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Trip Report Trip Report: Lyon, Dordogne, Amboise Paris, October 2015

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My "blog" www.herewegoagain-france2015.blogspot.com will eventually have photos.

Forewarning: I'm long-winded!

Introduction and Itinerary

In January 2015, as I was firming up plans to travel to England in late June/early July with husband and nephew as his graduation present, I was seriously missing Paris. It had only been 3 years since our last visit (which I wrote up here http://www.herewegoagain-paris.blogspot.com/2012/05/introduction.html) but even the idea of 10 days in England didn’t ease my Paris related blues.

I decided we’d just have to visit Paris and, for my birthday present, grabbed two tickets on Delta (Air France) using frequent flyer miles. I immediately felt better! My very tolerant and agreeable husband just shook his head. After buying the tickets, I had to decide what to see while we were in France. I wanted 7 nights in Paris but husband only agreed to 5. His reasoning “we’ve been there three times before, let’s see other places” was on point. My argument, “but I love Paris,” didn’t hold much sway, sigh. After some research on Fodors (Stu Dudley's itinerary, Maitaitom's trip in 2012, too many lovely Trip Reports to mention), Tripadvisor and perusing library guide books, we settled on 2 nights in Lyon, 5 nights in Sarlat-la-Caneda, 3 nights in Amboise, and 5 nights in Paris.

I booked our apartments in Sarlat and Paris and the B&B in Amboise while husband chose the hotel in Lyon (close to the Perrache train station where we would pick up a rental car). I set a reminder for July 3rd to buy our TGV tickets from CDG to Lyon and then went back to planning our trip to England.

As soon as we were back from England and the trip report “blog” was done (http://www.herewegoagain-england2015.blogspot.com/2015/06/arrival-arundel-castle-and-nice-surprise.html ) I turned all of my focus to France. With help from the Fodors Forum Posters, I came up with a busy but possible itinerary for our time in the Dordogne which was the hardest part to plan—there’s simply too much to see and do in that area for a lifetime, much less four full days.

Our Ambitious (and Busy) Itinerary: Depart 2 October and return 18 October.

Lyon 2 nights at Mercure Lyon Centre Chateau Perrache Hotel. On the agenda: walk with a Lyon Greeter, Notre Dame de Fourviere, Gallo-Roman Amphitheatre and Museum, Musee des Beaux Arts, dinner at a bouchon.

Sarlat-la-Caneda 5 nights at Le Granier apartment. On the agenda: Rocamadour, Goufrre de Padirac, Beaux Villages (CArennac, Martel, Collonges-la-Rouge), Lascaux II, picnic at St. Leon zur Vezere, La Roque St. Christophe, Grotte de Rouffignac, Pech Merle, St. Cirq lapopie, Grotte du Cougnac, Domme, La Roque Gageac, Chateaus Castelnaud, Beynac, Milandes, gabarres trip.

On way to Amboise stop at Oradour sur Glane, and if time Chateau Valencay or Chateau Villandry.
Amboise 3 nights at La Grange Amboise B&B. On the agenda: Chateaus--Amboise, Clos Luce, Chenonceau, Blois, Chambord, Cheverny, Charmont-sur-Loire.

On way to Paris stop at Chartres for the Cathedral.
Paris 5 nights at parisbestlodge’s Crazy View Apartment on Ile de la Cite. On the agenda: Museums--Delacroix, Pantheon, Cluny, L’Orangerie, Picasso, Arts et Metiers, Orsay, Louvre, Marmottan, Army, Napoleon’s Tomb, Rodin. Churches-- Notre Dame, St. Germain des Pres, St. Sulpice, St. Etiene du Mont, Sainte Chapelle. Other--Concert at Sainte Chapelle, dinner at Alain Ducasse, walk with a greeter, tour of Hotel de Ville, Opera Garnier tour, shopping at Galleries Lafayette.

Guidebooks: Michelin Green Guides for Loire Valley, and Dordogne and Correze. Blue Guide Paris. Copies of the sections on Lyon and Chartres from the Lonely Planet France
Maps: Michelin #329 Dordogne, Correze. Michelin #518 Centre. Michelin #522 Auverge, Limosin. Garmin Benelux/France chip for my Nuvi.

And, I’m happy to report, it mostly went according to plan!

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    Thanks, maitaitom. I'm a concise work-related writer (and speaker) but can't seem to do the same when writing about travelling.

    Arrival and on to Lyon

    Day 1: Arrival, waiting around, first train ride, walking in Lyon, Italian for dinner.

    We flew from Houston on Air France to CDG in Economy on the 777-300ER. It was a mostly miserable flight because it was so very hot in our section (seats 28HG). The entertainment system was limited. The food was palatable but weird. The seats were cramped. But the biggest problem was the excessive warmth. Oh well, next time we'll spring for the Premium Economy seats. We arrived at 8am but by time we were getting into the buses to the terminal it was 830am, when we were supposed to arrive.

    Customs and Immigration control took about 1.5 hours. Our train to Lyon didn't depart until 1158 so we had time to kill. We bought a French SIM card at the Relay store, we walked around the train terminal, we got coffee, we were bored stiff. The train was delayed 20 minutes but finally we were onboard. I'd bought the tickets in July and paid E45 each for first class. It was nice. Much more roomy that Air France economy! The weather was gloomy and I was tired so I slept most of the way to Lyon.

    We arrived at Part Dieu 20 minutes late then took the metro to Perrache where our hotel was located. We had debated hard about staying more centrally (and had booked the Hotel des Artistes) but decided on the Mercure Lyon Centre Chateau Perrache because it was newly renovated, a good price, and close to where we'd pick up our rental in a couple of days.

    It turned out to be a very good decision (husband was vindicated!). The room was spacious, pretty and modern. It had a big comfortable king-sized bed. It had two sets of double glazed panes for the one window so no noise from the highway or street penetrated. The view was actually very pretty (once the weather cleared). It had a good sized bathroom and nice toiletries. It had the biggest TV we've ever seen in a hotel or apartment in Europe. The wifi worked. The location was perfect for us. The only weird thing was that the toilet was in its own room in the entrance foyer, while the shower/sink were ensuite, and did not have a small sink in there, although there was plenty of space for it. So we kept some hand wipes in the toilet room.

    After we checked in, we wanted to explore. We got a map and the concierge helped us find a grocery store to buy some toiletries that were left back home. We grabbed delicious pastries at a convenient patticerie. This was an interesting stop because the attendant did not touch our money; rather we placed it in a machine that automatically dispended the change. That way she kept her hands clean--brilliant! We passed by Pizzeria Napoli and decided to try it for dinner. We stopped at the Orange store where they helped us activate our SIM card. We walked all the way to Place Bellacour and took the metro back. The weather was ugly, rainy and cool.

    After showers, drinks in the bar, and catching up with the family at home, we walked to Pizzeria Napoli (45 rue Franklin). It was 645pm. Thankfully we arrived at that time because the restaurant was fully booked. But they took pity on my sad face and my very limited Italian, ("mangiamo rapido"), and allowed us in since we would be quick. We were too tired to linger, seriously.

    We shared a caprese salad, pasta al'arabiata and a pizza with mushrooms, plus wine and beer. It was all delicious and reasonably priced. It was a fun atmosphere and as we sat there, the place filled up. The Lyon Marathon was the next day so I guess the runners were carb loading. We walked back to the hotel and crashed.


    Take Aways:
    1. We did not love taking the train--we had a long wait between arrival at CDG and train departure. It was cheap only because we bought the non-refundable fare far in advance but you pay way more for flexibility: we could have made the 958 departure but didn't want to take the risk with a non-refundable fare. We like having our own wheels.
    2. Make reservations for dinner! So many places were fully booked that we missed out on well reviewed options.
    3. Waiting for an attendant at the Orange store was worth it. We didn't know enough French to activate our SIM card and they did it easily. Having our phone for in-country communication was worth the effort.
    4. Big beds are fabulous!

    Next: Walk with a Lyon Greeter, Beaux Arts Museum, "no reservation" and a fun bouchon

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    I'm along for the ride and impressed by the itinerary....Lyon, The Dordogne, The Loire, and Paris. You must be very organized and spent a lot of time planning this trip.

    We had Lyon on the radar for a while so I'll be taking notes. The Dordogne and The Loire are some of our fondest memories. Sorry your Sarlat apt. wasn't what you expected but the charm of the town probably helped.

    I am ejoying your blog and look forward to some photos.

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    TPAYT, I resemble both of those remarks ;) And since we don't get a lot of leave, I try to make the most of every day on vacation. We relax once we get back.

    Lyon was lovely and I wish we had another day there.

    The Sarlat apartment would be fine for many others but we were disappointed. The location and the town, though, are outstanding, esp. with the low crowds in October.

