First on all, I want to thank all the people who offered advice when I asked for help in planning this trip this spring.
Second of all, I apologize because this will probably be way too long. I'll try to be brief but will probably fail.
Every once in a while I would check out various airlines' web sites, hoping to find an affordable fare. The good news was that I found a very good airfare in April for a time when I could travel. The bad news is that I had only 2 months to plan my trip, would be traveling by myself which was a first for me, and wasn't sure where I wanted to go in addition to Paris.
So I asked Fodorites for suggestions on where else to go. Ira suggested Auxerre. I looked up photos of Auxerre on-line and when I saw a photo of the abbey towering over the town by the river, I knew I wanted to go to Auxerre.
Originally, I had planned on taking a train, but several posters encouraged me to rent a car. I was a little leery of driving, based on my experience driving in Italy 2 years ago. But I was told that driving in France is much less stressful that driving in Italy. So I rented a car and although I got lost a lot (hence the title of
trip report - perdue means lost in French and one key phrase I used quite a bit while there was "Je suis perdue" or "I am lost.") driving in France is a snap after having driven in Italy. And at least I was geting lost in very scenic places.
For the next part of my trip, I wanted to see the gardens at Villandry. And, as long as I was in the area, I ended up going to other chateaux and gardens, and further west to Angers and finally dropping off the rental car in Chartres before going to Paris.
June 12 - June 26. This is a great time of year to visit Burgunday & the Loire valley. The days are very long so there's lots of time for traveling and exploring. Also, there were very few tourists at any of the places I visited except for Vezelay and Azay-le-Rideau and even these two places weren't crowded.
Paris was another matter. The most touristed sites - the Louvre, the Eiffel tower, Musée D'Orsay were jampacked. But other sites, e.g. Musée National du Moyen Age and Musée Marmottan Monet, weren't overcrowded at all.
Air France from SFO to CDG. The seats were the narrowest I've ever had to endure, as were the aisles. I was lucky in that I had the aisle seat in the center section and the man sitting next to me was 1) very skinny and 2) must have had a bladder the size of a bathtub, or he was wearing a catheter, because he didn't get up even once during the entire flight. I somehow managed to sleep, even though the stewardess kept smacking into me as she strode up and down the narrow aisle.
I had asked Fodorites on whether it was a good idea to immediately rent a car after landing. Based on their advice, I decided that driving immediately after landing was too risky. However, 1) I actually felt really good and 2) it looked like it was going to start pouring at any moment. So I went over to the Avis counter and asked if I could changed my reservation. No problem, the only additional charge was a drop-off fee, since I wouldn't be returning the car at the airport.
The problem was dropping off the car. The Avis web site listed the train station as the location. Not! The Avis office is located several miles away from the train station. Fortunately, a great college-age guy at the Chartres tourist office gave me directions and a copy of a map so I could find the place, located in the industrial section of Chartres.
Driving on the major roads is very easy. The only initial problem was that it started to rain so hard that
I couldn't read the signs and ended up taking a wrong turn. It soon became obvious that I was driving towards Paris (lots of graffiti on the walls along the road) so I turned around, but first pulling over to wait for the rain to
One piece of advice about signs on smaller roads in France. In the US, arrows point straight up to indicate that a destination in straight ahead. I never saw that in Burgundy & rarely saw it in the Loire Valley. Instead, the arrows point slightly right (if they're on the left side of the road) or slightly left (if they're on the right side of the road). Misunderstanding the meaning of the sign, I would turn & go the wrong way. I soon came across one of these arrows and there was no place to turn & figured out the correct meaning.
I decided to stop in Sens (it's on the way to Auxerre) and see the cathedral.
The front of the cathedral is being worked on so the one remaining tower (the other one fell down long ago) was wrapped in plastic. All the doors were closed & it was unclear where one should enter, or even if it was ok to enter. I noticed two women leaving via a door towards the side. This was the entrance. When you get to the choir area, there is a small note, only in French, saying that it's ok to tour the
cathedral as long as you're respectful.
There were two cleaning ladies, a few men doing some renovation work in the choir, and maybe a dozen other people in the entire cathedral. The only other cathedral I had ever visited before this was Notre Dame in Paris, and this
was such a welcome contrast from the mob scene there.
Next post: Auxerre
Perdue en la France - a trip report of central France and Paris
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