A Travellerspoint blog

August 2017

Journal of Our First Trip to France

Day 2 — July 2, 1996 (Tuesday)

The following entries are my Journal of our very first trip to Europe which was nearly completely in France. I spoke some Haitian Creole and my husband had taken French in high school many years ago so we were anticipating language problems. We were not rich so took our tent and camping supplies and planned to do mostly camping. It was exciting and a little scary, but this was before 911 and life was more relaxed. Try packing an axe with your camping supplies today . . . The first trip was addictive and we've returned many times and learned a lot.

July 2, 1996
Well, the plane left late and arrived early. We actually got some sleep on the flight — not much. We were bussed from the plane to the airport. Orly is a typical airport! All our luggage arrived, but the black duffle bag with the camping equipment was the last thing off the plane. By the time we got to Customs, no one was there, so we walked on through.

It was a wait, but we got our leased car, a Miami blue Peugeot, and were delighted to discover it has air conditioning. We stopped at a gas station to fill up, and headed for Paris with excellent directions from the Brit who leased us the car. We found the hotel after circling two or three times, and as Ed’s luck would have it, also found the only parking place in Paris. We checked in — second floor (called first floor in France) on the street with a window box. (Hotel Veronese which is now Hôtel Kyriad Paris 13 - Italie Gobelins) [We also learned not to get our car when we arrived in Paris. Parking is expensive and you don't need a car in town. Now we visit Paris and then get the car for the rest of our trip.]

Jardin des Plantes in Paris, our first Paris garden

Jardin des Plantes in Paris, our first Paris garden

We looked for a parking garage that was marked on our map, but it didn’t exist. The hotel lady said to leave the car on the street, so we did. Ate lunch at a little café around the corner — served on a baguette! — then walked . . . . and walked . . . . all the way to Notre Dame. On the way, we wandered through the Jardin des Plantes, a botanical garden, and also along the Seine through an outdoor sculpture garden — marred by a lot of graffiti! (We tried to pay for lunch with our MasterCard and after much confusion, a British customer explained the café had just changed hands and the new owner didn’t have authorization for MasterCard yet so Ed used francs that we had gotten before we left home.)

Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris, our first view

Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris, our first view

Notre Dame was spectacular — the first sighting along the Seine was really heart stopping. We walked past all the book stalls on the left bank and over to the cathedral where I took beaucoup photos. We entered along with a thousand other tourists. Even with tourists it is amazing, but it would be an incredible feeling to be alone, or nearly so, in it. They requested silence, but people were talking and popping flash bulbs. The square outside is a circus, and unfortunately there is scaffolding all over the upper front outside.

We walked back to our hotel, stopping at the Supermarché for Evian. They have an escalator ramp so you can wheel your “chariot” upstairs. We decided chariot was a much better name than shopping cart — conveys a feeling of romance to grocery shopping!

[Photos from this trip were taken before digital cameras so have been scanned or were on a Seattle Film Works disk if you remember those old 3.5-inch hard disks on the early computers.]

Posted by Beausoleil 16:31 Archived in France Tagged paris first_trip Comments (2)

Exploring Paris for the First Time

Day 3 — July 3, 1996 (Wednesday)

The Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero - Paris

The Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero - Paris

For some reason we slept late! I'm sure it had nothing to do with jet lag . . .

We went tearing down to breakfast around 9:15. They serve until ten o’clock — what a relief. Headed to Place d’Italie and followed some backpackers to the Metro . . . . only to discover we had to go find a ticket booth. We climbed back out to Place d’Italie (the first of many stairs today), to find the ticket booth and each bought a “Formula One Pass” which is good for the day on Metro, RER and buses. [Formula One is now called the Mobilis Pass. Paris Metro web site for the Mobilis Pass]

Back down to the Metro, we hopped on number 6 (direction Charles de Gaulle-Étoile) to the Eiffel Tower. Some of the Metro is a subway, and some is an elevated. We enjoyed the el for the sights. The first sight of the Eiffel Tower was a real thrill. Eiffel Tower web site in English

