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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 14th, 2013, 03:41 AM
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Hi Susan,

Continuing to follow your journey through chateau country – there are only 300 of them but your group seemed to catch the most prominent ones. I loved Chateau de Clos Luce and Chenonceau. Fortunately, we had gorgeous weather on the day of our visit. I thought the flower arrangements inside Chenonceau (all from their own gardens) were spectacular.

Wow, those gardens of Chateau de Villandry were fabulous. I hear you about the weather. A few days before our visit to the chateaux, we had visited the Normandy beaches where the weather was beastly. I only made a cursory visit to the cemetery at Omaha Beach because of the driving rain and cold and that was in mid -June.

Enjoyed your vignette about the old man singing. It seems that you had quite a bit of time to wander on your own on this tour, n’est ce pas? I meant to ask, was your hotel in Chartres near the center of town?
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Old Oct 14th, 2013, 08:38 AM
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Hi LateDayTraveler -- yes, the hotel in Chartres was central, to both the cathedral and the train station.

You truly lucked out with the weather during your chateau visits. Driving rain at Omaha Beach seems fitting for such a dramatic and historical place.

The weather this trip would improve in Sarlat.

Thanks so much for following along and for continuing to comment! I always enjoy your take on things.
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Old Oct 14th, 2013, 11:51 AM
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LateDay: I forgot to mention when I said "older man," I meant as opposed to "younger." He was probably in his late 50s, early 60s, and a bit rotund, singing ever so joyfully. I just wondered how common that is and if walking and singing was once more common in rural towns in America.
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Old Oct 14th, 2013, 12:19 PM
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Very lovely photos, Susan. David and I are suckers for gardens. All the different colors and textures make for great photographs.
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Old Oct 14th, 2013, 12:32 PM
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Glad to get back to this. I have more appreciation for van Gogh after sitting in a cafe in Arles and recognizing the cafe he painted at night.

If you google 'van gogh cafe' some thumbnails will come up. I was starring at the same view and it gave me chills.

As I got older, I appreciated small tours more--someone else drove and schlepped tickets. An entire trip on a tour is another story if there's no time to savor things.
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Old Oct 14th, 2013, 12:51 PM
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Susan, I am really enjoying your report and your photos. I went to Chartres last year and I loved it too, but I didn't see the light show. Your pictures of that look pretty amazing.

Also, that same trip we visited Père Lachaise and found Chopin's grave, which was pretty cool. I'm not as big a fan of Chopin as it sounds like you are, but I definitely love many of his works. Anyway, I loved Père Lachaise and would definitely recommend it on your next trip to Paris.

I'm looking forward to the rest of your report.
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Old Oct 14th, 2013, 01:33 PM
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Thank you, Betty, for the comment on my photos. Those gardens were surreal!

TDudette: Thanks for following along. I also went to Arles and St. Remy this trip, so I returned to that cafe you mentioned (had been there also in '05). This trip, I went to his asylum St. Remy for the first time.

Blaise22: Yes, I look forward to eventually visiting Pere Lachase. It wasn't exactly high on my list as I knew it would take some navigating to get out there (and also, once inside). Next trip. Yes, the light show in Chartres was spectacular, and I highly recommend staying overnight there for that reason.
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Old Oct 14th, 2013, 01:36 PM
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Artist Seward Johnson replicated van Gogh's hospital room in an exhibit I saw in the Corcoran Gallery in D.C. some years ago. It was pretty special.

It's just so sad he was not recognized in his own time.
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Old Oct 14th, 2013, 03:39 PM
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TDudette: Very sad, I agree. That exhibition sounds wonderful. At Auvers, they are making preparations to bring one of his paintings into his bedroom there (the glass case is already installed). They have a bulletin up quoting him, that he hoped he would be able to have a little exhibition in a cafe. The Ravoux Inn stated they are endeavoring to honor those wishes.
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Old Oct 14th, 2013, 03:41 PM
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Here are my photos of Azay-le-Rideau: http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/azaylerideau

and, Chinon: http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/chinon
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Old Oct 14th, 2013, 09:30 PM
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Day 12: September 19 -- Moving on to the Dordogne region.

