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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 10th, 2013, 09:06 PM
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Really enjoying your trip report Susan. We were in Bruges a year ago and loved it despite the tourists. Funny that we also had some issues getting there by train. We took the Eurostar from London but managed to get on the wrong train in Brussels thanks to wrong instructions from one of the information office employees. The conductor set us straight, just had to get off at one stop and hop on the next train.

Would love to hear more about your Paris hotel as our favorite has become too expensive. And finally, you toured in a 2CV! I fell in love when given a ride in one in England years ago. Don't know if DH could squeeze his long legs in one but we may have to try someday.
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Old Oct 10th, 2013, 10:02 PM
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LateDayTraveler, thank you so much for the kind compliment. Yes, I was truly transported, due in large part to having read that moving biography of his life in Paris, and just the place itself. I typed up hotel addresses and a couple of addresses in Paris on one page and printed it before I left home, just in case I decided to take a taxi. It worked out well

Scootoir, Thank you for following along and for chiming in. I won't be returning to Belgium in the near future. I was frustrated several times by the lack of signage, incorrect information on the posted schedule, and just lack of personnel at the stations.

Hotel Dauphine is a small boutique hotel with cozy but charming rooms (at least mine was). I loved my room, the view, and the kindness of staff. The room was 221 E per night. Breakfast was an additional 12 E per day. I ate breakfast there 3 mornings, and elsewhere two days. I was quoted this rate (a little cheaper than advertised rate), and asked for a nice room facing over the street. They honored all my requests, and in the end, I was charged what they quoted me in the email. And I'm pretty sure this was an upgrade -- a superior room. The location of the hotel could not be better.
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Old Oct 11th, 2013, 10:47 AM
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For anyone interested, here are the complete Chopin preludes (said to be the best version -- Ivo Pogorelich at piano). These were composed on the island of Majorca, off the coast of Spain:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zos7bwWHNpM

Here is Claudio Arrau playing Chopin's Nocturne 15:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TOBWpdO-ws
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Old Oct 11th, 2013, 04:48 PM
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Day 7: continued...

In about 10 or 15 minutes, I was at Gare St. Lazare, but made the mistake of waiting in the wrong ticket line (for long distance travelers); I was directed to another ticket window across the station for suburban travel. Ticket in hand, I raced to the platform as I only had a few minutes. The train to Pontoise was fine, though crowded. The problems began at Pontoise station (a northwestern suburb of Paris... about a 45 minute train ride). When I arrived, I couldn't find a sign that showed the train to Auvers. My printed schedule did not include this platform number. I knew I only had 10 minutes to find it. I raced up and down stairs looking, and finally waited at the ticket window, where the young woman didn't speak English. She managed to let me know the train had already left and the next one would be leaving in one hour near the white building on platform 11. That was a very long wait at this less than pleasant station. I bought a bottle of water from a vending machine, found a bench (but not near the platform) and began the long wait. I decided it would be better to stay off my feet. I wish I had brought my iPad mini for this excursion, so I would have access to my books stored there (Kindle App). Note to self: Always have reading material).

At last, the train to Auvers was arriving at platform 11. It's a very short 15 minute train ride. I probably should have looked for a taxi at Pontoise station.

At long last, the train pulled up to Auvers-sur-Oise. My first instinct was to turn right from the station, but I sensed this was not correct, so turned around, and pretty soon I spotted the town hall, the building made famous by Van Gogh's painting. I stopped to take several photos at various angles. They had a poster of the painting next to the site (I would see many many of these posters here in Auvers, as well as in the south of France). Finally I turned around, and was astounded to find the Auberge Ravoux right behind me -- the inn where Van Gogh rented a small room, and where he took his meals daily. Again, I was transported.

I could see there was no way to enter the restaurant from the front, so walked around the side through the garden. I found a newer wooden staircase in the back, and climbed it to find a gift shop and a woman who spoke English. She explained that in order to see Van Gogh's room, I would first need to purchase a ticket from the ticket window on the other side of the garden (obscured from view when I first walked in). So, I went and bought a ticket, came back and inquired about having lunch in the restaurant. She said "You still might be able to be seated." And, forgetting that French restaurants often close at 2:30, decided to first see Van Gogh's room. I was instructed to take yet another flight of stairs up. This looked like the original stairway -- very old with peeling paint and cracks in the plaster. I have a photo of it in my online gallery. When I got up to the room, I was soon joined by a young woman from Seoul, Korea. She was nice and wanted me to take her picture with her cell phone, which I did. I stood and pondered the little "shoebox" room with no plumbing, and no furniture, save a small wooden chair that had not been his (but looked like the one in his bedroom painting).

