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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 16th, 2013, 04:05 PM
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Susan001, what a special day. You really had this well planned to engage a local guide beforehand. Well worth it I am sure. You described the experience well including that climb! Reminds me of the trek up to the church at Mont St. Michele, some 300 steps.

Now that you have experienced Rocamadour, you might sometime consider SANTIAGO DE COMPETELA in northern Spain, a fabulous pilgrimage site from which many of the faithful left from Rocamadour. Looking forward to your pics…
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Old Oct 16th, 2013, 04:39 PM
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Leely2: Thanks so much for following along and contributing to the thread. Yes, these villages really exceeded my expectations.

thursdaysd: Yes, it was truly worthwhile, and thanks for following along. The rest of the group (I'm assuming) spent the day at the market (day off for bus driver and guide). They assembled with the guide at 5 pm for a taste of pastis and a game of pétanque. I missed out on that, but didn't mind. I tried pastis later on. There might be more to do in Sarlat, but I loved the charm, beauty and peacefulness of Beynac.

latedaytraveler: I'm so glad I planned ahead for this. I just knew an entire day of the market would be a waste of precious time in the region. I'm aware of the Santiago de Competela in Northern Spain. Not sure I'm up for that, but I have been thinking about Spain and Portugal as a future destination. (next year, most likely England and/or Ireland). Thanks so much for following my report and for your contributions -- much appreciated!
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Old Oct 16th, 2013, 04:54 PM
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Blaise22: Thanks so much for following along and chiming in! Yes, I would highly recommend a visit to all three villages. They are close together. As I said, I'm looking into staying in one (maybe two!) of them, just to relax, take walks, and enjoy the beauty.
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Old Oct 16th, 2013, 10:18 PM
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Here are my photos of Rocamadour & the villages of the Lot region, with private driver & guide:

http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/the_lot
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Old Oct 17th, 2013, 12:33 AM
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I'm continuing to enjoy your trip report. We were in the Dordogne all too briefly in June and would love to go back. I loved staying in Sarlat and wish we had had more time to explore the region. You make the villages you visited sound delightful. I look forward to the rest of your report.
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Old Oct 17th, 2013, 07:50 AM
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KTravel: Thanks for continuing to follow along. Sarlat is lovely, but the villages are more charming, in my opinion. I could have easily spent 2 weeks in the region, and now I understand why people recommend that.
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Old Oct 17th, 2013, 01:11 PM
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Day 15: September 22 -- Carcassonne.

We left Sarlat on a Sunday morning, and stopped at Canal du Midi to have a picnic aboard a barge. Unfortunately, the guide told us that due to some sort of infestation, the trees along the canal are dying. That's a pity as it's one of France's treasures, and I'm glad I had a chance to see it with the beautiful trees that line each side.

I had read about the canal and some people who had a houseboat there in yet another memoir, but the title escapes me at the moment.

We had been told to pick up cheese and/or cold cuts at the market the day before. Bread and wine would be provided for our barge "picnic." It was a success. My soft goat cheese purchased at Sarlat's market the day before was absolutely delicious, and it's too bad I ended up tossing some of it later (no cold storage).

The view while standing at the front of the barge was just amazing. In case you're counting, this was my 3rd boat trip (and there would be a 4th). Photos soon!

After an hour-long lunch aboard the barge on what is probably the most scenic portion of the canal, we boarded our bus, later arriving at our hotel in Carcassonne. I don't know why exactly, but I wasn't exactly thrilled with this place. Maybe because of the grand scope of it, the gravel, and the many tourists.

After dinner we were advised to walk out to the bridge to see the entire edifice lit up at night. Now THAT was magical, making the overnight visit worthwhile. I'll post a link with my photos of the canal and Carcassonne at night soon!

The next day, we would depart for Pont du Gard and Arles.
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Old Oct 17th, 2013, 06:06 PM
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Susan001, still with you and loved the photos. Like being taken back to the high Middle Ages with the architecture. Just beautiful....
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Old Oct 17th, 2013, 07:43 PM
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Thanks so much, Latedaytraveler. It's certainly an inspiring area, and like nothing I've ever seen. I would rate the Dordonge/ Lot as one of the top regions I've every visited. Probably the best, and I've seen some beautiful places (including Switzerland, Austria, and Yorkshire, England).
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Old Oct 18th, 2013, 08:41 AM
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Beautiful photos. Still loving your trip report. I, too, love the book "At Home in France" by Ann Barry. On my RS trip, we stayed in Sarlat on Market Day, and it happened to be Bastille Day. Lots of fun! I, too, did not care much for Carcassonne. I think I need to revisit at a time when it is less crowded. I was there in July 2007.
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Old Oct 18th, 2013, 09:28 AM
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I went to Carcassonne in Jan. 2005. It was snowing and I was one of the only people touring. Felt ghostly, so I liked it. Good cassoulet weather, too.

