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Our Month in France - Paris, Normandy, Dordogne and Provence

Our Month in France - Paris, Normandy, Dordogne and Provence

Aug 28th, 2009, 02:48 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 86
Our Month in France - Paris, Normandy, Dordogne and Provence

My wife, 13 year old son and I wandered through France for almost a month from mid June to mid July and I thought I’d give a short synopsis of places and things we found and did, hopefully even benefit some of the other viewers on this site.

First a couple of notes:

1. Consider this a kind of thank you to all the Fodorites and Trip Advisorees who so willingly gave me advice for the trip, suggesting places to stay, things to do, and sights to see, plus helpful hints and ideas that truly made the trip eventful and a vacation to always remember. Some of you responded to my questions specifically on the site or emailed me; from others I took what you offered on the site and stored it somewhere in my memory. I would get responses to my questions within minutes, and often late at night. In fact, I sometimes wondered if some of you did anything besides travel and answer questions on Fodors/Trip Advisor. “Do you sleep? Do you work? Are you all wealthy and retired? You’ve been to France how many times????? But your help allowed me to sleep well before the trip and to stay up late with excitement during the trip. Your suggestions were invaluable and I can’t thank you enough.

2. For all you Foodies, sorry, we didn’t go there. We’ve lived in New York City and Los Angeles, we know good food, but this trip wasn’t about the expensive restaurants. We did, almost by accident, find some really good food, but it wasn’t something we set about to do. Also, the euro was about 1.41 to the dollar so even the inexpensive restaurants were not so inexpensive (those of you going soon to France might want to take note, a cup of coffee goes for anywhere from 5 dollars to 8 dollars, but – and this is a big but – the wine is cheaper than a Coke or a glass of milk, so unless you’re in rehab, . . . yahoo!!!!) We were drinking great wines (Cote due Rhone for 3-4 euros).

3. For those of you who will say we didn’t spend enough time in each location, that 5 days in Dordogne or 5 days in Provence wasn’t enough to really take it all in, . . . I know that. This was a general tour, it allowed us to see areas we hadn’t seen before (we’ve been to France before, I lived in Europe when I first got out of college). Our next trip will be planned around those areas we want to see more of, but we got a good taste of four very different areas of France.

Ok, I digress.

We landed in Paris and took the RER into town, in fact to a metro stop (Vavin) very close to our apartment. We had booked a studio apartment (La Coupole) through ParisBestLodge. It was on a small quiet street near the Bistro La Coupole (where Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Henry Miller and pals hung out in the 20’s) near the Montparnasse area. Technically we were in the 14th Arrondissment but actually we were right on the border of the 14th and the 6th. We loved it. It was a very non-touristy area with a fromagerie (cheese shop), boulangerie (bread/croissants), a wine shop and a small market, all within yards of our apartment. Down the block were several cafes and on the next street there were about 12 creperies (our favorite was Josslyns). We were just a few blocks from the Luxembourg Gardens.
The apartment was quiet, clean, had a full working kitchen and just right for the 3 of us. Of course, you have to want to be in an area where there aren’t many tourists and where mostly French is spoken (although most of the French speak way better English than you can imagine). My wife and I both speak decent French, so we got along just fine. There was a metro stop at the end of the block, there were two large department stores (Monoprix and Galleries Lafayette) within 10 minutes. There was also a small Italian deli right down the block. I could have stayed there for years (and will stay in that apartment when I return). The owner of the apartment, Vicky, was terrific. I had received at least 6 recommendations for ParisBestLodge and for this apartment from fellow posters, all recommending it highly. All of you were right. Some nights we could go downstairs from the apartment, get a baguette, some brie, a bottle of wine and some fruit and . . . voila, le diner! Fantastique.

