July 21, 2014

A visit to Chambord (How the Royals did "Glamping")

Our first night in our Loire Valley Gite was heaven. There were no screeching seagulls, snails, pigeons or other noisy creatures to be seen or heard (or felt). We did have a resident bat (we named him George), but he was pretty quiet and did not try and scare the beejesus out of us.

Did I mention "quiet"? It was lovely. Being in the middle of nowhere kind of has its advantages. We had silence, but hardly any internet connection. I guess you can't have everything.

Our plan for the day was to visit both Chambord and Chenonceau chateaux. The first visit at Chambord would be to just enjoy the grounds and outside view of the chateau and save the price of the ticket for Chenonceau where the interiors are more worthy of the price of admission (at least this is what we presumed after our research). They also had picnic areas at the chateau so we decided to pack a picnic lunch to enjoy. The weather was still cloudy with a threat of rain, so we didn't forget our umbrellas this time.

We were only about an hours drive to Chambord, so I made quick work of the 427 roundabouts I needed to enter/exit on our way there. I may never get our GPS (with a British accent) voice out of my head . . . in 500 meters, enter the roundabout and take the third exit. In 400 meters, enter the roundabout and take the third exit. In 300 meters, enter the roundabout and take the third exit. In 200 meters, enter the roundabout and take the third exit. In 100 meters, enter the roundabout and take the third exit. One time, she said to take the "fourth exit" but there were only 3. Luckily, I can read the posted signs . . . those silly British gals.

We all arrived and parked in the lot. The first order of business was a visit to "les toilettes" which charged a .50 Euro entrance fee. This kind of irks me. They have really nice highway rest stops like every 10 KM (they are free), but if you want to pee at this "tourist attraction" it will cost you .50 Euro.

After expressing our morning coffee, it was time to lunch. It was quite busy and crowded in the picnic area and it was interesting to observe what other parties had brought to nosh on. One very large family had a ginormous Tupperware container filled with some kind of white rice dish. Some of those eating this unknown rice dish were liberally squirting ketchup on it. Seems like a strange picnic item.

The royal Château de Chambord is one of the most recognizable châteaux in the world because of its very distinctive French Renaissance architecture which blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures. The building, which was never completed, was constructed by King François I.

Chambord is the largest château in the Loire Valley; it was built to serve as a hunting lodge for François I, who maintained his royal residences at the châteaux of Blois and Amboise.

Chambord was altered considerably during the twenty-eight years of its construction (1519–1547), during which it was overseen on-site by Pierre Nepveu. With the château nearing completion, François showed off his enormous symbol of wealth and power by hosting his old archrival, Emperor Charles V, at Chambord.

In 1792, in the wake of the French Revolution, some of the furnishings were sold and timber removed. For a time the building was left abandoned, though in the 19th century some attempts were made at restoration. During the Second World War, art works from the collections of the Louvre (including the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo) and the Château de Compiègne were moved to the Château de Chambord.

The château features 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 84 staircases. Four rectangular vaulted hallways on each floor form a cross-shape. The château was never intended to provide any form of defense from enemies; consequently the walls, towers and partial moat are purely decorative.

Work began on the chateau in 1526, at which point 1,800 workers were employed building the château. At the time of the death of King François I in 1547, the work had cost 444,070 lives.
The château was built to act as a hunting lodge for King François I; however, the king spent barely seven weeks there in total, that time consisting of short hunting visits. As the château had been constructed with the purpose of short stays, it was not practical to live in on a longer-term basis. The massive rooms, open windows and high ceilings meant heating was impractical. Similarly, as the château was not surrounded by a village or estate, there was no immediate source of food other than game. This meant that all food had to be brought with the group, typically numbering up to 2,000 people at a time.

As a result of all the above, the château was completely unfurnished during this period. All furniture, wall coverings, eating implements and so forth were brought specifically for each hunting trip, a major logistical exercise. It is for this reason that much furniture from the era was built to be disassembled to facilitate transportation. After François died of a heart attack in 1547, the château was not used for almost a century. It's astounding to see this massive structure and think that this was just a hunting lodge. Mon dieu!

