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Trip Report Postcards from Retirement

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We have just returned from a fabulous trip to Italy and France which many of you helped me plan. Thank you, thank you. Your tips, information, and insights all combined to make me really happy with all the decisions that we made. While we were traveling I wrote letters home to our family and friends every day and I thought, if you will allow me to adopt all of you into our family, I will post them to you as our trip report.
We are two Canadian seniors, Stew in his late 70’s, and moi, Jane, who is in my late 60’s We are fortunate enough to have traveled quite a bit around the world, but our continental European adventures have been mostly related to skiing. We were also sailors, in case you find us excessively preoccupied with harbours and boats. We live in the Great Lakes area of central Canada and flew out of and in to Toronto.
When we travel, we try to have a balance of activity representing both our interests. Fortunately, we like to do many of the same things. We are not extravagant travelers, but we will spend money for reasonable comfort and so that we don't miss out on special moments. We are still able to get around fairly well, and our fitness levels improved on this trip with all the walking and climbing.
And...thanks to many of you, we are absolute converts to carry on luggage only!!!!!

Day 1 & 2. Sept 4th and 5th

We were up early to finish off all our preparations. You know...the last minute things that you can only do as you are leaving. We each had quick appointments at 9:15, got home and actually left in the rain about an hour early. Our trip to Toronto was uneventful but there was lots of traffic. We put in our obligatory three hours waiting in Terminal One for our Air Canada flight to Frankfurt, worrying about the potential effect of the Lufthansa rotating strikes on our flight from Frankfurt to Venice. I had managed to move our seats towards the front of the plane to expedite our disembarkation efforts. This turned out to be a shrewd move since we had only 70 minutes to clear immigration, clear back through security and change terminals.
We actually landed about 10 minutes early and were able to grab our (carry on only) luggage and hit the ground running! I had printed off an airport map and instructions for changing terminals, and studied them as we flew along. The airport was easy to navigate and the signage was very good. We were about third in line for immigration and there was no customs inspection. It took about a minute each to scan and stamp our passports. We then started through a long line to clear back through security. If you had less than 30 minutes until your flight, there was an expedited line. We didn't qualify for that, but the security process was very efficient and we moved through much more quickly than in Toronto. Then we were off on what turned out to be about a one kilometer walk to get to terminal A. We arrived, panting, about 5 minutes before we boarded our next flight. Fortunately, we were unaffected by the complete work stoppage of the prior day.
Our flight was only about an hour and a half in duration. After enjoying (!) a dry muffin and a coffee we glimpsed the snow covered Alps and started our descent into Venice. We could only see industrial sites and oil storage areas. We landed in low cloud and light rain. Having already cleared into Schengen in Frankfurt, we just walked off the plane, bought our Alilaguna tickets for the water taxi trip into Venice. There were no signs that we could see so we went back inside to get better instructions to get to the boat. They told us to go out and turn right. When that didn't work we asked someone else and discovered that it should have been "left"! It must have got lost in the translation. We finally settled in on the boat for about an hour and half trip. It's not that far, but there are rigid, police patrolled speed limits for the water taxis. As best we could tell, our captain was the only one who took them seriously. Our first views of Venice were bit misty but captivating all the same. Entering the Grand Canal was magical and I'm convinced that there isn't a bad camera shot in the place! We made our way down the canal among all the diverse forms of transportation. It seems just like the 401 (a busy highway near Toronto) but with amazing scenery at every turn. Our stop was at the iconic Rialto Bridge.
We climbed out into masses of people everywhere, dragging our luggage and peering at our map. As an aside, if you aren't a convert to traveling light, Venice would certainly convince you! It was a bit of a challenge to find our B & B since there are no street names, but we arrived successfully and checked in.
Our room is fine, a good size with a closet and shelves, a safe, luggage storage, a queen size bed (well really two long singles pushed together but very comfy), and a small fridge. There is AC and a small bathroom (think of an airline bathroom with a shower!), but it is spotlessly clean and we are quite happy here. The TV is in Italian as you would expect, although we did see one Jay Leno rerun in English. I can't imagine that we'll have any time to watch TV in Venice! The owners of our B & B also run a restaurant which is reputed to be very good. I imagine we'll try it out.
We settled in and then went off to explore and to try to stay awake. The first order of business was lunch in a little square. We shared a small pizza and decided that we had earned a glass of wine for our travelling efforts! Since we were a little lacking in energy, we decided to take a Vaporetto trip down the length of the Grand Canal. We purchased our pass and managed to get seats outside on the bow, perfect for photography. We were out there for most of the trip until we got chased in by the rain. We went as far as San Marco and, as the rain had stopped, decided to walk home from there.
St. Mark's square is a feast for the eyes, even with some restoration going on. It was absolutely mobbed with the late day cruise ship passengers so we decided that we would explore it later in the day when the crowds tend to dissipate a little. We continued our adventure, turning here and there down little streets, not really knowing exactly where we were. Getting "lost" in Venice is one of the most highly recommended activities. We just continued along following the "per Rialto" signs, sparse as they are. One minute we would be on a high end shopping street and the next turn would see us in a neighborhood square (campo). We stopped for a shared gelato, one scoop of pistachio and one of coffee. I can see where this will be a downfall!
We arrived "home", very tired and decided that showers would perk us up. Stew managed to acquire a bottle of wine and a cork screw, so we were all set! We had a drink and set out for an early dinner. We ventured father into our neighborhood, Cannaregio, which was the Jewish ghetto, and found La Cavello where we dined outside in the square. Jane had grilled chicken and Stew enjoyed lasagna. We shared grilled veggies and a large salad. We wandered back home, almost too tired to move. My first impression of Venice is that it is just what I expected only so much better!
We tried valiantly to get on line, to no avail, and finally crashed at about 8pm. We slept really well until midnight, and both woke up and couldn't get back to sleep...thus the journal was started! It is now 2am, so we'll try again.........

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    Enjoying your report and looking forward to reading more about your trip
    Would you mind sharing the info about your B&B ,name website etc. I may be in Venice next Spring for a few days and startng to get info.
    May I make a suggestion, please use spaces between each paragraph, it makes it easier to read.

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    Hi tdk320n.

    We stayed in B & B Barababao in Cannaregio, about 5 minutes from Rialto Bridge. It was not fancy, but the location was great, it was clean and comfortable and the restaurant was excellent. The only down side was that the Wifi in the room was variable.

    Thanks for the tip on the spaces...I'll try to remember!


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    Day 3 Sept 6th

    We're in better shape today after some rest. We still aren't quite acclimatized to the time change, but at least we don't look like we should bleed to death from our eyes!

    We got up around 7:30 to watch the fish mongers set up at the Rialto Market. The abundance of selection of fresh fish and sea food was amazing. Stew was so upset not to be buying and cooking! We were surprised to see horse meet for sale. You'd never get those ribs in your oven! There was also a lot of fresh produce so we bought some apples and a type of white grapes that is new to us...very sweet. We wandered back to our B & B for a breakfast of juice, yogurt, croissants and jam, and coffee, very strong coffee. That woke us up!

    It was a beautiful, sunny day and we decided to walk to the Frari Church through the neighborhoods to our west. We browsed in shops along the way. There are beautiful woolen and silk clothes, linens, masks, and Murano glass. My favorites are the leather gloves but they are unlined and therefore too cold for our winters.

    After a fruit smoothie break (kiwi, pineapple and lime), we did an audio tour of the church. When we were finished, we took the Vaporetto to San Giorgio for views back to Venice. We toured the church and wandered around checking out the sail boats in the marina...sigh! We caught another vaporetto and took the long way home, past three monstrous cruise ships. No wonder it's crowded.

    We bought a panini for lunch and brought it home to have with some wine. After a short break and more sunscreen, we headed out on another walk to St. Mark's, arriving around 4pm. We got in the line to go in the Basilica and it moved along quite quickly. A couple of young girls in line with us were denied entry because of their short skirts and they were required to wrap themselves up in some sort of fabric that was supplied for a fee. It did my heart good because one of them had pushed in front of us in line!

    After the tour we decided to take the Vaporetto home as we were tired. Well, you would have thought we were on the Tokyo subway! We had to wait for several boats before there was room for us to get squished on. We certainly noticed the cultural differences in inclination to push. It really was a super hot, miserable trip which ended up going on longer than walking would have been. Jane got grumpy! Just how good can shower feel?

    Revived by our showers and a glass of wine, we decided to have dinner at the restaurant associated with our B & B, Barababao. It's not too fancy but I had read good reviews about it. Well, it was just excellent. We started with prosecco and homemade bread. Stew had a sea food platter which had squid and shrimp along with eggplant, red peppers, yellow peppers and zucchini. It was piping hot and very lightly fried...perfection. Jane ordered grilled monkfish with cherry tomatoes, olives and capers...also excellent. It was very reasonably priced and we got a ten per cent discount because we are guests. This could well be the highlight meal of the trip.

    It is now about nine o'clock and we are trying to stay awake at least until ten.

    Ciao from Venice!

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    Day 4. Sept 7th

    I still haven't mastered my technology. I ended up writing yesterday's note 4 times and managed to lose it three times...aarrgghh! I am writing it in iPad Notes but, although it saves it without any action on my part, I don't really understand where it goes. I am used to being able to find files in "my computer" on a pc. Although my notes seem to open up when I go back to the iPad notes, if I do something to lose one of them, I can't seem to retrieve it and I have no idea what I did. The programme also highlights certain things automatically, such as times, and I can't overcome that feature. It sometimes anticipates what you are typing, like texting on a phone, and it drives me crazy. I clearly should have brought a small child with me!

    Our other challenge is our WiFi connection. There is free WiFi all over Venice, but it is certainly not high speed. We have experienced times when things will not download or when we cannot send stuff for several hours. It seems to happen most in the evenings. Perhaps it is affected by volume. On the other hand, I am able to download my pictures each day to the iPad to back them up, and my camera is really getting a workout. I sure am glad that we are past the film stage and living in a digital age. I would have had to mortgage the house to process all the pictures I have taken.

    Today was forecast to be sunny and even hotter. Fortuitously, we had planned to venture out to the islands in Venice's lagoon. We were hoping for some sea breeze and fewer people and that turned out to be the case. After breakfast, we took the vaporetto out to Cimiterio. Yup, the cemetery! It occupies most of the island and is very interesting. It also keeps the plastic flower industry alive and well. It is a peaceful and shady place and, among others, are the graves of Igor Stravinsky and Ezra Pound.

    We stayed there for a short time and moved on to Murano where they make the Venetian glass. We passed on the tour of the glass factory because it was so hot and we have certainly watched glass blowing in the past. We bought a couple of souvenirs and walked around the island a bit. It seems a little sterile after Venice. The streets are wider and it is more residential.

    Next we went out to Burano, a lovely island with very brightly painted houses. We had a panini (brie and prosciutto) for lunch. We checked out all the little shops selling glass, linens, masks and souvenirs. We were getting tired and so we came back to San Marco. We walked home on some of the back lanes which are not crowded and just delightful. Since we had certainly walked enough to earn it, we indulged in gelato. This time we had a scoop of pistachio and one of peach....very yummy!