Now here’s where a good owner comes in handy. Following suggestions from my fellow Fodorites, I chose to withdraw money using the French ATM’s rather than travelers cheques or credit cards (most cards charge an additional 3% for all transactions). So I had contacted my bank, giving them the dates I would be in France so as not to be cut off due to some suspect charges they might notice coming from France. So, of course when I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport and tried to use the ATM, I was rejected. When I called the bank they admitted they just hadn’t seen the notice I had given (I called the security department twice before I left the US to insure this wouldn’t happen). Great bank!!!!. Buyer beware. Always have another option.

So we arrived in Paris after a 13 hour flight (unfortunately LA is a long way from Paris), tired, hungry and now, for the moment, broke. The agreement with the apartment was to hand over in Euros the money for the time we were staying in return for the keys. Vicky, the owner of the apartment, totally understood our predicament and let us in with no questions asked and told us to call her in the morning when I could contact my bank. Fortunately I had another account where the security people were on top of things and I was able to get money. But Vickie was absolutely trusting and a pleasure to deal with.

And now . . . Paris . . .

Ah, Paris. We hit 8 museums. And considering we had a 13 year old who really isn’t that excited by museums, well we did quite all right, thank you. Of course I had to bribe him by buying him a few toys (he collects collectible model cars and trucks). Oh, you say, you shouldn’t have to “bribe” a kid! It’s a learning experience. Ok, you tell him that. Just kidding. In fact, he was terrific and actually enjoyed some parts of the museums. His real skill was in navigating us all around Paris; he became an expert with the Metro map and even on walking excursions he always knew which direction and which streets to take. Quite amazing.!. Without him I think I’d still be walking along the quais trying to decide which bank was left or right.

I digress . . .

We hit the Musee d’Orsay for the Impressionists and the architecture. It was originally built as a train station and retains a regal look, something out of a time travel movie. The Impressionists were impressive, the Renoirs reverential and well, there were so many. Fortunately we had arrived very early so we beat most of the crowd and had plenty of time to look or at least gawk at the Van Goghs, the Manets, the Pissaros and several painters I wasn’t really familiar with at all such as Gustav Caillebot.

The smaller museums offer a greater chance of perusing the art without hassling the crowds, so the Picasso and the Rodin museums were very enjoyable. My favorite was L’Orangerie with the Monet paintings of his gardens at Giverny. Who would not be excited to sit in a room for hours watching four 30-foot paintings (one on each wall) painted by an artist at the age of 80 who was almost blind?! There was also some other work by a young painter named Didier Paquignon which I really liked. The Centre Pompidou is worth a visit just to see the architecture which caused such a stir when it was built about 40 years ago. Large pipes form the outside of the building’s construction. Inside was a very extensive exhibit by all women; in fact, as I learned, the first major museum to show an all-women exhibit. There was some great work. One piece which was dominated by the words “Guerrilla Girls”, done with tongue in cheek, referenced the fact that 90 percent of the nudes in paintings were women but only 10 percent of women painters were exhibited in major museums.

We walked home that day, my son calculated that we had walked more than 12 metro stops. Yeah, we were tired, but nothing beats walking around Paris. You get a really great feel for the atmosphere. Just to people watch and to enjoy the history that surrounds you. In fact, most days we just walked all over. Occasionally if we were really tired, we’d catch the metro and as I mentioned previously, my son had became very very good at navigating the city both by foot and by metro.

Later in the week, we also found a very moving Holocaust museum in the Marais district. It was well done with a lot of information and artifacts. Of course, due to its nature, it is not an upbeat affair, but I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in that time in history or in France’s participation in the war (more on the war stuff later). But here there was a wall of names of deported Jews. Apparently many Jews had fled Germany and eastern Europe to live in France only to find themselves deported back to Germany when France was occupied by the Nazis. Also in the Marais we found a very nice boulangerie called Boulangeries Saveurs de Pain on Rue Vielle du Temple which served wonderful sandwiches.

And my least favorite museum was – ready? – the Louvre!!! Like Disneyland. Although we were in Paris before most of the tourists arrived (for example, there was no line to get into Notre Dame and almost no one inside when we went), the crowd at the Louvre was overwhelming.