A couple of other interesting tidbits about Chambord; On June 22, 1944, during World War II, an American heavy bomber, a B-24 “Liberator” from the U.S. Army 8th Air Force based in England, crashed here after bombing an airport southwest of Paris and being crippled by antiaircraft fire and German fighter planes. The aircraft’s pilot, Lt. William Kalan, had directed his crew to parachute earlier although he and co-pilot Lt. Kenneth Klemstine remained abord until shortly before the crash. At the time, priceless masterpieces from the Louvre Museum were hidden in the Château Chambord.

The two pilots were hidden separately by residents of the nearby villages of Huisseau-sur-Cosson and Montlivault for several months – during which time Lt. Kalan took part in Allied arms drops and other Resistance engagements – before both pilots crossed the Loire to join approaching U.S. troops.

Additionally, Chambord was the inspiration for the castle in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."

After our rather pleasant picnic, we headed towards the chateau with the idea that we would rent the 4-wheel bicycles to cruise around the gardens in. Recognizing that Dad and Lea wouldn't be able to pedal very far on their own, we acquired a bicycle "trailer" to pull them behind us using our "pedal power" (that would be Sean and I). Let me just say that this looked a LOT easier in theory than in practice. We also didn't realize until we had paid for the bicycles just how far the path was "around" the gardens to the front of the chateau.

After 20 minutes pedaling and turning our legs into mush, I was the first one to cry uncle. This was NOT fun. I was starting to sweat like a pig in the muggy, humid weather and let me tell you, it was HARD to tote around our folks in the trailer (no offense to my trailer peeps).

So we decided to turn around and give them those stupid bicycles back. Terrey was kind enough to work together with Sean to pedal the trailer folks back while Laura, April and I took turns pedaling their ride; we may have even just walked and pushed that dumb, stupid, heavy, bicycle back to the rental spot. WHOSE idea was this?

But we did get some gorgeous views of the backside of the chateau (which I think was much more picturesque than the front).

By the time we had messed around with the bikes and walked around for some views of the front, it was 3:00 PM. I could tell that my trailer peeps weren't really that excited about visiting another chateau that day, so I offered to forego the other visit and just head back to the gite. We still needed to shop for some groceries for dinner, so we headed back to the car while the rest of the party (April, Laura and Terrey) visited Chenonceau. I was slightly disappointed that I would not be joining them, but perhaps we could visit tomorrow.

We really only had two days in the Loire Valley and it's not really that much time to see very much considering that you have to drive at least 30 minutes (mostly averaging 60 minutes) to get to most landmarks. I just have to add the Loire Valley to my list of places that I will have to go back and spend a greater amount of time to really explore that region. As always, "that's another trip."

À bientôt.

July 16, 2014

Still no sunshine in the Loire Valley

We left Trouville promptly at 9:00 AM on our way to Le Mans, where my sister Laura and husband Terrey would be joining us. They were arriving into CDG that morning and driving to a pre-determined lunch spot in Le Mans.

Obviously someone outside Trouville has a sense of humor . . .

Our plan for the afternoon was to meeting Terrey and Laura for lunch, then perhaps have a quick visit at the Le Mans car museum, then motor our way to our Gite in the Loire Valley, approximately 2-1/2 hours from Le Mans.

Someone obviously forgot this was supposed to be a SUNNY trip given that we are now well into July. Much to my dismay, the clouds hung around, threatening rain. We found a parking garage to park within a couple of blocks of the restaurant we were meeting the Terrey and Laura at. Terrey and Laura were having some issues with their GPS and couldn't seem to actually FIND the street where we were. So we waited, and waited, and waited.

The heavens opened up and rained, and we waited some more. Eventually, Laura called and we made plans to just go ahead and eat without them and meet them later that afternoon at the Gite (they had the directions). Just when I wandered back up the street to let the others know to go ahead and order lunch, around the corner appeared the weary travelers. I'm quite sure that arriving into CDG after an overnight flight and then hopping into a car and driving for 3 hours isn't a fun thing to do. They both looked exhausted, but happy to have finally found us.

This was a cute street where we ate lunch. After some delicious crepes for lunch, it was time to hit the road again. We agreed to meet up again in Descartes, which was a few km from our Gite in Abilly, where we would do some grocery shopping. It was a nice drive; not too long, with lots of nice scenery along the way.

We passed several fields of sunflowers along the route. Apparently the bulk of these fields are used in the perfume industry.

