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Paris, Normandy & the Loire Valley with our Granddaughter

Paris, Normandy & the Loire Valley with our Granddaughter

Old Aug 28th, 2011, 11:01 AM
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bilbo - you're right, sometimes the best thing to do is just walk away.
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Old Aug 28th, 2011, 12:46 PM
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John . re the problem wth the restaraunt.I am wondering if it wasn,t time for the Dinner service ?. I remember in Rouen we sat down at a restaraunt were pepople were drinking and eating. we asked to order from the menu & was told it was toe early. someone explained later that the Chefs take a break between lunch & Dinner & the food that people were eating was a type of snack menu that does not require a Chef.
Don,t forget they are very unionised in France.
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Old Aug 28th, 2011, 01:05 PM
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the 35 hours a week rule is a real pain, the affect has been to reduce restaurant sales
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Old Aug 29th, 2011, 10:45 AM
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"Everywhere we went, we could not escape the smell of the cow poop."

Oh, yes. The Country Smell. One of our daughters used to play in Sacramento-area soccer tournaments and we would drive up there many weekends. Whenever her much younger brother with the sensitive nose was in tow, he would start gagging and complaining about the Country Smell. His sister attends UC Davis now and he wants to go there, too, in a few years. We've warned him that he won't be able to handle the Country Smell!

I can imagine that it's a similar feature of Normandy and the cows are even bigger, so that must mean the smell is worse, no-o-o-?
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Old Aug 29th, 2011, 12:11 PM
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Yep, the Country Smell! Surprisingly, or maybe not, this was the only place on our trip we were able to enjoy - no - make that "experience" the Country Smell. All I know is the cows at this cider farm were particularly potent. It's kind of funny because I have heard some farmers refer to this as "The Smell of Money" to them. I guess it depends which side of the fence you are on. HA!
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Old Aug 30th, 2011, 11:29 AM
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Wed (Day 14 – The chateaus of Chenonceau, Amboise, Clos Luce and another crazy restaurant experience)

Up fairly early and had a nice breakfast at the hotel. We left for Chenonceau and it was very easy to get to (thank goodness – we became very familiar with the road to Chenonceau). As we walked toward the castle, we checked out the Orangerie Restaurant because we had reservations there for lunch on A’s birthday which was only two days away. It met with A’s approval. We then took the iPod tour of the castle. This was our first experience with an iPod tour and we really liked it – so much better than just an audio tour. After the inside tour, we each had 2 boules de crème glace as we walked around the gardens. We then grabbed some not very good crepes and sandwiches from the little café at the entrance and had sort of a picnic lunch. The weather had turned downright beautiful (it was 75 and sunny every day we were in the Loire Valley). We all really liked Chenonceau! It was a very nice day so far.

We then drove back and parked at our hotel before walking the 2 blocks to the Chateau d’ Amboise. We climbed to the top for a gorgeous view of the Loire River and the rooftops of Amboise. We went in to the chapel of Saint-Hubert – what a pretty little chapel – and supposedly there might be a little piece of Leonardo da Vinci buried in it. I guess that is up for debate as to whether it is true or not but they do have a marker with his name on it. Side note – B’s dad’s name was Hubert and unexpectedly coming across his name made us spend a few minutes talking about what a nice man he was and how proud he would have been of his great-granddaughters that he did not get to see. We really enjoyed the short tour of the castle and its grounds. We left by taking the winding exit down through the tower that was originally used for carriages. No crowds, beautiful views, interesting history, spectacular weather all combined to make it a very nice experience. It was still a very nice day so far.

We then took the short walk past some very interesting houses built right in to the rock hillside to Clos Luce (Leonardo da Vinci’s chateau and gardens) and we all three really loved it. As a matter of fact, A had a school science project due a few days ago and she chose some of Leonardo’s inventions as her subject. We found the inside tour interesting and we spent a lot of time in the gardens and took tons of pictures. For some strange reason, A bought a quill, ink and a calligraphy book at the gift shop. Not sure what motivated this purchase but my job is just to be the pack mule, not to question the purchases. We then went back to the hotel for a swim and had the person at the desk make a dinner reservation for us at L’Epicerie. It was still a very nice day so far.

