I step through the front door of Chartres Cathedral, sighting simultaneously the maze and a couple of stained glass windows, and think: I am in France, finally.
What had started as a stray comment some summer evening in 2011 led to Tim and Judy Adams joining forces with Deb and me in the latter half of September 2012 for the first Teator European trip. My interest in wine and history led to a choice of France, a decision the other three let themselves agree with.
Our choices soon coalesced around Loire, Burgundy, and Paris. Next, planning consumed hours of pleasurable reading during the ensuing months. Rick Steves, Fodor, Frommer, Michelin all occupied space on the kitchen table, dog-eared and sticky-noted, forming reality from what had been fantasy.
Tim did the leg work for flight and lodging reservations, while I plotted possibilities for activities. The relative proximity of the places to visit allowed a rental car to be possible, an avenue of freedom integral to our trip.
One large brush stroke was visiting historic buildings, especially the chateaus that dot the Loire Valley. What had been a footnote in my general knowledge of French culture and history was clarified and expanded upon a reading of the guides and a re-reading of some history. Many days of the first two weeks found us four seeking out these buildings, all world famous. (Details of each site can be better explained online.)
Villandry: Although cautioned this was a second-tier chateau, we were struck from the start, with size and grandeur, although the Biltmore was fresh in our minds for a measuring stick. Most impressive of all, even after two weeks, were the gardens—the size, color, geometry—magnificent from every angle, high up in the chateau and from the hillside, or across, on ground level.
Chinon: Our second chateau, even with all the cautions in the guides, was so much less than Villandry as a show-place, and yet so true to the defensive nature of the early castles. Its perch on the hill overlooking the town, with help from the audio narrations from room to room, gave a raw feeling of medieval power.
Azay Le Rideau: Known for mirror images across its moat, Azay provided vivid imagery of royal power, manipulation, skullduggery, all surrounded with a beauty that almost obviates the corrupt. And this was my first structure that gave ring to the guidebooks’ attention to the glory of Loire chateaus.
Chenonceau: The crème de la crème. Rated top by many of the guides, we sit home agreeing. For human interest, for beauty, for sense of medieval power play, for ease of use by the modern visitor, Chenonceau, with its fabled river-spanning arches, rose above the rest. The interweaving stories of the five strong women added a dimension the other chateaus could not match.
Chambord: The most expansive of the chateaus we saw, Chambord presents, from a distance, dozens of jumbled chimneys and towers that we later learned were planned and are symmetrical. For me, the emptiness of Chambord is its trademark, with a corresponding sense of the abuse of power and wealth that neither helped the common person nor even was enjoyed by the builders.
Clos Luce: This Amboise structure is a quirky footnote in most guides but it entertained our foursome for its connections with Leonardo daVinci and for the human story it told. The daVinci Park, with its models of Leonardo’s inventions, although a bit hokey, also reinforced the genius of a man who spent his last three years in this chateau.
La Rochepot: Overlooking the town of the same name, it combined the fortress function with the country estate function. A guided tour in both French and English was both frustrating and entertaining, and the furnishings gave a feel of time and people.
Pommard: Actually, we never did tour this chateau, only had lunch on the grounds on a rainy day. A bit tony for us.
Savigny les Beaune: What an oddball! The main structure is as impressive as the others in scope but its deteriorating state is disquieting. The main draw was the collection of Abarth autos, motorcycles, planes and jets, and wine tractors that filled grounds, outbuildings, and upstair rooms. It needs to be seen to be believed.
Hotel Dieu: Its mix of grandeur, architecture, religiosity, iconic roof, and hope for a better life matched well with Rick Steves’ guide.
Abbey Fontenay: A wet day fit the austere, dim church, with dirt floors, with monks’ chanting piped in—a great ambiance. Half of it was closed for private dwellings. Especially frustrating was an amateurish, sixth-grade quality handout that served as guide to the buildings. Despite that, one felt the power of this center.
the Romanesque church at Saint Romain le Haut: Lurking on a foggy hilltop, this c.13th century church featured a dozen statuesque steps leading downward from ground level—big steps, suggestive of the power the church held several hundred years ago.
And Paris: The bus tour led past landmark after landmark, with stately Notre Dame; a solid Arc d’Triomphe that awaited my climbing its almost three hundred steps; the Eiffel Tower punctuating the heavens; and all the other places on the Seine’s banks in the city’s center.
Not to be dismissed are the hundreds, or thousands, of buildings in small towns and cities that have served humankind for longer than the US has existed.