We arrived into Descartes and apparently Laura and Terrey's GPS had been set to only travel the "D" roads (no toll roads), so we beat them to Descartes by almost 30 minutes. The rest of the crew finally arrived and down the road we went to the Gite. There's always a little apprehension (especially after our horrible experience in Trouville) that your lodging accommodations aren't going to be up to snuff. The gite we reserved was next door to this place, so it was a "nice" neighborhood.

We pulled up to "Le Bouchet" and our hopes were restored that we could put the Trouville disaster behind us.

We rented "Les Ecuries" which was a 3-bedroom, 2 bath Gite that sleeps 7. April was pretty excited that she was actually going to get to sleep in an actual bed! Our rental was for 3 nights, and it was really, really, affordable. We were paying $27 per night, per person for this palace. The rooms were beyond spacious, the kitchen was large and well-equipped and the outdoor spaces were really nice.

There was even a pool. Too bad we never had a chance to use the pool; it remained cloudy and sometimes a little wet during our 3-night stay here.
But that didn't stop us from enjoying the outdoor space for meals and relaxing. My only complaint about Le Bouchet was that the internet was the worst I've encountered in all of Europe. It made working very difficult and at times, absolutely impossible.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner of pasta and all of us were looking forward to getting a great nights sleep.
À bientot.

July 11, 2014

Operation Overlord - Normandy Part 2

Just as promised, the weather on Monday was sunny, which is exactly what we had hoped for our day-long tour of the WWII sights in Normandy. "Operation Overload" was the code name for the Battle of Normandy, the Allied operation that launched the successful invasion of German-occupied western Europe during World War II. The operation commenced on 6 June 1944 with the Normandy landings. A 1,200-plane airborne assault preceded an amphibious assault involving more than 5,000 vessels. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on 6 June, and more than three million allied troops were in France by the end of August.

Having read a lot of information about the area and how best to visit the sights of the D-Day invasion, we decided to hire a private guide who was knowledgeable about the history of this monumental event. Whenever I start my travel planning, I always seek out the knowledge of my fellow travelers on Fodor's. Based on Fodor's high recommendations, we hired Colin Mcgarry as our guide. Colin was a wonderful guide, filled with so much knowledge and trivia about the area and the events that took place on June 6, 1944. There's just no way we would have enjoyed the experience as much left on our own to discover all there was to see along this 55-mile stretch of coast.

We met Colin in Caen at 9:00 AM, about an hour drive from Trouville. Our plan of the day was to visit the Germany cemetery, Utah beach, Omaha beach and the American cemetery.  Reflecting back on our day as I write this blog post, I am reminded again what I love so much about travel. I love history and there's nothing more exciting than actually SEEING what you've either read about or perhaps learned in a history class long, long ago. Being able to actually have context around facts and events is just spectacular. It rejuvenates my interest in certain things and now I can't wait to go home and watch certain movies, like "The Longest Day", and "Band of Brothers" to actually put into context the events of D-Day.

I am also reminded just how lucky I have been that in my lifetime, my city hasn't been invaded by enemies and I haven't had to say goodbye to loved ones who have given their life so that I can enjoy all of the freedoms we take for granted. Thousands of young men (average age was 24) lost their lives just during this WWII operation alone. The Russian Army even had soldiers as young as age 14.

We drove through the village of Bayeux on our way to the Germany cemetery. The cathedral is magnificent; I wish I could have stopped and viewed the inside.

Next, we arrived at the Germany cemetery. It was a somber place, with a small indoor exhibit depicting large photos taken during the war. It also featured a kind of strategy map of D-Day depicting all of the German footholds along the 55-stretch of beach and the various attack plans for the Allies.

After viewing the exhibit, we spent a few minutes in the cemetery. Originally, this is where American soldiers were laid to rest, but they were later removed to today's location.

There's interesting symbolism with the single door leading into the cemetery. There are approximately 12,000 German soldiers buried here between the ages of 16 and 72. Apparently the batching of the 5 crosses is because German soldiers were found in temporary graves containing 5 bodies.

