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Trip Report - Loire Valley, Alsace-Lorraine, Paris

Trip Report - Loire Valley, Alsace-Lorraine, Paris

Oct 13th, 2006, 10:59 PM
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Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 25
Trip Report - Loire Valley, Alsace-Lorraine, Paris

Hello -- Finally I'm writing up a trip report for our family of four (two teens, two parents) about our 4 weeks in France. Thank you to those of you who helped with transportation suggestions and to Degas for the wonderful Paris walks!
I thought that after today's intro I'd write up the report in 3 parts -- our first house exchange in the Loire Valley, then our second exchange in Alsace-Lorraine and finally our 4 days in Paris.

Apart from all of the fun that I had planning the trip, I think of the adventure actually beginning when the first exchange family from the Loire arrived at our home two weeks before we left for France. After months of email correspondence it was wonderful to meet them in person, to hear their accents and practise our French! They spent two nights with us before setting off in a rented car with our camping equipment to experience two weeks of tenting. Quite the adventure for them as they had never tented! They returned the day before we left with stories of bears, whales and other creatures that were new to them. We had our house all ready for them, including our bedrooms and we slept in the basement and then set off on our long trip the next morning when we flew off on Zoom Airlines for Paris. Our family was split up on the plane and I ended up beside a young French couple who had me spread out my Paris map so that they could point out places, make suggestions and explain the workings of the Metro. They were the first of many friendly French people we encountered.

Next post... the Loire Valley.
marshybird is offline  
Oct 14th, 2006, 01:30 AM
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Great start! More, please.
Dukey is offline  
Oct 14th, 2006, 05:40 AM
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I'm intrigued....looking forward to more.

I like the idea of swapping homes, but I'd be apprehensive. Please tell us more about this.

delvino is offline  
Oct 14th, 2006, 06:48 AM
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Hi Marshybird - If you flew Zoom you must be Canadian. I tried to do a home exchange years ago but had no takers for Ottawa. Can't wait to read the rest of your report.
Micheline is offline  
Oct 14th, 2006, 10:35 AM
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Hi -- Thanks for the encouragement. I'll take a minute to answer your questions. Yes, I'm Canadian, living in Victoria on the west coast where it's a misty morning and I'm just getting going for the day. This was our second house exchange experience.
For the summer of 2005 I decided it was time to see more than just North America so we arranged a to England where we spent 10 days in a house in the Yorkshire Dales (our house was used as James Herriot's home in a movie version of All Creatures Great and Small) and about 3 weeks on the Dorset Coast. We almost exchanged with a Cambridge family who let us spend 4 nights with them even though we didn't even exchange! We are still in touch with them and expecting to reciprocate someday when they visit Canada.
In response to Micheline's comment about no one being interested in her Ottawa home -- well, Ottawa's a fabulous spot and so close to other interesting places, there must be someone out there who is interested. I had to e-mail literally about a hundred English people on the home exchange website before I found the Dorset family last year. I started off closer to London, but made the mistake of starting to inquire in late March and people kept telling me they had already made plans for that summer. Best to start around December, I think. Someone in Sussex seemed interested briefly until he looked at flight costs. Then a Winchester family agreed but backed out for health reasons before we got as far as booking flights. A Somerset couple didn't want to book until their baby was born. I just kept sending out my message with details about all that is great about the Victoria area and finally found someone. Then when they only wanted a 3-week exchange and we were hoping for 5 weeks, I got the idea to email people in the north of England so that we'd have a base for the rest of the holiday. This proved easier, possibly because most people are not as interested in the northern part of England.

This year's France trip kind of fell into our laps as a family who were listed on a couple of exchange sites had to cancel out on the Loire family and they found us on one of their lists and put the Loire family in touch with us. Again, the date overlap wasn't quite what we wanted, so I sent out about sixty messages to other parts of France and neighbouring countries to find a couple of weeks somewhere else, and it was the end of April by then so once again people had their summers planned. Then we found the Alsace-Lorraine couple who hadn't intended at all to visit Canada but they made plans to travel here with another couple. They arranged to take an Alaska cruise after the stay in Victoria, while their friends stayed here and then rented a car and drove through the Rockies.
The lure I've realized with Europeans is our great outdoors. They already have fabulous cities, restaurants and shopping (understatement!) and what they generally want is open space and wilderness, so you point out the natural attractions in your area. You might have luck with a French family as I believe many of them are interested in Quebec, and for those who don't know, Ottawa is on the Quebec border.