L’Epicerie had very good reviews on TripAdvisor and in this forum so our expectations were high. Everything started out great. We were seated at a nice outside table. We ordered a bottle of wine, appetizers (A had a goat cheese salad, B had foie gras, I had oysters), entrees (A had salmon, B had sea brim, I had duck), a pre-dessert selection of cheeses and then full desserts. As we sat at our table, we saw a hot air balloon take off in the distance and took several fantastic pictures of it. All was not just good, it was great at this point!! The problem came after we finished our entrees and we were waiting for the cheese course, our waiter disappeared and we never saw him again. We waited quite a while still enjoying the ambience of the place but it became apparent that somehow the ball was dropped by the wait staff and we were not going to be served (it had been at least 30 minutes since we finished our entrees and no one had come to our table).

We finally got the attention of another waiter and asked if he would find our waiter and send him over. After 10 or 15 minutes, the other waiter brought the check to our table. We explained that we still had a cheese course and desserts yet to be served. He apologized and left. After another 10 or 15 minutes, the hostess brought our cheese. It then became a bad joke about how long it took to finally get our desserts and the bill. And like I said, we never saw our original waiter again – he had completely disappeared. I just looked on TripAdvisor and there are several good reviews but there are also a couple of reviews from the end of July telling our same story, good food – horrible service. I’m really not sure what happened but it took the fun out of the meal.

We had a variety of guide books that we used to figure out restaurants etc and one of them was a Rick Steves’ book. A had heard us mention his name as someone that recommended L’Epicerie. As we were walking back to our hotel, A sarcastically said “let’s send this to Rick Steves and see what he has to say about it”. She was not a happy camper. On our way back, I stopped in at the same bar as the night before and ordered another bottle of Felix from the bartender. He gave it to me, I paid, he gave me change and I was out of there in about a minute and a half – completely the opposite of our restaurant experience. We went back to the hotel, had a few glasses of Felix, forgot about our bad experience and went to bed. An excellent second day in Amboise!
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Old Aug 31st, 2011, 09:04 AM
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I was wondering when the good day "so far" was going to go South. What a bummer, but look at it this way: at least he didn't disppear after appetizers, right? ;-)

Still very much enjoying your report - thanks for sharing.

Btw, that happened to me in NYC once - waitress quit in the middle of service. Of course, she didn't just disappear - she stormed out of the kitchen saying "I quit!" It was an interesting evening, for sure...
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Old Aug 31st, 2011, 10:28 AM
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I am SO enjoying your trip report ☺
Sorry about your two bizarre restaurant experiences. Sounds as though dining in France can take some patience. Good thing you seem to have lots of the stuff
You are hitting so many of my dream spots (Chenonceau!)I'm jealous. I'd like to visit Normandy and the Loire Valley while in France next summer but am not "up" for renting a car, I'm afraid. Will have to rely on trains and the occasional bus/taxi.
Le Manoir Saint Thomas looks fantastique!
As previous posters have mentioned, what excellent planning on your part. Bravo!
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Old Aug 31st, 2011, 11:32 AM
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Quite a trip report and surely an enjoyable family experience. I am assuming B & A were equally positive. So your teen didn't get too bored in the Louvre (like I did?)

I always say a trip consists of three parts: planning, traveling and relishing. We were on a Seine R. cruise earlier this year and did not see much of Paris (had been there before) But we did see some places along the Seine which you also saw, including Honfluer, Rouen, Etret, D Day beaches, etc. Yes, Normandy landing sites are moving...you spoke of the horrors and now it seems so peaceful. As also in the cemetery.

We missed Mont Saint Michele but a highlight was Bayeax Tapestry and cathedral which I think you missed. We also saw Peace Memorial at Caen, Le Andelys, Giverny with Monet gardens, Conflans, Auvers sur Oise where VanGogh painted and is buried. Normandy was lovely in April.

I join you on day 7 of your report and leave on day 14. Well, we did some Paris touring such as the Orangerie.

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...-the-seine.cfm

Bill in Boston
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Old Aug 31st, 2011, 04:53 PM
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YankyGal - It did go South alright - but not so far South a little Felix couldn't fix it!!! Disappearing servers are not fun but yes, thank goodness ours stuck around long enough to serve the entrees.

lantana - Do you have an itinerary yet for your trip to France? Driving in rural France is really not hard - just get a good GPS and you can drive anywhere. But if you aren't up for a rental car there are many good ways to get around so you can get to your dream spots.

