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Photo Safari to the south of France, the Italian Rivera and the Swiss Alps

Photo Safari to the south of France, the Italian Rivera and the Swiss Alps

Old Aug 31st, 2013, 06:38 AM
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Photo Safari to the south of France, the Italian Rivera and the Swiss Alps

This summer I spent 5 weeks in France, Italy and Switzerland. The first couple weeks I traveled with my daughter KC – to Paris, the Dordogne and Provence. KC got the travel bug on her first trip to Europe (which was also my first trip) back when she was in high school and since then has studied in Paris and then lived there for a year after college. But she’d never been to the south of France and I’d never been to the Dordogne so we decided on a few days in Paris followed by four in Sarlat and almost a week in Provence. After she had to go back to NY to work I went on to the Cote D’Azure, the Italian Riviera, Switzerland and Strasbourg.

The photos – which actually are probably much more interesting than the trip report – are here:

Paris - www.pbase.com/annforcier/paris_2013

Dordogne - www.pbase.com/annforcier/france_-_dordogne

Provence - www.pbase.com/annforcier/france_-_provence

Cote d’Azure - http://www.pbase.com/annforcier/cote...s_haute_cagnes

Italy – Liguria - http://www.pbase.com/annforcier/ital...ligurian_coast

Switzerland - www.pbase.com/annforcier/switzerland_2013

Strasbourg and Colmar - www.pbase.com/annforcier/strasbourg_colmar
isabel is offline  
Old Aug 31st, 2013, 06:39 AM
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Sunday, June 23 – Day 1 - arrive in Paris - cool, cloudy with some impressive rain.

The flight (Aer Lingus) was uneventful – which is always good. Food terrible, not really able to sleep, it’s a short flight from NY to Dublin. Dublin airport is small but has a few stores to poke around in and we got coffee and croissants, used the ATM to get more Euros (I always have some from the previous trip but of course would need more), and then it was time for the second flight to Paris. Also uneventful flight – both left on time, arrived early. There’s a ‘light rail’ between the terminals now at CDG and we took that to the RER and then the train to Paris. My AFCU chip and pin card worked great in the machine meaning we didn’t have to stand in the long line.

Paris Hotel Saint Pierre, 4 rue de l’Ecole de Medecine www.saintpierre-hotel.com/en/chambres.php– Wonderful location, right between the 5th and the 6th but not in the touristy area, on a quiet side street. Steps from two metro stops, across from the Cluny, five minute walk to Place St Mich/ Notre Dame. Room size is average for Paris, even a bit larger than some. The double bed seemed to be a very tiny double though. The hotel is a tad run down but clean. Only weird thing was the bathroom door (to the room) was glass (barely frosted) (shower door also glass) so you better be OK with whomever you are sharing the room with basically being able to see everything. Wi-Fi worked great, there is a very cute, very tiny lift. I have now stayed in five hotels within about a ten minute walk of each other (yes I like this location – better than the 7th or 4th, the other areas I’ve stayed in), the St Jaques being the best but also the most expensive. I’d say this was about average value for price and I would certainly consider it again next time. 108€/double

After checking in we just wandered all over – along the Seine mostly, just enjoying being in Paris. It had been drizzling and the rain got heavier and just as we were crossing Pont des Arts it really started to come down. We made it to the covered area of the Louvre Courtyard and waited out a really impressive thunder storm with lots of other people, being entertained by the musicians who always seem to be there, and just kept playing despite the thunder. When it let up a little we went down to the shops under the Louvre – what else are you going to do in the rain. Dinner was at Creperie Cluny which is one of our favorite restaurants and near the hotel. Two savory crepes and two glasses of wine for 30€

Andrews Federal Credit Union Chip and Pin credit card – In anticipation of this trip I got this chip and pin credit card hoping it would save time and trouble at gas stations, toll booths, etc. Mostly worked great.
Where it Worked: France-Train ticket machines (RER from airport, all other ‘regular’ train stations), Most parking machines (if they took credit cards at all), All gas stations (if manned I had to sign, unmanned enter code). Italy – all train ticket machines. Both France and Italy - stores/restaurants (but any American credit card worked in those).
Did Not Work: never worked in any of the many toll booths I went through in France.
Note: most machines for credit cards in Europe require that you insert your card and wait – what seems like a very long time for an American used to the ‘quick swipe’. Don’t take the card out till it tells you to.
isabel is offline  
Old Aug 31st, 2013, 06:44 AM
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Great start and lovely photos!
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Old Aug 31st, 2013, 07:15 AM
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Wow !
I am so envious and continue to stand in awe of your photograhic skills. Your images are all wonderful but I especially fell in love with the shots ar Sarlat, Portofino, and Zermatt.