For Delvino who is bit apprehensive about swapping homes. Are you concerned about how someone else would treat your home? Each of the four families we've swapped with has left our place immaculate. We have met three of the four families we've exchanged with and are still in contact with the fourth and all are absolutely wonderful people plus of course that great Cambridge family! We've talked to others who have exchanged and it seems to have been a positive experience for everyone. I've had people say 'sorry, I can't exchange at that time, but if you're stuck, you could stay in our house for a few days'. Someone offered to mail me her National Heritage pass for our England stay, but we'd already ordered a similar pass. Part of the fun is talking with all of these interesting people who share a passion for travel! Each listing on the exchange sites provides details like whether or not cars or pets are included, ages of children, smoking or non-smoking, size of house, etc., so you can aim for people who are in a somewhat similar position to your own if you like, and you find yourself stretching a bit to accept a house with a cat or a smoker who promises to only smoke outdoors You get to know each other a little in the initial emails and then if all is well, you agree to book flights. I suppose if you booked and the other family backed out, then you'd just have to scramble to find alternate accommodation. We actually booked our flight to France this year before we found the second exchange family, just in the hopes that something would work out -- and it did

Any other questions? -- feel free to ask.
Now I'll polish up the Loire report and send it off!
marshybird is offline  
Oct 14th, 2006, 11:50 AM
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The Loire portion of our trip....
When we arrived at CDG -- wow -- we're in France! -- we caught the Air France Bus to Montparnasse, trying to take advantage of the discount for 4 or more people. It was more expensive than the metro but as we were tired and it was our first time in France, it was the easier option. After much consideration and thanks for Morgan B and others, we had opted for railpasses. My husband and I got the Saverpass for two people and our daughters got youth passes, so it was cheaper than 4 regular passes. As we needed reservations for most sections of our trip, I had phoned SNCF from Canada to book these and was told we could pick them up at any train station. We had an hour or so before the train left, giving us time to familiarize ourselves with the Montparnasse Station and pick up our train reservations from a very helpful SNCF clerk who explained everything clearly in English and assembled the tickets in a very organized fashion for us and told us what where exactly to go to catch the metro on our next pass through Paris. Finally our TGV whizzed us out of the city and through the countryside to Le Mans where we caught another train to our little town of La Suze, just 10 minutes away. With a map in hand showing us how to get to our exchange family's house, we walked into La Suze and easily found 'our' house just a couple of minutes from the station. How exciting to fit the key into the door and explore! It was one of those typical brown French village homes, attached to its neighbours and right up against the road (a one-way alley, really). The back windows looked out on the Sarthe River. Not so typical was the inside which was filled with souvenirs of the Amazon, including masks, carvings and hammocks -- our exchange family had spent a few years in French Guyana. We were in regular email contact with our exchange family so were able to ask questions like "we thought you had two orange and white cats -- why is there also a grey one in the house?" and we could compare notes about trying to type on foreign keyboards!

We had fun doing things like the French -- carrying our baguettes, weighing and labelling our produce at the grocery store, and putting our groceries into woven bags that found in our exchange family's home. Good thing we brought bags as they do not seem to be provided in grocery stores. We were amazed at the number of aisles of inexpensive cheeses, the number of brands of boxed toast that are sold and the availability of Fair Trade chocolate much cheaper than we can buy here in Canada. We visited an organic farm where we bought the best grape juice ever and the owner, an Alan Alda look-alike, showed us around and we learned the names of vegetables in each other's language. We tried chocolate éclairs from a variety of bakeries and enjoyed other pastry treats as well.