    After a brief break at home, we walked down Strada Nova to the train Station. Strada Nova is a much wider street than any other we have encountered in Venice. It tracks along about a block in from the Grand Canal. Even though it was crowded, it was easier navigating. There are vendors selling just about anything you want, and there are all types of restaurants as well. We scoped out the train station and have a pretty good idea what we will be doing tomorrow when we catch our train to Rome. We just caught the Vaporetto home as we were too tired to walk anymore.

    Next on the agenda was showers (the highlight of the day) and a glass of wine....another highlight! We started to get organized for our trip to Rome tomorrow.

    We had enjoyed our dinner last evening so much we decided to go back to the same place tonight and it certainly did not disappoint. Stew had scallops in a tomato sauce with fresh basil and Jane had squid ink pasta with pieces of squid. Once again, we had a wonderful meal.

    After dinner we took the Vaporetto back to San Marco to see it at night. It was not as lit up as I would have expected but still an interesting experience. The orchestras were playing so we listened for a while. Finally, we took a last look around and caught the vaporetto home. Being on the water at night is certainly scary. Gondolas are very poorly lit and there are still a lot of different vessels milling about. There are enough brighter lights that your night vision is not that acute. Even as experienced night sailors, we both agreed that we wouldn't be piloting any type of vessel here at night.
    We got home around ten and packed up our stuff to leave tomorrow morning. Next stop.....Rome. Hail Caesar!

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    Thanks for the hotel information.
    I am really enjoying your report and appreciated the airport info, since I may be flying into Venice from New York,
    Taking notes and looking forward to the rest of what sounds like a great trip

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    Day 5 Sept 8th

    We were up around 7:00 and had our last breakfast at our little B & B. After checking out, we made our way by Vaporetto to the St. Lucia Train Station. We were able board our train about 30 minutes early which gives one a great luggage storage advantage. People who boarded later were faced with piling huge suitcases one on top of the other. When the train lurched the suitcases came tumbling down and everyone was scrambling to retrieve their stuff.
    We traversed very flat farmland at the beginning of the trip, mainly corn, wheat and vineyards. Eventually we got into the mountains and most of that part of the trip was through tunnels. After Florence, our seats were facing backwards. Nothing that a little Gravol couldn't fix. As we approached the outskirts of Rome we were struck with the amount of graffiti. There is no surface that is not painted. We had been alarmed seeing graffiti on the Rialto Bridge in Venice, but the way into Rome is just covered. Even the subway cars are completely painted over.
    We arrived in Roma Termini, after a 4.5 hr. trip, and emerged into crowds of people of every color and language. After heading in the wrong direction at first, we arrived at our hotel and checked in. This is a small boutique hotel, one of several in the same old building. The ceiling in our room must be 20 feet high. Our window is roughly 5 x 12, has both interior and exterior shutters and elaborate maroon draperies. We have a good size room with a queen bed and a bigger bath than at the last place.
    Once we settled in and freshened up, we decided to do a guide book recommended walk from Campo de' Fiori to the Spanish Steps. We managed to take Bus 64 (the notorious pick pocket bus) without incident. As an aside, Stew was wearing his Tilley pants which have many secret, zippered pockets. They work so well, that even he can't get at his money half the time! When we arrived at Campo de' Fiori, the market was finished (which I expected), but the place was just covered in trash. We were then just swept up the crowd as we walked to Piazza Navona. This is famous for the church of St. Agnes and the Bernini fountains. We stopped for dinner here and just watched the people go by. The guide book did call it “watching Italy's human river”!
    From there we went by the Pantheon but did not go in as we will be going there again later. Next stop was the Trevi fountain where I had planned to toss a coin over my shoulder. Well, you couldn't get anywhere near it. I barely saw it. You would have to be major league pitcher to get your coin to the water. Did I mention the crowds? We finished our walk at the Spanish Steps, but, again, you couldn't get near them. By this time I was feeling sick and we had had enough. We managed to get home on the subway, the Metro.
    We had expected Rome to be crowded, dirty, loud, and hot. It is actually CROWDED, DIRTY, LOUD, and HOT! Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to be in Rome. Showers felt extra good tonight

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    Day 6 Sept 9th

    We felt much better after a night's rest. After breakfast at the hotel, we set out on the Metro for Ostia Antica, an ancient Roman ruin. Ostia was really Rome's port city, where the Tiber River enters the sea. The first settlement is thought to have started in the 7th century BC and survived until approximately 500 AD.
    We spent most of the day poking about in the ruins and watched some of the archaeological dig going on. It was beautiful, sunny day with a breeze coming in from the ocean. Although there were quite a few tourists here, it did not feel crowded.
    We really enjoyed our trip to Ostia. Originally we had thought of going to Pompeii but the logistics of the trip were going to make for a long day. Many think that the Ostia ruins are the better of the two.
    We finally left in mid afternoon and made our way back to out hotel, and it was then that we had our first injury with actual blood! Stew was opening a bottle of wine with our totally inadequate cork screw (purchased in Venice) which broke while he was using it. He ended up with a significant laceration which is right on his knuckle. I always travel with a few band aids but this is going to keep opening up every time he bends his finger. Back to the drug store!
    Once he was all disinfected and bandaged up, we set out to explore our neighborhood. The first stop was to buy a better cork screw. You can certainly tell where our priorities lie. We poked around in some other stores and decided on an early dinner of veal scallopini limone and a salad which was a delicious. Back to the room for a little Italian TV.

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    Sorry about Stew's knuckle. Hope that is the only mishap.

    We loved Ostia Antica, we were there on a very, very hot day, so we spent a lot of time sitting whenever we could find a spot!

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    Day 7 Monday, Sept 10th

    We got up in good time and had our breakfast at the hotel. When we were leaving, our little street, so quiet yesterday, had transformed into a market. I have no idea if that is just on Mondays or every day. They were selling mostly clothes, bags, and scarves but there was a green grocer as well.
    Our decision to get up and get going early paid off. Today would be another day of ancient ruins. Fitting, since we feel like ruined ancients ourselves. We took the Metro to the Colosseum and arrived, before it opened, to a very small line. We have Roma Passes that would have allowed us to skip the line to enter, but we were expecting the very long security line that I had read about. In reality there was no security line and we walked right in. We followed an audio guide that I had downloaded for free before we left. We were able to stop often to rest in the shade while we listened to the tour. I find it just astounding that these early folks had such amazing engineering skills. It didn't take too much imagination to see the gladiators slaying the lions and each other.

    We finally tore ourselves away from the Colosseum and crossed to the Palantine Hill and the Roman Forum. We walked through the site for a couple of hours, taking in the amazing ruins. It was getting warmer as the day progressed and there was less shade. When we needed a break, we just found a piece of ancient sculpture lying on the ground in a shady spot and sat down.

    Eventually, we walked past the Capitoline Hill and then the huge white monument to Victor Emmanuel. We made our way through the small "pedestrian friendly" streets to the Pantheon. “Pedestrian friendly” seems to mean fewer cars but more motor bikes. Driving in Rome would certainly require intestinal fortitude, but walking is even more terrifying. The motor bikes go at least twice the speed limit (maybe twice the speed of sound!), and basically don't stop for much of anything.

    The Pantheon was even more than I had imagined. We worked our way around the interior. Every few minutes, a voice would ask for silence in several languages. Things would subside for a minute or two. Again, the architecture was amazing. The only light comes in through a 30 foot oculus or opening in the centre of the roof.

    By now we were getting too hot and tired to walk all the way back to the Colosseo Metro station. We figured out what bus we needed and waited for it to arrive. After about 10 minutes it came along. Well, it was just packed. I had nothing to hold on to except the waist of Stew's pants while he was holding a bar on the ceiling. At times, I had only one foot touching the floor. An older gentleman kept saying "Scusi, Scusi" to me but there was nowhere for either of us to go. At one point the bus lurched to the left and stopped suddenly leaving me lying on the floor on top of another woman with one more person on top of me. It took a minute to get disentangled and upright with all of us laughing. Of course, I couldn't see outside at any point so the motion was getting to me as well. Finally, we got off at the next stop. I didn't care where we were, I just wanted off. It turned out that we were not that far from the subway so we walked the rest of the way.

    We arrived home a little earlier than scheduled so we had showers and took our laundry to the laundromat. It turns out that they take it and do it for you which was not what I was expecting. Two loads cost E17! That's OK, it freed us up to go for scoop mixed berry and one of coconut. So yummy! We picked up our laundry, all beautifully folded, and came back to our room for a glass of wine.

    Eventually, we went out for another great dinner...seafood fettuccine for Stew and Osso buco for Jane. Then it was home to charge up all our technology for another day.

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    Our hotel in Rome was Hotel Domus Praetoria. It was about a 6 minute walk from the train station. I know that this area isn't as popular as some others, but it worked for us as we were traveling by train. I felt safe in the neighbourhood and there were quite a few reasonable restaurants in the area. The hotel staff were very helpful, there was an elevator and a pretty good breakfast.

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    Day 8 Tuesday, Sept 11th

    Our day to get religion! Yes, we were off to the Vatican for tours of St. Peter's and the Vatican Museum. We went on the subway to save time and it was very crowded until we had gone about 3 stops. Then you could breathe. It was about a 10 minute walk from the stop to St. Peter's Square. We arrived about 8:30 and headed right into the Basilica because there wasn't much of a line yet. We had airport type security and then the apparel police. One has to have his/her shoulders to the elbow and legs to below the knees covered or admission is denied. We wound our way up the steps and into the Basilica itself. I wasn't completely prepared for the scale of the place. It is just massive.

    Immediately inside is the Pieta which is beautiful, however we were kept back about 30 feet. I'm not sure how my picture tuned out with a zoom and no flash. I probably didn't hold my camera steadily enough...we'll see. We basically worked our way around in a counter clockwise direction, following a guide book. I was surprised to encounter Pope John the XXIII in a glass coffin.

    Most everything in the Basilica was a feast for the eyes. There were several masses going on, including one with a choir. The main altar, of course, is the centrepiece!!) My personal favourite thing of all was the dove window beyond the main altar. It emits a beautiful golden light. The statues are each one better than the last.There was just so much to see and it was especially amazing to look up at the ceilings and of course, at the dome itself.

    We left the main part of the church, and went through another door to arrange to go up into the Dome. It costs E 5 to climb and E 7 for the elevator. No contest there! The elevator gets you to the first level and you actually get off and walk out on to the roof of the Basilica and then climb a flight of stairs to go inside the Dome. You get an awesome view down into the Basilica but it is obstructed by serious mesh fencing. You can, however, get your camera lens through the mesh to facilitate picture taking. If you are much younger, you can climb to the next level and ultimately stand outside near the top. The view of Rome must be amazing from up there...maybe next time!

