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Trip Report Trip Report: Paris & the Dordogne, 2013

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This is the second of three trip reports. The first part in each report will include our prepaid items such as flights, car rentals and room reservations. In most instances, the process of making reservations (and paying for them) started three to four months ahead of time, which may be why some prices may appear low (the early bird ...)

Our airplane flights were the following:

open jaw SFO to Frankfurt Heathrow to NYC ($2033-all prices for two)
We then purchased separate tickets NYC to SFO ($345), Berlin to Paris on Easyjet (110€), Limoges to Stansted on Ryanair (178€).

The train fare from Paris to Brive-la-Gaillarde was 30€

We rented three different sized cars which turned out to be the following:

a Seat Ibiza in Germany from May 10 to May 24 for $385.

An Audi A3 2-door TDI in France from June 3 to June 28 for $567

A Fiat 500 in England from June 29 to July 8 for $180

In all instances the cars had standard shift and the Fiat did not have AC in the one country where we could have used it. For those thinking of a lease, I checked the price for a lease that would cover our time in Germany and France, and it would cost twice as much as our two current rentals and the airfare from Berlin to Paris ($2300 vs. $1100). In other words, if one is willing to live with the uncertainty of having the credit card carry the CDW when permitted, renting is cheaper than a lease.

The only reservations we made were for one night in Bath and for our stay in London, although our friends in England reserved the cottage in Lyme Regis. Through Expedia we obtained a room in Bath for $118 at the Oldfields House. We used Airbnb for our July 7 to July 11 London stay which cost us $385. We are fortunate in that the only other direct housing expense was from May 10 to May 24 when we traveled in Germany and for our week’s stay in Lyme Regis (300 GBP). Otherwise we stayed with friends, relatives and our place in the Dordogne (for which we pay utilities, taxes and upkeep every year, whether we use it or not).

Our other expenses, including our share of the Lyme Regis rental, averaged $1100 per week for everything that was not prepaid. However, we undoubtedly spent more per week in Germany and England than in France because we did not travel as much in the Dordogne and ate mostly at home.

I mention prices because I find it frustrating to read about “reasonable” prices without seeing the actual price. What is a reasonable price for one person might be for unacceptable accommodations for the next or might be expensive for someone else.

We flew EasyJet from Berlin to Paris and stayed with friends for a few days. Our stays in Paris are split between seeing friends and being tourists. This year we visited the Musée de la Marine, the Petit Palais and the musée des Arts décoratifs, and threw in an exhibit of Dutch samplers in the Hôtel de Sens. The Musée de la Marine can be skipped as it is a navy museum rather than a general museum of boats and ships. There are some interesting models from the period when the ships were built (18th century models served as additional blue prints, so to speak), Napoleon’s galley, but as the modern period approaches, the models get less interesting. We went to the Petit Palais because the Grand Palais was closed to the public while there was a press preview for a flower show of some kind--just what we would have wanted to see, but we knew the crowds would be impossible in our remaining days in Paris. The Petit Palais is free for its permanent collection as are other museums owned by the city of Paris. We saw the Jules Dalou exhibit, and parts of the permanent exhibit (period furniture rooms). Nothing major but worthwhile for frequent Paris visitors. The building itself is quite nice. The Musée des Arts décoratifs in a wing of the Louvre is a must for those interested in interiors and their furnishings from the 17th century onwards. The Hôtel de Sens’ temporary exhibit was a curiosity, and while the building is interesting from the exterior, the interior has lost any of its Renaissance origins. A stone worker in the courtyard was cutting the cap of one of the building’s chimneys.

We ate a so-so meal with relatives in Levallois-Perret, a decent tapas meal in a Spanish restaurant near Place d’Aligre while waiting for our friends to come home and let us in, and a very good meal at Le Villaret, 13 rue Ternaux, 75011 Paris (213€ for five, including 53€ for wine or $278). My wife was less surprised than our French friends when I ordered rognons blancs d’agneau for my main course; they are similar to sweetbreads in taste and texture.