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    Lovely Lyon

    Day 2: Walk with a Lyon Greeter, Beaux Arts Museum, "no reservation" and a fun bouchon

    Before we left I submitted a request to the Lyon Greeters for a walk. It came through at the very last minute but our Greeter, Nathalie, was lovely. Having that in-country phone was helpful for making our plans to meet at the Place de Terreaux by the Fountain. We bought an all day metro pass and took it to Hotel du Ville. The marathon was going on so we got a little turned around trying to find the Place de Terreaux. It was turning out to be a pretty day.

    I had asked to see traboules, trompe l'oeil murals, Vieux Lyon and Notre Dame de Fourviere. Starting at 1030am, we saw all of the above. The trompe l'oiel mural was astonishing--a really impressive work of art. We walked across a bridge to Vieux Lyon and into a square near where Nathalie lived (pretty), we passed by Le Sathonay where we had reservations for dinner that night, we walked by the busy shops and went into the Gadagne Museum for the rooftop medieval garden, a nice surprise. We walked down to the miniatures museum and admired the intricate sets on display. I was a bit grossed out by a display of the silk worms hanging out at a nearby shop. At some point we went through the "longest" traboule, the only one we saw on this tour (which was ok).

    Nathalie showed us the Roman Ruins behind the Cathedral St. Jean. It was just a block off the main drag but quiet and peaceful. We walked about in the church which was pretty. The square had the most beautiful cream colored building with blue shutters. We took the funicular up to Fourviere and toured the Basilica of Notre Dame. It's a much newer church than most we've seen and we both really liked it--it's filled with light and had a very happy vibe, to me. The view from the terrace was gorgeous.

    We headed to our last stop with Nathalie, the Roman Amphitheatre. She pointed out the "oldest road" in Lyon and then took her leave of us. We thanked her profusely because we really enjoyed our walk and saw more than we might have on our own.

    Since the Gallo-Roman museum was right there we toured it. Very interesting building and beautiful displays. It was somewhat confusing but that's par for the course with us and museums. The mosaics were outstanding and I loved that we actually got to walk on one!

    Afterwards we walked back to Notre Dame to get a few more pictures and take the funicular back down to Vieux Lyon. We were hungry by now so stopped for a leisurely lunch at Le Krepiot where we had delicious crepes, cider and beer. We crossed the river, looked at the trompe l'oeil building again and made our way to the Musee Beaux-Arts. We only had about 1 1/2 hours before closing so did the blitz tour and very much enjoyed the gorgeous displays. It merits much more time that we had but we were glad to see what we did.

    It was now 6pm and time to relax before our 8pm dinner reservation at La Sathonay. We took the metro back to the hotel and husband set out to find the Hertz rental car counter. He had no luck because it's not in the train station itself like Avis, Europcar, or Sixth. We asked the day concierge and thankfully he knew that it was located outside the terminal on the opposite side of where we were staying. It was not as convenient as the other agencies, truthfully, and I'd rent from Avis on a return trip.

    We refreshed then had drinks in the bar (nice Nacer gave me a free glass of wine) before heading back out for dinner. We took the metro again and got to La Sathonay just at 8. I had made the reservation online via tripadvisor and received confirmations and reminders but the staff at Le Sathonay had no record of our reservation and could not (or would not) accommodate us, even after I showed them the email. They weren't rude, just blasé, and didn't seem to want our business.

    So we took it elsewhere and ended up having a very nice time, and enjoying the food, at the busy Le Laurencin in Vieux Lyon. We had green salad, meats and pickles and onions salad, fish with rice, sausages with delicious potatoes, cheese plate and crème brulee for desert. All good and filling.

    After dinner, we walked back to Hotel du Ville metro stop (we didn't have a map with us) and back to the hotel to crash. It had been a busy but fun and interesting day in Lyon.

    Take Aways:
    1. City Greeters are wonderful.
    2. Lyon really deserves more than one day.
    3. Even with "confirmed" reservations, sometimes you're turned away. Have a back-up plan and don't sweat the small stuff!

    Next: Finding Hertz, we have GPS!, signs signs everywhere there's signs, not dead in pretty Sarlat

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    We drive to Sarlat

    Day 3: Finding Hertz, we have GPS!, signs signs everywhere there's signs, not dead in pretty Sarlat

    After another good night's sleep, we were up, breakfasted and ready to go early because we had a long drive ahead of us. We still did not really know where the Hertz rental counter was but thankfully the clerk that checked us out did.

    We dragged our bags through the Perrache train station, down one escalator to the elevator because the second escalator was broken, across the train tracks, through a parking lot to a locked elevator that would take us down two flights of stairs to the Hertz office. Thankfully someone was going into the elevator and let us on so we didn't have to figure out how to call Hertz to let us in. This was a pretty inconvenient location for a car rental agency, in my opinion, and I would not chose Hertz at Perrache again. Avis, located right in the main terminal, would be my choice.

    Anyway, we checked in with the less than friendly attendant who explained we had another E132 in charges over what we'd already paid through autoeurope. We were expecting only E54 so I was an unhappy camper. She didn't do a good job of explaining what the extra charges were for but we vowed to contact autoeurope after the trip to iron the matter out--we had little choice but to accept what felt like a rip off on the spot. The attendant almost reluctantly handed over a map and a notation that there was a scratch on the bumper. Definitely not renting from Hertz at Lyon Perrache again...

    The car, a Renault Captur, was clean. The garage was dark so we missed two small dings in the doors. We couldn't fit our two suitcases (24" and 21") and two small carry-ons in the trunk which was very annoying. We turned on the GPS and it worked--we didn't pay extra for it. Our Garmin also worked so we felt well covered.

    Following the GPS, which totally died in the tunnel under the train station, lol, and our map, we made it onto the highway to Sarlat easily. We stopped at a rest station pretty early on for coffee, water and snacks but really just drove without detours. Except that every time husband saw one of those pretty signs for a sight or castle or beautiful village he wanted me to take a picture and find it on the map so we could visit. We also took pictures of the view but the weather was not gorgeous. We also were fascinated by the special bridges to help animals cross the highway. Husband proclaimed it an easy drive until we listened to the GPSs and turned off the autoroute too early and were sent on small back roads to Sarlat.

    We were meeting Barry at the Sarlat train station and made it there just about on time. He lead us to the free parking nearest the apartment and helped us shuttle our luggage to the apartment, a 4th floor walk-up. Barry carried my bag up the stairs while husband handled his own (the bigger one). I went ahead with the carry-ons. I was at the top when I heard a very loud noise and a yell. And Barry asking if husband was ok. As husband trudged up the spiral staircase, holding on to the rope railing, the railing gave away and he almost down fell two flights of stairs. Thankfully he let go of the suitcase so it fell instead of him. Hearts racing, and thankful that he was ok, we made it up to the apartment.

    Le Grenier looked just like the pictures on the web. But it was a bit more run down and dustier than I expected. The shower was primitive with the shower head hanging off a beam by large nails and a plastic tie. The sink was loose from the wall. The lighting was really poor. There were no hooks to hang towels or anything else. The washer was not a dryer so we had to lay out towels and anything we washed on a drying rack with a fan running. The toilet seat prevented the separate toilet room door from closing easily. The TV was so tiny it could have been a computer monitor. No Wi-Fi. No phone in the apartment. The bed was hard and smaller than we had expected. The broom broke when I tried to use it. I did not choose well in Sarlat (sadly) except for the amazing location right in the middle of town and the friendliness of our host, Barry, who had stocked the apartment pretty well. It was also reasonably priced at E80/night. We would not stay there again.

    We refreshed ourselves and headed for the Tourist Information to use their Wi-Fi and get information about the gabarres. They were closing up since it was almost 5pm but did say the gabarres were done for the day. It was a very pretty afternoon so we wandered into the church, the cemetery (which thank the universe husband would not be buried in) and around town. Such a cute town. There were not a lot of other people about. We had a drinks on the square at Café de la Mairie and watched some police officers with a dog come running through. We slowly made our way to L'Bistroi l'Octroi for dinner which was very good.

    Back to the apartment, up four flights of stairs, not holding on to the rope railing, to try to sleep. We were liking Sarlat already.

    Take Aways:
    1. Hertz is not well located at Perrache train station in Lyon.
    2. Driving in France is easy but pricy on the autoroutes. Those tolls do add up.
    3. Be more careful with the apartment selection especially in the lower price range. Always ask for the dimensions of the bed, not just the size name.
    4. Say fervent thanks to the universe for keeping us safe on vacation (we don't want to check out how good our travel insurance is!).
    5. Make the best of your not so great decisions!

    Next: more back roads, a gouffre, a vertical town, and lots of pretty villages

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    Really enjoying your report and love the details and takeaway points. We will be in France in May and are trying to decide between the Dordogne and Burgundy regions.