Looking forward to Arles!
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Old Oct 18th, 2013, 09:48 AM
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Yes, come on Arles!
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Old Oct 18th, 2013, 10:28 AM
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KL467: Thanks for the kind words about the photos and report. Glad to know you read Ann Barry's wonderful memoir. I plan to read it again. I did manage to walk around for an hour during the market, and that was actually quite enough. Bastille day market sounds like fun.

Leely2: How wonderful to be there when it was snowing, and with no tourist crowds. I enjoyed the night views from the bridge very much. Daytime? Not so much. I meant to report that I only had a spoonful of cassoulet. I had written down that I don't eat beef or pork, so they gave me lasagna! A tour member at our table invited me to take a spoonful from her bowl. I think they should prepare a vegetarian (or semi vegetarian) version.

TDudette: Thanks for following along. I will post Arles soon!
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Old Oct 18th, 2013, 11:15 PM
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Here are my photos of Carcassonne and Canal du Midi:

http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/carcassonne
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Old Oct 19th, 2013, 04:53 AM
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Susan001,

Absolutely fabulous pics of Carcassonne – particularly the first shot and those of the Canal du Midi. What a difference sunshine makes, eh?

Let’s pause for an historical note here about EUGENE VIOLLET-LE-DUC (1814-1869) who undertook the restoration of Carcassonne around 1853 after his monumental restorations of Notre Dame in Paris, Mont Saint Michele, and Pierrefonds. His work was sometimes open to criticism because he “frequently combined historical fact with creative modification.” For example, the pointed roofs on Carcassonne where more typical of northern France – but who cares? I am sure that your guides discussed this in detail.

So fortunate for us travelers that France invested in these restorations before the ravages of time destroyed them. Again, great pics…
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Old Oct 19th, 2013, 08:11 AM
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Hi Latedaytraveler: Yes, she did discuss this, and I had read about it. Thanks for adding this note. Aside from the nighttime view of the lit edifice, I didn't feel the love here. But just in working on the photos, I was aware of the original design (without the cones) and the Spanish influences.

I saw many a ruin in my travels, and glad this was not one of them. Now that I've seen it, I won't be back.
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Old Oct 19th, 2013, 11:11 AM
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Day 16: September 28 -- Today we left Carcassonne for Arles. On the way there, we stopped at a family-run winery, where Silvia, owner, gave an hour-long guided tour of the vineyards, the eco-system they employ, the tanks, the barrels, and wine-tasting room. Following the tour, we were treated to a homemade luncheon of the region's specialties, and it was delicious.

After allowing the bus to cool down, we again boarded enroute for Pont du Gard, which I had visited in 2005. It hadn't changed much since I was last there, but my perception of it had! As I recall, when I visited in 2005 (also with a tour, but not RS), we were running late due to losing someone along the way. So our time there was short. This time, we had plenty of time to walk through the museum (fee included) and the grounds. Christine (guide one, who left in Sarlat) mentioned the holes they drilled for transporting the stones, and that you can still see them. Rolikna (guide 2) told us (before setting us free to explore on our own) that over the ages, starting with the Romans, workmen left their mark, or detail about completion. Journeymen in the middle ages and Renaissance periods would leave their names or initials, and carved drawings tools used. I photographed some of these.

Overall, I enjoyed my visit here even more than I did the first time, as I felt that the guides had included more details, and the museum was interesting. I also was able to get to the other side this time for better photographic views.

At last, we reached Arles, and stayed at the lovely Hotel Le Calendal, a garden and spa hotel located just steps from the Roman Arena. I found out later why I had such a luxurius suite with a private patio: The next day would be my birthday, and the guide told the front desk to give me the nicest single room in the place. I was thrilled, and sorry I didn't get a picture of it.

Some in our group tried the spa services (the guide got a massage; others tried the special saunas and steam baths). I was too busy looking at the sites and taking pictures to indulge.

---------------

Day 17: September 24 --

After breakfast, we all assembled in the front of the hotel, awaiting our local guide, Isabel, for a tour of Arles (we had had an informal tour the night before). Suddenly, our guide gave a cue to the others that a song must be sung. Everyone broke out into the Happy Birthday song for me, and I received a lovely card depicting the Pont du Gard with locals in costume. Everyone had singed it. How did they manage this without my knowing?