Then I went to the tiny room next door that had been decorated with a twin bed from the era, wash basin on a marble topped table, and lovely 19th century style yellow wallpaper. From this room one can go into a little darkened theater to view a video presentation about the artist (of which I recall very little).

After this, I went back downstairs and entered the restaurant from the doors at the back and was told it was too late to be seated for lunch. I would like to have had lunch there, as Van Gogh himself ate there, daily, but at least I had a chance to step inside.

I wandered out the back gate (after getting some directions from the ticket window person) and the little road behind the Ravoux Inn garden. Aside from the paved road, it all seemed much the way it would have been in Van Gogh's time: Stone walls, quaint little houses, and at last the church -- the one he had painted with such vibrant blue background -- the gothic church that practically (to quote Morely Safer) "jumps off the canvas." Yet another poster of his painting had been placed here at the back of the church, which I was photographing as the young Korean couple were making their way back from the cemetery. They offered to take my photo in front, and that picture is also in my online gallery. I moved on.

Soon I was in open fields with a narrow road down the middle, which probably had only been a path in Van Gogh's time. I'm sure he walked down this path many times, carrying canvases to and from the fields. Just as I arrived at the cemetery, I noticed another poster of one of his paintings of this field.

I entered the cemetery, knowing that he and Theo, buried side by side, were at one of the borders, and I decided to walk to the farthest end. Soon, I had found them: Simple matching tombstones with ivy growing over their graves. It was a moving experience (photo in my online gallery), and I timed it just right, as I was alone there. As I was leaving, a family with a young child were coming over.

I made the long walk back through the fields, through the village and down to the station, only to find out the next train to Pontoise would not be leaving for another 90 minutes!! Taxis were not available; I did inquire. I found a bench outside at the platform, and decided to return to the grocery store I had passed on the way to grab a sandwich. I returned with the sandwich. By now several others were waiting. I tried not to feel miserable and bored but it was cold and uncomfortable, though I certainly wore enough layers and had gloves. I slowly ate the sandwich.

At long last, the train arrived, and I was never so happy to see it. Soon, I was in Pontoise, easily found the platform for Paris -St. Lazare, and found a seat at the platform amidst the crowd, which included some VERY STRANGE young men (I decided later they must have been on their way to Montmartre to entertain the tourists). One was wearing a colorful top hat, while his friend took a lemming or gerbil from his pocket, and juggled a few iridescent balls. I made SURE I got on a different car than they did. However, what I got was WORSE. A fellow got on dressed in military fatigues and military boots, with long hair and a big patch over one eye. He was carrying a bright orange "hobo-type" bag. He walked up and down the car, and guess he couldn't find a seat, so he came back, opened the door to the place between cars, and SAT DOWN THERE, rolled a cigarette, and lit up. He also started doing strange things. I thought he was going to blow up the train, and I was actually worried! I saw concerned looks on other passenger's faces. I decided later, he was another Montmartre "entertainer," and now I know where they all live! What a train experience (that I don't wish to repeat)!

Auvers-sur-Oise is definitely a worthwhile visit for Van Gogh fans, but I might suggest driving there. It's only a 30-minute drive from Paris, and what a hassle by train!! I've heard there are direct trains, but only at certain times of the week (they are VERY infrequent).

At last, I had reached St. Lazare train station at the north end of Paris. It was POURING rain! After a little walking around some construction zones, I found the taxi stand, and was soon on my way to my hotel. I was never so glad to be snug in my room! I wouldn't emerge again until the next morning. And yes, my feet were killing me. The bed and the remote controlled TV were a comfort.
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Old Oct 11th, 2013, 05:12 PM
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I forgot to include a very important detail: Van Gogh died from a gunshot wound in that little upstairs room I visited. Authors Naifeh and Smith theorize that he didn't shoot himself; instead, their research suggests a teenage boy borrowed the gun from the innkeeper at Auberge Ravoux and somehow, either accidentally or intentionally, the gun went off: The authors of the new biography contend it was not a suicide.
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Old Oct 11th, 2013, 07:37 PM
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Susan, I always travel with a few of these:

http://www.walgreens.com/store/c/band-aid-advanced-healing-blister-cushions/ID=prod392263-product?ext=gooMedicines_ampersand_Treatments_PLA_ Adhesive_or_Liquid_Bandages_prod392263_pla&adtype= {adtype}&kpid=prod392263&sst=10164a74-d442-8468-d329-0000655e55c1
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Old Oct 11th, 2013, 07:43 PM
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Betty-- Great idea. Thanks! I did bring moleskin, but this looks better. Will take on my next trip. I also bought a sewing it with needles, but for some reason, decided not to bring. A needle would have been very helpful!
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Old Oct 11th, 2013, 09:03 PM
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I'm really enjoying your report, Susan, and your lovely photos.

