A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Linda Fluckiger

Avignon

...scenic ride on the high speed train

sunny

A scenic ride to Provence on the high speed train is the plan today! What normally takes 10 hours is taking approximately 2 1/2 hours through the countryside on this train ride. But first we bid " au revoir " to our driver Marcel....Thank you for driving us all over France....we will miss you and we hope we meet again! Que sera, sera!

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We get to enjoy views of Burgundy and the Rhone Valley, fields of sunflowers and lavender. There is a food service car on the upper deck, which to my surprise, is empty and has the best views. I grab my camera, take a seat and enjoy the passing landscapes. We disembark the train and Erica makes a run for the WC. I'm waiting and waiting and wondering where she is. Finally she returns and says " the cleaning woman wouldn't let me go! " NO! Madmoiselle, NO!" she says as she's cleaning and sterilizing the place. Each time Erica tried to enter, the woman shouted "NO!" She obviously took her job very seriously and people do appreciate a clean bathroom but...when Mother Nature calls....waiting a long time can really rain on your parade (so to speak). we are about to leave the station and here comes Erica! Whew! Just made it. We're not the only ones that heard the word "NO!" firmly spoken. A few folks in the group also commented on the "friendliness factor" although our experiences were very positive. Once we depart the train station...which has a piano in each station (for anyone to play) and seating for those waiting for the train, and coffee shops and shops for pretty much anything you'd like to buy.....

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...we head for the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Pont du Gard, the most ancient Roman aqueduct in France. Locals are sunbathing, swimming, kyacking and picnicing on the grounds..what a lovely way to spend a day. It is amazing how this structure (50 m high, 360 m at its longest point) was built without machinery back in the day and took only five years to complete. The purpose of this aquaduct was to carry water over the Gardon River. The Roman architects and hydrolic engineers created this technical masterpiece weighing 50,000 tons and where the major arch gap is 25 m (which is one of the greatest of the Roman world) and stands today as a work of art 2000 years later. You get the "pont"...right?

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We now are melting in the sweltering heat and Anne, our guide, has a treat for us. She sprays us with mineral water from an aerosol can and says "this is how we stay cool in France"! Well, it works. Of course, next time we see the pharmacy...in we go and purchase a can. It's always nice to learn of new tricks we can take home with us! " Ques que se?" you say?... Evian mineral water in an aerosol can...".who'd have thunk it?"

Another way to cool off and feel that "joie de vive" in France is to visit a new winery. This one, in the Rhone Valley, is Chateauneuf du Pape where we sample a few sips of the wines that make this region famous. It's hard to choose the best wine...our sommelier has a saying: " The best wine is the one you like" ...how true! Great way to spend a little time....enjoy the scenery, sip some wine...perfect.

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We are thoroughly enjoying the scenery here in the south of France, the lavendar and sunflower fields, and the beautiful villages spread out amongst the hills and dales of the valley. As we arrive in Avignon we are even more enthused as we enter the walled city of Avignon...home of the Pope's Palace. The quaint cobbled streets with their twists and turns and alleyways, their little shops selling their beautiful linens, baskets and, of course, lavender in every form imaginable. Erica and I decide to do a little wandering and see what there is to be discovered before dinner. A carousel seems to be the theme in every town. There is something dreamy about this ride in the middle of a village...a fairytale-like quality seems to play on your mind. Our hotel is located in the perfect spot...right next to the Pope's Palace which we can't help but photograph....from every angle (like everything else we've seen in France so far).

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We meet for dinner (and wine) which is delicious....and then another walk through a different section of this charming town before we head back to the hotel.

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Life is good.

Posted by Linda Fluckiger 03:23 Archived in France Tagged palace du avignon pont gård pape popes chateaneuf Comments (0)

Frolicking in Paris...

....taking in the sites.....and Montmarte

sunny

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We took the tour of the city amongst the Pride parade and a marathon. We saw all the sites, you know...the Eiffel, Napoleons Tomb, The Arc de Triumpe etc. walked thru the Tuileries Garden to the Louvre. Our quest was to seek out The Musée De L'Orangerie to see MONÉT'S waterlilies..Voila! Loved seeing the 360 murals ...really beautiful! I felt like I was in a fishbowl...surrounded by beauty!

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When Monét was first considering this project , he wrote "Nerves strained by work would relax in its presence, following the restful example of its stagnant waters, and for he who would live in it, in this room would offer a refuge for peaceful meditation in the midst of a flowering aquarium." There are eight panels presented in two rooms creating a very tranquil environment.

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Next we sought out Fragonard Museum but not right away! We searched and couldn't find it so we took a cab to Montmarte! The "Bohemia of Paris"..artists doing their thing, waiters with the suspenders and berets, cafes galore, cobblestone streets and a great time to take a break...have a glass of wine and a bite to eat in one of the outdoor cafes. We enjoy a fabulous crepe of ham and cheese (croque mossieur) and French fries....and of course, wine! (You don't gain weight in France because they're on the metric system!)