A second item on the wish list was to experience wine country and wines in areas that I have read about in my wine guides and have sampled here in the States. The variety of degustations (wine tastings) was a quick lesson, a lesson that needed more practice and confidence. Some of the degustations we experienced were:
(west of Tours)
· Chateau d’Aulee (Azay le Rideau) – a good first stop, inviting, average quality
· M. Plouzeau – Chateau Bonnelieres (Chinon) – unique tasting in a cave on Heritage Day
· Bouvet-Labuday (Saumur) – sparkling only, worthy tour of caves
(east of Tours)
· Caveau des Vignerons (Amboise) – under Chateau Amboise; several appellations (area names) to taste, a good overview of Touraine appellations
· Les Vignerons de Mont Pres (Chambord/Cheverny area) – a cooperative in an appellation I had never heard of; a real hands-on feel in a working warehouse
· Marc Bredif (Vouvray) – large caves, a million bottles, excellent quality
· Pierre J Fouassier (Sancerre) – a sleepy place, excellent Sancerre
· David & David (Pommard) – David spoke limited English but was charming; an overview of the wines he is involved with
· Domaine Patrick Clemencet (Pommard) – a basement tasting across the street from our apartment
· Bouchard Aine & Fils (Beaune) – a great tourist tour, five senses, best overall quality wines in our tastings.
One frame of reference for visiting vineyards is our Finger Lakes experience.
The domaines in the Loire seemed somewhat more geographically concentrated than Finger Lakes wineries. Most tastings were free.
Pommard was an eye opener, with 30-40 domaines within the ten blocks that made up the town. Every third or fourth residence was a domaine, with its harvesting machinery visible during this week, nestled within the courtyard that opened to house and/or storage “barns.” And the other small towns nearby, south and north, along the Cote d’Or were similar. I realized early in the week that many places requested reservations. We also discovered that harvest season meant that many degustations were closed during these two weeks; they were too busy to man the tasting counter. Tastings often cost five to ten euros, some times with the price counting toward purchase (exception: Bouchard).
Along the way, we would buy a bottle or two from a wine tasting, or from the grocery store, to complement our meals or late afternoon get-togethers.
· Jean-Claude Bachelet et Fils 2009 Burgogne Pinor Noir
· Camille Cayron 2008 Cairanne Cotes du Rhone-Villages
· Chateau de la Bonneliere M. Blouzeau 2009 Chapelle Chinon
· Chateau de la Bonneliere M. Blouzeau 2010 Chinon
· Chateau L’Aulee NV Cremant de Loire Brut
· Plou & Fils NV Touraine Amboise Francois 1st
· Domaine de la Croix Douillard 2011 Cuvee Francois 1st Touraine Amboise
· Bouvet 2008 Tresor Saumur Brut
· Fanny Sabre 2010 Pommard Vieilles Vignes
· Domaine du Chateau de Meursalult 2010 Bourgogne Pinot Noir
· Domain Deliance Close de la Marole 2010 Givery 1st Cru
· M. Plouzeau NV Perles Fines Touraine
· Domaine Patrick Clemencet 2011 Volnay
· Domaine Fouassier 2010 Les Chasseignes
· Bouchard Aine & Fils 2009 Beaune Premier Cru Clos du Roi
· Domaine Fouassier 2011 L’Etourneau Sancerre
· Garanoor 2011 Bonvillars Cave des Viticulteurs Bonvillars
· Marc Bredif 2010 Vouvray
My favorite of the above was the Bouchard, a smooth, silky yet full, pinot noir.
Next was the Fouassier Les Chasseignes Sancerre, probably the best Sancerre I have tasted. Bredif’s Vouvray was excellent.
And I tasted several appellations I had never heard of, mostly in the Touraine area and in Suisse.
People often say wines in France are better than anything in the US. I must say I found them to be about equal, mostly good wines worth trying. I suspect some allow the ambiance in a different country to sway a few palates while imbibing, which would be easy to do in France.
Ambiance was made more real, with the harvest season in full swing when we arrived in Pommard. Dozens of white trucks, seemingly importing grape-pickers to pick, dotted every hillside. (Loire seemed poised to harvest a week after we left there.)
We watched the muddy, bent-back work, under trying weather conditions. The winter had not been an easy one; the spring had a warm snap, followed by a frost; hail fell in early summer; much of the summer was wet; and harvest, for many, came during a rainy week, much of which we witnessed.
And there is a raw awe in viewing rows of vines orderly traipsing up gradual or steep hillsides as far the eye could catch. Then, a kilometer beyond, no grapes. This was especially true in the Cote d’Or, less so in Burgundy areas outside Cote’ d’Or and in Loire
A third broad brushstroke of our trip was food. This was definitely influenced by hotel life necessitating going out for meals, with a contrast with the week in the apartment. Dining out certainly brought into play the role of cafés, especially in the larger towns and, of course, Paris.
Another influence on food was our attempt to balance pleasure with economy. When the Adamses went to Paris three years ago, they talked about many an expensive dinner, something Deb and I wished to avoid. Instead, we focused on a larger lunch. Still, it is easy to push the budget, just as it is in America.