Our next stop was the village of Sainte-Mère-Église, where it played a significant part in the war and was one of the earliest villages liberated during the invasion. The early paratrooper landings, at about 0140 directly on the town, resulted in heavy casualties for the paratroopers. Some buildings in town were on fire that night, and they illuminated the sky, making easy targets of the descending men. Some were sucked into the fire. Many hanging from trees and utility poles were shot before they could cut loose. whereby paratroopers landed in advance of the beach landings behind enemy lines.

The town church is participating in the D-Day tourism with a dummy on the roof demonstrating where one paratrooper landed. A well known incident involved paratrooper John Steele of the 505th PIR, whose parachute caught on the spire of the town church, and could only observe the fighting going on below. He hung there limply for two hours, pretending to be dead, before the Germans took him prisoner. Steele later escaped from the Germans and rejoined his division when US troops of the 3rd Battalion, 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment attacked the village, capturing thirty Germans and killing another eleven. The incident was portrayed in the movie The Longest Day by actor Red Buttons.

Inside the church, there are two stained glass windows paying tribute to the paratroopers.

From here, we visited Utah beach. There's still bunkers along the beach, along with several memorials. We had lunch at "Le Roosevelt" which was decked out in WWII memorabilia and even used newspaper and magazines from that era as wallpaper.

While we were there, "trotters" were practicing on the beach.

After our respite, we were provided a quick tour of the adjacent bunker behind the restaurant. Once occupied by the Germans as a central communications bunker, it was later overtaken by the Americans who also continued to use it in the same manner. The bunker still contains the equipment.

Our next stop was Omaha beach. Along the way, Colin drove through several small villages that also played various roles during the invasion. This small church was used as an aid station during D-Day and still has blood-stained pews as a testament to its service.

While we were visiting, these two guys were re-roofing the church. We all wondered how they were going to "hold on" once they finished laying down the last of the roofing tiles.

I won't lie, by the time we had reached Omaha beach, I was pretty much on information overload and not much interested in seeing another beach with more bunkers and guns. To Dad's surprise, there was a Healey in the parking lot. I suppose we now have set a high bar that Dad now expects to see vintage cars along the way as he tours various European countries! Apparently these guys were on their way back to the UK after participating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which had just ended a couple days prior.

Finally, our visit took us to the American cemetery, which is a very somber place. It's beautifully maintained and the gardens are lovely.

There are more than 9,000 American soldiers buried here (representing only 40% of the Normandy invasion total casualties), with another 1,300+ missing soldiers memorialized on a wall. There are 45 pairs of brothers here, and 4 women.

The cost of the Normandy campaign was high for both sides. From D-Day to 21 August, the Allies landed 2,052,299 men in northern France. The Allies suffered 209,672 casualties from 6 June to the end of August, including 36,976 killed, 153,475 wounded, and 19,221 missing. The British, Canadians, and Poles suffered 16,138 killed, 58,594 wounded, and 9,093 missing, for a total of 83,825 casualties. The Americans suffered 20,838 killed, 94,881 wounded, and 10,128 missing, for a total of 125,847 casualties. The Allies lost 4,101 aircraft and 16,714 airmen killed or missing. Allied tank losses have been estimated at around 4,000, of which approximately half were fighting in American units. Just wow.

What a huge sacrifice and one that I am more greatly aware of and thankful for. It was a very long day and an experience I will never forget. I know that our one day was just a tip of the iceberg and perhaps I will visit again one day in the future to learn more about the rich history in this area.

À bientot!

July 10, 2014

Channeling my inner Mario Andretti - Normandy Part 1

Not only has my family entrusted me with their vacation planning, they also are brave enough to allow me to drive them around in foreign countries. I won't lie that the prospect of driving a rental car in the city of Paris wasn't daunting and perhaps even a little frightening, I reasoned that if I could successfully navigate the craziness of driving in Italy, particularly along the Amalfi Coast, "I've got this."

In order to avoid having Dad and Lea try and maneuver luggage through the Metro to Hertz located near the Montparnasse train station, I thought it more sensible if I went to Hertz without them to first get the car and then return to the apartment to pack up the luggage/passengers. Sean was kind enough to accompany me on this adventure.

We stepped outside of the Montparnasse Metro station and with my Hertz confirmation in hand, set off to find the rental office. The language in the confirmation email was a bit confusing and to be honest, we were unsure if the office was located in or near the Montparnasse train station itself.

