Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Heading North to Soissons

God is good! I have free WiFi tonight! Everyone left for the airports this morning. When we arrived I checked their flights and between that information and three emails from some of them…everyone is fine and still in the air heading home except for those in Rome. Those landing in NYC at JFK are already through customs and boarding soon for San Francisco. The Rome group that left at 5 am has arrived in Rome and the news is that they are tired and it is HOT but they’re having a good time. Interestingly, this morning the weather in Paris was great; the extreme humidity left and walking in the sun was possible without dripping perspiration!

Joe and Laura left for the airport two hours later than the others and they treated us to a wonderful English breakfast French style with all the fixings. They just found out this morning that their new grandchild (our second great-grandchild) expected in December is a girl! After breakfast we put our luggage in the storage room and walked to Luxembourg Gardens and then back to the hotel. On the way home we watched a large truck work back and forth to navigate a very narrow street…see the photo.

Back at the hotel we unpacked the computers and enjoyed an hour sitting in the lobby with other guests who were also on their computer. Finally asked the tourist question: “where are you from” and found out they live in Seattle. But, own a home in the south of France and spend several months a year in France…I’m green with envy. But we had a good time before it was time for all of us to leave.

We took the RER over to the Arc de Triomphe area and located our car rental agency. It was a lot harder to do pulling our luggage….why oh why do we pack so much! But it only took us about an hour and soon we were heading out to the “peripherique”… the ring road around Paris…much like our freeways….we headed north towards A1 and Charles de Gaulle Airport. We are renting through Europcar and have a Renault diesel … 4 door…very roomy with a stick shift. But…it is “new” and has air conditioning…drives like a dream.

Our goal was an hour and a half drive to Soissons, north east of Paris. We got on the wrong roads several times and it turned out to be over a three hour drive. But we did arrive about 5 pm.

Our first visit was to the Tourist Office for maps and information. Then we visited the Cathedral…beautifully restored. It was heavily damaged during WW I and I hope you can see the photo I took of the damage. It closed just as we left so we headed out of town to find our home for the night.

About five miles from town we found our Formula 1 Hotel for tonight. Now the real fun starts as we begin to “rough” it on the road to save money and still enjoy our trip. The bathroom and showers are down the hall and No Air Conditioning! We have the windows open. But…it does have free WiFi. There is a grocery market across the street and we went shopping.

Back into town for some more sightseeing of Abbey’s and old churches; they were all closed so we’ll go back tomorrow morning before we leave town to see the Museums. Tomorrow we head for Gent and yes, another Formula 1 for two nights while we visit Brussels on Saturday.

Au revoir

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Last Day in Paris

Our last day in Paris was busy with everyone trying to get to one last museum, buy one more gift and walk, walk, walk the streets of Paris. About 7 pm we all brought picnic food to the River Seine and enjoyed a last gathering and shared a meal where we had such a good time on the first night.

Jim and I headed back to the hotel at dusk and the rest were off to find a cemetery and then on to the permanent Ferris wheel by the Louvre. Four of them are leaving for Rome at 5 am for another week, five of them leave at 7:30 am for the airport to fly home and the last two leave about 10 am for the airport. At 2 pm Jim and I will pick up our little French car and head north of Paris towards Belgium.

I’m hoping for a good Internet connection but I’m never quite sure until I arrive at the next hotel. So God willin’ and we have a connection…I’ll post tomorrow or the next day!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Renewal of Wedding Vows and Dinner Cruise

My early to bed last night didn’t work too well….our children all arrived in our room about 9 pm and we partied until after 11 pm. A great time was had by all…lots of chocolate and wine and good times. Seating was limited but we each found a place to call our own. My sister Mary had emailed me a photo of the Bradenton Newspaper with an article on my travel blog in their travel section and we all took a look at the photo and then before you knew it the chips were coming out of their cameras and we were downloading photos from everyone into my computer. It will be fun going through them on our trip.

Up early this morning and by 9:30 am we were all in the lobby to go to Sainte-Chapelle; the beautiful chapel built inside of a royal palace to house the Jesus’s “crown of thorns”. The walls of the upper chapel are stained glass windows that are truly magnificent. A nice way to start the morning. We broke up into smaller groups as we left and Jim and I headed for the Musee Eugene Delacroix. This is a small museum in his home and we were able to also tour his studio that is attached to his home. It is located on a small street behind the St. Supplice Church.

We toured the church afterwards before heading toward the Pantheon that is located near the Sorbonne University. There we saw Foucault’s pendulum showing the rotation of the earth. Many of the famous people of France are buried in this monument that was once a church.

