Thursday, April 30, 2009


Thursday, April 30, 2009 Chateau de Versailles

We woke up early to a beautiful day full of sunshine and decided to change our plans and head for the Palace of Versailles, also known as the Chateau de Versailles, today instead of the planned Fontainebleau.

Heading due east at seven thirty in the morning put us directly into the sun; beautiful but blinding for short ladies! Somehow we made the right decision instinctively because we were unable to read the directional signs and we found ourselves on the right highway! At the first opportunity we pulled off; put gasoline in the car and verified that we were indeed headed in the correct direction. Things went well until we took the shorter route and headed due north on a four lane divided highway. Half way there we decided that half of France was taking the same shortcut as we were moving about ten mph down the highway. It took us nearly three hours to go seventy miles! But, we arrived at Versailles by ten o’clock. They are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the palace as a museum this year; to celebrate they are doing extensive work including the spending of five million euros to replace the two hundred sixty foot long Royal Gate in the center of the courtyard that is decorated with one hundred thousand gold leaves. The original disappeared during the French Revolution. With the sun shinning directly on the fence it was blinding; they are also adding gold leaf to the roof edges so the whole appearance from the front entry will be golden when completed. Unfortunately the Opera House is totally closed by the restoration and we were unable to see that gem.

The crowds today were huge and we couldn’t imagine how it can be any worse but we understand that the summer months are unbelievable. We took our time and enjoyed the tour at our own pace; sometimes waiting for the large tour groups to disappear so that we could enjoy a room without them. The hall of mirror was spectacular as always.

After touring the state apartments and the galleries we headed out into the gardens and caught the mini train that took us out to the Petit Trianon where we enjoyed touring Marie-Antoinette’s restored “home away from home” and then walked through the gardens to visit her “Hamlet” with the thatched roof houses, the pond full of catfish who we enjoy teasing so that they would come up for feeding with their mouths open hoping for some food. The lone swan graced us with a visit before we strolled back through the garden to the Petit Trianon to catch the mini train for our ride back to the palace.

We stopped only for a minute outside the Grand Trianon that has centuries of history for the French Presidents and now houses important state visitors and also hosts state functions. We decided to pass on touring this one in favor of the one built for Marie-Antoinette. We also stayed on the train when it stopped at the Grand Canal for those that wanted to spend time there and maybe even rent a rowboat. During the reign of Louis XIV the Grand Canal was a true miniature sea with many ships of various types for his guests to enjoy riding around on in the canal.

Prior to the French Revolution, the Domaine de Versailles covered an area of the size of the present city of Paris. It was approximately 7,800 hectares surrounded by walls of 43 kilometers. Today the size is approximately 800 hectors. Sorry, you’ll have to look up the conversion as I don’t have it with me!

By the time we returned to our car we’d spent about four and half hours touring this world renowned site; time well spent as we truly enjoyed our day at Versailles in the sunshine. The last time I was here it was freezing cold in late October; I really enjoyed it much more today.

We headed out towards Fontainebleau; we knew that we needed to go south and east to the A6 Autoroute. We had some trouble and kept getting turned around so decided to take a road out of the city to find some of the streets outside of town. Down one road and then another; on country roads, on city roads, and suddenly we saw the same people standing in a field that we’d passed twenty miles before! Opps…we’d somehow made a wrong turn when we were going around a round-de-round too many times! Well, we didn’t make that mistake again! We just kept heading in the right direction and at one point Mary became so frustrated with trying to figure out where we were that she offered to drive and let me take over the maps! She did a great job; we never lost our tempers and even laughed now and then but suddenly we found that we were on the A6; who knows how…but we were home free! From there we followed the signs to Fontainebleau, arriving nearly three hours after leaving Versailles. We stopped to look at the Chateau that was closed and then drove on to find our Formule One Hotel for the night outside of town. It was a fun day full of ups and downs but mostly ups. We only covered less than two hundred miles but we were driving for nearly six hours. Tomorrow’s another day!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Wednesday, April 29, 2009 Chambord Chateau and Chartres Cathedral

The rain had stopped by the time we left Cheverny and we enjoyed driving the countryside roads as we searched for the largest of the Chateaux: Chambord. Located in the center of a forest it is massive in size. Mary’s foot was bothering her so she asked to forgo the visit of four hundred fifty rooms. We took lots of outside photos and then back to the other side of the forest as we searched for the A10 Autoroute for a fast trip around Orleans and north towards Chartres.

Along the road we stopped to take a photo of Mary standing in the yellow fields that we’ve seen ever since Dijon. At that time we thought that it was mustard. Lately we’ve decided it must be something else and we’ve been asking around. Finally today, while we were walking in the rain around the Chartres Cathedral, a lady finally told us. It is called Rape Seed and they make a vegetable oil for cooking from it.

We also stopped for a photo of a very ancient windmill in the center of a field. Then as we entered Chartres we saw the steeples of the Cathedral and our hotel. We went into town confident about the location of our hotel and enjoyed visiting the Cathedral that is know around the world for the shade of blue in their stained glass windows.

Again, restoration work on the outside and inside was extensive. The entire choir of the main alter was hidden behind canvas. But there were still many things to see and enjoy in this wonderful old church that was originally built in 1194 and housed the much-venerated veil of Mary. Today it is considered one of Europe’s best examples of pure Gothic.

We enjoyed our visit even though we had to walk in the rain from the parking structure. Heading back to the hotel on the edge of town we got a bit turned around but managed to arrive safely before three o’clock. Another day completed as we near the end of our journey.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009 Chateau de Cheverny

We enjoyed our night in a “real” hotel with an in suite bathroom, tiny but in our room. Best of all was the BBC on the television. But, we listened to the rain all night long and sure enough it was still raining this morning as we left on our day’s journey.

Arrived in the small village of Cheverny and easily located the Chateau that was scheduled to open about fifteen minutes after our arrival. This is another of the small but beautifully appointed Chateaux in the Loire Valley.

The Chateau de Cheverny was built in the seventeenth century by the Hurault family and is still owned by the Hurault de Vibraye family, descendants of the original builders. Each succeeding generation has enhanced, maintained and preserved the beauty and character, guided by their personal taste and that of the period. The private apartments on display were lived in until 1985; the family reserves the third floor for personal use and it is closed to the public. There are many family photos, both very old and current that are displayed in the public rooms that we toured. The large glass stag’s head in the slideshow is a contemporary design in Baccarat crystal.

The single story building behind the Chateau is known as the Orangery and may be reserved for conferences and receptions. During WW II, this building was used to house part of the treasurers of the State, including the Mona Lisa painting from the Louvre
Museum in Paris.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Tuesday, April 28, 2009 Chateau Royal D’Amboise

A short drive away from the Chateau du Clos Luce we visited the Chateau Royal D’Amboise; the home of many Kings of France; built in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This Chateau actually had a tunnel that connected to the Clos Luce, allowing the King to easily visit with Leonardo da Vinci.

The chapel is reported to be the grave of Leonardo da Vinci but rumors float that no one is absolutely sure. But it is a beautiful chapel built on one corner of the ramparts that surround the Chateau. Lots of steps and ramps to climb; beautifully furnished rooms from the nineteenth century and gardens full of beautiful flowers surround well manicured lawns. We’ve decided that one of the best things about this time of the year is all of the flowering trees that add so much color to the landscape.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009 Chateau du Clos Luce

Our second adventure today was in the city of Amboise located on the River Loire. The sun was shining when we arrived contrary to weather reports. We visited the home where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last years of his life having left Rome with several of his favorite paintings, including the Mona Lisa. He was offered the position of engineer, architect, and painter to the French King who enjoyed his intellectual company in the early sixteenth century.

The house and grounds display a vast exhibit of the many designs by Leonardo with both drawings and models; he was prolific in his advanced thinking and interestingly wrote in mirror image. There were many groups of school children in this museum, all working on projects in various rooms with their teachers. Although he died more than five hundred years ago, he is credited with inspiring the technology behind many of the developments of the modern age such as helicopters and airplanes; as well as many different types of guns and other means of defense.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009 Chateaux de Chenonceaux

Yesterday we arrived at the hotel just as the rain began before three in the afternoon. It rained all night long; we were concerned about our plans for today as the weather reports were predicting a full day of rain. But, by eight o’clock this morning the rain had stopped, the sky was still full of dark clouds; but other than light sprinkles it was great!

Based on yesterday’s experience we got on the autoroute immediately and paid the toll to take us to our first destination: the Chateaux de Chenonceaux, my favorite of all of the Loire Valley Chateaus. One of the unique things about this particular site is the fact that everyone has the opportunity to walk through the forest before viewing the Chateau that is built in the river, as the parking is about a fifteen minute walk to the actual chateau. Once you leave the forest there are beautiful gardens surrounding the front entry that leads over a draw bridge into the Chateau.

