reach the road down into the section. Thought you’d enjoy the photos….I also purchased a large lemon Gelato! So good and so messy….it’s a humid evening and it melted fast! But I managed to finish it before I reached the Metro for my three rides home: line 4 to line 14 to line 8. Arrived home by 8 pm and found that my boarding passes have still not arrived via email. I’ve moved up my shuttle time to 8:15 am as I will have to solve the problem when I get out to the airport.

Again…I thank you for joining me on this journey over the past eight weeks….but who’s counting! Merci!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Jim's last day in Paris

Jim’s last day in Paris started a bit late…we decided to eat breakfast later and started off with empty stomachs. We caught the Metro over to Cite and walked over to Notre Dame Cathedral. Walked right in and enjoyed a “camera free” view of the inside of the Cathedral and also crowd free. People seem to sleep in and the early morning hours are great for exploring places without the crowds. However….when we left and headed towards St. Louie en I’Ile we saw that the line for the Bell Tower of Notre Dame was already long even though it didn’t open for another half hour.

We went to an old favorite on the island where we’d enjoyed breakfast several times in 1992; we stood at the bar and had our coffee/chocolate and croissants like in the old days. It’s cheaper to stand than to sit in a bar and/or café in France. We walked the island full of memories of good times from several trips that we’d stayed on the Isle. From there we crossed the bridge as we looked at the Paris Pleage (beach) again…..this time very empty and easy to see the benches and things waiting for Parisians later in the day. We walked along the Seine River on the right bank passing by the Hotel de Ville and then walking off to the side a bit to visit the St. Gervais and St. Protais Church. This church is part of a group of churches throughout France that have been designated as the Monastic Communities of Jerusalem. It was built in the 6th century and is the very first parish in Paris on the right bank of the Seine. Sts. Gervais and Protais are twin brothers who were martyred about 70 AD. The Monastic Community of Jerusalem was founded in this church in 1975. Their vocation is to provide an oasis of prayer, silence and peace in the midst of the spiritual deserts that are today’s urban centers. There are churches in Paris, Strasbourg, Vezelay, Mont Saint Michael, Brussels, Florence, Montreal and Rome.

We decided to use the Metro again and boarded the closest one to the Opera. We enjoyed the outside of this stunning building and then continued to the nearby Lafayette Galleria; a huge department store that has a wonderful stained glass ceiling over the main floor of the store. You climb seven stories on escalators and about the fifth floor you see the ceiling. Then you continue up several more for an outside area on the roof top with wonderful views of Paris.

Back down we found another Metro that took us to the area of the Arc de Triomphe where we enjoyed a lunch at the Quicke (the French version of McDonalds) and then a movie at the Lido. Yes, we enjoyed an English Language (with French sub titles) version of the new movie “Night and Day”. Really funny and even though the French sub-titles were distracting it was very good.

We caught another Metro to Montmartre to visit Sacre Coeur again. We found a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves…asked it they served dinner all afternoon and he said yes. We walked back up the hill as it was too early to eat…yes…we’d ridden the Funicular up and then walked down to find this restaurant. Back up two hundred steps to go through the church and the artist area….very crowded but fun. Jim finally could not stand the crowds and we cut around the outside and back down to the restaurant…yes 200 more steps down to find out that no…dinner was not served until 7 pm; seems as though we’d talked to the Pizza Restaurant next door. It was only about 5 pm, so we had a half liter of wine and then headed back to the Metro and our hotel.

Arrived back at the hotel before 6 pm; picked up the shuttle service vouchers and printed out Jim’s boarding pass for tomorrow. We then walked to one of the restaurants on our street named Le Café du Marche and enjoyed a wonderful dinner. Jim had canard and I had pasta…and another half liter of wine. Walked around the block and settled in for the evening at the hotel.

Tomorrow morning Jim leaves at 9 am and I’m off to see what I can find on my own. Jim says that that the weather prediction for tomorrow is rain! Is he trying to rain on my parade?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Travel by Metro in Paris

Did I mention that we have air conditioning in the hotel here in Paris? Jim is so happy! He had it running all night even though we needed blankets because of it; the little fan is sitting off in the corner soon to be given to a housekeeper. How soon we forget how much we loved it over the past few weeks!