Breakfast (petit dejeuner) could be a croissant, juice and coffee or tea. However, many of the places we stayed were influenced by Americans and offered more. Our first stay, at which we enjoyed breakfast all four mornings, offered a buffet style of croissants, chocolate bread, hard rolls, cereal, a couple meats, cheese, three juices, coffee and tea at a fixed price of ten euros. This price range was seen many times in our travels, although in Paris, two to five more euros were needed.
Our hotel in Amboise had a skimpier breakfast, for a few euros less, so we tried an epicerie/patisserie a couple blocks away on Rue de National, ten euros, for the Breakfast Anglais – a hearty meal with cereal, eggs (a favorite for some), croissant, tea or coffee or warm chocolate milk, juice, again for about ten euros.
Even at the apartment, it was cereal, fresh bread from the patisserie/boulangerie, fruit, tea and coffee.
In Paris, we had the breakfast Americano, recognizable with the egg component, usually in the 12-16 euro range.
Overall, I ate more than I usually would for breakfast.
This is a good time to cite a major element of the menus we encountered almost everywhere. The plat du jour, with two or three choices for the entrée (appetizer, in America), first course, and dessert, was an economical decision for lunch and dinner. Even breakfast saw this feature, without the courses. It reminded me of Restaurant Week in our region, with their limited menu for an economical price. Thus, we often avoided the a la carte menu in favor of the “package deal”, the choices either appealing or daring us to experiment.
..Food is such a sensual pleasure that I felt a tad guilty for letting money stand in the way of trying some real interesting plates. Still, we had plenty that was good, on a reasonable budget.
Picking my favorite meals, not including breakfast (keeping in mind that
we were not on the hunt for the best and most expensive, and keeping in mind
that the others’ picks, of course, likely are different), were:
· lunch Pommard (Day 14) – Chateau Pommard (fish soup & puff, tomato cream with relish w/ buffalo mozzarella, filet of duck with a tender sauce, two scoops of cheesy potatoes, roasted figs w/ black current sauce; panacotta w/ strawberry topping, cheese course (most expensive lunch, 35€ plat du jour)
· lunch Beaune (Day 10) – market day at La Grilladine (marinated salmon with tomato sorbet, beef bourguignon, chocolate mousse
· lunch Montbard (Day 13) – Hotel L’Ecu (vegetable tart & greens, salmon in aligoté sauce, apple tart with coulis & fruit)
· lunch Beaune (Day 12) – Brasserie Le Belena (beef terrine, roast pork in light sauce and mashed potatoes, chocolate mousse)
· lunch Saumur (Day 5) – La Bourse (tomato tart, beef carpaccio & small salad, chocolate mousse)
A note: My list indicates a preference for chocolate mousse although I clearly recall a more varied dessert selection. I must have made up for that in the patisseries.
A major visual element of our riding through France, one I abstractly knew but would come to know intimately, is the town structure, with a core village, often delineated with walls, and then the outlying area, we would call rural or agricultural, that butted up against those walls.
In New York, we have spread out. Freehold could all be clustered within a quarter mile of the center, and then all the outlying land would be agricultural, with parcels of it owned by the individual town inhabitants. This pattern in France stems, of course, from a longer history than ours, and one in which defense of the town was critical. For the most part, that layout still remains dominant; however, the larger towns’ outskirts were beginning to look like our creeping suburbs.
Another visual contrast to America is building material. It is rare to see wood in France (although we did see wooden roof framing in a few new buildings). The towns’ buildings are stone, or stuccoed, all of it in gentle light pastels, with that classic French cream or pink-cream, with tile or slate roofs. We did see some variety but the overwhelming difference with our area is striking. Small towns were precise stabs of pastel sharply painted on the surrounding landscape, without the spread that America promotes.
The other visual was the streets and house configurations of each town. Most town roads were two cars wide, but barely, with stone roads with a center stripe/gutter the universal construction. Houses, or the walls that separated them from the road, butted against the sidewalk, and that sidewalk might be one person wide but usually three wide. And these roads would twist and turn, with a rare sight of a straight piece stretching for fifty yards of more. If some knight in shining armor, or William Shakespeare with note pad, were to walk out of a side door onto the road, I might not have been too surprised.
Wine country followed that same pattern but the small towns of Cote d’Or held out one more major surprise. Pommard, our second week home, must have held about thirty different domaines, and the other Cote d’Or towns we drove through were similar. What we thought were cavernous homes were often barns and shelters for the grape-picking machinery and grape processing implements. A gate on the street might be open and we would gawk not only at the courtyard to the house but also the machinery needed for harvesting. All the neatness of compact town versus large open spaces meant all the stuff we would park in barns were kept in the “house.”