You must work at it. It takes some work and patience to get to some of those vantage points---all the difference. And, it helps to get bright days---we seldom travel in the summer.

Thanks again---you have made my day. Between you and the Go_ Family you allow me to travel to some of the best venues in Europe without leaving my office---well done !
bobthenavigator is offline  
Old Aug 31st, 2013, 07:58 AM
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Ah, such wonderful photos! Brings back sweet memories of our 7 weeks in the south of France last year. I will now read... Thanks for sharing.
DebitNM is offline  
Old Aug 31st, 2013, 08:13 AM
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<i>172 Paris13 Tour l'horage 533.jpg</i>

it's tour de <b>l'Horloge</b>.

Nice photos, as always.
Michael is online now  
Old Aug 31st, 2013, 09:37 AM
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Gorgeous photos Isabel. You certainly were blessed with beautiful weather.
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Old Aug 31st, 2013, 11:00 AM
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Great shooting, wonderful vantage points. Beautiful..

Are you using Nikon or Canon ?
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Old Aug 31st, 2013, 11:19 AM
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Great photos!!

We visited a lot of the same places.

Thanks for sharing.
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Old Aug 31st, 2013, 06:00 PM
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Wow! Gorgeous photos! Thank you for posting!
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Old Sep 1st, 2013, 05:01 AM
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Thanks for all the nice comments on the photos. I love traveling and I love taking photos so its nice that other people enjoy looking at them. As for the trip report, hopefully there will be some useful information in it. I know I depend on others trip reports when planning my own trips and after an awful lot of trips I have to say the info I've gotten from trip reports is usually more accurate than what is in a lot of guidebooks.

Although I own both a Nikon and a Canon, my cameras of choice are Panasonic - mostly the FZ150. My backup is the FX5.

Monday, June 24 – Day 2 – Paris – It was a mix of clouds and sun, cool (~18C). As KC has lived there twice, and I’ve been to Paris at least 8 times, we didn’t do any of the usual touristy type things. We had no agenda for our time in Paris other than KC had a date for drinks with one of the few friends who still live there one night. So we decided to just walk through our favorite areas, except neither of us could really say which was our ‘favorite’. Thus we walked ALL over. Across Ile de la Cite to Ile St Louis, through the Marais to Place des Vosges, then back. Had lunch at a café near Pompidou Center, then walked to Galleries Lafayette, stopping in some of the passages and Palais Royal on the way. There seemed to be a lot more construction going on than I remember from previous trips and there was more air pollution – maybe cause I’m usually not there in summer and maybe it was just the humid air but it just felt kind of ‘yick’. Also lots of smoke that I probably noticed more because of the cough I had developed. But Galleries Lafayette was still gorgeous, and dessert and coffee in the cafeteria with the view still a great way to end a lovely morning/afternoon ‘stroll’. Then back via Place de la Concorde and through Tulleries and back to the hotel in the 5th. After dinner we went to Amorina for gelato and walked around Ile de la Cite at dusk (which isn’t till 10-11pm). A full moon came up over the Seine. My pedometer said we walked 14 miles.

Tuesday, June 25 – Day 3 – Day trip to PROVINS – mix of clouds and sun, cool (~19C).
I’d been meaning to do a day trip to this town for several years so we finally did. We set the alarm for 7 to be at Gare d’Est by 8:30 for the train to Provins. Got a one day Mobilis Pass (16€ each) good for both ways (plus any metros in Paris that day). The train to Provins was about 1¼ hour. It was mostly cloudy though the sun did peak out from time to time. Cold enough for sweaters and scarves but took them off occasionally. Been wearing my boots daily. I've had warmer weather in March.