    Did you make it to the Sarlat market?

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    hi nola,

    just found this and am enjoying it very much. as you say, make the best of a bad sit and don't worry too much about little set backs.

    I was interested to read about Lyon - not got there yet - and Sarlat where we have been and liked a lot, though we stayed outside the town in a gite which was fortunately fine.

    and I like the format - lots of interesting detail and those points at the end - very useful.

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    Thanks for your nice comments, everyone.

    @yestravel, I think yours was one of the trip reports that put Lyon on my radar. It does not seem to be a super popular tourist destination but it has its charms. I'd like to go back one day.

    @topeater, we walked through the Sarlat Market on Wedneday and Saturday, our apartment was really centrally located, but didn't linger. It looked nice. I remember lots of pretty vegetables and foie gras vendors. We're not shoppers so it was wasted on us.

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    Amazing cave and pretty towns

    Day 4: More back roads, a gouffre, a vertical town, and pretty villages

    So we really didn't know what to expect from this area of France. When we told people we were going to the Dordogne (Sarlat, the Perigord Noir) they all looked at us with blank faces. But I was convinced by my research that we would like it. And today proved it!

    We had a 1030am reservation to tour the Gouffre de Padirac. We didn't sleep well so got a later start than we'd hoped and were not able to pass by Rocamadour first. We plugged in Padirac into the GPSs and off we went. The GPSs lead us on small back roads, the white ones on the Michelin maps, that twisted and turned through beautiful countryside. We figured there were bigger roads around but just trusted the GPSs which were quite in sync with each other. One was still in French (we figured out how to change the language a few days later) and wouldn't verbalize, the other verbalized too much. Comical but frustrating at the same time. Anyway, we drove through the pretty for about an hour and made it to Padirac in time for our tour.

    This was the cave I was most excited about and it was perfect as the first one. We collected our tickets and elected to walk down into the cave. The opening is huge and deep. Our legs were trembling when we finally made it down but I'm glad we walked. Fantastic introduction to this amazing place. We made our way slowly to the boats. We were the only two people on our boat. It was very quiet in the cave. Pierre (of course) gave us a good overview of the cave and what we were seeing. He even stopped a couple of times so we could hear the silence and feel the drops of rain falling. Very cool. Spectacularly beautiful. We were the only two people on the walking tour which was very well lead by Anjeline (I think). We lingered as much as we could and ooh and aahed at the magnificence of this place. She delivered us back to the boat launch and Pierre took us back to the exit dock where 50 people were now lined up. We were very luck to have our private tour! We bought the souvenir photo (of course) and spent some money in the gift shop before exiting.

    The weather was now absolutely gorgeous: clear blue skies, perfect temperatures in the low 70's high 60's. We decided to head to Rocamadour and view it from L'Hospitalet. It was about noon when we arrived, so the views were not the best but it's beautiful from that vantage point. We parked by the castle and took the funicular down to some stairs to the bottom. We found a café and had a quick (E20!) lunch of sandwiches, coffee and a soda. Then we meandered the touristy main street admiring the pretty buildings and views. We hiked up to the church and toured all of the open areas. We then took the funicular back up to the castle and decided to hit some more pretty towns.

    Our first was Carennac. It's situated right on the Dordogne river and was just picture perfect. We parked alongside the church and walked all about the deserted town, taking pictures and admiring. Wouldn't want to stay there off season, too quiet, but it sure was pretty.

    Next up was Martel. This is a bigger, busier town than Carennac. We parked in the lot across from the Tour de Tournemire and followed the Michelin Guide tour of the town. Very interesting history and super cute. We popped into the church and I took one of my favorite pictures of the trip--sunlight reflecting through the stained glass onto the church floor. The day was still pretty but we were getting tired so we had drinks before deciding on the next thing.

    After our refreshing halt, husband wanted to keep going and see more pretty. We decided to go to Collonges-la-Rouge and it was worth the drive. All of the buildings are a beautiful red sandstone. Collonges has the similarly picturesque buildings as you might see in other towns but they're more striking and interesting because of the color. We did the Michelin Guide tour, loved on the neighborhood cats, and took lots of pictures. There were few other people about.

    It was late by now so we turned on the GPSs and they directed us back to Sarlat. They again routed us on small roads which was annoying. We got turned around trying to find the parking lot (we would get turned around every night except for the last!). We decided to have dinner at L'Instant Delice and it was very good. I had cepe ravioli and husband had foie gras starter and duck with delicious potatoes for his main. I ate some of his crème brulee but did not like it because it had walnuts in it. We made our way back to the apartment for the night (and hopefully to sleep).

    Takeaways:
    1. Small roads are scenic but time consuming. We developed a love/hate relationship with our GPSs.
    2. Off season is fabulous. Pierre at Padirac said they have 6000 people per day in high season, whereas we were the only two on our tour.
    3. Rocamadour is super touristy but still very pretty. It was pretty cool to hike the same steps as Saint Anthony of Padova to the church.
    4. There are way too many pretty villages in this part of France!

    Next: a cave, a picnic, a troglodyte roque, another cave, and a star dinner

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    We were in Lyon at the same time! We arrived on Friday! We did a lot of what you did. I always forget that you have to arrange the city greeters 10 business days in advance, so we were on our own.

    While you were there too short a time, we were there a bit too long. We arrived after long flights from Jo'burg and an uber ride to our apartment on Rue St. Antoine.

    We were there a week; 4 or 5 days would have been sufficient. We found that if you arrive just at 7 pm you could get into a cafe without a problem. There are LOTS of cafes along Rue de Mercerie, a block in from the Soane.

    We head to Paris in 2 weeks, looking forward to hearing about your time there.

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    Enjoying your TR. We want to get to the Dordogne and your TR has some good info. Glad our TR may have helped you with Lyon.

    We'll be back in Paris in about a month so looking forward to hearing about your time there.

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    Thanks for continuing to follow along...

    @maitaitom, your TR put L'Instant Delice on our radar! Yum.

    @DebitNM, two or three full days in Lyon would have been enough for us, I think. Weather sure was nice our one day. Paris is too cold for me right now but I can't wait to return!


    Prehistory and great food

    Day 5: a cave, a picnic, a troglodyte roque, another cave, and a star dinner

    We got a better night's sleep, thankfully, and were on our way fairly early. Today was market day in Sarlat. We walked past all the very pretty displays but did not linger. It seemed to be mostly vegetables, fruit and foie gras! We're so not shoppers...

    First order of business was Lascaux II. It was an easy drive now that we were dictating to the GPSs instead of the other way around. By this I mean we used our lovely Michelin #329 map to plot our course onto big roads, used the GPS to tell us how to get to those roads and then followed the signs for the town we were headed.

    We stopped in Montignac to buy the tickets to the cave but at this time of year, you actually buy the tickets at the cave. We have a 40 minute wait for the next English tour. We used the time to walk past the original cave entrance to the closed restaurant (?B&B) down the hill for scenic views (not worth it). By time we made it back, the tour was about to start. I think there were 50 people on the tour. It was very well lead by a woman who spoke excellent English. Very interesting to see how the cave was discovered, almost destroyed, then recreated, and how long it all took. I know it's "fake" but wow! were the paintings astonishing! Spectacular! So glad we got to see it.

    It was getting on lunch time so we headed to St. Leon sur Vezere for a picnic. This is a super scenic little village on the Vezere river. We popped into the church then grabbed salads, wine and beer at the restaurant with picnic tables on the river bank. You can bring your own food and drinks, and had we been thinking ahead might have picked up stuff at the Sarlat Market, but nonetheless, we very much enjoyed this break.

    Husband reluctantly agreed to go to the next stop: La Roque St. Christophe, the troglodyte city, overlooking the Vezere river. It was an easy drive from St. Leon. I really liked this place--the views are spectacular! The thought that people lived there since like forever ago was fascinating. I also loved the models of the medieval weapons (they're all catapults to me!). Harsh way to live but, even back then, location really was everything.

    We tried to get into Font de Gaume but it was sold out for the day. So we called the Grotte de Rouffignac and they were still open for tours. We made it a few minutes before the last tour (5pm) and had a little time to walk around looking at the displays and reading the information on the ipod before the tour (in French only) started. I estimate 30 people were loaded onto the electric trains for the tour into the cave. It was very cold and dark and it was hard to see the bear claw marks and the scratches that made up most of the drawings. Not a lot of color here. The two herds were pretty cool. Husband liked it more than me. It would have been better if the information on the ipod were in audio format so I wouldn't have to read the bright ipod screen then try to make out the markings on the walls.

    We drove through Les Eyzies de Tayac--so freaking cute--but kept heading back to Sarlat. We had dinner reservations at Le Grand Blue at 730pm. It's the only Michelin star restaurant in Sarlat. It's located down by the train station so kind of a longish walk from where we were staying, and of course we got turned around a little bit on the way there.