Now let me just get one thing out here that’s been bugging me since I was in Paris.

What’s with all the picture taking of the great works of art!!!!!

With the advent of the advanced digital cameras, pictures can be taken without using a flash, so everyone takes pictures of every painting known to man and woman. Wow!! Why not just buy a postcard, it’s gonna be way better than your amateur photo. Or like my wife says, “just put a sign on your head that says, ‘I was here’.”

Geez, it makes the simple pleasure of enjoying a great work of art a real task when you’re constantly interrupted by someone standing in front of you snapping away. Can’t you just sit and enjoy the aesthetic of a piece of art, or use your mind to imagine what the painter was thinking or using as a model or just simply enjoy the brushstrokes. Grrrrrrr.

This was prevalent at all the museums, more overt at the Louvre where the crowd in front of the Mona Lisa was 8 deep, all furiously snapping pictures as if the painting might mysteriously disappear and they’d have the only remaining image (and mind you, the Mona Lisa is behind thick glass to begin with). Grrrrrrr #2.

If I’ve offended anyone who indulges in this most odious of museum practices - - - - too bad. In fact, I pray every night that the gods of art put all of you into a room together and force you to take pictures of each other until your index fingers fall off.

But I digress . . .

We walked all over the town. One day we walked through the Luxembourg Gardens to find in the middle of the gardens an American orchestra playing both French and American songs. Seems they were from Arizona and on a tour of European countries. There was a big audience who were enjoying a Parisian afternoon with music in the gardens. Oooh la la.

Of course we did all the tourist things, the Eiffel Tower, the boat ride on the Seine, seeing Place de la Concorde where they cut off all the heads, walking along the river, seeing all the quais, the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore. We visited Ile de la Cite and Ile St. Louis. We found the best crepes beurre sucre on Ile St. Louis (and believe me, with a 13 year old, we tasted a lot of crepes beurre sucre. In fact I think we could easily qualify as expert crepes beurre sucre tasters). The place was called Creperee Les Sarrasins et Les Froment on Rue St. Louis en L’Ile, very close to the Berthillion ice cream, which we also tried, and by the way, we sampled both Berthillion and Amarino and found both lacking, too sugary and not enough cream. Haagen Daz is far better and more creamy. (Guess I can start a good argument with that statement, eh?)

We checked out Rue Cler although I wasn’t overwhelmed with the food there, but we did find a beautiful little church called L’eglise St. Jean near Rue de Grenelle where we sat in the courtyard and had a nice lunch.

And of course we spent time just sitting in the cafes, people-watching and just enjoying a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. One small café in particular, Café du Pont Neuf, was very relaxful and we had a great time with a very entertaining waiter while eating a delicious crème brulee, some strawberry ice cream and a couple of cups of expresso. We also enjoyed an afternoon at a café on Rue Montorgueil, another wonderful street for just people watching. It’s such a different pace from what we are used to here in the U.S.

Oh and one more thing. Be prepared to buy Paris real estate in a few years – cheap. Because all the Parisians will be . . . dead . . . from lung cancer. The French have always been heavy smokers and none of that has changed; even the teenagers smoke heavily (honest, we saw a couple, around 13-14 years old, gaily chain smoking as they walked down the street). The Parisians smoke, nonstop in all places. They smoke while they eat, while they drink, when they’re conversing, when they’re pulling change out of their pockets, probably while they’re making love (I know, that conjures up a rather interesting image, but actually it’s better than our rather clichéd image of smoking after making love. Of course, leave it to the French to come up with new ways of lovemaking). In any case, the outdoor cafes at night are smoke filled so if you’re allergic, be warned, the air gets heavy.

By the way, due to its northern geographical placement, in June and early July, the sun shines brightly in Paris until almost 11:00 pm. Many nights we’d think it was time to go home and turn in, but with the bright sunshine at 10:30, well, hey, we’re on vacation, who needs to sleep, so we just kept on going. It makes for some wonderfully long days.