Bill - A liked all the museums we went to - a pleasant surprise for us. I like your three trip parts. I get just about equal enjoyment out of all three. We did hit many of the same places - really lovely weren't they? We saw the Bayeux Tapestry and Cathedral in 2004 and we really liked them too. Nice trip report - I've thought about a river cruise but never pulled the trigger on one. It sounds like it would be very nice.
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Old Sep 1st, 2011, 02:06 PM
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Thur (Day 15 – Chambord, Cheverny, barking dogs, a nice dinner)

Up early again and had another nice breakfast at the hotel. We drove towards Chambord through Blois. As we drove, we saw where the Tour de France would be coming through. I am a Tour addict (I hope no one from my work reads this) but I streamed several of the stages to my computer and watched quite a bit of it live. I recorded the stage where they went through the Loire and I recorded the last stage in Paris around the Champs Elysees. A came over and we really enjoyed watching it. Her Mom made the comment that she guesses one way to get A interested in watching any sports on TV is to put the event right in the middle of Paris. Janine took us through her usual rural route for a while but we made it quite easily to Chambord.

We enjoyed the inside tour more than we thought we would. It really is huge and the views from the roof are very nice. After we finished, we had another picnic on the grounds near the castle like we did at Chenonceau. We walked around to the front and took a lot of pictures across the moat. We then had a very easy drive to Cheverny. We liked the interior of Cheverny the best of all the castles we toured. We had made a point of being there at 5 so we could see the feeding of the dogs. That is quite a site. A & B were pretty grossed out by the sight of whole skinned chickens (heads, beaks and all) dumped in a pile across the floor with a big bag of dog food scattered on top. The dogs all lined up barking like crazy and didn’t go for the food until the trainer gave the signal – then what a madhouse. Surprisingly there were no fights and they licked that place clean.

After the dogs finished eating, we stuck around and watched for a while (A is a huge dog lover). Well for some reason, several dogs cornered another one and started barking like crazy at it – not attacking or anything – just barking. I’m going to give the disclaimer that no animals were harmed in the film you about to see but if you love dogs, you will feel really sorry for the poor dog being barked at. I have no idea why they did this but it was something. I think we’ve all had days where we feel like the one being barked at, right? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qT-Px3NAuj4

As we drove through the country on our way back to Amboise, we came across some huge sunflower fields. We pulled off to the side and took several pictures. The sun was just right and they are beautiful pictures. We stopped at E Leclerc again to buy another memory chip for A and a cheap carryon bag for some of our purchases. Sometimes on other trips, we have brought along an empty carryon but somehow forgot to bring one this time. We found one for about 15 Euros and it worked perfectly.

We parked at the hotel and made sure we left for dinner early enough to get a table at Anne de Bretogne (another Rick Steves recommendation that A was skeptical about). We were seated at a nice outside table and had a very enjoyable meal. The French onion soup was delicious and A had one of her new favorites – a croque madame (or monsieur – I can’t remember which). At any rate, we had good food and good service and we were happy! We went back to the hotel and A had a late swim before we went to bed. An excellent third day in Amboise!
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Old Sep 2nd, 2011, 04:56 AM
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I'm a dog-lover. That has got to be the oddest thing I've ever seen! I mean, they are clearly barking at that one dog. I wonder what he/she did wrong? Maybe ate more than his share. ;-)
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Old Sep 2nd, 2011, 05:10 AM
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Fri (Day 16 – A’s Birthday, a nice lunch at Chenonceau, boat ride on the Cher, night walk at Chenonceau)

I wrote a little about this day on another thread and I’m going to plagiarize myself a little (hmmm, can it be plagiarism if it is your own stuff?) I had asked for ideas on how to celebrate A’s birthday and the response was unbelievable. There were a lot of really good ideas and I wondered what A would pick. By this time, we had been in Paris for a week, Normandy for 5 days and the Loire for 3 days - pretty much going all out every day. The night before, when we asked A what she really wanted to do on her birthday - she said she would like to sleep in until time to get ready for our 12:30 lunch at Chenonceau.

So that is what we did. We enjoyed a lazy morning in our room and went for a nice relaxed breakfast at the hotel. We took our time getting dressed and after we were ready, we went outside on the hotel grounds and took several pictures. We then went to Chenonceau for lunch at the Orangerie. I had reserved and confirmed the reservation for this lunch well in advance but when we got to the restaurant, it turned out the entire inside seating area had been given to a big group for a private function and we were asked to sit outside. I was not happy about this and I thought holy cow - not another crazy restaurant story!!! We really liked the inside seating area and were very disappointed to have to sit outside. But like I have said before, what are ya gonna do? – so we sat outside.