Pommard was a visual treat in the early morning sun, with its twists and turns of streets and alleyways branching off, views of porches and flower pots through the metal bar gates, the exposure of home and work place with the solid gates open, all in stone or stucco, with all the businesses and residences nestled tightly together, all with overflowing flowerboxes dangling from window ledges. And this structure mostly held true in most of our travels, until we reached the outskirts of Paris.
The road in to Sancerre was striking for its feel that we had just driven into an Impressionist’s painting, with the ecru of freshly tilled soil; the tart green of trees, either individual or clumps; the faded straw of soon to be harvested fields; the robin’s egg blue of sky; the dapple of movie-clouds. We tried to photograph but the scale was too magnificent to capture.
Despite the beauty of the towns, I felt a distinct feel of genteel shabbiness, with me wondering if anyone lived in these towns. We often drove through these post card scenes, and barely a person to be seen. I was left wondering what it was I was not seeing, even with flowers on the window sills, cars parked along the house, gardens tended to. Maybe it was the business week, and work life supplanted personal life, much as it does in America. The one comment one of us made was that if the same stuff was seen in America, we would call it tired and in need of spiffing up. In France, it is called scenic.
One picture that played out every mile of the road was the picturesque countryside, with wide open vistas, neat fence lines (hedgerows, east of Fontenay), dots of cattle on green pastures, a mix of flat country and long rolling hills, and a feeling of neatness that is hard to consistently find in eastern NY.
Trying to make some priority of unforgettable sights, the above are the important ones – wine, food, town structure, countryside. But many other influences created details that will linger for a long time. So, in random order:
Preparations for the
We had started in the spring, making reservations (Tim) for airlines (AerLingus) and hotels/apartment.
Tim also arranged for car rental, GPS, international driver license, and more.
Meanwhile, I was scouring the guides to imagine what might fill our day without exhausting ourselves. Gradually, a potential itinerary was sketched, and served as a structure most of the trip.
One survey said one of the biggest three pleasures of a trip was the planning, and the TRIP was one of our discussion topics for several months, with boundless possibilities.
In the end, we planned well, and were satisfied on many levels what we experienced.
Where we stayed:
Our home bases certainly influenced our memories. Auberge Le Colombien, in small-ish Villandry on the Cher River (a tributary of the Loire), found us in a pleasant combination of old hotel with modest rooms, with its own eating place, set next to a half-dozen other tourist spots, on the edge of the few blocks that comprise the town. A large public, dirt-surface parking lot across the street found good use most days, and we viewed many cyclists coming through what we would realize was a major cycling tourist pathway in Chateau country. Chateau Villandry nestled two hundred yards away from the hotel. The owners and staff were pleasant and helpful, we met one interesting British 70-something couple (just got married after twenty years together), and the town, we would realize, was as French as a tourist town could get. When it’s the first of places we stayed, it was hard to judge it but, by journey’s end, it was my favorite place to stay.
The second half of the first week found us at Le Blason in Amboise, part of the structure being several hundred years old. Our initial room was quite small, with a bathroom even more compact. Our switch to a larger room helped some but our Villandry room still was nicer for its countryside Frenchness. The owners were helpful; their breakfast was mostly adequate; and the ability to walk out the door a few blocks to businesses and services many times more plentiful than Villandry was a welcome change. Amboise is a small city, one that Rick Steves recommended as a home base.
The second week found us at an apartment in Pommard, a few kilometers from Beaune, one of the two main cities in Cote d’Or (Dijon, the other). Pommard might have been larger than Villandry by a little but the wine industry dominated the town’s make-up, with every third house seemingly a wine domaine. And peering over the walls of stone, we were surrounded by acres and rows of endless vineyards, with Pommard being one of the famed names of the Cote de Beaune (somewhat less prestigious than the Cote de Nuit). We made frequent use of the town’s patisserie/boulangerie, even if it did not have the selection of Beaune or Paris. We visited the epicerie almost as often because the Poste (post office) was run by the store’s owner. Pommard had a small butcher shop and charcuterie, three or four eating places, a few hotels, several B&B types, a gite or two, a church square and clock tower, and a history typical of many small towns in Burgundy, though “typical” is a bunch older than America.
The final half week found us at Hotel Bonaparte, on the left bank, a few blocks from the Seine, in the midst of several shopping districts. The room was sufficient, with the French decorative touches of an appealing place. The bathroom was sufficient, although our tub was narrow-floored. The shower, as did all our stays, used a spray arm, although this hotel did not have a shower curtain/wall to keep water from splashing beyond the tub.
In the end, the two small towns seemed to have more character and tranquility; the two cities allowed more sightseeing on foot. It was a good mix; three weeks in one place would have been much.
It is one thing to talk about renting a car in France, and quite another to drive and find one’s destination. And, starting in Paris is an unfair test.
Tim & Judy arranged for France GPS, and we should have been fine. Immediately, though, the first obstacle was the French it spoke, which caused some consternation in the back seat.