On and out of Paris

We rented a car from AutoEurope, which worked through Europcar near the southern part of Paris (a VW Golf, which used diesel fuel; it was an excellent value and because of the diesel fuel, we could drive forever without refueling). We hit the road that goes around Paris (it’s called the Peripherique and it took me about an hour and 2 times around the city to realize that it was the same word in English – duh), so for about an hour we were doing the Parisian merry go round, seeing most of Paris at least twice from the “Peripherique!!!. My wife kept saying, we’ve seen that before, but being the man who never asks directions, well, like I said, in my thickheadedness we went around about twice. Finally, thanks to the wife, we got it right and headed for Normandy.

We stayed in a little village just south of Bayeux called Villiers Bocage which actually led to a small hamlet called Le Haut St. Louet. We stayed at a B&B called La Ferme du Pressoir, which turned out to be another great find and another wonderful recommendation from a traveler who posts and responds on these websites. It was a large 850 hectare working farm: cows, horses, chickens, cherries (which you could pick fresh off the tree), raspberries, apples and pears. They grew 4 grains as well. A family tradition that had been handed down through the generations.

As for the B&B, we were expecting something rather rural and rough, but in fact it was something right out of Martha Stewart, a large spacious, spotlessly clean room elegantly and tastefully decorated with a view of the farmland and the cows staring back at your from about 50 yards away. Fabulous. The owner, Odile, was terrific. My son went to the chicken coop, an ancient stone building, each morning to get fresh eggs which Odile used to make omelettes for us, along with all kinds of cereal, breads, juices, jams and coffee for wonderful breakfasts. It turns out this B&B is recommended by Rick Steves (although we didn’t know that until we were there). It’s a great place and I would highly recommend it to anyone, slightly off the beaten path, but quiet and beautiful.

We visited Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery, the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc. It is quite something, the rows of white crosses and Jewish stars standing at attention, as if for taps, almost 9,000 of them. It was as if a moment in history overwhelmed me and my emotions were brought right to the surface. Maybe it’s the largeness of what happened there, maybe it’s the quiet stillness that envelopes the place, or the sadness of all those young men who died for us, but it is a moment in time I shall not forget, and it is one I would easily visit again.

On to Dordogne

We left Normandy, driving along small roads to see the villages and towns and farms and the beautiful countryside. We stopped in Falaise, birthplace of William the Conqueror, then headed south toward Limoges where we spent the night in a small hotel. We awoke early the next day, had a quick breakfast and headed south.

Our next stop was at Oradour-sur-glane. Again, thanks to posters on these forums I had learned about the history of this small village and boy am I glad we stopped here. Four days after the invasion of Europe by the Allied forces, the Nazis came to Oradour determined to discourage any resistance from the French in aiding the invasion. They herded all the women and children into the village church, set it on fire and machine gunned all who were inside. The men were taken to five different locations around the village and shot. Then the Nazis blew the town apart with their tanks. After the war, the Nazis who perpetrated this crime were tried but, amazingly, were granted amnesty. The French were outraged. They decided therefore, to leave the village just as it was as a memorial to those who died there and as a reminder to the rest of the world of what war brings about. There is a very modern museum there with pictures and videos and a history of the village. Then you walk out of the museum into the village – just as it was on June 10, 1944. A burned out baby carriage, a burned out kitchen, a completely totaled 1940’s car; the walls are half-walls, gun holes through many of them. It isn’t just one street; the entire village has been left as it was on that day. It’s kind of like a Twilight Zone episode, you awaken and it’s not 2009 but Europe, 1944, days after the Allied invasion. It is an unbelievable sight, you should not miss it if you are visiting that part of France.

