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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 12th, 2013, 04:12 PM
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susan - I don't count "paired" singles as real singles, just people traveling solo. People on RS tours are usually very friendly, but I still prefer to have some other "real" singles along.
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Old Oct 12th, 2013, 04:57 PM
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thursdaysd: I became friendly with two couples on the tour, and actually felt closer to those couples than any of the other singles. So I guess it doesn't really matter, but I wouldn't want to be the "only" single. And I guess I do count single women who travel together (but who don't live together in the states) as "single friends sharing a room."
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Old Oct 12th, 2013, 07:47 PM
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Day 9: September 16 -- A full day in Chartres.

Tour guide, Christine, took us on an hour-long walk through the village of Chartres, followed by a 10:00 appointment with author, lecturer, and scholar, Malcolm Miller, a British man who has devoted his life to the Chartres Cathedral. This was one of the highlights of the tour. We all had headsets while he quietly set out to explain (though the help of a microphone) the cathedral itself and the Biblical scenes depicted in many of the stained glass panels (I wish I'd had binoculars!). Later we stepped outside through the side exit of the cathedral to gain understanding of the relief work and sculpture there. This was truly an exceptional and enjoyable lecture. I felt honored to be in this circle with such a world-recognized scholar and authority on Chartres. I thought about buying his book in the gift shop, but decided to wait (rather than lug it all over France). Only used editions are available online, but I plan to purchase one.

After a two-hour break for lunch, we were encouraged to meet again at the stained glass museum for an included tour there, which was also interesting (photos in my online gallery). For lunch, I dined on my own at a crepe place, and glad I did. The crepes were delicious! Since I travel independently much of the time, and had just come from a week of doing so, I didn't feel the necessity of clinging to others. Later on, I did share a few meals during unstructured time when meals weren't included, but I didn't feel the need to.

I might as well take a minute here to say I haven't "written off" tours, though it's unlikely I'll be doing another in the near future. I would certainly want to be with a group if I decide to go to India or China, for instance. And I have thought of doing an RS Ireland tour later on, as the roads there, by all accounts, are anything but easy.

I'm already sketching out ideas for my next trip which will include (drum roll) a car rental! I'm finally ready to try it. It can't be worse than that awful experience in Belgium with the wrong trains, missed trains, flights of steps -- all while schlepping luggage.

As you may recall, I acquired a blister on the bottom of my foot in Bruges, and it was still giving me trouble in Chartres. Our guide Christine supplied me with Neosporin, anti-bactirial wipes, moleskin (I was running low), and more of the French "second skin" product. I felt it would get better with all this attention and it did a few days later. But after the stained glass museum tour, my feet were cooked, so I didn't venture out for dinner. It was British CNN for me.

Again, my Chartres photos are here: http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/chartres3
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Old Oct 12th, 2013, 07:48 PM
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PS: I loved the village of Chartres! It was charming and quiet when we were there.
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Old Oct 12th, 2013, 08:51 PM
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Hi Susan001,

Continuing to enjoy your report. Reminds me of my own experience on my last morning at the Dauphine, leaving my luggage and scouring the neighborhood for the last time. That’s when I went to the nearby Delacroix Musee. Sorry that I did not make it to St. Suplice, because that was the church that Delacroix had moved into the area to “redecorate” when he lived nearby. So glad you had good weather for your photography.

Interesting how you went first class to Chartres – good choice. Our stop there on my big scary bus trip was more perfunctory. But I just had to see one of Henry Adams’s subjects in his tome MONT SAINT MICHELE AND CHARTRES. Adams and company, including Edith Wharton and Henry James a bit later sojourned for months in Paris and took these chauffeur driven “motor flights” into the countryside where they leisurely examined these medieval catherals long before hoards of tourists like ourselves descended upon them. The light show is beautiful in your pics and you were so fortunate to have Malcolm Miller as a guide.

You wrote regarding the tour: “Since I travel independently much of the time, and had just come from a week of doing so, I didn't feel the necessity of clinging to others.” I hear you. It is not that important whether or not there are other “singles” on board. I often end up with couples or two gals together, or daughter and mum – doesn’t matter. Sounds as if you are definitely ready to hire a car – go for it.

Looking forward to more…
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Old Oct 13th, 2013, 09:47 AM
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Hi LateDayTravler,

Again, I'm sorry I didn't think to go to the Delacroix as it was so close-by. Thanks for the interesting history about James and Wharton taking chauffeur driven excursions to places like Chartres. I can just imagine how it might have been in those days, though I thought it relatively unspoiled today. Not many tourists in mid-September.

Regarding the car rental, I've always asked myself "what's the worst thing that can happen?" and then I remember being stuck in a ditch in Northern New Mexico on a country dirt road by myself. It was starting to snow. I was just lucky that a kind younger man, who lived back in the words with his wife, spotted me and pulled me out with his truck and and chain.

Hopefully nothing like that will happen in France or England, especially since I've learned to stay off those kind of roads. Plus, the car-in-the-ditch thing happened in the 80s before cell phones. I couldn't call anyone. It was scary.