After seeking the help of some armed forces patrolling the Montparnasse Tower, we figured out that the office we were looking for was adjacent to the station. Off we went and imagine our surprise when we arrived at the Hertz office to a sign on the door that read "this office is now closed. Proceed directly to the parking garage." WHAT PARKING GARAGE? Is it the garage at the station? Seriously, the sign could not have been MORE cryptic. There was literally a parking garage on every corner surrounding the train station.

Stop, take a deep breath. This was not starting this whole driving adventure off on the right foot. Luckily, even though our first garage was a big zero for Hertz offices, there was a kind gentleman in the garage who pointed in the direction of a nearby hotel. Although that in itself was cryptic, it was a clue enough to figure out he meant the parking garage next to the hotel. And voila! There was the beautiful yellow Hertz sign we were looking for.

Now here's where the funny part starts. The kind woman behind the counter led me through all of the paperwork and there was an exchange of credit card and driver's information, then a "tour" of the wonderful world of Hertz cars. "Are you sure that you don't want to update to something LARGER?" Me, being the thrifty traveler assured her that the 5-passenger, Citroen wagon promising space for our luggage would be sufficient at the agreed upon price of one arm and one leg.

Sean and I followed her out to the vehicle and after a quick inspection of the existing damage, etc., we were handed the keys and off we went. We plugged the apartment address into the GPS and off into the Paris traffic we went. I won't lie, I was a bit nervous at first, but then my inner Mario Andretti kicked in and I was in my element among all of the crazy drivers. I was not going to let those 8-exit roundabouts scare me! I would NOT be pulling a Clark Griswold and circle multiple times before actually being brave enough to cut over and exit!

Now what did scare me is that the street in front of our apartment was a very narrow, one-way street with almost no parking, so either I was going to get lucky enough to find an open spot to use as a "staging area" for loading passengers and luggage, or I was going to drive around the block several times.

I think we were on our second loop before I found a spot to slide into. April had gathered the troops and they busily started loading. What appeared to be a roomy vehicle with plenty of storage turned out to be much too small. Poor Lea could barely get her foot into the car in order to shut the door and everyone but me had some sort of bag on their lap. This clearly was not going to work well for a long car ride.

So off to Hertz we went, and I will never forget the look on the face of the Hertz employee who had helped me earlier. She could almost not contain herself with her finger wagging and although she was speaking in French, I knew what she was saying. "I told you so."

Lea, bless her heart, tried to talk Hertz into renting us the biggest rig in the parking garage, which was some Mercedes passenger van. Alas, it was already reserved, so we settled into a Chevy Captiva SUV. It was still tight in the back seat, but at least there were 3 actual full seats and not just the middle hump for someone and all of the luggage was stowed in the back and not half of it on anyone's lap.

I think most of us breathed a sign of relief when were finally were safely out of Paris and onto the much roomier two-lane highway headed towards Normandy. Somewhere between Paris and Trouville, we stopped for lunch in the small town of Le Cadran. We ate in a small pub and had the most delicious lunch and probably the best Croque Madame I've ever had.

Across the street from the pub was a small patisserie, so of course we had to stop and load up on some delicious pastries (because we're evidently starving over here in France). It all looked so good and we weren't even back on the freeway before we'd inhaled more than 1/2 of the goodies we bought (followed shortly thereafter with groans from most of us about how full we now were -- those pastries were rich!).

Our final destination was Trouville-sur-Mer, in the Normandy region of France. This would be our base for the next 3 days while we toured the area.

In 1825, a young landscape painter Charles Mozin discovered Trouville, a little fishing port in Normandy.  In Paris, he kept Trouville in mind by exhibiting his Trouville paintings to other artists who later followed him to the paradise of Trouville. The artists and writers included Monet, Corot, Boudin, and Flaubert.