The exchange included cars so we had the use of a Peugeot to travel around the area during our two-week stay. It took us a day or so to become accustomed to French road signs and directional signs which are actually quite clear once you're used to them although we did find the traffic lights difficult to see properly and were somewhat intimidated at first by the speed of the drivers. My husband got to do all the driving as I'm pretty incompetent with a standard. The Michelin maps were invaluable and one of the good things about exchanging houses is that you get to use the other family's mapbooks! The problem was in cities. There are signs everywhere telling you which direction to go, but sometimes it is hard to know the 'best' way to get there and one can spend a long time circling in a city -- like Tours and Le Mans to name a couple. All part of the fun though

The Loire is of course famous for its chateaux. Chenonceau was the first one we headed for. What a fabulous fairy-tale like place! On the same day we visited the town of Amboise with its festive market atmosphere. On the way home we found that the car's front windows wouldn't go up or down, so for the rest of the visit we had to use the rear windows, rather amusing when buying gas, paying on toll roads, etc!

The city of Le Mans is very interesting, apart from being famous for car racing. The Cistercian Abbey of l'Epau was well worth the visit, St. Julien's Cathedral, complete with flying buttresses, is spectacular and the rest of Vieux Mans was picturesque as well. We stayed into the evening for a light show which had various saints and gargoyles coming to life on the walls, pavement and gardens of the old city.

Another day we drove to Bayeux to view the famous tapestry and on to Mont St. Michel, the abbey miraculously built on a rock surrounded by water at high tide. To get there we hiked through a field of sheep, only to find that there was a closer parking lot, but never mind, the hike itself was fun. The toll roads were no problem with lanes clearly marked and the automated machines after hours accepted our credit cards. The only place we had trouble with the cards was after hours at a gas station, so we waited until the next morning to fill up.

There are some very quaint villages that make good tourist stops quite near our town of La Suze. Three of these are especially worth mentioning. The first is Solesmes where we attended evening vespers and heard (and saw) the famous monks of that abbey singing Gregorian chants. Second, Asnières sur Vegre and finally St. Denis d'Anjou, all delightful to walk around and enjoy a very old-feeling France!

One day we rented canoes at Malicorne and paddled along the Sarthe -- lovely way to spend an afternoon!

We toured the chateau at Angers which was quite forbidding on the outside with all of its turrets but beautiful inside with gardens and the Apocalypse Tapestry, and we visited Saumur, looking at the chateau only from the outside where we had a great view of the Loire River. Not far from Saumur is the dolmen of Bagneux, a not-very-well marked site although it is the largest dolmen in France -- an intriguing place which appears to be privately-owned (and I gather for sale! along with an apartment for the owner and a little cafe). The Chateau at Lude is not as well-known but we visited on jam-making day, hoping for samples but instead we found a terribly smoky kitchen which we didn't wish to spend too much time in. The violin music in the drawing room was pleasant though. L'abbaye de fontvraud is an interesting spot where we had a very entertaining tour guide who swaggered (!) and told us stories of the abbey being used as a prison and the history of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard the Lionhearted who are all buried there.

Dogs go everywhere with people in France, so watch where you step. We didn't find it a problem, just interesting. Some chateaux have signs saying that dogs are welcome as long as they are carried. At one chateau a couple each had front carriers of the type usually holding a baby, but in this case each was carrying a small dog -- very cute.

Toilets in France are another interesting experience. Some require coins and sometimes one washroom was for both men and women. My daughter reported that she emerged from her stall and a man was waiting to go in next. In several locations the urinals weren't hidden much (or at all) from sight. White toilet paper seems non-existent -- orange, pink and even purple were everywhere.

Luckily for us, the parents of our Loire family live in Bretagne and we were invited to spend a couple of nights at their 400 year-old house and sleep in the adjoining mill. They live near Roscoff which is on the north coast. Our journey there was memorable with stops at the medieval town of Dinan, a drive around the walls of St Malo where the parking lots were all full, and some beachcombing for interesting shells. The fields of sunflowers in the Loire were replaced by artichoke fields in Bretagne and we saw workers with huge baskets on their backs picking the vegetables and tossing them into the baskets. At one point we ended up in the town of Morlaix by accident, one of many times we got lost on this holiday, but as was often the case, the wrong turn landed us in a beautiful location. Finally we arrived at our idyllic destination -- the house and mill on a river, very lush and green with orchards, bee hives and medieval herb garden. Our hosts were hospitable, serving us crepes in true Breton fashion as well as their homemade honey and cider and tea and hot chocolate drunk from bowls. They showed us some of the local sites and provided us with tips for our days of exploration. We enjoyed the medieval town of Locronan -- very touristy, but interesting. We got a bit lost on the way to Carnac and someone saw us looking at our map and came over with an offer to help us find our way. So many French people were helpful in this way, it was heartwarming. Carnac was way too overcrowded for our liking and as a result lacked much of the mystery or romance that I had imagined we would find. If I return it will be in the off-season when one can actually walk amongst the stones instead of staying behind fences with crowds of people. We saw more sites of interest on our return to La Suze, most notably Notre Dame du le Tertre at Chatelaudren, a church which has great paintings on the ceiling. The churches in Bretagne are all interesting -- lovely spires that you can see into to view the bells.