Thanks so much for following along and for contributing to this thread.
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Old Oct 13th, 2013, 10:42 AM
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Susan,

Loved your photos of Chartres. The familiar streets reminded me of our time wandering the town several years ago. We spent so much time strolling that we missed the Malcolm Miller tour. By the time we arrived the cathedral was not at all crowded and we could enjoy to our hearts' content. If I ever get to return I want to stay for the light show--your photos were stunning. Looking forward to more about your trip.
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Old Oct 13th, 2013, 10:56 AM
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Scootoir, thanks for following along and contributing. Yes, you must see the light show at Chartres. Really spectacular ... and there were things like animated birds flying that my photos don't show. I bought a state-of-the-art compact (Cnet describes as the best enthusiast compact to date) for this trip, and was so glad I did. During my previous two trips I was carrying a DSLR with lenses. I just didn't want the size and weight of that this trip, and I have not been disappointed in the photo quality the Sony provides. Thanks for your kind words regarding the photos.
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Old Oct 13th, 2013, 11:02 AM
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Fantastic pictures of Chartres! I've never been--wow, what a cathedral.

And Susan, yes, I have some old galleries on pbase; I am way behind on updating trip photos! But as mine never turn out as well as others' (yours, for example), I feel no rush.

FWIW, I drove in the Dordogne a few years ago with a friend and no GPS. I think you could manage driving in rural France easily (especially with a GPS along).

Looking forward to your next chapter.
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Old Oct 13th, 2013, 11:22 AM
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Leely2: Thanks for the compliment regarding my photo gallery. The images don't come out of the camera this way, even though it's a state-of-the-art compact. I shoot in RAW format and develop the photos myself (rather than letting the camera do it). I use Adobe Lightroom 5 to process the images before loading them on to Pbase. I try to come up with something close to what my eye saw, but with cloudy conditions, I have to add more light and vibrance, otherwise they would look lifeless. There are a few in my next gallery which I intentionally edited "vintage." But other than those I attempted to produce images that are realistic without over-saturating, as some do.
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Old Oct 13th, 2013, 12:03 PM
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Susan, we have always done driving trips in Europe and, yes, it helped that we lived there years ago but it really isn't any different than driving here at home (except for the UK obviously).

The best thing that ever happened to us was purchasing a GPS with European maps!! It just made a world of difference. You will still want to take a map, but you won't need to refer to constantly while driving!

I'm assuming you won't be driving in any big cities. David has done so (Vienna being one), and it is easier with the GPS, but we definitely prefer driving in the smaller towns.
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Old Oct 13th, 2013, 12:13 PM
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A little late, but here is my own report about my trip to Auvers this summer: http://tinyurl.com/q2suxce
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Old Oct 13th, 2013, 12:17 PM
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And here is my last visit to Chartres as well (for people who like looking at pictures): http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...-cathedral.cfm
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Old Oct 13th, 2013, 12:58 PM
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Betty -- Thanks so much for the encouragement regarding driving. It just has to be easier than dealing with all the train changes. I will continue to take trains for longer stretches, especially high speed (first class). But for rural parts, I will try driving. I remember you and your DH sent me info once about the GPS you use. I will plan to get one.

Leely2 -- Forgot to thank you, as well, for the car rental encouragement.

kerouac -- I did see your post about Auvers before I left, and it encouraged me to go! Thanks for sending the links.
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Old Oct 13th, 2013, 01:05 PM
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I plan to put all my photos of Van Gogh places in one gallery and will post it at the end, when it's ready. I also went to St. Remy and Arles this trip.
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Old Oct 13th, 2013, 01:15 PM
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Well worth a bookmark. I have thought about taking the RS trip you went on. I've also considered the Viking river cruise which goes from Paris to Rouen and back!
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Old Oct 13th, 2013, 03:26 PM
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Azzure -- Thank you for the comment. If you've done other tours or cruises, and like them, you will likely enjoy this one, but I must admit I enjoy solo travel more. This one was mostly for convenience -- getting around the Loire and Dordogne. As I said, I'm gearing up for car rental next trip.
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Old Oct 13th, 2013, 04:37 PM
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Kerouac, so glad you chimed in with your photo studies of Auvers and Chartres - love all the flowers, especially the hollyhawks.
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Old Oct 13th, 2013, 07:13 PM
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Day 10: September 17 -- Moving on to the Loire Valley. This morning, we boarded the bus that would take us all over the south of France, and we met our driver, Philippe, a kind, affable fellow whose English was pretty good. He introduced himself to us, saying that he was specifically a Rick Steves' driver, obviously proud of that distinction.

In a seemingly short drive, we arrived at Amboise, for a lunch stop and the recommended Chateau de Clos Luce, where Leonardo da Vinci had spent his last years.