During the Second Empire, from 1852 to 1870, Trouville became "Queen of the Beaches" and a very famous seaside resort.  It was during this glorious period that villas, splendid hotels and casinos were built along the beach.
I can tell you that our "Trouville-style" vacation rental was NOT one of these splendid villas. Of all the years we have rented vacation homes, this one was probably the worst rental EVER! It's not exactly that the owners lied to us regarding the functionality of their rental for 5 adults, but let's just agree that they LIED TO US. I confirmed with the owners twice that there were adequate beds and bedrooms for the five adults and they confirmed all of my assumptions. It just tells you how good photos can be misleading.
What was supposed to be a two-bedroom, 1 bath house with a separate 1 bedroom, 1 bath guesthouse was a LIE. This old house looked to be divided into several rentals. Our rental was up two flights of stairs from the street where you arrived at the "main" house. The tool shed in the yard was the "guest house". After you enter the house and climb up 27 stairs (it was a narrow, spiral staircase), there was a door where you entered. The door handle and lock assembly was actually pulling out from the door and was only being held onto by 2 screws that were too small to fit the holes, so when you really think about it, there was really NO security here. In addition, we were provided only 1 key, which unlocked the gate from the street (which we were told to NOT lock because the transients living below us did not have a gate key). Sean and I had the tool shed and we felt that since the shed was practically on the street that the town murderers would get us first, so we thought we should be locked into the shed at night. We didn't want to lock in the main house in case of a fire, so yeah, they were wide open for anyone to just walk in a kill them in their sleep. Comforting, isn't it?
Once you entered the top of the spiral staircase, (and basically pushing the door open), there was a decent-sized bedroom with an attached bath that contained just a tub (no shower) with fairly high sides making it difficult for anyone over the age of 10 to get in and out safely. Opposite the bedroom was a small alcove where two storage cabinets sat and through an opening in the wall, you entered the "living area." There was a table that barely accommodated us 5 adults and a very small sofa, plus a tiny little kitchen. It did have a nice outdoor patio, but since it rained pretty much the entire time we were actually "at" the apartment, we never used it. This is what the front of the house looked like.
Sean and I gave April the choice of the shed (which actually wasn't too bad if you didn't mind the slugs on the floor) or the sofa since we felt bad that she was on the sofa for 3 nights in Paris (after Dad and Lea arrived). April said she would take the sofa. She said that her blanket wasn't long enough to cover her feet.
Dad and Lea might have actually slept well enough in their bedroom, however, the constant screeching of the seagulls, pigeons and the discothèque down the street kept all of us from really getting a good night's sleep. There was a time that I thought living by the sea would be really lovely, but I can tell you that those seagulls pretty much have squashed that dream. We did have a nice view from the balcony:

Our rental was a one-way narrow street and the fact that we found a parking spot large enough for our Chevy SUV within a short distance of the front gate was a win-win. It was late afternoon when we arrived and knowing that we needed to procure some supplies (coffee and Rosé) we thought it best if we just left the car (and Dad and Lea) while Sean, April and I hoofed it down the hill to get some supplies. As we were leaving the apartment, we felt a couple of raindrops and April says "should we go back and get our umbrellas?" "Nah, it's not going to rain" I replied. I'm quite sure April will never let me live this one down because as you know it would, it started to not just "rain" but the heavens opened up and it started to just pour. What's 3 drenched rats to do? We decided to try and find a café and have a beer while we waited for the rain to move on. We waited, and waited. We had another beverage. We waited some more and really had no choice but to just continue to get wet. We really were pathetic looking. We're wearing summer attire (this is July, right?) and we're all soaked.

We find the Monoprix and start filling our baskets, trying to be careful about how much stuff we were accumulating knowing that we would have to huff all of this stuff back up a pretty steep hill. This "seaside resort" experience wasn't starting off so well.

As the next day was Sunday, we decided to just hang around the area and perhaps wander around the town of Trouville and Deauville, which was just across the river from Trouville. The clouds were mostly cloudy with a threat of rain, so we thought it best to just have a low-key day. We drove around and took some photos of the unique architecture and found a nice bistro for lunch.

After our late lunch, on our way back to our car, we spotted an antiques shop that was open. We spent a few minutes wandering around the shop. They had some really neat stuff in there; I wondered just how expensive it was to ship heavy armoires back to Seattle. They had some beautiful furniture, but I suppose after paying to ship them home, they weren't such a bargain after all. We didn't spot any cheap Monet nor forgotten Degas paintings, so we piled back into the car to head back into Trouville. Since lunch was late, we found an open Epicerie market and picked up some fruit, more cheese and a baguette for a snack later that night.