    The place is modern and comfortable. It was pretty empty when we arrived but by 830pm was 3/4 full. Weirdly, one table of 6 sat down, had the amuse bouche, then got up and left. It didn't look like the staff were sad to see them go!

    The amuse bouche was their version of sushi (tasty). The soup was leek with an asparagus ice cream and a spicy foam--delicious. My starter was shrimp, some were a little raw but tasty, and one was fried perfectly. Husband's starter was caramelized pigs feet which he liked a lot. My main was John Dory fish with rice with avocado, very good. Had kind of an Asian flair. Husband had beef with figs and really enjoyed it. I loved my dessert: macaroon filled with strawberries with the richest chocolate ice cream imaginable. Husband's pear soufflé was prettier but less tasty. Overall, this was a very nice experience. The food was quite good, the atmosphere was elegant and calm, the service was excellent. The only thing they could improve is their silverware--kinda looked it something you'd get at Target (and not the most expensive stuff there either).

    Slow walk back to the apartment for the night. It had been a really fabulous day!

    Takeaways:
    1. Use your map and the directional signs instead of the GPSs only, duh.
    2. Splurging on nice restaurants is nice. :)

    Next: More caves and vertical towns

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    Sorry I've been away from the forums. And also from finishing my trip report/blog. I did all the narrative but have had a very hard time getting the photos on the blog because of still unresolved computer problems, sigh.

    But to be honest, the main problem was needing to take a break after the Paris attacks. That hit me so hard--reminded me of how I felt after 911. But time heals and I'm determined to get this done so I can focus on the next trips on the agenda.

    I'll just post each day's narrative separately. To anyone reading--I appreciate it! And also sincere thanks to all y'all on these forums for helping make this and all our trips fabulous.

    NOLA

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    More Caves and Vertical Towns

    Day 6: Pech Merle, St. Cirq Lapopie, Grotte du Cougnac, La Roque Gageac, Domme, pizza

    We were looking forward to seeing the cave paintings at Pech Merle. During our 4 day stay in the area, the English tour was only offered today at 1030am so I bought the tickets online a few weeks before the trip.

    We set out pretty early and right away had problems with the GPSs. We had plotted our course and wanted to take the A20 to Souillac but, in a fit of the stupids, ignored the sign pointing to the A20 in the middle of Sarlat and followed the GPSs instead. We were routed on the smallest roads you can imagine on a fog filled morning. It took forever to reach our destination and on a day we had to be there at a certain time! We did not enjoy this drive, at all. And decided once and for all to basically ignore the GPS and just follow our map and the road signs.

    At any rate, the scenery was gorgeous and we made it to Pech Merle with a couple of minutes to spare. We only missed the introduction to the cave and what we would be seeing. The guide lead about 30 of us into the cave. He was not as fluent in English at the lady at Lascaux II which made it hard to follow everything he was saying. But the cave was spectacular and fascinating. I mean, what's up with the hands? And that horse. And those "people"? After the tour, we spent a few minutes in the museum before it closed for lunch and also perused the limited offerings in the gift shop.

    We got back on the road to St. Cirq Lapopie where we figured we'd have lunch before moseying on to Cougnac cave which was only open from 2-4pm. We parked up the hill and walked down to this super adorable town. We stopped for lunch at the first place we got to, Lou Bolat, which had a terrace crowded with people enjoying the weather and the food. I ordered Coq au Vin which was delicious. It came with fries and some kinda weird tomatoes. Husband ordered roasted duck which also came with the fries and tomatoes. We drank delicious cider. It was all very good and we really enjoyed our lunch.

    We then walked up to the church for the spectacular views over the Lot river and valley. We popped into the church and took a few photos (my favorite of the sunlight reflecting the stained glass was taken here). We looked at the time and decided to make our way to the Grotte du Cougnac hoping we'd get there before they closed at 4pm.

    It was close! We arrived at 350pm. There was one other couple there, from West Virginia, and they had looked at the sign in the ticket window and determined that there were no more tours for the day. I got mad at the Michelin Green Guide because it didn't say "last tickets sold at" under Cougnac like it did for many other attractions. I called the number but the message was in French (duh). Husband studied the sign and said he thought it meant "next tour at 4pm" (prochaine was the operative word) so we all waited.

    Shortly after 4pm, here came the guide and three tourists. Husband was right! As we paid our entrance fee a few other people showed up (a few spoke English so the tour was in both languages). This guide was enthusiastic and engaging. We thoroughly enjoyed the two caves we visited. The paintings are similar to Pech Merle and they also had the "people" and some symbols in common. But the stalagmites and stalactites were gorgeous. Just a beautiful place. No pictures in the section with the paintings but we could take photos in the other cave. She was careful to point out the small bats hanging around, yikes. Impressive cave and great tour!

    (If I had to rank the caves: 1. Padirac, 2. Lascaux II, 3. Pech Merle & Cougnac, 5. Rouffignac).

    It was a pretty day so we routed ourselves to La Roque Gageac just to see this pretty town. In the late afternoon sun, the rocks glowed a deep gold--so beautiful. It was seriously quiet so we didn't linger. We headed to Domme and drove up through the town and parked by the TI. It was super quiet, just a few people admiring the sunset from L'Esplanade Hotel. I'd read good reviews about Cabanoix et Chataigne so we headed there for dinner. It was about 730pm, the restaurant was empty, but they turned us away because they were "fully booked." Oh well, our fault for not making a reservation but surreal to have a completely empty restaurant not be able to seat us. No biggie.

    We headed back to Sarlat and missed the turn to the parking lot again! We finally made it back to the apartment where we dropped off our stuff, decided against duck, and stumbled onto a pizza joint that could accommodate us (they were about to seat a party of 70). It's a weirdly illuminated place (lots of neon pink) that did not look inviting but we enjoyed the pleasant service, our pizza, salads and free wifi. A Paul Sorvino look-alike was at the next table, lol.

    Short walk back to the apartment for our next to last night.

    Takeaways:
    1. GPSs are smart but we're smarter (maybe, sometimes).
    2. We'd like to spend more time exploring the Lot
    3. Make those dinner reservations. You can always cancel if plans change.
    4. Learn more French. We might have missed the tour at Cougnac but for seeing a million "prochaine" signs while driving.

    Next: Castles!

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    Castles!

    Day 7: Chateau Castelnaud, gabarres trip, Chateau Beynac, Chateau Milandes

    This girl was ready to get inside some castles after days of prehistoric caves and cute towns. It was a beautiful day--perfect clear skies, cool temps.

    First up was Castelnaud. We loved this place. It has obviously been reconstructed but was very impressive. For future visitors, be aware that the parking lot is not a part of the castle, rather it's for the small town so you do have to pay to park.

    We made our way to the entrance, paid our fee and took the brochure which guided us pretty well through the castle and displays. There were maybe 10-20 other people about. It's really a museum of medieval war with tons of weapons on display. I had fun looking at all the trebuchets (catapults to me) and swords and imagining how I could use them to win the Game of Thrones! The views from the keep and the lower terraces were spectacular. Loved this place.

    We headed to Beynac because we really wanted to get on the river. Of course, when we arrived, the gabarres were on lunch break (12-2) so we walked around the town a little, taking pictures, then bought sandwiches and drinks and took them to the river to eat. At the appointed time, we bought our tickets and boarded the boat for the trip on the river.

    The guide gave us the English handout of what we'd be seeing because he spoke to the group in French. The boat was about half full. We were a bit disappointed because the boat just went from Beynac, under the bridge that the resistance used to hide ammunition during WWII, to the Chateau de Fayrac before turning back. We thought it would get closer to Castelnaud. Fayrac is not open to the public but was very picturesque and owned by "a couple from San Antonio." Must be nice!

    Back in Beynac, we decided to tour the castle. We drove up the hill and parked close to the entrance. Almost no one was around. We paid our fee and the ticket lady was too busy on the phone to offer us a guide, which we saw other people using once we got inside, so we used the scant information in the Michelin Green Guide to tour this place. It's undergoing a 100 year long renovation. The views over the Dordogne were impressive. But without the guide, it was hard to know what was what and what was there was a little faded (thus the renovation). At any rate, we decided we could have skipped this castle (and maybe toured Marqueyssac instead).

    Next up was Milandes. On our first trip to Paris in 2003, the apartment we stayed in had CDs of Josephine Baker's music which we played every night. She was something else! We wanted to see her home.