To the Dordogne

We journeyed to the Dordogne, staying in Sarlat, again in a terrific B&B, Les Cordeliers, run by Chris and Amanda, wonderful hosts. We had a very large room, air conditioned and tastefully decorated. The breakfasts included everything you could imagine plus there was a small kitchen available all the time with a coffee maker and a small refrigerator. A fantastic place to stay and just a few steps off the main square of the medieval city. Lots to do in Sarlat including a huge market. The square in the middle of the medieval city of Sarlat was very lively at night with many outdoor restaurants and a lot of street performers, some very interesting. We had a lovely meal at a small restaurant called “Chez Vicky”.

You have, let me repeat, you have to take the canoe trip down the Dordogne, past all the castles and chateaus. We did, traveling from Beynac to La Roque Gageac. You could even take a bottle of wine or a picnic, as the Dordogne is rather shallow and has a slow current. You lazily drift down the river seeing all the chateaus in the area, anywhere from 2 to 25 kilometer trips. It’s a fantastic way to see the area and to enjoy a beautiful day on the river. And for those who might ask, it’s not hard work.

We also took a wonderful tour of the medieval castle, Castelnaud, learning all about its construction and defense against its enemy, Beynac, which was situated just a mile off and visible from the castle. Apparently, these two laid siege to each other with other castles that spied on each other. But at Castelnaud, we had a wonderful tour guide and learned lots of history, including some of the armaments, one called a “trebuchet”, a sort of slingshot that was used to hurl large stones at the castle walls. It was the most powerful machine of the middle ages. They were designed by a military engineer and put together on the field of battle by a “team” trained to do this. Much of the history here also involves the 100 Years War and our guide filled us in on the history and the daily “lifestyle” of waging a long war.

We also wanted to see the caves that date back to Cro-Magnon man. We could not get a reservation to see the cave Font du Gaume as it was totally booked for 25 days past the time we were to be in the Dordogne, so if you want to see it, make reservations early. We did visit Lascaux II and found it rather uninspiring, not because it’s a replica, but the tour was rather rushed, we had a guide who was doing her first tour, and really, other than seeing some nice drawings on the cave walls, there wasn’t much to get excited about. The only thing of interest to me was that apparently, cave men didn’t live in the caves, they just went in there to draw, as if it was their studio. So cave men weren’t really cave men, but rather, artistes. I liked that.

We visited Domme, had originally planned to stay there but decided against it and we were glad we had. Although it’s a medieval town and has a fabulous view of the Dordogne Valley and the river, the town itself is completely given over to tourism. Although Sarlat is also a tourist mecca, it is larger, and seems to have more breathing room than what we saw at Domme (although I know many on these forums have raved about the food at Hotel L’Esplanade), so for the foodies, Domme may be your mecca.

Off to Provence

We headed out towards Provence. On our way we stopped at a small village called Figeac where we had a wonderful lunch at a small restaurant called Del Portel. We had some terrific salads, and here, you foodies, is where I had the best chocolate mousse I ever had (they said it was the house specialty). It took all three of us to finish it off, the richness of it still pervades my inner being (sorry, don’t mean to get too esoteric here, but after all, it’s chocolate mousse!!!!!!).

Now how can you beat that for a life, slumming through southern France, enjoying a leisurely 2 hour lunch with a nice glass or vin rouge and topped off with the world’s best chocolate mousse – and I haven’t even gotten to Provence yet. I have to reexamine my life and figure out how I can do this more often. Or do most of you already do that more often? C’mon, fess up. And if you do, what’s your secret?

Sorry, I digress . . . again . . .

As we traveled through France and mostly on the small country type roads, we could see the topography changing and as we headed to Provence, you could feel the sun warming up, the air getting dryer, the farmlands lush and in places wheat colored. We stopped at a roadside fruit stand and had delicious nectarines and peaches.

