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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 19th, 2013, 05:19 PM
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Susan--Just read your trip report and really enjoyed it.

I empathize with you on the blisters as I had one when touring the UK. Luckily the pharmacist pointed me in the direction of Compeed--which is absolutely fantastic for blisters.
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Old Oct 19th, 2013, 06:01 PM
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TDudette: Thanks for the kind words; much appreciated

europeannovice: Thanks so much for reading the entire report, and for commenting.
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Old Oct 20th, 2013, 06:45 AM
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Susan,

We had a great Arles tour guide on my RS trip. I believe your tour was a little more extensive. Our guide, Jacklene, was about age 70 in 2007. She said that she knew someone who knew Van Gogh. Everyone asked how, of course. When Jacklene was a little girl, she knew an elderly woman who had known Van Gogh when she was younger. After doing the math, I realized that this scenario could have happened. It had something to do with a material/curtain/seamstress shop. I can't remember for sure.

I also enjoyed the surprise barge ride with the locks and the surprise trip to the winery with the wonderful lunch.

Looking forward to hearing more.

Kim
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Old Oct 20th, 2013, 09:41 AM
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Hi KL467 -- What an interesting story about the local guide and Van Gogh.

Our barge trip and winery trip were written into the itinerary. The surprises (for me) were Azay-le-Rideau, La Roque Gageac, Domme, Beynac (none of these were in the itinerary).

Thanks for continuing to read along and contribute.
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Old Oct 21st, 2013, 01:39 PM
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Hi again Susan001,

Continuing to enjoy your trip into Provence. I can see why RS tours are popular because you seem to have more leeway to explore than on some other tours. Your fellow travelers seem like a good bunch too and were so thoughtful to help you celebrate your birthday. Perhaps your experience will encourage other solo travelers to join a tour if they do not have a friend/spouse/partner available.

Seems as if you had sufficient time to follow Van Gogh’s path in Arles. Glad to hear that the Roman Arena has been restored. Not so, when I visited back in 2007 – maybe the project was just starting. Our Insight Tour stayed in Nimes with an optional late day/early evening junket into Arles. Interesting how Auvers-sur-Oise compared to Arles, the latter more in keeping with Van Gogh’s lifetime. I again recommend THE YELLOW HOUSE which details the artist’s painful experiences in Arles before he fled to Auvers.

One site in Arles we stopped at was Les Alyscamps, an ancient necropolis “lined with poplars and stone sarcophagi,” the subject of two of Van Gogh’s paintings, and also of Gaugin who was staying with Vincent in an ill- fated relationship at the time. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Alyscamps

Loved your pics too. Merci…
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Old Oct 21st, 2013, 01:51 PM
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Hi Atraveler2,

Welcome to Fodors, but what a negative debut! You wrote:

“These kinds of self-centred complaints that reek of an attitude of entitlement are why American tourists are often frowned upon in Europe.”

Did you really read Susan’s whole trip report and her interchange with readers like myself who really enjoyed her detailed description and excellent pics? Such reports give newbies suggestions for their own travel plans and bring back fond memories to those who may have passed through those parts in previous years. Have your written any trip reports yourself?

Words like “self-centered complaints,” “reeked,” “entitlement,” and “frowned” suggest a negative predisposition on your part toward American travelers, n’est-ce pas?
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Old Oct 21st, 2013, 02:39 PM
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Day 18: September 25 -- Les Baux and Van Gogh's hospital in St. Remy

After what seemed a very long walk with luggage and bags (from central Arles to the car park where the bus was waiting), we boarded and made our way to Les Baux, where we would have 2.5 hours to tour the ruins, visit the charming village, and have lunch at an outdoor restaurant.

I enjoyed the stop very much, but wished we'd had a little less time here in favor of more time in St. Remy. It was overcast here. I was hoping for a little sunshine -- In the photographic realm, image quality can be much better when the sky is blue and the light brighter (harsh light has the opposite effect, however).

We were given audio guide devices for the ruins and weaponry at the very top of the hill. I didn't think the recorded information (with robot-like speaker) was very detailed or informative and the signage was a bit confusing (in terms of the numbering system). Others noticed this as well.

An ongoing video presentation showing arial footage of the foremost villages of Provence was presented in the old chapel above the town.. I had been to many of these villages in 2009.