Jim went out this morning and picked up breakfast for us; a change as the first week here that was my job. It was after 10 am before we headed for the Metro Station. Yesterday was a walking day and today we’re riding the Metro. Two transfers and we had arrived at the Citi Station; very near to Notre Dame. We walked the short distance to The Conciergerie and had our first visit since 1992. I had lost Jim during that visit and had very bad memories. Today we stayed together and enjoyed visiting the famous building that has several towers along the Seine River. It was originally a Royal Residence in the 6th Century and they continued to add to the buildings until the end of the 14th century when they moved the royal residence. A steward or “concierge” was appointed to run the Palace and prison and it became known by that term. During the French Revolution Marie Antoinette was one of the thousands of people who were imprisoned and executed from these buildings.

As you remember we’ve been watching for references to Heloise and Abelard; their faces are carved into one of the pillars in The Conciergerie. Later today we viewed their final resting place in Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

Back to the Metro Station and after several transfers we were in the northeastern section of Paris….where they had the riots during the past couple of years. We entered Buttes Chaumont Park and enjoyed our stroll; there were many people enjoying lunch in small groups everywhere in the park. There was a reference to a “temple” and we were nearly out before we finally spotted it on top of a small hill. There was a beautiful City Hall for the 19th arrondissement located at the gate to the park. We walked the short distance to the Bassin de la Villette and found another “Paris Pleage” had been established there for the month of August. They had these huge plastic tubes that children could rent and roll around inside of while in the water. They also had many different types of paddle boats for people. Again, there were umbrellas and other beach type furniture. Still no sand!

We walked from there to the St. Martin’s Canal that flows from the Seine River all the way to St. Denis’ Canal with several locks along the way. It was nearly 2 pm by now so we stopped at a Donner Kebab Shop and purchased sandwiches to eat as we sat along the canal. We then walked further down the canal and found a Fire Station…Pompiers…we watched as they braced the truck and then raised the ladder up several stories. It looked like a rookie was getting some training as two of them were roped together and climbed half way up before turning around. Fun to watch especially since our son Russ was involved in the fire department at home many years ago.

Rather than continue walking we caught the Metro again at Colonel Fabien Square and soon arrived outside the gates of the famous cemetery of Pere Lachaise. We spent nearly an hour walking from one end to the other finding the various famous people that are buried in this cemetery. We understand that family members must continue to pay rent or property is resold for a new burial. It must be true as we see many recent dates on newer tombstones interspaced between very old graves that are falling apart.

Leaving the cemetery on the south end we headed for the Gambetta Metro Station with the thought of going to the Opera Station and walking to the large department store; but while we were traveling we changed our minds and instead transferred to the train that would take us back to the hotel. We arrived about 5 pm and had time to rest before dinner. We decided to stay close to the hotel and enjoyed “French” onion soup…see the photo….a delightful crusty soup with toast under a layer of cheese! So good and also very filling.

We decided to walk after dinner and headed over to the Eiffel Tower; the grass areas were covered with people enjoying their evening and the crowds in line to go up the tower were so thick that we had to weave our way through to get to the Seine River. Crossed over and walked on the right bank up to Port de L’Alma to look at the people’s memorial to Princess Diana. There is a large gold flame/torch here that was put up in 1989. Diana was killed underneath this particular section of the road that circles the city. People started leaving flowers and notes for her at the torch and it has become a tourist site.

Arrived back at the hotel by 9 pm and here I am finally putting the final touches on today’s journal. Tomorrow is Jim’s last day in Paris so we’ll have to make it a good one….see you tomorrow.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Walking through Paris

By 8 am we’d packed the car and headed in the direction of Paris. Just as the weatherman said, we had light fog. Jim was driving very carefully to conserve gasoil as we were uncertain as to where we might be able to top of the tank if it dropped below the full mark.

We arrived in Paris about 9 am and our original plans of taking a taxi from the car rental place to the hotel with all of our luggage was no longer necessary. The streets were empty and it was fairly easy to drive to our hotel on Rue Cler near the Eiffel Tower. It’s a pedestrian street but we slowly drove down and parked long enough to put the luggage in our room….which was great…we thought it would be in storage for a few hours. Note…still foggy…we could only see the bottom floors of the Eiffel Tower but the lines were already several hours long.