    We came back out onto the roof when we left the Dome. There are very good washrooms up there as well as a snack bar and a souvenir shop. We got two really cold glasses of water for 1 euro. We took the elevator back down and went out into the square.

    Temperature-wise, it was like the desert, but we were able to stay in the shade most of the time. Getting all the way back and looking across the square was awesome as well. I have seen TV pictures when the square is full of people and I can't imagine what that would be like.

    We had reserved tickets for the Vatican Museum at 11:30. We were a bit early but we decided to walk around to the entrance to get the lay of the land. Our reservation allowed us to skip the line and they let us in early.

    Off we went, following our guide book. It was very hot and got progressively hotter and more crowded. One is there to see some of the most amazing art in the world, but you simply couldn't get near it. You are more or less swept along in the river of people, trying to take a few pictures along the way. When we got to the tapestry room, it was air conditioned. The down side was that just about everybody stopped there to cool off.

    After another hour or so, we made our way into the Sistine Chapel where no photographs are allowed. It was amazing how many people paid no attention to the rule, nor to the security staff who were trying to enforce it. There were so many people that we couldn't really follow the guidebook or look up. You needed to be able to sit down to see the ceiling but there was no room. We appreciated what we saw, but waited until we got home to listen to the guide and follow along with the pictures in the book.

    After the crush in the Sistine Chapel, we were more than ready for a break. We ended up eating in the museum and had the best pizza of our whole trip. The Pope also had the best washrooms!
    When we emerged from the Museum, we bought a bottle of water AND it was FROZEN! Today is the first time we have had really cold beverages on the whole trip and it was wonderful. We walked back past St. Peter's Square which was, by now, quite full. Watching the people is interesting. The crowd certainly represented most races, and, I suppose, many religions. We saw Muslims alongside Nuns. We saw Nuns with cell phones! There is no reason that they shouldn’t have cell phones, but they seem a long way from the nuns in black robes of my childhood. I guess, when we see nuns at home now, we just don't recognize them. Most of these black or gray robed, techno savy Nuns seemed to be African or Asian.

    We carried on and walked along the Tiber River for a while in the shade. It was a nice change of pace. We happened to find a really good gelato shop and had vanilla and mandarin chocolate with chunks of candied orange in it. Best one yet.

    We finally found our bus back to Termini and, since we were in the train station, we checked out where our train will leave from tomorrow. We made our way home and listened to our audio guides that we couldn't use in the crowds. Then showers and a glass of wine...what could be finer?

    We had our last dinner in Rome where we ate two nights ago, a little trattoria around the corner. Chicken for Jane and steak for Stew. The dinners also came with potatoes and lovely fresh green salads.

    We came back home to pack up for our trip tomorrow. We are off to the Cinque Terre and are staying in the little town of Manarola. I think it will be a pleasant change from the big city.......

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    Thanks willowjane. I hope you have as great a trip as we did. Even though I only asked a few direct questions,I got a lot of help from this board just from reading it regularly. The planning of the trip, for me, is almost as much fun as going!

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    Day 9 Wednesday, Sept. 12th

    We were up early, awakened by voices in the hall. That is the first time we have heard noise of any kind in this little hotel. We had our usual breakfast downstairs and watched the news. The morning TV news is quite different here. One sees an actual newspaper with highlights in yellow. The newsreader reads it to you. Sometimes a finger points what is being read, kind of like kindergarden. Every so often a hand turns the page or substitutes another newspaper. There is little visual coverage of events. Since we can understand next to nothing, we have been checking CBC and CNN on line each day.

    We were off to Termini to catch our train for La Spezia Centrale. There was a brass band, heavy on the percussion, playing to see us off. They must have really wanted us to leave. We're not sure exactly what was going on, but there were TV cameras as well.

    Our train was to be 10 minutes late leaving and they changed the platform at the last minute. The train employee gave us the wrong info and then a youngish woman looked at our tickets and took us to the right spot, right to our seats and stowed our luggage. We realized that she obviously does this for money (E 6). It's a pretty good gig when you think about it. If she can settle one customer every 10 minutes at E 6 each, she makes a decent hourly rate.

    Our train ride was uneventful and we traveled along the coast. We could see the ocean a lot of the time. We had bought sandwiches in the station for our lunch. Note to self...don't do that again! We arrived about 20 minutes late, but we had a seat mate going to the same place and he pointed us in the right direction. We bought our tickets for Manarola for the princely sum of E2 each. This was the type of commuter ticket that you must validate at a machine. We were scheduled to make one more train change. We went to the track and then realized we could get a through train with no changes if we waited 10 more minutes. When we got to the new platform, it didn't have a validating machine. We thought we just didn't have time to go down the stairs, under the tracks, up the stairs to the machine and then reverse, so we didn't. Long story short, the conductor noticed that we didn't have a validation stamp and fined us E5 each. The fine is actually E50 each so we got a really great deal!!!! (says she, tongue in cheek).

    By the time that transaction was completed we were at our stop, Manarola. This is a beautiful, little town, built up the side of a mountain, right down to the sea. It is cloudy and windy today so the water is really rough. The temperature is about the same as Rome, but the sea breeze (well wind) makes it seem much cooler. Our room is on the 3rd floor (remember that the entrance is on ground floor, not first floor! It's bit of a hike.) In fact, the whole town is either up or down. One longs for some mountain goat genes.

    Our room looks down over the sea and we can hear the waves crashing. We are getting a lovely breeze and appreciating the fresh air after four and half days breathing car exhaust in Rome. The room is small with a queen bed, wardrobe, tiny desk and chair and a reasonable bath. There is a TV and air conditioning which I don't think we will have to use, and it is spotlessly clean. Believe it or not, we can get CNN International in English on our TV. This is the first actual English station we have encountered in Italy and it is in the smallest little coastal town! It is also the best WiFi we have had.

    Manarola is the second of the five towns (five lands...Cinque Terre). There are stunning views at every turn. It was raining before we got here today, but tomorrow is supposed to be sunny. We will get a pass and move between towns by train or boat if it is calm enough.

    We explored bit before dinner and just happened to find....a wine store! After a drink in our room we headed out for dinner. Our dinner was wonderful, tied for first place with Venice. Stew ordered grilled squid which came on a lovely bed of the freshest greens. Jane had homemade pasta with basil pesto (a local specialty). We shared, so we each got some of everything. It was also one of the most inexpensive meals were have had.

    We walked around a bit more after dinner. The wind had picked up and the waves were really crashing in. We actually needed jackets if we were going to stay out. We came home at dark and settled in. We are looking forward to a day of exploring tomorrow.

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    Day 10 Thursday, September 13th

    We got off to a leisurely start and went out for an "English Breakfast". We had scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and coffee. We actually paid about half of what our hotel would have charged for a continental breakfast.

    The day was sunny, but cool, and, if you can believe it, we had to start out in our fleeces! We bought our Cinque Terre passes which gave us access to the hiking trails and the unlimited use of the trains to go between the towns if you aren't hiking. We actually did an easy 20 minute hike back to the first town, Riomaggiore. What a delight! This town is a little bigger than ours and sells more produce and goods of all kinds. It seems to be the place where the locals come to shop. Once again, it is steeply set on the side of the mountain and winds down to a pretty harbor. The streets are lined with local boats, about 8 feet long which seem idle at the moment, but which contribute the general bright colors of the town. The houses in all the towns are painted with yellow, peach, rose and orange, with a few darker maroons tossed in. Most buildings are 4 to 5 stories tall and have balconies over-flowing with flowers. Laundry is hanging from lines just outside the windows. It is, as the sign says, "la Dolce Vita".

    We took the train back to Manarola, a five minute trip, along with several hundred cruise ship tour participants from one of the Norwegian ships. Each group has a leader at the front holding a sign up and a "minder" bringing up the rear to herd the stragglers. I have no idea how they can keep everyone together when the train only stops for about a minute.

    We stopped off at our hotel, dumped our fleeces, and got sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. Then we were off to the 5th town, Monterosso. This town has a completely different feel. It is the only town with much of a beach and everything is oriented to sun bathing and swimming. The beach is covered with lounge chairs and bright orange umbrellas to rent. There are life guards to keep you safe. It looks like a holiday place and less like an "ordinary" working person's town. We stopped for water and enjoyed watching the world go by for a while.

    It was pushing 1:00 pm when we caught the train for Vernazza. This was the town that experienced the worst damage in the flood and mudslide of last October. There was a severe downpour of rain, with which the towns just couldn't cope. Vernazza ended up with about twelve feet of mud right throughout the town and filling the charming little harbor. Three people perished and almost every single business was affected. It is absolutely amazing how much they have recovered. There is still painting and construction going on, but they are basically back in business.

    The town is bustling with souvenir shops, art galleries, restaurants and my personal favorite, gelaterias! We decided to have lunch at the Burgus Bar right at the harbor, and shared a foccacia with ham and cheese, washed down with some cold birra. There was a clarinetist playing "What a Wonderful World" and other familiar songs. What could be finer? We eventually tore ourselves away and toured a little church before making our way back to catch the train for the last town, Corniglia.

    When we emerged from the train tunnel into the station, we noticed people piling on to a small, green bus. There was at least one more full load waiting and pushing, so we thought we'd walk. We could see some stairs but had no idea that, once you start climbing, they turn into a switchback of flights...probably 40-50 actual flights. Eeekkk! BUT, WE DID IT!! My legs are still feeling like rubber and I imagine I will pay a terrible price for that adventure by tomorrow.
    The hard part was that this little town had the least payback for the effort required. What was unique,however, was being at this elevation and seeing the terraced vineyards. It was a completely different experience than being in the sea based towns. We stopped for more water and voila, the bus arrived, empty. Yahoo. We were able to ride back to the station, thereby saving what was left of our knees.

    We came back to "our" town, Manarola. We had certainly earned a gelato which we enjoyed down at the harbor. We went for dinner around 7:00. We shared some pasta and a fresh tuna steak, and enjoyed some conversation with fellow tourists from California who were seated next to us. The evening was beautiful, so much calmer than last evening. There was a little chill in the evening air.

    Our Cinque Terre visit has been amazing. The other visitors range from cruise ship day trippers to committed hikers, mostly German women with sturdy legs and serious hiking boots, and pretty much everything in between. It is definitely a younger crowd than we saw in Rome. We will be sorry to leave, but Nice is calling tomorrow.

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    Loved hearing about the cinque Terre. My sister,her husband and I spent a week in Vernazza and loved it. I am so glad to hear that Vernazza is up and running after the flood last year. We have such happy memories of Vernazza and the other towns as well.

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    Day 11. Friday, Sept. 14 th

    W got up and checked out of our nice little hotel. We got some lunch supplies at the restaurant on the way out and took the train from Manarola to La Spezia Centrale, about a twenty minute trip. We were early for our train so we had breakfast at McDonald's. Now before you say anything, it was the ONLY option.