We also bought a map of the country, in better detail than any map we had, and that allowed me to guide us in a general sense.
Still, it was GPS that was most useful. The car came equipped with a map GPS and that was a useful supplement. Eventually, in the countryside, the GPS got us everywhere we needed to go, and we could travel with confidence.
The one complication was that the driver knew he was right at certain key times, which would conflict with Miss-Direction (our nickname for the GPS voice). Inconveniently, the first major case of that happening found us trying to find our way out of Paris, our second most stressful hour of the trip.
The Teator-Adams connection goes back thirty-plus years, sharing all of life’s details, and I probably mean “all.” So, to have them sharing another trip with us certainly was satisfying and meaningful. The talking of present experiences, the comparison with past ones, the different perspectives all added to a shaping of a trip that could not be equaled otherwise. So, thank you, Tim and Judy, for being such an integral part of the trip.
Judy’s better French, Tim’s driving, and companionship made possible a trip that Deb and I would otherwise have planned differently out of necessity.
Enough cannot be said for Tim’s driving. Even though he likes to be a passenger once in a while, his willingness to drive the entire trip allowed me to enjoy the scenery even if I was busy helping set course. And we all felt more comfortable with Tim driving.
The Daily Drives:
Since we seldom stayed put, driving to and fro played an important part of our time. Unless we had good reason, we stayed off the Auto-Route (toll, speed 130km/hr) in favor of the national and department roads, with many a local road filling in. The small towns beckoned, Tim wandering through many a twisting turn, and then just as quickly, heading out into the country side. Towns we had never, or almost never, heard of, became our friends or another scenic snapshot.
Typically, we headed in different routes to see as much different territory as possible, and still the themes of compact villages, large rural areas surrounding the villages, smaller and fewer forests than Greene County made their presence known.
Our rides included:
· Paris – Villandry
· Villandry – Azay Le Rideau
· Villandry – Chinon – back along Loire south bank levees
· Villandry – Azay – Saumur – back along Loire north bank
· Villandry – Chenonceau – Amboise
· Amboise – Chambord
· Amboise – Vouvray & Rochecorbon
· Amboise – Sancerre – cross lots to Vezelay & Pommard
· Pommard – Beaune (only three km, market day)
· Pommard. southward – Volnay – Meurseult – Montehlie – Auxey Duresses – St Romain – Orches – Evelle – Baubigny – La Rochepot – Nolay
· Pommard – Savigny les Beaune – Pernand Vergelesses – Aloxe Corton – Beaune
· Pommard – Fontenay – Montbard – Pitteaux – Bussey – Puilly en Auxois – Beaune
· Pommard – (Grand Crus Route) – Nuits St Georges – Vosnee-Romanee – Vougeot – Chambolle Musigny – Morey St Denis – Givrey Chambertin – Bronchon – Fixin
· Pommard – Besoncon – Jura – Switzerland (Yverdon les Bains, Lausanne, Nyon)
· Pommard – Paris
I would try to pick out a favorite ride but that’s not possible; they all provided a multitude of scenery and memories. I must admit to a bit of butt weariness on the Switzerland ride, and the following day to Paris.
Ah, weather! Kind to Loire, not so much to Burgundy, kind to Paris.
Our days in the Loire saw highs of 70, lows of 50, generally, and a pleasure to be outside. In fact, during lunch, we would often seek the shade. Traveling, we had post card view after post card view.
Burgundy was a different story. Four of the days, we dodged light rain or planned to be inside during the worst of it, especially our visit to Chateau Savigny. The ride along the Grand Cru Route was a day-long wash-out but we saw enough from the car. And the ride to the Mother Mary statue in Pernand Vergelesses was a raw breezy day.
Our Paris stay consisted of cool but sunny days, cool enough Day One to chill us on the upper-deck open-air bus ride but Day 2 was a comfortably pleasant ten degrees warmer.
Keeping in touch:
Phone calls to the US is extravagantly expensive from France so Tim and Judy saved their phones for emergencies.
A notebook computer (the ones we have) are space hogs.
So, Deb brought her tablet, hooking up to wi-fi service where we could, which was every place we stayed, once we got past early obstacles.
We all had Gmail accounts so we utilized them for basic messages. The keyboard was small and touch-oriented, a bunch slower than our usual computer keyboards. Still, it kept us in touch with friends, and allowed us to see what weather we might be facing.
Cats back home:
The tablet allowed Deb to keep in touch with Linda, our neighbor, who was checking the cats morning and evening. Even though we were in France, the cats still were on the tip of Deb’s thoughts, and we had the assurance of Linda’s assistance. (We did have three or four of our neighbors who offered to help out also – thanks to all.)
And then our friend June Clark, and husband Jed, took a vacation at our house for one mid-week, and the cats had company with an excellent cat person. Thank you, June.