Provins is a cute little town. Not one of the premier tourist destinations in France, (not even in most guide books) Provins is “a step back to the Middle Ages, one of the best preserved medieval cities, a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its walled fortifications and underground passageways”. We rated it a 6-7 on a 10 scale. It’s about a 15-20 minute walk from ‘la gare’ to the ‘ville haute’ on the hill. Around two sides are some pretty impressive ramparts and two nice gates. I’d read it equaled to Carcassone but it certainly is nothing on that scale. But in some ways just as interesting in that you get the impression that this is what the wall/towers/gates really looked used to look like. Lots of half timbered houses in both the old upper town and the newer lower town. There is one big square in the upper town, surrounded by restaurants, mostly creperies.

We walked around the whole town, had lunch at one of the five restaurants. Walking back to the train station we stopped in a nice public garden and went past several nice churches so it’s worth seeking that route out and not just focusing on the fastest route to the upper town (or taking a bus). We were lucky in that there was a train about to leave, unlucky in that it was really slow and took a good 1¾ hr to get back to Paris.

We rested a while and then KC went out to meet her friend so I headed out with no specific plans. It was SUNNY! That always invigorates me. It was close to 8pm but very light out so I walked to the Louvre and got some great shots of the building and pyramid reflected in the fountain pools, then through the Tuilleries – BTW there are great public toilets right before Place de la Concorde, 50 cents but they are very nice.

The sun was now mostly gone so I walked along the Seine towards the Eiffel Tower. It always takes longer than I think it’s going to walk that stretch – and more boring than other areas. I got there just as the the lights were coming on and the tower glowed golden against a deep blue sky – just gorgeous. I took the bus back along the Seine (right bank) to Ile de la Cite and walked home from there. Only walked ten miles today, somehow it felt further.

Wednesday, June 26 – Day 4 – Paris – sunny and nice (22C). Slept till 8:30 and had breakfast at Brioche Doree and then walked to the Marais where KC wanted to go to a specific tea shop to get something for a friend. Then we remembered we were going to do our thing where we eat a Lauderee macaroon in as many different locations as possible. So we walked back to the 6th and got a box of 24 (for 40€!). Took a bus to Montmartre and had lunch there. Place de Tetre was jammed with tourists but we actually found a sandwich shop with a few tables in a little enclosed terrace, covered with grapevines and geraniums, so we could see out but were not actually in the crowds. It was really quite charming. All around the side and front of Sacre Cour was mobbed but just a few steps away towards the back was quiet and peaceful and practically deserted. We had our first macaroon in the park behind Sacre Couer that I don't think had one other tourist in it(18th arrondissement).

Walked to the Abbesses Metro (KC corrected my pronunciation – it Abes – literally half the letters are unnecessary) and back to the Cluny Stop. We went to the park behind the Cluny for our 2nd macaroon (the 5th arrondissement) – I love that building, both the back and the front entrance, I could just hang out there forever. Then onto the Luxembourg Gardens where we did more people watching (3rd macaroon, the 6th arrondissement). Then a siesta in the hotel. Went out again around 7 and walked back to the Marais because KC really wanted to go to her favorite falafel place. There are about five on that street – Rue de Rosiers – but this was the only one with a 15 minute long wait to get in – a sign that it really is the best. I had the lamb pita instead of falafel as I’m not a huge chick pea fan – but both were good. Then we walked to Place des Voges for a 3rd arrondissement macaroon. Then home via Ile de la Cite to have one in the 1st arrondissement 12.6 miles today.
isabel is offline  
Old Sep 1st, 2013, 05:53 AM
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Great start, loving your pictures.

Some many beautiful photos, how did you manage to take them with so few people around.
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Old Sep 1st, 2013, 07:25 AM
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I noticed the same thing.
Myer is offline  
Old Sep 1st, 2013, 07:31 AM
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How fun having coffee while viewing your stunning photos of Paris & The Dordogne---saving the rest for later.

So what time were you up to get the streets of Sarlat, Beynac, etc. with no people in them?

We stayed in Sarlat last Sept. for a week and even at 6am there were people all over.