    We took a one hour trip to Genoa. The train was running a bit late. The next leg was to the Italian border and we were later still. It turned out that there had been some sort of train/person collision so things backed up. The result was that we missed our last train. There was another a half hour later so we thought we would be fine. The problem was that this next train was then dealing with twice the number of people and was just packed. We happened to be sitting with a young woman who spoke both Italian and English and who was going to the same stop, Nice Ville. It's always nice when someone validates your thoughts on where you are! All in all we were about an hour late getting into Nice, but walked to our hotel with no further problems.

    This is more like a chain hotel and we have TV channels in about 5 languages. The room is quite spacious and more modern feeling. We are within two blocks of the Promenade des Anglais along the shore of the Mediterranean. This is also the area of "Old Nice" where we went for dinner. Our meal was fine but nothing special. We stopped at a wine store on the way home so we are set for tomorrow.

    It seems a little strange to be in France. I can definitely understand a little more of the language....and I mean "little"!! I at least can ask questions. Italy was slightly harder work, since neither of us has any idea about Italian. We did notice that many words were related to their French counterparts so you could get an educated guess about the signs. Everywhere we went it seemed that someone could speak English.

    I don't like sweeping generalizations, but we noticed that Italian children seem to be indulged more than their North American counterparts. There was a lot of whining and outright tantrums that went uncorrected and actually tolerated by the parents. The other thing we were sensitive to was the increased amount of smoking, especially among young women. It was very common to see women walking down the street smoking. Perhaps I am aware of it because it is something that I don't see any more at home. The cigarettes are filtered but are longer and slimmer than ours. The tobacco is different as well. It smells, well how shall I say this? It smells like something previously enjoyed by a camel!!!

    We are back in our room now and ready to have an early night.

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    I've enjoyed your trip report immensely, as you have visited some of the places we've been, and your experiences and comments have helped us relive our own experiences.

    However, I would take exception to your observation about Italian children being overindulged more than North American children. That might be true for Canada, but as an uncle, grandfather, and observer of friends' grandchildren, I can tell you that it certainly is not true for kids in the U.S.

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    Day 12. Saturday, Sept. 15th

    We slept in a little today which was a treat. We had breakfast at our hotel and found that they also give you a packed lunch to take with you. They had a choice of sandwich, on reasonable bread, a bottle of water and a package of pre-sliced apple.

    We went to the info desk and found the bus for Monaco and off we went. The trip took about a half hour and was really scenic. We got off at the info place in Monaco. We got a map and an idea of where we wanted to go. We had a short walk through the park to the Monte Carlo Casino. It is an amazing building and we got some pictures, but did not pay the 10E each to go in, where you can't take pictures anyway. Instead, we paid 11 E for one American coffee and one cafe au lait!! Stew had been wondering earlier how they made their money, now he knows. Oh well, it was worth it for the ambiance.

    We then walked down the hill to the yacht basin where they were setting up for the Monaco Yacht Show which starts on the 19th. We were able to see a lot of the monstrous vessels up close. Stew has serious yacht envy! We spent an hour or so watching the yachts come in, and had our lunch in the shade. We struck by how clear and blue the water is. We could see bottom easily in about twenty feet of water in the harbor...lots of little fish too. Usually marinas are a bit murky.

    Eventually we started the big climb up to the Palace. It wasn't too bad a walk and in the shade all the way. The gardens are beautiful and there were wonderful views back over the harbour. Prince Albert had some pretty good public washrooms, but not as good as the Pope's. We wondered around the little town and watched the guards patrolling in front of the palace. We could have been there for the changing of the guard, but we were enjoying the yachts too much! We stopped to have our apple slices in the shade. Finally we worked our way back down the hill to catch our bus home.

    When we got home we walked down along the Promenade Des Anglais for a bit. It was quite warm and there were lots of swimmers. They are setting up for the Nice Triathalon which is being held tomorrow, so we were climbing over equipment etc. I imagine it will be a zoo there tomorrow. We stopped for gelato to share and walked home by all the expensive stores. My fav is Cartier!

    After showers and cocktails we headed out to dinner in Vieux Nice. Tonight we shared a four cheese bruschetta (more like a pizza!) and a Salade Nicoise. Very yummy, but way too much dinner. We went for a walk along the Promenade at sunset and it was just beautiful, with the wonderful sea air.

    On the way home we went by several performing groups, everything from acrobats to a quartet. Well two violins and two accordions playing Pachelbel Cannon does not an orchestra make, but it adds to the ambiance.

    We have two BBC English channels in our room but we seem to be watching some sort of Dancing With The Stars. News casts are sparse so I'll check the CBC on line.

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    Day 13. Sunday, Sept 16 th

    We woke up a little earlier today and had our breakfast at the hotel. It was another brilliantly sunny day. We went out to find the bus for Antibes/Cannes at its usual stop. The problem was that they had changed the stop because of traffic detours for the Nice Triathalon. We eventually figured it out and were off to Cannes. Although it is a little farther away than Monaco, it takes much longer to get there as there are more stops for the bus.

    We finally got to Cannes around 11:00. We found ourselves in the old port and guess what.....another yacht show! This one was actively going on so you couldn't see anything unless you paid the entry. Instead, we walked around the area, had a coffee and eventually had our (box) lunch. The beach was a bee hive of activity with brightly colored sun umbrellas everywhere. We could see many boats anchored in the harbor. We spent some time in the park watching the families enjoying their Sunday afternoon.

    We caught the bus and came back as far as the airport. Our original plan was to stop in Antibes, but we were a little short of time. At the airport we picked up our rental car, a Fiat. It's very tiny, which is a good thing with the narrow roads. We headed back into Nice which was a bit of a challenge because of all the route changes and detours. Nice is full of one way streets, so if you miss something, you must go around multiple blocks. The motor bikes pass you on both the right and the left and never wait their turn in traffic. It is quite nerve racking to say the least. No one but me signaled any turns. It's sort of like driving in Los Angeles where signaling is a sign of weakness! After a few turns around several blocks, we found our 24 hour underground parking garage. Now if we can just find it again tomorrow.......

    We got back to the hotel in time for showers and wine, and then went out for our last dinner in Nice. It was lovely, a squid salad and Nicoise beef stew which we shared. Stew is downstairs checking out tonight so we can get going in good time tomorrow, hopefully before rush hour.

    We will be in a small village tomorrow night and I don't really expect much in the way of Internet access. We may not talk to you again for a day or two.

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    We stayed in Hotel Crillon which was within walking distance from the train station and about 50 feet from the tram line. It took us about 10 minutes to walk to the ocean. The breakfast had good selection and the box lunch, while nothing special, was a nice unexpected add on. It was on a fairly busy street, but we were not bothered by any noise.

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    Day 14. Sept 17th

    Well, we were off in our little car today. It was quite an adventure. We got out of Nice OK, Jane driving and Stew navigating. We were trying to make our way to the toll highway out by the airport. We had just about made it when Jane took a wrong turn from which it took us about 15 minutes to recover.

    We finally made it onto the fancy highway. It is three lanes in each direction and the speed limit is a pretty respectable 130 kph unless it is raining when it becomes 110. People seem to respect the limits and many were driving at less than 130. Everyone is pretty good at keeping to the right except when passing. Signaling lane changes is rare. It is much easier driving on this, than the smaller local city roads around Nice. There, it is each man for himself. It is common for people to engage in "lane creep", gradually moving part way into your lane, squeezing you over. The tolls were another issue however. There is a transponder system which heavily signed and advertised. There is no advance notice of the toll booth and you have no idea how much you will be paying. The first two tolls, we had to pay in cash E 1.90. The next time we picked up a ticket and eventually, when it was time to pay, you could use a credit card. Except for our credit card! There we were, with a line of traffic behind us, and it didn't like either our (chip and pin) Visa or MC even though the sign said you could use them both. There was no cash option. We finally got someone's attention and paid it in cash after she tried our cards to no avail as well. Well, Jane was feeling pretty nervous about the tolls after that. We got on another toll road and took the ticket. After you had it in your hand and were pulling away there was a list of cards that would be accepted. MC or Visa...nope! We really want to pay in cash anyway, but had never been able to find a manned booth. When it came time to pay, we just picked a lane and went there. It turned out you could put bills and/coins in and it made change. Phew! I finally figured out that the credit card lanes did not seem to have a cash option, but there were some lanes with a picture of small change that would accept cash. The toll roads are very good and have small service centers about every twenty kilometers.

    At Avignon, we found ourselves on lesser roads, but our GPS, which had started out to be a bit temperamental, seemed to be quite happy today. We started up a tres scenic route through the Cotes du Rhone. We were driving through picturesque little villages with wineries everywhere. We stopped for a tasting and bought a bottle of red for our evening cocktail hour. There was little traffic and we passed several tractors hauling carts full of red grapes...harvest time. It is spectacularly beautiful here. We drove through rolling hills with views of the mountains. Everything is green and gold. The buildings are stone and have been there forever.

    Our destination was Vaison La Romaine where, after a little difficulty, we asked for directions and found our hotel. The GPS couldn't find it because it really doesn't have a proper address. We are in the mediaeval part of the city and there are just little lanes. Our hotel is charming and has walls two feet thick. We have a large room with twin beds and a view out over the restaurant courtyard. There is actually a kitchen of sorts in the room as well so we can keep our drinks cold. We walked around the old city for a while and then came back for a glass of wine. It turns out we make a good choice at the winery.

    Well, we did it. We just had a meal that surpassed our favourite dinner in Venice. We decided to eat at the restaurant that is part of this little inn. It was fabulous. We shared a salad with escargots and artichoke hearts, and lamb chops done to perfection. We splurged and shared a tart with seasonal fruits (figs and plums) for dessert. It was a wonderful meal, beautifully presented for a very reasonable price. All in all, we had a lovely day.

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    Day 15. Sept. 18th

    This was market day in Vaison La Romain and one of the reasons we chose this little town. Stew wanted to go to a market in Provence. We got up early and made our way down over the Roman Bridge. The market pretty well takes up the whole town. They were setting up as we arrived. At first we were disappointed because all we saw was T & T. (trinkets and trash!!!) We decided to get our breakfast and headed for the only open restaurant. We went in and ordered petit dejeuner and cafe longue. Then the proprietor went across the street to another closed restaurant and came back with our breakfast! We really don't understand why that happened, but we enjoyed orange juice, pain au chocolate, croissants, and a baguette along with coffee which they made in the original restaurant.

    When we emerged we headed down another street, and voila, a "real" market had started. There was baking, olives and tapenades, dried flowers, cheese, meat, fish, herbs, lavender, mushrooms, hot meals, frites, etc, etc. Stew was in heaven, except for the fact he couldn't really go hog wild. We bought some stuff for a picnic and he got some Herbes de Provence. He was such a happy fellow!