French roads were certainly as good as our roads and, at times, we noted they might be better. They tended to be less wide, have smaller shoulders, constructed of a red stone, and only once ran into an unnoted dead-end.
French culture is more relaxed, if I can use a gentle word, than the US. Most hotel bathrooms were indistinguishable from home, other than size. OK, the double button thing was a nice feature we should use – small button for small flushes, big button for big flushes. And the showers mostly were the same except for the showering wand.
But, the urinals were often found in the entry of public or TI (Tourist Information) sites, with men and women walking past on their way to the cubicles. I am not used to people walking behind me while I am urinating.
Judy and Deb, especially, complained louder about the device upon which to sit, or lack thereof. Many times, the toilet had no seat, and for the squatters, it made no difference. But, when step prints are the only sign where to put one’s feet and the woman has to squat over an empty space, that’s a big difference for many Americans. How badly did one have to really go?
Beaune Market Day:
Rick Steves had mentioned that one should see the market day in Beaune, and he was right. Both the open square and adjoining covered market were filled with dozens of vendors, with other rows of more vendors filling several road offshoots, with thousands of people perusing and shopping. Looking at, and shopping for, fresh vegetables and fruit, meat, cheeses, processed meats, and more filled a couple hours for us on our first full day in Beaune.
Although I had read about the use of caves in the Loire (and Burgundy, but a lesser scale), I was amazed by the hundreds of caves we saw on just a couple days of traveling.
Over the past thousand years, and more, people have chopped rock from cliffs to build. And the holes they left, some minor indentations, others entering for hundreds of feet, left space that is utilized today.
Saumur, especially, typified the uses of caves, with some sporting upscale doors and house fronts. At first, I pictured cave men, but I have to assume these houses were as nice as the regular houses.
The other use is to store wine, with Eric Bredif holding one million bottles in their series of caves which we toured. The even, low-50s-degrees temperature is perfect for wine storage.
Oh, poor, poor America. I know we have some good bakeries, but for every town to have a patisserie is a wild dream come true. And although I did not consume that many sweets, the availability was delightful. The chocolate éclairs were so soul-satifying but there was so much more, to the point of artistry.
The fact that most patissieries are also the boulangerie, the bread store, made such stops a vital everyday activity. And the French do croissants so much better than the US, generally. Throw in the baguette and the pane chocolat, and it is bread nirvana.
We did not do much, except for Week 2. Their Casino and their Carrefour stores were similar to our supermarkets in terms of food selection.
One big difference, for us, was the unavailability of cold medications, which are reserved for the pharmacies.
Ugh. Chest/throat “colds” plagued all but Judy during the trip. Tim caught it the week before we left, with it still lingering a week into the trip. I caught it a few days before the trip and suffered coughing spasms in Villandry. Deb caught it a couple days into the trip and suffered the whole time. Life would have been more enjoyable without whatever we had.
The Loire River seems to garner little notice in America. However, we found riding both banks, from Saumur to Blois to be a scenic journeyway.
Our research had presented the basics of spending in France, and they were accurate. We took out larger sums of euros at PNB, a bank that has a no-fee association with Bank of America debit card, and we conveniently had a card already.
And Capital One is one of the few credit cards that allowed charging internationally with no fee, and we already had one of those cards, too.
The American cash we carried never moved, and was used only upon our return to JFK.
Money common sense said not to treat one euro as if it were one dollar, with the euro worth a buck thirty-one, the price of doing business, something we had resigned ourselves to from the start.
All the guides mentioned the threat of pickpockets, especially in busy tourist places, and especially Paris, museums, bus and train stations, and so on.
I used a money belt for most of the important stuff (normally, comfortable), and Deb carried the rest in a small pocketbook, usually under her arm. Fortunately, we were never tested.
The lost ring trick, when a stranger picks a ring off the ground and asks if it is yours, was finally presented to us on our last full day in Paris, and the same person did it with me three times within two hours (must be the magnet pull of the Seine). By number three, it was comical, and I was almost pleased that I got the chance to witness it. Again, fortunately, we did not add our names to the list of people we know who have been pick-pocketed or tricked overseas. (Wait, where’s my wallet?)
As tourists, we spent a lot of time interacting and watching people, some of whom waited on us. Whether it is fair to judge a nation by our almost three weeks, we were, overwhelmingly, treated well, courteously, with respect, kindly (especially with our limited French). It is hard to reconcile some of our politicians’ negative comments about the French. They (the French people) are us, and in many cases, they acted more courteously than Americans do, and our entry back into the US proved that on a couple occasions. Even more telling, after arrival home, was a couple of Republicans and Tea Party-types almost disappointed that our opinion of French people was positive.