On our Poland tour, we went to a Chopin piano recital performed by Maria Skurjat-Silva at the Raczynski Palace in Warsaw. She is quite well known and very talented.

http://dkubiak.smugmug.com/Travel/Tr...0082&k=mDxHVV3

Also, here is one of the photos David took of the Chopin statue in Warsaw:

http://dkubiak.smugmug.com/Travel/Tr...1338&k=VjrzqQz

Regarding the Deux Chevaux, when we lived in Vienna in 1983-84, we saw quite a few of them around town. The Austrians referred to them as Die Ente, the Duck, and then they would laugh!!
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Old Oct 11th, 2013, 09:03 PM
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I'm really enjoying your report, Susan, and your lovely photos.

On our Poland tour, we went to a Chopin piano recital performed by Maria Skurjat-Silva at the Raczynski Palace in Warsaw. She is quite well known and very talented.

http://dkubiak.smugmug.com/Travel/Tr...0082&k=mDxHVV3

Also, here is one of the photos David took of the Chopin statue in Warsaw:

http://dkubiak.smugmug.com/Travel/Tr...1338&k=VjrzqQz

Regarding the Deux Chevaux, when we lived in Vienna in 1983-84, we saw quite a few of them around town. The Austrians referred to them as Die Ente, the Duck, and then they would laugh!!
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Old Oct 11th, 2013, 09:05 PM
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Oops, problem with the Fodor's website. Sorry for the double post.
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Old Oct 11th, 2013, 09:28 PM
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Hi, Betty -- Thanks for the kind words, and no problem regarding the double post. The site has been freezing a bit lately.

Yes, those 2CV are so cute. Fun to ride in, too.

Thanks for sending these links.
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Old Oct 12th, 2013, 03:57 AM
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Hi again Susan001,

I enjoyed following your journey to Auvers, something like that of a pilgrim, encountering many difficulties before arriving at the shrine. I had read before that getting there by public transportation was a challenge which obviously it is. Loved the description of Van Gogh’s room and the surrounding countryside where he painted during his last days. Wonderful.

I would suggest a short book for Van Gogh lovers – THE YELLOW HOUSE Van Gogh, Gaugin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles by Martin Gayford which poignantly relates Vincent’s troubled life shortly before his sojourn in Auvers. Much of it shows the strong bond between Vincent and his brother Theo who was such a support to him. Strange how Theo’s death followed so soon after that of his troubled brother. And to see their gravesites – that must have been special.

I can just picture you collapsing back at the Dauphine after such a trek. From the way you described your room, I think it was an upgrade. Mine was on a lower floor without a view (actually had a window on a tiny “courtyard.”) But no matter, I just loved the location. I probably mentioned before that it was suggested to me by a neighbor who stayed there a year before. Nothing like a word-of-mouth recommendation.

Also, BettyK, thanks for the great pics of Warsaw and the Chopin concerts…very interesting.
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Old Oct 12th, 2013, 05:38 AM
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Enjoying your report immensely! And your photos are amazing. Thanks for sharing with this Paris deprived person! ;^)
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Old Oct 12th, 2013, 08:08 AM
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Hi LateDayTraveler: Thank you for following along and for your comments.

About the hotel: I was pretty sure this was an upgrade. The shower-head holder was broken -- perhaps that's why they allowed me to have the room. No matter: I was thrilled to have it. The shower head worked find; I just had to hold it, as the fixture that would otherwise have held it was broken. I did not complain about this, and will not, because everything else was perfect, and I know the superior rooms can be 100 E more per night than what I paid.

I saw the location of The Yellow House in Arles this trip. An errant WWII bomb intended for the Roman bridge over the Rhone) demolished it. They have a poster standing nearby of Van Gogh's painting of the house, Standing at that location, I could see the house that stood behind (which he also painted) and the place where the Yellow House once stood. A cafe stands there now.