Back in the car we headed towards the Arc de Triomphe and the Foch Avenue Europcar Rental Agency. Jim enjoyed driving around the Arc de Triomphe…always a challenge that he loves to tackle. We arrived about 9:30 and drove down the ramp to the underground area for the car agency and also a gas station. But, the gauge still showed full after fifty kilometers and so we didn’t have to add any gasoil….so happy as it was 1.45 Euros per liter! We generally paid 1.11 Euros per liter.

Checked the car in with no problems and then walked….luggage free…to the street. We crossed over five or six streets circling the Arc de Triomphe to the Avenue Hoche. We walked two blocks and arrived as the bells were ringing for the 10 am Mass at St. Joseph’s Church; The English Language church where we’d renewed our wedding vows with our children nearly two months ago.

Spoke to the priest after Mass and then walked back to the Arc de Triomphe and from there we walked for the next six hours. Did I mention that Jim’s sandals broke yesterday….he is back in his black regular shoes with socks and I’m still in open sandals. He actually admitted today that he misses his sandals. I really had to work to get him to bring them on the trip!

Our first stop as we strolled down the Avenue Des Champs Elysees was the Peugeot Dealership that had an unusual display called the “Peugeot Shanghai Expo”….yes….they have showrooms for several different auto manufacturers on this famous street. There was a very old limo…1934…an old bicycle…and a new model plus an advanced concept sports version.

We started checking the big movie theatres that dot the boulevard for new movies that have the “version original” tags….meaning that they are still in English and only French sub-titles. We’ve found the movie “Night-Day” and plan to go see it tomorrow afternoon.

Stopped along the way and purchased sandwiches and enjoyed them as we sat in the Gardens of the Tuileries at one of the large water fountains. They have metal chairs all over the park for people to sit in and enjoy the open air. Always seems to be an open chair no matter how crowded the park.

After lunch we headed over to the amusement zone near the Louvre and found the large Ferris wheel; always wanted to ride this one so we climbed aboard. Price was steep at 8 Euros each but what fun. We had our own little glass box and it rose slowly for the first oval as they loaded each box and then we had two more revolutions. Lots of photo opportunities, especially since the last of the fog had lifted and the sun was out in full force.

Continued walking through the Louvre around the glass pyramids and the fountains before heading over to Rue Rivoli and then in the direction of St. Jacques Tower. We stopped to gaze at the tower and rest our “tootsies” before continuing to the George Pompidou Center; very modern and totally out-of-place but extremely popular with the young folks. One of the designers was the same architect that worked on the modern courthouse in Bordeaux. We figured out how to get on the escalators going up to the restaurant on the top of the museum and enjoyed the views of Paris again. Then back down and through the small park connected to the museum….take a look at the wooden shacks that are attached to the outside of the Museum….modern art.

We were headed for the Marais and finally stopped to rest inside of St. Paul & St. Louis Church about 2:45 pm. Back on the trail we finally made it to our destination of the Place de Bastille. Yes…the 14 century prison that was destroyed in 1789 at the beginning of the French Revolution. The stones from this huge prison with eight towers were used to build the bridge at the Place de la Concorde. In 1899 during the construction of a Metro line, additional stones were discovered. They have been placed in a park called Henri Galli on the Boulevard Henry IV near the Seine River; they look like the top of a tower and are almost hidden by the flowers that grow wildly over the sides. The city has also used special paving stones on the street and sidewalks that show the actual outline of the Bastille at the Place de Bastille. There is also a large statue on the center of the square commemorating the liberation of the French people.

We were delighted to see the Seine River banks and the St. Louis en L’ile….our turn around point. We walked along the sides of the island as we looked at the August gift to the people of Paris: Paris Plages. They turn the right bank of the Seine River into a beach complete with games, furniture and everything one needs to enjoy a day at the “beach” during the month of August….in past years we’ve seen sand brought in for the full effect but this year we didn’t see the sand…cost cutting measures we surmised.

Soon we were at Notre Dame; could not believe the lines. It was nearly 4 pm and the line for the entrance to the bell tower was completely back to the park behind the church and the line to get inside of the church reached from the front doors all the way to the crypte entrance at the other end of the plaza. So glad this wasn’t our only day to see the church! Soon we were at the St. Michel Metro Station; purchased our tickets and made two transfers to reach our hotel the Grand Hotel Leveque on Rue Cler. Rested a bit and then enjoyed a beer with a jambon and fromage crepe downstairs at Creperie Ulysee en Gaule; the best in Paris in our book!