Anyway, fantastic photos
The lovely bridges of Paris and the charming architecture of The Dordogne never looked better.
I also like the format you use.
TPAYT is offline  
Old Sep 1st, 2013, 07:45 AM
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I too was amazed at the lighting and the lack of people. I loved the close up photos of the flowers with the slightly blurred background. I know there's a proper name for the technique but it escapes me at the moment.
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Old Sep 1st, 2013, 11:47 AM
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I really did not get up very early for the Sarlat/Beynac photos - not before 8 or 9 anyway. Beynac was almost empty both the days we stopped there, Sarlat was pretty busy but only in the main squares and only after noon or so. Most of the time even if there are a lot of people around if you just stand there five minutes or so you get a break. Now I know lots of people don't like standing in one spot even for five minutes just to get a photo but to me it's worth it. Hard to do when traveling with other people. My various traveling companions are pretty good about letting me 'ditch' them for a while to go shooting (daughter will go shopping, husband will sit in a cafe, sister-in-law will park herself on a sunny bench). The only place (on this trip) that I purposely got up and went early was St Paul de Vence - I knew that would be impossible after the tour groups showed up (which they did promptly at 9) - but the down side to that was the lighting was not great on those narrow streets so early in the day. Of course in some places the early morning light is really nice and in those cases it's a double bonus - interesting light and lack of people.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2013, 04:52 AM
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<b>Driving around the Dordogne and Provence for ten days without a GPS and never getting (terribly) lost!</b>

The Driving Part - Most of my recent trips to Europe I’ve used trains rather than renting a car, and only one other time did I rent a car when I wasn’t with my husband. So I was slightly apprehensive. The price of the car rental itself was not bad, at least compared to renting a car in the US. For this trip, which included lots of small towns and out of the way places, a car was really required. Some of the places we went you absolutely could not go by public transportation, and they were so worth it. But for a trip that is mostly major towns/cities I think train travel is probably at least as economical.

Most of the time I found driving in this part of France fun; I loved my little Fiat 500 – (we named her Fifi). But a few things: The roads tend to be considerably narrower than in the US, in some cases not much wider (if any) than in Ireland, with no shoulder. People pass you even when you are going the speed limit, and what seems to be pretty fast. Of course when it’s your home turf you know every turn and can safely go faster than someone not familiar with the area, trying to watch for signs and all but they do seem to be pretty fearless. As bad as Italy. When you follow signs for a town, it will take you the absolute shortest route, even if it’s a really secondary road (there are driveways wider than some of these roads). So you do also need to pay attention to route numbers because it’s really easy to get off the route you were planning on taking just by following the sign for the town you are headed toward. Sometimes these secondary roads are so slow that the longer, but better, route will be considerably faster. And while I drove so slow that I almost always had a line of annoyed cars behind me, I’m sure there were times, like when first entering a village area with reduced speed limits, that I may have been going a few km over the posted speed. So I guess I’ll just wait and see if in six months I get a ticket in the mail like many fodorites have posted about.

Driving in Europe is expensive. There is almost no free parking, and some of it is quite expensive, lots of places were more than 2€/hour. We spent 78€ on parking (2 weeks). Gas is expensive, ~1.6€/L , the car got 39 mpg, so not bad on gas usage, but not great either. And tolls are really expensive (55€ to drive from about Cahors to Arles, and Avignon to Nice). Out of about six or more tool booths I went through only once did I see a person manning the booth. And never once did my AFCU chip and pin card work. But they all took bills as well as coins, and they give change (at least small change). So for example if your toll is 17€ you could put in a twenty and get 3€ back.

We used Europcar, rented through Kemwell, was easy to deal with. I got the zero deductible CDW insurance and I’m so glad. The first day I got a scratch (just a scratch, but a significant one) in the hotel parking garage which I’m sure will cost hundreds. I used to always use the credit card insurance or gamble with a high deductible, but no more. My only complaint is that it would be helpful if Kemwell/Europcar would inform renters how/where the drop off is. The Nice train station area is large and finding the little sign directing you to go to the sixth level of the parking garage is easy to miss. I wish I had known what I was looking for.