    Milandes is much newer than the 13C Castelnaud and Beynac having been built in the late 1400's. It is fairy tale pretty and surrounded by gorgeous grounds. We paid our entrance fee just after a large tour group that we never saw again--weird. The guide brochure was very well done and there was also good signage in each room. We enjoyed learning about the history of the house and Josephine Baker's story. We liked that each room was decorated in her style. It's a beautiful place. We bought a few things in the gift shop, wished the video playing was at least subtitled in English because the people watching it were enthralled, walked around the gardens saying hello to the gorgeous (sadly captive) birds of prey, had drinks in the café, and lingered. It was a beautiful setting and still a beautiful day.

    I didn't mention how much we enjoyed driving between these three places--the countryside in this area is spectacular, even though the roads were teeny.

    As we left Milandes, we could see hot air ballons floating about. We turned toward Marqueyssac and one was landing. We parked and watched it for a bit and I walked up to the entrance to Marqueyssac, closed of course. I encountered a few peacocks trying to relax after being bugged by tourists all day, took a few photos, and we headed back to Sarlat.

    We had dinner reservations at L'Instant Delice (again). It was quieter than the first time we dined there but the food was great again. Husband had whole liver foie gras and a skewered salad while I had a veggie quiche like thing and salad for starters; husband had stewed goose with veggies and I had cepe ravioli for mains; he had stinky cheese; and we both had cakes for dessert. Except for the dessert, we loved everything. We enjoyed both our meals there--consistently good food, attentive non-intrusive service, comfortable environment.

    It was our last night so we walked all around Sarlat-le-Caneda taking pictures and feeling sad. There was so much we didn't have time to do but we were happy to have scratched the surface of this incredibly beautiful and varied area of France.

    Takeaways:
    1. Not all castles are worth touring. I wish we'd have skipped Beynac and gone to Marqueyssac instead.
    2. The gabarres trip from Beynac was just ok. Maybe it's better starting from La Roque Gageac?
    3. There's enough to do in the Dordogne area for weeks.
    4. The weather and few tourists in October was wonderful. Sarlat was a perfect location for us.

    Next: To Amboise we go, with a sad detour

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    To Amboise we go, with a sad detour

    Day 8: Oradour sur Glane, arrival in Amboise

    We departed Le Grenier apartment in Sarlat-le-Caneda at 9am. We thanked the nice proprietor, Barry, encouraged him to fix the rope railing which had remained broken during our stay, and walked down the spiral staircase for the last time. We'd like to return to the Dordogne area and explore some more of its charms, but we won't be staying at Le Grenier.

    We had a long drive to Amboise but knew we definitely wanted to stop at Oradour Sur Glane, and maybe a castle, too.

    We plotted our course and followed the signs to the A20 to Souillac and onward toward Limoges and Oradour sur Glane. We kept ignoring the GPSs and arrived at the welcoming center for Oradour in good time. It was a spectacularly beautiful sunshiny day.

    We had read about the atrocities committed in this town in the Michelin Green Guide and didn't feel we had time to do justice to the museum so went directly to the ruins. It's an incredibly sad place (I cried a lot). We saw the church where the women and children were burned. We saw the burned houses and businesses. We walked toward the cemetery and husband noticed an entrance to a Memorial museum that had all the names of the victims and items that survived the massacre. I mention it because it's easy to miss but so worth seeking out. We walked through the cemetery and then made our way back to the entrance. We bought a book that detailed the massacre and its aftermath and then were on our way.

    We were not exactly in the right frame of mind to see a castle so just headed to Amboise but routing ourselves there was challenging. We laid out our huge Michelin maps on the hood of the car and determined that we'd head toward Poitiers then get the A10 toward Tours. We made the GPS take this way by putting in small towns along the route.

    The GPSs were brilliant in getting us directly to the door of La Grange Amboise (18 rue Chaptal). I recognized the red door and rang the bell. The proprietress, Ms. Yveline, opened up and husband maneuvered the car into the driveway in the pretty courtyard. She was very nice but had very limited English and of course we have extremely limited French so not much conversation was possible.

    She welcomed us, showed us around and allowed us to pick our room (we chose the one with the big bed!). We were pleased with what we saw and knew we'd be comfortable for three nights.

    Our room was a good size with quality furnishing. The bed was large and comfortable. The bathroom was a good size, very clean, with hooks for towels, a basket for your toiletries in the shower stall, and Hansgrohe fixtures. The room was not cluttered with dusty flowers or tchotchkes or non-functional things. I really liked that! No TV. Wi-Fi worked better downstairs than in our room. It was reasonable at E85 per night.

    We refreshed and headed out to explore the town. La Grange Amboise is very well situated for the old town--about 5 minutes walk and you're in the thick of things. Stores were still open and husband was tempted by some gorgeous menswear offerings. We also considered some kitchen accessories. But we didn't buy anything (shocker!).

    Our reservation at Chez Bruno (38-40 Place Michel Debre) was not until 8pm and with about 40 minutes to kill, we hung out at brightly lit bar a few doors down looking at the Castle. The TV was showing rugby and the staff were very carefully cleaning everything. Suitably refreshed, we went on over to Chez Bruno for dinner which was outstanding--it was completely packed while we were there.

    Starters were escargot (husband) and onion soup. Mains were fish (me) and veal in a flaky pastry (husband), dessert was pears and cream. Everything was excellent, including the casually efficient service. The waiters looked like "hipsters" but paid close attention to the customers. We didn't have to ask for refills of bread or water, they noticed and took care of it. One waiter reminded us of our cousin back home (sweet personality, cute). We really enjoyed Chez Bruno and would have gone back but it was closed the rest of our time in Amboise.

    We took the long way back to the B&B for the night.

    Takeaways:
    1. I'm thankful we were able to see Oradour sur Glane. It represents "man's inhumanity to man" and must not be forgotten.
    2. It's hard to feel frivolous enough to tour a castle after walking around a tragedy, and that's OK.
    3. Learn more French!

    Next: We see three castles

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    We see three castles

    Day 9: Blois, Chambord, Cheverny

    It's castle time! The weather was overcast and cool. We asked for breakfast at 9am, which got us off to a bit of a late start. No matter, we planned to hit three, maybe four castles today. There were many more people around than we'd seen in the Dordogne.

    We started with Blois. We got turned around trying to find it and wasted a few minutes running around the town below. We parked and walked up to the entrance. There was some kind of old car festival going on and husband was hooked immediately (me, not so much). Dragged him away to tour the castle.

    After paying for the entrance, we walked into the courtyard where the buildings are from markedly different periods (13C-17C) but still seem harmonious in a funky kind of way. Really pretty. We quickly walked through some rooms on the bottom floor with close up displays of the statues, gargoyles, etc. that were left from the restorations. Then up the staircase (so beautiful) to the rooms. It was a royal palace so these rooms were sumptuous and gilded and over the top. The guide was well done as were the displays in each room. I loved all the fleur de lis stuff, the colorful tiles, the fabulous ceilings and the history. Some rooms were closed off for a conference but that didn't detract from what we were able to see.

    Possibly my favorite thing was the special exhibition (which didn't cost more) of Francois I's library. It was room after room after room of priceless illuminated manuscripts. We stumbled into the exhibit and were awed.

    Afterwards, we took in the views over Blois from the terrace, popped into the chapel, took a few more pictures of the gorgeous courtyard buildings and left.

    Our next stop would be Chambord. Before touring this palace, we munched on sandwiches and drinks from one of the vendors as you walk up. It was fine and helped us keep on track.

    Chambord is out in the countryside, unlike Blois, so it sits there in massive isolated splendor. It's surrounded by a moat which seemed puny and insignificant compared to the size of the place. Did I say it's massive?!? I'm grateful that husband could make heads and tails of the guide because I found it impossible to follow. There were tons of rooms to see all off the gorgeous (how the heck did DaVinci do it?) double spiral staircase. The rooms were sparse and needed work but I'm sure they're doing the best they can to maintain the place since it's so huge. We saw all that we could, including the lovely special exhibit of photographs by a Korean artist, and made it up to the roof which is not.to.be.missed! The day was pretty so we lingered taking lots of pictures and admiring everything. Back down the amazing staircase to the exit. Chateau #2 was fantastic!

    Checking our time, it looked like we had at least 2 hours until Cheverny closed. This was actually the one I most wanted to see so we rushed there. It's close to Chambord but on tiny roads so it took a good while. The countryside is lovely.

    Cheverny is also on large acreage so it too sits alone in splendor. It's not massive, rather (to me) perfectly proportioned. There was a special installation of butterflies that at first looked weird but were actually beautiful. Cheverny has been in the same hands for-ever so it was well maintained and each room was beautifully appointed. The current rich dude and his wife live on premises. Her wedding dress and pictures of the wedding were in one room and family pictures in others. Nice touch. We took our time touring the rooms. It was easy to follow the informative guide which had pictures of each room on it so you knew you were in the right place (loved that). The ceilings in some rooms were crazy gorgeous. The interior was really something special.