A long day but fun to write about….see you tomorrow!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Chateau de Rambouillet

This is our last day with the car….tomorrow we drive to Paris and turn it in before 11 am. We worked on the suitcases; eliminated some of the plastic stuff from the Tour de France caravan that would probably break on the way home. It looks like we can get everything in by eliminating the two bags that we brought with us for food storage. The girls will find some nice surprises when they clean our room tomorrow.

About 10 am this morning we headed out to explore the area around Rambouillet; the town we’ve been staying at for the last couple of days. Our first stop was at the local supermarket for the gasoil for the car. The plan is to fill it up today and hopefully find any type of station that is open in Paris tomorrow (and will take cash….that’s the biggest problem) before we return the car. They will charge us an extra fee plus a fortune for the liters of gasoil if we don’t top it off before we get there. After getting the gasoil we drove off watching the meter…..opps … if didn’t show full. We waited until later in the day; made a return trip and made sure it was full! F.Y.I.: right now it is raining in Paris as we sit here enjoying our last picnic of the trip. Yes….in Paris we will enjoy some restaurants for the final few days.

Some of you have asked about whether or not we’ve saved much money by traveling this way. So here is some information for you to consider:

1) number of days since we left Paris: 39 days

2) Amount of money spent on food (markets & restaurants): 606 Euros = 15 Euros per day for two people…3 meals a day

3) Amount of money spent on lodging: 1600 Euros = 41 Euros per day

4) Amount of money spent on car (gasoil, highway tolls, parking fees): 544 Euros = 14 Euros per day + 20 Euros per day rental fee

So for food, hotels and transportation: 90 Euros per day….for two people….not bad in my book! And, most evenings we enjoyed wine with our dinner plus dessert. We’ve definitely never gone hungry and the stress factor of choosing a restaurant was absent. But I must admit Jim said he’d never do bathrooms down the hall again but said the Balladins and Etaps were okay; not his preference but okay.

Well back to today’s journey; our first stop was the church in town; the town was very crowded because of the weekly market taking place on the main street. So we headed out of town; Jim wanted to visit a store like a Home Depot at home. Not sure why but I thought it might be interesting so we started our search. It seems like we’ve seen them everywhere except for this morning; we drove up the highway and down the highway and finally spotted one about ten kilometers north of here. The name of the store was CASTORAMA…big letters for a big store. It was fun looking at all of their very modern things. Especially interesting was a tub/shower combination…see the slideshow….it only had glass around half of it. One of the tubs was called an Aquarian as it had a clear plastic insert in the side of the tub. Another favorite was the spiral staircase that we’d love to have in our home for easier access to the attic. It’s amazing how little it takes to entertain us as our age!

One thing that Jim really wanted to see was plants but other than a handful; none were found in the store. We looked and looked for some Garden Shops but we never found one this morning.

It was about 1:30 pm when we arrived back in the town of Rambouillet; the Saturday morning market was just closing down and we found parking very near the entrance to the gardens of the Chateau de Rambouillet. The Chateau only has guided tours and the next one is at 2 pm. We walked over by the grand canals and ate our picnic lunch overlooking the water. Then we walked from there to the end of the French gardens and then back past the Chateau and to the ends of the English gardens. It was a delightful walk with great views. Many geese and a few ducks enjoyed the water.

The Chateau de Rambouillet is one of the official residences of the head of State and it has been modified to host visiting foreign heads of state from other countries. It is the only Chateau that we’ve visited that still has the carpet on all of the marble steps. All that remains of the original fourteenth century fort is one round tower that houses the bedroom and sitting rooms for the President of France when he is in residence. Yes…we actually walked through these rooms on the tour. Rambouillet has been an official royal residence since Louis XVI purchased the property in 1783. Napoleon I loved to stay here and actually spend his last night in this Chateau before his exile to Elba.

The only way to see this Chateau is on a guided tour. Our only choice at 2 pm today was a French tour. Absolutely no English provided. It was a large group and we had a brochure in English to follow. I wasn’t sure about taking photos and tried it only once and was reprimanded with a very sharp “Mademoiselle” from the guide. So you have one poorly snapped shot of a living room and the carpet on the stairs; but, the outside photos were fantastic. One of the things I objected to was modern art displayed in every room that really spoiled the overall effects at least for me. These were not paintings but groups of objects that really made no sense to me.

