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Trip Report FOCUS ON FRANCE: Paris and South of France

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August 25-September 13, 2016


This past spring, in planning for a late summer European trip, we had France on our minds: Paris, a re-visit of some favorite locations south, and an exploration of new areas. This would be a contrast with our trip last year to Central (Eastern) Europe which included, along with the beauty and cultures of the places visited, focus on the impact of the Nazis and Soviets on these countries.

Aware of our late start, and being inundated with activities at home leaving us little time for the detailed planning which would be involved, we worked out what we felt would be a satisfying combo. We would do the planning for Paris, and rely on a tour which traveled the “Country Roads of France”, as it was called, to explore other regions.

With three weeks to travel, following a few days in Paris, we would join the tour for what we called our “France Sampler”: a short re-visit of the Alps and the Cote d’Azur, and exploration of new regions: Burgundy, Provence, Languedoc, and Dordogne. We felt confident that we could utilize the positives of the tour: transportation, hotel bookings, knowledgeable guide, etc. etc. and depart from the group according to our own interests.

Again, we experienced that international travel always involves the same endless “things to do”. But finally, “Off to Paris and the South of France!” Great expectations!

Here are memories of experiences from what turned out to be a wonderful French adventure: natural beauty, excellent wine discoveries, appreciation of food, ancient and medieval architecture, history, French culture, and so much more.



We arrived at CVG (Cincinnati) airport just before 4 PM; skycap did take care of our bags So we were comfortably early, and could linger a bit as we snacked at McDonalds and made a couple of calls before heading to Gate B5 for our 6:32 PM flight . We are pre-certified for security…nice to leave shoes on, no pulling out of computer, etc.

The 7 ½ hour flight was smooth. As with most international flights, it just seemed long and difficult to get some shuteye in an upright position. The flight routine is the same: be served a drink, then a light meal, then the lights are dimmed, and most sleep as best they can.

At one restroom break, we had a friendly discussion with an older Iranian man who was heading for Tehran. He had visited his son who owns a restaurant nearby us in N. Kentucky named “House of Green” with emphasis on fresh vegetables. We told him that we’d try it.

We touched down at CDG about 8:30 AM. It took a while to taxi to the gate, CDG having the distinction of being the largest international airport. We arrived in Terminal 2…and made the seemingly endless walk to arrive in Immigration. Many arrivals, with only three windows open, caused about 1 ½ hour line for those of us coming from a non-EU location. Again, a lively discussion with a couple from Washington D.C. who had worked for the Chicago Tribune, helped pass the time. Tom’s remark about the wife’s dead-on resemblance to Jodie Foster is what initiated our discussion. She acknowledged that many people tell her that.

Fortunately, our luggage had arrived with us, in contrast to last year when delayed baggage cost us almost a day of time! We purchased a 2-day museum pass (48 EUR each). Having several museums on our list, we thought it would be a worthwhile purchase to avoid the lines.

Cab fare to the St. Germain-des-Pres area was 55 EUR with a tip added. We’re glad that cabs accept credit cards…very honest and up front dealings from the driver…took about 40 minutes with limited traffic to arrive at the Le Regent Hotel.

We were excited to begin the first prong of our France venture: several days in Paris. At our hotel check-in, we reacquainted ourselves with Angelique, our favorite desk clerk, who remembered us from two years ago. Our room 61 is small with a shower in the tub…adequate and nicely located with a unique terrace overlooking parts of the surrounding area. Continental breakfast was included with our room rate.

We felt hungry, and with all the nearby restaurants, we easily found a good ham/egg/cheese crepe at a brasserie (16.20 EUR). The surrounding streets were bustling with activity on this beautiful, if very hot, day.

In spite of the things on our list for the day, jet lag, which we never want to acknowledge, caught up with us, maybe made worse because we were not able to get good rest before leaving home. We decided to do what the spirit moved. Just being in Paris and strolling the streets was an enjoyable introduction to our four-day stay.

Following lunch, we enjoyed a walk up Rue Dauphine to the Seine. Pont Neuf is a wonderful view in both directions, with Pont Alexandre and Notre Dame both visible from the bridge. It’s always of interest to note that the oldest bridge in Paris is named “Neuf”. There was a lot of activity in the bouquinistes lining the streets. We’re always interested in the street artists, but today they seemed to be absent.

In view of the sunny day, and our draggy feeling, we decided to forego museum plans and visit some of the traditional Paris sights, with no particular agenda in mind. We made our way to Trocadero and had ice cream for Margie and a beer for Tom at the Le Wilson Brasserie overlooking the area. The waiter commented to a family who entered that the temperature was the same inside the restaurant, as on the covered patio: “Tres Chaud”. No A/C.

Following that stop, we enjoyed the open terrace of the Palais de Chaillot for one of the best views of the Eiffel Tower. Since there was reconstruction of the fountains in front of the Palais, the area on the terrace was reduced and fencing was surrounding it. But it still allowed for comfortable viewing.

We descended the couple flights of stairs and walked down an inviting pathway through the Jardin de Chaillot with its long green lawn and a multitude of brilliant flowers. A shady park bench looked very inviting. Did we mention that it was hot? 90’s F. But we were just happy to have a clear day with blue skies.

After enjoying a restful pause, we walked the remainder of the garden and crossed the Seine via the Pont d’Elena. On the other side, we were happy to buy a drink to quench our thirst. It’s amazing how much time can be consumed just walking about enjoying the Champs de Mars and the atmosphere of Paris.

Back to the Le Regent to unpack a bit and freshen up for a 7:30 dinner reservation. Before leaving home, Margie had booked the Andre’ Allard Restaurant. This restaurant had been given good reviews as a moderately-priced, typically French restaurant, and we liked that it was near our hotel.

Upon arrival at Andre’ Allard, we were greeted at the door by four or five waiters, dressed in their typical black and white suits, and given a corner booth just aside the wine bar. The meal began with a nice red wine, followed by a tasty cucumber salad, fresh baked bread, and their delicious French butter. Never have we tasted such wonderful butter!

The service was great and the wine, salad, pommes frites and bread were a “10”. However, the main part of the meal took a dive. The filet de boeuf aux poivres presented looked beautiful, generous sizes. However, both were so tough that, even with their steak knives, we could barely cut any pieces! The old cliché, “cuts like shoe leather”, could be perfectly applied. We ate very little of the boeuf, tiny pieces at that. However, the pommes frites which accompanied it were perfect!

For a tasty finale, we ordered a sorbet and cappuccinos, and left Allard’s 133.20 EUR poorer, leaving a 5 EUR tip. Margie’s eyes were heavy as we finished the sorbet and cappuccinos. A recommendation to others who might choose Allard’s would be: “Don’t order boeuf.”
A short walk to our hotel; happy to be in Paris! Off to bed by about 11 PM.



Great to sleep about 9 ½ hours! About 9 AM, we descended the circular staircase to the lower level, which looked like a former wine cellar, for our complimentary breakfast. The tables were attractively set, as one might expect in France. We were served a typical French continental breakfast consisting of croissants and fresh bread, regular yogurt that needed some jam to flavor it, and café au lait.

Following breakfast, we walked down Rue Saint Andre’ Des Arts to St Michel Square, the hub of the Latin Quarter. This route is lined with shops and restaurants.

We had several museums on our list, and thought that we might visit the Musee’ d’Orsay. As we had hoped, it did not appear too crowded. The museum pass worked well to avoid the line which had formed.

We’ve visited the Musee’ d’Orsay a few times in the past, and still experienced it as a great as ever. Our main interest was impressionism…and this museum has an abundance of it: Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, Degas, etc. We spent most of our time in the 2nd and 5th floor exhibit rooms. So many great works. . .and not crowded. Farther on in our trip, we would be visiting towns which provided inspiration for some of these artists.

It was interesting and relieving, to see the signs posted, “No selfie sticks!”

Our 2-hour rule was easily exceeded, and we were tired as we headed toward the Champs Elysees. Although the stores lining it aren’t the appeal, it is always impressive to see the Arc de Triomphe, the architecture of the buildings, and the view down the tree-lined avenue to the Place de la Concorde. And interesting people-watching!

Café Deauville, which we had enjoyed in the past, was our choice for lunch. Finding an outdoor table, we each ordered a 16 oz. 1664 draft beer and a crepe with ham and cheese. Normally, we wouldn’t think of beer as an accompaniment to a crepe, but the hot day made a cold beer taste quite refreshing.

We easily found a nearby taxi stand and within a few minutes were facing the entrance of the beautiful Palais Garnier Opera House. (9 EUR) for the Mercedes ride to the front door. Again, no problem using credit cards in taxis. We knew that our museum pass was not valid at the Opera House. ($11 EUR each to enter).

What a gorgeous place with gold leaf everywhere, magnificent marble staircases, sculptures and paintings by famous artists of the day, and the auditorium ceiling painted by Chagall! Though we had visited the Opera Garnier several years ago, we had forgotten just how beautiful it is. On each visit to Paris, we like to focus on one outstandingly ornate building interior, and for us this trip, the Opera House was it. The audio guides were excellent ($2 EUR each).

As we crossed the plaza to the Café de la Paix nearby to enjoy smoothies, we snapped photos of the outside of the Opera Garnier, stunning in its own right. It seems that every time we re-visit a place, we observe new details, and so it was today in the Opera House. No Phantom in sight!

Returning to our hotel to freshen up for dinner, we asked Angelique for a restaurant recommendation in the area. We easily found her suggestion, Cepe e’ fique, located on Cours de Commerce, a cobbled “passage” off Rue St. Andre’des Arts. It was a small, simple French place, but the food was wonderful.

We enjoyed their onion soup and boeuf bourguinon (which was on special for 19 EUR). They recommended a vin rouge from Languedoc, an area which we would visit later in our trip. It was a perfect pairing with our meal. The beef in the bourguinon was so tender, a treat after last evening’s experience.

We lingered till about 11:30, having a great discussion with a couple from Melbourne, Australia. We spoke about what is trending in both countries, plus travel experiences.

It was a good day visiting both the Musee d’Orsay and the Opera Garnier, and just ambling around and enjoying the ambience of Paris. The delightful evening meal capped off the day.



Up at 7, even though we retired after midnight last night. Our goal was 10:00 Mass at Notre Dame.

We walked the 10-15 minutes to Notre Dame and easily found seating. There was a smooth exchange of people leaving the previous liturgy and entering for the 10 AM Mass which began very punctually.

Most of the main parts of the Mass were surprisingly and beautifully sung in Latin. But it was evident from the responses to the parts that were in French that there was a predominance of French-speaking worshipers, as one might expect. Even though visitors were permitted to walk around the perimeter while the middle sections were blocked off for worship, the liturgy was inspirational and completed in about an hour.

At the end, we shot a few photos of the stained glass windows and views of the long line forming outside on the plaza. On every visit to Paris, it’s our tradition to visit Notre Dame.

This was another beautiful, sunny day, with a perfect temperature. Luxembourg Gardens was calling us. We headed up the hill in that direction, but before venturing into the gardens, we first enjoyed brunch at an outside table of the Le Rostand Restaurant.

Tom’s croque madame and Margie’s quiche loraine were both excellent. We enjoyed our meal with a vin blanc for Margie and a beer for Tom as we watched the people arriving by bus or bikes, passing by to cross the street to the garden entrance.

The Luxembourg Gardens had never been so impressive! A perfect day to appreciate the outstanding palace, fronted by the large pond, flower gardens, pots of geraniums, green grass, with chairs and benches scattered around inviting people to relax; small sailboats in the water, lots of bodies lying out in the sun at the far end away from the walkers; even a small restaurant on the premises. Good job, Marie de Medici, for providing such a wonderful summer spot for enjoyment!

A shady spot with two inviting chairs was the perfect place for relaxation. Although we’ve seen Luxembourg Gardens in the past, we’ve never had the pleasure of enjoying it on such an ideal day. The flowers were at their peak, and all the grass was lush. Our visit lasted much longer than we had anticipated, but why not take full advantage of this beautiful garden on such a perfect day?

The palace, which now serves as the Senate, is huge and not normally able to be toured except in Patrimoine Week. Maybe in the future we’ll visit during the 3rd week of September for these “Heritage Days” and have the opportunity to tour the interiors of the Senate and other notable buildings.

After a couple of hours in the Luxembourg Garden, we tore ourselves away to walk the short distance to the Pantheon. In our past visits to Paris, we have never visited the Pantheon, and thought we’d like to step into a bit of history. Our museum pass was valid for the 2nd time…hardly worth the $98 we paid (used about ½ of that). Tourism was down in Paris, and thus the lines are not so long that the pass is necessary.

The Pantheon exterior is impressive, resembling the Pantheon of Rome. Louis XV commissioned the architect Jacques-Germain Souflot to erect this edifice in thanksgiving to God for his recovery from an illness. Due in part to financial difficulties, construction which began in 1757, lasted until 1791. The architect died before his goal of combining lightness and brightness using classical principles could be achieved. However, the Pantheon is still considered to be one of the most important architectural achievements of its time.

Over the years, the usage of the Pantheon has changed. Originally a church honoring St. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, after the French Revolution the new government declared it a mausoleum dedicated to venerable patriots, scientists, philosophers, artists etc. On and off it has been returned to a church, but now it is again mostly a mausoleum underneath and the first floor a large open space with impressive statuary and columns.

We visited the undercroft, quite a large system with main passages and small offshoots where the notable citizens of France are interred. We visited several crypts, among them Voltaire, Rousseau, Marie Curie, and Louis Braille, and viewed some videos showing how the Parisians honor the passing of their famous citizens.

Returning upstairs, we spent a couple of minutes observing the Foucault pendulum, a device conceived in 1851 by the French physicist Leon Foucault as a simple demonstration of the rotation of the earth. There were quite a few people gathered around the viewing area.

Following our Pantheon visit, which again went longer than we had anticipated, we enjoyed some sorbet and café au lait at Le Comptoir nearby. In Paris, one is never far from a café!

Each trip we, especially Margie, like to visit one high spot to enjoy a panoramic view of Paris. We’ve enjoyed Montmartre at sunset a few times, the Eiffel Tower, climbed the Arc de Triomphe, etc. but never made it to top of the Tour Montparnasse. On a previous trip, it began to rain just as we were ready to ascend.

Given the ideally clear day, we headed in that direction, and paid our 15 EUR each for a trip to the 56th floor. This was a perfect day to take advantage of the 360’ views of Paris. We learned that the elevator goes only to floor 52, with the remaining floors reached by a stairway. That is, unless one has reservations at the Le Ciel de Paris Restaurant. An elevator goes right to that area on the 56th floor. That might be on our “to do” list for our next visit.