We walked over to and around the Tower taking the requisite photos and noting the exceptionally long line to ascend the Tower. We opted instead for a walk along the Seine. We crossed the Seine on the Pont d'Iéna and walked to the Arc de Triomphe. Then stopped in an overly busy and not helpful Tourist Office and went back out to take photos of the Arc de Triomphe. An Italian couple asked us to take their picture at the Arc and then returned the favor. That was fun. Arc de Triomphe web site in English

At the Arc de Triomphe in Paris

At the Arc de Triomphe in Paris

*****

Crowds in the Louvre Museum - Paris

Crowds in the Louvre Museum - Paris

Hopped on the Metro again to the Louvre. (Line 1 direction Château de Vincennes) That line was also long, but the Louvre seemed worth the wait. We discovered the wait was to go through a security check in the famous Pei pyramid. When we got downstairs, the ticket line was very short! We purchased our tickets and found an outdoor café on the second floor balcony. It was wonderful — ham and cheese on a baguette with the best iced tea ever. We think there was mango in the tea. The waiter was terrific — very French and very fun. Louvre web site in English

We spent hours wandering the Louvre looking and taking pictures of pictures, fighting our way through the crowds. We must have climbed a thousand stairs. Later found an escalator . . . . when we were going down! Discovered I like the Fourteenth century and I don’t like HUGE paintings. We took pictures of paintings of bass players for Jean and I took pics of the only woman painter we could find. There must be more! [Interestingly, this was before either of us had started painting. We go through the Louvre much differently today.]

Sculpture Gallery in the Louvre Museum - Paris

Sculpture Gallery in the Louvre Museum - Paris

*****

The Tuileries Gardens, see the umbrellas as everyone runs for the Metro

The Tuileries Gardens, see the umbrellas as everyone runs for the Metro

We finally museumed out somewhere around 5:30 P.M. We headed out of the Louvre to the Tuileries Gardens, and as we spotted the Egyptian Obelisk and the Arc de Triomphe in the distance, it started to rain lightly. Everyone ran for cover, so we had the gardens to ourselves in the rain. We headed for the trees and found some umbrella tables with a food stand. Got coffee and hot chocolate and the very nice French lady persuaded us we would love to share a cherry tart, so we settled in under our umbrella with our hot drinks and cherry tart and decided we were glad it was raining. We enjoyed the tart and the antics of the wait staff suddenly unencumbered by customers. It was "our" Paris moment.

When the rain stopped, we walked through the Tuileries sans crowds. We had to ask directions to the Metro. Found it, hopped on, got off to discover we were at the wrong place, so we got back on after checking our Metro map more carefully. It was 8:30ish so we were surprised at the number of people on it; it was crowded. We stood the whole way back to Place d’Italie and sweated most of the way — no air conditioning!!

It has been blessedly overcast and cool here. I’ve worn a jacket most of the time; not what we were expecting in July.

We figured out our route for tomorrow — visiting Chartres and skipping Versailles — and also dinner. 10:30 is lights out!

Posted by Beausoleil 15:04 Archived in France Tagged gardens paris louvre arc_de_triomphe tuileries Comments (2)

Leaving Paris for Chartres and Our First French Campground

Day 4 — July 4, 1996 (Thursday)

Cathedral Notre Dame in Chartres

Cathedral Notre Dame in Chartres

The Fourth of July — Independence Day — not too exciting in France. Guess we’ll get our fireworks on Bastille Day — a ten-day delay!

We left Paris today headed for our first French campground. I’ll miss the warm bed and showers and the Metro. We were actually beginning to know our way around. Any feeling of knowing where we are completely disappeared on the Peripherique at rush hour! It’s worse than Los Angeles!

The first thing we did was get lost. I chose Route N10 to Chartres and our lady concierge suggested a different route — with appropriate directions. She said to take the Interior Peripherique and, as it finally turned out, we should have taken the Exterior Peripherique. The French, it seems, don’t believe in crossroads; they use roundabouts. We’ve seen them in New England and didn’t much care for them there either. Fortunately Ed is very quick at picking out what he needs from a million signs pointing every which way.