We left the charming B & B in equally charming Chinon (home of some of the finest wine I've tasted). But the bus was leaking gas and needed to be repaired, so we had over an hour to explore Chinon's Thursday morning market, and I made my first purchase here: Deux chapeaux! They were rather adorable -- woolen with a woolen rose on the side. I will wear them here when it's cold enough. Several of us sauntered into a cafe for some cafe au lait, and at last we were on our way to the Dordogne.

We stopped at a village (forgot the name) for a picnic lunch, which turned out to be rather nice. Most chipped in to help with setting up or cleaning up. The bus driver, Philippe, who is from Marseilles, made his south of France dressing - delicious. There were sandwiches, salad, fruit, all sorts of cookies and deserts.

After lunch we stopped at the "Martyr Village" of Oradour-sur-Glane, where in June 1944, just 5 days after the D-Day landing, nazi soldiers invaded the village and massacred all inhabitants, including women and children. Charles de Gaulle decided it would be kept as it was found as a memorial to those who lost their lives there.

Needless to say, it was quite a moving experience.

My photos of Oradour-sur-Glane are here: http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/oradoursurglane

After this sobering and moving experience, we moved on to Sarlat, arriving at our hotel at about 6:00 PM. We had just about 30 minutes to freshen up in our rooms before we would be meeting for our included dinner at a restaurant down the street from our hotel. I ordered fois gras as my starter and duck as my main course. I thought the fois gras tasted like liverwurst and a man sitting near me concurred. (more on this later). The duck, however, was very good.

That evening our guide took us on a walk through the old town, which is beautifully lit. I was enchanted. I'd been reading about this town, and this region for years and had longed to visit. I was finally here, and I wasn't disappointed.

Day 12: September 20 -- Cave and canoe (not!)

We were scheduled to visit the prehistoric cave art at Raffignac, followed by an afternoon canoe trip down the Dordogne (from Cenac to Beynac), It was pouring rain. Of course.

The rain followed me. It followed me all the way from Bruges, through Paris, through the Loire, and was now threatening to wreck my canoe trip (the main reason I signed up for the tour).

The cave visit was fantastic. I was simply amazed at the drawing skills these people had 13,000 year ago. We saw drawings of wooly mammoth (like cute elephants), horses, goats, and some graffiti someone left from 1723! Oh well. They didn't cover the much older art. I'm glad we visited an authentic cave rather than a replica. I haven't stopped thinking about this work. I would say it was almost life-changing, seeing this art. At least it alters one's perspective on art history, and history of humankind. Photographs were not allowed.

On the bus toward the Dordogne River, our guide told us she'd looked at a weather forecast and it was supposed to clear up in the afternoon. But it was still raining, and others on the tour were not enthusiastic about canoeing in the rain. It was looking pretty dismal out there, and I didn't want to canoe in the rain either. So the guide booked us on one of the boats with cheesy English commentary.

We were to meet at the boat dock at 1:00. We had just over an hour for lunch at Roque Gageac and I picked the starred Michelen restaurant I'd read about, and it was quite good,

After we boarded the boat.... wouldn't you know it? The sun started to come out. The guide had been right. Within a half hour of the ride, we were seeing all sorts of canoes and kayaks on the river, and the weather became quite nice.

Oh well. I wouldn't have been able to take photographs on the canoe (too busy paddling), and I managed to capture some nice photos aboard the commercial boat.

After the boat ride, we were taken up to Beynac castle, and then a meander through the adorable town. It was practically empty: Very peaceful, beautiful, and quiet. I loved it, What a beautifully preserved village; I wished I were staying here.

Next, we visited Domme, which is a much more touristy, commercial town. I enjoyed the visit but wouldn't want to stay there (though I had once thought about staying at Hotel l'Esplanade before I booked the tour -- it looks lovely and has knock-out views of the Dordogne River below, but the town itself is not as charming as others I saw).