Built in the sixteenth century on The Cher River, it is known as “the chateau of the ladies” because of the many different Royal Women who lived and loved in this beautiful edifice. The most famous were Diane de Poitiers, the Mistress of Henry II and Catherine de Medicis, the wife of Henry II and the mother of future kings. During WW I it served as a hospital and during WW II it served as a passage between the German held France and the Vichy free France; each having access to one side of the structure.

The rooms are all staged with furniture dating from the sixteenth century and throughout the Chateau there are unusual floral arrangements that keep me astounded with the variety each time I visit. If I only had the opportunity to visit one Chateau, this would definitely be the one! Small, unique and very beautiful with a captivating history about women!

Monday, April 27, 2009


Monday, April 27, 2009 Afternoon at Le Chateau de Villandry

Our drive over to our second Chateau was much shorter; we followed directions back to the toll road and easily found our destination just down the road. Arrived there just after eleven o’clock and although there were many more tourists it still wasn’t very crowded. But, the rain had finally come so we did our tour in our poncho raincoats.

The best thing about this Chateau is the gardens. Actually the full name of the site is “Le Chateau de Villandry et ses Jardins”. Some tour books even say to pass on the building and only do the gardens but we did both and were glad that we had.

The rain was very light and we were able to do almost the entire garden area before heading into the Chateau. Then, we had the added enjoyment of seeing the views of the gardens from each of the rooms. Again, there were many fresh floral arrangements, even more than at Langeais, and a more nineteenth century décor inside. The gardens and the restoration of the inside of the home were the work of Dr. Joachim Carvallo, after he and his wife, an American heiress, purchased Villandry in 1906. It was originally built about 1536 and was the last of the large Chateaux built on the banks of the Loire during the Renaissance. There were many photos of their family in the home and it looked “lived in” as opposed to a museum. You will even see a photo of the stage for the children’s puppet show.

We even climbed all the way to the top of the tower for a view of the gardens and surrounding village from the top before heading down and out to find our new lodging for the night.

We arrived at our Formule One north of Tours about two in the afternoon; just before the rain started in earnest. A quick run to the local supermarket has us stocked for meals for the next three days! And, we’ve got free wi-fi tonight! Hope you’ve enjoyed the new format I’ve decided to use on the balance of the trip. So much information that I thought I’d give you little snips instead of lump sums! Au Revoir


Monday, April 27, 2009 Chateau de Langeais

We had a leisurely morning as we didn’t have far to travel to reach our first Chateau on today’s agenda; left the hotel about eight thirty and then the fun began. Remember, we were in a Formule One in an industrial area on the outskirts of Angers so the road out was somewhat of a gray area since we don’t have a detailed map.

We were trying to take the small roads so we bypassed the toll road and headed east. We kept following signs and suddenly we realized that we were headed north instead of east; the skies were full of clouds instead of sunshine! Bottom line, we made a large triangle and ended up traveling an extra fifty miles or so; but, what a wonderful serendipity experience in the French countryside! We finally managed to find a toll road that got us straightened out and moving in the correct direction.

We arrived at Chateau de Langeais about ten fifteen; an hour later than we’d planned to be there. It is located in the center of a small village and has a drawbridge entry. Its claim to fame is that this was the place that King Charles VIII was married to the fourteen year old Princess Anne de Bretagne. Each of the rooms was beautifully staged with fresh floral arrangements, many tapestries, many pieces of period furniture and mannequins in the room with the marriage scene recreated. Mary enjoyed touring at her own pace with a descriptive card in English in every room as we entered. Not a huge Chateau but very charming and easy to tour in an hour.


Sunday, April 26, 2009 Angers & The Tapestry

We decided to get an early start this morning since we were not quite sure how long it would take us to drive from Dinard to Angers. We left under overcast skies just before eight o’clock and about half an hour later the sun was out and as we were leaving the Brittany area we received an Irish Blessing in the form of a beautiful rainbow in the western sky.

We pulled into the city of Angers at ten thirty, about two and a half hours for the one hundred fifty mile trip. The roads were dry and well marked, a combination of four lane divided and two lane country roads. We had a four lane divided highway for the first fifty miles to Rennes; then the type of road continued to change back and forth for the next one hundred miles. The changes were general heralded by a round-de-round and a series of bumps on the road to remind us that a change was coming!

The best news was that we were traveling on a Sunday morning and traffic was almost non-existent. When we entered Angers we immediately spotted the Chateau just after we passed the off ramp. I took the next one and then proceeded to head in the direction of the Chateau. The roads led us right into the narrow medieval streets that surround the Chateau and Mary was rather upset with my choices. But, we managed to keep going until I pulled out right across from the Chateau and we were able to park on the street at the entry.

The Chateau d’Angers is very distinctive with its security wall of barrel shaped towers located very close together all around the wall that is surrounded by a mote. Originally built in the ninth century as the Fortress of Saint Louis, the towers had beautiful pointed roofs but they were leveled in the sixteenth century and remain flat topped towers connected with a wall that surround the ruins of the beautiful Chateau and royal gardens used by the Anjou dynasties from the ninth to the twelfth centuries.

Our main reason for visiting Angers was to see the Apocalypse tapestry that is displayed in a specially constructed building within the Fortress with very low light to preserve the delicate material. It was commissioned in 1375 by Louis I, Duke of Anjou. It is exceptional in size being one thousand meters long and four and half meters high. There are seventy scenes surviving today. The tapestry depicts the last book of the Bible, written by Saint John at the end of the first century. It is the oldest surviving tapestry of this size.

We enjoyed watching a large tethered owl on the lawn and then discovered that Mary had lost her hat! Went back through the entire complex and no hat could be found. But as we were leaving they notified us that someone had found the hat and it was waiting for us at the front desk! Another happy ending.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Saturday, April 25, 2009 Saint Malo, Dinard & St. Enogat

Out the door before nine am for the short drive over to Saint Malo. We got a bit turned around at first because the signs to the Centre Ville suddenly were gone. Stopped and checked Rick Steves and the sign in this particular city is “Intra Muros”….not sure why but it worked and we were soon at the Ancient City Center. Parked and walked in through the gateway under the ramparts. I thought it was brisk but Mary said it was “very cold”. She had two jackets with both hoods up, a scarf and her gloves. I was dressed lightly in my windbreaker and no socks with my sandals but loved the brisk wind in my hair as we walked around the ramparts from the port to the chateau. The tide was in and actually splashing over the wall along the port at the beginning. We could barely see the outline of the swimming pool wall near the center of the ramparts above the port. By the time we reached the far side the tide was beginning to recede and people were starting to walk out onto the tidal basin to reach the off shore fort that only moments before had been surrounded by water.

Walked to the center of the city to visit the Cathedral of St. Vincent; over the centuries it has had its problems but WW II was very difficult for the structure. Eighty percent of St. Malo was damaged during the invasion in 1944. There were photos of the damage and the church was basically a shell with partial walls, partial towers and not much else left. It’s amazing to realize the restoration process that has been done over the past sixty years. This church is dedicated to sailors and explorers, two of the people buried here in this cathedral are Jacques Cartier and Duguay-Trouin.

Our three hour exploration was over too soon but we were ready to return to Dinard. We will go over to St. Enogat for Mass at six this evening and possibly stop by to check the tide levels while we are out. . The sun was shinning brightly for our morning excursion, coming home we noticed some dark clouds and now two hours later it is raining. Nice to be home and watching the rain out of our window!

Our evening trip was under sunny skies with fabulous clouds. Arrived in St. Enogat early and took the extra time to explore the beach area in this little “Newport Beach” of Dinard. Beautiful old stone vintage homes, several of which had signs on the gates indicating that they may be rented for a week at a time.

The church was beautiful and we enjoyed the Mass even though many people were coughing and sneezing all around us. But, all in all, it was a nice way to end the week.

Tomorrow morning we head south to the Lorie Valley and a week of visiting the Chateaus along the Lorie River before our final days in Paris.


Thursday, April 23, 2009 traveling west to Le Mont Saint Michel

This morning we took the autoroute west out of Caen, but unlike the rest of France, there are no tolls to be paid for using the autoroutes in Brittany. A little benefit in the Brittany area of France (the north west corner); a right given to this area for “free roads” was gained in 1491 when the French King Charles VIII forced the fourteen year old Duchess Anne to marry him. This union made Brittany a part of France and the Queen compensated her subjects with a few special bonuses!

After we passed Avranches we veered off the highway unto the country roads…and I’m talking country…one of those roads where you have to pull over when passing an oncoming vehicle! Fortunately the traffic was nearly non existence and we had the road pretty much to ourselves.

Located not far from the renowned Le Mont Saint Michel, near the tiny village of Huisnes-sur-Mer; the German War Graves Commission commenced work in 1956 to bring the fallen German soldiers together from small plots throughout Normandy into six cemeteries. This one is designed as a circular crypt with two layers that house the remains of nearly twelve thousand German soldiers. At the end of the second level there is a viewing area of Le Mont Saint Michel in the distance. There is a photo in the slideshow that is hazy but taken from the German Cemetery.