Returning to La Suze we had a day to wander around and see the local sites again, the lovely river and fields, tidy the house, pack and prepare to head off to our second exchange home.

Next I'll write up..... Sarrebourg, Alsace-Lorraine.
marshybird is offline  
Oct 14th, 2006, 01:27 PM
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That's what I want to read, the next installment...hurry!
susanna is offline  
Oct 14th, 2006, 07:09 PM
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Sarrebourg, Alsace-Lorraine:
Our train trip from La Suze went smoothly. At Montparnasse Station in Paris we bought a carnet of metro tickets, knowing we'd need more later in our trip. We then took the metro to La Gare de l'Est where we had an encounter with begging gypsies. We met more later on the trip. They seem to target English-speakers, and start out by asking "Do you speak English?" Of course, wanting to be helpful, most people will say 'yes' and then they hand you a note that says they are new in the city, don't speak English or French well and need money. Mmm, we gave them a couple of our sandwiches but they still pressed us for money. When we met more later in our journey, we shook our heads in response to the 'Do you speak English' question. Perhaps this was harsh, but I was loath to open my wallet and risk having it grabbed! Anyway, we were soon boarding a train to Sarrebourg, about 4 hours from Paris, quite close to the German border. The Alsace-Lorraine region was fought over for years and has traded hands between the Germans and the French many times. In fact, while we were in western France I mentioned to a couple of people that we were heading to that area and they told us that it is part of Germany!

On our arrival at the Sarrebourg train station, our exchange family and the other couple they planned to travel with to Canada were there to greet us -- exciting to finally meet them! They drove us to a church in Sarrebourg featuring a stunning stained-glass window designed in imitation of a Chagall painting. They assured us this was the only site of interest in Sarrebourg. From Sarrebourg it was a 10-minute drive south to their village of Abreschviller. Our exchange couple was interesting -- she spoke English very well, he played the accordion for us and told us he can't remember his father who disappeared in a concentration camp, arrested for helping people across the border during the war. Their daughter, son-in-law and grandchild lived next door, handy in case we needed them. The house was amazing -- 3 storeys, huge yard, built-in pool, antiques galore, amazing historical artifacts including a 2nd century Roman vase and a piece of a flag from Napoleon's regiment and many paintings of ancestors. I wondered what they would think of our home with posters of David Bowie in a couple of the rooms!

The next day they drove us around to nearby sites -- one of the most picturesque villages in the area is St Quirin, with its quaint buildings and a fountain of healing waters. We were also chauffeured to a grotto where nativity plays are performed at Christmas and to a high rock called Dabo with a church built on top and an amazing view of trees everywhere, dotted occasionally with red-roofed villages. It is very hilly here in this area, especially of course in the Vosges Mountains, all very different from the corn and sunflower fields of the Loire. We then drove to a Shiplift (Plan Inclin&eacute which lifts boats up or down in elevator-like fashion instead of using a canal lock. Apparently there aren't very many shiplifts in the world. We watched as a boat holding perhaps fifty tourists was lowered effortlessly to the lower river. Our exchange family also showed us inside a modern church with unusual stained glass windows, one of the windows containing an image of Hitler! There was a black iron sculpture there -- some sort of dedication to some people who have died -- at the top of this artwork which was maybe 15 feet in height, was an inscription about a man who was decapitated, then some writing with dates about a man who was hanged and a noose sculpted to represent this and the next section depicted people who died in gas ovens and the image for this was an oven with hands reaching out -- what a creepy thing this was --and the church was freezing. That evening our hosts flew off to Canada leaving us to explore the Alsace-Lorraine area

We spent our first day on our own driving about an hour to the west to the city of Nancy, a beautiful city highlighted by Stanislas Square. I've never been to Russia, but I imagine that the square in Nancy bears a resemblance to a Russian square. We learned more about this area of France by touring the Lorraine Museum, and we wished we had made time for the Museum of Nancy art. We'll do that next time!