    We exited and headed to L'Orangerie for drinks. The grounds and flowers were beautiful so I detoured to take pictures while husband grabbed us drinks and a table. He was the last customer of the night... We sat out in this beautiful setting for awhile just basking in the beauty all around us. We reluctantly left our idyllic spot and went looking for the hounds. We saw more of the gorgeous grounds, said hello to the doggies, took some more pictures and left.

    Back to the B&B in Amboise we headed on the pretty roads. It was very easy to drive in this area. We parked the car and refreshed before heading out to the main strip by the castle.

    No reservations for dinner tonight so we took our chances with the pizza place on the main drag in front of the castle. We had a pretty good green salad but the pizza was mediocre. It was one of those overly complicated pizzas that I don't enjoy. Give me a simple pizza margherita and I'm happy. The service was good and the place was attractive. As we sat there two men and a woman with a baby in a stroller passed into the back door (I guess to a courtyard leading to an apartment) and we were amused because they were Bill and Ted, total dudes, but married with kids! Even talked like Bill and Ted. Funny. We finished up and strolled back to the B&B to crash.

    Takeaways:
    1. With an early start, three or four castles are quite possible in a day, if they're relatively close together.
    2. Walking around the following day we noticed there was another pizzeria farther down the strip, past Chez Bruno, that looked less touristy and we wished we'd tried that one instead.

    Next: More castles, of course.

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    (If I had to rank the caves: 1. Padirac, 2. Lascaux II, 3. Pech Merle & Cougnac, 5. Rouffignac).>>

    I think I'd agree but I'm not sure that I wouldn't reverse Padirac and Lascaux II; we loved both but in different ways.

    thanks for your descriptions of the castles - very informative.

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    Totally agree, annhig. Padirac and Lascaux II are very different but wonderful. I think Padirac "won" because it was a "private" tour!

    topeater, thanks. :) I'm certain you'll love the Dordogne as we did. We want to spend at least a week next time since there is so very much to do.

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    More castles, of course.

    Day 10: Chenonceau and Amboise Castle

    After a leisurely breakfast of pastries, yoghurt with honey and nuts, and coffee, we "chatted" with two ladies from Northern France and our proprietress. They spoke some English but mostly rapid French and neither husband nor I could catch a word. It was nice, though, to sit there and listen. We need to learn more French...

    We were both looking forward to seeing Chenonceau. We'd seen pictures of it everywhere, even on the cover of our Michelin Green Guide for the Loire Valley! We got there around 10am and there were lots of people around. It was the most crowded attraction we'd visited but the crowds weren't oppressive once we got inside.

    We could certainly understand its popularity! It's gorgeous, well maintained, with beautiful grounds, and a riveting history. Its guide had pictures of each room (which I loved) and was easy to follow. Each room seemed prettier than the previous. And the flower arrangements were gorgeous! We toured all the rooms then lingered in the special exhibit which detailed the history of the chateau through the people that have owned it or lived there. Very interesting and very well done. We took pictures from both Gardens: I liked Catherine DeMedici's best but loved the little caretaker's "cottage" on Diane de Poitier's side. We also visited the little village where carriages where displayed. We walked through the well tended gardens (flowers, plants, vegetables) and said hello to the goats before leaving. This chateau vaulted up to Number 1 on my list (after Cheverny).

    We stopped in the village and had sandwiches at the open patisserie. Delish. We decided to head back to Amboise to see the castle and possibly Clos Luce. We got totally turned around heading to the castle--ended up in a really ritzy looking neighborhood high on the hill--but wound our way down to the castle parking. It was actually a nice detour.

    Amboise Castle is old and, like Beynac in the Dordogne, is positioned high over the river and town. But that's all they have in common. Amboise castle is very well maintained, the guide is well done, the displays in the castle itself were helpful and we were lucky to see beautiful pottery from Gian in each room to commemorate Francois I. There were also fresh flower arrangements. The views were outstanding on this beautiful late afternoon. We found DaVinci's grave marker in the chapel, saw his bust in the gardens, took tons of pictures and headed out.

    It was now 4pm. We had plenty of time to tour Clos Luce but we were tired, so we had drinks instead. We seated ourselves inside a bar, away from the smokers, looking at the castle and relaxed for a good while. It was such a pretty evening that we wandered around Amboise, after getting ice cream at Amorino, window shopping.

    We drove back to the B&B only to find our street blocked off because of road work. The proprietress helped us move the barriers but husband couldn't manoeuver into the very narrow driveway because half the street was torn up. She got in the car and took us to her parking spot a block and a half away (so nice!). We asked her where was a good place for dinner and she recommended La Reserve and made reservations for us for 730pm.

    We headed out around 645pm. We went back to the bar and had drinks before dinner watching the setting sun beautifully illuminate the castle walls. When we got to La Reserve, we were glad for our reservation since it was packed. This is a nice modern looking but comfortable place with efficient staff and good food. I, unfortunately, developed a bad headache and couldn't enjoy it as much a husband did. Short walk back to the room to pack up and sleep before leaving for Paris the next day.

    Takeaways:
    1. Some slacking is ok on vacation (two castles in one day ='s slacking, lol).
    2. Drink more water.
    3. Win the lottery so we can buy a place on the Loire river.

    Next: Traffic jams derail the plans

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    To Paris!

    Day 11: Traffic jams derail the plans

    We breakfasted with a bunch of americans at the B&B. All very nice and all on longer holidays that us, sigh. We paid Ms. Yveline, thanked her and were on our way pretty early. We had our last long drive of the trip and wanted to stop in Chartres for the Cathedral before getting to Paris.

    We routed ourselves using our Michelin maps. We debated about which AutoRoute to take: A28 to Lemans to A11 to Chartres, or A10 to Orleans up to Chartres on N154. We decided on the A10. This turned out to be the wrong choice because of a multi-car and semi truck accident that stopped traffic for TWO hours between exits 13 and 12 (ours). Three lanes of traffic completely stopped for TWO hours = misery and no Chartres for us.

    We got off at the first possible exit after the traffic started moving again. Filled up with diesel and munched on grocery store sandwiches and chips. Because we didn't want to arrive in Paris really late, we (very disappointed) decided to skip the detour to Chartres. Without the traffic delay, we would have been there in plenty of time for Malcolm Miller's tour at 1130am. The Cathedral will be high on the agenda next time.

    Traffic flowed pretty light and easy right until the outskirts of Paris. We had turned on the GPS and also had a printout of the route (from google maps) and were confident we were headed to Hertz at Gare de Lyon to return the car.

    The GPSs estimated time of arrival proved to be off by an hour because of ANOTHER multicar accident that was blocking two out of three lanes on Quai Branley. We were beyond frustrated. Husband has driven in Europe (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain, England, Belgium, Netherlands) numerous times in the past 18 years and we have NEVER encountered one major accident, much less two in one day! Aargh.

    We parked the car in the garage, hoped that it had enough fuel to pass the inspection, then went upstairs to the Hertz office. This process took about a half an hour but all was well and we didn't owe anything more than the extra 132E that the agent in Lyon had tacked on.

    We decided to have a drink at Le Train Blue since we were at the Gare de Lyon for the first time. It was a nice break but we were not lucky enough to get seated in the section looking at the beautiful dining room.

    Husband had his Navigo Decouverte from 2012 (I forgot mine) and it was rechargeable for 25E. We decided against doing that because we would not need the metro that much. We got the Carnet of 10 tickets and took the train to the Hotel de Ville stop. Very easy.

    We came out of the Metro station to the beautiful Hotel de Ville and I was immediately happy! I was back in my favorite city on a gorgeous autumn afternoon!

    We found our building and went up the four flights of winding stairs to our little rental apartment (www.parisbestlodge.com crazyview), let ourselves in and called Thierry who would meet us in 90 minutes to go over stuff and collect the fee. I took pictures of the magnificent view then we went looking for groceries and refreshment.

    The apartment is small. It's long and narrow, with sloping floors and a lower than 8 foot ceiling. The dining table, sofa (bed), and kitchen are all in one. The very small bathroom is across from the dining table. The bathroom is really tiny. The bedroom is separate with a good sized bed (probably a US queen) up against one wall. It was pretty comfortable. The bedroom had a good sized closet as you enter and I was able to completely unpack; husband chose not to. Did not like: no hooks for towels or jackets so we ended up draping them over the chairs. No place to put an unpacked suitcase (why can't they have at least one of those luggage racks?). No lighting at all in the kitchen: we took the shade off a lamp and placed it on a shelf in the kitchen which helped. Hot water ran out one morning (we don't take long showers, either!). No place to put a book or my glasses on my side of the bed. Loved: The view! Great location. Liked: The apartment was very clean. It was well stocked with soap, toilet paper, detergent, etc. etc. Thierry was very responsive about the hot water issue. Washer/dryer worked. Good price. We would have liked it a lot more had the bed had been a bit bigger and it wasn't up four flights of stairs. We also decided we like staying in the 7th more than in this area. Bottom line: Overall, the apartment was what I expected and I can recommend it to others if you know its limitations. The view is amazing!