But we did get to walk down the hallway of the bedrooms for the visiting heads of state….there was a door market “Toilette” in the hallway and I remarked to Jim that maybe even the royals shared the bath down the hall. Probably individual ones in each room but it was fun to surmise what if….

While walking back we spotted a wedding party outside of City Hall and I thought you'd enjoy the decorated car for the bride and groom...loved the brooms!

By 3 pm we were done and on our way back to the hotel. But first we made the second trip to the gas station….he actually was able to put more in the tank this time than before! It’ll be interesting to see what we find in Paris on Sunday morning.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Chateau Malmaison, Musee Rodin and Versailles

Today we traveled towards Paris to visit three sites: 1) du Chateau de Malmaison 2) Musee Roden and 3) Chateau de Versailles.

Our journey started about 9:30 am. On our way through town I spotted the first photos for the slideshow: beautiful hanging baskets of flowers to beautify the train bridge for those traveling below the bridge.

We first drove past Versailles as we headed towards Ruell-Malmaison; this is the town where the home that Josephine Bonaparte shared with her husband Napoleon during their stormy marriage. The marriage lasted from 1796 to 1809. She was unable to product an heir; even though she had two children from a prior marriage and they divorced so that he could marry his second wife who did provide him with an heir. Napoleon continued to visit the Chateau de Malmaison and went there one last time in 1815 after his defeat at Waterloo. Many important decisions were made while he conducted government business including the Louisiana Territory being sold to the United States in 1803. This has been open to the public since 1906. A great visit, inexpensive and excellent audio guides included with the ticket price. The property is not large and a short distance from Paris. Josephine died in her bed at Malmaison at the young age of fifty-one from a throat infection.

Soon we were back in the car and winding our way towards another town outside of Paris known as Meudon. On the way I spotted the Eiffel Tower in the distance and couldn’t resist a photo for the slide show. We got lost several times and it took us about forty five minutes but we arrived with enough time to eat our picnic lunch in the car before the museum opened.

This museum is known as “Musee Rodin”; the famous sculptor who molded in clay then did plaster casts before casting them in bronze. We’ve been to his more famous museum in Paris but this is his private home where he lived just outside of the city. There he had a huge workshop attached to his home along with a large building for displaying his plaster casts. The façade of the large building was modeled on the ruins of the Chateau of d’Issy and faced the bottom of his large garden. In front of this façade he placed one of his most famous pieces: The Thinker. This is now his tomb and he is buried underneath the statue in his garden.

According to the literature, Rodin loved to work with plaster even more than clay. He made plaster casts of all of his work so that he could modify parts and use them on other works. Also on the grounds was a large building that appeared to possibly be the foundry where the bronze pieces were made from his molds. There was an American by the name of Jules Mastbaum of Philadelphia who donated funds that helped him to build the display building based on the Chateau d’Issy per literature on the wall of the building. It’s nice to know that an American helped create something special in France for this wonderful artist.

We had an opportunity to really get to know the town of Meudon; we went around in circles for sometime, including finding the Forest of Meudon, before we located the roads that would take us back to Versailles.

It was about 2:30 pm when we pulled into the line for the parking lot in front of the Palace or Chateau of Versailles. We soon realized that only one car was let in for each car that came out. We pulled out of the line and found on street parking a couple of blocks away from the entrance. We could only get a ticket for an hour and half of parking but felt that would probably be enough. Walking past the line of cars waiting we noticed that only one car had gotten since we left the line….glad we made the decision to look elsewhere.

Walked through the large fence and gates that are resplendent in gold…probably gold leaf….looks rather new! There were thousands of people with more arriving every minute. Most were getting into the lines for the Chateau….we’ve done that several times….we headed for the gardens.

The gardens are free and one merely strolls through to the back of the Chateau and voila … miles of gardens, fountains and lakes await you. If you can ignore the hordes of people surrounding you everywhere….it’s a glorious site to behold. We walked all the way to the large Grand Canal where the tourists were boating. Took lots of photos…including one of Jim taking the gravel out of his sandal…a daily happening for both of us…enjoyed the flowers and statues and then walked back towards the Chateau.