We drove to Arles and this was the first night where we had not booked any room. Big mistake. In these days of the internet and advance booking, if you’re in a tourist area and you have no reservation . . . beware. We stopped at 8 hotels and nothing was available. Apparently there was a large international photography exhibit going on and all rooms were booked. Finally, at a Mercure Hotel, we were fortunate enough to find a woman who took pity on us. After calling around to several other hotels to check availability, she actually found that her hotel had 1 room left. I love that woman. She will always be in my heart. And then, a gentleman at the desk offered to get us something to eat even though the kitchen was closed (it was almost midnight by the time we found this room). And this man – I love him too – if there’s room he can be in my heart too -- made us some wonderful sandwiches for a midnight meal. In any case, it worked out fine, we had a very nice room and kudos to Mercure Hotels for employing truly wonderful and helpful people.

The next morning we ventured into Arles. We toured the coliseum which is an almost exact duplicate of the one in Rome, although this one is actually in better shape. Ahh, those Romans, they knew engineering. How did they do that? Who were those guys? Incredible works. We had a wonderful lunch at a small café called Le Relais de Poste (by the way, for all of you traveling with young kids, the hamburger/fries plate all over France is called steak haché et frites, good to know if you’re a little light on the French language). We then proceeded to view the hospital where Van Gogh spent much time (and which he painted). The flowers there are beautiful, but unfortunately it is now just a bookseller’s area with stalls all around the courtyard.

Off to our B&B in Provence

In Provence, we stayed in a small town called Cheval Blanc at a most wonderful B&B called Mas Pomona. A couple of delightful hosts, Marianne and David, a beautiful house with a gorgeous pool. The room was very large and bright. It is a restored farmhouse, with beautiful white limestone and very tastefully decorated. Mas Pomona, in fact, is in a rural farm area, off the main road, very quiet and peaceful, a beautiful place. Thanks to some guidance from Marianne and David, we found some excellent restaurants, including one in the nearby town of Cavaillon called La Regalade. Highly recommend it to anyone touring in that area.

We met a wonderful Belgian family staying at the B&B and had several meals with them and great conversation. One of the perks of traveling is meeting people from other countries and comparing lifestyles, politics (always like to hear what they think of our policies) and other aspects of life. Cheval Blanc is a very small town, with a couple of restaurants, a boulangerie, a bar, a pharmacy and a couple of other shops, but the nearby villages of St. Remy and Cavaillon provide anything you might find missing in Cheval Blanc.

Provence has so much to see that five days surely won’t do it all and we will return to capture more of that area. But here’s what we did do.

We set out on the first day to see several villages. We stopped ever so briefly in Gourdes but were scared off by the tourists (hordes of them) and the seemingly omnipresent tourist shops. Someone on Fodor’s had said their favorite village in Provence was Goult and we would have to agree it is a charming place. We stopped there and roamed around the village for a while, wonderful old buildings and a very authentic “French” flavor with the stucco buildings painted shades of tuscan orange, sunflower yellow and a light mauve (I copied this description from my wife’s notes, she’s much more attuned to the details than I am).

We traveled on to Bonnieux and that was a very special place too. We walked quite a while around the town, then had a wonderful lunch. At this particular place, we not only had great salads and wine, but since it sat high up on a hill in the village and since the dining area was on the second floor, we had a panoramic view of the entire valley with LaCoste off in the distance.

After lunch, we drove around the hillsides for quite some time, taking in the farmland and the Roman architecture which still stands 2000 years later. We passed through Menerbes fairly quickly and finished the day at Le Veiux Oppede. Now for any of you going there, there is Les Oppede and then there is the “old” Les Veiux Oppede. Go to the old one. What a site!!!! A Roman village built into the side of a mountain and kept “as is” or “as was”. You can climb the small steps along the even smaller streets up through the village. We were tired by this time and only made it up about three quarters of the way, but it was fantastic and a place I would love to go back and explore some more. If you go, wear comfortable shoes. The way up is steep and the cobblestones and bricks make for a formidable hike.