We arrived at Chartres and followed a tour bus to the cathedral — my idea! If you're looking for a major tourist sight, follow a tourist bus. The cathedral was overwhelming. It’s not just the size; it’s the feeling of “place” in history and the incredible beauty of the cathedral. The carvings, vaulting, etc. were amazing, but I was struck most by the ancient worn stone floor — how many feet have walked here; how many knees have knelt — and the wonderful colored reflections from the stained glass windows. The stained glass windows, of course, are famous. Who hasn't heard of Chartres blue? Spectacular . . . Chartres Cathedral web site

Ancient floor of Chartres Cathedral, polished from a thousand years of footsteps

Ancient floor of Chartres Cathedral, polished from a thousand years of footsteps


Some of the sculptures around the choir screen at Chartres Cathedral

Some of the sculptures around the choir screen at Chartres Cathedral

When we left the cathedral, it had turned into winter. There was a brisk cold wind blowing. I went back to the car — parking time was up — and Ed went to change some money. For some reason the bank wouldn’t take our credit card, so we packed up and drove on . . . . this time on N10. We had lunch at Châteaudun across from the open air market. The fish market was directly across from the restaurant so noting the smell, we wisely opted to eat inside. Wake up call . . . The menu was all in French. We decided on a Croque Madame. I had heard it on a recording and remembered it sounded edible, so we got it. It’s ham and cheese with a fried egg on top. Again, the machine wouldn’t accept Ed’s credit card so we paid cash.

We then walked around the picturesque little square — everything is picturesque here — and found a bank. We stood at the door for a minute before we realized the lady inside had to release the door and let us in. The bank wouldn’t take our particular credit card, but they very graciously directed us to another bank nearby. The second bank had no trouble with our card and even had a machine with instructions in English. We got our money and then went to a teller to change it to smaller bills. We were so pleased with ourselves that we decided to stop at the Post Office and get stamps for our postcards. It worked! what a triumphant feeling — ate lunch, changed money, bought stamps — wow! All of this was conducted in our rudimentary French and they actually understood us. At that point I think we realized it was going to be a great trip.

Then we arrived in Blois (Blwah) and got totally lost. The road signs simply disappeared — not that they are particularly good anyway! We finally found a town map at a bus stop and took off again . . . . and got lost again. Ed spotted a French jogger and asked directions. He gave them to us about three times — in French — and we were off again. It actually worked because each of us understood about half the directions. Fortunately we each understood a different half. The directions took us right to N152. We were getting cocky at this point.

Château de Chaumont in 1996

Château de Chaumont in 1996

We drove along the Loire River, sighted our first chateau and Ed pulled over so I could record it for posterity. We continued along the Loire to Tours where we got lost again. We accidentally ended up back on the right road (N10 again). [The first château was Château de Chaumont but I didn’t know that until 10 years later when we pulled up at exactly the same spot and I took another picture.] My blog entry with the Château de Chaumont Garden Festival

Château de Chaumont in 2006 - 10 years later

Château de Chaumont in 2006 - 10 years later

We started seeing signs to Futuroscope and followed them and then on to our campground which is very nice. The trees are tiny so we’re glad it’s not hot, but the people are very friendly. My funny French vocabulary is proving useful, but sentences are a plague for me.

Our campground has a restaurant and the owner ushered us in early for dinner — much easier for him than explaining the hours. We had a nice (but not outstanding) dinner and sat and talked for an hour or so. The waiter brought our check and Ed paid the owner, who walked out with us and disappeared. Then the waiter came running after us — not realizing we had paid the owner. The four of us finally got together and straightened it out. We’re learning!

Posted by Beausoleil 15:58 Archived in France Tagged rivers loire campground blois chartres futuroscope Comments (2)

Cinq Mars la Pile - Abbey at Fontevraud - Richelieu

Day 5 — July 5, 1996 (Friday)

The very Gothic-looking bridge as you approach Langeais

The very Gothic-looking bridge as you approach Langeais

Last night we blew up our new air mattresses. This time, Ed’s was difficult to blow up, but he persevered. The new inflatable pillows were slippery, so I folded a sheet and put the pillow in the fold and lay on the rest of the sheet. It worked.