We walked back to the hotel for a bite to eat and rest before getting ready for our adventure this evening. By 3 pm we were all dressed up; men in suits and ladies in dresses. Off to the Metro for a train ride to the Arc de Triomphe and a short walk to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. This is the only English speaking Catholic Church in Paris. Our daughter Mary had made arrangements before leaving home and Father Francis Finn said Mass for our family and we renewed our wedding vows during the Mass. Daughter Jenn even made me a beautiful bouquet of yellow roses for the occasion.

Afterwards we walked to the Arc de Triomphe and after reaching the top we had a glass of sparkling cider to celebrate the event. Then back to the Metro for a ride to the Eiffel Towers area for our dinner cruise on the Seine River. The weather was very humid and we were a drippy mess when we finally arrived for our evening out but we survived and when the boat pulled away from the dock for our two and a half hour cruise we were happy campers again. We did some dancing and enjoyed a fantastic gourmet meal before watching the lights sparkle on the Eiffel Tower as we dock and headed back to the metro and our hotel. Home by midnight and soon to bed….tomorrow’s another day….

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Chateau de Vincennes

Up about 7 am, we walked to Notre Dame for 8 am Mass; opps….it starts at 8:30 on Sunday. But, we were not alone and enjoyed a quiet half hour prior to the starting of the Mass. Beautiful service and they provided English translations of the readings for everyone.

We decided to go to McDonald’s for breakfast…not bad…3.90 Euro: egg/bacon McMuffin, 3 tiny croissants, orange juice and coffee or chocolate and we ate there instead of walking away. About 10:00 am we headed to the Metro and a trip to the Chateau de Vincennes just outside of Paris. It was an easy trip and the Chateau was right next to the Metro. It is a very large edifice but not much in the way of décor. Completed in 1370, the keep was the tallest Keep in all of France during the Middle Ages and an architectural feat at that time.

Back to the city center by 12:30 we headed towards the Louvre for another visit. This time we visited the Sully Galleries for the Egyptian rooms and then the Richelieu for the Napoleon Apartments.

By 4 pm we were back at the hotel and enjoying visits from different children during the evening as they came back from their various adventures.

On our way back to the hotel from the Louvre Museum we finally heard music in the halls of the Metro; we been disappointed not to hear any so far. This one was a group of over ten who were playing “Night Music” by Mozart….so enjoyable!

We’ve decided to stay in this evening and let the children visit and then go on their way to somewhere in Paris. I’ll keep this entry short as I need an early bedtime to catch up on my sleep. Tomorrow is our big day for the Mass to renew our wedding vows and then the dinner cruise.

Merci beaucoup for joining us on our journey….

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Chateau de Maisons-Laffitte

I went out to find croissants for breakfast and found the crew up and ready for their trip to the Chateau Versailles; a half hour ride by train outside of the city. The segway trip last night was successful. Others had gone to the local park to listen to the music until they closed the park. Can’t believe the energy they all have!

At 9:30 am we met Mary and Tushar in the lobby and headed for the train station for our trip to the village of Maisons-Laffitte just outside of Paris to meet our Parisian friend’s Nicolas and Maeliss. A short twenty minute ride with only one transfer and we were transported to a delightful village; small enough that we walked everywhere.

They met us at the train station with their little girl, Nine…fifteen month’s old…in the stroller. Off to the twice a week market for shopping, then a quick look at their new home that will close escrow in a few months that is just across the street from the market. Soon we were on our way to their third floor flat for lunch so that Nine could take her nap while we enjoyed a delicious lunch prepared by Maeliss.

The time flew as we shared stories and information about many thing but mostly babies as Mary and Tushar are expecting their first and were excited to learn about the raising of Nine over the past year! We enjoyed a gourmet lunch from soup, green beans, new potatoes, pork roast, a selection of cheeses and salad followed by a delicious dessert!

Nine woke and we were soon off to the local Chateau that dates back to 1636. Designed by Francois Mansart it was a model of classical architecture. Over the years much of the land surrounding the Chateaux has been sold but there is still a sizable estate. The building is exemplary of classical French art, paving the way for Versailles with its symmetry, majesty and use of spaces. It’s not as grand as Versailles but beautiful and very interesting.