Back on the country road to look for the American Cemetery but without any luck and suddenly we were at the causeway leading towards Le Mont Saint Michel. The sun is shining and we enjoyed the view all along the route that connects the mainland with the “island”. Today the tide was extremely low and people were enjoying the opportunity to walk far and wide on the marshy sand for unusual views of St. Michel.

We were able to park very near the entrance to the village at the base of the Abbey; this was great as I had secretly planned to get Mary to walk all the way up and actually tour the Abbey at the top! Many, many steps later, she was so glad I hadn’t told her just how many steps, we walked into the Chapel of the Abbey during our tour and found that Mass had just begun. Of course, we stayed for the whole Mass and it was a chilling experience in more ways than one. I was probably the only one there without a jacket and it was very cool in the old stone building. But, with four monks and half a dozen nuns, the music made the chills worthwhile! The Mass was definitely an unexpected added experience.

We decided to stop at one of the little Crepiere Shops and purchased a ham and cheese crepe to eat for a late lunch as we continued our walk back to the car. We were long gone before the tide came in but we did so enjoyed our three hour adventure at Le Mont Saint Michel!

Back on the highway; the big two lane one with restricted entrance made the next fifty miles fly as we headed towards our Formule One Hotel between Dinard and Saint Malo. The hotel is very nice and only a block from the supermarket so we’re set for the next three nights. And so ends another day that began in Normandy and ended in Brittany.

Friday, April 24, 2009 Dinan and English Channel Mudflats

Sun was out early when we awoke about eight; it’s amazing how late the sun is out in the evening, at nine o’clock last night it was still daylight. But then I remember when I was here in 2004 in July, it didn’t get dark until nearly midnight! Something about the northern equinox I think.

Around nine we headed out to the main highway towards Dinan; a city that is caught in the middle ages. Since there was little or no damage to it during the war, you know that what you are seeing is original! The town dates back to medieval times in the ninth century give or take a century. There is a city wall complete with ramparts connecting the different towers that divide the old town with the port town. The old town inside of the ramparts was always safe but the port town was the victim of many invasions over the centuries.

There is a long, narrow and very steep street that connects the two parts of town; dangerous to walk when raining and treacherous for old ladies who tend to trip on the cobblestones. So locked arm in arm, we slowly descended all the way to the port from the old town above. With one photo opportunity after another it was easy to go slowly and then Mary spotted a B&B that looked perfect for her plan to exchange novels as we’d finished reading both of our books; I didn’t think she’d find someone exchange books.

Well…at the very first stop they were very happy to help us once she understood what we wanted to do. Mary again, with no French language skills, had managed to convey what we wanted. We walked away with photos, new novels to read; she actually gave us three for two, and a promise to put her B&B on our blogspot for being so nice. It was at the Le Logis du Jerzual, her email is and their site is: . Highly recommend them if you’re ever in the area.

Soon we were at the Port on the river and stopped to enjoy a cup of coffee before we elected to walk along the river from the port until we reached a switch back trail that took us up to a road from where we walked back into the old town at the top. After visiting the Church of St. Sauveur, dated back to the year 1000 or so, we found our car and headed back towards Dinard and our hotel.

Along the way we decided to head towards the English Channel and see what we could see. What we did see were vast mud flats as the tide was out, many small villages, and passed many tractors going between their fields. Brittany is known for the influence of their Irish heritage; Mary commented that all we needed to see was a thatched roof to feel like we were in Ireland. You guessed it; we saw two houses with thatched roofs before we arrived back in Dinard.

In Dinard we also stopped along a beach, the sun was shining brightly; the tide was still out so the water was at least six blocks away from the beach with many boats sitting on the mud flats in between Dinard and St.Malo across the bay. And, on the beach a bikini! There were about a few people taking advantage of the warm weather for some sun bathing on the sand. We came back to the same beach about three hours later and the water was lapping the sandy beach and dozen of people were enjoying the sun. The tide had come in and filled the bay!

In our photos today we’ve included a sign about the “round-de-rounds”…very few stop signs as they use round circles at almost all of the intersections. Just go around until you find the directional sign you need; it’s ok to go round more than once! But, no right turns on the red lights. Also, because of the small cars every stoplight has a miniature light low on the pole so that you can see them from your car. Also, crosswalks are not at the corner but about six feet from the corner; actually much safer for both the car and the pedestrian. Probably more information than you need!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Monday, April 20, 2009 Normandy Coast to Caen by way of Lisieux

Today we decided to take the scenic route to Caen but with fog we won’t see much of the countryside. We arrived at our first destination about ten o’clock. We’d decided to stop at the town of Lisieux, located about half way to Caen. We’d read on the internet about St. Therese of Lisieux and that they have created a Sanctuary for her similar to those at Fatima and Lourdes. Our first stop was at the Cathedral of St. Peter’s where St. Therese worshiped as a child and was known as Therese Martin. She was born in 1873 and joined the Carmelite Order when she was only fifteen years old. She died at the early age of twenty four in 1897 and was proclaimed a saint in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. She was known as Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face as a Carmelite Nun. She is also known as Sainte-Therese De Lisieux.

St. Peter’s was a very large and beautiful Cathedral of Norman gothic style built in the end of the twelfth century; it was very interesting to visit and see all of the detailed information on Sainte Theresa’s years as a parishioner. We drove to the house where the Martin family lived in the late nineteenth century when Therese was a child. The Carmelite Nuns conduct tours of the house for the public; an audio tape plays in your language as they guide you through the house.

From there we drove to the Sanctuary where there is a huge Basilica that was built above the city in 1929. Its walls and those of the Crypt are covered with mosaics that illustrate the message of Saint Therese. Not as large as Lourdes but definitely very impressive.

Three hours later, the fog had lifted somewhat and we were back on the three lane road headed towards Caen; about an hours drive north west of Lisieux. Had intended to find the road that circles the city and use that to get to the northern edge where we wanted to go; no such luck…we ended up driving straight through the center of town. We found signs that said “Le Memorial”…assuming that this was the WW II Memorial Museum we followed the signs. Our hotel instructions had said to take Exit 7 from the Ring Road and those were the same instructions for the Memorial so we easily found our hotel once we found the Memorial. Checked in and then headed over to the Museum.

Built in 1988, Le Memorial de Caen is probably the best WW II Museum in France. We spent a couple of hours there and plan to return tomorrow for a few more hour tomorrow as our tickets are good for twenty four hours. It’s been a good day full of new things and several serendipity driving experiences that we could not repeat if we had to! But we always managed to find our destinations in plenty of time and that what really matters in the end.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 Bayeux Tapestry and Omaha Beach

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in our room and then headed over to the WW II Museum nearby so that we arrived there for the opening at nine o’clock. We spent an hour finishing up the Museum portion and then watched the movie about the D-Day Invasion that lasted nearly an hour. It was a split screen with the Allied Forces on the left side and the Germans on the right as each prepared for battle and then the actual fighting. It was difficult to watch both at the same time but a fascinating way to show both sides of a story.

It was nearly eleven o’clock by the time we headed out of town towards the Bayeux. The sun was out early this morning and we enjoyed the bright sunshine as we drove along the two lane highway for the short trip of about thirty miles. As we approached we could see the tall spires of the Cathedral of Bayeux miles before we arrived.

Bayeux is only six miles from the D-Day beaches and was the first town liberated after the landing. Because the Allied Forces had been informed ahead of the invasion that there were no Germans occupying the town and it was not of strategic importance; the town was spared the bombs and survived intact.

The Bayeux Tapestry is made of wool embroidered onto linen cloth; a seventy yard cartoon that tells the story of William the Conqueror’s rise from duke of Normandy to King of England. Long and skinny, it was designed to hang in the nave of Bayeux’s Cathedral about 1070 to tell the story to the masses who could not read or write. Once each year it was hung in the Cathedral for a short period of time. It has survived fires in the Cathedral, many wars, and other misuse over the centuries. Today’s enemies are light and dust but they work hard at making sure this historical work of art survives for the enjoyment of future generations. Drifted through the gift shop and headed to the Cathedral.

We’ve seen some large cathedrals over the past few months but this seems to be one of the biggest ever! The matching tall Gothic spires cap two towers and setting on top of the roof of the church below the towers is a small building that was built as a home for the caretaker of the eleventh century cathedral. There is a small crypt under the main altar that we were allowed to enter.

By two thirty we were back on the road again and continued west towards the WW II beach of Omaha and the American Cemetery. Both are awesome in their simple beauty and history. The cemetery sits on the bluffs above Omaha Beach and has continued to change over the years. Today we visited a new Visitor Center that was completed in the past few years and is devoted to honoring the values and sacrifices of the World War II generation of Americans. A section honored families who had lost multiple members. One family shown was the family that the movie “Saving Private Ryan” was based on.