The next day we packed a lot in -- too much really! We started out by taking a roundabout route through the hills and trees, via Schirmeck and St. Die and Kayserberg to get to Ribeauvillé where we went through a corn maze called Labyrinthus which is filled with Grimm's fairy tales figures and stories. To get from one section to the next, one has to figure out clues and type in answers to open metal gates. Deciphering the clues in French was a challenge and it took us quite a few hours, all great fun but longer than we had anticipated. Then we drove along the Route de Vins, rows of grapes in every direction as far as the eye could see, and we pressed on to La Volerie des Aigles where there were eagles and other birds of prey, including an Andean condor that walked across the legs of spectators as they sat in a big circle. Very cool. The nearby Chateau of Haut-Koenigsbourg can be seen from miles away as it towers atop a hillside. As it was already closed for the day, we could only gain access to the gardens and outer courtyards, but all that we could see was amazing. Then since we were already in the general neighbourhood, we decided to drive to Colmar even though it was already 7 o'clock. On the way we stopped at Riquewihr -- what a wonderful medieval town -- we loved it, but only spent a short time wandering around as it was getting late. By the time we got to Colmar, we really just drove around the edges of the old village and didn't do a proper tour at all. Colmar and Riquewihr are two more places on our list to visit properly next time!

The following day we decided to stay closer to home. Our exchange family had mentioned that the only concentration camp in France had been located at Struthof which was less than an hour away. I thought it was just going to be an old building or two with a plaque to indicate what used to be there, but no, most buildings were still there, surrounded by the original barbed, electric fence and you could go on a full self-guided tour of the gas chamber, crematorium, dissection room and other areas with signs, pictures, nothing left to the imagination – a truly horrific but absorbing place that had a powerful effect on me. I didn't ever see it advertised anywhere, yet there were a fair number of tourists looking around, all grim-faced.

The next day we drove to Germany and I was struck by how easy it is to drive from France into Germany. Anyone who has travelled recently in countries in the European Union will know that one simply drives from one to the next with no more fanfare than driving from one Canadian province to the next or from one US state to the next. How ironic that in spite of recent wars, no one is stopped at the borders, and yet the Canadian/US border is a completely different story. Anyway... our journey into Germany was largely to try to locate the houses my husband lived in during three years of his childhood in Solingen and Baden Baden. Amazingly, we were successful at finding both homes and rekindling some of his memories! Baden Baden is a beautiful city, well worth a visit. We did little more than wander along the lovely Lichentaler Allé and peer into the shops around the casino. Note that if you park under the casino, the machines will not accept a North American credit card, so as always, it's good to have enough euros on hand. We took a short drive up into the Black Forest area to see what the trees and houses looked like there – very scenic!

The following day we investigated the Chappe telegraph system at Saverne Castle. These signal systems were situated on hilltops in various areas of France and predate the telegraph system we know about today. Each unit has two arms that are moved in semaphore-like positions and are then read through a telescope by the person at the next station and relayed on down the line. Apparently messages could be sent from Strasbourg to Paris in ten minutes using this method! All quite fascinating in spite of a completely unenthusiastic tour guide. From there we checked out the Graufthal Troglodyte Dwellings where prehistoric people had apparently lived under overhanging cliffs, and wooden structures were built in the 1700's and a few families had lived until about 50 years ago. It was an interesting drive up to this place, not many people about and we had the dwellings to ourselves.

The next day we drove to Strasbourg. A map of the city would have been useful as we had trouble figuring out where the old section of the city was and how to get there. Driving around the busy city was extra difficult at first because there were two sets of traffic lights at some intersections and it was stressful not understanding what the lights meant. It turned out that there is an electric tram system and the additional lights were for them. Once we had that figured out, we felt better. After asking directions from another helpful French person, we were soon parked near Gutenberg Square and the famous ornately-carved gothic cathedral. We had hoped to arrive at the cathedral before 12:30 in time to see the astronomical clock do its daily parade of figures. Unfortunately although we arrived just before 12:30, we thought that the clock was somewhere outside the cathedral and 12:30 went by. Then the doors to the cathedral opened and a new tour group was allowed in, including us, and we saw that the clock was inside. It was quite fascinating to look at even though it was after the magical hour. It was raining much of the day, but we looked in shops, many with German themes, including one that sold only cookies, and we walked to La Petite France which is a part of the city surrounded by canals. All of this was very beautiful and one could spend hours looking around. We found another interesting washroom where there was a smiling woman rushing in to mop the floor and wipe off the seat after each person came out of one of the cubicles. She dashed back and forth from the men's to the women's – very clean!