I have little to judge on. The flight legs from here to Paris seemed efficient enough. On the way back, the 90 minute delay on the Dublin tarmac was frustrating for its delay in getting us home as fast as we wanted. Aer Lingus service was generally good, and a seven hour flight is tough on body no matter who is doing it.
This was my first major experience with it. Arriving in France at 9:30 in the morning, with no sleep during the flights, made me the most tired I can remember. Having a nasty cold did not help either.
The way back was kinder, although I was falling asleep at 9 p.m. a couple nights after returning.
A possible day trip to Switzerland had been on our radar the whole week in Beaune but rainy or cloudy weather/forecasts had precluded our going. Finally, the last day in Burgundy, the weather broke and we rode the almost three hours to Besancon and then to Lake Neuchatel.
On the way through the Juras, we finally saw some topography that looked like Greene County, kept checking the map to see how close the Swiss border was looming, but were first interrupted by a worthwhile “Products of Region” store that made its own cheese. We saw the storage room with hundreds of wheels of cheese, saw the video how this community makes it, and then bought a hunk of it for evening snacks.
Finally, we crossed the Swiss border, descended a bit, and had a distant scan of the low Alps as we crossed an engineering marvel of a bridge. We found Yverdon, stopped in the town center and found Brass’rY for lunch, where Tim, yes, Tim, experimented and tried an unusual plat du jour – horse steak. The meal was satisfactory, we struck up a conversation with a multi-lingual waitress, paid the bill in euros, and continued on our way (Deb checked in the fabric store). Only later, when our coins did not work in the parking meter and was noted by a passerby that they were the wrong coins, did we realize that we left the biggest tip of the trip by not paying in the Swiss currency – the franc (Suisse is not part of EU!).
On to Lausanne (and Lac Leman) and westward along the northern shore, stopping at Morges for a stroll along the lake and for snapshots of the Alps. At Nyon, we turned inland, up a multi-hairpin good road, with one parking perspective, up further past some resort towns and ski areas, and back the couple hour trek toward home, listening to Miss-Direction (gps) to get us to Dole and then Beaune.
This shore line featured the onset of more vineyards, and I had to do some research on Swiss appellations, something I had not tasted before until the Bonvillars from lunch (went well with Tim’s horse!).
Despite long seat time, it was a spirit lifter.
Owner Terry Buel knew we were heading for France, and seemed interested in us reporting back what we found. And, as we experienced our share of moments, we would mention a few times that Terry would love to see… this and… that… and a few other characteristically French dining milieu.
So, when we dine at our favorite local restaurant next time, we’ll have to share some of our memories of the best of food and ambiance, something Ben & Terry & Max have/had captured in Freehold and Greenville.
Much has been said about café life in France, especially in Paris. And it seems to be true.
When weather is nice (and heaters help when the temps are marginal), proprietors set dozens of chairs, tightly placed, to welcome tourists and city dwellers to have a beer, sip café au lait, and even order food. Or just to watch, as long as there is something ordered. We played the tourist role a couple times on Rue du Buci. The closest thing I have in Freehold is to be one of the Freehold Porch Men at the Country Store.
Even the small towns make the outdoor seating available, I suspect, to make tourists enjoy a stereotype that is a pleasant way of eating/drinking. It’s nice but we were busy enough to not spend much time doing it.
Rental Car / DropOff:
The car was roomy and rode well, got good gas mileage, and served us well. It was close going (with the sensors beeping furiously) on the narrow zigzag of streets in Amboise but that was our fault.
Pickup should have gone well but the courtesy desk spoke poor English for an international airport. Then, Tim had to point out a couple major dents and nicks the company did not note and we feared we’d be charged for it. Eventually, we set sail from Paris, in an adventure noted earlier.
It was the drop-off that was the single most stressful two hours of our trip. We had no exact address, only a street. And we found the street, circled the block three times trying to find the National drop-off sign. No luck. And we were already almost two hours late returning the car.
We stopped a taxi driver, who tried to help (and who we stiffed, accidentally, mostly), ran into a Hertz office where another person was helpful. We found the garage with the 1’ x 1’ sign, saw one pathway to a paid garage and the other path turned into a dead-end. Eventually, we parked the car, got the help of another Hertz counter person set in the bowels of this parking complex, hurried across the street to drop off the keys, couldn’t find the office, got sketchy help from the armed military guards, found another Hertz guy who barely was able to give us directions to another bowel in the building, which led to the National counter person who apologized for it being so difficult to find.
Done. Well,… one hundred yards in the taxi, and Tim asked Judy if she had the GPS. Nope, so back we returned, in the taxi to the first bowel, where the GPS was sitting on top of the car. We made it to the hotel where Deb was waiting and wondering what to do with the disappearance of the only three people she knew in Paris.
I seemed to have left something out. Oh, yeah, Paris!
Paris, of course, is the glamour center of France, as it should be.
With the two full days we had, Deb and I wanted an overall view of France, and really, that meant the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame corridor.