From the Visitor Center we walked out to view the beach and then over to the original Memorial featuring a twenty two foot statue of “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves”. In front there is a water feature and at the far end the chapel. In between are the hundreds of grave markers of fallen soldiers. Some were prior to the invasion date from airplanes that’d been shot down; most were from the actual invasion and subsequent fight that continued for months and resulted in the ultimate end of the war in Europe.

We then ventured back behind the memorial to the new “Garden of the Missing”. The walls are lined with engraved tablets with lists of the missing in action; they are still carving the final names on these tablets as we watched one lone man with a hammer and chisel slowing chipping away to complete the project

It was a somber drive back towards Caen. We made one final stop at the village of Longues-sur-Mer to see the four German bunkers with guns intact that still stand today on the bluff between Omaha and Gold Beaches. They formed a critical line in Hitler’s Atlantic Wall defense. Parking along the road we walked out to see the bunkers and then further out to visit the bluff where the observation bunker was built. The guns could accurately hit targets up to thirteen miles away. We arrived back in Caen before five pm and called it a day! Tomorrow is a full day off; we’re taking a rest and relax day in the hotel; probably our last one for the trip. On Thursday we head further west along the Normandy Coast.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Friday, April 17, 2009 On the road again….

We packed the car and hit the road before nine o’clock. The skies are overcast but the sun kept peeking out from among the clouds. We decided to drive the country roads today instead of the autoroute; saves money and it’s also much prettier. Driving north from Beaune to Dijon through the vineyards and then after we passed through Dijon we drove through field after field of mustard; some still green but many of them already sprouting yellow on their tops. This is a winding two lane road with little ups and downs and many small villages. Plus only light traffic!

Spotted a village that was so quaint looking we had to explore so turned off highway 974 onto D105 at the village of Gemeaux. There are some photos in the slideshow of this very small and beautiful ancient village. The chateau of the town looks like it has a new owner; the roof has been replaced and scaffolding is all around the outside as they pour “beaucoup” bucks into restoration. Several of the houses in the village had roofs that were collapsing over part of the building; but overall the village appears to be alive and well in the twenty-first century.

We arrived at Langres, a walled and fortified ancient village on top of a hill; probably built to protect the French from the Germans. We didn’t stop to investigate this one as our destination was getting close. Soon we arrived in Chaumont, a large city about half way to Reims, our destination tomorrow; this afternoon we’ll spent time together in our hotel. Tomorrow will be a busy afternoon after we arrive in Reims.

Saturday, April 18, 2009 Reims Cathedral

On the road just after seven o’clock we headed for the autoroute under very cloudy skies; soon it was raining and foggy but we continued north staying out of the fast inside lanes as much as possible. We saw a sign that said “accident ahead” just as we had two police cars pass us as though we were standing still! We were doing about one hundred so they must have been at one hundred fifty kilometers. From that point on each of the roadside emergency telephone post that were placed about every kilometer were flashing a yellow light. After we finally passed the fender bender of an accident they were no longer flashing. Their emergency system is very hi-tech we decided.

Stopped for gasoline; a gallon is equal to about four liters; the gasoline was 1.279 euros per liter making it very close to six dollars a gallon for gas. Glad that we’re driving a very small economic car on this trip.

Coming into Reims the sun came out briefly and we thought that we were finished with the rain. We ended up going into the center of the city quite by accident while looking for our Hotel. For some reason, I’ve been really turned around ever since we arrived; must be the lack of a steady sun for orientation. We discovered the Roman Arch and the WW II monuments before we could find our way out of the massive construction going on to create a more tourist friendly city of walking areas without traffic. After many wrong turns we finally found the Formule One Hotel for our night outside of Reims in the town of Tinqueux; a bedroom community for Reims.

We rested for a while and then headed back into Reims and actually found the Cathedral rather easily and parked on the street about four blocks up; giving us a wonderful stroll down the boulevard with the view of the Cathedral all the way there. We spent over an hour in the Cathedral; entranced by the stained glass windows and massive architecture. Originally begun in 1211, this Gothic masterpiece has been damaged by wars and now by the environment and has been repaired and/or rebuilt several times over the centuries. It has served as the place for the coronation of twenty five French Kings; Joan of Arc led Charles VII to be crowned here in 1429. During WW I it was severely damaged by bombs and John D. Rockefeller financed the rebuilding just in time for the start of WW II.

Today they are still working on replacing the many stained glass windows that have been broken over the centuries. One set was replaced by the Champagne Industry of the region and tells their story with scenes about the industry. Another set was replaced in 1974 with biblical scenes painted by the artist Marc Chagall; each faithfully recreated by a master glass maker. Chagall had carefully recreated all the old colors found in the original ancient glass windows; many of which still survive today thanks to people who removed and stored them during the wars.

We walked outside and found that the light rain had returned; put on our rain ponchos and enjoyed our stroll back down the boulevard to our car. We were sure that going back to the hotel would be a breeze! Oh how wrong we were! One way streets did us in and soon we were totally lost again. We’re not sure how but after about twenty minutes we were somehow back on the autoroute and headed towards Tinqueux!

Once there we were ok; headed for the large shopping Mall located about five blocks from our hotel. There we purchased a bottle of wine and another new map to help us navigate our way around Paris tomorrow as we head north for Giverny to see the home of the artist Claude Monet. We’ll be staying in nearby Vernon at another Formule One. . I must say that we’ve really enjoyed our stays at Formule One; the rooms are extremely clean, the beds are good, the linens are white and ironed; and although the showers and toilettes are down the hall they are also very clean. Overall, they are a really good value for the money.

The one thing that we missed most today were the flowers; as we’ve come north we’ve noticed that the towns have not begun to plant the multitude of flowers that are generally everywhere in the European cities in the summer. I hope that by the time we reach the Loire Valley they will have planted the flower beds for us to enjoy before we head home in May.

Sunday, April 19, 2009 Claude Monet’s home in Giverny

We were on the road just after seven this morning under cloudy skies but dry roads and only a light fog. We popped on to Autoroute 4 in the direction of Paris. Today the road tolls were paid in advance a little at a time in increments of less than four euros each. We entered from the east headed southwest as the Autoroute emptied directly into the Ring Road known as the “Peripherique” that goes all the way around the city of Paris. We’d planned well: it’s early Sunday morning and the route was, according to the electric road condition signs: “a French word that I knew meant fluid” meaning that traffic was moving and there were no accidents! Whoppie! I know that Mary was clinging to the door and holding her breath for most of the time until we saw the signs for Autoroute 13 that was our destination and would take us away from Paris. By nine o’clock we’d made our way out of the city and stomach muscles unclenched as we continued northwest towards Giverny, our destination for today. I’ve truly gained a whole new perspective of my husband Jim and his years of driving in the cities of Europe on our trips.

We arrived in Vernon, a larger town near Giverny and headed towards to the banks of the Siene River that flows between Vernon and Giverny. As we entered town and passed by the Chateau de Bizy I notice several old cars parked outside. We pulled a u-turn and came back to take some photos for the husbands. As we entered the parking area we saw a dozen or so Triumph Automobiles parking very uniformly against the wall as thought for a car show. Suddenly we notice that there was a long line of additional ones arriving. We were able to take many photos and cheered them as they entered the parking area before we pulled out as the last ones entered. There had to be nearly fifty of them by the time they’d all parked.

Pulling out we continued into the old part of town near the Siene River as I knew there was a church located near the river and sure enough as soon as we reached the river I started hearing church bells; looked around and there it was; the bells rang for a good ten minutes and we were able to find parking and walk to the church arriving just before the ten o’clock Mass began. It was a high Mass with all the bells and whistles; not quite the Reim’s Cathedral in size but definitely as tall as any Cathedral in France, including Reims.

After Mass we found our new Formule One; registered, emailed the husbands and then drove over to Giverny to visit the home and gardens of the master artist Claude Monet who spent the last forty three years of his life here. One of his most famous paintings: the Water lilies that line the walls of the L’Orangerie Musee in Paris are based on his lily ponds on the grounds of this estate.

We had so many beautiful flowers it was hard to decide what to take photos of. The gardens opened on April 1st and they have been very busy planting their living artwork for the tourist. Do hope that you enjoy the photos that we put on the slideshow on the blogspot for you.

One final stop as the sun was out but clouds are on the horizon; the church and graveyard that is the final resting place of Monet and his family. Tonight I’d sent this journal out as we prepare for our trip tomorrow to Caen and the Normandy Coast. Au revoir…

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Tuesday, April 14, 2009 Beaune France

We stayed at the Hostel yesterday until after five o’clock and then pulled our luggage the few blocks to Termini Train Station for our overnight train to France. We’d decided to go with the four person couchette, we were guaranteed the bottom bunks and that the cabin was reserved for only women. Two young girls joined us; the first one in Rome was Italian and now living in Paris, the other got on in Florence and she was French and returning home. Our train was scheduled to go all the way to Bercy Station in Paris but our journey ended in Dijon.