I thoroughly enjoyed this chateau, and especially the rather large exhibition of da Vinci's inventions. Models of his amazing inventions, which had been crafted from Leonardo's blueprints or drawings, were on display in a large room, and above many of the models were flat screen TVs with an animated depiction of how that invention would have operated. Included in these were three flying apparatuses, an army tank that did not require horses, and a bicycle. Clearly Leonardo's thinking was 500 years ahead of his time. I now understand where the term "Renaissance Man" comes from. Some photos of this exhibition are available in my online gallery. http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/amboise

After wandering around the inside of the chateau, and gardens, and a quick stroll through the village, I headed into a restaurant to have a solo lunch. Again, I had a crepe. It was very good, but not as great as the one I had in Chartres. The restaurant was understaffed for the numbers of people coming in. Seated next to me and a few tables over was a cycling group I had seen at da Vinci's chateau. The weather was very rainy; they were told September would be a good month for the cycling tour (I think I was told the same thing, and was so glad I wasn't cycling through the Loire).

The next stop, the chateau of Chenonceau had been on my travel wish list for years, It was rainy and cold -- wintry cold. I had on many layers plus my trench coat, and I was cold. At one point the rain and wind were so intense, my umbrella was blown inside out.

I was a little disappointed in the weather at this point. I'd been in Europe 10 days, most of them rainy. I also knew my photos wouldn't come out as well in these conditions, but I tried to remain "in the moment" and experience the place as much as possible. We were each given tickets for entry and told when to meet back at the bus. I was on my own the entire time there (as I had been in Amboise) and enjoyed the freedom of roaming the chateau and the grounds on my own. I snapped many photos, even in the rain under the cover of a tree or umbrella. I managed. I just processed and loaded these photos onto the site today: Not too bad given these constraints.

http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/chenonceau

Later that evening, we arrived at a very charming b & b in Chinon, where we would stay two nights. The building dates back to the 16th century is and owned and operated by the very entertaining Laurent and his sister. The next evening, Laurent would be hosting a wine tasting in the dining room.
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Old Oct 13th, 2013, 11:37 PM
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Day 11: September 18-- more chateaux. Today was a better day. It rained fairly steadily all morning, but that didn't dampen my enjoyment of the gardens of Villandry. I'm not easily wowed by gardens, as I've visited many, but this was spectacular. I'd never seen fruits and vegetables growing alongside flowers, roses and manicured hedges, coexisting beautifully in this large mosaic of what I would call garden art. I meandered for quite a while on my own, waiting out periodic showers, so I could capture photos. I was not as interested in seeing the inside of the chateau as I was experiencing these gardens. Within 15 minutes of leaving for the bus, I wandered into the chateau (for which we were given tickets) to have a look around the first floor only, to leave enough time to walk back to the bus. The real treasure here is the gardens!

Photos of Chateau de Villandry are here:
http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/villandryj

Next, the bus made its way to Château d'Azay-le-Rideau, which was like something out of a fairy tale. I didn't spend too much time inside as I wanted to walk on the garden path which surrounds the chateau. What I recall most inside was a a colorized copy of the silent film Beauty and the Beast, which was projected on one of the walls. It had been filmed at the chateau in the early years of the 20th century; Perfect place for this fairy tale!!

Again, it was cloudy and grey, and I was wishing I'd had a sunny day here, so I could capture with my camera the chateau and its reflection in the surrounding pool of water in the sunlight. Images from Azay-le-Rideau have not been loaded onto the gallery yet. I will post a link when they're ready.

After the chateau visit, I strolled up to the village for lunch. I saw one of the couples I had befriended sitting with our guide at an outdoor cafe, and decided to join them. I had an excellent quiche Lorraine with local beer. Food and company were great.

For those of us interested in visiting Chateau de Chinon (which towers above the village in which we were staying), the bus made a stop there to let about 8 of us off. The chateau on the hill, as it turns out, looks more romantic from afar. They had some cheesy-looking dragons (that looked inflatable) at various points, and I thought it cheapened the ambiance. Inside, there were some interesting etchings and vintage posters on the subject of Joan of Arc who had spent time here in Chinon. In fact there was quite a sculpture of her on horseback in the town's main square.

Feeling a bit burned out from chateau visits, I decided to make my way down the narrow street descending the hill and back into the charming village. I forgot to mention what an absolutely charming town this is. Our b & b, being a historic building, was right in the heart of the old town. I got lost a couple times trying to find it, but villagers were quick to point the way, even though none of them spoke English; they were friendly and accommodating.

I have to mention something that happened on these back streets. I had just finished getting directions to my b & b in French from an affable chap on a bicycle (the only thing I understood was -- just a few doors down, and the direction his finger pointed). Then.... I heard singing. It sounded like a traditional folk tune, of course sung in French.. I turned around and an older man was heading up the street with a song in his heart. He sang loudly as he walked with effort.

I thought, is he crazy? Is he following me? Then, he turned a corner, and I could hear his joyful song echoing down the narrow lane onto which he had turned.

I was utterly charmed by this experience. I felt I was getting a true taste of rural France here.

That evening our host, Laurent, treated us to a wine tasting experience I won't soon forget. What a character! It was a delightful experience of true Chinon Blanc and Chinon Rouge, with bits of pork and aged goat cheese provided between each group. But the best part was Laurent himself who is quite the entertainer.

Photos from the second half of the day will follow soon.
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