The Give France a Chance Tour
First, many thanks for the invaluable advice, opinions and reports of all the excellent Fodor's posters, including but not limited to: Carlux, StuDudley, ekscrunchy, StCirq, moolyn, Jody, Anselm and Margriet, robjame, Ira, bikerscott and jamikins, Mr. and Ms. Go, Michael, and all the rest of you.
I traveled with a friend who hadn't been to France in over 15 years. She was quite reluctant to go back, having found the French very, very intimidating when she lived in Paris for about 6 months as a shy nineteen-year-old girl. So I concocted the Give France a Chance tour on the premise that the adult-her would love France in a way that the teenage-her never could. Guess who was right?
I'll try to make this a fairly short report but there is one long, tedious part at the beginning'my apologies. Also, I'll try to post photos soon. I did manage to take pics of everywhere we stayed, so Fodorites can see the good, the bad and the ugly. And yes, there's a little of each.
March 28: SFO-CDG via Schipol on KLM.
March 29: Paris. Hotel Danube, rue Jacob.
March 30: 10am train from Gare d'Austerlitz to Limoges. Pick up car and to Oradour sur Glane.
March 31: Oradour to Sarlat. Villa des Consuls.
April 1-5: tour the area. Villa des Consuls.
April 6: 9:30 train Brive la Gaillarde to Paris. Hotel de la Place des Vosges
April 7-9: Paris. Depart from CDG on the 9th.
Paris part 1
We got Euros at an ATM upon arrival and took a cab into the city, as we were just too fatigued to deal with other options, although I had researched them here and had all my little notes, etc.
What to say? It was cold. It rained a little. We were pretty jetlagged. We walked around, taking snapshots of places we hadn't seen in a while, and ended up having dinner at a pizza place by the Pompidou. There we sat next to an older Moroccan man on holiday. He told us that many years ago he was stationed in the U.S. who rarely gets a chance to practice his English, so we all spent a nice evening talking about his time in the States decades ago, his yearly visits to Paris, a place he 'has always just liked being in, walking around in.' His wife, at home in Morocco, had preferred to stay near the grandchildren. But Paris keeps calling him. It was a lovely evening, all the lights reflecting off the rain-slicked streets.
Next morning, up and at 'em. We took, after much discussion with the guy at the Danube about the best course of action, the Metro from Mabillon stop to the gare. Easy and not too crowded around 9:30. Bought a carnet.
Aside--For those of you who may be planning a first trip to Paris, the gentleman working in the Metro station saw us lumbering down the stairs all in a tizzy with tons of luggage, and came out to help us get our tickets. Don't worry! Most people in Paris are unbelievably nice.
The train ride to Limoges in 2nd class was uneventful.
And now an afternoon in Limoges
Some of you may recall that this was my first time renting a car/driving in a foreign country and I was fairly apprehensive.
Arrived in Limoges and WARNING! the National Citer office has moved. It is not at 6 rue Gay Lussac. Nope, it's not there at all. The address I had from Novacar was incorrect and thus my carefully printed out mappy directions were essentially useless. Got to the office to find a For Rent sign. Uh oh.
Did I mention I 'speak' only the barest courtesies in French? My 'Quel est votre profesion?' wasn't going to help me in this situation. The woman in the info office in the train station didn't speak English. Neither did the woman in the (health care product company office?) building next door to the former National Citer office. Neither did the people in the office beyond that. Or the next place. Being a fairly polite tourist, I always went in and said my Bonjour and proceeded to butcher my idea of how to ask my question in French but no one had the slightest idea what I was saying. This was pretty humiliating; these people were obviously thinking, Turista (touriste), what are you doing babbling on incomprehensively in our place of business?
My cell phone wasn't working. It had worked in Paris but, standing out there in the cold, we couldn't get it going in Limoges. There's some lesson here other than I'm a bit of an idiot, but I haven't yet decided what it is.
After much back and forth, one woman waved me up the street, 'C'est la, c'est la!' I thought, 'Okay, but I know it's not c'est la.'
I continued up the street and there was the Regional Tourist Office for Limousin. Hallelujah. It looked dark inside, but if you ever find yourself in this situation, just go ahead and walk in and call out 'Bonjour?' and they'll come downstairs and turn on the lights. I was by now getting in the habit of throwing myself on strangers' mercy, and thankfully a very sweet young woman working there soon got to the bottom of this.
As it turned out, the lady at the car rental office had waited for us for an hour and then had to go to the airport to pick up some English clients. Yes, this office is a one-woman operation. She's quite a gal, too. So we would have to wait another hour to meet her at the rental office, which was, by the way, only a block away (across the park).
Anyway'although the girl in the regional tourist office asked if we'd like to wait there, we (I) were feeling a little sheepish by then, so we (I) acted very independent and said, oh, no, we'd manage. And we did. We managed to stand on the sidewalk outside the car rental office for an hour until the National woman returned from the airport.
She was extremely nice and apologetic, and this turned out to be the only glitch in the entire trip. She upgraded us to a Citroen V5 (?), a four-door pretty large-ish sedan. It looked great and I thought looked great in it. At last! I'm finally behind the wheel and ready to roll. And, whoa mama, stick shift. It's been a while, but I felt like I was really driving again. Bye bye, Limoges. After a few turns around the ol' rondpoint, that is.
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The Give France a Chance Tour