In the couchette coaches, you have a porter who collects the tickets and passports when you get on the train; at the French boarder they don’t have to wake you up for customs. We left Rome just before seven pm and arrived in Florence about ten o’clock. There we picked up our fourth person and then we made our beds and everyone went to sleep right away. We actually made up the middle bunks as they had a bit more head room between the bunks. The porter woke us up about six am and by seven o’clock we were at the station in Dijon France.

We had to wait until eight am for the car rental place to open and although we were originally scheduled for ten o’clock they processed our paperwork and soon we were on the road headed south towards our Formule One Hotel just south of Beaune. We have a two door Ford, manual transmission, with a small trunk just big enough for our two suitcases. We decided to take the local roads instead of the autoroute and enjoyed going around the tall tractors that were moving from one vineyard to another as Vintors are very busy in their fields right now with springtime upon us.

Arrived in Beaune before noon and skirted through the edge of town and on to the south to locate our hotel. We dropped our luggage, got back into the car and headed into the center of Beaune where we parked on the street (free!!!!) and walked a few blocks to the center where we toured the Hospices de Beaune, now the Musee de L’Hotel-Dieu. The original building dates back to the fifteenth century and was actually used as a hospital until 1971. Today it is a Museum and has been staged for visitors as it was originally. The mannequins of nuns added some realism to the displays and many of the original Altar pieces and other works of art are still on display as well as many of the medieval medical instruments. Note the word “hospice” in the name; it was a place for people to die, especially the very poor.

Walking back to the car we saw Jim’s favorite French Restaurant here in Beaune, very tiny and only French spoken. We also saw the hotel where Jim and I stayed twice on trips. Back to the hotel, good practice as we only got turned around once this time; we turned on our computers and found out that there is a wi-fi service available but we have to pay for it by the hour. It’s not connected to the hotel but a service throughout France called “Orange” and we will be able to use it many different places. But, it’s not free…it’s four and half euros per hour; so we’ll be rather cautions on how and when we use it.

We each signed up for an hour and then realized we couldn’t get the passwords without some access. So, back into Beaune we went and at the Visitors Center we were able to sign on to the Internet and get into our gmail accounts where we found the codes. Now we’re back at the hotel and happy campers; expensive but we’re definitely hooked on the Internet and especially wi-fi service.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 Exploring Burgundy

We left about nine thirty and headed south from Beaune on the route towards Autun that winds through the “Route des Grands Crus”. Workers were in nearly all of the vineyards making repairs and pruning the vines within the stone walls that mark the boundaries of each field. There were occasional villages that were full of ancient stone buildings where they live and have their caves for the precious wines. A village that the wine connoisseurs might recognize was Pommard.

Our destination was the Chateau de la Roche Pot in the village of La Rochepot. Originally build in the fifteenth century by the Pot brothers, very famous in France; it was destroyed like most other castles after the French Revolution. In the late nineteenth century Madam Carnot purchased the property for her son and he spent the next twenty five years restoring it to its original fifteenth century condition. One exception was the kitchen that was updated to nineteenth century amenities because his family lived in the finished castle. The well in the courtyard has an emergency escape route about twenty five feet down that goes into some of the limestone caves that run throughout the region and are used for caves to age and store the wine because of their constant temperatures. This particular castle was built on top of a rock with a drawbridge entry; they never lost a battle to the enemy according to history; but just in case they had their escape route by way of the well.

This very Burgundian castle rises above the trees and is easily seen from the village. Many of the turrets and roofs are of the multicolored glazed tiles that are so prevalent in Burgundy. Tiny but a treasure to visit; the tour of the chateau was in French but we were given an English translation to read as we walked from room to room as a group.

We spent the afternoon in Beaune where we enjoyed the Wednesday Market and shops in the Center. We walked the village finding many Artist Studios, as well as the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Beaune. It is a beautiful church and the altar was still decorated with flowers for Easter. Another surprise for us is the multitude of flowers that have been freshly planted throughout the towns. We hadn’t expected it to be so warm here or finding all of the flowers. We’ve truly experience spring at its best as we’ve traveled from the southern part of Europe northward. The trees are in bloom and the ends of the gnarled vines have begun to show green sprouts; life begins again!

At two thirty the Petit Train began its route and so we signed up for the forty five minute trip. Mostly around the town but with English explanations, we saw a few new things and also spent about five minutes in a vineyard near the edge of town. We enjoyed the ride and also the company of a very nice American couple sitting behind us from Texas. They are on a whirlwind two week tour and envied our three month leisurely tour that we are enjoying.

Soon we were back at the hotel and another day has come to a close. Tomorrow is another challenge.

Thursday, April 16, 2009 The Lady A on a rainy day

Woke up to overcast skies but decided to go on our serendipity trip anyway. Mary had agreed to drive about forty miles east with me to see the hotel on a barge called the “Lady A”. We’d stayed on this boat for three nights back in 2000 along with Bonnie and Terry; now old friends of ours and also my sister Mary and her husband. They live part of the year in St. Petersburg Florida, so we’ve seen them while visiting my sisters in Florida as well as at their home in the north over the past ten years.

We got on the A6 and headed east towards Paris. The rain started coming down shortly after we left and continued most of the day. But we did get to see the Lady A and also drove though the hilltop town that surrounds the Chateau Chateauneuf that sits above the nearby Burgundy Canal. We had a bit of a jaunt when we got on the wrong roads a few times but managed to get ourselves turned around and headed back to Beaune, arriving back at the Hostel before noon.

Our intention had been to go straight to the Laundromat but decided to wait to see if the rain lets up before going there this afternoon.

Tomorrow we head north to Chaumont for one night and then to Reims.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Saturday, Sunday & Monday….April 11th, 12th, 13th, 2009

An overview of the slideshow:
St. Peter’s Saturday afternoon as they prepared for Sunday Morning
Photos as we waited for 3 hours to enter for the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s
Darkness inside of St. Peter’s Basilica …
Priests as they began the lighting of the Fire in the vestibule of St. Peter’s
View from darkness of St. Peter’s into the Vestibule
Our seats for Easter Vigil Mass; started at 9 pm…over 3 hours long
View of inside St. Peter’s after lights were turned on at the Gloria
View of large TV screen outside for those that had tickets but no seats
Our 8 am Easter morning Mass at church in the Baths of Diocletian near our Hostel
Lunch with Mary Frances, her friends and Father Jim
Monday morning at daybreak at St. Peter’s for private Mass
Mary reading during Mass in Pope’s tomb under St. Peter’s Main Altar
Group Photo
St. Veronica holding veil with stain of Jesus’ face above entrance to tombs

Saturday evening about six pm we got on the bus headed for Vatican City and our special opportunity to attend the Easter Vigil Mass inside of St. Peter’s Basilica. We arrived and found that the line was already across the front of the colonnades but fortunately daughter Mary Frances had arrived earlier and we were just in front of the obelisk in the center of the square. We enjoyed the company of several nuns and priests that Mary had met in line as we waited for several hours to enter. We were one of the fortunate ones as the line was twice as long when we started to enter and we were one of the last ones to obtain seats inside of St. Peters. The rest who had tickets but no seats inside were seated outside and watched the Mass on large television screens in the square.

We had to leave just before eleven pm in order to catch the bus back to our hostel but the whole experience was extremely moving. Close your eyes and imagine that you are in St. Peter’s in total darkness with the Pope chanting his Latin litanies. Amazing! Then suddenly as the Gloria is sung … the lights are all turned on at once and it’s brighter than the sun at midday! Hated to leave but knew it would be a very expensive and late taxi ride otherwise.

Sunday morning we were awake early and walked to several different churches near our hostel before finding an eight o’clock Easter morning Mass. It was nice to quietly sit and appreciate a simple Mass without distractions.

We then headed towards the bus and St. Peter’s Basilica; without entry tickets we were really not too sure what we could do but wanted to be there for the Pope’s noon blessing at the end of the outdoor Mass in the square. When we arrived we asked if we could enter the square without tickets and a very nice policewoman gave us two tickets to enter. By this time there were no seats left but we were in the square and by using cell phones actually found my daughter and her friends who had tickets for Mass in the square this morning. They’d overslept and didn’t get there early enough to get seats but we all stood together in front of the huge television screen and watched the very powerful scenes of Pope Benedict officiating at the High Mass outside in front of the Basilica. During the homily, Mary spread her raincoat and sat on the stones along with thousands of other people. The square was full and spilled into the wide street leading from Sant’ Angelo to the Vatican.

After the Pope’s blessing from the balcony above the main door of St. Peters; we met Father Jim, a college friend of Mary’s friends who has been studying in Rome for three years, and walked about twenty minutes to a delightful outdoor Italian Restaurant tucked into a small piazza. There he treated the whole group to a truly Italian meal that lasted for several hours.

Monday morning we were up at five thirty and headed for the Vatican for our last Mass in Rome. Father Jim arranged for us to have a private Mass in a small chapel in the tombs of the Popes under the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. My sister Mary was allowed to read the Responsorial Psalms during the Mass and I told Father Jim afterwards that the rest of our trip will be an “after thought” after this morning’s experience.