This is the first time we’ve really enjoyed the gardens. On previous visits we’ve done the inside of the Palace and then took the Petit Train back to the Hamlet and a different route around the gardens. Those visits were during the early spring and/or fall so this was a real pleasure to enjoy the flowers. They were setting up electric lights around the fountains and gardens in preparation for the Friday evening illumination show….we’ll miss that as it doesn’t start for hours. We’ll be tucked in long before that time.

Back to our hotel….a nice Skype visit with our granddaughter Alyssa….she’s still in Arizona…and time to prepare suitcases for our trip in to Paris on Sunday. Thanks again for sharing our day’s journey with us.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Chartres Cathedral

Moving day again….on the road about 9:30 am…it was a cold morning; it rained last night. I dug my zip-on pant legs out this morning and they felt good. People in shorts looked cold, especially in the wind. We really took it slow on our drive to Rambouillet; using all small roads through fields and mostly forests and many little villages. If we hit a larger town we found a way around most of the time.

We did stop for a church that wasn’t open in Corbeil and found instead bridges and a small stream just waiting for photos. My friend Jan wanted to know if the flowers in Melun were morning glories….after inspecting these and looking at both petunias and morning glories on the Internet….we’re still not 100% sure which they are. But, they are beautiful!

I did get to see one field of my girls (sunflowers)…probably the last ones of the trip…they looked tired and on the down side of life! We drove today in a beautiful area known as the Ile de France which includes the city of Paris. This area is still very involved in farming…I finally got a photo of one of the tall haystacks for you. They make these gigantic bales…each bale is three to four times the ones we had as kids…it takes a machine to lift one of these bales. They stack them up in the fields to the size of a two to three story house. They do the same thing with the large rolls of hay but it’s just not quite as impressive as the bales.

The second half of our trip today took us through miles of a forest known as Rambouillet Forest that runs for miles much like the State of California…thin and long. Our hotel is located in the center and has its own Chateau that we’ll visit on Saturday. Our Etap Hotel is located on the southern end of the city and was relatively easy to find. It’s always a challenge no matter how good the maps are it seems. We found someone home; it was only 1:00 pm and we weren’t sure we would; managed to check in and unload the car. We then headed south towards Chartres in the car on the northerly route and came back on the southern route making a full circle of our afternoon adventure.

Chartres is a large city and famous for its Cathedral dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus. In 876 the church acquired the two thousand year old veil supposedly worn by Mary when she gave birth to Jesus. From that point on this has been a pilgrimage church and people came from far and wide to pay homage. When that church burned in 1194 and the veil didn’t…to celebrate they built the present day cathedral. Notice the last photo of our shoes on the symbol of the trail for the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela…yes this is one of the trails that leads south to Spain connecting along the way with trails from other parts of France.

Okay…the reason that we go and have gone on several different trips is to see the stained glass windows. The color of the blue that is used in the windows is of such a unique intensity that it has become known as “chartres blue” in the color charts. The Cathedral is undergoing extensive restoration works that was commenced in 2009 and will continue until 2014; and probably beyond that date as things are rarely finished on time. The front of the church has a scrim on the front but both of the side entrances are now finished. The nave in the sanctuary has been cleaned around the top contrasting sharply with the bottom section that has not been cleaned. They are now cleaning the main altar.

Our visit began many miles northeast of the city as we gazed across the freshly cut wheat fields to see the very unusual dual spires that rise out of the top of the cathedral. We were able to watch the bell towers increase in size as we neared the city. If you drive in from the northeast on route D906 you find this very unusual view; we’ve only arrived from this direction once and it was years ago. Generally we arrive from the south or west.

You’ll also enjoy the stained glass store that is next to the church; we stopped to visit before we finished our walk around the outside of the church. So tempting to purchase something but fortunately there is absolutely no room in the suitcases! Around to the back of the Cathedral we looked over the vista views of the city and down into the yard of the abbey next door to see the maze in the grass. There is also a maze on the stone floor of the church but they had chairs sitting on top of it so we couldn’t really appreciate that one.

Back to the car and home to Rambouillet for the evening. We had to purchase Internet time here; they use the Orange network…works well except that Skype does not work with voice to voice calls…but computer to computer works well. Had to decided on a range of offerings from 4.95 euros for an hour, ten hours for 15 euros or 30 days for 20 euros. We decided to just get the 30 day one and be done with it since we’re here three evenings and both love being on the wifi! The television stations are all in French so the computer Internet is really important. Until tomorrow…. Au Revoir…

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Exploring the City of Melun

Today was a “tweener” day….finished with the sites in this area but still have one last night in this hotel. We took our time this morning; I had to get a new code for my wifi from the desk downstairs. About 8:30 am the fire alarm started ringing; confirmed that it was a false alarm but it did take about five minutes before they shut it off. The weather outside is overcast and about 20 degrees.