We arrived back at our hotel just after 4 pm and the rest of the group arrived from their outing after 6 pm. They were tired but ready to go again when we mentioned a metro trip to Montmartre and Sacre Cour….the large white Cathedral on top of the hill that can be seen from all over Paris. By 8 pm we were on our way again; minus Russ and Linda who were just too tuckered to go. When we arrived they wanted to eat first so Jim and I took Bill and headed out to find the Au Lapin Agile Cabaret and the Vineyard. Then we walked over to the Cathedral for a stroll through while listening to the nuns chanting vespers. It wasn’t quite dark yet even though it was nearly 10 pm so instead of getting on the Metro after the funicular ride down we walked all the way to the Moulin Rouge with the famous red windmill so that Bill could see the outside. Caught the Metro for the long ride home and decided to call it a night. Who knows when the rest will arrive from their evening adventure? The streets are alive with sound and it’s after midnight as I work on this journal. I don’t think the city ever sleeps!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Climbing the Eiffel Tower

A reader asked about the Museum Pass. You may purchase a Pass for 2, 4 or 6 days. Price is 32 Euros, 48 Euros or 64 Euros. There are many museums that one probably would not go to; but most of the big ones are on the list: Louvre, d’Orsay, Chateau Versailles, and the list goes on and on. Check out their website at We have six day passes and have already saved about 30 Euros on entrance fees and we’ve still got four day left on our tickets. We will probably save 25 Euros plus on admission fees and we don’t stand in long lines. Looks like they will be well worth the price.

Another bonus that is new this year: you can preorder and print your tickets for the Eiffel Tower; a real time saver….normally you might be in the line to purchase tickets for up to three hours. We took advantage of the opportunity before arriving in Paris. Today was our day to climb the Eiffel Tower. We had tickets for 12:30 pm…waited in a very short line and by 12:35 we were in and waiting in the line for the elevator to the second level. From there we did have to queue with everyone for the elevator to the top, but the wait was not all that bad. We were finished by 2 pm which is very quick for going to the top of the Eiffel Tower during the summer!

Our morning began with Mass at Notre Dame; a wonderful experience in the choir room behind the main altar; Jenn, Mary, Tushar and myself attended. Then off to the la boulangerie for fresh bread for breakfast in our room after Mass; it was still closed at 7 am when I was out and about earlier in the morning.

We gathered the group together in the lobby about 10 am and headed for the Metro. After arriving at the Eiffel Tower area, we walked to the nearby Rue Cler area to show the kids one of our favorite areas to stay….we have rooms there in August at the end of the trip. Several purchased crepes while there as they are really, really good at our favorite crepe maker on Rue Cler. Then back to the Eiffel Tower for our journey to the top. A wonderful morning adventure for all.

We all split off afterwards; a few heading for the Rodin Museum, another group to the Army Museum; we were headed towards the hotel for a rest. After several hours we met with Jenn & Kelly and walked to the Louvre Museum at 5:30 for our first visit of this trip. It’s open until 9:30 pm on Friday nights during the summer and we took advantage of the extended hours. Our major visits were to see the Winged Victory Statue and the Mona Lisa.

Walked back to the hotel….not an easy feat as we are all suffering from “tired foot” syndrome and Kelly has the beginnings of a blister on the bottom of his foot. We picked up some food and headed to the Seine River again for some time to enjoy the sunset and river boats as they cruised by with their dinner parties and tourists. Hardly a seat to be had by 9 pm along the quay; but we called it an early evening and headed for the hotel about 10 pm.

An end to another wonderful day in Paris; three of our kids are out riding Segway’s tonight… they began at 6 pm and will ride for four hours through the streets and parks of Paris experiencing the night lights before the end of their tour. We’re anxious to hear their story tomorrow.

Early tomorrow morning the group is headed for Chateau Versailles by train except for Mary, Tushar, Jim and myself…we have another adventure; we’re meeting a French couple for lunch in their home. Mary and I met them in Australia in 2008. More on that tomorrow. Bonsoir…

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Night life in the summer on the Seine Quay

Many of the children were up and out roaming Paris long before our 9 am meeting in our room. We are fortunate to have a larger room with enough space to gather all thirteen of us when necessary instead of the lobby. We gave them their six day museum passes and decided to go together to Chateau de Vincennes since it is reachable by Metro. The strike is affecting everything today.

In reading my blog from yesterday I see that I forgot to properly thank our Flight Coordinator for Tuesday. Yes…my sister Mary in Florida spent her whole day on the telephone and computer helping us keep track of all the various airplanes that we were flying on to reach Paris. It was a wonderful feeling knowing that I could make one phone call and find out where everyone was during the day. Thanks Mary; your assistance was truly priceless!

At 10 am we met in the lobby and headed towards the Tourist Information Booth to find out what was open. Several Museums were closed including both Chateau de Vincennes and Versailles. Those that were not closed were closing much earlier than normal. Two of the Metro Lines are running normal schedules and all of the rest have gone from a train every five minutes to every fifteen minutes. We were at Notre Dame and the line was short so we immediately all went in for a visit to the Cathedral. The line had tripled by the time we finished. From there we split into small groups for the day with a plan to meet in our room at 8 pm tonight. We’ll buy some wine, cheese and bread and head for the Seine River to enjoy the sunset Parisian style. I found some plain wrap chocolate bars at the store today that will be a perfect dessert!