We are now in a resting mode as we spend our last day waiting for our overnight train to leave this evening. Tomorrow morning we will wake up in Dijon France. Ciao

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Friday, April 10, 2009 Good Friday

We left for the Metro about nine thirty and headed for Mary Frances’ apartment located in the outskirts of town near the Metro stop of Garbatella; one stop before St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. By using GPS in the her IPhone we found the apartment. I’m beginning to respect these IPhones; really helpful little creatures when traveling. She is able to sign into the web without waiting to obtain service from another provider which is very nice.
Mary dropped her luggage…she’s young and only brought a large backpack; received the keys and instructions and we were soon off to the Metro and back to Termini Station.

Sister Mary elected to return to the Hostel from the Station; yes, she’s getting brave and has gone to the station stores several times now by herself and is comfortable doing that trip solo. We’ve not had a day off recently and she’s decided to take one.

Mary Frances and I headed towards St.John Lateran area and then caught a bus out of town to the ancient Appian Way. This was the largest and faster road ever in Roman times. Made of huge basalt stones, it ran in a straight line over the contour of the land. All along this road were the tombs of the dead that had to be outside the city walls; today they are ruins. Also along this road are several catacombs that were used by the Christians who wanted to be buried as opposed to cremated because of the expected resurrection!

We walked this road; at times paved over by cobblestones, from one to three o’clock; Mary read the “Passion of the Lord” to me from her prayer book as we walked the second hour. Very appropriate for Good Friday; we also witness a large procession led by a gentlemen carrying a large wood cross near the catacombs; they were doing the stations of the cross on an outside route along the Appian Way.

By three o’clock we’d arrived at the church of San Sebastano where we witnessed veneration of the Passion in a side chapel. We then took the tour of the Catacombs of San Sebastiano; the only one that has always been open since the Roman times. Originally the bodies of St. Peter and St. Paul were here. Very interesting tour that ended back in the church where the guide explained the history of the marble bust of Christ and the fact that it sat for years in storage until someone recognized it as the last piece by Bernini when he was in his eighties. There are two copies but this is the original. This church was restored by the Borghese family in the seventeenth century.

We then walked further down the Appian Way until we reached the nearby Callisto Catacomb that has four levels under ground and half a million graves. This was a much longer tour with a monk as a tour guide. We ended in a family tomb that is used as a small chapel by visiting priest where we all said silent prayers and then at the urging of the monk sang a verse of Amazing Grace together.

Back to the bus to rest our weary feet on the way to the Hostel; arrived just before seven o’clock; picked up Mary and another new roommate from Australia who wanted to tag along before heading back out towards the Metro for the Good Friday service at the Coliseum by the Pope.

We picked up pizza to eat as we walked from a nearby restaurant; the Metro was jammed packed as it was rush hour and also Easter Activities. We expected to get off near the Coliseum, never seeing the sign that that Metro Stop was closed because of the services being held. We realized it when we found ourselves at the next stop: Circus Maximus. It was a fairly close walk with many streets closed off. The outside lights were beginning to come on as we arrived. Thousands of people were already milling about and it was still another couple of hours before the service would begin. Contrary to what we’d thought; the service was outside the Coliseum. The Pope will be across from the entrance to the Coliseum on a hill on the Roman Forum. They had a huge crucifix covered with candles that were blazing long before the service started. It was a beautiful sight as the sky darkened around us and the monument lights became even more luminous. Everyone was given a large candle with a cup to catch the wax for use when the service started and all the lights were turned off. We finally walked to a grassy knoll overlooking the piazza in front of the Coliseum and found seats on the grass. We talked with a group who is planning to start standing in line tomorrow at St. Peters at one o’clock for the nine thirty pm service for the Easter Vigil Mass. I don’t think we’re going that early!

Mary Frances headed for her apartment and Mary and I took the new roommate Kristen to the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain before we also went home to the Hostel. Kristen had flown in from Singapore Thursday morning so she was more than ready to call it a night! My feet are the ready for a day of rest but tomorrow afternoon is another Service!

Friday, April 10, 2009


Thursday, April 09, 2009 Borghese Galleria on Holy Thursday

Slept in a bit this morning and did some blogging before heading out for our reservations to tour the Borghese Gallery. A magnificent villa set in the middle of the vast Borghese Gardens that was built by Cardinal Scipione Borghese to showplace his art and entertain his guests. Many of the pieces of art were created specifically to b

The last time they closed for restoration it took fourteen years and finally reopened in 1997. To enter this museum, advanced reservations are required. You are given a two hour time period to be in the museum. All cameras, purses, backpacks, etc. are required to be checked prior to your entry. But, the museum is well worth the extra effort as one is truly transported to Roman times as you wander through the rooms at your own pace; with audio guides, Rick Steve’s Tour Book or using the detailed cards in each room that are in English and Italian. It’s hard to believe that people actually resided in this treasure trove of art.

After the museum we caught the bus and got off at the Piazza del Republica to tour the basilica of Santa Maria degil Angeli that is built within the ruins of the Roman Public Baths of Diocletian. It is a cavernous building that incorporates the cooling off room of the baths with an open skylight (now glassed over) for the church and is the size of a football field and seven stories high at its center.

After enjoying a sidewalk café for a lunch treat by daughter Mary; we headed by Metro for San Giovanni in Laterano about three pm for the five thirty mass of the Lord’s Supper. We had tickets but knew that the crowds would be massive as the Pope was the main celebrant. We stood for over an hour and finally entered the church after being crushed in a massive line through security. By that time the seats in the center aisle were all taken but we managed to find a seat on the side where we were able to comfortably hear the Mass as opposed to the hundreds that were milling about and/or sitting on the cold marble floor. Our view of the main altar was blocked by a massive pillar but the Pope was sitting in the Bishop’s Chair in the very front of the church so very few people were able to actually see him. But, the acoustics were wonderful and the choir and speakers, including the Pope, could easily be heard throughout the church. The Mass lasted for two hours but was a once in a lifetime Holy Thursday experience.e displayed in the rooms in which they are still shown.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Wednesday, April 8, 2009 Audience with the Pope

Today we were scheduled to have an audience with the Pope; just the two of us and several thousand other people in St. Peter’s Piazza at the weekly Wednesday Audience.

We crept out of the Hostel before six thirty am, boarded the #40 Bus and arrived at St. Peter’s Square just after seven am. A cool foggy morning, we found ourselves third in line at the metal railing that stretched across the opening between the Bernini Columns preventing anyone from entering prior to the opening of the fence at eight fifteen. Standing with a Spanish family from Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain who spoke excellent English and a French lady who also spoke English, we shared travel stories and experiences while we waited for the return of the Spanish matriarch who was having coffee with the wife. When she arrived we met a diminutive but delightful eighty five year young woman, dressed to the nines for her audience with the pope.

When the gates opened we all rushed forward from four entrances into St. Peter’s Square to find the best seat we could obtain with our tickets we’d received yesterday at the American Bishops Office for United States Citizens. We were not required to go through the metal detectors; only passed a number of guards who had the right to ask you about the contents of bags but rarely stopped anyone as we waved our tickets while nearly running down towards the very front. We managed to snag seats in the very front row near the right center aisle; not up next to the Pope’s podium but at the very base of the steps. As Mary said later, “there is nothing between me and the Pope except this tiny little fence” and sometimes the Swiss Guard would step into her view but he was usually just a few feet to the right. Needless to say, she was delighted and I must admit it was one of the best seats that I’ve ever had in my many “audiences” with the Pope.

I decided not to use my telephoto lens and just snap as many photos as possible when the Pope drove right pass us in his popemobile; yes, those are my photo in the slideshow!
The service lasted from ten thirty to noon.

The foggy morning was blazing sunshine by ten am and we started shedding some of the layers of clothing. We were so glad that we’d brought our “flying nun hats” as we were able to keep them on and still not block anyone’s view; we did remove them when the Pope drove past. We had a family from Texas on the right side of us, two German ladies, sisters I think; on the left and right behind us were the Spanish family that we’d spent the first hour with outside the fence. Yes, they were a bit slower than we were in getting seats but the eighty five year old had to have moved pretty fast to get the seats they were in. When the Pope came past, Mary moved over and brought her up to the railing with us as she would never have seen him from behind us as she was so tiny!

We expected the Pope to mention the earthquake on Monday; we didn’t hear anything we could understand about it but later on the Internet we read that he did mention it, probably in Italian, and said that he would be visiting the area as soon as possible. They also said that it would probably be in two weeks.

After the closing blessings that were extended to our families back home by the Pope we headed back towards the bus stops, finally finding a bus after we crossed the bridge; and arriving back at our hostel before one pm. We worked on our computers and waiting for my daughter, Mary Frances, to arrive. She flew in from San Francisco this morning.