Until more recently, after the Eiffel Tower, Tour Montparnasse was the second highest building in Paris. Several years ago the Tour Fust at La Defense has taken over that distinction. But whatever the height ranking, the view was outstanding. We took many photos on the first observation level, and then walked the other 75 steps up to the top terrace to view the city. Fantastic views in all directions.

From the Tour Montparnasse, we caught a bus to Boul. St. Germain where we intended to have dinner. Another great area of Paris, it’s close to our Le Regent Hotel. So many appealing outdoor/indoor restaurants/cafes…so many people frequenting them.

A happy find was the Brasserie Vagenende. We chose to sit in the more casual outdoors and shared the melt-in-your-mouth filet de boeuf chateaubriand béarnaise au poivre with their outstanding pommes frites. Wine and beer, of course, with the meal topped off with sorbet and café’au lait. The service was excellent.

The inside of Vagenende was beautiful. Margie pointed out the well-dressed people eating there and we both agreed that the Vagenende was a definite repeat ($67). On a return visit, this will be at the top of our restaurant list!

We returned to our hotel via a walk down Rue Gregoire de Tours and took note of an Italian restaurant that Angelique had earlier recommended. It was closed, but looked appealing for our next trip! In Paris, we always plan for that next visit!

The atmosphere was lively around Rue Buce. A small Dixieland Jazz band was playing in the area of many outdoor cafes. We lingered for a while, enjoying their entertainment and marveling at the large number of people out this Sunday night.

We headed back to Le Regent, and did some packing in order to be more ready for our morning check-out. Good night just after 11 PM. Another wonderful day in Paris!



Up at 7:30 or so…continental breakfast…check-out wasn’t until noon…stored our luggage at Le Regent. Today was the day we would join a tour group at the Pullman Hotel in Montparnasse. We were ready for “Prong Two” of our journey, our “South of France Sampler”.

After checking out of Le Regent, we decided to make this a more leisurely day. We headed down Rue Saint Andre’ des Arts toward the Latin Quarter, stopping in some of the many shops. After the days of sun and blue skies, today was a bit overcast, and even a bit drizzly, but it didn’t last long.

We stopped by the famous English bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, and purchased a paperback copy of Animal Farm, a timely subject. Afterward, we walked along a section of the Seine which we do not ordinarily visit.

Ile St. Louis is usually on our list, and after doing some leisurely window shopping, we chose La Chaumiere En Isles for our lunch. It’s situated just over the bridge with a nice view of Notre Dame. A wonderful salad for Margie and omelette for Tom….with drinks and café au lait , and great service. (53,50 EUR).

Following that delightful lunch, we walked several more streets on Ile St. Louis, and wended our way back to Le Regent. The Notre Dame gardens, with flowers still in bloom, provided a pleasant stop.

Angelique, our fave, was on duty at the hotel, and called a cab that arrived within three minutes. A few miles and 15 EUR later we arrived at the Pullman Montparnasse Hotel where we were quickly checked in and our luggage was soon delivered to room 1101. It was here that we were to meet in the lobby to begin our travel to Burgundy, the Alps du Rhone, Cote d’Azur, Provence, Languedoc, and the Dordogne. We used the opportunity to shower and dress for the evening.

The Tour Group gathered in the lobby at 6 PM. We met Laurent, our native French director, whom we learned has been with the company for 17 years. We immediately liked him! And, as we would experience, he proved to be the perfect guide!

A “Welcome Dinner” was held in the Latin Quarter at Chez Clement Restaurant. The evening turned out to be a good experience. Champagne was served. It’s always a bit unnerving to meet totally new people and wonder just how things will go. However, we were seated with three Aussie couples. We sat across from Rob and Yvonne from Australia, not realizing that they would be our favorite couple and that we’d have quite a few experiences together.

The first item on the menu was a tasty French onion soup. We were treated to some escargot. Though not being inclined toward it, we thought it worth a try. The entrée (or “main” as the French say) was a deliciously prepared chicken, with accompaniments of potatoes and veggie. We were given our choice of beer, wine, etc. And a tasty dessert. Overall, we enjoyed the camaraderie and the first meal was very pleasant.

Back to the hotel just before 9 PM. Laurent pointed out that the Eiffel Tower, which we could see if we walked up a block or so to a large roundabout, would be lit up and “sparkling” at 9 PM. So we enjoyed the walk and the light show. It would be our farewell to Paris until our return in two weeks.

Tomorrow it’s off to Burgundy!

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    Maitaitom, glad to have you on board. Goal is to keep pressing forward on this TR!

    Denisea, Always good to hear from you. Yes. . .next visit to Allard's we'll have the sole Meunier.

    We didn't feel appropriately dressed to try the bar in Le Ciel; only the casual place on Level 52.

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    TUESDAY, AUGUST 30, 2016

    When we travel independently, we are normally early risers, not wanting to lose out on the opportunities of the area we’re visiting. So we easily fell into the morning routine of a tour: luggage in hallway one hour before departure; that is, unless you prefer to load your own on the coach.
    The morning began, as most mornings, with a buffet breakfast spread, including eggs and all the goodies one could hope for.

    We left at 8:30; met the traffic which Parisians everyday experience on the peripherique leaving the city center, and within a short time were on our way to Troyes, a medieval city along the Seine about 93 miles southeast of Paris.

    We made a stop after 1 ½ hours for restrooms/café au lait; then on to Troyes. We spent from 11:30 till 1:30 in Troyes with a tour of the medieval city center, led by Laurent, lunch, and time to explore on our own.

    Troyes (pronounced like “twaw”) has a large town square, with an impressive town hall, and narrow cobbled streets with half-timbered houses, mainly of the 16th century.

    One very interesting feature is that the second and higher floors of the buildings are wider than the ground floors. This custom developed because taxes were assessed on the square footage of ground area occupied. The upper floors of houses were so close that a cat could easily jump from one house to the other. Apparently, living in Troyes is slowly becoming popular again.

    Although a typical French city, Troyes was occupied in the 1st Century BC by the Romans. It was the crossroads for transportation since the Roman era, primarily the Via Agrippa, and still is a main hub for highways and train connections. Early on, the city became a financial and commercial center. The measurement used to this day for gold and silver, the “troy ounce”, is said to have its origins in the city of Troyes.

    Located at the southern tip of the Champagne region, its city center is shaped like the cork of a champagne bottle. However, its champagne isn’t known to have the quality of Epernay and regions around Reims. Another interesting note is that Troyes is the home of Lacoste clothing.

    Because it was another beautiful day, we chose to enjoy our lunch outdoors in the town square, sharing a sandwich and pastry with light coke (6.80 EUR) purchased at La Mil Caline, a “take-away” bistro.

    While enjoying our lunch, we could get a good view of the medieval portion of the city, limited to a few blocks, and observe the multitude of outdoor cafes.

    The city has many narrow alley ways leading to the main square lined with numerous cafes and restaurants. After our picnic lunch, we walked through its streets and alleys, stopping at the cathedral and taking note of all the shops.

    Following that stop in Troyes, it was on to the region of Burgundy (aka Burgogne). We learned that about 200 million years ago, the region was part of a vast, tropical sea which created limestone soils, discovered to be perfect for grape growing.

    Winemaking goes back to the Romans in the 1st century AD, but it was Catholic monks that established the vineyards in the Middle Ages, growing grapes for the church and the aristocratic Dukes of Burgundy.

    After the French Revolution, the land was given back to the people. Today, these vintners take pride in their attachment to the land. As we traveled on, we would learn so much more about this land and the many family-owned wineries who continue the production and uphold the reputation of the Burgundy wines.

    We learned early on that Laurent was a great source of information, and as we traveled he would share so much about areas we were visiting. So as we drove from Troyes to Chablis, he began giving us info about the wine of Burgundy.

    The main grapes of the Burgundy region are pinot noir and chardonnay, regulated by the French government. We would learn the meaning of “AOC”, “Appellation d’origine controlee” and the strict production conditions imposed by the French government.

    As we proceeded on to the city of Chablis, we enjoyed the scenery along the back highways which was, as one might expect, mostly gently hills of grape vines. Approaching the quaint little town of Chablis, we crossed a small canal surrounded with colorful flower boxes. A welcoming sight!

    In Chablis, we made our first winery stop. At La Cave du Connoisseur we were introduced to Chablis wine. We have always enjoyed wine, but have not been familiar with the French appellations and the government regulations for control. And. in most cases, haven’t focused on French wines.

    The “tasting” included four levels and explanations of the various qualities of the wine. It was informative to begin learning about the different growing conditions to produce the levels of wine, the effects of climate, the importance of the glass shape and the proper way of most appreciating the wine.

    We also learned that all Chablis wine is produced from chardonnay grapes which are small, round, and with a limey-yellow color. These vines prefer moist growing conditions in rich, limestone, or chalky soil. They like humidity. We were glad that we had enjoyed lunch before imbibing the four levels of Chablis offered.

    That winery visit in Chablis was a welcome treat, and a fitting introduction to Burgundy. Then it was two more hours to travel to Dijon, the historic and modern capitol of Burgundy. We traveled continuing miles of green vineyards along the terraced hillsides. Rock outcroppings contributed to the beauty of the countryside.

    Again, as we were traveling, we received so much info from Laurent. He described some of the history of Dijon, home to the Dukes of Burgundy from the early 11th until the late 15th century. He described the “Wine Route” we would be traveling, and a visit to a private winery which we could anticipate on tomorrow’s agenda.

    The total drive today was about five hours, albeit comfortably broken up by various stops of interest. Tom caught a little snooze on the last leg to Dijon, a luxury he couldn’t enjoy if we were driving!

    In Dijon, we were happy to check into the Grand Hotel La Cloche (the bell) for two nights. Our lovely room # 117 was well-appointed and beautifully decorated. The wall behind the bed was a large Renaissance sketch mural. One interesting feature was the glass wall between the bedroom and the bathroom vanity area. It was graced with a framed hanging Renoir print. There was a drape to pull for privacy.

    After arrival, and getting ourselves settled, we had time to walk around the city center, enjoying the Square D’Arcy, which includes the park across the street from our hotel. This lovely park has a large flowing fountain which feeds into a sizeable pond, flanked by some statuary.

    We learned that only a few years ago, all vehicle traffic within the city center of Dijon was cut-off and the area is now a pedestrian-only.

    Entering under the triumphal arch, a mini Arc de Triomphe, we explored a few of the shops lining each side of the main street: Rue de la Liberte.

    After our exploration of a bit of the immediate area, we headed back for a 7:30 meal in the hotel restaurant. As with many activities, we could have chosen to opt-out. However, we saw that the restaurant was attractive and elegantly set for the dinner, and it looked inviting for our evening meal.

    It proved to be a delicious meal of beef bourguignon. Why not in Burgogne? It’s a fave of both of us. Again, a delicious salad, veggie, dessert, bread, and wine were included. The meal was excellent, and with enjoyable company. We sat with Yvonne and Rob whom we had met the previous evening in Paris.

    We were back in our room by 9:15 or so. Another nice full day that passed quickly, with new experiences and learning about wine and France. We were glad to have time to catch up on our trip notes and e-mail.

    Tomorrow: Dijon City Center
    Wine Route to Beaune
    Fixin Winery Visit

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    Enjoying your report. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

    Just many people on the tour? Full sized motor coach or something smaller? Could you provide a link to the tour.

    Thanks, kay

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    Once again, a well written and interesting trip report Tom. Thank you for sharing.

    I myself just returned from a special purpose weeks trip to Paris (Oct 9 -16) and visited many of the sites you did. I'm no stranger to Paris either (6th visit this time besides living and studying there briefly 5 years ago) but there is always delight in discovering new neighbourhoods and sites, as well as revisiting old ones and seeing them through new eyes. I was exhausted by my purposed schedule but still had a great time.

    Looking forward to more.

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    Kansas, Schnauzer, Adelaidean, thanks for the nice comments!

    FuryFluffy, glad you appreciate our combo of historical info with the personal. Our target audiences include, of course, the Fodorites; but also friends and family who are interested, but not as well-traveled, and ourselves. Our TR serves as our travel memories. Thanks for following along!

    Kay P & Scootair, we hope to include observations of our tour experience as we move along. The company we traveled with was Insight Vacations which we booked through AAA. We traveled on a very comfortable coach. . .about 34 people, a nice mixture of Aussies, Canadians, and Americans.

    Mathieu, always great to hear from you. We just picked up your post about the Toronto Symphony's tribute to Syrian refugees. How inspiring! We'll listen to YouTube, and respond.

    Thanks so much for following along!

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    WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 31, 2016

    Dijon Town Center
    "Route des Grand Crus" to Beaune
    Winery Tour/Dinner

    After breakfast overlooking the lovely garden area of the hotel, we were ready for a walking discovery of the historical center of Dijon, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site on July 4, 2015.

    During the 11th to the late 15th centuries, when Dijon was home to the Dukes of Burgundy, it was a town of tremendous power and wealth, with the reputation of a great European center of art, learning, and science.

    Our tour began in D’Arcy Square, adjacent to our La Cloche Hotel. D’Arcy Square is named for the leading edge man, Henri D’Arcy, an engineer who brought water to the city of Dijon, the first city in France to receive it. This was quite a feat in its day.

    Entering the pubic walkway leading to the main attractions of the city, we again passed through their Arc de Triumph. On the rear of the arc is a plaque paying tribute to Thomas Jefferson, marking his relationship with Lafayette and his visit to Dijon, part of his three-month exploration of France in 1787.

    We continued our walking tour down the Rue de la Rupublique, following the Owl’s Trail. This is a series of numbered brass plaques with engravings of an owl, seen on the sidewalks and streets, which guide visitors around to the city’s main places of interest. Apparently the owl (choudette) has been adopted as a symbol for the city. Laurent’s commentary made the walk extremely informative, as he filled in so many interesting details.

    We saw the highlights of Dijon center: among them the Palais of the Dukes of Burgundy, which is undergoing a major renovation, the Musee’ des Beaux Arts, several churches of Dijon, and the Market area.

    On an outside corner of the Notre Dame church, the oldest in Dijon, is the first owl in Dijon, sculpted from stone. Apparently, for three centuries people have been touching it with their left hands, believing their wishes would come true. It appeared quite worn, so we hope that all of the people who followed this superstition enjoyed good fortune!

    Walking around the city, we again contrasted architecture from the 15th through the 19th centuries. Even the city pharmacy is in a 16th century structure with wooden beams. We noted the glazed tile roofs of terracotta, green, yellow, and black, arranged in geometric patterns, which are characteristic of Burgundy, and which we would see as we traveled around.