After snapping photographs above at the hilltop ruins, I headed down to the existing village to meander, take photos, and even shop! I bought a lovely linen table runner for my Pottery Barn farmhouse-style dining table, and a Provencal Christmas tree ornament, just to remind me of my trip at holiday time.

The group then met for a delicious lunch, where we said our farewell to Philippe, the bus driver. He would be driving us on to St. Remy and then Nice, but at the point of arrival in the latter, we would quickly disembark and grab our luggage in front of the hotel, with no time for farewells.

After lunch a fellow tour member showed me a top she had just bought at a little boutique around the corner. I had exactly 5 minutes to start walking to the bus. I raced to the boutique she mentioned, and found a different top that I liked very much, and without trying it on, bought it! It fits perfectly and is a lovely souvenir.

Our next destination, just a short drive away, was Van Gogh's asylum in St. Remy.

Let me explain how this unscheduled stop came to be: When we arrived in Arles, I had asked our guide if she could recommend a way for me to get there on my own by public transportation, She replied that it's very difficult, but that perhaps we could make a stop on the way to Nice (from Les Baux) as it's not out of the way.

It was very nice of her to plan this. Being Dutch, I could see she was very proud of her countryman. And, she taught us to pronounce his name correctly: Van Hohh; Not Van Gooooh.

We only had about 40 minutes here, but it was so worth it! From the olive gardens to the cloisters, to his bedroom there, and the bath area, I was entranced. Other tour members also loved the stop. In fact, it was such a hit with everyone (including the guide), I think they might start including it in the tour package.

Back on the bus, on the way to Nice, our guide played Don McLean's "Starry Starry Night" through the speaker system.

We arrived in Nice around 5:30 PM, and then met in the lobby at 6:15 for an orientation walk through Nice. It was a lovely walk. A large group of us stopped at an Italian restaurant for pizza. Good food and company.

Here are my photos of Les Baux and Van Gogh's St. Remy:

http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/les_baux__st_remy
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Old Oct 21st, 2013, 02:56 PM
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Hi, Latedaytraveler: Your responses must have come through as I was writing the above. Thanks so much for your contribution -- for reminding me to get the book,The Yellow House, and the information about Les Alyscamps, of which I previously hadn't been made aware.

And thanks so much for your support. I was taken aback by the tone of that comment as well as the toxicity of the words.

I too wondered if atraveler2 had read the entire report, zoning in my my train transfer difficulties when I first arrived, at a time when I was jet-lagged and sleep deprived.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2013, 01:28 AM
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How wonderful you were able to convince your tour guide to stop at the St. Remy hospital! We visited it this summer and found it to be very moving. I really enjoyed looking at your photos.

I, too, was surprised by atraveler2's post. Please try to ignore it. I am finding your report informative and delightful and don't understand atravelers's reaction at all.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2013, 01:46 AM
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Susan, I’m back to say that I loved your pics of Les Baux and St. Remy particularly because I did not see either on my tour of Provence. Again, no one can do it all in one trip. When we were in Nimes, we had the option one afternoon of going to Les Baux which I passed up (unusual for me) but those who went raved about its beauty. Enjoyed those shots of the shops with pottery and linens.

We had had an extensive tour of the Roman coliseum in Nimes in the morning and I had opted for a late day trip to the Camarouge (beautiful delta land with wild white horses and flamingos) and dinner at the ancient port of Aigues Mortes from which many Crusades had originated yada, yada. So I missed Les Baux.

So glad that you suggested St. Remy and that the others enjoyed it. Wow, you were really up close and personal with Van Gogh. Loved the interior of his room. Look forward to your visit to Nice, lovely city. So much for art lovers to savor in this neighborhood….
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Old Oct 22nd, 2013, 05:47 AM
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How nice to get to St. Remy. I can't remember where I've posted this but I saw Seward Johnson's life-sized sculpture depiction of that room (along with quite a few other Impressionists' works) at the Corcoran Gallery in D.C.--truly amazing and children were allowed to climb all over the bed!