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We try to catch a cab but to no avail so we start to walk. It is a great way to see the city as we zig-zag our way in hopes that we see a cab. No luck. We continue walking and walk right into The Fragonard Museum! We just make it in time for the one hour tour which is very interesting. At the end of the tour we get to use our noses. A "Nez" is a an actual occupation in France. Due to their fine sense of smell and their skill in producting compositions, this term "le Nez" is an affectionate term for perfumer. We are given several samples to try and we each make a choice. We start laughing as we remember when we were children and doused ourselves in whatever eau de toilette we had in the house, our dad would make a comment and say we smell like a French (you know what). Never knew what it meant at the time but we loved how we smelled. I choose Belle Cherie and Erica chooses Etoile. Smelling fabulous.... we move on! Well...11. something miles later...we finally arrive at our hotel! Whew!

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We recognized a few people who we saw at Montmarte and taxied back....they said it took an hour to return with all the traffic. I'd say we lucked out. We had a great walk, visited a museum, saw the sites of different parts of the city, came home with a little gift for ourselves and enjoyed every moment. We felt the vibe of the city, saw the locals carrying their baguettes...in every way you can think of...in a bag, in a wrapper, without a wrapper, in a rucksack on their back, under the arm and ...eating as they go....but the point is....the baguette is a staple, for sure. Nowadays, they even make a baguette shopping bag...long and narrow to carry your baguette! Here's a fun fact: Napoleon actually invented the baguette because he needed the soldiers to carry their own bread. They stuck it in their boots along the leg.

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This is Paris!

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Posted by Linda Fluckiger 17:21 Archived in France Tagged montmartre fragonard Comments (0)

Monét

......a home visit

sunny

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I've been a fan of Claude Monet as far back as I can remember. I have posters and books of his work. I love the colors and...of course, those water lilies. Claude has even inspired me to transform a small part of my garden pond to resemble his water lily bridge....I haven't started this project yet but the wheels are turning and at some point I hope to complete MY work of art.

On the way to Paris we stop in Giverny to visit Monet's beautiful home and gardens. He was a garden architect and artist. This is the original layout of his garden...it remains exactly the way it was when he lived here. It is breathtaking. His art studio was an added treat I did not expect to see...fit for one(1) painter and one(1) easel. From his bedroom window you can look out over the garden and just be in awe. I can see that if I lived here I'd have been gardening for sure but I'd also love to sit with a cup of tea and just stare at these beautiful displays of color. Monet designed each and every garden and also chose every variety of flower combination and which flowers he wanted paired and planted with each other and where. He gave daily instructions to his seven gardeners. To me, this is a living painting...his Japanese garden is my favorite but the Normand garden is just as unique! The scents and sights here are beyond comprehension.

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Claude died at age 86 of lung cancer. It was a simple funeral with 50 people in attendance. He struggled all his life...he didn't earn enough to pay the rent so he moved his family frequently to find a new spot. He rented a house in Giverney and it was while he lived here that his fortune began to change for the better. The family built up the gardens and the surrounding landscape offered endless inspiration.He eventually earned enough money to purchase the property. His beautiful home and gardens were bequeathed by his heirs to the French Academy of Fine Arts in 1966. The Claude Monet Foundation through it's tours and gift shop fund the upkeep of these beautiful grounds...the symbol of this foundation is...the waterlily.

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Monets paintings sell for big money these days...His painting of 1873 Le Pont du Chenin de fer a Argenteuil sold for 41.4 mil in 2008 at Christy's in New York... And another...A water lily...71 mil. In fact, Monet's work is in every major museum worldwide.

In comparison..Vincent Van Gogh sold one painting in his life....others were traded for paint and supplies so he could continue to paint. A struggling artist , for sure.

We have a short ride to Paris from here where we learn some of the customs of "Zee French". Information is spoonfed. They don't volunteer information. For example:

If you're looking for the tourist office and you ask a Frenchmen: "Do you know where the tourist office is?"

The answer: "Oui"

"Where is it?"

Answer: "Downstairs"

So, you go downstairs only to find out it's closed. Back to the Frenchmen you go and say "the office is closed".

"I know!" He says.

"Why didn't you say so?" you ask.

"You didn't ask!" He says.

This week is an important week for high school students all over France. Every year the students have to take an exam which is six (6) days long. It includes many subjects including philosophy which is a requirement in high school. This part alone is a four (4) hour written essay based on one question. The question one year was: why is dialogue necessary. Another year it was: Is happiness a private matter. It's an intense week. 85% of students pass. (I'm impressed)

We are dining together with our group in a French bistro this evening....Montagne Aix Bistrot in the Latin Quarter near the Sorbonne. Complete with entertainment we enjoy a Kir Royal (black current liquor with champagne), French onion soup, escargots, beef filet with peppercorn sauce and a pear Helene. It's a deliciously fun evening.