    In one square, there is a sculpture of the wine god, Bacchus, very appropriate for this wine producing capitol.

    We learned the meaning of the window decal “Artisan” indicating that only fresh ingredients are used and that the food is prepared in house. Of course, a popular stop was the Maille Moutarde store, one of the premier Dijon Mustard producers. One fact about Dijon mustard that we had never known was just how many varieties there are, and how much interest fellow travelers would have in them.

    We spent more time exploring Dijon center on our own, and enjoying a café’ au lait before our trip to Beaune, by way of the famous ”Routes des Grand Crus”.

    It took a few minutes to negotiate out of Dijon proper, and catch the back road. Once on the Grand Cru Route, we experienced the gently rolling miles of green vineyards. Beaune is about 29 miles south of Dijon. The section of the “Routes des Grand Crus” north of Beaune is referred to as the “Cote de Nuits.”

    We normally wouldn’t be motivated to remember that fact, except that the Burgundy region is recognized as one of the most popular regions of wine production in the world. The Burgundy vineyards produce some of the most prestigious and expensive wines. The top wines are mostly produced on this narrow strip of land running south from Dijon, considered the region of “Grand Cru“vineyards.

    Laurent explained more details about the Burgundy region, the grapes of Burgundy: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and the rigorous work of the growers. Apparently, each vineyard has its own secrets, traditions, and special techniques. Their role of “vigneron” or winemaker is a way of life and a source of great pride for them.

    Although we’re wine amateurs, in contrast to some of our friends, and in no way aspiring to become connoisseurs, we did find the information about wines which we were learning very interesting, and were happy that a portion of our travels included this outstanding wine area.

    The middle and upper slopes of the vineyards receive the most exposure to sun and best drainage, and produce the finest wines: the “Grand Crus”. The “Premium Crus” come from somewhat less favorably exposed slopes. The relatively ordinary wines are produced from grapes in flat territory, close to the villages.

    As we passed medieval towns, picturesque villages, beautiful chateaus and abbeys, we made intermittent stops. We learned about the term “Clos” on so many vineyards, meaning “enclosure” by stone walls or iron gates. This practice began as a method for owners to protect their vineyards from theft. The walls provide some protection from winter winds. However, the term "clos" has come to be used by other commercial wineries.

    One winery of particular interest was Clos de Vougeot, originally owned by Cistercian monks. It became property of the state until the French Revolution, and since has had several owners.

    The Grand Cru wines from Clos de Vougeot are in such demand that they are reserved years in advance, and are served to heads of state or purchased by only the very wealthy. Confident that we would not attempt to put our names on the list, we proceeded onward to Beaune, where we were looking forward to lunch.

    We entered Beaune through its impressive rampart, and witnessed its ring road. Unlike Chablis, Beaune is not a town that bears the name of a famous wine. However, it is still very much involved in the wine culture. Although it produces its share of reds, the vineyards around Beaune apparently produce a somewhat higher percentage of white than those farther north, as well as a small percentage of sparkling wines. But as we enter the ramparts of Beaune, wine isn’t the first thing on our minds. It’s food, as we were hungry.

    The city was having an outdoor market, including fresh fruit, which looked appealing. However, we soon learned that these markets do not stay open too long, something we would experience in other cities which we would visit. At 1 PM, they would begin closing.

    We wended our way around the market, purchasing some fruit for snacking. After it closed, we walked the old town, which is quite compact. Its surrounding narrow streets are lined with shops and old buildings, historical mansions, half-timbered houses, and flowered squares.

    The fruit snack was temporarily satisfying, but we wanted to have lunch before visiting the most significant attraction in Beaune, the Hotel-Dieu. We chose the Baltard Café’, which overlooks the square, for a rose’ and a shared croque madame. Laurent had introduced us to the rose’ of Burgundy, explaining that it was a refreshing mid-day wine. So we tried it with lunch and used an expression which we had picked up from Aussie friends: “Spot on!”

    Then we headed to the Hospices de Beaune, better known as Hotel-Dieu, a masterpiece of 15th century Flemish architecture, which has been preserved and renovated.The exterior of the whole complex looks ordinary from the town square, except for its peaks and spires, but the Hotel-Dieu courtyard is outstanding with its colorful varnished-tiled roof, a Burgundian feature which we had seen on buildings in Dijon.

    Upon entering the Hotel-Dieu, or Hospices, we were happy to receive audio guides to lead us through this sizable museum.

    Hotel-Dieu was a vital hospital for its time. Established in 1443, it was constructed under the supervision of a chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy and his wife. Its patients included those wounded in war, notably the Hundred Years’ War with England; others having serious diseases, or the destitute. The finest materials were used in order to ensure its longevity.

    Mostly church people (nuns) served the 120 or so patients, many of whom were there to die. Many had no relatives and so gave their inheritance to the hospice. It was interesting, and a bit disconcerting, to see the rudimentary surgical instruments available at the time. There was a pharmacy where medicines were mixed. Part of the museum showed the kitchen, and an impressive Great Hall for the Poor, a long room with beds lining each wall, each cubicle draped with a brilliant red fabric. A chapel was at one end.

    Artistic highlights in the Hotel-Dieu were beautiful tapestries and the masterpiece Flemish painting, the polyptych-nine panels, depicting “The Last Judgment” by Rogier Van der Weyden.

    We were impressed to learn that the mission of the Hospices was carried on until the early 1970’s when a new hospital was constructed. But the vineyards donated to the Hotel-Dieu produce outstanding wines which are sold at an annual auction to benefit the Hospices and the local hospital.

    Although we had become aware of wineries surrounding Beaune, on this trip our visits would be in different areas. In fact, we would enjoy one such winery visit this evening in a village closer to Dijon.

    After a bit more exploration of Beaune, we exited through its ramparts and made the lovely return drive to Dijon. Upon arrival, we had some time to refresh in our hotel room, enjoying more Beaune fruit with a café. We could utilize an hour or so to venture into the Dijon town center before leaving for our winery/dinner venture at 6 PM. We even checked out the Galleries Lafayette on the main street.

    Our destination was the small village of Fixin along the Wine Route, not far from Dijon. Here we would visit a local winery, Clos St. Louis. Having visited wineries in California, we almost decided to skip it and have dinner in Dijon. However, we were happy that we did not miss this special occasion. Laurent knew the owner of Clos St. Louis, and that made the experience very personal.

    Phillipe, the owner, Martine, his wife and their daughter provided our evening experience. Phillipe lead us on a tour of his vineyard and discussed about every aspect of wine production…the plant, the amount of sun, soil effects, rain, location of the vines, time to harvest (usually late September), etc. He described the weather in Burgundy: cold winters, often with hard rains, hail, and frost, and warm summers, all having effect on the vineyards; consequently on the wines produced. Some years are better than others.

    Phillipe described how vines can live 40-50 years; that new vines are methodically introduced; that roots grow very deep. Phillipe picked up soil to let us see the consistency, and demonstrated the method for pruning the vines and picking the grapes. Phillipe was dedicated to hand-picking the grapes which he believes affect the quality of his wines vs. the usage of machines which have become popular, even among his neighbors.

    We learned about the French Government laws regarding the wine growing industry, controlling the types and amounts of vines grown. Finally, we grasped the meaning of “terroir”, a word we had seen on a restaurant name. We learned that it is not simply the land, but the symbiosis of grape, soil, climate, vineyard placement, and the human touch all rolled into one. So Burgundy is all about “terroir”. Next time we’re in Paris we’ll appreciate more the name of a little restaurant near our hotel: Vin et Terroir.

    Phillipe led us through his whole wine production area: vats, barrels, bottles, etc. and offered tastings of different levels of the Pinot Noirs. Several people were asking, “Which is the best wine?” trying to determine which grade of wine, including cost, is good, better, best. We liked Phillipe’s answer: “The one you like the best!”

    Clos St. Louis has been handed down from Phillipe’s grandfather, and he is very proud of carrying on the tradition. In fact, his daughter is now in college focusing on the aspects of agriculture relating to grape growing and wine production. Phillipe hopes that she will continue the family tradition at Clos St. Louis. He’s extremely proud of the many awards which his wines have received, prominently displaying them on a wall of his winery. We couldn’t resist taking a photo of Phillipe with his awards.

    Our learning of the dedication and work involved in maintaining a vineyard and wine production has left us with a new respect and appreciation for the vintners and for their wines.

    Following the tour and wine tastings, we proceeded to the family house where Martine had prepared a wonderful meal. Their dining room was large enough to accommodate three oval tables, each seating six. Perfect for our group.

    Apparently, Martine doesn’t particularly like wine, but she delights in being an excellent cook. Her salad had slivers of roast duck on it; the main was a delectable chicken with fromage and other spices! (As we continued our trip, we would learn about the government ratings of chickens.) The main dish included a tasty rice with broccoli and was accompanied with small samples of wines of differing levels. Then followed three cheeses as a palate cleanser, and an appealing dessert of a small fresh peach, pear pieces, ice cream, and some berry topping. And a finale of sparkling wine! A grand feast! (No worries as we had a DD!)

    Every few minutes during the meal, Phillipe would pop out of the kitchen and have something comical to say. Laurent and Phillipe had a great chemistry; both were humorous, interacting like old friends do! That made the occasion especially delightful!

    It was a short ride from Fixin back to the La Cloche Hotel in Dijon. En route, we discussed how happy we were not to have missed out on the special evening.

    Returning to our room, we followed our normal night routine. Tom summarizes the day’s events on the laptop, from notes scribbled as we travel, which Margie later uses for writing our TR. Margie gets clothes, etc. organized for the following day. We enjoy recapping experiences, and prepping for yet another adventure-filled tomorrow.

    Tomorrow: CHAMONIX-a Highlight Day for us!

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    Loving your trip report...excellent details.

    We have been to Paris often & visited most of the places you described but I did make note of Brasserie Vagenende as is seems like our kind of place.

    Going on from Paris to many, many places we have not been is a real treat.

    We have travelled in France extensively but your choices are all new to us and I will be making many notes on what you enjoyed. Again thanks for all the details. This is what we Fodorites look for in a trip report. =D>

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    Maitaitom, can't wait to see your pix from Beaune.

    And you guys were following along. . .literally, as you say.

    TPAYT, glad you found a few ideas from our TR. As you expressed, it's helpful to learn things from the experiences of other Fodorites. Thanks for reading!

    Adelaidean and cafegoddess, happy to have you on board.

    Adelaidean, every time we travel to Europe I think of you and other Aussies we've met who have to endure so many more hours in the sky. It makes our flights seem reasonable.

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    Hi Denise, we also gained a new respect for Pinot Noirs which we've enjoyed since our return,

    You're, no doubt, getting more excited as your holiday visit to Paris approaches. Wonderful time to be there. . .although there's really no bad time for Paris. Right?

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    "Hi Denise, we also gained a new respect for Pinot Noirs which we've enjoyed since our return,..."

    This should be an interesting Trip Report week for the both of us re: pino, eh (: Looking forward to Chamonix.


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    Maitaitom, working on Chamonix. Hope to post soon. Also, really looking forward to your next chapter!

    Judy, nice to hear from you! We'll add that rose cremente to our list when we stock up for the holidays. Thanks for the suggestion.

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    Off to CHAMONIX!

    First day of school for kids in France. For us, it’s an exciting day as we’re heading into the Rhone- Alps with our destination of Chamonix-Mt. Blanc.

    The weather looked to be perfect from the start: sun, blue skies, and mild temperatures. Today we would transition from history, architecture, art and learning about wine to dramatic natural beauty and enjoyment of wine.

    En route from Dijon, the terrain changed from green vineyards on terraced hillsides and beautiful chateaus to gradually ascending mountains in the background.

    As we exited for a lunch stop, we came upon a large metal sculpture of a chicken as a centerpiece in a welcoming roundabout. We were in Bresse, in the center of the French countryside, where the chickens are raised under stringent government regulations and awarded the appellation of “d’origine controllee” status. We enjoyed a light lunch at L’Aire du Poulet de Bresse. But, enough about chickens!

    We were eager to drive on and enjoy the mountain scenery which steadily grew more outstanding. We crossed the Jura Mountains, and passed fairly near to Lake Geneva, the fifty mile long lake which is shared by France and Switzerland, 1/3 being on the French side and 2/3 within Switzerland.

    Laurent explained that many of the French travel to Switzerland to work for higher pay, and the Swiss travel to France to shop, where prices are considerably less. He discussed the importance of trade within the European Union.

    As we drove on, we learned other information about this area, including the languages spoken: French, German, and Italian. The Olympic Committee headquarters is in Lausanne, a French-speaking part of Switzerland, and not far from Geneva.

    Suddenly, Mt. Blanc, with its 15,771 ft. peak, majestically appeared in the distance. We stopped for a while at a perfect point to take in the impressive view. We were still a few miles from the village of Chamonix.

    Two years ago, we spent a couple of weeks in the Alps of Austria and Switzerland, and a few years back were in Aosta, Italy. It’s no surprise to anyone who knows us that we love the mountains, so that chance to once more experience just a taste of the Alps was a highlight for us.

    As we continued on, we traveled over a long, high elevation road which crossed over the valley below.

    Arriving in Chamonix about 3 PM, we checked in to Le Prieure Hotel, thrilled that our room had a great view of Mt. Blanc. The hotel was a ski lodge, complete with racks for hanging skis, reminders of our many ski trips. But never to the Alps!

    After enjoying the view from our room deck, we went downstairs to pick up a glass of rose’ from the hotel bar. The lodge patio was a perfect place to relax while taking in the magnificent scenery of Mt. Blanc and the adjacent glacier. Mt. Blanc belongs to three nations: France, Switzerland, and Italy. However, France owns the tip.

    We made an evening trek to the little downtown area of Chamonix, not far from our hotel. We wandered around the quaint typical ski village, with Mt. Blanc and the Glacier ever present. Quite a scenic setting in the town being surrounded by mountains, with the River Arve rushing through its center.

    The main street, lined with shops selling sports’ equipment and clothing, provided the opportunity to buy a souvenir t-shirt for Tom and a peak hat for Margie.

    One main attraction of Chamonix is the Aiguille de Midi gondola which rises to an altitude of 12,000 + ft., then has an outside walkway offering a tremendous view, leading to an ascenceur or elevator carrying visitors up even higher, to get a close-up view of Mt. Blanc. From there, individual cable cars carrying 2-4 passengers per car travel across a several mile sea of ice to Helbronner in Italy.