That evening at the hotel, we had a special "happy hour," to say goodbye to our guide, Christine, and say hello to Rolinka, who would be our guide for the second half of the tour. Both guides were very good.

Dordogne photos are here:
http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/the_dordogne
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Old Oct 15th, 2013, 08:15 AM
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Still great shots! Looking forward to Arles.
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Old Oct 15th, 2013, 04:17 PM
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TDudette -- Thanks for continuing to follow along. And thanks for the compliment regarding my photos. Day 13 (which I will probably write tomorrow) with the private driver was the best day of the trip. After that, I'll attempt to keep the report succinct. Yet to come: The Lot, Carcassonne, Arles, Les Baux, St. Remy, Nice.
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Old Oct 15th, 2013, 11:50 PM
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Your photo of t,he man photographing the clock at the Orsay is brilliant. This is all good, but that is a brilliant photograph.
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Old Oct 16th, 2013, 01:23 AM
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Susan001, still with you on your journey through the Dordogne - just beautiful shots. Glad the weather cleared up for you.
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Old Oct 16th, 2013, 08:44 AM
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Ackislander: Thanks for the kind words regarding the b/w photograph of the man at Orsay and the collection. Luck played a large role!

latedaytraveler: Thanks so much for the compliment on the Dordogne photo gallery (blue skies make a huge difference, plus the area itself is just stunning). Yes, I'm so glad the weather finally cleared in the south. Thanks also for following along, and for continuing to comment.
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Old Oct 16th, 2013, 01:20 PM
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Day 14: September 21 -- A day in the Lot Region.

About 6 months before the trip I booked a full-day excursion with Philippe, a private driver/ guide who lives in the region.

It was market day in Sarlat. Philippe would be picking me up at 10 am, so I got out to the market and wandered for nearly an hour (bought some delicious goat cheese and stored in the hotel's fridge for later).

At 10 am, we were on our way to the Lot region.

I had been wanting to visit the village of Carennac, ever since reading At Home in France, a memoir by Ann Barry (well worth a read). It's my understanding that she died not long after its publication, but her tales of buying and living in the area surpass other memoirs I've read on the subject (with the exception of Mark Greenside's hilarious I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do).

In addition to Carennac, I had read that Loubressac and Autoire are two of the loveliest villages in France (all three of these villages are listed on Les Plus Beaux Villages de France). In addition, I had asked Philippe to take me to a "lookout" area where I could photograph Rocamadour from afar. I hadn't planned on visiting the actual site up close, but he recommended it, saying it's not so touristic in the off season. He turned out to be right about this. But it was far from my favorite stop during the excursion.

He brought me to a goose farm, for a photo op, and he said if I had any intension of buying fois gras, this would be the place to do so. I ended up spending 17 E on a sealed jar of duck liver. Philippe explained the entire process... and that this would be the liver of one duck -- not a ground up mix from various ducks/geese, as in "bloc" fois gras (the cheaper version tastes like liverwurst). I knew what he was talking about because I'd had some delicious fois gras the day before (dining on my own) at La Belle Etoile in La Roque Gageac.

Moving along, Philippe pointed out a beautiful old chateau on the Dordogne, now a hotel (picture and name of the hotel in my photo gallery). After about an hour's drive, we were at the look-out point for Rocamadour. My jaw dropped. I had seen photos, but standing there was an awe-inspiring experience. I must have taken dozens of photos there, but I also just stood, taking it in, as I knew a photograph couldn't possibly capture the beauty and architectural feat of this medieval pilgrimage place.

Philippe drove to the top parking lot, explaining where everything was inside, and that there would be two elevators that would take me back to the top. He didn't join me, and I was just fine with this, as it allowed me time to explore on my own.

There are a series of enshrined paintings depicting the crucifixion at the end of each zag in the zigzag path leading down to the sanctuaries. I met several people who were taking the walk up, and thought, "glad I won't have to do that!" Ha. Little did I know I would indeed be doing that later on.