By 9:30 we were off to search for gasoil. Jim likes to get the cheapest by using the stations at the large supermarkets. This would not be a problem as we are very close to one but this one only takes credit cards and not cash. American credit cards don’t work as we don’t have the chips in our cards yet. So off we went and spent about forty five minutes and drove over ten kilometers but we finally did find one; located on the road to Troyers outside of town. Must admit he did save some money….we needed 28 liters and he saved nine cents a liter by all that searching! Let’s see, that’s about three euros! But we had fun and since it’s a do nothing day who cares!

After getting our gasoil we headed back into the old city center of Melun to visit all of the various sites that are recommended by the Tourist Information Shop in town. This very old city dates back to before the year 1000; so some things to see. It sits on the banks of the Seine River…yep, the same one as Paris; and it also has an island in the river with a church known as Notre Dame of Melun. Locked up tight but provided some wonderful outside photos. They must feed the swans as the river was full of them in this location. The bridge was loaded with huge flower arrangements….but all bridges in France have flowers in baskets. There is a prison that wraps around the church and extends all the way out to the east end of the island. Very old looking and still very actively used. In medieval times there was a large Chateau on the other end of the island…that disappeared centuries ago. Also missing are the mill houses that lined the south side of the island.

The skies were getting darker and it was getting cooler; sure wish I had the zip-on legs for my pants! It was downright cold by now! Fortunately we keep our jackets in the trunk of the car. Carried our umbrellas all day but only used them for about two minutes at one point.

We found St. Aspais’s Church. Odd shaped probably because of the size of the lot. It is also very old and has had it’s share of problems. In August of 1944, near the end of the war, the American’s bombed this church. They worked from 1946 to 1965 restoring the damaged portions. Right now there are wooden casings on several of the pillars; apparently they are having problems with too much moisture in the soil under the church and the pillars are moving.

We then walked to St. Jean’s fountain before heading towards an open market that we could see about a block away. The market was not very large and had mostly linens and clothing. Jim did find a vendor selling hot sausages and he purchased one to eat for lunch. He said it was pretty good.

It was noon so we headed back to the Seine River and found a nice bench to use while we enjoyed our picnic lunch. We had an hour until the Museum of Melun was scheduled to open so we read. Suddenly the wind came up and the clouds got darker so we headed over to our car that was parked next to Notre Dame church. Spent another half hour there and about 2 pm we walked over to the museum. Nothing very special but they were very nice and gave us postcards of their major works as we were leaving. They probably cost them more than our 2.50 euro fee to enter.

From there we walked around the rest of the island and found the statues of Abelard and Heloise who lived here for a short time. In the 11th century he was a philosopher and teacher who was hired as her tutor (he was 20 years older than the girl)….they fell in love and had a child…they later married but the relatives separated them. They are famous now for the love letters that they exchanged over a lifetime. She became a nun and he became a monk and today they are buried together in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Jim Morrison the American Rock Star of “The Doors” is also buried there. That’s the short version of a long story!

We also spotted a large luxury barge cruising down the Seine River….it takes a day to cruise from Paris to Melun and up until the eighteenth century that was one of the main means of travel between these two cities. There was a daily boat according to one story that I read in the museum. This one even had a rack full of bicycles for guests to use on their stops and a row of exercise machines on top deck for the ambitious guests. Looked very expensive and they were pulling in for a visit to Melun.

Walked back to the car and headed back to the hotel for our final night in Melun. Tomorrow we head west to Rambouillet for three nights while we visit several sites in that area before heading back into Paris. The drive is not too far and we may head over to see the Cathedral at Chartres in the afternoon if we’ve time; it’s just southwest of Rambouillet.