    In planning for our trip, we brought wool scarves, gloves, and clothes for layering as we expected freezing temperature at the top. However, upon arriving, Laurent cautioned that it was extremely windy, especially at the summit. And noting the shortness of time to enjoy the experience, even foregoing the Helbronner segment, we resigned ourselves to taking in the beautiful views from the village center.

    If there is one place on our trip itinerary that we would re-visit, Chamonix will be tops on our list. Considering unpredictable weather in the mountains, we would stay for several days increasing our chances for favorable conditions, similar to what we did in the Berner Oberland.

    The hotel concierge had booked a 7:30 reservation for us and three acquaintances at the Panier des 4 Saisons in downtown Chamonix. We had read about this restaurant, located on a small alley off the downtown walking street. It was described as a wonderful French restaurant with good food and reasonable prices.

    We had arranged to meet Elizabeth, Edith, and Ady, two sisters and brother who were traveling together. We were seated at a nice corner oval both. Great food! Our friends had sea bass, and scallops; Tom and I had the steak meal with their delicious sauce, complimented by a pinot noir. All agreed that the meals were excellent. Great conversation. Lots of laughs. It was a fun time as all three of our new acquaintances are smart, witty, and have traveled a great deal.

    We returned to our hotel about 10 PM. But there was still time to enjoy the night sky and the moon illuminating Mt. Blanc before turning in for the night.


    Alps Excursion en route to ANNECY

    We awoke very early, eager to experience what we hoped would be another beautiful day! From our room, we watched the rising sun as it cast beautiful light on Mt. Blanc and the glacier.

    We haven’t mentioned “Tex” our masterful driver, who lives near Chamonix, and is highly familiar with the surrounding mountain roads. After enjoying a breakfast, never tiring of taking in the mountain scenery, we were eager to take the back mountain roads over the passes on the way to Annecy. We had full confidence in Tex!

    Wow! Our coach on narrow roads and sometimes meeting oncoming large trucks, needing to negotiate the limited road width. But Tex handled it like the pro that he is, as he has done the entire trip. The scenery was amazing! Tom and I enjoyed the twisty, “S” hairpin turns of the mountains, and were so happy to have this opportunity to travel back roads.

    We passed through small towns like Megeve, a charming resort which is said to appeal to a more upscale clientele. We learned that, in addition to winter sports, it is popular as a summer resort because of its lovely accommodations, restaurants, and shops which provide a great base for hiking, biking, and other sporting opportunities. To us, it looked like an ideal place to stay for a few days.

    Continuing our spectacular drive, signs for most of the way were pointing in the direction of Albertville. We encountered reminders of former Olympics and their dates from this area: of course, Chamonix, 1924 the first winter Olympics, which apparently greatly increased tourism to the area; Grenoble, 1968. Albertville, 1992. We noted the path of the “Tour de France” which was largely in the direction we traveled.

    The mountain pass, Col des Aravis, was especially enjoyable. A lovely café with an outdoor deck, a small chapel currently serving as a mountain parish, and a gift shop. . .all surrounded by amazing mountains. A great location for our café’au lait/restroom stop on the way to Annecy. The cows on the mountainside entertained with a parade and serenade of bells, passing us as they made their way to the feeding trough. Perfect weather certainly enhanced the experience!

    Continuing our drive through unbelievable scenery, the sight of Lake Annecy, surrounded by green mountains and wealthy estates, soon came into view. We arrived in the town of Annecy about noon. This lovely town, nestled beside the beautiful mountain lake, is called by some the “Venice of the Alps” because a network of canals runs through its old city center.

    The lakefront, whose shores were dotted with flowers, saw its share of people picnicking, bike riding, boating, or just walking. The area of town nearest the lake seemed to be fairly busy with tourists, so we moved on to a section where there seemed to be more locals.

    The streets of Annecy’s town center are lined with shops and restaurants. We spent about three hours strolling around Lake Annecy and the old city area. Our relaxed lunch at Café Creperie du Puits Saint Jean included an excellent meal of beef on top of roesti (special Swiss grated potatoes smothered with butter) with rose’ wine. Rose’ at lunch was a habit we had acquired in Burgundy.

    After a while exploring the many little shops, we walked farther down Rue du Paquier for a dessert at the Brasserie L’Abbaye. While Margie paid the bill, Tom walked a few blocks to the Zoom Camera Store to buy a new battery for the price of “only” 65 EUR !!!

    Having experienced the difficulty of finding “toilettes” in France, with many restaurants having only one for a considerably large seating area, we walked a few blocks to the tourist info building. It was a large newish structure, and there we found ample, clean restrooms.

    From there, we walked along a different section of the lake, realizing that the pathway was longer than it first appeared.

    After that nice respite at Annecy, the ride to Grenoble was
    less remarkable as we departed from the back roads and were on the main highway for the next two hours. But the scenery was still mountainous.

    Grenoble has a beautiful location surrounded by mountains, and the bridge entering the city is striking. We arrived just in time to experience work traffic, but again, Tex negotiated so well and we were happy to arrive within a short time at the Mercure Hotel. After a long day of travel amid mountain beauty, we were relieved to have a meal in the hotel restaurant.

    The evening meal consisted of a delicious ravioli entre’, a pork with potato/veggie accompaniment for the plat (entre’); pinot noir; and a dessert of a tasty pear custard. At our table were some of our favorite people: Rob and Yvonne, Edith, Elizabeth, and Ady. Discussions focused on travel experiences, with Yvonne and Rob’s barge trip down the Canal Midi in Bordeaux…30 miles covered in a week. . .being of special interest.

    After a long day beginning in Chamonix, with a nice stop in Annecy, the overnight in Grenoble served as a welcome pause on our travel to Nice.

    Tomorrow: the FRENCH RIVIERA!

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    I had both Chamonix and Annecy on my list of places to go, but unfortunately Tracy wouldn't take another week off work. Thanks for letting me go there with you vicariously.


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    Yes, both Chamonix and Annecy are beautiful, and we're sure they'll be in your future plans sometime.

    There are just so many places to enjoy! Not enough time to cover. We felt that way several months ago when we looked at the number of towns in Provence. Overwhelming. Choices, choices. A good problem to have, though. Agree?

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    Melnq8, glad to have you along for our ride. Yes. . .I think you'd like Burgundy, esp.
    BTW, the couple we became friends with, Yvonne and Rob, are from Perth. Thought of you at times when we talked with them.

    Kansas, thanks for your kind words!

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    Destination: Nice and the Cote d’Azur

    Today is another destination which we’re eager to re-visit after a number of years: the Cote d’Azur. With the orderly seat rotation on the coach, we were in luck to have the front seat, with its additional view out the huge front window, for the mountainous route to Nice. A real treat as the trip is a lengthy one! Nice is named after Nike, the god of victory. It’s a victory for us!

    It’s Saturday and that means less traffic. Again, a beautiful day weather-wise. We took a highway for only a short distance, but most all the way was via smaller roads.

    Our lunch stop was in a Carrefour, in Digne-les-Bains, a city whose claim to fame was that Napoleon had stopped here for a luncheon, albeit previous to any Carrefour. This huge complex is similar to a Walmart in the US; however, it was much nicer than the few Walmart’s we’ve experienced. We purchased a lunch in their cafe, a French birthday card for our niece, and two inexpensive tops for Margie, and had time left over to explore a bit.

    Following lunch, we continued on with beautiful mountainous scenery, following the Route of Napoleon. En route, we learned so much history from Laurent about France; facts that we recorded in our notebooks.

    The area we were traveling is part of the Alps-Maritimes, and the terrain is mountainous right down to the sea. Our destination, Nice, is a major tourist center, and its famous Promenade des Anglais was so named because of its popularity as a winter resort for the English since the eighteenth century.

    As the Mediterrean came into view, we thought the title Cote d’Azur was perfect, as the water was a beautiful azure blue. Our hotel in Nice was the Radisson Blu, located on the Promenade des Anglais.

    Although the Radisson Blu was described as waterfront, which was true, none of our rooms faced the water, somewhat of a disappointment. But the two pluses were the lovely breakfast terrace, and the rooftop bar and restaurant, all facing the Mediterranean.

    Contrary to what we had imagined, our hotel was quite a distance down the Promenade des Anglais from Old Town. . .a taxi or bus ride for sure. From a former weeklong visit to Nice, we hadn’t remembered the Promenade being that long!

    Before our evening venture into Old Town, we had time for a drink in the 8th floor rooftop bar, where the pool and a restaurant were also located. We chatted with Rob and Yvonne as we took in the gorgeous sea view. We learned that Yvonne is on the three-month leave that Australia gives to all employees after a ten-year service period with the same company or institution.

    After that refreshing respite, we were off via the coach for the Old Town. En route on the Promenade des Anglais, we paused as we passed the temporary memorial to the people killed in the attack on French Independence Day, July 14, 2016, not even one month ago. We learned that just today another victim had died, bringing the total to 86. Very sobering!!!

    Just inland from the Promenade is the main square in Nice, the Place de Massena, bordered by belle époque buildings. The square is popular for concerts, parades, and Bastille Day processions. But we were off to eat and enjoy.

    Dinner was at Le Safari with Rob and Yvonne; wood-fired pizza and way too much salad plus wine. All was excellent. Our attentive waiter was a fun guy from Croatia, who spoke excellent English. He offered to snap a couple of photos with both of our cameras.

    In addition to restaurants, the area was brimming with tents selling everything from tablecloths to jewelry to French foods. Old Town Nice was alive and it felt like a party atmosphere.

    In one shop, we had a great discussion with the Dominican Republic clerk who wanted us to be sure he was not African, after Tom asked him if he was from Morocco. He knew baseball and was familiar with Dominican players, and lamented that France didn’t know the sport. This young guy said that his father was French, married a Haitian, and moved to France when he was eleven. He thought Europe (Germany who needs labor) ought to recruit Hispanics who are hard workers and have a great attitude.

    After a nice time exploring Old Town, including the Opera House and the Cathedral, we were ready to return to our hotel. Again, we had enjoyed a long, full day of fabulous scenery, followed by evening drinks overlooking the sea, and the delightful meal in Old Town.

    Tomorrow: Exploring the Cote d’Azur


    What to do today? Stay in Nice and enjoy the waterfront and town? Visits to the Chagall and Matisse Museums? Travel along the corniche to enjoy sweeping views of the coast and re-visit Monaco and Eze? The coastal venture won out, with the hope that we would have time to visit the museums upon our afternoon return.

    On a previous trip to Nice, we caught trains and buses to visit other locations south on the Mediterranean Coast, even enjoying St. Tropez. We remember, also, traveling the Moyenne Corniche up to Monaco. . . fabulous coastline. Since the coach was traveling in that direction, we decided to hop on and make the day a Moyenne Cornice adventure to Monaco and Eze, the beautiful stone village hugging the sea from 1400 ft.

    Traveling the Promenade des Anglais, as we were leaving Nice proper, we passed a statue dedicated to Miles Davis, a war memorial, as well as the new memorial crowded with flowers to honor the victims murdered on July 14th of this year. Again, extremely sad!

    Laurent lives in the hills around Nice, and he was able to point out the features of each little town; the poshness of Beaulieu-sur-Mer; and the winter get-away of the rich and famous on the small peninsula of Saint Jean-Cap-Ferrat. He knew the homes of celebrities along the Cote d’Azur. Names like Elton John, Tina Turner, Bill Gates, Tim Allen of Microsoft fame, Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt….a home where Liz Taylor once lived, etc.

    Some people wanted to stop at the Fragonard Perfume Factory, with its hillside location on the coast. We could have chosen to walk the grounds and take in the coastal view, but needing to bring home a few souvenirs, and replenish Margie’s supply from several years back, we thought the brief visit was worth it.

    The weather today was mostly sunny, with a few clouds, but extremely hot. The drive along the coast was stunning, and we made numerous stops en route to Monaco to inhale the beauty.

    Arriving in the principality of Monaco, a famous resort popular with tourists and wealthy foreigners, and known to be a tax haven for businesses, we were again impressed with the significance of this second smallest country in the world, with only the Vatican being smaller.

    Set in the heart of the old town is the Monaco Cathedral, built in 1875, on the site of a 13th century church. The cathedral houses a Great Altar and a celebrant’s throne in white marble from Carrara, Italy, plus an altarpiece painted by Louis Brea of Nice, and a magnificent organ. The cathedral gained worldwide attention with the wedding of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier. They are now buried in prominent places in the side aisle of the cathedral.

    We toured the Palace area and watched the changing of the guard at noon. Passing the living quarters of Stephanie, Caroline, and Prince Albert’s palace of business, which they compare to the White House or 10 Downing Street, we learned more of the history of the Grimaldi family which traces back to 1297.

    At a shop off the Palace courtyard, Tom spotted a collared shirt with a Monaco, Grand Prix logo and purchased two, one being for our brother who is an avid race car fan. Lunch was at La Pampa Monaco Ville, facing the Palace courtyard. The shared hamburger was as tasty as the large beer was thirst-quenching.

    The scenery overlooking the harbor in Monaco, with the many gorgeous yachts, is outstanding, and hopefully captured in our photos.

    From Monaco, we proceeded south on the Middle Corniche to Eze, one of several charming hilltop villages built in the 13th century. Eze was one of the main “Villages Perche”, as they were called. The name originated because of the way they appeared to be perched on the cliffs, or glued to the sides of the mountain, making them very difficult to reach.

    From the parking area of Eze, to the arched stone doorway entrance to the village and its winding cobbled streets, is a climb. Thereafter, an intricately-designed cobblestone pathway leads to the narrow alleys of Eze, which are lined with restored stone houses, very small shops, refreshing ancient fountains, as well as a couple of restaurants.

    From the village streets, to reach the top of the Jardin d’Eze or Mediterranean Garden, requires a climb of a couple hundred+ rock steps, many uneven. This stairway spirals up through the garden containing cacti and succulent plants originating from the Americas, Africa, and other tropical areas.

    At the top of the garden, the tremendous reward is a view from a stone terrace, 1410 ft. above sea level, overlooking the roofs of the village, and the sweeping panorama of the coast. Outstanding!

    Eze is the highest village in Provence, and truly impressive. However, by this time of the afternoon, the temperature had risen substantially, and we had begun the climb to the top with no water. Not a good idea! Though beautiful, it was tiring and hot! A few clouds had moved in, increasing as the day wore on.

    As we descended the rock steps to the village proper, we enjoyed walking through the small alleys and looking at the wares of the shops. A couple of lavender sachets caught our attention as being light weight mementos for friends.

    Thirst was getting the better of us, so we made our way to the parking level to purchase some refreshing drinks. By this time we had learned that to have the privilege of a restroom, one must find a place to purchase a drink. No public restrooms.