    We walked over to Notre Dame Cathedral and walked in briefly since a mass was going on. We found a little grocery store and picked up essentials for breakfast. We carried our grocery bag into Au Bougnat which has a nice bar. We sat at the bar with beer and wine and decided to eat dinner there that night (made a reservation before leaving). We walked back up to the apartment and met with Thierry.

    Dinner at Au Bougnat was quite good. It was pretty crowded, with tables for two lined up against one wall, very close together. One waitress spoke fluent Spanish (she's French but lived in Argentina and is glad to be back home) so I could communicate. Husband loved his beef with vegetables and I enjoyed my risotto with shrimp.

    We took the long way back to the apartment, passing by Notre Dame and Hotel de Ville. It was wonderful to be in Paris!

    Takeaways:
    1. You cannot prepare for traffic accidents.
    2. Hope there's a "next time" so you can do the things you couldn't because of the stupid traffic delays. (Malcolm Miller please don't die before we get there...)
    3. If all train stations had a Le Train Blue like Gare de Lyon, we might take more trains!
    4. We'll be returning the car to the airport in the future. Driving to Gare de Lyon wasn't hard, just frustrating because of the traffic accident and delays.
    4. Paris is beautiful.

    Next: It's cold, 3 museums, 4 churches, a special lunch, and a concert at Sainte Chapelle.

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    St. Germain and the Latin Quarter

    Day 12: It's cold, 3 museums, 4 churches, a special lunch, and a concert at Sainte Chapelle.

    We slept pretty well in our little apartment. We broke our fast on eggs and toast we'd bought at the little store nearby. Tasty! It had turned cold, windy and gloomy overnight. Sadly, this weather would prevail throughout our stay.

    Today we'd be venturing into a part of Paris we'd explored but little on previous trips: St. Germain and the Latin Quarter. On the agenda: Musee Delacroix, buy 4 day Museum Pass, St. Germain des Pres and St. Sulpice churches, lunch at Les Papilles, the Pantheon, St. Etienne du Mont church, (Musee Moyen Age Cluny, St. Severin church), concert at St. Chapelle.

    We bundled up and took the metro to St. Germain des Pres stop. One great thing about staying on Ile de la Cite was its centrality. We felt this location was busy and touristy but super convenient.

    We found our way to the somewhat hidden Musee Delacroix, bought our tickets and toured this small, un-crowded and interesting museum. How I would love to have this as my home! No wonder Delacroix could create his gorgeous works of art here: it felt peaceful with light filled, comfortable rooms. The studio in the back and the garden were delightful.

    We next headed to St. Germain des Pres church. We popped into the garden at Square Laurent-Prache because the Blue Guide talked about the Picasso sculpture in the center and the remains of sculptures from the Lady Chapel at St. Germain des Pres.

    St. Germain des Pres church was founded in 558 as part of a Benedictine Abbey. It was desecrated in the Revolution and has undergone many changes as a result. The 6th Century chapel was closed for renovation but we were able to follow the Blue Guide around this interesting church. It was dark inside and hard to see the remaining frescoes. It is badly in need of restoration.

    Back outside, we took in the confluence of the three brasseries, Café des Deux Magots, Café de Flore and Brassiere Lipp, before making our way over to St. Sulpice. We passed a Pierre Herme and just had to get macaroons (oh so delicious!).

    St. Sulpice is handsomely situated on a nice little piazza with a pretty fountain. The church itself was also very impressive. Per the Blue Guide: The organ is humongous and supposedly one of the biggest in existence; the two clamshell water holders were presented to Francois I by Venetians and are on rare marble pillars by Pigalle (we didn't know Pigalle was a sculptor, thought it was just the sketchy street in Montmartre!); we found the bronze meridian line but the sun was too weak to illuminate anything. And unfortunately, the Delacroix frescoes were under restoration and not visible at all. I liked this church.

    We had a 1230pm reservation for lunch at Bistroy Les Papilles (30 rue Gay-Lussac) so routed ourselves there. It was a bit longer walk than I had anticipated so we didn't get to meander through the Luxenbourg Gardens.

    We arrived to an almost full restaurant. Les Papilles is tiny with really fun, colorful floor tiles and a pretty bar area. The wines are on shelves along the wall where we sat. The service was great. We both got the beautifully presented and delicious cauliflower soup. Husband followed that with lamb shoulder and vegetables (outstanding) and I had a tuna steak (I don't love fish but there was nothing else on the menu for me). I loved husband's veggies and sauce! We shared his panna cotta which was outstanding--the best dessert we had all trip. Excellent lunch. I'd love to go back.

    We walked outside to light rain. We were headed to the Pantheon but noticed the Institut Oceanographic, the Institut de Geograpie and a sign about Musee Curie. We asked the guy at the door but he said the Musee Curie was closed. This was contrary to our Blue Guide but we didn't speak enough French to clarify. Per google, it looks like it was a block away from where we were. At any rate, we missed it.

    Our next stop was the Pantheon (free with museum pass). This is a humongous building. It felt cold to me, both in temperature and aura. I think it's just too big, too ostentatious, too much. It was softened somewhat by the beautiful frescoes depicting the life of Saint Genevieve. I liked watching Foucault's Pendulum swing; it's fascinating to me, and to many others by the number of folks around it. We visited the tombs of Victor Hugo, Rousseau, Voltaire, etc. I'm not surprised I didn't like this Pantheon since I also don't like the one it's based on in Rome. The outside is almost completely renovated and was clean and fresh.

    We made our way over to St. Etienne-du-Mont church which is a shrine to Saint Genevieve. It's a really pretty church; I loved the purple doors. Inside is light, airy, and expansive but still intimate feeling. The "Reinaisssance jube" or "rood screen," 1525-1535, (Blue Guide) was spectacular. I don't remember ever seeing one of these "jube's" before. We paid homage to Saint Genevieve at her shrine and found a somewhat hidden room, just off the rectory, to see the stunning 1605-1609 stained glass windows that are at eye level. The Cluny has stained glass windows at eye level but I don't remember ever seeing them so up close in a church before. I really liked this church.

    It was only 4pm so we looked at the map and headed to the Musee du Moyen Age/Cluny (free with museum pass). There were lots of students from the nearby universities walking around in costumes doing skits and busy getting to and from classes. A semester at the Sorbonne would probably be the experience of a lifetime--wish I'd had the opportunity when I was younger...

    We visited the Cluny in 2003 and 2005. But I did not remember all of the incredible items it had on display. Yes, the original statues from Notre Dame, the stained glass fragments from various churches, including Sainte Chapelle, the remains of the Roman Baths, and the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are all here. But the altarpieces, tapestries, the late 7thC Visigothic votive crown, the 1330 Golden Rose, illuminated manuscripts, medieval weaponry, a book of combat techniques, etc., etc. are all outstanding too. The Blue Guide is heavy but it sure is informative! Husband and I both very much enjoyed this return visit to the Cluny.

    Around 530pm, we headed back to Ile de la Cite but popped into St. Severin on the way. Nice church. We were looking for a place to have a drink but no place called our name so we kept walking and just went back to the apartment to refresh before the 7pm concert (Vivaldi's Four Seasons) at Sainte Chapelle.

    Husband groaned when I told him about the concert but it was actually very nice (he liked it). I bought tickets ahead of time on www.billetreduc.com for 23E per person. We went through security and were directed to the right and up to the second floor of the Palais de Justice, so we entered via the Upper chapel (not via the lower chapel like on regular tours). When we arrived, it was still light enough out that some of the stained glass windows--now all renovated--were glowing. So beautiful. We were in the middle of the three sections which was just fine. It was not sold out. The concert was about an hour long and it was lovely. It's such a beautiful setting that it's hard not to enjoy the music. Very glad we did this.

    It rained very hard right after the concert ended so we all lingered as long as possible in the Palais de Justice. Finally, security ushered everyone out into the wet night. Husband and I made our way back to Au Bougnat and snagged a table at the bar where we had fries and eggrolls and drinks before heading back to the apartment for the night. It had been a wonderful day in Paris!

    Takeaways:
    1. So many churches, so little time!
    2. The Blue Guide Paris is heavy but wonderfully comprehensive.
    3. Les Papilles--outstanding!
    4. Musee National du Moyen Age Cluny--outstanding!
    5. Concert at Sainte Chapelle--outstanding!
    6. I love Paris! :)

    Next: Walk with a Greeter, Arts and Crafts, Picasso, Monet and all their friends.

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    Passages and Museums

    Day 13: Walk with a Greeter, Arts and Crafts, Picasso, Monet and all their friends.