More, please!
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Old Oct 22nd, 2013, 07:48 AM
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KTravel: Thanks so much for your kind reply. All I had to do was mention to the guide that I wanted to get there on my own during free time in Arles, and she suggested that we all stop. I was lucky to have a Dutch guide (she lives in France), who enjoys Van Gogh places as much as I do. When we got back on the bus, she talked a little about Van Gogh, and then played McClean's song.

latedaytraveler: I'm sorry you missed Les Baux, but your trip to the Camargue, with wild horses and flamingos, sounds even more enchanting. I once had an email conversation with an American who lives in Aigues Mortes. At the time I had expressed an interest in working at the American Library in Montpellier, where she was employed.

I toured many villages in the Louberon with a private guide-driver in 2009. I had been on a photography workshop in Provence, and wanted to see more (without renting a car). She picked me up at 9am at my b & b in Aix, and dropped me off at 9pm that night. Needless to say, I saw a lot. Les Baux is charming, but I enjoyed Minerbes, Roussillon, and Lourmarin, even more.

Yes, I was thrilled to be in yet another of Van Gogh's rooms. This was a different experience, though, from Auvers. I was one of about 3 or 4 tourists in the town of Auvers (or so it seemed), while there was a throng of visitors at St. Remy, and impossible to have a quiet, solo moment in his room there. It took some doing to get the photos of his room without others getting into the picture. I also needed a wider angle lens than what I had (mild complaint about an otherwise extraordinary little camera).

TDudette: That must have been an extraordinary sculpture in D.C. Was it life-sized? Thanks so much for following along, and for commenting.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2013, 01:48 PM
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Susan, thanks again for your wonderful, detailed report. I enjoyed every bit of it! It brought back a lot of memories, since I had visited so many of the sites you saw. Still haven't made it to Carcassonne, though - and probably won't at this point. The Rick Steves tour sounded quite nice, and I liked the fact that they allowed plenty of time on your own.
Having someone else do all the driving definitely has it's advantages.

However, don't give up on your plans to try the rental car route. I did my first solo "driving" trip when I was 68 (extremely nervous!) to the Loire Valley. Then
successively to Provence, Burgundy, Normandy, Alsace, Dordogne/Lot, and Brittany. For someone with terrible navigational skills, (and no GPS) it all worked out just fine - and I loved all those trips. All the planning and map-studying just makes it all the more fun. But I'm finished and it'll be tours (or just Paris, London, etc.) from now on.
If you do this, be sure to let us know all about it!
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Old Oct 22nd, 2013, 02:24 PM
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Day 19: September 26 -- This was the last full day of the tour. I had originally planned (in my armchair at home) to take a train to Villefranche-sur-mer and spend the day there, skipping the morning tour of Nice and any other activities that had been suggested during the free afternoon.

But I woke up with a sore throat and a slight fever; I felt that I might have caught the awful cold that several on the bus had. (I sprayed Cold-Eeze in my mouth at regular intervals and never did get it.) I was also understandably tired. I decided to go on the walking tour with the local guide, which was very good. Along with charming narrow streets and landmark cathedrals, she also took us inside a private home that had belonged to aristocrats of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. There were many fascinating musical instruments there, which I photographed (including a Pleyal, the brand of piano Chopin played).

Later she took us past a soca shop (a regional pastry made with chickpeas).. Our group would later be given free samples of this at the market. Interesting taste.

After the morning tour of Nice, I decided to join about 6 others who were headed for the Chagall museum. Earlier, we made reservations with our guide for a boat tour at around 3:00, making the visit to the Chagall museum a rather short one, but so worthwhile. I've been a fan of Chagall's work for decades, so including this visit seemed like the thing to do. We got on a local (and very packed) city bus to get up there.

I started by going into the large theater where a documentary film about the artist's life was playing. I saw about the last two-thirds of the film, starting with the late 1930s when he and his then wife (the model in many of his early paintings) fled for America. Being a Russian Jew, he almost certainly escaped deportment, suffering and death. After the war, he returned to Europe, in the area of Nice (St. Paul de Vence),.

I didn't have much time in the actually galleries, but what I did see was amazing: Huge canvases with primary colors -- especially royal blue and red, depicting scenes from the Bible. His earlier work, which I tend to favor, was scant, but there were several exquisite pieces from the 1920s in a separate room.

I headed out to the gardens to meet the rest of the smaller group. I suggested we all meet at 1:45 in order to get back to town in time for the boat tour. They were all sitting at tables eating lunch! I had been racing through galleries, just trying to soak up as much as I could in a short time, and... well, they just didn't care about it as much as I did. Different strokes, I guess.