    We returned to the Radisson Blu in Nice by about 4 PM, via the magnificent Middle Corniche. Our intentions to visit the museums of Chagall and Matisse had now vanished for two reasons: we were tired from the day and by the time we would reach the museums, they would be close to closing.

    The 8th floor rooftop bar overlooking the sea couldn’t be resisted! Ah! Sipping wine while enjoying the dynamite view of the Mediterranean. Nothing better. Rob and Yvonne joined us, and we made a reservation for a 7:15 dinner together at the upstairs restaurant. We agreed that the view far surpassed anything we could get in the Old Town.

    Before dinner, we each enjoyed some free time on our own walking along the coast and taking in the blue Mediterranean, recalling from a previous visit the pebbly beach.

    A friendly couple with a bichon friese puppy offered to share their bench. Tom reached across Margie, who was sitting next to the couple, to pet the little dog, and it crawled across Margie’s lap and settled in Tom’s. He had made a new friend. The owners had to coax their little dog away.

    Our rooftop restaurant meal of a delicious penne pasta with salad and a shared bottle of a nice vin rouge with Yonne and Rob was a perfect ending to the day. Great discussion about Australian education, politics, travels, and families! A fun night lasting until 10 PM.

    Tomorrow: Inland PROVENCE towns

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    I enjoyed your take on Monaco & Eze. So many Fodorites do not like Monaco but we loved all of our 3 visits there and Eze remains one of our favorites.
    There's something about the French Riviera that calls you back again & again.

    Next time I am heading for that view from the 8th floor bar at the Radisson Blu!

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    TPAYT, agree about the French Riviera calling us back. We're talking about making our next visit longer, and in another town along the coast.

    Adelaidean, nice to have your continued interest in our travel ventures. Aiming to post the next segment of our foray into more of inland Provence.

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    Destination: Avignon
    via St. Paul de Vence;

    Last evening, before turning in, we soaked in the view of the lights up and down the Cote d’Azur. This morning we would say farewell to that beautiful coast, satisfied that we had the chance to experience a taste of it. And leaving no doubt about our desire for a return visit.

    About 8 AM we were off to St. Paul de Vence, another small hilltop village, one of several others we would be visiting in Provence. We were among the first to arrive, as the shopkeepers were just having their morning café’. The cobblestone alleys of the town were ours to enjoy with few other visitors around.

    In St. Paul de Vence, as in other old villages we would visit, small shops and restaurants line the passages and are nestled in some of the rocky crevices. We found it easy to negotiate the village.

    Our first goal was a walk down the main alley to the cemetery where Chagall’s grave site was located. Although his gravesite is simple, it was well worth the walk to enjoy the gardens and the view from the area, high above the sea.

    We walked the hilly, winding streets, stopping in the church of St. Paul, and admiring the paintings in the galleries lining the little alleys. Our only purchase was some postcards to add to our collection.

    We found a café near the edge of town for our mid-morning café/restroom stop and were off sometime after 11 AM heading to Aix-en-Provence, a university city with a large historic center.

    As we traveled farther into Provence, we would discover monuments from the Roman Empire, monasteries from the Romanesque Period, medieval palaces and churches, as well as numerous hilltop villages, two of which we had already visited. Artists such as Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Chagall all enjoyed years in Provence.

    We were introduced to Le Mistral, the cold, northerly winds which affect a wide swath of the area of Provence. The country of France is affected by winds from a variety of sources, among them the Gulf Stream, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic. A mild climate prevails along the coast, but in winter, the cold, dry northerly Mistral may bring sudden, cold spells to a significant portion of the southern regions. In summer, the winds are generally soft and bring relief from overpowering heat.

    Over the years, the Mistrals have had effects on the architecture of many places. Bell towers on churches were constructed with open frames so as to allow the winds to pass through without causing destruction. Homes were built to face south, so as to prevent the wind from coming in the front doors.

    As we entered Aix-en-Provence, it was interesting to be greeted by an Apple store across from the Fontaine de la Rotonde, on a main town square. We would see numerous fountains in Aix in Provence. And the Aix Cathedral, Saint-Savieur, shows the transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture.

    The main street of Aix, Cours Mirabeau, is a fairly wide avenue lined with trees, mansions, shops, and restaurants. A busy market was in full swing. We arrived in the town at a good time: the market was open and there was a variety of restaurants open for business.

    Among the number of market vendors were a couple of artists. We had intended to purchase an oil painting from a street artist in Paris. Not finding any there, we were delighted to find a painting that we liked in Aix.

    We discussed the painting over a Ravioli St. Jacques at Bastide du Cours Restaurant on Cours Mirabeau. The subject of the painting was the café up the avenue which Cezanne frequented while he lived in Aix, but it reminded us of so many cafes we’ve visited in France.

    We decided that we definitely liked the painting, as well as the artist, and hurried off to make the purchase. The artist carefully removed the painting, which was stretched on a wooden frame, to make it easier for travel. At that point, we were almost completely out of EUR. An ATM would be a necessary stop very soon.

    Aix-en-Provence was mainly appreciated for the opportunity to purchase an original oil which we liked, and for the tasty lunch. It was a good stopping point en route to Avignon. We realized that Aix itself had many things to discover, but as we moved farther into the Provence area, there were so many villages of which the same thing could be said.

    In Aix, we saw the effect of the Mistral on the angling of the trees lining the Cours Mirabeau. It was a very warm day, so the wind seemed a welcome breeze. However, in cold weather that mistral apparently makes it very uncomfortable in Aix.

    We were off to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, meaning New Castle of the Pope, a small French village famous for its beautiful landscapes and delicious wines. As its name suggests, Chateauneuf du Pape’s history is intrinsically connected to the castle that was built at the top of the hill as a papal summer home during the 1300’s.

    Although the soil around Chateauneuf-du-Pape is excellent for grape growing, and its outstanding wines are widely known, summer dry spells, exacerbated by the Mistral winds, make the nearby Rhone River a source for needed irrigation.

    We stopped at HB Le Pavillon des Vins for a wine tasting. There are so many wineries in the area that if we had to decide on our own, we wouldn’t know which one to select.

    Gathered in a room surrounded with large wine casks, we enjoyed the tasting of different wines. The main thing we took away from this stop is that a variety of grapes are grown in the Chateauneuf–du-Pape area, and that the wines produced are various combos of these grapes. Syrah is a popular wine in the area.

    The gift shop had quite a selection of moderately priced wine accouterments. We bought a cork type stopper and a wine opener that Rob recommended from his experience working in a winery in Australia. Practical souvenirs!

    Finally, we stopped at an overlook as we approached Avignon. We saw the now abandoned castle, formerly the summer palace of the pope. From atop the hill, we overlooked the town of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and had a sweeping view of the Rhone River far below. The extremely strong winds there reminded us of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. Hold your balance so as not to be blown over!

    Given that it was late afternoon, with work traffic in full swing, we would drive another half-hour to reach Avignon. As we drove along the Rhone River, we realized that it is much larger than we had known, and its waters looked blue on this beautiful day.

    We viewed the famous Pont d’Avignon, about which the famed song is written. Officially the name is Pont St-Benezet. He was a shepherd who supposedly had a vision which inspired the construction of the bridge. Its significance was that it was the only bridge crossing the mighty Rhone River, and useful for commerce. Unfortunately, all that remains, after destructive floods, is a fraction of its twenty-two arches, and the tiny Chapel of St. Nicholas which is said to contain the remains of Benezet.

    Avignon’s history is intimately connected with its selection as the papal residence, and the construction of the famous Palais des Papes in the 14th century. Prior to the Palais, the Romanesque cathedral of Notre-Dame-des-Doms had been built. The two impressive stone structures are so close that they appear as one contiguous edifice overlooking a large square.

    As we drove the few blocks from the Rhone River to the city, we admired the impressive walls of Avignon which were constructed in the 1300’s and surround the entire Papal Palace complex. Reaching the Grand Hotel in Avignon about 6:15, we were happy to discover that it was located across the street from the wall where there was an entrance to the Palace area. Convenient location! Both the hotel and our room were attractive, and we would spend three nights here.

    After check-in, a little downtime was appreciated. A meal was scheduled for 7:30 in the hotel restaurant. Early on, we had considered having dinner someplace on the Place de la Republique, inside the wall, so to speak. But after the long but stimulating day, we were quite happy to take advantage of the meal in the hotel.

    We sat with our buddies, Elizabeth, Edith, and Ady. The main meal: gilt head bream fish (from the Mediterranean, we learned) and ratatouille, a popular dish of the area, with a fresh green salad, wine, and dessert.

    Following the meal, we were invited to see their 2-story room, which we teased was their townhouse. Again, it was a good time.

    Tomorrow: Day trip to Arles; Pont Du Gard; Late PM-Avignon

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    We're working on it now. Feeling inundated with the historical richness of so many areas! Actually, at this point, it's more satisfying to work on our photo album. Family and friends seem to be more interested in those.

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    Always enjoy reading your trip report, toma. I was in Avignon this summer and knew some historical facts that you posted here, I really appreciate your style. Hope more newbies could read your writing.

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    Yesterday’s experiences in Provence en route to Avignon: St. Paul de Vence, Aix-en-Provence, and Chateauneuf des Papes whetted our interest to discover more history and beauty of southern France.

    Today we’re off to Arles…about 22 miles from Avignon. It is known by some as “the soul of Provence”. Art lovers, archeologists, and historians are attracted to Arles, with its 2500 year history. First inhabited by the Greeks, Arles was mainly built up by the Romans who left a theater, a magnificent amphitheater, as well as other impressive structures. In 1981, the Roman and Romanesque Monuments of Arles were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

    Our two big interests in Arles: the Roman antiquities and Vincent Van Gogh. Having traveled to places with dilapidated remains of their former selves, we had learned that Arles was dotted with Roman structures that appeared barely untouched.

    En route to Arles, mistral winds were evident with the bent trees and shrubs, and dry lands. We traveled through sun-drenched expanses of spent sunflowers, precursors to learning about Van Gogh. With the Rhone River for irrigation, in addition to vineyards, the area has olive groves, large fields of rice, as well as other vegetables.In the Roman days, it was a four-day trip by ship from Arles to Rome via a canal into the Mediterranean; hence, it was a very important harbor and shipping area for the local products, olive oil being a significant one.

    After an initial café stop in the heart of Arles, we ascended the long steps to the preserved amphitheatre entrance where, even today, they conduct live events, including concerts. Posters advertising upcoming attractions are displayed. This amphitheatre was built around the first century, capable of accommodating 20,000 people; some historians say 30,000. During the Middle Ages, four towers were built and it was used as a fortification, containing houses and two chapels. It is one of the best preserved Roman arenas in France.

    At the entrance to the amphitheatre we met Jacqueline, a local guide, who led us on a tour. With the many winding, twisting streets of Arles, it was helpful to have a guide to learn about the Roman monuments and gain information about the days of Roman occupation. Jacqueline had a lot of spunk and sharpness for an older lady, and it was a challenge for our little group to keep up with her as she quickly climbed the cobblestone steps with agility.

    Intermixed with reminders of Roman days, we saw several sites which are the subjects of Van Gogh’s paintings.

    Van Gogh was thirty-five years old when he arrived in Arles in 1888, and spent fifteen months there. Although a most tumultuous time in his life, it was also the most artistically prolific. It is said that he produced about 300 paintings in Arles and nearby St. Remy. Coming from the gray skies and flat lands of the Netherlands and Paris, he loved the sun-drenched expanse of olive groves and the open countryside, in season filled with scented lavender or brilliant sunflowers. Above all, Van Gogh loved the phenomenal light of the area.

    Our interest in Van Gogh’s work is concentrated on the paintings with enhanced color which is more characteristic of his paintings around Arles. Of special interest was his painting Café de la Nuit, which today was filled with many lunch patrons. The garden of the hospital where Van Gogh spent time is very recognizable from familiarity with his paintings. Interestingly, an artist who was very informed about Van Gogh was on our tour, and provided more details about his life and work.

    Although Arles was the subject of so many of Van Gogh’s paintings, no actual works are there; only a Foundation which sponsors temporary exhibitions of his paintings. We’re glad that we had visited the Musee d’Orsay in Paris to enjoy a few. Someday we hope to re-visit Amsterdam which has the most sizable collection of his work. One of Van Gogh’s more famous paintings, Starry Night, was inspired by the skyline of Arles, and is in the MoMa in New York City. And Cincinnati is currently hosting an exhibit of Van Gogh. So we’ll be adequately Van Gogh’d for a while. And, we should add, that Van Gogh is just one of many artists whose works we appreciate.

    Of the many notable sights in Arles, the church of St. Trophime, built between the 12th and 15th centuries, stands out. It is an important example of Romanesque architecture. And the sculptures over the west portal, particularly of the Last Judgment, are considered some of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture. The figures are so well preserved that they appear to have been a recent works.

    St. Trophime is located on the famous Place de la Republique near the Town Hall. In the 4th century, the Egyptian obelisk, the former centerpiece of the Arles’ Roman Circus, was moved here. A fountain and bronze sculptures were added to the base during the 19th century.

    After viewing so many Roman remains, we visited the “new” Hotel de Ville, constructed in 1676. An impressive structure, it has a central court with a perfectly smooth vaulted ceiling, without a large central column, supported entirely by carefully joined stones resting on columns. It is known as the boldest work of masonry of its time! This was the age of Louis XIV, with an increase of prosperity, following the destructive wars of religion in the previous century. It symbolized the rise of the power of the bourgeoisie of the French cities.

    Feeling inundated with so much history and so many facts about Van Gogh, hunger was getting the better of us. Conveniently, just off the main square, there was a bank where Tom withdrew some needed EUR, while Margie, who had a yen for crepes, hastened to Le Grill to order lunch. We each had a delicious light crepe filled with cheese, ham, and egg accompanied with our daily rose’. With hunger satiated, we were ready to move on from Arles.

    Leaving Arles, we witnessed a few divers on the shore searching under water for ancient artifacts. We learned that, in the recent past, they have found a statue head of Julius Caesar; 20 pair of used Roman shoes, and other ancient treasures.

    We felt like we had had a crash course in ancient history, and realized how little we still knew and how many questions still remained. Saturated with facts, we were ready to move on.

    Off to Pont du Gard, a perfectly-preserved Roman aqueduct built in about 19 BC. Mind-boggling! Pont du Gard rises about 160 ft. above the Gardon River, with a length of 1180 ft. Its three levels and 47 arches on the uppermost level, create a stunning sight. Pont du Gard was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1985.