The photo of the medallion with my shoes is for my twin sister…they are located all over the city of Melun….she was always looking for a manhole cover or something with the city name on it to take photos of our feet as we walked the streets of Europe on our trip in 2009. Enjoy Mary…we think of you often!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte

Left the hotel about 9 am this morning; it was cool at 14 degrees. We drove over to Vaux-le-Vicomte and found that it didn’t open until 10 am. Rather than sit in the car we headed over to the little town of Blandy to see their fort. Yes, it was a restored fort with a small chateau and also closed until 10 am. But the church was open and we spent a few minutes in there, walked around the fort…Jim says I should say a completely walled castle….took a photo of an old mill wheel in a park and then headed back towards Vaux-le-Vicomte. We saw a church steeple in the distance and turned that way to find the thirteenth century church of St. Martin’s.

Then we turned around again and headed for the Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte… opened a few minutes after we arrived. So nice; not crowded with tour buses and tourists during the week primarily because it is difficult to reach. You really get the feel of a 17th Century Chateau as it is located miles from anywhere in the middle of a forest with acres and acres of gardens. The history behind this fabulous chateau is connected to Louis XIV. Nicolas Fouquet, who built Vaux-le-Vicomte, was his Treasury Minister. Fouquet held an open chateau to celebrate his creation and invited Louis XIV and his court to attend the party! Bad idea….others convinced the King that Fouquet must have stolen money from the government and he was arrested and spent the rest of his days in prison. The movie about the man in the iron mask is loosely based upon this story.

Louis XIV promptly hired the Fouquet’s architect Louis Le Vau, his decorator the artist Charles Le Brun and landscaper Andre Le Notre to transform his hunting lodge of Versailles into the palace that exists there today….rivaling all of the grand chateaux of the day. It is definitely bigger and costlier but not more beautiful than Vaux-le-Vicomte. But Versailles is now sitting in the middle of town! Easy to get to but you don’t have the feeling of 17th century.

Since we’ve both toured the Chateau before we thought about just doing the gardens but decided to spend the extra euros and tour the whole Chateau again. We wandered through from the basement to the top of the bell tower; spending nearly two hours inside of the Chateau. It is beautifully furnished; many documents regarding the history were explained in both French and English. Fouquet was held at both the Chateau de Vincennes and The Bastille and I’ve included photos of both drawings that were on the walls. We visited the Chateau de Vincennes when we were in Paris and there is nothing left of the Bastille except for a rock on a corner in Paris. There were a few mannequins staged and one of them must have been a Disneyland creation as he almost looked real! His eyes, mouth, forehead and neck all moved as he talked. Jim enjoyed the attic leading to the bell tower with the many models and drawings of the construction of the house. The views from the top were great. If you look at the view of the gardens….we walked allllllll the way to the back….it took forty five minutes each way!

After we left the house we walked everywhere in the gardens. Towards the back there was a long lake and the only way was to walk all the way around it….which we did….and then up the hill to the statue that one can barely see from the house. We ate our picnic lunch under the statue of Hercules…even did a photo using the timer. I’ve put three photos of the Chateau from the statue….the first is normal and then two using the telescopic lens to give you an idea of the distance we walked.

And then we walked another forty five minutes back; toured the stables to see the display of carriages after pausing to notice that the moat actually has water in it. Then it was back to the car at 2 pm. What to do….it’s still early. Looked at the maps and decided to head for Provins.

Provins is another ancient town about thirty minutes away from Melun. They have a Cite Medieval that sits on the top of the hill. About a third of their original wall has been restored and it was a very interesting place. Provins is a Unesco’s World Heritage town and puts on Medieval show events during the summer. Many people come out from Paris for the day to see these places. Yes…we’re actually very close to Paris. Other than lots of old buildings we visited Caesar’s Tower; built in the 12th Century to protect the Earl of Champagne’s palace. Today it is the bell tower for the other site we visited: the 12th century church, Collegiale Saint-Quiriace. The church is rather sad as after fires and other problems over the centuries, the rose windows were cemented in and never replaced. But, lots of history; Joan d’Arc visited this church in 1429 when she was campaigning with King Charles VII.

Back on the road we drove to our hotel in Melun and arrived about 5 pm. It’s turned out to be a hot day…about 24 degrees this afternoon. We actually dug our hats out to wear while we walked the gardens in Vaux-le-Vicomte. Some of you may wonder about the speed that we’re moving these days. We were actually planning to go home on August 1st….but because of problems scheduling our free air mile tickets we’ve ended up with a couple of extra weeks. We decided to visit this area especially to see the Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte. Should you have the opportunity to see this one…don’t miss it! Along with Chateau Chenonceau, they’re our favorite.