    We checked out of our hotel and started to drive to Riom. It is not really a destination for us, but rather a stop on the way from here to there. As we left Provence we were driving through rolling hills, past charming little villages. Eventually we worked our way into more mountainous territory. In fact driving was a little painful...slow switchback roads with a soupçon of road construction and detours! After a couple of hours of that we made one long, last climb up and we found ourselves on a high plain of prosperous farms. It looked like a quilt of greens, browns, beiges and golds. The roads got progressively better and we made it to our destination around three as planned. We didn't hit a toll road until we were in the last 5 kms. It was the kind where you took a ticket and paid as you exited. We were able to put coins into a machine, phew! We had had some light rain for the last two hours of the trip.

    Once we were checked in to our hotel, we got directions to the laundromat and did our chores. Luckily, it wasn't too busy and we were all done in about an hour. Just in time for a glass of wine before dinner. Stew is watching a French cooking show on TV as we speak. Secretly, I hope he learns how to make baguettes. Maybe not, or I'll weigh 400 pounds.

    We are staying at a Campanile hotel which is a chain of small hotels. I think we are booked into one more near Vimy. It is sort of like a Comfort or Holiday Inn, only smaller. I picked it because it was just off the thruway and on the outskirts of town. We were pleasantly surprised. This is a newer hotel with their "new" decor. We decided to eat here rather than drive into to the city in the rain. It was certainly not the meal of last evening, but reasonably good for hotel fare. We had veal patties, grilled veggies, and rice for Jane and frites for Stew. It also came with lovely fresh greens.

    We have planned our route for tomorrow. We are headed for Amboise in the chateaux region. Hopefully we'll arrive in time to sightsee.

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    Your account is bringing back great memories for me! Mmm, the home made pasta with real pesto. How I long to be back in the Cinque Terre.
    My husband asks for pesto everywhere we go in Italy, even in Sicily! There he got ground pistachio pesto, good but not the same.

    Did you find Manarola to be a good base for CT? I didn't catch the name of your hotel there, and was thinking we'd like to stay there next visit.

    Vaison la Romain is really a pretty little town, isn't it?

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    Hi sundriedpachino,
    Our hotel in Manarola was Marina Piccola and it was right near the water. They also run a restaurant. We found it be convenient and we got wonderful fresh air in our room at night. There was no elevator, but by then on our trip, we were getting used to the climbing. We liked Manarola a lot and it seemed less touristy than Vernazza.

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    Day 16 Wednesday, Sept 19th

    We only drove about 4 hours father north yesterday, but, when we got up at 7:00 am it was pitch dark! Yikes! We had our breakfast at the hotel and managed to forage enough for lunch too. We set off around 8:00 when it was a bit lighter. It had stopped raining but was still overcast. Today we were back on the 130 km toll roads and we whistled right along. We stopped once for a break and to get gas, and arrived in the Loire Valley region in late morning.

    We were heading for Amboise, but decided to stop at one of the many Chateaux in the region. We went down winding country roads until we got to Chateau Chenonceau, once occupied by the French royalty and dating from the 16th century. Nice digs! We toured the chateau and the gardens, all of which were lovely. We decided to have our lunch in their picnic area. By about ten in the morning it had turned into a lovely, sunny day, but it was quite chilly. We are wearing our fleeces and I wished I had jeans instead of capris.

    After lunch, we went to a lovely little town, Montrichard. Of course everything is closed between 12:30 and 3:00. We found an outdoor cafe and had a crepe Normande. It had cinnamon apple slices and was flambéd with calvados. We're counting it as a fruit!

    We worked our way through the countryside and arrived in Amboise. We had some difficulty finding our B & B. When we finally arrived we realized that we couldn't check in until 5pm and no one was around. It looked like a strange place and we were beginning to discuss other options, when the owner arrived.

    WE ARE STAYING IN A CAVE!!!!! We actually have a lovely, newly renovated room, but this whole inn is inside a huge rock face. There is even an indoor pool in there. In this area, people have made and lived in caves for generations but it's quite a new experience for us. There was nothing about a cave when we looked at it on line. Maybe I need to learn more French. We looked at one another and said "why not"? At our age you don't get to try too many new things, so it will be an experience. The bizarre thing is that each of the six or so rooms, is named after a south Pacific island! The floor is made of teak and has been recently oiled. Since we are former sailors, it is a familiar odor.

    While I caught up on our email, Stew went down the street to the wine cellar and came back with some local red wine. I think we are all set. We will have our breakfast here, but we go out for dinner.

    We enjoyed a glass or two of the wine we bought, outside in a lovely courtyard. I had changed in to long pants, which made all the difference. I have had a clothing emergency, however. I have broken the zipper on my fleece. I can pull it up but not down. I may be wearing it for two weeks!

    We went to the old part of town, in the shadow of a massive castle. The buildings are all leaning and close together. Nothing is plumb or square. We had a very good dinner, veal Marsala for Jane and veal champignons for Stew. We have realized that the castle is built atop a huge rocky hill, and our place is under it but down away. We have found out from the inn keeper that the caves were created by mining rock to build the castle. It was just getting dark as we returned to our cave....we'll let you know tomorrow how we make out.

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    >>>Well, we did it. We just had a meal that surpassed our favourite dinner in Venice. We decided to eat at the restaurant that is part of this little inn<<<

    What was the name of the restaurant/inn?

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    Day 17 Thursday Sept 20th

    Well we survived our night in our cave, although when we had been in the room for a while, the teak oil smell became pretty pervasive. Our room was one of the largest we have had and the ceiling was about 15 feet high. The bathroom, which was very modern, was really just part of the main room and separated only by a folding screen. You would want your companion to be someone you knew very well! The cave has an air exchange system but is always at about 70% humidity. I bet you have wonderful skin if you live there all the time. Our biggest complaint was that the lighting was sort of mood lighting and not sufficient for reading. All in all we survived, woke up feeling a little batty (lol!), but I probably wouldn't do it again. I am a bit claustrophobic and really wanted a window to look out. Once you are inside you don't know if it is day or night.

    We were up at about 7:30and the proprietor had set up a beautiful breakfast, including candalabra, in the common room where the TV was. It was the best breakfast we have had so far. After we checked out and said goodbye, we loaded our stuff and set out. It was freezing, maybe just a degree or two above zero C. I had managed to attach a split ring from my key ring so I can operate the zipper on my fleece. Thank goodness. We also wore jackets today to start out.

    We drove on the toll highway up to Dinan, a mediaeval town just near the border of Normandy. We arrived late in the morning and CLIMBED around to explore the old streets. We stopped for lunch in the port (near the boats) and shared a ham and cheese galette and a wonderful salad. We had cider to drink. This was in a little nondescript one man restaurant but the food was lovely. Stew even found a picture of an old man playing some sort of a bagpipe hanging on the wall. (Stew is a piper).

    We left after lunch and drove to our hotel in Avranches. We are back in a chain type, cookie cutter hotel as it is another one night stand. It certainly doesn't have the charm of a B & B, but it is predictable and comfortable and it is above ground!

    After we checked in and unloaded our stuff, we set off for Mont St. Michel. It is basically a massive abbey built atop a big rock which lies out in the ocean, just off shore. At low tide you can walk there, but it is really an island which was settled in the first century. We went later in the day to avoid the crowds. There were definitely more people leaving than coming when we got there but there was still a lot of visitors (.read packed)! It is an amazing place with pictures at every turn. Again we climbed up to the Abbey and then worked our way back down. We have certainly got our exercise today. We are tired so I think we will just stay at the hotel for dinner.

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    We stayed in a cave in Matera, and the one drawback is the humidity, isn't it? Ours did have a window in the door, though, and a few other high windows, but not big enough to see anything.
    Glad you survived, although, don't you sometimes get snowed in a bit in Ontario?

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    Thanks everybody! And yes, sundriedpachino we do get snowed in, although not all that often anymore. But snowed in is white and pretty. At least we can see daylight. I have to confess that it was the smell of the teak oil that bothered me the most. I think that that coloured my attitude. I still think that it was an interesting experience and an unexpected one at that.

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    Day 18 Friday, Sept. 21st

    Well, we had a really good sleep and got going around 8:00. We went in to town for breakfast which proved to be a bit of a challenge. There were several restaurants, but they just had coffee. We drove on a bit and found a nice little bakery which also sold coffee to go. We bought raisin buns which were excellent and the coffee was passable. As an aside, we find coffee here to be very strong. Since we can't even do Starbucks at home (too strong, too burnt), we are really missing our Timmies!!

    We stopped around lunch time in Bayeux and toured the massive cathedral there. We stopped at a small restaurant and had a terrible lunch. Yes, even worse than McDonald's if that's possible. We continued on, driving through beautiful countryside. Things seem greener here than when we were father south. Maybe Normandy is more in the British weather patterns. We drove through lots of villages whose names I recognize from the D Day invasion.

    We got to Caen and toured the Peace Memorial Museum which was well worthwhile. It gave the history from 1918 onwards and then gave the politics leading up to WWII. You walked through in chronological order, seeing some short films, reading translated information, and looking at historical pictures and artifacts. It was a most informative place.We spent about three hours there and then set off for our final destination for today, Arromanches.

    Our GPS went crazy when we got to the town, although she has been totally reliable for the last while. We finally just turned her off and fended for ourselves. I knew that our hotel was right by the water (L'Hotel Du Marine), so I just headed for the harbor. Voila, there it was with a parking lot right beside it. A miracle! It turns out the parking is 1 euro per hour, but between 19:00 and 09:00 it is free. It works for me!

    We wanted to go to the Cinema Circulaire (Arromanches 360) to see the D Day presentation. The girl at the desk said it was a 10 minute walk which it would have been if it were flat. They never tell you that it is straight up! It took us about 15 - 20 minutes and we were a bit puffed when we arrived. (I must say that we have improved our fitness levels quite a bit on this trip with all the walking and climbing). We got our tickets and only had to wait about 10 minutes for the movie to start. It took place in one of those theaters in the round. The screens go a complete 360 degrees around you and you stand so that you can turn if you wish. There was a brief introduction in three languages and then the movie began. They cleverly showed footage taken during the war and interspersed it with modern day footage of the same places. No dialogue was necessary. The war footage was very graphic, showing wounded and dead men and women. The damage to these pretty little villages was immense, much of it done by the allies who were trying to cut off the German communications and supply lines. The modern footage, in color, was taken as if you were flying over the area. It was a bit of a motion-sick challenge for me, but I made it! The whole movie was only about 20 minutes long but you emerged feeling outraged at the senselessness of man's inhumanity to man. I remember feeling the same when we went to the Memorial in Hiroshima.

    Our hotel is delightful, but it was occupied by the Nazis during the war. We are on the third (4th) floor and there is an elevator. Our room has twin beds, a TV, closet, bureau, and desk, and, of course, a bathroom. We have a window that looks out over the ocean. At the moment we are waiting for someone to help us turn on the heat as it is about 18 C. and cloudy.

    Although there is a restaurant here, I think we are going to another down the street. Stew has his eye on fish and chips and beef bourguinon seems to be calling me!