    The visitors’ area around the Pont du Gard has an instructive museum. It details how the magnificent structure is revered not only for its architectural design and construction which, to this day, remains intact, but for the engineering and mathematical calculations that were involved in carrying water from the mountains, dropping altitude and controlling flow at the appropriate rate to supply water to Nimes. And it’s almost incredulous that the whole structure was constructed without mortar.

    To reach the Pont du Gard from the Visitors’ Center, we followed the paved path which allows an introductory view of the river, and gradually leads to the Pont itself. An overwhelming sight, especially pondering the age of the bridge, and the amazing range of skills involved in the construction.

    We spent some time walking across the lower level of bridge, enjoying the views of the river, with people sunbathing on its banks and canoeing. On this gorgeous day, it looked tempting to be there with them!

    We walked some of the surrounding paths finding favorable viewing spots. But considering all the stimulation of the day, we were ready to leave Pont du Gard and return to Avignon.

    Entering the city, we enjoyed another view of the Rhone, and made a brief stop at our hotel before heading up to the Rue de la Republique. Before visiting Avignon, we hadn’t realized that the cobblestoned, traffic-free Rue de la Republique leading up to the Palace, together with the courtyard of the Cathedral and Palace itself, was the main area of the city. The action is concentrated there. In fact, we learned that the location of the Papal headquarters here from roughly 1300-1400 put Avignon on the map, so to speak. It developed from a small village to the thriving city which it remains today.

    Our heads were more energetic than our feet as we made our way up the old popular street, lined with numerous shops and restaurants, as well as the Opera House and the Hotel de Ville. We climbed the steps to the Papal Palace entrance and purchased tickets for a tour of the Palace. ($22. Including audio phones).

    The Palace of the Popes is considered the finest gothic building in Provence, and the largest gothic structure in Europe. It was constructed between 1334 and 1364, and served as the seat of the papal curia. The Papacy was located in Avignon from 1307-1377, through seven popes.

    While the outside of the Palace looks like a solid limestone fortress, the inside had been lavishly decorated with tapestries, frescoes, sculptures, and carved wooden ceilings. Almost all of the furniture, art work, and other artifacts have been removed. However, in one room there is a series of videos to provide an idea of what the interior might have looked like when it was fully active.

    As we walked on cobblestones, and climbed flights of steps moving through the palace, our day of walking and climbing steps in Arles and Pont du Gard was catching up with us. Partially through the tour, we succumbed to an inviting bench, avoiding the many more steps ahead. Instead, we relaxed by an impressive open courtyard and listened to the remainder of the description. The whole palace complex is impressive and extremely well-preserved.

    Exiting the Palace, we crossed through the large open courtyard, onto the main cobbled Clock Tower Square (Place de l’Horloge) where La Grille Restaurant looked tempting for a 6 PM dinner. Margie chose a veal mignon while Tom enjoyed spaghetti Bolognese. Tom ordered 50cl of beer, and Margie had the same quantity in a bottle of vin rouge, not realizing what 50 cl of wine meant. The evening was again delightful for outdoor dining. Both meals were delicious, and the wine quantity was more than both of us could finish.

    Tired from the busy day, we began our trek back to the Grand Hotel, window-shopping along the way. There was still plenty of action along the Rue de la Republique. We paused at another outdoor place for a little nightcap.

    The sun was just beginning to set as we reached the end of street, and it cast a bright image of the surrounding buildings on a large reflecting pool. We stopped briefly to enjoy it. As we reached our hotel, the sun’s last rays were illuminating the fortified city wall. Also a pretty sight. And the disappearing sun symbolized our depleted energy.

    We were happy to be back in our hotel.

    Another activity-filled day!

    Tomorrow: Les Baux; More Avignon Exploration

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    Just catching up and reliving holidays of previous years through your report. We have visited France several times and been to most of the places you have visited but your report makes me want to go back again.

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    Denise, I'm excited for you! Paris is wonderful anytime, but the holidays are special. Have a great trip! And thanks for following along with ours.

    ParisAmsterdam, glad to have you following along. Hope to have our next segment soon.

    Helsie, happy that our report has the effect of making you want to return to places you've visited. France is special, isn't it?

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    Visit Olive Mill,
    Les Baux-de-Provence,
    Evening in Avignon

    About 9 AM, we headed in the direction of Le Castelas Olive Mill, near the town of Les Baux, about a twenty-minute drive from Avignon.

    Upon arrival, Catherine, who with her husband owns the acreage, greeted us. We walked in the olive grove with her for a while and found it interesting to learn about the process of producing the olive oil which we use in everyday life: olive trees, olive-picking, olive oil processing, etc.

    Catherine’s comments and ways of expressing herself were even more interesting given that she and her husband had lived in Arizona for a few years before returning to their home in Provence.

    Inside the production mill, we saw some of the sophisticated equipment used in the process, along with a short video. We had tastings of different levels of olive oils, albeit not as palate pleasing as wine tastings, for sure. But a good learning experience.

    At the conclusion of our visit, we purchased a pottery olive oil dispenser which we have put to good use since our return home.

    Then it was onward to Les Baux de-Provence, described as one of the most beautiful villages in France. However, it seems that this accolade can be given to quite a few villages in the country.

    The sight of this massive rock, rising 650 ft. out of the valley floor, set against the backdrop of the Alpilles (small alps) Mountains , crowned with its striking chateau-fortress, provides an impactful introduction to Les Baux

    Traces of human habitation have been found dating as back as far as 6000 BC. However, Les Baux didn’t develop as a town until the Middle Ages. For five hundred tumultuous years, it was ruled by the lords of Baux. In spite of waves of attacks from invaders, it was during this time that Les Baux was in its heyday, having a cultivated court system, complete with minstrels and troubadours for court entertainment.

    Les Baux was a powerhouse in the 12th Century. Following the death of the last Baux leader, in 1632 the control went to the French crown. One fact we found interesting was that in 1642, the town was given to the Grimaldi family of Monaco. The title of Les Baux still remains with the Grimaldis, although its administration is entirely French.

    During the reign of King Louis XIII in the 1600’s, his paranoia got the better of him, as he feared an uprising against his throne. He ordered the town destroyed. What remains of Les Baux de-Provence is a reconstructed city.

    Upon entering the town, we learned that Les Baux is two segments: the castle ruins perched high, with a medieval town below.

    So we walked the cobblestone alley directly up to the castle on top. The limestone ruins lie on top of this 650 ft. rock base. Many of the ancient walls remain standing. Witnessing the ruins of the castle, it’s difficult to imagine Les Baux as a former powerhouse in southern France.

    Descending to the restored village, we learned that it has more than twenty buildings, including the church, the city hall, the hospital, and the citadel from which there is a beautiful circular view of the surrounding areas. The buildings in Les Baux are classified as historical monuments.

    The St. Vincent Church is a notable structure. Though it dates back to the 10th century, there have been reconstructed portions and additions over the years. An interesting feature is its modern stained glass windows. They were designed in 1955 by Max Ingrand, the same artist who created the choir window in the cathedral of Strasbourg, Germany, following the damage from WWII. It was subsidized by the Crown Prince of Monaco who has been bearing the title of Marquis des Baux since 1643.

    Climbing the stone steps along the alleys of the lower town, we passed ancient structures now serving as art galleries or museums. Others are cafes, or boutiques and shops, selling everything from beautiful pottery, to French-made tablecloths, to tourist trinkets.

    Unfortunately, many items of interest, like gorgeous pottery, were too heavy or fragile to transport home. We found a few items to purchase. Also, some delicious caramels!

    Most of our time in Les Baux de-Provence was consumed with sightseeing among the ruins and reconstructed structures, and shopping, leaving no time to eat lunch. But we had those caramels!

    However, we ran into another restroom snafu! No restaurants which would serve a café’ and pastry; only meals, so no restroom access. Our only miserable option was the public restroom which had doors that didn’t lock and water everywhere because of some sort of automatic cleaning process…UGH!

    We again returned to Avignon, our hub for a few days. We passed the charming village of St. Remy, another town which served as a home for Van Gogh and a subject for some of his painting inspirations. Many wealthy people, including US residents, have vacation homes there, some palatial. However, when were in St. Remy, in the mid-afternoon, the town was devoid of people and activity; the cafes and shops were closed.

    Back in Avignon, we made a brief stop at the Grand Hotel and headed out to visit the Calvet Museum, housed in what was described as one of the most sumptuous mansions of the town and one of the highlight attractions in Avignon. The walk there was several blocks uphill from our hotel. On the way, we stopped in a little bistro, one of a few in the area, sharing a croque monsieur, just enough to energize us for the museum visit.

    We found the Calvet Museum to be a beautiful old 18th century mansion, as described. The museum was started by Esprit Calvet, a resident of Avignon, in 1810. He left his library, his artistic treasures, and money to set up the museum in the town.

    The Calvet Fine Arts Museum contains many impressive works, including paintings and sculptures from the 15th through the 20th centuries. However, none of the explanations are in English, making it more difficult to appreciate. We spent well over an hour in the museum before our need for dessert overwhelmed our need for more art viewing..

    After walking a few blocks to return to the Rue de la Republique, we found a bank ATM and Margie found a couple of blouses at Pimkie’s. A most welcome stop was the patio of Le Cid Café for dessert crepes: Margie had a “Myrtille” (3 fruits) and Tom had a Miel Citron (honey); plus café au lait. Tasty and refreshing!

    We leisurely made our way up through the town center, stopping in a few shops, and admiring the colorful carousel in the Place d’Horloge. Many people were gathered in the square. Kids, big and small, seemed to be enjoying the carousel.

    As we wandered up toward the Palace Square, we could hear the sounds of a trumpet. Getting closer, the upbeat music filled the square. We were delighted to sense that the musician was continuing on with more songs, enticing us to sit on a nearby wall and enjoy the unexpected concert.

    Our friends Rob and Yvonne happened by. We chatted a while, and then decided to have dinner in the square. The café “In Et Off” offered a great view of the Palace, enhanced by the outstanding weather. We enjoyed more talk about travel, etc. And, as we savored our meal, we were treated to a beautiful sunset which lit up the Palace complex.

    On the walk back to the Grand Hotel, Margie and Rob were walking about 20 feet behind Yvonne and Tom when a motorcycle came roaring from behind. . .onto the sidewalk! The two guys on the bike tried to grab Rob’s two shopping bags, but to no avail, as he hung on to the bags and maintained his balance. Just as quickly, they sped toward Yvonne and Tom. Fortunately, Tom pushed Yvonne aside and both were out of danger.

    A family who had been walking ahead of us witnessed the whole event and expressed shock. We were all safe and nothing was stolen, but it was unnerving! WOW, an experience that will stay with us for a long time!

    The four of us agreed that “All’s well that ends well.” A reminder to be cautious, even in a small place like Avignon.

    Except for this frightening incident, it had been another great day!!

    Tomorrow: From Provence to Languedoc

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    Thank you for all the effort you're putting in to give us a nicely detailed trip report. So sorry about your close call with thieves. I'm looking forward to today's installment.

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    Coquelicot, glad to receive your comments. Hopefully, that incident will make us a little more cautious wherever we are. . .not just in big cities.

    Denisea, we'll look forward to hearing all about Paris. Not quite Paris, but we're heading to NYC for a few days,

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    Just got around to reading this report, it is excellent. This is one of the best trip reports I've ever read, the details are so good. Maybe some day I'll get to Chamonix.

    The tour you took sounds really good, a lot of tours don't have as unique itineraries as this one. It sounds like it was very well done.

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    Maitai, strictly a defensive reaction to save life and limb.

    Christina, wow! We feel highly complimented having a response such as yours. We know that you are well-traveled, and write such insightful reports. You also provide helpful information to others.

    We appreciate your interest in our trip. And, yes, do get to Chamonix. And. . .Happy Thanksgiving!

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    Many thanks for your excellent report. Have been to the places in your report but not for several years. Great memories. Your writing style is wonderful, paying such wonderful attention to detail. Have just booked plane tix for a return to Europe next Aug./Sept. and believe we will return to southern France. Timely report from you to help me plan.

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    Midnight crash last night; earlier start today. It’s a three-hour drive to Carcassonne; then about another two hours to Albi, the two cities we would visit in the Languedoc region.

    We drove through the rolling fertile Languedoc valley, with miles of vineyards. Across the valley, along with vineyards and olive groves, are areas of windmills. Formerly these were used for practical purposes, such as grinding corn and other grains. Today, they’re desired more for the generation of electricity in an environmentally-responsible manner.

    We had tasted a Languedoc wine in Paris and enjoyed it. The area is known to be one of the largest wine production regions in the world. Although apparently many lower quality wines are produced, and many are mixtures of different grapes, the area also produces some nice full-bodied red wines like Grenaches.

    The name Languedoc comes from ‘ langue ‘or the language its people spoke. Over the years, the Moors, Charlemagne, and Spanish have all called this area home. In the area there is a strong Spanish influence, being relatively close to the Spanish border. Carcassonne is one of the key sites of Languedoc.

    To help pass the time on the long drive from Avignon to Carcassonne, Laurent invited everyone to write questions on any subject they wished, and he answered the questions as we traveled through the valley. Questions were on a whole range of issues: life in France, economy, taxes, religion, politics, families, health care, etc., etc.

    Before we knew it, the sprawling fairytale-like city of Carcassonne, built into an expansive rock mountainside, came into view. The only unfortunate fact was that the skies were overcast, weather we hadn’t experienced so far into our trip. Carcassonne’s limestone would have been more impressive against blue skies.

    Carcassonne is one of Europe’s greatest medieval walled towns, having almost two miles of massive walls and fifty-two towers and turrets. Settlements have been traced to the area since about 3500 BC! It was occupied by the Romans about 100 BC, followed by others, including the marauding Visigoths, who recognized its strategic importance on the north-south and east-west trade routes.

    From the parking area, it was quite a climb to reach the town. Fortunately, there were shuttles to carry visitors up the steep hill to the Cite’. Even though it meant standing room on a jerky mini-bus, both coming and going, we were happy to be spared the steep climb.

    Arriving in the Old Town about 11:30, we spent some time exploring the town. Carcassonne was alive with people milling around, most clustering on the main street, but not enough to inhibit the enjoyment. Hungry for lunch, we walked to the main center and easily found a restaurant.

    The signature meal in the area is cassoulet, a casserole-type dish. We chose to sample the traditional dish at Le Trouvere Café, a quaint old structure, choosing to eat inside. It was cloudy and rain had been threatening since our arrival.

    We hadn’t known beforehand that the cassoulet ingredients were mainly white beans, leg of lamb, and a sausage. It was served with a green salad and delicious bread. Cassoulet would not be our choice to repeat, but it was interesting to try, especially with the nice rose’.