After one bus ride, and LOTS of walking, a few of us, walking together, arrived at the dock (early!). The boat ride was fun, owing to the very entertaining Italian captain & commentator. He pointed out the homes of Elton John, Tina Turner, Mick Jagger, and Sean Connery, plus villa Rothschild on Cap Ferret. At last we got to Villefranche-sur-Mer, where there was enough time to grab some photos of this shoreline village. I didn't get to wander around there, as previously planned, but at least I got to see it. The boat does not make any stops (just pauses). We then returned to our starting point in Nice.

That night we met in the lobby for our farewell dinner. I had taken a nap after the boat ride and overslept! I heard the talking out in the lobby near my room and grabbed my purse (but forgot my camera!).

We walked first to a rooftop bar for drinks. What a view!!! And no camera! I tried to just take it in and be in the moment. But the views of the Mediterranean and the pedestrian area of Nice were fantastic.

After drinks, we walked to a restaurant where we had our final meal together. Everyone raved about the veal dish. I had fish which was just so so.

Rolinka, our second guide, presented each of us with an envelope that had photos inside she had taken of individuals (and groups) during the second half of the tour. Also included was a lavender sachet, which she must have picked up in Arles. Very nice of her to do this!

Here are my photos of Nice:

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

Day 20: September 27 -- Trip over!

At 10:00 three of us agreed to share the cost of a shuttle to the airport (10 E each).

My Lufthansa flight from Nice to Munich was delayed about 45 minutes, causing me some stress in terms of my connecting flight, but I made it just in time. I then flew nonstop from Munich to Los Angeles.

I decided to put together a gallery of some of the guides I had during this trip. I include "city guides," "private excursion" guides, RS Tour guides (we had two),, winery guide, and guides aboard boats! That gallery is here (and may only be up a short time):

http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/various_guides
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Old Oct 22nd, 2013, 02:27 PM
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Sue4: I just found your message. Thanks so much for reading my entire report and for taking the time to make a comment. And thanks for your encouragement regarding renting a car. Wow, you have gotten around: very brave of you, indeed.

I will definitely keep you all posted of future travel adventures. Thanks again!

Susan
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Old Oct 22nd, 2013, 08:10 PM
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Susan, what an enjoyable trip report. I have enjoyed reading about your travels and discovered we share the same birthday! I spent my 50th in the Loire Valley and treasure the memories. While we have been independent travelers, DH and I are considering a tour to Italy next year. I appreciate hearing about your tour experience as we consider this option. Loved all the terrific photos.

Scootoir
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Old Oct 22nd, 2013, 10:12 PM
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Scootoir: Thank you for reading the entire report and for commenting (more than once!). Wow; same birthday. Also, we share it with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Your 50th in the Loire Valley sounds magical (and I do hope you had better weather than I did there).

I hope you find a tour package that suits your style of travel.

Susan
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Old Oct 23rd, 2013, 03:48 AM
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Hi again Susan001,

Too bad about getting a cold, but I think that your decision to stay with the group was wise because there is so much to see in the Old Town of Nice. That old aristocratic home with the musical instruments sounds intriguing.

Also you got a chance to see the Chagall Museum. I love Chagall. I think that the museum was under renovation when I was there back in 2007 so I missed it. I did see his grave at the charming hill town of St. Paul de Vence. Chagall’s life is remarkable – his work retains a childlike joy in living, regardless of his historic circumstances.

Glad that you got to see Villefranche-sur-Mer , if only for a short time. Gorgeous. We only viewed it from the road above on our way to Monaco. The view was stunning. By the way, you did not miss that much in Monaco except for the fabulous gardens.

I really enjoyed your pics of these spots and the fun shots of all of your guides. Thanks for putting them all together. It is unlikely that I will return to the south of France, but my jaunt there remains one of my favorite travel memories and I appreciate the chance to relive it through your great report.

Dare I ask, where to next???
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Old Oct 23rd, 2013, 04:27 AM
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I'm sorry the trip has come to an end. ;^( Thanks very much for sharing both your experiences and your splendid photos!
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Old Oct 23rd, 2013, 04:51 AM
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Enjoyed traveling with you, thanks for the report. Good luck with the driving!
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