It turns out we had a great time sitting outside. It was kind of loud and crowded inside but outside the weather was lovely and not many of the tables were occupied. I had tried every trick I knew to get inside seating and I think the staff felt so bad about not being able to accommodate me that they took extra good care of us. Either that or the law of averages had swung back to my favor because we had excellent service and excellent food (the food presentation was excellent also). It was almost like we had the area and the staff to ourselves. Anyway, A liked her meal, her birthday presents and we had a lot of fun.

After leaving Chenonceau we took a short boat ride on the River Cher from Chisseaux through the arches of the castle and back again (about 50 minutes -which was just about the right amount of time). Our weather was still perfect - 75 and sunny and it was very nice to see Chenonceau from the river. We then went back to the hotel to swim. We met some people at the pool and had a nice chat while the kids played. We had debated about going on the night walk at Chenonceau and finally decided to go. This was our third trip to Chenonceau (I said we became familiar with the road) and A had begun to call it “her” castle. It was the first night walk of the season and hardly anyone was there. It was weird having the gardens almost to ourselves. The night walk was not spectacular but it was nice with the classical music playing and the lights coming on as it got dark.

As we walked around the gardens, we saw a small blimp (probably about 20 feet long) take off from one end of the garden. We walked over and saw it was radio controlled and it had a camera on it. They were going to film the castle in the twilight and film the lights coming on as it got dark. It was funny because one guy had the radio controller and two guys had fishing rods with strings attached to the blimp so they could reel it in if somehow the radio failed and it got loose.

B and I said it doesn’t get much better than being with your granddaughter at Chenonceau on her 12th birthday at twilight with hardly anyone there. Again, I want to thank everyone from the other thread for all the great ideas but as it turned out, the relaxed way we spent the day celebrating her birthday and our time together was perfect. We then went back to the hotel, began packing for our train ride back to Paris and went to bed. An excellent fourth day in Amboise!
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Old Sep 2nd, 2011, 05:40 AM
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YankyGal - I have no idea what that dog did but in the Cheverny dog world - it had to be pretty bad. The whole feeding event is really wild. The surprising part to me was that there were no serious fights, just a lot of haggling over chicken parts. Those dogs were pretty cool!
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Old Sep 2nd, 2011, 05:43 AM
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How lovely! I too enjoyed Cheverny-that it and the furniture have remained in the family really made it interesting. HBD to A!

We encountered a maitre d' in Rome who was angry one time and sat with us another. No country has a monopoly on idiot behavior.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2011, 07:08 AM
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Really sounds magical. What an incredible trip. Your granddaughter is a very lucky little girl.

(BTW, thank you for the encouragement on getting to my dream spots I do not yet have a solid itinerary - and your TR isn't helping! So many places, so little time...)
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Old Sep 2nd, 2011, 04:05 PM
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Sat (Day 17 – The train gods get even, our last full day in France)

Up early, finished packing and left with the idea to stop on our way out of town at a McDonald’s and a gas station that we had noticed were next to E Leclerc. The owner of the hotel had given me better directions to St Pierre des Corps than our GPS was going to send us so we had to listen to the 5 syllable R word for a while until Janine decided to become agreeable. Well, McDonald’s wasn’t open yet and the gas station was unattended. After the credit card debacle earlier in the trip at a toll booth, I decided to look for an attended gas station on the way. We easily found one and filled up with diesel (Ouch!! It is expensive) and continued to Avis at the train station.

Janine directed us right to Avis. We parked and saw a café right next to where we parked. We found the Avis counter and the guy said it would be fine to leave our luggage in the trunk and have breakfast. The café did not have much for breakfast so we had a quick cup of coffee, turned in the keys, got our luggage and went in to the station. Just inside the door was a much better café than we had tried to eat at a few minutes ago. We grabbed a table, parked our luggage and ordered a nice breakfast.

A kept an eye on the board and when it showed our train would be on track 2, we headed to it. I don’t know if you remember my comment from before but trains and I don’t usually get along. Our earlier trip from Paris to Rouen was very easy and incident free even though we did not have reserved seats. This time we had reserved seats (Car 7 seats 51,52 and 54) and we easily found car 7. I made the mistake of thinking this was going to be another easy one. We climbed in to car 7 and began looking for our seat numbers on the electronic display over top of each seat. We walked all the way to the end of the car and did not see our seat numbers. The train was very crowded and we had a lot of luggage (not a good combination). Several very nice people tried to help us and they looked at our tickets and walked back to the other end of car 7 but did not see our seat numbers either. I decided to try one more time and as I was nearly to the other end of car 7 again, all of a sudden the electronic display of the seat numbers began to change. The *&%#@*&% train people had not updated the electronic display until several minutes after every one was on the train already. Unfortunately someone was in our seats and there were no others for us to go to so they had to move. We stowed our luggage and finally took our seats. The train gods were now even – but we had our seats.