Mary arrived, I hadn’t seen her since Christmas, and after she settled into the Hostel we spent the afternoon walking in Rome to keep her awake until nine pm so that she could readjust her “clock” to the nine hours difference. My sister Mary stayed at the Hostel during the afternoon to rest and try to combat her cold that was developing into a full fledged head cold.

We rode the bus using our day passes that Mary and I’d purchased early this morning to the Vatican where daughter Mary (yes it’s going to be a confusing few days with two Marys) had to pick up a special ticket that was waiting for her and then we walked for the next three hours after stopping to purchase slices of pizza that we ate while walking. Our first stop after leaving the Vatican was the Piazza del Popolo to visit Santa Maria del Popolo Church to see Raphael’s Chigi Chapel; unfortunately it is being restored right now and was covered but we were able to view the magnificent Caravaggio paintings.

Then off to the Spanish Steps where we purchased gelato cones and then continued to the Tervi Fountain before heading over to the Pantheon. We stopped for a few minutes to enjoy an unusual street performer, a woman playing her cello accompanied by taped music; a nice change from the usual guitars that we generally hear on the streets and in the metro systems. After emerging from the small streets we found a very crowded rush hour bus and stood, crammed in like sardines packed in a tin, all the way back to Termini Station and a short walk to the Hostel.

Now I’ve been to the “major tourist” sites three times on this trip! Me thinks it’s time for something new tomorrow. But what a great time I had with my youngest daughter traipsing about the streets of Rome!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Tuesday, April 07, 2009 Rome prepares for Easter

Up early this morning to explore Rome again. Unless one looks you’d hardly know that there was a major earthquake yesterday some fifty plus miles away from Rome. The city is brimming with tourists, both religious and those out to enjoy their Easter Vacation in a city that never sleeps.

The sites are all full of people, especially the religious ones, and at times it’s like swimming upstream to get through one of the ancient narrow streets in the center of the antiquities. We’re so glad that we spent a weekend here before heading south to the Sorrento area last week.

We first went to the Galleria Borghese Museum to pick up our tickets for Thursday and then began our schedule of sites for today. Our first stop was at San Giovanni in Laterano; the original Vatican prior to St. Peter’s and still the home church of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. We will be attending the Mass here on Thursday evening with the Pope officiating. Then we walked over to the Scale Santa Church where Mary climbed the steps on her knees. I did this a number of years ago and elected not to repeat, it is at least twenty plus minutes on your knees on wood steps covering the twenty eight marble steps of the house of Pontius Pilate’s residence that Jesus climbed on the day he was sentenced to death. Constantine’s mother, St. Helena, purchased these and moved them to Rome. There are small round holes that allow you to view the stains from Jesus’ blood as you climb the stairs on your knees.

From there we walked over for daylight views of the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. We’d seen all of them last weekend at night. Now we had daylight and triple the number of other people visiting the sites with us. During the course of our journey today we visited seven different churches; each holding their own special features that make them unique.

It was a fun day and we enjoyed walking the streets of Rome. We left the hostel at eight am and returned shortly after four pm. Lots of walking, several bus rides and one short taxi ride when our feet gave out! A full day!

Monday, April 6, 2009


Monday, April 6, 2009

Today was a travel day and the first news we heard about the earthquake was from tourists from England who'd heard the news on their television and were on the train from Sorrento to Naples. As we arrived in Rome we received more news and although the people here felt the tremors; there doesn't seem to be any damage in Rome.

The news we're receiving is that it was 6.3 on the Richter scale and the death toll continues to rise. At first we heard fifty and now we're hearing ninety. Many of the beautiful old buildings collapsed on the people as they slept around four in the morning. We hear that thousands are homeless in the area of Pescara, the nearest city to the epicenter that was approximately fifty miles northeast of Rome.

As in California; life continues and those not affected are going about their usual routines. That includes the traveling twins who are back in Rome for Easter Week. Ciao

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Sunday, April 05, 2009 Sunday Stroll in Sorrento

It was a quiet night as there were only four of us in the dorm room. Woke about eight and enjoyed our breakfast downstairs. Last night I met four girls in the bathroom as I was brushing my teeth and they were prepping for an evening out in Sorrento. I asked the usual question: “where are you from?” and surprise, surprise…students studying abroad from Indiana University. It was fun to say hi to fellow Hoosiers.

We went to the church next door; our Hostel actually wraps around the church on three sides; and found a beautifully restored old church. The doors have been locked all week so we’ve been anxiously awaiting Mass to see the inside. We’ve decided that the church must either own the Hostel or sold them the property as they are very intertwined structurally. Also, the church has definitely had some serious dollars poured into it recently. Today is Palm Sunday and the church was standing room only and not much of that left by the time the service started.

In the USA one only sees palm branches in the church; here we saw a few artfully weaved palms but ninety percent of them carried olive branches. We each got a small one before Mass began from the common basket on the altar railing. Most brought their own branches and they were quite large and many were decorated with ribbons, and small decorations such as paper Easter eggs, etc. The lady in front of us had, I kid you not, a four foot branch with her in the pew! In addition she had a basket with artificial grapes. They are very serious Catholics in Italy.

After Mass we caught the train to Sorrento; the streets were full of people strolling up and down the main street. Most were dressed in their Sunday best and carried olive branches. Some of the men had only a small one tucked in their suit jacket pocket but many were carrying the larger branches just like the women and children. We entered the Old Section after passing the stairway to the Marina (no, Mary didn’t want to walk down the stairs to the Marina again) and began some serious window shopping. This area has the old narrow streets and they are lined with shop. All open today for business! At the building in the center of the old section we stopped to enjoy the decorated walls and also the concert that was in progress. This is the area where the men gather in the evenings to smoke and share their stories. Generally you do not see any women on the porch but today they were invited up to sit in chairs and enjoy the music.

Just down the street Mary found a lovely hot pink scarf for only three euros and a good trade for the beers that Martha has been enjoying with dinner for the past several days. So now we’ll have matching scarves for Rome. I have the one that I purchased in Paris in 2006 in my suitcase. They are not only very decorative but add warmth on a cool evening. We stopped for limoncelo gelato cones and then Mary stepped into the Cathedral (they were reading the Passion during the Mass) while I held the cones outside. Shortly afterwards we were back at the train station for our ride to Sant’ Agnello and a short walk to our Hostel.

Some of our young friends are out riding motor scooters today (first time they’ve ridden) and so we’re anxiously awaiting their return this evening. We’ll all have dinner together tonight here at the Hostel for the last time as almost all of us leave tomorrow morning.

We’re off to Rome tomorrow; our train should arrive there before four in the afternoon. It’s going to be a long day as we have the hour long trip to Naples on the little train and then another two hours on the train that leaves from Naples at noon. We call them travel days and never plan to do anything other than the scheduled trip. Our little mini vacation within the vacation has been wonderful here in the village of Sant’ Agnello. Ciao….

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Friday, April 3, 2009 Capri and the Blue Grotto

The sun was shinning and continued to bless us throughout the day with its glories rays! Everyone was up and out early as several of us headed for the train and Sorrento. There we walking to the Marina; the final several blocks were sets of stone stairs that took us down the side of a cliff to the boats that were waiting to carry us on another adventure. We joined the kids and purchased our tickets on the cheapest boat that goes out once at 9:25 am and returns at 6:15 pm. A long day but we were prepared. Four of the kids from the Hostel were also on the same trip and although we each went our separate ways we saw each other throughout the day.

As soon as we arrived, its less than an half an hour trip, we found the ticket booth for the smaller boats to the Blue Grotto. Had to wait about half an hour but we were soon loaded with a couple of school groups, one from England with junior high students; and a number of tourists that brought the number to at least one hundred I would guess. Our guide was great, speaking both in English and Italian, he continued to charm us with cleaver sayings about the sites along the shoreline as we headed towards the grotto.
There we took turns being loaded into small rowboats. Some times two people, mostly four people and with the kids they put six in at a time. Stopped in route to pay another fee we then had to lay down flat in the boat as we were pulled through the entrance to the cave when the water was just at the right height to allow us passage. The boatman used a chain affixed to the wall to pull us through. Once inside we made two trips around so that our eyes could adjust to the darkness. Our boatman serenaded us with Perry Como tunes as he rowed us around the inside of the cavern pointing our various features. The water was extremely clear and very blue in color because of the coral on the bottom. The daylight coming in through the opening and a few other small holes in the rocks gave it lighting. A very pretty and very expensive tourist attraction! But how can you go to Capri and not see the Blue Grotto!

After we’d all had our turn in the small boats, the captain continued on around the island to show us all of the sites at the various locations including the lighthouse, the green grotto (green coral) and the three large stones sitting upright in the water. The center one has an arched opening large enough for our boat to pass under and the cleaver Italian hoping to increase his tip at the end said that everyone had to kiss there favorite person on the tour! The school teacher climbed up to the top deck and much to the delight of the students planted one on the Italian as we passed under the arch!