We enjoyed an exciting evening back at our hovel each of us on our "I" devices doing various things, like puzzles. At least the internet service was good. We were all hoping that the discothèque wouldn't be open on a Sunday evening and looked forward to perhaps a peaceful sleep, but once again, those damn birds wouldn't shut the hell up. Although we all looked forward to getting to sleep early, Trouville in on the 49th parallel and sunset isn't until just before 11:00 PM. Nevertheless, we were all looking forward to hopefully some sunshine the next day for our private tour of the D-Day beaches and sights.

À bientot!


July 7, 2014

We bid adieu to Paris

Our last day in Paris with Dad and Lea was upon us and with it finally came the rain. They say that summer truly starts in Seattle on July 5th, but it seems that they didn't get the memo in Paris. What happened to my glorious sunshine?

The weather did limit us somewhat on our options as using the "Day 2" of our "hop on, hop off" bus didn't sound like a lot of fun in the rain. Us girls in the group decided that a quick trip to Galeries Lafayette was just what the doctor ordered and to make things easy on all of us, we decided to splurge on a taxi from the apartment to avoid the dampness and long walk/stairs of the Metro.

I found a nifty little "app" for my iPhone for G7 taxi service and using the app only, I ordered a taxi large enough to accommodate us 5 adults. At promptly the designated pick-up time, it arrived downstairs. Voila! Now how easy was that? I was happy that I did not have to provide address information in my poor French, so it was a win-win for everyone.

Dad wasn't too excited about the prospect of shopping, but we promised he would enjoy the food halls, the beautiful stained glass dome and perhaps even appreciate the view of the city from the observation deck. I think he actually took in the "view" from the stairwell. What's that saying, "you can lead a horse to the water, but you can't make them drink?" Well, we tried.

As you would expect on an inclement weather day in Paris, Galeries Lafayette was jam-packed full of us tourists perusing all the delicious things in the food halls. Although I tried to tempt Dad with this and that, he mostly just looked bored and ready to flee. But we pressed on, despite his lack of enthusiasm, managing to fill a bag with some assorted goodies. I'm pretty sure we set some Guinness Book of World Records with our speedy turn through that store. It's practically unheard of that three grown women could get in and out of Galeries Lafayette in under an hour and spend less than 35 Euros.

With our mission accomplished (we promised not to dawdle), we hailed a cab outside the store and set off in the Paris traffic towards the apartment. We were about a mile away from the apartment when I remember hearing a loud, screeching noise and realizing that I was being flung across the middle of the van towards April and Sean who were seated facing me. It took me a minute to realize that we had just been in a car accident!

Sean and April were facing towards the rear and smartly were belted into their seats; Dad, Lea and I were not so smart. All I can say is that it's a good thing that this was a fairly "minor" accident. I am just so thankful that Sean and April were there in front of us to catch our fall and I'm pretty sure that Lea got pretty intimate with April's lady parts, but hey, thank goodness for those cushions!

Our cab driver was the innocent party in this collision. He was driving along as he should be in his own lane and some idiot decided it was a good idea to cut in front of this much larger vehicle (a Mercedes SUV), apparently not correctly calculating how little time he had in which to make such a move; the odd thing is that we were not in an intersection, so I have no idea why the idiot driver thought it a great idea to basically cross over into our lane of traffic.

We were all a little shook up over the whole thing and then we kind of got mad as we were all standing on the sidewalk (thankfully the rain had stopped) and just stood there while the two drivers almost got into a fist fight while yelling at each other over who was at fault. Not once did our cab driver ask any of us if we were OK. Stupidly, I paid the cab driver some money and we just started walking. I guess I was kind of feeling bad for the guy and didn't want to stiff him his money.

So off we went. Luckily, we sort of knew where we were, so it wasn't long before we started to recognize the outskirts of our neighborhood. We all decided that we had earned some adult beverages, so we found a nice bistro and sat for awhile and just let the tension of the afternoon fade away.

We spent the rest of the evening just puttering around the apartment and getting our stuff organized for our departure in the morning to Normandy.

À bientot,

July 6, 2014

The Oregonians Have Arrived in Paris!

Although we hadn't yet encountered any rain in Paris, it was partly cloudy for the first two days we were there and apparently it took the impending arrival of the Oregonians for the sun to finally show up! Hello, Sun! Welcome to Paris!