I will make a note of this book, and thanks for recommending it. I haven't gotten to this stage of his life in the biography I'm currently reading (which is quite long -- 800+ pages!).
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Old Oct 12th, 2013, 08:11 AM
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ParisAmsterdam: Thanks so much for reading my report and for your kind comment regarding my photos. Aside from some bad weather and foot problems during the first part, this was a fulfilling trip experience.
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Old Oct 12th, 2013, 12:14 PM
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Day 8: September 15 -- I woke up, looked out the window, and was surprised to find sunshine with fluffy white clouds!! Got myself ready, packed my suitcase, as I would be leaving today, and had breakfast downstairs (I decided after trying some local cafes, the hotel offers a reasonable breakfast). The front desk clerk graciously said yes to holding my luggage in a back room while I did some more wandering on this glorious day.

I decided to walk to St. Sulpice and experience at least part of the mass, which began at 10:30 (I left the hotel about this time). I walked into the foyer area, and lots of people (mostly tourists) were standing in the back area, so I was not alone. I am not catholic, but enjoyed the choir and the pipe organ very much. I stayed for about 15 or 20 minutes, and then quietly left to find a very large market going on in the square just outside. I didn't shop. Instead, I took photos, and then kept walking. I had no particular goal except to wander and take in the beautiful blue skies. Don't let anyone tell you photos are better on cloudy days. It simply isn't true. The sky goes white, and everything is dull. My Paris gallery is proof of this. The photos I took on this last day are so much better.

I wandered back over to the Seine and Nortre Dame to capture some more images of the area (with better weather), before finally heading back to the hotel. My goal was to get to the train station by 2:00 PM. I stopped at Starbucks, just because it was convenient, and ordered a latte to go and a sandwich to take on the train. Back at my hotel, the desk clerk called a taxi for me, brought my luggage out, and with only a 10 minute wait, I was off to Montparnesse station.

I decided to buy a first class ticket to Chartres rather than my usual 2nd class. I've decided it's WORTH IT to pay a little more for peace and quiet. I didn't have this option on the journey to and from Auvers, as they are all regional trains.

I managed to get on the 3:05 PM train for Chartres, and was there at the station after one hour.

Today was the day I would be joining a Rick Steves tour here in Chartres (I know, I know... this is probably an unpopular option on this forum, but at the time I booked, it seemed like a reasonable way to see the Loire Valley chateaux and the Dordogne (at least for an overview), in addition to Carcassonne.

The directions they sent were easy to follow, and the Hotel Chatelet was just a short 5 minute walk from the station. The tour meeting with the guide would be at 5 PM, so I had just enough time to unpack a few things, freshen up, and check my wifi access on my iPad Mini.

5:00: met the tour group of 23 Americans, half of them single women (unusual), and our guide for the first half of the tour, Christine. Following our meeting, she took us on a short walk around the cathedral and through the village, ending at the restaurant where we would have our first included meal. It was actually good (and ended up being one of the better meals we had), followed by a walk over to see the TREMENDOUS light show projected onto the cathedral. I have photos of this in my online gallery:

Chartres photos:
http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/chartres
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Old Oct 12th, 2013, 12:45 PM
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"half of them single women (unusual)" - my first RS tour, France in 1998 (with Patrick), was the same. I've only been on one tour where I was the only single.
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Old Oct 12th, 2013, 01:19 PM
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Hi thursdaysd: Other people on my tour who had done several of these, said there are always at least a couple of singles (sometimes a few) but 13 is unusual. 4 of us had single supplements, 4 women shared, 2 came as friends and shared a room, 2 were sisters and shared a room, and one single guy who always had his own room. (I guess that makes more than half of the group single).
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Old Oct 12th, 2013, 03:21 PM
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I've told my husband about your report and how I will have many surprises for him on our next trip to Paris (the Chopin locations).

On my four RS tours, most people came with at least one other person. There were usually only about two on each tour that came alone. All tours are different. I had two wonderful groups, one average group, and one group that I barely remember.
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Old Oct 12th, 2013, 03:47 PM
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KL467: so glad you will be visiting some of the Chopin places. There's also his tomb at Pere Lachase, which I didn't get to this time. Interesting note: Sand's son-in-law with whom she broke all ties (fist fight between them!) did the sculpture above Chopin's tomb.
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