The youngest son, Bill, headed out with us for the day. Several groups were headed toward the Louvre Museum. We stopped to tour the Archaeological Crypte in Notre Dame Parvis first and then walked along the Seine to the Place de la Concorde. There, we toured the Musee de L’Orangerie that houses the Monet Water Lilies along with a small grouping of other impressionist art.

Our feet were tired as we crossed the river and headed back towards the hotel. Stopped for a short time at the Musee d’Orsay …that’s the beauty of the Museum Pass…bypass the lines for tickets and go to each more than once….giving us the ability to do the large museums in small chunks of time.

Lunch at De La Fontaine Creperie Café; Bill was surprised when we showed him that coke was more expensive than beer! Also introduced him to a Jambon Fromage Crepe. Back to the hotel to put the feet up for half an hour and then back to the cobblestones for a walk to see the Arenes de Lutece; the remains of a large Roman Arena that has been rebuilt enough to be used for children’s sports. We saw the original one at the Archaeological Museum this morning. Then we walk further to the Place d’Italia and up the Rue Mouffetard; a wonderful old market street that was used in the movie Julia, Julie.

Eventually we reached the Pantheon….but it was 5:30 pm and they were closing because of the strike! But further down we found the Cluny Museum that was also closing early but they were great and let us come in for fifteen minutes to see their famous six tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn. Bill is excited about going back again. It’s very close to our hotel. Nap time is nearly over and the children are due here in ten minutes so I’ll continue this later this evening.

Nearly 1 am and I’m just getting this into the computer. Can’t believe it but we were on the streets until nearly midnight. It was after 11 pm before we left the quay and we were one of the first to leave….the place was still jammed with people. We had a marvelous time! The kids brought champagne, cheese, bread, meats, etc. and we feasted for a couple of hours with wine and 2 bottles of champagne. They all agreed that they want to do this at least one more time before we leave. We had a bride’s party next to us and that added lots of spice to the evening!

And so I quickly say good night…av revoir and we’ll see you tomorrow….hope you enjoy the photos from our first full day in Paris.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


We started leaving home on Tuesday at 6 am and the last one arrived in Paris on Wednesday at 8 pm ….that’s 11am California time…29 hours from start to finish. Three of the flights went as scheduled and four of them had problems. The worst one was a flight from San Francisco to Chicago to Paris that ended up being San Francisco to Chicago on a delayed flight; then to London and finally a British Air flight to Paris. They were the last to arrive. Another had to change planes because of engine trouble and another sat on a runway for an hour looking for a passenger who had luggage checked but didn’t board…they finally removed the luggage. The last was at JFK in New York…they don’t know why but they sat and sat and sat on the runway arriving two hours late! But we’re thankful that everyone has arrived just in time for a one day strike for the railroads tomorrow!

Yes…Paris unions only strike for one day…so we are not going to Versailles as planned tomorrow. But that what makes traveling interesting…constant changes! We walked the streets around our hotel this evening that is only a few blocks from Notre Dame. Dinner was a jambon crepe as we walked. Found the local grocery store…looks like a tiny shop and it is huge….all in the basement! They are using “self checkout” so we gave it a try. Thought you’d enjoy some of our photos as we walked and reminisced in the early evening along the Seine River; notice the Parisians enjoying the rays of sunshine on the quay. It’s finally dark at 10 pm and most of the children are off to view the Eiffel Tower in the sunset before hitting the well earned hay!

Au revoir

Thursday, June 17, 2010

An Overview of Our Upcoming Journey to France

Pack your bags and kiss your loved ones goodbye....we're off on another adventure in just a few days. Next week we fly away as fast as we can across the seas to our favorite vacation spot: France. Our first week will be spent in the city of love....celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary with six of our seven children and their spouses.

At the end of the week we're off towards Amsterdam in our little French car to watch the beginning of the 2010 Tour de France! This is our third time to be in France for the most famous bicycle race in the world. We'll follow the race to Reims and then and on into the Alsace Lorraine area staying in Colmar. From that point on we'll be seeing bits and pieces of the race but concentrating more on the champagne and wine region known as Burgundy. We'll dip into the northern tip of Provence before heading west towards Carcassonne, the Pyrenees' Mountains and the Bordeaux Region where we'll say goodbye to the bicycle race and stay for a bit in the Dordogne Region. Then it's off to see the Loire Valley Chateaus, those in Ile de France and finally a few nights in the forests of Rambouillet before driving back into Paris for the final few nights!

Are you as tired as I am from just dreaming about our adventure? Get some rest and mark this blog as a favorite so that you can easily open your eyes in France each morning with us for our eight week journey. A Bientôt