And that we did with a two day hop-on, hop-off L’Open bus tour.
The first morning turned out to be chillier than we thought, and some of us wore skimpier clothes than we should have, and needed a hot bowl of soup for lunch to thaw out. Even the afternoon felt chilly.
The second day turned warmer than forecast and was a perfect day.
And, we stay attuned to Deb’s foot, the operation on which was done last March to get ready for this trip. The foot held up, but the standing made the ankle (broken in 2005) ache.
So, we rode, got off, walked, got on, walked more, ate, and reached our room in Hotel Bonaparte by later afternoon. At which point, we would rest up, and then get out for an evening stroll and the lights of the city, or, the lights along Rue du Buci and along the Seine near Pont Neuf and Notre Dame.
We rode around the Eiffel Tower, Judy and I climbed the almost three hundred steps of the Arc d’Triomphe, walked around and/or into Notre Dame, watched the barges and tourist boats on the Seine, walked past more than a few high-end shops, Tim strolled the upper Champs-Élysées, the bus found a new road with chestnuts banging the upper seats of the bus (marathon going on), celebrated Tim and Judy’s birthday at a café with a view of Eiffel Tower, and rode past more sites and sights than the brain can hold onto or more than can be written on a page.
One last attraction was St Chapelle, which was a modest walk from the hotel, and an even shorter one from the bus. We got through one long line in short order, only to realize that line was the security line, and we had to endure the ticket line, with the Museum Pass people moving to the front. We nervously watched the lowering sun, knowing we wanted to be inside before the sun went down. We just made it and witnessed one of the most magical stained glass centers we have ever seen (competition of course from Chartres and Notre Dame).
In the gift shop downstairs, Deb had found a gift worthy of giving Linda who was back in Freehold watching our cats – a tapestry pillow that was not too kitchsy.
On our last morning in Paris, Deb and I took a stroll in a different direction, ending up in the Luxembourg Gardens, a beautiful and large park with its own chateau and gardens and open spaces, open to the public from what I could see. It was a fitting way to view Paris before our transfer van took us to the airport.
· the value of TIs in the medium-sized towns and up
· walking the Chartres maze
· Allen’s sense of humor during breakfast at Le Colombien
· magnificence of Villandry gardens
· enjoyment of escargot – every where
· view from Chinon castle
· Heritage Day in Chinon – free entry into church and museum
· scenic Loire levee drive
· first glimpses of the chateaux
· town of Azay Le Rideau
· wonderment of cave use
· mourning dove cooing during Villandry mornings
· navigating our very tight way into Amboise, only inches to spare
· Rue National in Amboise, with its shops
· traffic noise at night in Amboise
· explosive cork pop just missing Tim
· andouillette at Epicerie – nose turning smell, unfavorable taste; tripe might not be tried for a while
· Sensation Cosson – dessert at Epicerie, white chocolate enclosed apricot gel, in apricot sauce
· Americano breakfast at Patisserie Giraud in Amboise – two mornings
· caves on way to Clos Luce
· Tim’s cash advance on credit card: “Oh, My God”, with a head slap
· gelato at Amorlino
· hilltop setting of Sancerre
· three chocolate ice cream dessert at Café des Artes
· help from person to get into apartment
· tight parking at apartment
· Tim and his International Herald
· half-euro bathroom fee in some places
· fun wine tasting with David in Pommard
· watching progress of grape harvesters
· back road to Volnay, white stripe for bicyclist trail
· pee break, for some, in cemetery
· lunch in Nolay, like eating at FCS
· lots of cyclists in rain in Burgundy
· the jets, moss on walls, leaks at Chateau Savigny
· souvenir shopping at Athenaum in Beaune
· basement wine tasting in Pommard
· light dinners at apartment – bread, cheese, meat
· hundreds of stone walls in Pommard
· Judy’s journal writing
· TI in Gevrey Chambertin
· riding through the Grand Cru towns of Cote d’Nuit
· view from patio glass into vineyards at Chateau Pommard
· Tim’s purchase of a sweater, salesman – Obama mention
· sensory winery tour at Bouchard
· playing cards at apartment
· Judy’s reading of her journal of our Loire and Burgundy days
· view of Alps
· walk on shore of Lac Leman at Morges
· turn up hairpin curves above Nyon
· railroad up mountain, ski areas
· old customs booths at Swiss-France border
· fromagerie in Jura – video, and purchase
· francs in Switzerland, big tip for lunch
· crazy f----d-up car return in Paris
· walk to Notre Dame
· bus tour on open-air, upper level
· breakfast at Café Le Buci
· birthday & anniversary lunch at Café Le Dome on Rue St Dominque
· Deb finally found tapestry pillow at Ste Chapelle
· pizza at Vesuvio
· transfer to airport – talk with the four belles