We took the train from Paris to Brive-la-Gaillarde. We used to go to Limoges, as our house is one hour from either train station and the train ride from Limoges to Brive takes about an hour, meaning that going to Brive simply adds time to our travel with no advantage. However, Europcar has decided to close its Limoges office at 1 p.m. during the week, which means that cars are not available when leaving Paris after 9 a.m. On the other hand, the Brive Europcar office is open until at least 5 p.m. We had ordered a larger car than we usually do, expecting friends to pass by during our stay in the Dordogne. In the time between ordering our car and our travels, our friends backed out, but we were stuck with a bigger car, although the trunk space is not much bigger than the Seat Ibiza we drove in Germany: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/9302670895/in/set-72157623094971409/ and the next one. We wanted a 4-door and got a 2-door Audi A3 TDI. I strongly recommend against a two door car. The parking spaces in France are tighter than in the States and the two-door cars have longer doors than 4-door cars, meaning a tighter squeeze when getting out of the car parked in a garage. Other than that, the car ran fine and averaged 40 mpg. The car had a broken light but Europcar’s paper trail must be decent enough that we have not heard from them even though we left the key in the drop box at the Limoges airport; in other words we are not held responsible for someone else’s damage.

The weather was very chancy most of the time while in the Dordogne, to the point that I did not get to cut the grass around our house until two days before our departure, and the hay in the field was still uncut by the time we left. Moreover I had to deal with a persistent (2 years now) sewer problem. Time gets wasted waiting for one plumber who eventually gave up on the problem, and waiting for another who promised to come at a certain time on a certain day and never showed and never called, to calling a third and getting him to work on the problem until he decided that he had to uncover the septic tank again to access the end of the sewer pipe. This last plumber replaced a toilet with another (expensive) toilet because the original one was partially blocked with calcite deposits (a constant problem in Dordogne plumbing), but it did not solve the problem. He still has not billed me for the original installation, or for subsequent work he was supposed to do after my departure; and he does not answer e-mails.

We took a few outings: one to the château de Commarque, definitely worth a visit as the grounds also have remains of probable prehistoric occupation and medieval cave dwellings.

The other was to Aubeterre and the area around Ribérac. Aubeterre with its church carved in rock (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/9457527806/ ) is quite dramatic, facing an area which has less eye appeal than other parts of the Dordogne--lower hills and no dramatic cliffs. The physical condition of the main commercial street of Ribérac took us back 30+ years.

Our final outing was to a wine tasting in the restaurant La Gabarre. 4 vintners presented their wines, the restaurant offered a simple meal (7€ per dish) to accompany the wines or not. The house wine was one of the wines from the wine tasting. The food was good, and we definitely will try to go back under normal circumstances. From there we drove to Curemonte where I had hoped to pick up a bottle of its vin de paille, but none of the producers were selling from their garages as they had on a previous visit. We found a store in Collonges-la-Rouge which did carry the wine. Its an apéritif or dessert wine, fairly expensive as is the better known Jura vin de paille.

We had some good and some bad meals during our stay in the Dordogne. I described at length the one that I felt was unacceptable (http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/dordogne-restaurant-recommendations-help-me-update-the-list.cfm ). The others were as described, although the more I think of it, the less I feel that the “menu surprise” of la Table du Pouyaud should be the chef’s choice from the items offered on the standard menu; I could have made my own choices. The costs were: La Métairie $111, l’Imaginaire $188, la Table du Pouyaud $175, la Cuisine $50. We also made the most of the fish monger at the Wednesday Périgueux market by getting coquillettes (bay scallops in the shell) twice for a pasta with scallop sauce dinner. I also tried to stuff cuttlefish like I stuff squid, and that did not work out too well--similar animal, different structure.

We decided to sell our house. We chose one realtor for his feeling that the house could go for a much higher price than what the first realtor suggested as a listed price. We got a cash offer within three weeks, but the buyer backed out when we started negotiations. The psychological impact is interesting. Given how fast we got an offer, we were taken aback that it was only 74% of the asking price, and tried to bargain. Will we feel the same a year from now (I assume a year’s hiatus or more unless an offer comes in before the end of September) if we get a similar offer? We would like to see it sold to someone who would appreciate the architecture, but will that counter our financial interest? We’ll see what happens.

At the end of our stay returned the car at the Limoges airport and flew Ryanair to Stansted.

Here are pictures of the Dordogne, representing many visits to the area: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/collections/72157624827253292/

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