Day 5: to <b>Sarlat</b> In Paris it was cloudy again but we didn’t really care as we’d be on a train for most of the day. Got to Gare D’Austerlitz , train was on time, just showed them the printed confirmation and they scanned it and that was it. The ‘walk-up’ price for a ticket is about 90€ but I had gotten 25€ PREMS tickets, 90 days ahead. Very comfortable (but full) train. Got in right on time at 12:59 and saw the Europecar office right across the street but it was closed till 14:00 (which I think I knew). Brive train station and the area around it were hot, dusty, run down, and largely deserted. We went to the bar/café across the street and had Croque Monsoirs and Orangina for lunch. Brive has seen better days, there was what looked like it had once been a really nice old hotel but now could be the scene of a slasher movie. They seem to be renovating the train station. Europcar stores their cars on the street (no lot). We got a Fiat! So cute! Just like the one in the commercial where it drives off the cliff in Atroni and comes up out of the ocean under the Brooklyn Bridge. I love that ad. It was a Fiat 500 and was black with white leather steering wheel/dash and I want one. Figured out how everything worked, although reverse took a minute or two. Then just as I was about to reverse -up hill ! to get out of the parking place a guy comes along and parks right smack behind me leaving me no room. KC got out and talked to him and he backed up. The drive to Sarlat after that was easy.

We took a wrong exit off the round-a-bout in Sarlat and ended up driving around a bit but eventually found the hotel, wonderfully located just outside the pedestrianized area. KC ran inside while I double parked and got directions to the parking garage two blocks away.

Sarlat-la-Canéda Hotel Les Remparts 48 Avenue Gambetta www.hotel-lesremparts-sarlat.com Great location right outside the pedestrian zone, in a beautiful building. Room was good size, everything clean. Wi-Fi worked great, there is a lift, staff were very nice. We did not take breakfast as there was a cute little coffee shop right across the street, plus some days we preferred to have breakfast on the main square in Sarlat. The hotel is pretty easy to find. There is street parking (good luck with that) plus several free lots but they a few blocks away so we paid for the garage (€8.50/night) which is a block and a half away. The garage is tiny and tight but gated – although Sarlat doesn’t exactly strike me as a high crime kinda place. Driving in and out of this area of Sarlat to get to the other towns in the area is quite easy once you’ve done it once. 68€/double

Sarlat is gorgeous, I can certainly see how this has been a movie set, just get rid of the people and post card stands and you wouldn’t need to change a thing. It could be hundreds of years ago. It has the highest concentration of medieval, Renaissance and 17th Century houses of any town in France. Perfect size – ten minutes one end to the other (of the main part of the ‘old town’) but then lots of little winding stone streets, especially on the other side of the main street and almost no tourists on that side. Tons of stores selling local products and miscellaneous tourist stuff. Obviously foie gras is huge here and every other store has a goose in the window. Almost all the restaurants feature the same ‘menu’ including foie gras and canard.

The sun had come out, the sky was bright blue and the color of the stones a rich golden – doesn’t get any better!
After exploring for an hour or so (which covers the main streets/squares) we went back to the hotel for a pre dinner nap, then had dinner in the most charming courtyard (the menus were literally all the same so unless you knew one restaurant was superior to another it didn’t make a difference other than what your table view was). And cheap. Most of the ‘menus’ were about 12€. We had fois gras, confit du canard, and a nut cake for dessert. Including wine it was 28€ for both of us. I do love duck, especially confit but can’t say I’m a fan of fois gras. Tasted it but both the taste and the idea of it is pretty disgusting to me. Extremely greasy feel, felt like eating flavored lard (which it was). Dinner is fairly early in this region, places crowded at 8, but closing up by 9:30. After dinner we explored the ‘other’ side of town and found wandering at dusk on the deserted stone streets just what we needed.
isabel is offline  
Old Sep 2nd, 2013, 05:55 AM
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Huggy is offline  
Old Sep 2nd, 2013, 08:36 AM
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With your great photo ability next time try Sarlat during Herritage weekend(mid Sept. every year, around the 15th in 2012.) They have many extra activities and light the town with 10,000 candles after dark--stunning!

Loved all of your photos. Tourettes-sur-Loupe was our favorite unplanned, out of the way towns on our drives around the south.
Your photo #256 made me smile. I wonder how many photos have been taken of that charming blue door. We had 1 framed.
#263--Tom's. Absolutely the best lavender ice cream ever.
#274--adorable sleeping cat. I do love cats.
You make me want to return.

I must hurry and get to your Italy photos.
TPAYT is offline  
Old Sep 2nd, 2013, 09:57 AM
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<i>There is almost no free parking, and some of it is quite expensive, lots of places were more than 2€/hour.</i>

But travelers should keep in mind that public parking is generally free from noon to 2 p.m. and overnight, and that money put in the meter that goes beyond the charge time is carried over to the afternoon (in the case of the free lunch hour) or the next morning.
Michael is online now  

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