Another day in Provence. Oh my, the time slips by. We ventured on Sunday to the market at Isle Sur La Sorgue. One note. Get there early. Did I mention to Get there early. Unless you like crowds (and I lived in New York City, so crowds don’t bother me), you’re best served by getting there by 8:00 a.m. Not that it isn’t interesting for the entire day, it’s just that early on you can see all the stalls being set up and then actually visit them without being jostled about or having to squeeze through the crowd to get a good view. It’s a stunning market, with sellers selling anything you can imagine, makes most markets here in the US seem tiny and tame. A good time was had by all three of us.

The next day we ventured east toward the Pont du Gard and Uzes. We stopped for lunch in a small village outside Avignon called Villeneuve Les Avignon. Another wonderful stop which we happened upon by chance. A fabulous lunch in the city square where several restaurants were serving under umbrellas on a bright sunny day, ours being called “La Salamandre”. Once again, we explored a small village and took in all the wonderful old architecture. My son is a collector and admirer of all kinds of fire engines and fire stations and this town had several engines we hadn’t see before and a very very modern station, plus a poster for a “Firemen’s Ball”. Whoohoo.

Seems everywhere we went there was some beautiful church or Roman fortress or just an old medieval or Roman building, and this is the advantage of driving around France on the small roads (disdaining GPS’s, we only had maps, and fortunately in our entire trip, we only got lost once or twice and quickly recovered each time).

We made it to the Pont du Gard and one again, a monument to Roman architecture. It’s very touristy but since it’s such a large piece of work and can be viewed from a distance or right on top of it, that the crowds are really not noticeable. Again, you gotta hand it to those Roman guys (so as not to offend anyone, in this report, the word “guys” will include male and female; this is a tip of the hat to all the lawyers out there).

We only had a short time to visit Uzes and unfortunately caught a horrific traffic jam at rush hour so didn’t really get to see too much. It will be one of the places we will return to on our next visit.

One last note: We spent most of our driving time on small country roads to ferret out the old villages and architecture. That was a fortunate choice because we truly did find some jewels. However, on a trip back towards Paris we hit the autoroute to save some time. We were hungry so we stopped at the nearest pullover which had a restaurant. Now I’m used to American restaurants on turnpikes or freeways and usually the food is anything but appetizing. But in France, even the autoroute restaurants have terrific food, lots of choices and all freshly cooked; chicken, pasta, salad bars, and of course lots of good breads and beverages (it truly is something very French that they serve wine at these restaurants; you power up on lunch and a couple of glasses of vino and hit the autoroute at 110 kilometers/hour – it’s like being in a Steve McQueen movie!!!).

One more note: I got one speeding ticket on the autoroute (my first since I was 16 years old). The French nail you with cameras, you never see a police car, then they just send you the ticket/bill. Mine arrived just after I arrived home. Ah well, there’s no getting away from the man.

To conclude, well, what a trip. We cried for a week on our return (crying is good, no? It means you care . . .). But, like in baseball, there was no crying in France, and we’re sure to go back soon. It’s been fun writing this and remembering all the great times we had. We lucked out in a lot of ways: all the places we stayed were terrific (and most of that goes to the recommendations of people on these forums); we also had great weather; in our 3 1/2 weeks in France we only had a total of about 1 hour of rain, the rest of the time it was about 78-80 degrees with little or no humidity. We met great people, the French were very helpful and accommodating. It was the trip of a lifetime (at least up until this point in my life; hopefully, someday soon, I’ll do one even better).

And so I end. Vive La France!!!!

PS. Please note the invisible tearstains. It’s hard to be back. We stare at the Metro map on an hourly basis, planning and scheming our next trip and dreaming of all the places we missed.
jobo is offline  
Aug 28th, 2009, 03:05 PM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 20,921
An espresso in the province is 1.40€ to 1.60€, at least as I experienced it. Not quite the $5 you quote.

An American wrote a book on Oradour-sur-Glane and it turns out that the issue of trials was far mor complicated than it appears. Only ordinary soldiers and perhaps a non-commissioned officer were tried, and they were mostly Alsatians who may or may not have been forced into the German SS Division by threatened reprisals against their families if they did not join. Yes, they committed crimes, but could claim that they would have been shot if they refused.

