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Chopin's Paris and Van Gogh's France: a September journey

Chopin's Paris and Van Gogh's France: a September journey

Old Oct 6th, 2013, 09:01 AM
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Chopin's Paris and Van Gogh's France: a September journey

I returned a week ago from a fabulous three week trip which started in Bruges, Belgium and ended in Nice.

About me: I just retired last June from high school English teaching. I've been a student of piano for 3 years, and have loved the music of Chopin most of my adult life. Having recently read Chopin in Paris, I was determined to get to at least a couple of his apartment buildings (still standing) while in Paris. I was not disappointed.

About the trip: I decided to include Bruges in this trip by stopping there first. If hindsight were as good as foresight, I would have skipped Bruges this trip and flown nonstop to Paris. I went to a great deal of trouble (missed trains included) to get to Bruges, with terrible jet lag upon arrival in Brussels. Lesson learned!

From Bruges I went straight to Paris for 5 nights.

After Paris, I joined a Rick Steves tour in Chartres that went through the Loire Valley, Dordogne, Carcassonne, Arles, Les Baux, and Nice. The fact that I did an RS tour might be met with some vitriol on this forum. At the time it seemed a reasonable way to see an area (Loire and Dordogne especially) not well serviced by public transportation. Would I do another tour? More on this later. I usually travel independently.

Not wishing to rent a car this trip, I also booked a day tour of the Lot with a private driver/ guide who lives in the region. That was the best day of the trip!

Where I stayed: In Bruges I stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast place called Huis Koning, located right on a canal. The hosts couldn't have been nicer! In Paris, thanks to advice from LateDayTraveler, I stayed at Rue Dauphine, which couldn't have been more conveniently located -- a 3- minute walk to the Seine between Orsay and Notre Dame. I enjoyed my stay there. The hotels on the tour (beginning in Chartres) were fine: some more charming than others.

Favorite days on the trip: Visiting Chopin's and Sand's residences at Square d'Orleans in Paris, visiting Van Gogh's Auvers-sur-Oise, exploring the Lot region with a private driver, visiting the cave art at Rouffignac, and a visiting Van Gogh's asylum at St. Remy.

All in all, this was one of my favorite trips ever -- I largely attribute this to the beauty of the Dordogne and Lot regions, and an opportunity to step back in time to view the worlds of Chopin and Van Gogh.
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Old Oct 6th, 2013, 12:01 PM
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My Paris photos are now online:

http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/paris_2013
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Old Oct 6th, 2013, 12:09 PM
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Topping for a lovely read. Great so far!
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Old Oct 6th, 2013, 12:10 PM
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Also, I need to thank everyone who chimed in with recommendations. Thanks to Latedaytraveler for recommending Hotel Dauphine and the Hemingway Walk. Both were great! Thanks also to Go_laura for recommending La Cuisine de Philippe -- the best meal I had on the trip.
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Old Oct 6th, 2013, 12:17 PM
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Thanks, nukesafe!
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Old Oct 6th, 2013, 12:36 PM
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Susan,

I enjoyed hearing about your trip and seeing your wonderful photographs. Thanks so much for sharing them.
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Old Oct 6th, 2013, 12:41 PM
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Scootoir -- thank you so much!
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Old Oct 6th, 2013, 01:24 PM
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Hi Susan 001,

I was so excited to see your report and read that you were satisfied with the Hotel Dauphine and the Hemingway walk. Loved your pics. Was the Chopin property accessible or a “walk by?” It reminded me somewhat of the Delacroix Museum (his residence/studio) on the lovely Rue Furstenberg off Boulevard St. Germain not far from the hotel.

Glad that you visited Auvers-sur-Oise to see VanGogh’s resting place. I loved that pic of the staircase in VanGogh's house. How did you get there? How did you do on the Metro?

Really looking forward to the rest of the story….
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Old Oct 6th, 2013, 01:35 PM
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Hi LateDayTraveler,

I'm so glad you found my report, and I must thank you again for the hotel recommendation. I found it to be charming with friendly staff, and so conveniently located. Loved the Hemingway - Joyce walk, and Chris is an exceptional guide for that. No, the Chopin apartments are not accessible, and I feel they should be; it's not likely to happen. Each building has been divided into various smaller apartments and suites for businesses. In fact, the square is usually closed to the public, but I heard they are sometimes open on Saturdays, and I found out why: Trash day!

I took a train to Auvers as a day trip and it was a difficult experience, especially the trip back (more on that later) but I was so glad I went! I really feel there should be something similar for Chopin. Maybe eventually. It will take a group with LOTS of money to make it happen. There is a very small exhibition at the Polish Library (which I visited). But it's not located in one of his apartments.
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Old Oct 6th, 2013, 03:54 PM
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Day One: Sept 8 -- I flew Lufthansa nonstop from Los Angeles International to Frankfurt, and then on to Brussels. I found Brussels airport difficult to navigate as few signs were in English. An icon of a suitcase was helpful in the trail toward baggage claim, until the icon stopped, and I was asking the girls at fast food counters where I could find Baggage claim.

Suitcase finally in hand, I set off for the airport's train depot, bought a ticket to Bruges and asked for a schedule with relevant platforms. I had to stop in Brussels Midi (even though some teenage girls on the train suggested I switch at Brussels main station: they were right, but I followed the ticket guy's instructions instead). After getting off at Brussels Midi, a deserted station on a Sunday, I walked around seemingly in circles, trying to find someone who could help. Finally, I found the train schedule posted with platforms. Platform 9, it said, would take me to Bruges. However, the train was to come in 5 minutes, and I was the only one waiting.