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    I can relate to your comment about the girl saying that it would be "only a 10 minute walk" to your hotel while neglecting to mention that it was straight uphill. It seems as though locals and tour guides in Europe always say "it's a short walk" to someplace, when it turns out to be much longer. And it seems that EVERYPLACE in Europe is up some sort of a hill. But as you say, all that exercise does help one's fitness!

    Sorry to hear that you had a bad lunch in Bayeux. We visited Bayeux a few years ago and found their restaurants to be wonderful - best we've encountered in Europe. Guess you must have just hit a clunker!

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    Day 19 Saturday, Sept. 22nd

    It was nice and cool in our room for sleeping and we awoke, well rested, at about 7:00. We showered and were ready to go, but at that hour, the French haven't even turned the air on! Nothing really happens until around nine. Then, of course, they close for lunch from 12:30 to 3:00, even the tourist info places!! We decided to head towards Juno Beach which is in the village of Courseulles-sur-Mer. We hoped that we might be able to find breakfast by the time we got there. There were actually two places open. We ordered petit dejeuner pour deux and got juice, good coffee and a basket of baguettes and croissants. There was a selection of jam and honey, and, rare as it is, there was actually butter. We lingered over breakfast, enjoying the views over the harbor and putting in time because the Juno center doesn't open until ten. We walked around town a bit and found a fish market just setting up. I have never seen such big lobster in my life. The tidal range is about 15 feet here so the boats were high and dry at low tide.

    We made our way to the Center a little before ten and went down to the beach to see the perspective of the soldiers who landed there. We went in and got our tickets and an orientation from a young, bilingual Montrealer. The Center is run by the Canadian Legion and they have specified that they want the young people working there to be bilingual and between the ages of 20 and 30, reflecting the age range of the Canadian soldiers. There are four such workers and they are here for four months at a time.

    The Museum was very good and, in addition to information about the invasion, they showed what life was like in Canada both then and now. We spent about an hour there and then headed towards the American sector at Omaha Beach. We went to the Cemetery which was amazing, but you are looking at more than 9300 graves with crosses (or Stars of David) made of white marble. We saw the graves of several unknowns and they all had had some flowers left on them. The grass is green and manicured despite the fact that people are free to walk among the rows of graves.

    After lunch, we moved on to Pointe au Hoc, the invasion point of the American Rangers. The landing area has steep rock cliffs to scale to get up from the beach. On top, there were German pill boxes and bunkers. I just can't imagine how anyone made it.

    I failed to mention that it is really windy today, mostly cloudy with some sunny breaks. I really could have worn my winter coat, and certainly would have appreciated gloves and a hat. I finally relented and put up my hood, so you can imagine how chic that was!

    Driving through all the little French villages has been delightful. The buildings are made of stone. Most roofs are black slate, but we have seen a few thatched roofs as well. The farms are often one building, with the house in one part and the barn farther along in the same building. There is a profusion of pink hydrangeas at every turn. The blooms are drying now but are still showy. The road can get quite narrow and once or twice we have had to stop to let on-coming traffic pass. Now that I understand how the signs work, I am good to go. Easily 90% of the intersections are roundabouts, which we love, so civilized.They are very efficient.

    We found a super market on the way home. Stew, who has been shopping deprived for three weeks, had a great time buying snacks and wine. We bought wine at E 2,95 a bottle. We are trying it as I write this, and it is actually excellent.

    We are going to have dinner in town again tonight and tomorrow we are off to Arras, the city nearest Vimy. We will be spending two nights there and will be touring with my cousin, Marilyn and her husband, Doug who are coming from London on the train.

    Someone commented yesterday about all the walking we have been doing. If it were only walking it wouldn't be so bad, but it is mostly climbing! Today is the first day we didn't really climb since Rome. When we were first in Venice I thought I would die. I decided to put my orthotics in my shoes (I have been delinquent for a while) and I should have used them more gradually. I was so stiff, sore and tired that I could hardly get up the stairs to our room at the end of the day. And Venice was flat! Gradually we have found ourselves getting fitter. Three or four flights of stairs with luggage are nothing now. We walk on average three to four hours a day. Since we have had the car, we have not had so much luggage management to contend with. I am so glad we have only carry on type decision of the whole trip. I have to admit I have stopped walking at warp speed and have adopted Stew speed. I had to do that when we were really hot, just to survive. I think it has been the key to our success. Slow and steady wins the race.

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    Day 20 Sunday, Sept 23 rd

    We woke to a dark, cloudy day. We got going about 8:00 am and drove to Honfleur. What a lovely town. We made our way down to the boat basin and looked for a restaurant for breakfast. We ordered petit dejeuner and got the obligatory croissants and baguettes, along with juice and coffee. We lingered over our coffee and Stew said, "well at least the rain has held off" and, with that, it started to pour! We headed back to the car, sheltering in a few shops on the way. We actually didn't get too wet. This looked like a spot you would want to explore on a nicer day. It is actually loaded with restaurants all of which have bright umbrellas outside. On these cooler days, they also have outdoor heaters.

    Most of our trip today was on toll highways. These are at least four lane, divided roads. The tolls are quite expensive. It was E 28.90 for a four hour trip. Our bottle of wine was E 2.90. You can see where the priorities lie! We have not seen one police car on any of the roads we have traveled. However, they have speed cameras so everyone stays pretty well within the limits. The entrances and exits have very short lanes so you really have to stomp on it to get up to speed (which is 130 km/hr). It's a bit of a challenge when you are driving a car with the acceleration of my sewing machine!

    We drove the rest of the way to our destination, Arras, stopping once for gas. It took a bit of exploring to find our hotel, as it has an address not recognized by our GPS. I had printed out Google instructions which worked pretty well. Once we got there, we put it into the GPS with the lat and long so we could come back when we wanted to.

    We settled into our room and then found directions to the Gare Arras where Marilyn and Doug's train would arrive. We got there easily and in less time than we had thought. We parked and went in for coffee and a cookie which we shared. While we were waiting we noticed a large number of teenagers and their parents. Nobody had any luggage. We finally figured out that they were waiting for a group of exchange students from Australia. The students eventually arrived, looking pretty well tuckered out. Goodness knows how long they had been traveling. I bet they will sleep well tonight.

    Marilyn and Doug arrived right on schedule and we made our way back to the hotel. After everyone was settled in we enjoyed a bottle of wine before we went to the hotel dining room for dinner. Everyone seemed to enjoy the meal and we went back to our respective rooms for an early night. Tomorrow, we are off to explore Vimy and the places that our Grandfathers served in the First World War.

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    I'm a bit late for the party but am I ever glad I arrived!

    I enjoyed reading about your stays in Venice & Rome. We had dinner at Barababao on our first visit in Venice. Great to hear that the food is still good! And wasn't the Church of St. Agnes on Piazza Navona just a gem? I read with interest about your days in the Cinque Terre, a place where we would love to go!

    You covered a lot of territory in France! Actually, it sounds like we were in Normandy about the same time! I agree that Mont Saint Michel was exhausting! I am looking forward to your impressions of Vimy, especially with your family connections to the First World War!

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    Day 21, Monday, Sept 24th

    Well, we have had a big day today. We started out at 9:00 with Marilyn and Doug, driving toward Vimy with the idea that we would find breakfast somewhere along the way. That proved to be more difficult than one would imagine. We could find no sign of a restaurant at all. Finally, we drove into Lens and found a place that served coffee. When we asked for breakfast, the lady said that she didn't offer breakfast, but sent us to the bakery around the corner. She told us to bring back what we bought and she would give us coffee. It worked perfectly. We had croissants and a baguette, but no juice. It did the trick. We headed back out towards Vimy. We knew that we had a tenuous weather forecast and it rained off and on.

    We finally caught a glimpse, from a distance, of the white Canadian Memorial. It is simply spectacular. It was on a much larger scale than I had imagined. It was windy and cloudy, but the sun broke through every now and then so the white monument was just gleaming. The view from the ridge is over a vast expanse of farmland. The Memorial itself is surrounded on all sides by the craters left from the bombardment.
    We eventually made our way to the visitor center and signed up for the tour of the tunnels and trenches. When we started out it also started to pour rain. It had become increasingly windy and the rain was basically blowing sideways. Our tour guide, Carolyn, was excellent as she led us first down into the tunnels. The tunnels are made of chalk and are about 8 meters under the ground. You certainly can't imagine spending a lot of time down there. As Marilyn said, "I don't want to hear anymore about your cave stay!!" She was right, “our” cave was luxurious compared to this. From the tunnels we emerged into more rain and went into the trenches. The German trenches were only yards away. It is unimaginable what soldiers went through in the trenches. Our weather was certainly miserable, but we weren't standing in water and mud up to our knees. The tour was a very moving experience and we were all so glad we had come.
    We decided to drive towards Beaumont-Hamel where the Newfoundland Regiment monument is, hoping to find some lunch along the way. Once again, we couldn't seem to find a restaurant so we ended up going to a super market and assembling a picnic which we had to eat it in the car because of the rain. I'm sure it was not the birthday lunch that Marilyn had imagined, but it kept body and soul together.
    We arrived at the Memorial to find that they were not offering tours and that some sections were closed because of the weather. They had had some falling tree branches and the wind was up to about 75kms/hour according to the guides. We made out to the monument which is spectacular, a big stag on a hill. Once again it is surrounded by the pock marks of war. The interpretive center looks like a Newfoundland house and was very informative. Almost everyone in this regiment was killed or wounded as they bravely fought through an untenable situation.

    The whole experience of visiting these memorials was very moving and the miserable weather added to the mood. We all agreed that we are richer for having been here and prouder as Canadians.

    We worked our way back to our hotel and decided that a glass of wine might be in order. We enjoyed discussing our day and went for dinner at seven. We will be up early tomorrow to take Marilyn and Doug to pick up their rental car. They will head to Normandy and we are off to Paris for our last week.

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    Day 22 Tuesday, Sept 25th.

    We were up early (it's genetic!) and went into the dining room for breakfast. Much to our surprise we found Marilyn there, already up and going. My how her plans had changed! We were supposed to be driving them to the car rental place and they would be off to Normandy, staying in the same hotel where we had been. Then they were to continue west to Cherbourg, turn in their car and take the ferry back to Portsmouth. I think I have this right. They decided to look something up on line about their ferry reservation and found that the ferries were on strike, something you would think the ferry company should have contacted them about. So they started to rethink their itinerary. About then, their iPad died. They went to bed only to have Doug up sick most of the night. In the morning he wasn't feeling up to driving so Marilyn was at the front desk trying to develop her alternatives. The ultimate solution was for them to decide to take the Eurostar back to London, so we dropped them off at Gare Arras. I have just heard that they are happily ensconced in London and Doug is beginning to feel better. I can think of a lot worse things than a few extra days in London.

    We set off down the A1 to Paris. It was an uneventful trip, other than there was way more truck traffic than we have seen so far. We had rain off and on, but it didn't last too long. I had decided to drop the car at CDG Airport so I didn't have to drive in Paris. That worked out well and we took the RER into Paris, about 40 minutes. It stopped fairly close to where we were going so we just had a couple of blocks to walk.