As for the German officers, it appears that the U.S. had a role in avoiding their trial because it was in the middle of the Cold War and we did not want to offend the Germans who by that time were our front-line allies in this war.

The crime is a black & white issue, the aftermath is murkier.
Michael is offline  
Aug 28th, 2009, 03:28 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 47,461
What a nice report. I'm glad to hear you went to Oradour. It's a heart-stopper for sure.
StCirq is offline  
Aug 28th, 2009, 08:59 PM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 770
Enjoyed your report. It brought back memories of where I have been and dreams of where I want to go.
mimipam is offline  
Aug 29th, 2009, 05:26 AM
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Wow, great trip report. You packed a lot into 3 1/2 weeks. Thanks for all the details.
AGM_Cape_Cod is online now  
Aug 29th, 2009, 05:42 AM
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Good report!
flsd is offline  
Aug 29th, 2009, 07:19 AM
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Just a great read, thanks!!
susanna is offline  
Aug 29th, 2009, 08:19 AM
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I really enjoyed all the details of your report and I thoroughly understand your need to return. We're headed for our 7th trip to France very shortly and I know when we return, we'll be planning our 8th. It just feels like home. Maybe in a last life it was.
TPAYT is offline  
Aug 29th, 2009, 09:39 AM
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 206
We are considering a trip to the Provence region next Spring and found your report informative and truly delightful...a real incentive to turn thinking into a reality. Thankyou. Our last incredibly wonderful trip to Italy was fuelled by the informative postings of fellow Fodorites...We're hoping for a repeat for the Provence journey.And yes, we have tear stains all over our Italian map.
minx is offline  
Aug 30th, 2009, 09:23 AM
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What a wonderful trip report - and trip! You're setting quite a foundation for your son - a future "traveler", I'm sure. Thanks for taking the time to write such a lovely, detailed report,
Sue4 is offline  
Aug 30th, 2009, 11:56 AM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 3,250
Thanks for your evocative and well-written report.

I'm glad we have a reservation for our upcoming stay in Arles.

Many happy returns to France.

justretired is online now  
Aug 30th, 2009, 12:51 PM
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 817
What a beautiful way to escape on a Sunday afternoon! I imagined myself there every step of the way and am inspired to visit the places you described. We've been to Paris several times and are in love with it, but we're hoping to be able to travel more in France. Thank you for such a well-written and thoughtful trip report.
Hagan is offline  
Sep 1st, 2009, 10:06 AM
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Thank you for sharing your detailed trip report...enjoyed it immensely.
celticmoon is offline  
Sep 1st, 2009, 10:38 AM
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Great report. Will definitely use in planning for an upcoming trip to the Dordogne and Provence.
twk is online now  
Sep 1st, 2009, 10:54 AM
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What a wonderful report. Your choices were right on.
I'm happy you went to the Picasso museum because it is now closed and will be for over two years while it is being renovated.
cigalechanta is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2009, 07:00 PM
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 2,010
Jobo: great report. I too am a lover of France, and I have looked forward to a return soon. Your B & B suggestions sound just great.
Thanks for taking the time.
taconictraveler is offline  
Sep 3rd, 2009, 06:11 AM
Join Date: Jun 2003
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One of the best reports ever! Bravo!

(Although I too was at odds with the report of $5-8 for a coffee. I realise that it obviously happened in Paris but, please! don't just sit down anywhere and order without checking the prices first.)
kerouac is online now  
Sep 3rd, 2009, 02:19 PM
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Wonderful report - thanks.
cobbie is offline  
Sep 11th, 2009, 11:33 PM
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Great and informative trip report we too are visiting Paris, Provence & The Dordogne.
Loved reading it thsnk you
aussie_10 is offline  
Sep 12th, 2009, 04:33 AM
Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 3,357
What a nice trip report. Very well done. Thank you for posting it.

gracejoan3 is offline  

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