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Posted by Linda Fluckiger 12:30 Archived in France Tagged garden japanese monet foundation claude giverneygiverney clos normond Comments (0)

Normandy

...Pointe du Hoc, Omaha and Utah

sunny

Today we take an emotional journey to visit and pay respect to our veterans. D-day marks its spot in history and in hearts and minds across the globe but especially in the United States, France and Britain.

Pointe du Hoc is the town that needed to be taken over by the Allied Forces so the Germans could not reach the troops on the beaches. There was a plan. The 2nd and 5th Rangers Battallion came in and used ropes and ladders to scale the cliffs (over 100 ft high) of Pointe du Hoc, then attack when on top before the soldiers arrived on the landing beaches, Omaha and Utah. Once they got to the top, they realized there were no guns....they had been removed by the Germans. It was a 2-day battle. 225 Rangers...90 remained after 2 days. 700 tons of bombs were dropped during the landings. 50 million people lost their lives during this war. I have to repeat that to grasp the enormity of it...50 million people lost their lives during this war!

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The landings used to be beaches where the French took their seaside holidays..these were the beach holidays of yesteryear. Now it's the most important chapter in history. The courage, dedication and self determination of these soldiers will never be forgotten. We're forever grateful. The cost of freedom is never free. The American cemetery and memorial makes for quite an emotional day. There are 9387 soldiers buried here on the 172 acres of American ground. Not all soldiers were buried here---the rest, on request of their loved ones were sent home to be buried in their hometowns.

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There is also a wall of names -1557 names of the soldiers still missing...who were never found...

There are crosses far and wide. If the soldiers are unknown, their cross is inscribed : "Here rests in honor and glory a comrade known only to God."

This is truly a site that should be experienced. A reflecting pool and museum are also on site. A very beautiful and moving tribute to our soldiers.

We move on to see the Bayeux Tapestry which depicts the conquest of England by William the Conquerer. The tapestry measures 270 ' long 9' wide. It contains more than 50 scenes...the last part of the conquest is missing. Two parts No. 16 & 17 of this beautiful piece show Mont St. Michel and the rescuing of the Knights from the quicksand in the bay. No. 32 shows Haleys comet which is believed to be the first known picture of the comet. we were not allowed to take photos....sorry. Do make a point to see it if you're in the neighborhood...very interesting.

It's summer and the cobblestoned streets are lined with musicians playing everything from Jazz to Rock-n-Roll, food vendors and tourists. We stroll through the picturesque streets of Bayeaux, Normandy and partake in the celebration...and love every minute of it...as well as another picnic!

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Posted by Linda Fluckiger 13:59 Archived in France Tagged utah du omaha normandy d-day hoc invasion pointe Comments (0)

Mont St. Michel

...a sight for sore eyes

sunny 97 °F

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The mighty rock rising from the sea in Normandy ... Mont St. Michel...is quite a sight. If the prespiration from the sweltering heat wasn't burning my eyes, it would be a bit more comfortable but the discomfort is worth it.... Mont St. Michel is awesome.

This island in the bay is a fortified town crowned with a 10th century abbey. This commune — on an island just 600 metres from land —was made accessible at low tide to the many pilgrims to its abbey, but defensible as an incoming tide stranded, scared off, or drowned would-be assailants. The Mont remained unconquered during the Hundred Years' War.

There is one main cobble-stoned path and all roads lead to and from it. To get to the "Rock" we cross a causeway via shuttle and once across we start to wander. Of course, this is the second most visited sight in France...tourists galore. We make our way up the crowded, winding cobblestone street. The temperature has reached 95 + degrees and it's not even noon yet. Can you say "choux" (hot)! Oooh lala but the views are worth every step.

Take a look....

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We are in the Normandy region which is known for the three C's...cider, calvados and Camembert. All favs of mine!

It rains here frequently (except today...we've brought the heat wave)... so little bursts of sunshine are always very welcome.

The coastline is made up of jagged cliffs of limestone and granite and is bordered by the English Channel.

Apple brandy is made here.

The regional flag consists of a red flag with 2 yellow lions.

It is considered a "Pearl" on every tour...a real gem......and it is.

Three million people visit it yearly.

Consists of 250 acres in size, 44 people live on the island permanently..mostly shopkeepers.

It was once a prison and closed by the 19th century by Napoleon Ill

There is quicksand in the bay and the tide can come in quickly. They have the tide of the century every 18 years. There is a 6 foot difference between low tide and high tide.

Posted by Linda Fluckiger 15:27 Archived in France Tagged st. michel mont brittany normandy Comments (0)

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