A tiny beach was pointed out and he said it is only big enough for two people…very true…and that you went as two and returned as three. It took a minute but soon the kids were all giggling; remember these are junior high. He also pointed out Sophia Loren’s home on the cliff; I think she has homes in many areas as this is not the first one that I’ve been shown. The boat ride was over too soon and we headed back into the Marina for our next adventure.

We found the WC first and then the Funicola for the ride up to the town of Capri from the Marina. There we found the bus and took a hair raising ride up the hill to the town of Ana Capri. This is where the expensive shops such as Prada are located and fantastic views of the harbor and villages below. We located the chair lift that floats one to the top of the nineteen hundred foot Monte Solaro; never very far above the ground one genteelly slips along with the views getting better and better! We spent some time at the top for more photos; we could see many of the sites in the water far below that we’d seen on the boat trip and one could actually see the coral in the water from this height. Another gentle ride down as we ate our bananas and we had a surprise view of Tom and Sara from our Hostel as they were going up the chair lift.

Back in Ana Capri we walked to find a grocery store and in the process discovered a restaurant named “Buca de Bacco”; those who live in Orange County may recognized that as the name of a popular restaurant in Brea California. We stopped and talked for a few minutes with them. They said they were aware of the California one; but who knows….they may have just been trying to get us into the restaurant.

Soon we found a grocery store but it was closed per the clerk inside. We walked on a bit and then returned…still closed, she said. We stood there for a while and finally they asked if we needed water (in Italian)…we said “no, bread”. They said “pain”? And, they welcomed us into the store for that one items.

Walked around the shops and then found the Funicola for the ride to the Marina where we purchased our dessert: lemon gelato. Found two of our roommates stretched out on some benches napping as they’d also finished their activities. We finally made our way to the rocky beach to watch our junior high group frolicking in the water and then walked out on the pier where we found a stone bench against the sea wall and played some cards and watching and photographing a small jelly fish in the clear water off the pier.

Soon we saw Pat and Sara standing at the number five spot on the dock so we headed there after we’d finished our game. We soon realized it was six pm and no one had joined us in the queue to board the boat. We could see the boat in another location but we thought it was loading cars before coming over to get the passengers. We’d all seen the time chart that showed it at number five. Finally I decided to check things out and Pat was soon behind me. We talked to two old men and they told us we had to go over to the otherside of the dock. With ten minutes or less we motioned for Mary and Sara who came on the run and we all rushed to get to the boat before it left. We made it with minutes to spare; we were the last people to load on the boat I think!

Soon we were back in Sorrento and God bless her soul, Mary walked the whole way up the hill and to the train station. It’s a good thing we’re taking the day off tomorrow. By 8 pm we were tucked back into our Hostel and enjoyed another great five euro dinner before heading upstairs to some new roommates and a busy evening. It was nearly midnight before we turned off the lights and I think the last one in arrived at 6 am. So an interesting but restless night as I hear the door every time it opens.

Below is our day trip to Pompeii...I decided to make two separate posts for you to enjoy.


Thursday, April 2, 2009 Pompeii Ruins

We enjoyed our breakfast before heading off with Wallis, one of the girls who is from New York City, towards the train station for our trip to Pompeii. We stopped along the way and purchased bread and bananas for lunch.

The entrance to Pompeii is less than a block from the train station; Pompeii is almost half way back to Naples. We arrived before noon and elected to do our own tour with my memories and the step by step guide in our Rick Steves Tour book. One of the guides attempted to get us to join the group he was putting together; he said he’d take Wallis for free but is was ten euros each for us. Wallis chose to stay with us instead of the young American boys and we began our walk into history. The descriptive guide was great; we stayed on target and took our time whereas the guides were rushing their clients from spot to spot so we were very glad we were doing our own tour. Talking to others later at the Hostel we told them about several sites that their guide had not shown them; surprisingly one was the Brothel which is one of the top sites.

Several of the sites were now open; including the public baths that were closed in 2006; but the House of the Vetti was closed for restoration. Too bad it was closed as it is one of the largest and best preserved private homes. One of the last sites we located was the beautiful Temple of Isis; very well preserved and so beautifully constructed. We finished in time to make the 3:30 return train towards Sorrento.

Tom, the Australian lad had lost his wallet today in Sorrento. This evening the wallet was returned and everything was in it. A store owner had found his plastic room key in the wallet and ridden his moped over from Sorrento to Sant’ Angello to return the wallet; really made everyone feel better about the world in general and Italian people in particular. Tom had seen a man break a window, reach in and take a backpack from a car in Naples during the middle of the day. One of the reasons he left Naples and came further south to our corner of heaven at Seven Hostel. At 7:30 we all went down to have another five euro plate together and later Wallis and Tom joined the other younger set for the evening as they arrived from their day’s activities after we toddled off to bed and our computers.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Monday, March 30, 2009 Travel Day to Sant’ Agnello on the Amalfi Coast

Our first stop after breakfast was a run over to the Internet Shop to check emails and then back to the B&B to finish packing. We’d selected the later train to avoid the crowds and we were right. We took up seven seats with our luggage and no one complained. The ticket for today from Rome to Naples was only twenty one euros for both; second class and no seat reservations required.

We arrived in Naples about 1:30 pm and walked to the secondary station for the Circumvesuviana Train that runs between Naples and Sorrento; that ticket was just under seven euros for both of us. We barely made the 1:45 pm train and talked with a couple from Illinois all the way down. It takes about an hour for the trip because this train stopped at every town along the way. We got off at the last town before Sorrento called Sant’ Agnello. I’d found a Hostel here that sounded too good to be true on the Internet. It was about a ten minute walk from the station but the Hostel is only about a year old and is in pristine condition with all the bells and whistles.

As we walked out of the station to our first landmark on the directions we’d been given by the Hostel there was a young man sitting with luggage who asked where we were headed as we probably looked confused. He said they were headed there also and his brother was out searching for the place; he invited us to wait and we did. His brother arrived within minutes and said he’d found it but it was further than they’d thought. So the four of us started out, Mary did a good job stretching her legs to keep up with them and they were good enough to slow down a bit for us. Turns out they are also twins, but identical, and from San Diego California. They are on a trip to celebrate their twenty-fifth birthday which is tomorrow, March 31st. Small world isn’t it!

We’re in a twelve bed mixed dorm but only girls tonight. I don’t think there’s another person here who is over thirty! We decided to have dinner here, they have a chef and the food is five euros for each plate! What a bargain…and no fee for the bread. We enjoyed a tomato stuffed with pasta and vegetables tonight. The kids are wonderful to us…they love it that we’re “hip” grandmas with computers and IPods.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 The Coast of Amalfi

Breakfast is included in our room charge of only twenty one euros per night and it was as good as the eight euro breakfast that we had in Provence. This place is truly going to spoil us for the rest of the trip! Weather prediction is for rain so everyone backed out of the trip to Amalfi but we decided to go anyway. Left about 10 am, packed our rain ponchos and headed for the train station, a ten minute walk; stopped along the way to purchase two bananas and some bread for lunch on our trip.

We only had to take the train for one stop to Sorrento. There we purchased round trip bus tickets to Amalfi and joined the group waiting to board the bus. Enjoyed talking with a couple from Ohio who had just spent two days at Capri and they said that due to the weather both the Blue Grotto Boats and the chair lifts were closed; we may rethink our plans to go to Capri. We were fortunate enough to obtain two seats on the right side of the bus so that Mary could enjoy the fabulous views down the cliffs as we drove around the hairpin turns high above the Mediterranean Sea. I’ve seen grown men cringe at this view so I was very proud of her and she even agreed to take the same seats on the return trip. There were times when one looks down and only sees the water far below as the edge of the bus obscures the edge of the road. The only thing more exciting is if you have the seat behind the driver and have the opportunity to see the bus appearing to be going over the side of the cliff when turning corners. The best part of going to Amalfi is the bus ride there and back.

Today we had an added treat as for some strange reason that can only be termed “Italian”; the public bus stops just after Positano; everyone gets off the bus and walks nearly two kilometers and then waits for a bus to arrive (we waited a good half hour) for the rest of the trip to Amalfi. Good news was that this break enabled us to see the miniatures villages that are created in niches along the road in that particular area. Bad news is that we had to stand in the rain for about fifteen minutes while we waited for the bus along with about a dozen other people. In the group were half a dozen Americans and we again enjoyed exchanging travel stories as we stood in the rain. Yes, we had to repeat the process on the return trip but this time it was twenty minutes uphill; good news was that the bus was there when we arrived but it didn’t leave for half an hour.

Our time in Amalfi was brief; we only spent about an hour because it was raining all the time that we were there and we also knew we had a long return trip to make. We checked on taking a taxi from Amalfi to Positano to bypass the bus issue but fifty euros seemed a bit steep so we decided to take the bus. We walked the side streets, took photos of the church, had a taste of limoncello (the fabulous liquor of this area made from the peel of lemons) and of course a final treat of lemon gelato before going back to the bus for our return trip. We arrived back at the Hostel by 6 pm; a fun day even with the rain and unusual bus trip deviations.