It was a speedy trip to CDG. Only one more train incident that is too embarrassing to mention but we made it to CDG with no problems. Got off the train, went up the escalator and right there was the entrance to the Sheraton – incredibly convenient. Checked in, went to our room that already had a twin bed set up for A, and unpacked. The room was not big but it was nice and it had everything we needed. We really liked the room and the view outside our window of the planes taking off. There was absolutely no jet engine noise in our room – the windows blocked all noise. This was the first time A had been to a hotel where they had the computerized mini bar and just moving something would have it charged to your room. We made a few jokes about accidentally bumping the mini bar could be quite expensive. http://www.sheratonparisairport.com/

We decided to have lunch at the hotel before going in to Paris for the day. After lunch we went to the RER station just down the escalator and the lines for the ticket agents were outrageously long. I decided to try my Visa in one of the vending machines and it worked just fine – 3 tickets to St Michel. We were lucky enough to catch an express train and at some point on the ride, we had 4 conductors walk through and check everyone’s ticket. We went to the same crepe vendor near Notre Dame where A had her first crepe and after having sampled crepes all over France, she still liked this one a lot.

Kind of the opposite of most people, we like to take the hop on/hop off bus tour on our last day and just enjoy looking at all the places we have already visited. We got off near the Opera hoping to tour it but it was closed. We went in to La Samarataine Dept store and it was crazy crowded. You cannot believe how crowded it was in that store. Back on the bus and got off at the Eiffel Tower. Had dinner at one of the cafes where you can see the Eiffel Tower. A & B had one of their funny toilet stories at this café. The shared hand dryer was right next to the men’s urinal and there was only a small half wall that they said just barely hid the essentials between the dryer and the urinal – and it was occupied. One of the few times they both decided air drying would be just fine.

We hopped back on the bus and rode it back to Notre Dame. Easy to buy tickets back to CDG and got back to the hotel fairly early. After packing for our trip back home, A watched the movie Avatar on her portable DVD player, B took a nap and I read before going to bed. An excellent last day in France!
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Old Sep 3rd, 2011, 04:44 AM
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Ooops. As you all have probably figured out, it was not La Samaritaine but Galeries Lafayette that we went in and was so crowded. In 2004 we had a nice lunch at one of the restaurants in La Samaritaine and wanted to do it again but the whole store is now closed. I must have had that on my mind when writing about that day. Sorry!!!
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Old Sep 3rd, 2011, 05:23 AM
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Sun (Flight home)

Our flight wasn’t until 1:30 so we had plenty of time to finish packing, have a nice Sunday brunch and leisurely check in. This hotel is outrageously expensive but also unbelievably convenient. It is so expensive that you really have to decide if it is worth it or not - we decided it was worth it to us. The Delta check in area was about a 10 minute walk from the Sheraton. I had made a recon trip earlier in the morning and found that as a Delta medallion member we could use the much less crowded counter 8 instead of 1 or 2 that are the main check in counters. It was very easy to get through security and we were at our gate with plenty of time to spare. We had some Euros to burn so B & A went shopping for some last minute gifts while I sat with our carryon luggage.

They returned empty handed after a short time because it turned out they needed their boarding passes (that were in my pocket) to make any purchases. So off they went again, this time successfully spending the rest of our Euros (plus a little more I’m sure). They started the boarding process and we stood in a long line for a long time before actually getting on the plane. We settled in to our seats and had an incident free flight back to Atlanta. We watched all three movies (none of us slept).

We landed on time and it was easy getting through customs. A’s Mom met us at baggage claim. All of our luggage appeared and we drove straight home. We ordered a couple of pizzas, showed A’s Mom a bunch of pictures, jabbered a lot about our trip and went to bed at about 11. An excellent two and a half week vacation!
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Old Sep 3rd, 2011, 06:15 AM
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And, an excellent trip report! Thank you very much. Such memories for you and your grand.

Your mentions of La Samarataine raised then dashed my hopes that she had reopened. Hub and I missed it on our first trips and then it was no more.

Thanks again and may you have many more wonderful trips.
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