At last I arrived in the chapel square where there were 2 or 3 sanctuaries, including the sanctuary of the Black Madonna. I had seen a piece on this in a Rudy Maxa TV show, years before. At the alter is the famed "black madonna," said to have been carved in the middle ages and reputed to have brought miracles. I walked in and sat in a front-row pew. I'm not catholic, but I did catch a spiritual vibe in this room, so I closed my eyes briefly and took it in before moving on.

At last, I was on the touristy shopping street. This must be what most people have seen (if they park in the front, rather than on top) when they pan this place as overly touristic. I didn't think it was more touristic than Domme. Having said that, I wouldn't want to be here in the high season of July-August. Even in September, and at the top gate, I passed by a fellow juggling daggers! So it can be a circus. It just wasn't crowded or overly touristic when I was there.

I didn't go into the shops. I was more than ready to leave, and after finding the first elevator and paying my 2 E to use it, looked for the second. The second elevator didn't seem to be working. More and more people arrived, but none of us could get it to work and no attendant on duty. Finally some attendants above started yelling down to us in English that they were working on it, and to be patient. I had already been here 15 minutes and didn't wish to wait longer, so I made that arduous "pilgrimage" to the top, this time, not stopping to marvel at the painted crucifixes. I had a "get-me-out-of-here" ambition. Finally, after much huffing, puffing and pulling off layers to a thin t-shirt, I arrived at the lot, where Philippe said, "you must have really liked this place." I explained what happened, and I knew it might take away from my time in the villages. In the end, it all worked out well. The tour was to be over in Sarlat at 6 pm, but he ended up tacking on an extra hour (arriving at 7) without charging me extra.

After a short stop at a cafe for some liquid refreshment, we were on our way to the villages. (About the stop: I wasn't hungry and eager to get to the villages; Philippe said he had already had a sandwich while he waited at Rocamadour.)

The village of Autoire was an absolute fairy tale experience! I guess I wasn't expecting much, because someone on this forum said it was his least favorite. It ended up being my favorite -- different strokes, I guess.

After about 20 minutes of wandering (I knew we had fallen behind schedule -- though Philippe told me to take my time), I headed back to the car, and we were on our way to nearby Loubressac. I couldn't stop saying WOW!! I was just spellbound. From one fairy tale village to the next, my enchantment did not wane.

At last, we were in Carennac, and I was struck by how different it was from the other two. Carennac's cathedral and beautiful cloisters gives it an added appeal, but there were more tourists here than at the other two towns (though really, all three were fairly quiet). Philippe had explained earlier that Saturdays are normally quiet in the region as apartment rentals are usually from Saturday to Saturday. Most tourists are either just arriving or checking out, leaving Saturdays at these sites quiet.

I'm sure the fact that it was now the 3rd week in September also helped. The ivy-covered buildings in the region were turning a beautiful red color (you will see this in the photo gallery).

I did pay the 2.50 E to visit the cloisters, and glad I did. I was the only one there and appreciated the peaceful time of tranquil reflection the place engenders. I saw birds flying, and then wondered if they were bats! Didn't get a close look.

On the way back to Sarlat, I made a decision to return and stay in one of these towns. As it turns out, all three have hotel accommodations. And as mentioned, I'm getting over my fear of driving abroad. Having experienced the roads first hand now, I know I can manage.

Photo gallery from this day in the Lot will be up later today. I will post a link soon.
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Old Oct 16th, 2013, 01:26 PM
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I really liked that area too. We visited in the off season and were the only tourists I saw in Carennac.

I am enjoying your report, and of course your lovely photos!
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Old Oct 16th, 2013, 01:56 PM
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Sounds like an amazing day, especially your visit to the three classified villages at the end. Those are all places I really want to go!
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Old Oct 16th, 2013, 02:01 PM
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Sounds like a worthwhile splurge. What was the tour group doing that day? BTW, when I did the Western France RS tour back in '98 (somewhat different itinerary) we slept in Beynac, but I thought that if I went back I would stay in Sarlat because there was more to see. Plus the market, of course.
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