The tour with the local guide was great. We visited the ancient Roman Theater (just across from the hotel). I have some pictures of it, but this one I found online gives a better perspective of the entire outdoor theater: http://www.tripomatic.com/France/Arl...Roman-Theatre/

After the fascinating theater visit, we wandered to Van Gogh's Hospital. This was a repeat visit for me. Van Gogh was hospitalized here after having cut off his ear lobe. I think the posters of the paintings at both the hospital and the Van Gogh cafe are new additions since I was here in '05. My photo of the hospital, with poster, is here:

http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/image/152950746

Next we wandered through the old town, visited the Roman forum (what's left is just a partial structure in this square); My photo of it is here:
http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/image/152950750

In the same square is Van Gogh's Cafe. Both our guide and the local guide informed us that the cafe hadn't been yellow in Van Gogh's day. The yellow depicted in the painting had been the artist's perception of it in the lamplit glow. Of course, the current owners have painted it yellow to match the painting.

Here are my photos of the Van Gogh Cafe -- both evening and daytime views:
http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/image/152950733
http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/image/152950751

Next, we toured the inside of the Roman Arena, something that wasn't included in a more brief visit in 2005. The local guide, Isabel, told us that a major cleaning project had just been completed in 2012; the entire arena had been painstakingly cleaned over a six-year period. Now I understood what was different! I recalled that it had been fairly black, covered in soot, from centuries of pollution when I visited in '05. Now it was a creamy color, and absolutely beautiful lit up at twilight.

That afternoon while some were soaking up spa treatments back at Le Calendal, I was wandering around seeking out Van Gogh's and Gaugin's Yellow House location and other Van Gogh sites. Our guide explained that an errant WWII bomb hit the Yellow House, so it is no longer there (a cafe stands in its place), but the house which stood behind it (also depicted in Van Gogh's painting) still stands. You can see it here:

http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/image/152950802

Then, from where I stood in the yellow house location, I could finally see the poster depicting "Starry Night over the Rhone." My photo of that is not so great, due to the direction of the sun:

http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/image/152950803

I must have passed this location several times looking for it, but didn't see the poster until I was standing some distance away!

A side note about Van Gogh's Arles: I didn't find it captivating in the same way Auvers-sur-Oise certainly was. I was aware of industry, tourism, commercialism, and just Time's affect on the place, since over a century has passed since he lived there. But aside from the paved roads at Auvers-sur-Oise, I was able to step back in time. By contrast, it seemed that Auvers-sur-Oise was largely unchanged since Van Gogh's days there.

Next I visited the Roman baths, and then tried to find the Van Gogh poster near the Arena (his painting of the Arena). I never found it (though there's a spot on the map I picked up earlier at the TI, showing all Van Gogh places.

That night I joined some other tour members for a twilight dinner outside just next to the Roman Arena. What a view! As daylight gradually faded, the arena was turning a faint magenta color, as the sky was turning violet. Van Gogh certainly would have wanted to paint such a spectacle. I didn't get a picture of it at twilight. I later realized my error, and returned with camera, but it was too late. The sky was dark, and the lighting more garish.

All in all, it had been a wonderful way to spend my birthday!

Here is my photo gallery of Arles and Pont du Gard:
http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/arles_pontdugard

Next post: The Provencal village of Les Baux and Van Gogh's hospital at St. Remy.
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Old Oct 19th, 2013, 11:35 AM
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Typo: Day 16 should read September 23.
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Old Oct 19th, 2013, 03:13 PM
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Your report stream is interesting but seems to focus quite on the negative things that happened or things you didn't like. For a self-described "experienced independent traveler," your transportation woes are rather surprising and sound like they could all have been avoided by better planning and more diligent advance research. A one-minute Internet search would reveal immediately that the TGV station in Brussels is at Midi, not Brussels Central. And anyone experienced at all with European trains knows there are always stairs and long platform walks involved. And why should people sitting next to you on a train be thinking at all about your "need for quiet." Were you thinking at all about their need to enjoy their trip together?

These kinds of self-centred complaints that reek of an attitude of entitlement are why American tourists are often frowned upon in Europe.
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Old Oct 19th, 2013, 04:37 PM
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Um, atraveler2, susan001 wrote about what happened to her for the benefit of others. I don't believe she alienated any of our European friends and am not sure about the tone of your post.

susan001, continuing to enjoy your shots. We missed Pont du Gard but Spoleto has one also that we did get to visit. Sounds like hour Arles guide was great.

I have a "cleaned" and "not cleaned" shot of Florence's Duomo in 1999. Everything got spruced up for 2000.
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