    We had been given instructions on how to get in to the apartment and what key pad codes to use. We got in OK and the key to our apartment was waiting under the mat as promised. We called our landlord as requested and he is coming to meet us to explain everything later this afternoon.

    Meanwhile we went out for lunch and had French Onion soup and a glass of wine to toast our arrival. We are in the Marais neighborhood, just north of Notre Dame, which is very interesting. There are lots of restaurants, dress shops, bake shops, grocery stores, art galleries and antique stores. The streets are very busy and cars are parked everywhere. There is lots of pedestrian traffic as well.

    Our apartment is in an old building with a central courtyard which we overlook, so I imagine it should be quiet. I'm hopeful. We have a sitting room with a TV (with some English channels), dining table as well as a sofa and some chairs. There is a minuscule kitchen which Stew is exploring as we speak. The bed room is a good size with a queen size bed and built in wardrobe and closet space. Finally we can unpack and give up living out of our suitcases. The bathroom is small with a shower. This apartment is older but quite charming, decorated in a warm gray. It has wide plank hardwood floors which look original to the building. The lighting seems reasonable, but it isn't really dark yet. (We have found everywhere that lighting is dim because of energy conservation.) We have large windows so the place seems bright and airy. The location is very good and close to the Metro. We have a good Wifi connection but the password is 26 characters long, both letters and numbers. It took two of us to get it entered correctly! I think that this place will work out well.

    I know that I am the only person on the planet that spent her first afternoon in Paris doing laundry, but that's what we did. It only took an hour and we are now good to last until we get home next week (next week??? How did that happen?!) We also did some basic grocery shopping and bought tonight's dinner which will be Greek shrimp on rice and a salad. We actually planned these chores so we are all set up for a busy 6 days. Dinner is starting to smell good. Our landlord just arrived, but we had basically figured everything out on our own including a hot water heating system.

    We had dinner and decided to go for a short walk before dark. We are staying just one block north of the City Hall, so it was only about 10 minute trip to Notre Dame. We poked along in the little shops and made our way home while we could still see where we were going. It had also started to spit rain. So we are hunkered down for the evening and looking forward to a busy day tomorrow.

    I'm feeling a little guilty that yesterday's post might not have done our trips to Vimy and Beaumont-Hamel justice, but I was tired when I wrote it. All I can really add is that, if you are Canadian and have any chance of seeing these Memorials, you will be overwhelmed. It was quite a moving experience. If you are not planning a trip to France, check it out on line (grandchildren please take note!) and learn the story of our coming of age as a nation.

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    Jane I read about the trenches with great interest. 4 brothers, my great uncles fought at Vimy. The youngest, 19, was last seen delivering barrels of rum on horse pulled carts to the soldiers in the trenches. The other 3 survived but because they had been gassed had short, sad lives on their return to Canada.

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    I am not sure if you know, but you can request their war records from the Canadian government. If you can get their enlistment records on-line (easy) you would know what battalion(s) they were with and you can probably read the Battalion war diaries on line. It is amazing what you can find It makes it so much more real.

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    Enjoying your trip report, but cannot imagine sharing gelato! This is one thing I am not willing to share.

    You are covering a lot of ground and seeing so many things. Do you plan to keep up the pace in Paris? You must both have high energy levels.

    Happy traveling!

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    Day 23 Wednesday, September 26 th

    What a big day we have had. We got up about 7:30 and after his shower, Stew went out to the bakery for some breakfast add-ons. He came home and made scrambled eggs which we had with our croissants and a bit of bread that he had bought. Yummy. We decided to find coffee later.

    We set out to do an historic walk of Paris, recommended in a guide book. First, we stopped to buy our four day museum passes, which allow you to skip the ticket lines. Our first stop was Notre Dame Cathedral. We took note of point zero, the place from which all distances in France are measured. Then we stopped to understand the facade of the cathedral. What a massive place. Inside, it is quite dimly lit and you can't use a flash, so it is a bit of a photographic challenge. Guess they sell more postcards that way! We walked all the way around, reading the guide as we went. The fact that people in 1100 could build it is amazing.

    After we left Notre Dame we headed around behind it to see the Deportation Memorial which commemorates the French Jews who were victims of the holocaust. Unfortunately we couldn't quite get to it because of construction. We carried on with the tour and we crossed over to the left bank. We walked along noticing the ramshackle mediaeval architecture. We stopped for a while at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, recalling the original where the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound used to hang out. We continued on along St. Severin and past the church of the same name and into the Latin Quarter. We scoped out some restaurants for dinner another night. We also stopped for our coffee and ended up paying E8,80 for two cups of the worst coffee we have had. I couldn't even drink all of mine. We walked across Place St. Michel and crossed the river again on the Pont Neuf Bridge.

    Our next destination was Sainte-Chapelle. Since it is situated in the middle of the Palais De Justice, France's Supreme Court, you must clear through airport like security. This of course creates a line, but it moved along fairly quickly. When you first enter the church, you find yourself in a small chapel which is on the humble side, but beautiful all the same. It certainly isn't the soaring cathedral you are expecting. You must climb a rather strenuous winding staircase to get inside the actual cathedral with its walls of stained glass. Unfortunately, it was a rainy, cloudy day so we were unable to see the windows to their full advantage. They were still amazing. There was also a presentation on the window restoration process which was of special interest to me as I have worked in stained glass in the past.

    Reluctantly, we moved on past the Cite Metropolitan Metro Stop, one of just few of the Art Nouveau style subway entrances and then past the Conciergerie, Paris' prison where Marie Antoinette had her head removed. Our walk, which had taken about four hours, brought us back over Pont Neuf. Our plan was to do a tour of the Louvre in the afternoon so we stopped for lunch on the way. I had onion soup again but it was really salty. Stew did better with fresh tomato soup.

    Then we were off to the Louvre. Although I was here once as a teenager, I didn't remember how huge it is. Our museum pass allowed us to bypass the lines and get right in. Then I had to stand in a 10 minute line for the bathroom! We had a tour to follow through the museum as well. All together we were there for three or four hours, hardly enough to scrape the surface. You could spend years here and not see everything in any depth. The buildings themselves are beautiful, even if they were stripped of the art. The ceilings, especially, were amazing. Among other great works of art, of course we saw the Mona Lisa...well almost. What a mob! Everyone was jockeying for positions, and then, we they got closer, they would take a picture of each and every family member in front of the painting. Takes a while! On top of that, several people were taking their pics with their iPads, which effectively blocked the rest of us. I finally got two pictures from a position about four rows back from the front. I got a picture, but can't say that I really got to see the painting. They really need to re-think their crowd control.

    Before we got as far as Mona Lisa, we heard and announcement in several languages that the museum was being evacuated because of a "situation". We were to go to the nearest exit which we did. By the time we got there, we noticed people still buying tickets and coming in. We asked a museum guide who was unaware of any "situation". Quite reassuring!!! We watched for awhile and, since we no longer heard the announcements, we decided to venture back in. We had retrace our steps somewhat, but it seemed that everything was back to normal. We did see several police officers leaving with some of their equipment, so we felt everything was OK.

    We finished our tour and set out to walk about a mile to our apartment. We stopped for some groceries on the way. We are now home and I have started to seize up! We basically walked for 8 hours, not fast, but almost non-stop. Everything hurts. Nothing that a glass of wine won't fix, but we will be staying in tonight.

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    Day 24 Thursday, September 27 th

    Another rainy day in Paris so it was ideally suited for museum exploration. After breakfast at home, which included fresh orange juice from the bakery, we set out for Musee d'Orsay, stopping for coffee on the way. Our timing was perfect and we arrived just after it opened. This museum is housed in an old train station which is exquisite all on its own. We spent the morning walking through all the impressionist galleries, including a special exhibit of fashion. Among the Cezanne, Renoir, Monet and Manet paintings, as well as others, there were examples of the dress worn at the time. In fact one dress was featured in one of the paintings. There was also an exhibit of men's fashion as well, called dandysme! All I can say is that these women were sure small. I could have easily put both my hands around their waists.

    We next went to the regular Impressionist galleries where we saw many famous works of art. It is amazing to me that you can get so close and no one is really watching what is going on. I think my favourite was Starry Night over the Rhone by van Gogh.

    When we emerged it was raining fairly hard. We waited it out for a few minutes and then made a mad dash to a restaurant that we had noticed up the street. By the time we had had our lunch, it had stopped raining. We walked over to and through the Tuileries and then went to l'Orangerie to see the post Impressionism period of art. The key feature here was the Water Lilies, housed in two oval rooms. These paintings are absolutely stunning, but, if you get up close to them, you cannot tell what the subject matter is. You must see them from a distance. To encourage this, there is seating in the middle of the room. We then moved on to Modigliani, Guillaume, Cezanne, Picasso and others. We were not allowed to take pictures in either of these museums.

    When we were finished at l'Orangerie, we walked out to the Place de la Concorde, past the obelisk and started up the Champs Élysées. The first part is a park like setting and then you hit the heavy duty shopping area. There is everything from Mercedes Benz, to Cartier, to HMV to McDonald's. In fact the McDonald's is the most profitable store that McDonald's has! It should be, it was packed. Our ultimate goal was L'Arc de Triomphe, another monument on a grand scale. You cross down under the street and emerge practically right underneath the monument. For E9,80 you could have the privilege of walking up 200+ steps to the top. We passed on that one. Once we had looked around it was time to make our way home on the Metro.

    The Metro is very easy to navigate as long as you have a map of the various lines. The main yellow line has glass barriers along in front of the tracks. There are doors that open only when the train is there. I guess it stops anyone who could be inclined to jump in front of a train. Seems like an excellent idea, but they are not in place on all lines.

    We got home around three, an easier day than yesterday. The sun had also started to peak out. Stew made a bakery run to get more orange juice.

    We decided that we had recovered enough (and so had the weather) to go out for dinner. This was also calculated to keep us awake past eight pm. We walked back to the left bank, to the Latin Quarter and found a place to have fondue. By this time, the sky was completely clear and we could see the moon. We decided to take an evening boat cruise on the Seine. It lasted about an hour and you come close to the illuminated Eiffel Tower which is spectacular. Otherwise I would take this trip in more daylight as it was hard to see some landmarks. On the other hand, our first experience of Paris at night was awesome. It took about twenty minutes to walk home.

    Tomorrow we are off the Versailles.

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    Day 25 Friday, September 28 th

    Finally, a mostly sunny, lovely fall day and we went out to Versailles on the train. It takes about 40 minutes to get there and then there is a short walk to the palace.

    What a place, liberally decorated with gleaming gold. They have been undergoing an extensive restoration process, so most areas are sparkling. Our museum pass let us skip the line, and after passing insipid security, we started our tour. It was fairly crowded, but we were able to get a reasonable view of most things. The art and sculpture are amazing and of course the place is an homage to excess. No wonder they had a revolution. We worked our way through most of the rooms, stopped for a coffee break, and finally saw the Hall of Mirrors. That is really the only thing I remember from when I was here before (50+ years ago). Well, I guess I remember the gardens a bit as well.