It rained off and on all night and was quite windy so I didn’t sleep well. Ed, with his ear plugs, did fine. I woke first this morning and went for a walk until it started to rain again — at which time I climbed back in the tent and studied my French until Ed woke up. We dressed and went to our campground restaurant for breakfast — bread, jam and coffee/hot chocolate. The French are not terribly imaginative at the breakfast table. I guess a large breakfast would spoil the marvelous lunch and dinner. Makes sense . . .

*****

The Castle Keep at Château de Cinq-Mars

The Castle Keep at Château de Cinq-Mars

That chore out of the way, we checked our itinerary and our maps to delightedly discover our camp was on the route we wanted. As I write this, safely back at camp, I can relate that we did not get lost at all today. Things are looking up!

In a pretty steady rain we headed up D757 [Now the D57] toward Cinq Mars la Pile. No traffic; lovely drive. We were totally surprised to discover Richelieu on the way. You enter the town via an arch (one lane); you wait your turn. The old city with its narrow streets and market squares has an arch at each entrance. It is a walled city and very quaint and beautiful. All the little towns have narrow winding streets and houses and shops open onto the highway. Even if they all spoke English, you would know you were in a foreign country.

We crossed the Loire on a beautiful bridge with huge stone towers and found N152 to Langeais. [Now the D952] We drove in the rain up to Cinq Mars la Pile and had no trouble parking. Paid our 12 francs each, grabbed camera and umbrellas and started to explore in a very light rain that soon stopped. We climbed the tower and down into the moat and walked the gardens — all by ourselves. There is much to be said for rain! Château de Cinq-Mars web site

Garden of Château de Cinq-Mars with lavender

Garden of Château de Cinq-Mars with lavender


Very old graffiti in Château de Cinq-Mars

Very old graffiti in Château de Cinq-Mars


Left Cinq Mars via Langeais on the N152 west and discovered people still live in caves. For several miles there were houses, garages and stables built into the caves above the Loire. Ed said they are troglodyte dwellings. I had heard of them, but didn’t know they still existed. Many of the places were really nice, not cavemen type dwellings, but lace curtains. We stopped for gas and lunch in Candes-Saint-Martin at a little café right on the Loire. Lunch (Ed, quiche; me, omelette) was mediocre, but I met my first Turkish squat toilet. They have handles (thank goodness) so I survived. It was an experience I’d just as soon not repeat, but expect I won’t be that lucky. [Later discovered they do not all have handles and once you get used to them, it's a good way to avoid tour groups.]

*****

Abbey Church from the Cloisters at Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud

Abbey Church from the Cloisters at Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud

We continued on to the Abbey at Fontevraud, found parking, found the Abbey, and spent the afternoon exploring it. After the Revolution, it was close to destroyed, used as a prison for years by order of Napoleon, and stripped of all its furnishings. The French are doing an admirable job of restoration since 1963, but somehow the newness took away the sense of history. I kept reminding myself that it probably looked pretty new when Eleanor of Aquitaine retired there — didn’t help much though. The grounds were lovely and there weren’t many tourists about. The effigy tombs of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart and Isabella of Angoulême are in the Abbey Church. It’s only been open to the public since 1975, not that long ago in the grand scheme of things. Fontevraud Abbey web site

[We visited the Abbey in 1996, again in 2006 and another ten years later in 2016. It's been interesting to watch the renovations and explore the exhibits that become ever more interactive. Below the 1996 pictures, I'll include some photos from all three visits at 10-year intervals.]

The Abbey Church at Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud

The Abbey Church at Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud


Cloisters of Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud

Cloisters of Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud


Cloister Walk at Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud

Cloister Walk at Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud


Kitchens of the Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud in 1996

Kitchens of the Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud in 1996


Kitchens of the Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud in 2006

Kitchens of the Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud in 2006


Kitchens of the Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud in 2016 (the top is missing)

Kitchens of the Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud in 2016 (the top is missing)

*****

One of the four city gates into Richelieu

One of the four city gates into Richelieu

We wandered the streets for a while and decided to return to Richelieu and explore. We had been quite entranced when we drove through earlier. Drove back and walked through the town. We checked the museum but didn’t really have time to do it justice — another trip! Richelieu Tourist web site

It only took thirty-five minutes to drive back to camp, and we have lots of new neighbors. There’s supposed to be a dance tonight — weekend entertainment.