    Following lunch, we walked for a good stretch along the city walls, where there were very few people. We marveled at the turrets and towers, and took in the expansive views. We felt that we had just enough time in the city to have lunch and tour the area. After leaving Carcassonne, we stopped at an overlook to take in the distant view of this striking site.

    En route to our next destination, Albi, we passed Toulouse which, we learned, is famous for the Airbus industry. As we continued the drive toward our destination, which was only 50 miles farther, Laurent answered more of our written questions.

    We arrived in Albi in the late afternoon. We found it to be a small, charming French city with a remarkable old center, which, we learned, is now a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE. We soon discovered several noteworthy sites: the impressive Palais de la Berbie with its outstanding gardens, the Toulouse Lautrec Museum, and a magnificent Cathedral.

    After being dropped off in the medieval city center, Laurent led us to a viewing spot of the amazing landscaped formal gardens of the Berberi Palace, situated on the Tarn River. It would have been difficult to find this on our own, as we had to weave in and out through little back streets. We were fortunate to see the immaculately-manicured gardens when the summer flowers were still at their zenith, adding brilliant colors to the landscape. Truly, a gorgeous sight!

    The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, housed in a wing of the Palace, has the world’s largest collections of Lautrec’s many paintings, pastels, and posters, and was a worthwhile visit. Lautrec had a very troubled life, but left a treasure trove of art to the world.

    A real surprise in Albi was the unusual, yet impressive, Sainte-Cecile Cathedral dating from 1280. It’s a commanding structure, with the whole of the exterior constructed of brick. Claimed to be the largest brick building in the world, it could be easily mistaken for a fortress, and, indeed, was designed with defense in mind.

    Another feature which draws attention to it from far away is its immense bell tower rising 256 ft. And the entrance to the Cathedral has the longest, most imposing steps that we have ever seen. The wide stairs are completely enclosed with brick walls on either side.

    Quite a contrast from the austere outside is the interior- an explosion of color and geometric shapes, being decorated with extravagant tiles, gold leaf, and frescoes. Below the organ is a well-known mural of the Last Judgment, said to be the largest in the world. Completed in the late 1400’s, it is thought to have been done by Flemish artists. We lingered for a while, taking in the many artistic facets of the Albi cathedral. Quite a structure!

    While we were enjoying the sights in the heart of Albi, our bags had been taken to our hotel, and were in our rooms when we arrived. We were driven to the Hostelrie Du Grand Saint Antoine, a lovely hotel, typically-French, smaller but very pretty and clean. We learned that it is the oldest hotel in France, and has been in the same family for five generations. The lobby was attractively and comfortably furnished, with beautiful chandeliers and a stained glass panel as features. The staff was exceptionally friendly and showed an eagerness to help us feel welcome.

    We arrived in time to freshen up and meet for a complimentary happy hour in their pretty garden. Conversation revolved around peoples’ travels, which were many and varied. We like to travel, and feel that we have done a good deal of it. But others in the group seemed to have many more travel experiences under their belts. It was a relaxing time before our dinner in the hotel dining room, where we sat with our friends Rob and Yvonne.

    It was good to turn in a little earlier this evening and catch up on some sleep.

    Tomorrow: Cahors and Rocamadour

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    Loving your report.

    <<The name Languedoc comes from ‘ langue ‘or the language its people spoke. >>

    There's more to it than that. France was divided linguistically into the Langue d'Oc (the language of Occitan) and the Langue d'Oeuil, which came to prevail. Very basically, a north-south division.

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    Ha! Ha! we tried the cassoulet at Carcassonne too.. in that same café. Very pleasant staff with good humour but the cassoulet defeated us though it was great ! ( duck leg not lamb I believe ). Glad you are moving towards Sarlat, an area we loved. Interested to hear your views on these great destinations.

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    Cassoulet is a wondrous thing. The traditional Toulouse recipe normally does not have lamb. It has pork shoulder, lardons, garlic sausage (saucisse de Toulouse), and duck confit. And of course the white beans (tarbais) and duck fat and broth and a bit of tomato paste, plus herbs. The two of us can barely make it through one order of it, normally.

    Get ready for a lot more duck (and goose) as you head into the Sarlat area!

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    Helsie, thanks for your comments. You're right, it was duck leg. . .I guess I had lamb on my mind when I wrote this section. Interesting that we chose the same restaurant in Carcassonne.

    St. Cirq, glad you're enjoying our TR. "There's more to it than that". . .we think that applied to so many things we experienced. Our notebooks are filled with lots of details. . .but how much to write in a report???

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    Tomarcot I've been busy planning our own trip and left off reading your report when you went to Chamonix. Your description of Dijon almost got me off course, so I decided it would be best to finish reading after my planning was done! :) Now that I've continued I see that your trip from Nice and onward is about the same as ours, only opposite directions!

    Great report, and you won't regret writing it. I've spent some lovely hours re-reading my trip reports... And others will also read it in the future when they search the forums for information.

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    Oh and I've been dreaming of Cassoulet since we ate it in Sarlat 10 years ago. Haven't tasted a decent one where we live. Sounds like the restaurant in Carcassonne that you visited might not be the one to try either...I'd be grateful for some recommendations from the local Fodorites if they are so inclined :) as we head back there next September.

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    Sundriedtopepo and Gailscout, hope that each of you has a great trip to France. There are so many beautiful towns to visit that you can't go wrong! Thanks for your nice comments on our TR.

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    I actually think it's an acquired taste. I absolutely love beans, so anything that features them is good with me, but it's one heavy-duty meal! If you do go to Emile, I'd reserve in advance, especially so you can get a table on the terrasse if it's nice weather.

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    Friday, September 10, 2016

    So onward into our journey through Dordogne where we encounter gentle beauty, historic charm, and an introduction to its gourmet delights. At 9 AM we were off to Cahors, a small city nestled in a bend of the Lot River.

    Our morning stop was in a beautiful gorge along the Lot River. A main attraction was the 14th century Pont Valentre, part of the town of Cahors. This impressive bridge has seven arches which stretch across the river, and is capped with three square towers.

    For years, no one was able to place the final stone on top of the central tower. It was dubbed the Devil’s Tower, because it was believed that the devil quarreled with the architect and was appeased only when his image was carved on the tower. From that legend, it is often referred to as “Devil’s Bridge.”

    Along the river bank in this area, there is a walkway lined with tables and on a platform right above, a nice café, with umbrellas. It is a great spot for boats, which are traveling back and forth. The perfect weather day made this a delightful, relaxing stop. We stayed around the area for quite a while, walking amidst the flower gardens and along the river’s edge.

    Our lunch was in the small town of Cahors, once among the richest banking centers of Europe. It is in the midst of wine producing country. The wealth from its banking and trade allowed the city to build and decorate beautiful mansions, churches, and public buildings, some of which have survived the wars of past centuries.

    As with most towns we’ve visited, Cahors has a central square, with a fountain and clock tower, and is surrounded by city buildings. There are a few restaurants lining the area. Also, like most towns we visited, a cathedral was central. However, our time in Cahors was spent on the more mundane exploration of the unusually large and unique supermarket.

    The market had several features which made it interesting to us. The whole building required a 360 degree walk to experience all the products. There were large sections for categories such as fruits, meats, seafood, wine, etc. One whole section of the meat area was devoted to foie gras.

    Part of the market included counters for ordering food like salads, pizzas or paninis. After spending quite a bit of time exploring the market, we sat at a cafe table to eat a panini wrap of chicken and almonds. Laurent helped us purchase a bottle of rose’ wine from the seemingly hundreds of choices with friendly prices. Wine glasses were furnished by the market. We drank half the bottle and corked the remainder to take with us for later enjoyment.

    As we’ve experienced in other towns, businesses close by 1 PM, some earlier. We were about the last ones in the market. Since all the shops and boutiques in the town were closed, only window shopping could be enjoyed. After a while strolling around, we did find a little restaurant near the square where we could get a café au lait, and of course, use their facilities.

    After that stop in Cahors, we had a short drive to the medieval village of Rocamadour. The first sight of this beautiful village dramatic! It appears to cling to a precipitous cliff site, topped by a fortress, looming over the dramatic steep-walled valley of the Alzou River.

    Rocamadour flourished in the 12th century when, according to legend, the body of a man, believed to be Zacchaeus, was found intact. After meeting Jesus, the story goes, Zaccheus, the tax collector, changed both his name and the direction of his life to convert others to Christianity. His name was thereafter Amadour.

    Miracles occurred in Rocamadour and were attributed to Amadour. The name Rocamadour is derived from : Roca (rock) and Amadour. Many pilgrims came. When the village was seized by opposing forces, and attempts were made to burn the body of Amadour, it remained untouched by the flames.

    Although interpretations of the history of Rocamadour vary, there is no doubt its popularity as a religious site. And, over the years, it continues to attract many tourists who are curious about the place, its history, and its dramatic scenery.

    Rocamadour is three levels set into a rock hill-a dramatic and beautiful setting. The small shops, restaurants, houses, and a very few hotels are on the first level. To reach the second level, where the main church and several smaller chapels are located, requires a steep climb: 200+ steps. Apparently, many Christians climbed these steps on their knees. Fortunately, for us, there was an ascenseur (elevator) (40 seconds, 50 feet up for 2 EUR). We succumbed. On the third level is another chapel which we did not visit.

    It is believed that the body of St. Amadour is preserved in a reliquary inside the church. Also, the church contains a small black Madonna statue, supposedly carved by Amadour. We did spend some time exploring the small lanes and arches of the second level, taking in the vistas, and visiting the beautiful church.

    We made use of our return ticket on the ascenseur for descending to the village level. Although there were quite a few visitors, the long main street enabled the people to spread out. We enjoyed the many little alcoves which lined the area.

    One highlight of the visit for Tom and me was a stop at a beautiful café overlooking the deep gorge with its rocky cliffs. We enjoyed a delicious apple torte with vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate, café au lait, and a clean restroom. The view and the dessert were both so delicious that we lingered there for a while.

    Laurent had invited us to meet on a tree-shaded terrace where he treated us to a glass of wine from the winery of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. At least it belonged to both at that time! Laurent joked around with the group for a while and everyone seemed to enjoy the experience.

    Finally, it was onward into more of the Dordogne region. As we left the area of Rocamadour, the colors in the orange and gold tinged trees on the surrounding hills were outstanding. One last look back at the impressive Rocamadour for a final photo!

    Traveling through the fertile floodplain of the Dordogne region, the attractions are evident: villages sculpted into the rocks, medieval towns, chateaux, lovely long vistas, a river valley, and fields of corn and walnut orchards, among other crops. The Dordogne is quite different from the sights and activity of larger cities, but has a richness of natural beauty, history, culture, and cuisine.

    Walnuts are a prime crop of the Dordogne valley and the surrounding countryside. Apparently, the area has the perfect climate. During our travel, we saw miles of walnut groves. And due to the abundance of walnuts, many foods either contain walnuts, or are flavored with them. Walnut on salads, walnut oils, walnut cakes, and even walnut liqueurs. Each part of the walnut is used: from making furniture to the final scraps, we were told, used for cat litter.

    The Dordogne area is known for its cuisine, with foie gras, and their famous pommes sarladaise, often served with confit de canard being, most popular. Of course, there are the walnuts, as mentioned above, and truffles, many native cheeses, and full-bodied red wines produced in the region.

    Our stay for the next two nights would be in Brive-La-Gaillarde at La Truffle Noire Hotel. Our room on the 2nd floor faced the main street with outside dining areas around. This was a Friday night, and we feared noise, but it did not materialize.

    Of the decisions we made on the trip, tonight’s was the worst. We were told that the main dish of a group dinner in the hotel would be beef with potatoes. That sounded OK. It seemed easier than finding a restaurant in the area. So we decided to just go with it, feeling tired out from the busy day. No one thought that beef would refer to a version of ground beef! And the potatoes were not the pommes sarladaise of the area!

    The beginning of the meal was fine: a nice red wine, a green salad, and fresh bread. We do not claim to be culinary experts, but the main dish was bland, dry and unsavory. One by one, people were requesting ketchup from the kitchen. Ripples of laughter filtered through the room as people tried to moisten the meal with ketchup, and make a joke of the experience. The only bummer meal of the trip! We figured that the B Team must have been on for the evening. Fortunately, we sat with Yvonne and Rob, and another couple whom we liked. At least the company was good!

    Following that dinner fiasco, we caught up on emails and notes. It was 11 PM until we turned in. Except for the less than palatable main dinner course, we had had another stimulating day.

    Tomorrow: Lascaux Cave; Sarlat; Collonges de Rouge

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    Your report has me looking back at my photos from our two trips to the Dordogne, the Lot, and Languedoc. I love these areas of France. And your report is wonderful! I love the history you include. Thank you!

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    Preparation for holidays is upon us, and so is the ending of our report! Just two more days!

    Saturday, September 10, 2016

    At 8:30, we’re off for the Lascaux II Cave, near the town of Montignac. A twenty- minute stop just prior to the cave entrance took care of mid-morning café au lait and restroom.

    Lascaux is a series of a complex of caves famous for its Paleolithic paintings. The paintings primarily consist of images of large animals, most of which are known from fossil evidence. With carbon dating, their ages are estimated to be about 17,000 years old. Lascaux II has been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

    On our visit, the story of the caves, as described, was that in September, 1940, the entrance to the Lascaux Cave was discovered by a French teenager, Marcel Ravidat, who died in 1995. He was an apprentice garage mechanic, and was walking in the woods when he came upon the cave entrance which had been uncovered by the fall of a giant tree.

    The young man brought a couple of friends to see it. After a few days, they confided their discovery to a teacher. They returned to the pitch dark cave, armed with a grease gun borrowed from the garage, entering through a long shaft. There they were amazed to discover that the cave walls were covered with depictions of animals: charging bulls, leaping stags, and galloping horses.

    Because of the German occupation of France, the French Resistance used the caves to store weapons during WW II. The cave was not opened to the public until 1948, three years after the war.

    There was fear among scientists that the original Lascaux Cave was deteriorating due to several causes, one of which was the large number of visitors. So Lascaux II was designed to be a scientific copy of the original.

    Great tour by a local guide! So much unknown about the why’s and how’s; the symbolism and meaning of the drawings. We liked the orientation…revival of our anthropology courses, including Cro-Magnon man. Great to review and renew.

    Lascaux II is just one of many caves in the surrounding areas. There are plans for a 3-D modern museum describing the caves.

    After that little foray into the Paleolithic period, we looked forward to our visit to Sarlat-la-Caneda, only about seventeen miles north. We knew that the Saturday market would be in full swing; not realizing just how full.