    I have to complain at this juncture. We found quite a bit of very modern, fibre art installed from the ceilings of various rooms and galleries. I am not opposed to modern art at all, but it seemed so completely out of place here. Also, it was installed in such a way that it obstructed your view of some of the masterpieces.

    After we finished inside the palace, we started out to tour the gardens which, although it is late in the season, are still beautiful. We had our lunch and worked our way out to Marie Antoinette's summer cottage, a humble little confection of pink marble. We explored the gardens out there as well. Finally, we caught the little motorized train back to the palace to save ourselves a further 45 minutes of walking. (We had already been on our feet for more than 6 hours.)

    We arrived back in Paris around 2:30. After a quick break we set off to a Sephora store to pick up something for my cousin and walked back, shopping for some groceries for dinner. And more wine! You have to love a country where wine costs less than water! We are staying in tonight...chicken and salad for dinner.

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    Day 26. Saturday, September 29th

    We were up and out to the market this morning, only the market wasn't there. Not only that, our favorite boulangerie where we get our fresh squeezed orange juice, croissants, etc. was closed...aarrgghh! Don't know what happened to the market, but there is a big celebration in the same place tonight so perhaps they cancelled it.

    We found a local place for breakfast and it worked out well. Then we took the Metro over to the Rue Cler area and explored the market there. It is more of a permanent market but the food is lovely. We looked at everything and finally bought fresh vegetables and fish for dinner tonight, and an already prepared osso buco for tomorrow to have with a salad. We brought everything home to put in the fridge.

    Next we headed out to the Eiffel Tower. We took the Metro to Trocadero and walked over the bridge. It was a mostly sunny day so the view of the tower was awesome. The lines weren't too long, so we decided we would wait and take the elevator up to the second stage. While we were waiting, and just about the time we got to go up, the clouds rolled in! At least it didn't rain. We spent an hour or so, looking all around at Paris. It is interesting because the buildings appear predominately white from a height. We had gone up in an elevator but we walked down. That's a lot of stairs, even when gravity is on your side. There is considerable construction/refurbishment going on at the tower so pictures were more of a challenge. You really don't appreciate the intricacy of the construction until you up inside one of the pods. By the time we came down it was about 2:30 and we were starving. Nothing around the tower looked too appealing, so we walked over to a neighborhood cafe and had wine and a club sandwich. We took our time and watched the people go by in the sunshine.

    After lunch we walked by Les Invalides, but decided we didn't need to see Napolean's tomb. We were tired and we just jumped on the Metro and came home, stopping for a bottle of wine. The area is just teeming with people. All the cafes are full. We are only one block north of Rue de Rivoli with all its shopping, so I guess these folks are shoppers enjoying a break. We bought a couple of interesting things for dessert that look yummy. Except for gelato in Italy, we really haven't had much in the way of sweets or desserts. This is a treat.

    Stew cooked the fish, with vegetables, for dinner. We shared a palmier and a piece of apricot and custard tart. They WERE yummy! There is a big event, about the history of Paris, going on at city hall, one block away, but we decided that it would be crowded, in French and we were too tired to go. Maybe we'll hear it from here.

    Tomorrow we are off to Montmartre and Sacre Couer.

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    Day 27 Sunday, September 30th

    We slept in a little today. Stew made us our usual Sunday breakfast of fried eggs and toast. We started out on the RER and Metro to Monmartre about 9:30. When we arrived we had the option of walking UP the steps or taking the funicular. Well, the morning was yet young, so we walked.......and walked. We got to Sacre Coeur after about 15 minutes of climbing and were able to get in without too much of a line. It is, of course, another spectacular cathedral but no photos allowed. When we came out, the place was just mobbed. There was going to be a mass in about 20 minutes so perhaps everyone was arriving for that.
    We walked back down and found a place for coffee. I had remembered all the artists when I was here before but we hadn't seen any, so we asked our server. Turns out they are up at the top, behind the church. Funicular here we come! When we got to the top again and went behind the church there were several artists wanting to draw your portrait. It seemed a bit meager, but we thought we would just explore some side streets. We came around a corner and voila, packed with artists of every type as well as cafes, souvenir shops and galleries. Bonanza! It was also filled with tourists, but we made our way around and poked in and out among the booths. We enjoyed ourselves exploring the area for an hour or more and then found a spot for lunch and a beer. It turned into a lovely, warm, late summer day.

    We wandered back down the hill on little winding streets until we got to Pigalle which is an area known for sex shops of every description. They were certainly there! We walked by Moulin Rouge and got the picture of the red windmill. We continued walking as far as Galeries Lafayette but all the stores are closed on Sundays. After that we grabbed the Metro and came home, picking up some decadent dessert on the way.

    We decided to hang out at home for a while because we knew we would be going out again after dinner. Dinner was great, Osso buco, salad and yellow beans. Dessert was a raspberry custard tart and a chocolate eclair which we shared. MMMMM.

    After dinner we went back to the Eiffel Tower to see it at night. It is spectacular. There is light show for five minutes on the hour, every hour, so we waited about 25 minutes to see it. We walked back to Trocadero and people were dancing in the square. We just grabbed the Metro and came home. We got home about 10 pm. This is the latest we have been out and we noticed that there were several homeless people all set up for the night in the doorways of the big stores on Rue de Rivoli. We are thankful for our little apartment.

    One more day in Paris...what will we do???

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    Can't wait to find out! Very enjoyable report.

    A guy did my portrait in pencil at Place du Tertre. Hub rolled it up and it was sticking out of his shoulder bag. Someone lifted it! No time to go back. Don't know what the thief will do with a picture of a stranger!

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    Day 28 Monday, October 1st

    Our last day in Paris! We slept in a bit and then Stew went out for our fresh squeezed orange juice and croissants which we had with scrambled eggs. I know, eggs two days in a row, but we had to use them up.
    We headed over to the left bank where we were looking for a particular book store that sells French cookbooks en Anglais. After a coffee, we walked about a mile only to find that the bookstore had turned into a Subway sandwich shop! We asked the lady in the pharmacy and she says it has been gone for about 6 years. Quite disappointing.
    We started to walk back , passing the Pantheon and the Sorbonne. They won't let you go in a wander around the University but we saw lots of students outside working on their graduate degrees in smoking! You could hardly breathe.
    From there we headed into Jardin du Luxembourg and spent some time sitting in the sun (sunscreen and Tilley hat fully installed) watching a guy sail a little boat on the pond. The garden has a lot of palm and citrus trees and they were starting to bring them in for the winter. They should hurry; it's been quite cold at night.
    After a little rest we stopped and toured St. Sulpice and then headed to the bookstore of last resort on St. Michel. We found it, in fact several of it! There were actually about 7 different stores all belonging to the same company and housing different types books in each. We finally found a cookbook for Stew, but not the one we were actually looking for. I'm sure something yummy will come out of it. We had our last Parisian lunch in the Latin Quarter, French onion soup for Stew and pâté de la compagne for Jane, all washed down with a lovely glass of white wine.
    We had to walk by Notre Dame to get home so I took a quick trip inside again while Stew waited outside. I thought I might get a better picture of the rose window today because it is sunny. It had been raining when we were there earlier.
    We had picked up a couple of small souvenirs so we decided to drop our purchases off at home. By this time Stew, who has had some Achilles tendon problems, was starting to want to rest. I left him at home and made a quick trip by Metro to Galleries Lafayette but didn't actually buy anything.
    Riding the Metro has been great except for one thing. I spent my entire life giving up my seat on buses and subways to "old people". Now that I AM an "old people", I find myself still standing. I guess times have changed. The Metro is very efficient and easy to navigate, but very grubby. I always want a shower when I get home. My hand sanitizer has certainly had a workout!
    We went out to dinner a bit early, so we could come home and get everything packed up. We had been given an English speaking number for the taxi but it wouldn't work...all you got was a message in French that I think said the number I had dialed was not in service. Our landlord was on his way over to return our deposit cheque, so we phoned him to help us. He has ordered our taxi (which we decided to take because it is supposed to be raining) and we have a confirmation number. I have no idea what we would do with that if they don't show up! We ordered the taxi for 6:30 which still gives us time to go on the train if it doesn't pan out.
    Well you know it is time to go home when your Paris map falls apart and your pills run out! Also, there are high cirrus clouds which signal a change in the weather. It is supposed to start raining over night and will be raining for the rest of the week. So we are packing up for a very early start on our trip home. We have to be at the airport by 8:00 am, leaving at 11:00, and are scheduled in to Toronto at 1pm. I imagine we'll keep waking up too early for days. I hate flying west.

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    Day 29 Tuesday October 2nd

    We were up just before six, after a somewhat restless night. You know that kind of night when you are afraid you will miss your alarm so you keep waking up to check.

    We had some fresh orange juice, got organized and went outside to wait for our taxi. As it happened it was not raining, so we could have walked over to the train station after all, but the taxi arrived right on time and it was pouring by the time we got to the airport. I had told the driver that we were going to terminal 2A but we ended up at 2E. I realized that it was because “A” in English is the sound for “E” in French. We were able to walk to where we needed to be in about 10 minutes.

    We got through security quickly and had some breakfast.....aahhh, coffee! Our flight ended up leaving about 50 minutes late as the aircraft was late coming in. Otherwise, it was a smooth trip and we landed in Toronto just before two. Immigration and customs were a breeze and we were back home, after stopping for a Timmies to go, at around 4:30.

    So, it's all over but the laundry! It feels so good to be home. We had a wonderful trip, but there comes that moment when you mentally shift gears and look forward to your own bed. That moment happened for me yesterday afternoon after I came in from shopping. I started to think about packing and getting ready to leave. Although we went out for a nice dinner, our thoughts were turning towards home.

    Everything about our trip worked out well and we feel so fortunate to have been able to have such a wonderful experience. There really isn't anything we would change, except maybe staying in the cave!

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    Hi TDudette,
    It's a Canadian thing! A "Timmies" is a coffee from Tim Horton's, a chain of coffee shops in Canada and the northern US. It works for those of us who find Starbucks too strong or too burnt!!!

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    <<We had a wonderful trip. but there comes that moment when you mentally shift gears and look forward to your own bed.>>

    I know exactly what you mean. No matter how wonderful a trip has been I always feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. There's really no place like home, is there?

    Glad you had such a great experience and thanks for sharing it with us!

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    What a great trip! thanks for sharing it with us.

    I understand the feeling of being ready for home, for one's own bed, for a snuggle with a pet, for fixing one's own comfort food, to catch up on all that's been going on in the neighborhood, to sit out on the porch and catch one's breath and reflect on all the adventures.

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    AGM_Cape_Cod he was looking for anything by Linda Danenburg, Michael Roberts or Patricia Wells. I know we can get them here(in fact Santa is working on it as we speak!, but we thought it would be fun to have one from Paris.

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