The next morning it was time to tidy up and move on. We discuss with our exchange families ahead of time what we want done in the way of washing bedding, etc. Our experience has been that washing machines and dryers in France and England do not hold as much and do not work as quickly as the ones we have here in North America. The second exchange family, despite their elegant home, did not have a dryer and the washing machine took hours to do one load! We cleaned up, took the bottles to a recycling place, packed and it was time to go. We noticed that in the Loire there were recycling places everywhere that took quite a variety of recyclables, but in Lorraine we could find bins only for bottles.

The next-door daughter drove us to the train station and waited with us for our train to arrive. She was delightful and I wish we could have got to know her better. It was a nice send-off from that region. Somewhat nervously we headed off to Paris, not sure what the big city would hold for us.

Next installment…….. Paris
marshybird is offline  
Oct 15th, 2006, 05:40 AM
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Very interesting and enthusiastic report, M.

Looking forward to more.

ira is offline  
Oct 15th, 2006, 08:50 AM
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Great report Marshybird. We lived in Baden Baden and Solingen when we were first married and we went back last year and also located our houses. Can't wait to read more.
Micheline is offline  
Oct 16th, 2006, 03:37 PM
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Here's the rest of my report -- the Paris section.
First in response to Micheline – How interesting that you lived in Solingen and Baden Baden too! My husband was there from 1959 to 1962. Any chance you were there that long ago? His family lived in the PMQ's at Solingen.

On to Paris…….
We arrived at the Gare de l'Est after 4 in the afternoon and wanted to fit in the Père Lachaise Cemetery on the way to our hotel. My daughters wanted to go there and it was the only time that I could imagine squeezing it into the schedule. So, with our backpacks and shoulder bags on, we took the métro to Père Lachaise and arrived less than an hour before closing time, hoping to find the graves we were looking for. First Heloise and Abelard, then Jim Morrison and finally Oscar Wilde. The map we purchased outside the gates turned out to be a necessity as the cemetery is a labyrinth of graves ranging from simple headstones to small chapels all on a hillside that made exploration difficult especially as we were loaded down with the packs and practically running! We could have used a few hours to look around in a more relaxed manner. As it is a quiet haven, walled off from the rest of a bustling city, it would make a nice break in the midst of a longer visit to Paris. We thought we'd have time to visit Edith Piaf on the way out, but a woman on a scooter came along and shooed everyone out the far exit, so that we had to walk a few blocks back to the metro.

Our hotel was the Terminus Lyon, a choice we made before I had discovered this forum, and as it was our first trip to Paris I hadn't realized that we'd be a bit of a distance from the centre of the action. It had excellent reviews though and the pictures on the website charmed me, especially the panoramic video http://www.hotelterminuslyon.com/en/index.htm plus it had a room for four people that cost only 112 euros per night, including a good-sized breakfast. And of course, it was directly across from the Gare de Lyon which made getting around quite easy.

One good thing about home exchanges is that you have unlimited Internet use at the exchange house. It was from the Alsace-Lorraine house that I spent quite a bit of time looking at the latest on this forum, making notes about Degas' walks and the latest on airport security problems. I decided that our first full day in Paris would be spent doing the Latin Quarter Walk. As recommended by Degas we tried to take the métro to Censier Daubenton and ran into a hitch as that line wasn't operating past a certain point so everyone was shepherded toward city buses. That was fine with us – a Paris bus experience was an extra bonus. We arrived in the Rue Mouffetard and Place Monge area just as stores were opening. Strolling along, soaking up the colours of the markets and shops, pinching myself to see if I was really lucky enough to be there, we made our way to the Place de la Contrescarpe where I was excited to see the sign of the Nègre Joyeux. We somehow missed Hemingway's house, but we did find the Arènes de Lutece (the Roman Amphitheatre) that is hidden behind the storefront at 47 Rue Monge. How surreal to walk from an old French street through a doorway into another world. We clambered up into the seats and imagined ourselves back in Roman times. Then, on to the Panthéon. We were standing in front of this formidable building, looking around, and realized that we were getting our first view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance! Another exciting moment!