Finally, I asked some young girls, once again, and they said, there's your train right there, now leaving on Platform 10 (across the tracks -- to access, you must walk down a long flight of stairs, and climb another flight on the other side). I wanted to cry. Instead, I sort of said out loud as another train pulled up, "I need to get to Brussels Central." An African woman wearing a black turban said, "this is going to Brussels Central" and she helped me get my suitcase on board.

Once at Brussels Central station, I climbed a long flight of steps (with one 22" suitcase, one heavy tote, and one small flight bag. Poor planning. The ticket man there didn't need to look at a schedule to know when the next train to Brugge was. It would be leaving at platform 2 in 30 minutes. I had plenty of time, and I sensed this man knew what he was talking about.

Finally settled on my train to Bruges, 4 ladies sat across and next to me in the only remaining seats on the car. They talked incessantly in Dutch, and laughed as they shared photos, oblivious to the fact that I was longing for some peace and quiet. 2 seats down the Isle a 3 year old boy was loudly repeating, "DING DANG DONG" over and over and over. I was exhausted. Maybe I could have schlepped all my bags to another car to find the same problem. I waited it out. The loud ladies finally got off, as did the child and his grandmother.

In Bruges at last! I arrived at Huis Koning at around 4:30 PM. It was raining, and the rain stayed for my entire visit there. After getting settled in my lovely room, I took a walk -- a walk I would come to regret for the next week, as I acquired a blister on ball of my left foot walking on cobblestones in the wrong shoes! I thought my mary janes would be okay for a short stroll (I also had athletic shoes), but I got lost, making it a longer walk than I had originally thought. Wow. Many lessons on this trip, and I am making a mental note as I type!

One last thing. I started a blog about 3 months ago, before my trip, with the thought of putting a report there, but in some respects, I like this format. I'll let you know what I decide.

My Bruges photo gallery is here:
http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/bruges
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Old Oct 6th, 2013, 05:46 PM
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I have enjoyed your trip report so far. Looking forward to more. I have just returned from France and encountered the same rainy overcast weather.
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Old Oct 6th, 2013, 06:38 PM
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I love your trip report and your photos!
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Old Oct 6th, 2013, 07:00 PM
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Irishface: thanks for your comment. Yes the weather was overcast, rainy (and downright cold) for the first 2 weeks of my trip. I still enjoyed much of it, though I should have skipped Bruges this time.

KL467: thanks so much for your kind words.
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Old Oct 7th, 2013, 03:11 AM
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Hi again Susan001,

What a journey. I can feel the pain and to have a blister to boot! I fly from Boston across the pond, but leaving from the west coast makes the trip so much longer… and then the changes and train ride to Bruges.

Waiting for the next installment…
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Old Oct 7th, 2013, 03:32 AM
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Susan, one of the highlights of Warsaw for us was seeing Chopin's statue in Lazienki Park.

I love this from Wikipedia:
<i>During World War II, the statue was blown up on May 31, 1940. It was the first monument that was destroyed by the occupying Germans in Warsaw. According to local legend, the next day a handwritten sign was found at the site which read: "I don’t know who destroyed me, but I know why: so that I won’t play the funeral march for your leader."</i>
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Old Oct 7th, 2013, 05:37 AM
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Looking forward to more! Especially on the tour. I travel solo most of the time, but I have taken a few RS tours, and mostly enjoyed them.

On your difficulties with the train... another time it might help to print out the train times and details from http://www.bahn.de/i/view/GBR/en/index.shtml before you leave. The details include the platform numbers (although they are subject to change it's not all that likely). Usually there is a big electronic sign with departure information at the entrance to a station.
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Old Oct 7th, 2013, 08:22 AM
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LateDayTraveler, yes it is a VERY long flight, and this time, a connecting flight! Off to a bad start with all those trains and the blister... but things did improve!

29FEB - thank you for the information about the statue and the note that was attached!

thursdaysd-- I usually print out train schedules in advance from bahn.de I printed a schedule to get to Auvers from Paris, but not Brussels to Bruges. I guess I just had so much on my mind I forgot the obvious (and I know schedules can be printed at the ticket window). I will make sure I fly over with a schedule next time!
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Old Oct 7th, 2013, 08:39 AM
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thursdaysd-- I'd be curious to hear your RS tour experiences. Overall, I would say mine was good... the pace is what I wasn't used to. I booked a single supplement so had a room to myself. At the end, I was feeling that I wouldn't do another, but I am looking at the one of Ireland -- just so much more convenient to get to places like Dingle and the west coast. I'm gearing up for car rental in the Dordogne (France) but not sure I'm ready to take on narrow roads in Ireland (on the other side of the road).
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Old Oct 7th, 2013, 09:19 AM
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susan: I've done five RS tours. I'd say that the guides are usually great, the hotels central and the food good. I've never paid a single supplement and only had one less than totally considerate roommate. I do feel that there is too much free time. I know that's intentional, so that people will get comfortable traveling on their own, but I feel that if I'm paying for a tour, I should get more tour time.

My tours:
1998 - Western France - loved it
1999 - Western Turkey - would have loved it if I hadn't sprained my ankle...
2006 - Greece - see http://wilhelmswords.com/eur2006/index.html - Heart of Greece
2008 - Sicily - not so impressed with the guide - see http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...ing-sicily.cfm
2011 - Bulgaria - not so impressed with the itinerary, or a few of the other travelers - start here: http://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com/...tour-in-sofia/
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Old Oct 7th, 2013, 03:45 PM
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Very interesting about the tours you've experienced, thursdaysd. I would always book a supplement, as my privacy is just too important. I'm not willing to share with someone I've just met, and I value my alone time. There were many singles on the tour I did (about half the total number), and 4 of us had booked single supplements. Another 4 rotated roommates, 2 sisters roomed together, and 2 friends who had booked together also roomed together. There was one single guy without the supplement, but he always got his own room. He would have had to share though, had there been another male solo traveler.
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