    We had a 1030am appointment with our Paris Greeter, Joel. He decided to meet us at the apartment because of our interest in history. It was a very cold, windy day with a few sprinkles of rain. Miserable for walking, really. Joel is a 60-something retired engineer who lives with his wife and adult son in the suburbs. His daughter, her husband and their baby live in Australia.

    Joel started the Greet by talking about the origins of Paris. He lead us to rue des Ursins where we had walked several times in the previous days. He showed us markings on the street that delineated the old roman wall. He explained how the city grew and changed over time and showed us drawings of the walls and settlements. Fascinating.

    We went from Ile de la Cite over the bridge by Hotel du Ville up past St. Merri Church (gorgeous red door), through passages--some nice, others very seedy with prostitutes lingering about--past the gates at Pte. St. Martin and Pte. St. Denis. After one last passage (Prado), we were too cold, tired and disheartened by this poorer, seedier side of Paris to continue so asked him to lead us to food and drinks. We ended up at Le Cerceau (129 Boulevard de Sebastopol) for a very nice lunch. Joel then lead us over to the Musee des Arts et Metiers where we said goodbye. Overall, we both enjoyed this walk with Joel. I liked learning about the history of Paris more than walking through the passages and we were certainly unlucky with the cold, windy, damp weather, but we definitely appreciated Joel's time and energy!

    The Musee des Arts et Metiers (Arts and Crafts, free with museum pass) is filled with interesting old and new objects. There is way too much to see! We stopped and marveled at Pascal's calculator (he may be a distant relatives of mine), Lovoisier's laboratory, Foucault's brilliance (dude figured out how to measure the speed of light in 1862!), the robots, the looms, cameras, machinery, cars, bikes, etc., etc., on our way to the Chapel which has Foucault's pendulum (fascinating!) and so many incredible vehicles and airplanes cleverly hung from the ceiling. We climbed the ramp to the top--it is really high and a little scary at the top and took lots of photos. This Museum merits a lot more time than we gave it but I'm so glad we saw what we did.

    We took the metro to the Picasso Museum (free with museum pass). We visited this museum on our first trip and remembered it fondly. We had liked that the art was displayed chronologically in the rooms of the house. The museum has undergone a major renovation and some rooms were closed for the upcoming one year celebration of re-opening. I'm not a big Picasso fan; I like his early stuff more than the later. I like when a museum shows the artist's life and progression but I don't feel this new Picasso museum does that. I didn't get a sense of Pablo, it just felt disjointed. The house is gorgeous but cold. I don't need to go back. My favorite one-artist museum is still the Van Gogh in Amsterdam--it was biographical, comprehensive, and I "got" Vincent after visiting.

    Husband was hankering for his favorite Parisian treat--falafels at L'as du Fallafel. We've eaten there every time we've visited Paris. On our way we popped into two pretty gardens, Square Georges Cain and Jardin des Rosiers-Joseph-Migneret, and enjoyed a bit of tranquility in the busy Marais. Husband enjoyed his falafel immensely while I snacked on fries and wine. We decided to cancel our reservation for dinner at Le Florimond because no way would we be hungry in a couple of hours!

    Just like husband needs to have a falafel every time he visits Paris, I need to visit the Orsay (free with museum pass). It's, hands-down, my favorite museum. We arrived close to 7pm and it was pretty crowded. We started off in the Toulouse Lautrec rooms, passed by the gorgeous sculptures and the model of the opera house on our way to the Impressionists. I looked at every single painting and lost husband along the way. There are so many paintings in this collection that I love but I discovered a new favorite, Edouard Manet's L'Evasion de Rochefort, which lifted and broke my heart at the same time.

    Back among the sculptures to the Post-Impressionist rooms then on to the decorative arts section with the gorgeous belle époque furnishings. We walked through a few more galleries (Georges Clairin's intense Sarah Bernhardt caught my eye) but our energy was lagging so we headed out. Goodnight, L'Orsay, until next time!

    We took the RER back to Ile de la Cite, walked by gorgeous Notre Dame then stopped at Au Bougnat again for snacks and drinks before bed. Another fabulous day in Paris!

    Takeaways:
    1. A Greeter can provide great insight into a city. It's a fantastic program.
    2. Love the museum pass!
    3. The Chapel at the Musee Arts et Metiers is outstanding.
    4. L'Orsay never disappoints.
    5. I love Paris even when it's cold and gloomy. And I HATE cold weather. :)

    Next: City Hall, Monet, a special lunch, and more Monet.

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    <<We were a bit disappointed because the boat just went from Beynac, under the bridge that the resistance used to hide ammunition during WWII, to the Chateau de Fayrac before turning back. We thought it would get closer to Castelnaud.>>

    It can't. The river's too shallow.

    Thanks for the report.

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    Thanks, runningtab, for that information. I had no idea the river was too shallow. I'm from New Orleans and we never had that problem with the Mississippi!

    Lyon was a delight, Joannyc. Very easy to navigate and a lot to see.

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    I so enjoyed following along on your report.
    The Dordogne remains one of our favorite adventures in France...so many wonderful places to see and it was fun revisiting the same sites & restaurants with you. The Loire Was worth 2 visits for us and we still haven't seen everything so I took some notes from you.

    Can never get enough of Paris....always a must before or after any other France location. Tiny Au Bougnat is a favorite. We skipped it on our last (Oct.'15) trip but remember that the food was always good. A few years ago I reviewed it on Trip Advisor (as I like to do) and through the years 6,000+ people have read that review. It remains my most read review, and I review everything. It is always a "hey, we don't have reservations, it's easy & close by, let's go to Au Bougnat" kind of place. But through the years it's become more popular and sometimes you need a reservation.

    I like your idea of "Takeaway" at the end of each day and I am looking forward to the rest of your report.

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    Just found this, nola77382, and enjoyed it very much (got the last days on your blog). Looking forward to your photos.

    Restaurant le Meurice Alain Ducasse meal sounded so amazing. Sorry if I missed this, but how far in advance to you arrange Paris Greeters?

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    For some reason, I can't post the narrative from the last three days of our trip from the computer I've been using for months. aargh, frustrating! This has been the problem with getting photos uploaded, too.

    At any rate, thanks for still reading! I'll get the last three days on fodors one way or the other but here's the blog links:

    Day 14: http://herewegoagain-france2015.blogspot.com/2015/10/unforgettable-experiences.html

    Day 15: http://herewegoagain-france2015.blogspot.com/2015/10/our-last-sighseeing-day-in-paris.html

    Day 16: http://herewegoagain-france2015.blogspot.com/2015/10/back-to-reality.html

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    @TPAYT, thanks for reading. I'm sure I read your Au Bougnat review! It was an easy, fun, tasty stop close to our apartment. We would definitely recommend it. It was crowded so we definitely needed reservations. I found we needed reservations almost everywhere which made it harder to be spontaneous for dining out (at peak times, of course).

    @TDudette, I sent the request in 8 weeks before our trip. They responded 2.5 weeks later with a proposal for the walk. It's a really great program.

    And yes, Restaurant le Meurice Alain Ducasse was fantastic! And definitely a splurge! I took pictures of every course and will get the photos up as soon as I can.

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    TD -- hi! we did Paris Greeters on our trip to Paris this past Nov/Dec. I sent a general inquiry several months in advance. They responded promptly to get back to them about 1 month before our trip which I did. We didnt hear about the where and exact time until closer to the trip. One of the things we said we liked was architecture. They sent us to La Defense not some place I would have thought to go. It turned out to be really interesting. On the TR I did someone responded that they never heard back from Paris Greeters. should that happen, I wouldn't hesitate to just email them again. Have a great trip!

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    G7 cabs was not a flat rate. I think we paid 80Euro tip included. There was a lot of traffic so the trip to the airport took a long time. I called them the morning before we left to arrange the pick up.

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    I always call G7 the night before. You pay a supplement for them coming from where they areto pick you up, but the supplement is pretty small if you call the night before and they can arrange for a cab near you to pick you up. I wouldn't wait until the day you need a ride.

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    nola - thank you so much for the information on tours of the Hotel de Ville! I had no idea it was open for tours weekly (with reservations). I'll be there for 4 weeks in December - January and will absolutely take a tour. I'm so excited to add this to all the things I have planned. Again, thank you so much for the tip!

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    @TDudette & StCirq, I gave G7 about 24 hours notice before pick up.

    @Dee_Dee, you're very welcome. I thought Hotel de Ville was worth the effort to get in! It's just beautiful. As per the instructions on the website, I called 2 months in advance and spoke with a gentleman who said to email 2 weeks in advance and "they'll see" if they could accommodate us. The phone number I called was 00 33 1 42 76 54 04. Then I emailed was Daniel . colomar at paris . fr

    Good luck!

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