We had decided earlier that we'd get two-day museum passes at the Panthéon, but not start using them until the following day, so as there was no line-up there we purchased the passes. Our younger daughter is under 18, so we only needed three passes. We admired the outside of the Panthéon, couldn't locate the Musée Marie Currie, moved on past the Sorbonne and arrived at the Musée de Moyen Age – Cluny. Realizing that the walk was going much faster than we had anticipated and that we really wanted to go inside the Cluny, we changed modes and decided to start the museum pass right away. The Cluny was remarkable if you're interested in medieval things, especially the Lion and the Unicorn Tapestry and Visigoth crowns!! My older daughter could have spent all day in there and I regret whisking her through quickly because we had a lot of 'museuming' to do now that we had started a day with our pass.

Skipping the rest of Degas' Latin Quarter Walk (for now) we grabbed a delicious falafel at Maoz in rue Xavier Privas. You may have noticed that I don't make much mention of restaurants and that's because as vegetarians on a budget we bought food at markets rather than going to restaurants. We split the falafel and a salad as we lined up for the Tower at Notre Dame, proclaiming them absolutely delicious and my younger daughter complaining that we hadn't bought one each. Oooh – we loved tower, especially those enormous gargoyles and the fantastic view. Then following someone's suggestion we went around the back, past the garden, across the street and downstairs to the Deportation Memorial. This was moving, but as we had been to an actual concentration camp just a week or so earlier at Struthof, we didn't find it as impressive as we might have otherwise.

Time for a treat so we headed for Berthillon's ice cream. It was closed for a couple of days, so we opted for another suggestion we read about here – Amorino's Gelato – just down the street. They sculpt the gelato onto the cone with a knife fashioning flower petals which are decoratively delicious!

Thus fortified we walked back along the Seine, thoroughly charmed and waylaid somewhat by the bouquiniste displays beside the river, finally we entered the Orsay. As it was a Thursday, the Orsay was open late allowing us to get the most out of our visit. It's a great museum – Renoir, Degas, Monet and other 18th and 19th century art, including interesting art nouveau furniture.

Second day in Paris we set off early and started with Ste-Chapelle which was an amazing highlight of the city for me. I literally gasped and heard others do the same as they entered the upper part of the cathedral. The room seemed almost entirely of stained glass and with the light streaming through the windows the effect was really awe-inspiring!

Then on to the Louvre. Who said you can't see too see very much much of the Louvre in a short time? We must have chosen a good day (Friday Sept 1st) because there really weren't any crowds. The museum passes might have helped us slightly to get ahead in line at the Louvre but nowhere else, and they did more than pay for themselves. One of my daughters knew what she wanted to see at the Louvre and by the time we had found everything on her list, we had covered a good three quarters of the museum – not in depth of course as we definitely skimmed through some areas. Ironically, we had thought that maybe we wouldn't bother with the Mona Lisa – sounds almost sacrilegious, I realize, but we had heard that it was dark, small, too many crowds, but when we arrived at Mona Lisa's room, I followed my instinct to enter and found perhaps twenty people in the room and a painting that was not as small or dark as I had imagined. In fact, I was very pleasantly surprised and quite entranced – another trip highlight! Toward the end of the Louvre visit, I was tired enough to sit down on the long escalator ride and surprised the following week to see that my husband had taken a photo of me doing this! Has anyone else noticed that when you look at the pools outside the Louvre from a distance it appears that people walking between the pools are wading in them? Interesting optical effect so we took a picture of ourselves apparently cooling off in the pools.

Still wanting to make the most of the museum passes, we headed toward the Rodin and Invalides, stopping first at a bakery for quiches and salads which we ate in a little park behind Les Invalides. Napoleon's tomb and the Rodin Museum were impressive, especially as we followed Degas' suggestion and took a picture that included the golden dome of Napoleon's tomb, the Thinker and the Eiffel Tower all in one shot. Moments like those are so exciting, I'm smiling as I type up this memory!