    The approach to the town was beautiful, surrounded as it is by green forested hills. And many of the homes in the area seemed very elegant. Apparently, Sarlat-la-Canada is among France’s best preserved 14th century towns.

    But when approaching the city center- gads! The hordes of people that cluttered the narrow streets were a sight to behold.

    Cars were parked for quite a way along the streets. Negotiating the crowded streets to discover the important sites was a bit of a challenge. Without the crowds, the town would be easy to negotiate, as it is compact. But weaving through the crowds to pass all the vendors’ temporary stalls, which we would later visit, was quite a feat.

    We walked some of the cobblestone alleys, enjoying the beautiful buildings, many with wrought-iron balconies. Many have stone roofs which were said to be less expensive and could last 200 years. But, they are extremely heavy!

    Near the Eglise Ste. Marie is the well-known landmark of the three bronze geese. We knew we were in the town famous for its foie gras, having passed several shops advertising such.

    Invited to meet at a small café, which we’re sure Laurent had booked ahead, he treated our group to wine and foie gras on crackers. It was our first sampling of foie gras, and we actually enjoyed it. However, considering the high fat content, and expense, we thought that we wouldn’t want to get too excited about it. This treat was a prelude to lunch on this little backstreet before entering the busier market areas.

    Tom and I found a nice restaurant and were seated at a fine location near the door, where we could witness the activity on the street without having people walk by our sidewalk seats. Tom’s omelette with mushrooms was excellent while Margie enjoyed the flavorful chicken breast with those “to die for” Pommes de Terres Sarladaises: sliced ¼”, cooked in goose fat, with seasonings added. Rose’ wine also. Oh, those delectable Pommes! Calorie-laden, but delicious.

    After that delightful lunch, we ventured out to the crowded streets. We could only look at the perishables, but it was enjoyable to view the colorful array of meats, and fresh looking fruits and vegetables. Of course, their popular walnuts and truffles were there in abundance. And in this foie gras area, there was an ample amount of that delicacy also.

    Then there were appealing and valuable items such as French-made table linens, women’s clothing, jewelry, pottery, etc. The two constants on the streets in Sarlat, as in other villages we’ve visited, are cafes galore with menu boards enticing visitors. And then, mixed in with the booths described above, is the array of souvenir shops which mostly sell trivia of medieval times, t-shirts, ceramics, etc.

    Many cities in France seem to have their Rue de la Republique, and Sarlat is no exception. Its small city center is off limits to cars. Without the crowds on market day, a walk through Sarlat would be easy, as it’s one main road with smaller alleys branching off it-all pedestrian only. But, for us, it was interesting to experience the Saturday market.

    Following our visit to the busy Sarlat Market, we drove on through the Dordogne valley to Collonges La Rouge, a village constructed of the red sandstone hewn from the surrounding hills. En route to the village, we passed many vineyards and walnut trees.

    The founding of a priory in Collenges La Rouge by monks in the 8th century attracted peasants, craftsmen, and tradesmen, and was the beginning of the town. The community gradually grew, profitting from the overnight accommodations provided to pilgrims headed to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. The French Revolution caused the destruction of the priory buildings.

    After regaining only a short-lasting prosperity at the beginning of the 19th century, the population dwindled and finally the village was transformed into a stone quarry. However, at the beginning of the 20th century, some villagers created an association to preserve Collonges. It obtained the classification of the entire village as a historical monument in 1942.

    This village is distinctive with its red stone, and like other little towns we’ve visited, has quite a few narrow winding alleys with small shops: pottery, table linens, fragrances, ice cream, cafes, and other souvenirs.

    We are feeling fatigued and reaching the end of our travels in the South of France. After exploring the village for a short time, we enjoyed a beer with Yvonne and Rob at a small café that had a restroom for customers. We relaxed in that spot for a good half-hour.

    The twenty-minute drive back to our hotel was enjoyable as we traveled through the beautiful Dordogne Valley.

    Since we would be leaving early in the morning to catch the TGV train back to Paris, Margie organized the luggage while Tom wrote some diary notes, and we finished the ½ bottle of rose’ we had left over from the Cahors marketplace two days ago. We were aware that the stores were all closed after 5 PM, so decided to use the time in our hotel room to relax a bit until dinner.

    About 7 PM, we walked a short distance up the street to the Au Bureau Restaurant. We were surprised to see Yvonne and Rob who had not yet ordered. They invited us to join them at a neighboring table for two. Another coincidental meeting with the same friends! Another fun social discussion and a pizza to split with a Ruby beer for Tom and vin rouge for Margie. A nice atmosphere and enjoyable final meal before we depart this area for our return to Paris.

    We were back in hotel room by about 9:15, time to organize a few last minute items. We would leave at 8 AM en route to the train station in Poitiers. We’re scheduled to be 1 ½ hours early at the station, giving time for lunch before our 1:10 TGV train departure, with arrival in Paris close to 5 PM.

    As we turned in for the evening, we recounted some of the experiences we had had on our excursion through the South of France. But we were also feeling an eagerness for one final day in Paris!

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    You could have bought Tracy a couple of tablecloths in Sarlat and saved me!

    It's very cool you got to go to Collenges La Rouge...lovely town.

    Great report and sorry to see it end. Look forward to your final Paris day.


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    Aw shucks! We should have picked up a tablecloth or two for Tracy. Our experience with the linens was good and bad: good for our wallets, bad for our table setting. We wanted placemats and they were sold out!

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    Sunday, September 11, 2016

    15th anniversary of 9/11/01. WOW…Sobering Memories !!!

    At 8 AM, we were on our way to the train station in Poitiers. We'd had a wonderful two weeks getting a taste of different regions of the South of France, re-visiting a couple of former favs and exploring new areas.

    Today we’re heading back to Paris on the TGV. In addition to former day trips on trains, we have pleasant memories of a TGV trip from Paris to Avignon a few years ago, so we were looking forward to the experience.

    After traveling about an hour and a half, we made a stop at a gas station/ convenient market near the city of Limoges, known for its porcelain. We bought a small vase as a memento. Then we were off to travel another couple of hours to reach Poitiers. We arrived at the train station about 11:30 and had until 12:45 to have lunch.

    To say that we were chagrined at the conditions of the station restroom, one filthy facility for both men and women, would be an understatement. The only option for food in the station was a Chez Paul deli-type carry-out where we ordered a less than appetizing chicken with mustard sandwich and a light Coke. We went outside to eat as the condition of the “Gare” was unpleasant, and had limited places to sit.

    Fortunately, only a short walk from the plaza of the station we found a delightful place, Agora Café, perfect for café’au laits and clean restrooms. Gads! French restrooms are really a problem, at least in many places that we visited. However, this café was a happy find!

    In plenty of time, we were at the train tracks, located a level below the station entrance. We had been encouraged to move quickly to board Coach 19. And, right on time, the train pulled in, stopped briefly, and we were off to Paris. Fortunately, we had had that stop at the Agora Café’ and made use of their restrooms, because the bathrooms on the train were, let’s say, sorely lacking. Other than that, the train ride itself was fine.

    Sitting across from Allison and Neal, delightful, well-traveled Australian acquaintances, the time went quickly. We arrived at the Montparnasse Station in Paris about 4:50 where a coach was waiting to take us to our hotel.

    Upon arrival at our Marriott Hotel Paris Rive Gauche, our luggage was already in our rooms. This Marriott was a nice hotel, as are most of them, with all the amenities. We were happy to be back in Paris and had a few ideas for enjoying our evening.

    Our original idea was to catch a taxi to Boul. St. Germain and have dinner at the delightful restaurant Vagenende which we really enjoyed when in Paris two weeks ago. We would then walk to the Pont Neuf for an evening river cruise. However, realizing that we’ve never explored the area around the hotel, we decided to stay in Montparnasse to enjoy our evening and have dinner.

    After freshening up, we explored the area and headed to the L’Allouette Restaurant, a recommendation of the hotel concierge. It was less than ten minutes from our hotel and proved to be a great choice.

    As the evening weather was delightful, we were seated on their outdoor patio. Both of our meals included a salad and fries. For our mains, Margie had the most flavorful, tender veal cutlet she could remember, while Tom’s fish was just average. Our meal was accompanied with drinks, followed by a sorbet dessert. The atmosphere was pleasant, the waiter was efficient and fun, and we met a friendly US couple with whom we shared some experiences.

    We were decompressing and depressing as we wound down from our wonderful trip. We had enjoyed so many stimulating experiences, but were ready to return home and started to think about the events which were coming up there. One last full day remained and then we were headed back to the US.

    Monday, September 12, 2016

    Giverny; Seine River Cruise; Finale Dinner

    What to do our last day in Paris? We had a few ideas. We had considered watching the weather, and if it was favorable, visiting Giverny.

    We had visited Monet’s Home and Garden twice in the past, taking the train and bus combo. But when the offer was there to travel on the coach for a very reasonable price, we decided to take advantage of it.

    We were off at 7 AM. Giverny is a good ride, almost 2 hours depending upon traffic. The peripherique, the one and only expressway that circles Paris, was crowded with the volume of traffic that was traveling into and out of the city. Once on the highway, it was a smooth ride along the Seine to the exit at Vernon, and within a few more minutes, we arrived at Giverny about 9 AM.

    We knew from our reading that, in contrast to former years, Giverny often gets very crowded. Even cruise ships bus in people. Ticket sales began at 9:30. Although we were among the first, the line behind us was already lengthy.

    We slowly followed the paths around the Japanese gardens, and the regular gardens, making intermittent stops, and finally visited Monet’s house. In late summer, there’s still enough color to make it a worthwhile venture. We lingered in the gardens closest to the house, and even enjoyed relaxing on a bench surrounded by flowers.

    A visit inside the house was interesting, even though we’ve visited it previously. It’s hard to imagine that this great artist lived in these ordinary conditions. Also, that maintaining a beautiful garden was his priority.

    After a couple of hours, we were ready for our return trip to Paris. Although a short visit in Giverny, and an inadequate amount of time to really do justice and explore, given the hordes of visitors, we were satisfied with our little re-visit of the beautiful garden.

    We had seen Monet’s Garden in spring, in mid-summer, and now in late summer. For the most colorful flowers, mid-summer takes the prize. And, on former visits, we did not experience such huge crowds. But it was worth the trip, especially given how easy and time-saving it was to ride in the coach vs. our previous trips on our own via a train/bus combo.

    Another change of our plans occurred in the afternoon of our last day. We intended to take off on our own and enjoy our final day in Paris. But when we returned to the Marriott, and had an opportunity to tour Paris with a native Parisian, we decided to take advantage of it. We had to hustle to meet Alex, the guide, so Tom picked up a “take away” sandwich from the Brasserie down the street, and quickly doubled back to share with Margie, who was in the room prepping clothes for the evening.

    Alex spoke great English, and had a wonderful sense of humor. He had a law degree, and has been studying several languages. Even though we’ve been in Paris quite a few times, we learned so much from Alex about familiar areas. It was interesting to see Paris from the perspective of a local, learning about restaurants which are their favs, etc. We visited a few little neighborhoods, as well as some of the city highlights, before arriving at the Bateaux Parisiens for a one-hour cruise of the Seine.

    Although we’ve had our share of boat cruises on the Seine, we always enjoy them. The boat cruise was a perfect way to have a final view of Paris from the vantage point of the river. It was about 5 PM or later as we wound our way back to the hotel. While Tom hit the ATM, Margie took care of flight check-in, leaving us only a short time to freshen up for dinner.

    The finale dinner was in Le Procope Café, called the oldest restaurant in Paris in continuous operation. It started as a café where “gentlemen” met to drink coffee. Throughout the 18th century, Procope was the meeting place of the intellectual establishment, including visits by Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, and Thomas Jefferson.

    The Café Procope was refurbished in 1988-89 in 18th Century style, including crystal chandeliers, and portraits of famous people who have been their patrons. Coincidentally, it’s just up the street from our “home away from home” Le Regent Hotel, and we’ve passed it on several of our past visits to Paris.

    The attractive ambience of the restaurant was a fitting place to enjoy our final meal before taking leave. The meal was delicious, from the wine to the dessert; the service was efficient. We were again seated across from our friends, Yvonne and Rob.

    Since some of us were leaving early the following morning, it was a time for final farewells. We returned to the Marriott by about 9 PM with more good-byes in the lobby. We would be off early for CDG.

    Wonderful memories! Great tour, with ample time on our own! Nice people! It has been good!


    Au revoir,Paris!

    We opted to take advantage of the tour company’s transport to CVG. Although our flight wasn’t until 1:30 PM, knowing what a hassle CDG can be, and not wanting to feel rushed, we chose to depart at 7 AM vs.the later 10 AM option. The hotel restaurant had just opened for breakfast, allowing us to grab a quick bite.

    We were pleased that Laurent, our tour guide, was in the lobby to see that the six of us, leaving on the early coach, got off and wished us a final farewell.

    Leaving Montparnasse in the dark, we had our last glimpse of the city lights, including the Eifel Tower. Upon arriving at CDG, buses are only permitted to park at Terminal C. Since we were leaving from Terminal E, we had a bit of a distance to walk in the sprawling CDG airport.

    With luggage in tow, we needed to go through immigration before catching a shuttle to our correct terminal. We felt relaxed as we waited in the long immigration line, given that we had plenty of time. When the line was moving extremely slowly, we looked up at the windows to see that most of them were closed. No agents. No wonder it took so long.

    When we finally arrived in our Terminal E, we had time to get a bite to eat and do some window shopping in some of the top-drawer stores.

    Our flight boarded and took off on time, and the flight was smooth. En route, we recounted many of the wonderful experiences of our trip: the beauty of the Alps and the Cote d’Azur, learning so much about the rich history of France, appreciating the wines in Burgundy and a few other areas, the delectable cuisine, the scenery and small towns of Provence, the Languedoc, and Dordogne, and the wonderful days in Paris. This trip proved to be the “France Sampler” which we hoped for.

    On board, Margie watched “Casablanca”; both of us listened to the music of the Broadway Musical “Hamilton”. Nine hours later, we were happy to land in Cincinnati where, again, we had to go through customs, claim and re-claim our luggage, before departing the airport.

    Our Shuttle was waiting in baggage claim, and within minutes of getting our bags, we were on our way for the forty-minute drive to our home.

    Arriving home in the early evening, we recalled our experience of returning from Europe in the past two years and decided not to push to stay awake. We had a bowl of soup and turned in early in order to get back on our time schedule.

    In the morning, we awoke to our lush green lawn and flowers still blooming. It had been a wonderful trip and we were happy to be home!

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