My continued descent into the abyss of insomnia was enabling me to get almost a full-day of work in before we started our daily tourist activities, so with a day of work behind me and the sun out and shining, I waited in anticipation for the arrival of my Dad and Lea. They also were arriving from San Francisco on that big Airbus A380 jet.

Knowing they would take almost the same route as we did just two days before, for a first-time visitor to Paris, the trek into the city from CDG isn't really that glamorous. There's no views of the Eiffel Tower, nor much in the way of the beautiful architecture, but instead views provided by the graffiti artists that have so generously littered the city with their musings and other inner-city sights. As I had foreshadowed, my Dad's almost first words were "Paris sure isn't what I expected." Clearly, I had some work cut out for me, but to be honest, I've never been under any illusion that my Dad was a "Paris kind of guy." He's just not a city person, and I get that completely, which is why our stop in Paris would be brief.

We spent a few minutes chatting about their trip "over the pond" and after they both washed their faces and settled their belongings into their bedroom, we headed out to a nearby neighborhood bistro for a bite to eat.

After a meal, paired with a cold, frothy beer, it's amazing how much better you feel! I am not normally that much of a beer person, but I had a really delicious beer; it was a "Grimbergen", a light beer with just a hint of citrus and spice. I'm going to have to see if I can find this beer when I get home at Total Wine or Whole Foods.

We walked around the neighborhood for a bit before going back to the apartment. Dad and Lea took a short nap while April and I got some work done. It was a low-key night, which was perfect for everyone, particularly the weary travelers.

One of the things we love about the Bastille neighborhood is their twice-weekly market. It's one of the largest in Paris and we were really excited that we would still be in town for the market. The day was promising to be a warm and sunny one, so our plan was to hit the market first and do some shopping, then board a "hop on and hop off" bus for a quick tour of Paris' sights.

I could spend hours at this market, but I had to be mindful of perhaps our "less enthusiastic" market shoppers, so I tried to hurry my way through the crowds to procure some fruit, vegetables, herbs, cured meat, cheese, fresh pasta, and some olives. A feast we shall have!

Sean apparently was busy snapping photos while we shopped and he said to me later, "Bun, you always look so happy when you're buying food."

It's amazing how cheap things are at this market. I bought a very large bunch of fresh basil for 1 Euro. It was enough basil to fill probably 5 of the little boxes we buy for $2.99 each in our produce section. I love the selection of fruits and vegetables - it's always interesting to see the unfamiliar ones and wonder what they taste like or are used for (such as in types of cuisine). I was truly in my happy place!

We finished at the market and Sean and I ran the goods back to the apartment while April escorted Dad and Lea to the bus pickup location. Sitting on the open-air bus in 85 degree weather might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but as the afternoon dragged on and the traffic got more congested, the bus didn't travel very fast and the breezes the speed of its travel afforded were getting scarce.

Thankfully, we had the forethought to bring lots of water with us, so we all tried to stay hydrated. Despite the hot, humid weather, it was still nicer than viewing Paris in the rain. But, as Cole Porter wrote in his famous "I Love Paris" song, "I love Paris in the spring time,  I love Paris in the fall,  I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles,  I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles."

After completing just two of the four total "loops" around Paris, it was time to depart the bus. It was just too hot. It was after 2:00 PM by this time and all of us were getting hungry and in need of a cold beverage. You could call us the "hangry" gang and I was afraid that Dad was going to drop dead from heatstroke. So off the bus we went and after wandering around the area for about 20 minutes (we were near St. Germain des Pres), we couldn't find a place for lunch that wasn't going to cost us an arm and a leg. That's what we get for getting off the bus in one of the more "glamorous" neighborhoods of Paris.

We decided the best solution was to head back to our neck of the woods where we knew of several great lunch places at reasonable prices. Unsure if it was a good idea for Dad and Lea to exert themselves walking through long Metro tunnels, we decided the best option was to hail a cab. So we found a cab, however, it could only seat 4 of us, so April was gracious enough to hop onto the Metro and planned to meet us in Bastille at our designated lunch spot. An air conditioned cab ride was just the ticket we needed. Unfortunately, our lunch spot didn't have such luxuries as A/C, but the cold beers helped!

Lunch accomplished, we wandered back to the apartment, where a couple of naps ensued and April and I did a little work. As we had a rather late lunch, dinner was a few snacks from the market enjoyed outside in our lovely garden.

À bientot!