Our third and final full day in Paris we took the métro to the Eiffel Tower where we satisfied ourselves with looking around at ground level and then walked over to the Naval Museum where a skateboarding competition was going on. Then on to the Arc de Triomphe and down the Champs-Elysées. We did glance into Laduree but the macaroons for four were expensive and we weren't very hungry yet. Next trip I'll indulge in one for sure! On through the Tuileries, another stop at Maoz, this time for four falafels to the delight of my appreciative younger daughter and then we finished the rest of Degas' Latin Quarter walk that we had started on day one. This included St Julien le Pauvre which you have to go right into. In the midst of the hubbub of Paris, it is an amazing refuge! Next to it is the oldest tree in Paris in Rene Vivianni Square with a nice view of the back of Notre Dame. Searching for Shakespeare and Co. was a bit of an adventure as La Rue de la Bucherie is broken into two sections and we had difficulty finding the part with #37. It turned out to be in an obvious place and we had fun looking through the treasure-trove of books there. George Whitman, over 90 years old, was sitting outside, looking more like a character from a novel or perhaps a Shakespearean play, than the owner of the store.

Then we wandered through the Musée Carnavalet which is free and provided some interesting history of Paris. From there we walked briefly through the Marais area and looked at the intriguing exterior of the Pompidou Centre.

Back at the hotel, I was sadly packing away all of the Paris brochures and thinking about our bus leaving at 11 am the next morning when it dawned on me that the next day was the first Sunday of the month – free museums! I began looking at the list of museums on our pass and found one that wasn't too far from our hotel. We still had four métro tickets, so I hatched a plan for us to get up early enough the next day be packed, breakfasted and out the door in time to walk to the Picasso Museum in time for the opening of its doors. My family agreed, so the next day we set off, enjoyed about an hour of Picasso, returned on the métro with our final purple tickets and were back in enough time to catch the Air France bus at the Gare de Lyon and head off to the CDG. No problems at all with security there – sigh of relief.

Zoom got us home ahead of schedule, enabling us to catch an earlier ferry than we had expected back to Victoria. An amazing and unusual sight greeted us as whales were breaching right beside the ferry and the oooh's and ahhh's from the passengers were reminiscent of people watching a fireworks display. Quite the welcome home for us as if they were trying to tell us that Canada is a great place tooJ
marshybird is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 05:20 AM
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 2,078
We lived there in the 70's. We did not live in the PMQ's but many of our friends did. When we went back last year we flew with Ryan Air and to our surprise landed right at the old base. We were so busy as young parents that we did not even realize the wonders of Alsace Lorraine right next door! Our daughter lives in London so we travel a lot more now than we did then. I think your report is great and hate to see it end. Thanks for the tips for home exchange. We have just come back from 3 weeks in Italy so I'll wait a while to approach my exhausted husband (pickpocketed in Naples took quite a toll) but it is something I have always wanted to do.
Micheline is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 06:06 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,766
What a wonderful trip! You did so much in the time you had. The house exchange is certainly a great way to do it. I doubt if I could do all the preparation work - I get worn out just getting ready for my dogsitter!
Sue4 is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2006, 04:04 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,079
Your report is so helpful in explaining how home swapping can work. Thank you for all the detail!
Kristinelaine is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2006, 09:05 PM
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 3,654
marshybird that was a lovely concise report! I really enjoyed reading it.
Especially your mention of the (supposedly) oldest tree in Paris in the little Square R Viviani. I stayed in that flea-pit of a hotel opposite(sometime in the '90's) and the only saving grace was being able to open the French Doors every morning and see the magnificent Notre Dame in the morning sunlight and also who had been sleeping under the old tree that night!
If you're interested I posted pictures of it on the Yahoo photo album shortly after my trip report.
tod is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2006, 09:15 PM
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 3,654
Sorry - here's the link.
tod is offline  
Nov 12th, 2006, 07:38 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 25
Thanks to everyone for your comments! Tod - I enjoyed looking at your pictures - looks like you had a lot of fun. I've been slow to respond because my dear husband broke his leg almost two weeks ago and things have been busy around here with hospital stay, helping him, etc. He is mending now anyway. And -- at least it happened *after* the trip to France!!
marshybird is offline  

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