P.S. Had to find a restaurant for dinner due to above-mentioned entertainment — bummer, French Comfort Inn; mediocre food. ☹

Posted by Beausoleil 15:45 Archived in France Tagged rivers loire campground blois chartres futuroscope Comments (1)

Châteaux at Chinon and Villandry, my favorite château!

Day 6 — July 6, 1996 (Saturday)

Château de Chinon in the Loire Valley

Château de Chinon in the Loire Valley


Up, showered, breakfasted and left our friendly campground — north again on D757 through Richelieu and on to Chinon. The medieval fortress is high on a hill so the views in every direction were spectacular. We wandered through the old castle and took lots of photos. One of the rooms had medieval costumes. That was interesting and they were beautiful but I'd hate to have to wear that all the time. How did they run up and down all the narrow stairs with those long dresses? Saw Joan of Arc’s prison cell. The climb down was so dark I got my trusty Maglite out to light the way. Poor Joan didn’t have a Maglite
Château de Chinon web site

Château de Chinon in the Loire Valley

Château de Chinon in the Loire Valley


Medieval Costumes inside Chinon Castle

Medieval Costumes inside Chinon Castle


Forteresse Royale de Chinon

Forteresse Royale de Chinon

Chateau bed chamber - Villandry

Chateau bed chamber - Villandry


Back on the road to Château de Villandry and its famous gardens. This whole area is a riot of yellow sunflower fields and small red poppies along the road. Ed, as usual, pulled into a lovely, shaded parking place across the street from the entrance to Villandry! We ate in a small café out under the trees with lots of vacationing French families and then went into the Château and gardens. The Château was very nice — as châteaux go — but the gardens were spectacular. They actually prune fruit trees into ornamentals and have espaliered apples into a low hedge. Spectacular view of the gardens (all of them) from the tower of the Château. There is a lake in the upper garden with swans. Beautiful. [Villandry and Azay-le-Rideau are my favorite châteaux and we always return when we are anywhere near. We didn't discover the labyrinth at Villandry until 2006. We did manage to get in and out without getting lost.]
Château de Villandry web site

Villandry Gardens and Town from the Château tower

Villandry Gardens and Town from the Château tower


Château Villandry from the garden

Château Villandry from the garden


Garden flowers inside Château Villandry

Garden flowers inside Château Villandry


Château de Villandry

Château de Villandry


The Love Gardens at Villandry

The Love Gardens at Villandry

*****

We checked the church in town and it was three hours until Mass so we drove back to Chinon — no Mass on Saturday; on to Azay-le-Rideau — no Mass on Saturday. We started to panic since we wanted to leave early Sunday. We stopped in every tiny town along the way . . . . to no avail. At Lencoiture the church looked empty, but I spotted a lady walking into the side door so we parked and followed. No Mass, but I saw a sign for a 7:30 PM Mass at Neuville. Coincidentally, we passed a sign to Neuville a few minutes later and decided to make a run for it; it was 7:01 PM.

After one wrong turn, we arrived in Neuville, parked and went racing in to the church. Success!! It was a very old and well kept church, and there couldn’t have been more than thirty people there. We never could find the name of the church. [Many years later I discovered the church was Eglise Notre Dame in Neuville-de-Poitou.]

A spot on the map, Neuville was a bustling town. We found the ATM we had been looking for all day and got some more francs for Sunday, then we drove back to camp and had dinner. If I’ve learned one thing so far on this trip, it is that I’m a very good cook. All our meals have been fine, but not quite as good as home.

Hoping for a dry night — we leave for Toulouse in the morning!!

Posted by Beausoleil 15:51 Archived in France Tagged france villandry chinon Comments (1)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 26) Page [1] 2 3 4 5 6 » Next