Where has the time gone? Sam is five and graduating from preschool. Kindergarten is on the horizon. It seems like just yesterday he was a baby.
Here are some pictures from his graduation party.
Where has the time gone? Sam is five and graduating from preschool. Kindergarten is on the horizon. It seems like just yesterday he was a baby.
Here are some pictures from his graduation party.
I am calling this last day of our sightseeing The Final Judgment. I think it’s been building up to this – a devil here, a leviathan there, a pot of boiling souls, thumbs up, thumbs down, you’re saved, you’re damned. Today at the Cathedral of St. Stephen, judgment is everywhere.
Imagine yourself in 13th century Europe. Most of the things that even everyday citizens knew was lost with the fall of the Roman Empire. Knowledge was for the few and the privileged. Religion gives you hope for a better life in the hereafter. You walk into this amazing cathedral full of light with beautiful windows and carvings telling you how to achieve eternal bliss and how to avoid eternal damnation.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral was built in the late 12th century as a replacement for a mid-10th century structure. That 10th structure was probably a replacement for a Gallo-Roman church and before that a Roman temple. Architecturally it is surprising. There is no transept, the cross part of a church. It is light an airy. Buttresses have been built to support a bell tower and the fragile glass walls.
After non-lunch we visit the palace of Jacques Coeur, Steward and Director of the Mint for Charles VII. During the 15th century he amassed an enormous amount of wealth, enough to build a fleet of armed vessels to trade all over the Mediterranean and India. He used his wealth to build a splendid palace. Unfortunately he fell out with the king, was sent on a crusade and died. His wife got to live in the palace but not Jacques Coeur.
Great day, great trip! Looking forward to being home.
John and I wake up early. It has been a difficult night for sleeping. We are on the first floor (U.S. second floor) and since the air conditioning has not been turned on for the season yet, we have the windows open. All night long there is revelry going on in the square below. Around 5:50 AM I give up and read the news. John wakes up shortly thereafter.
Shortly before 7:15 AM there is a noise at the door. There is no knock. Someone is putting a key in the lock. They open our door which is around the corner from the bed so I can’t see who it is. I call out, “Hello?” A man says “I am sorry” and leaves. So some man has used a pass key to get into our locked room with the Do Not Disturb sign on the door. We are mightily disturbed.
We call down to the desk. No one knows anything. The manager comes up and talks to John. He says, did you lock your door? There is no way to lock the door any further because the door locks automatically and can only be opened with a key. The night manager’s voice sounds suspiciously like the voice we heard when the man who came in spoke.
We are pretty freaked by the whole thing. When we leave there is no explanation, they are just sorry we had a problem. We feel like the people at the front desk know what is going on. Who else would have a key to our room? And why would they want to get into our room at 7:15 in the morning? It wasn’t the cleaning people who are women and were not even working yet.
This has put a real damper on the day. We drive through beautiful countryside on the way to Bourges, talking periodically about what has happened. We stop for lunch at a rest stop on the highway. They have a map and we are smack dab in the middle of France. We have plates full of vegetables and bread.
We reach Bourges around 3 PM. John and I, exhausted from the activities of the day, decide to just have some quiet time until dinner. Our room is fine and has a pretty view of the garden in the back. We have all day tomorrow to explore what looks to be a very beautiful city.
We find a restaurant that the hotel has recommended. It has a few Americans, some Australians and French couples out to dinner. I figure that the hotels have all decided this is the best offering for a Sunday night when almost all the restaurants are closed. (ditto for Monday)
We start our dinner with an amuse bouche and a couple of salads. My salad has vegetables in it. John’s salad has salmon in it. Both will make a reprise in the second course. John and I share a dessert. That’s a rarity since I don’t really like sweet stuff and I definitely don’t like to share.
Looking forward to a full and interesting day tomorrow.
(I have gotten behind in posting so John has been gracious enough to help me out.)
Today we bid farewell to St. Remy en Provence (and to our very kind hosts, Katrien and Filip) and set out for Le Puy en Velay, home of the green lentil of the same name. We get to the A7, head north for about 70 km, exit at Montelimar, and take the N102 towards Meyres where we hope to have lunch at a restaurant Mary has found on the internet.
Jack, our GPS, has other ideas. Despite all the signs directing us to continue on the N102 towards Aubenas and Le Puy, he keeps trying to take us a better way. We know better this time and selectively disregards his errant suggestions.
We proceed up (and steeply so) the valley of the Ardeche River. It is beautiful country despite having what appears to be a thriving logging industry. The road is very twisty with broad vistas of farms and mountains.
We finally get to Meyres and actually find the restaurant, Auberge du Pont. Mary has a salad and a roast beef plate, I have calamari Provencale style and fish Normady style. Mary’s beef and fries could have been materially improved by a sauce and some ketchup. We also suspect that the cattle had grazed on lavender. The owner is very pleased when we say that we found his website, which he apparently designed and implemented himself.
What we had not realized is that the cathedral is in the Upper Town and that up is REALLY up. And then the church itself has another hundred steps to get in. Serious exertion to say the least. Inside there is interesting art from the 11th through 17th centuries. Stepping out back, we get a view of the giant statue of the virgin made of melted captured Russian cannons from the Crimean War, perched on the very top of the peak.
(I have finished Clark and Lewis and am now taking over from John. Thanks, sweetie!)
What is more perilous going up those hundred stairs or down them and then steeply downhill on cobbled streets? I have to say down. My knee just does not like doing down.
We make it back to the hotel and flop in the room for a while. Then we go down to the Tavern here for dinner. We must have lentils in Le Puy! My meal is unsuccessful. John’s is more successful and reminds us of the giant pork knuckle we had Prague. Today is my day for ordering badly. Tomorrow I am going to decide what to order and then eat something completely different.
Short stay in Le Puy en Velay. Tomorrow we are off to Bourges.
We have a lot to accomplish today and we are out of the apartment by 9:30 AM. Our first stop will be Arles to see the Roman theater and amphitheater and maybe Van Gogh’s little yellow house.
Arles is kind of a big city with lots of industry, really not what we were expecting at all. We find a great parking space right next to the amphitheater and make our way in. The amphitheater is impressive from the outside but not so much on the inside. There are a lot of bleachers set up which hide the original structure. The original structure itself has been renovated and reconstructed over time. We read that there are bullfights in the arena as well as other modern activities. Today some school kids are learning history first hand.
Is it possible to get lost with a GPS? We are caught in a rabbit warren of tiny streets trying to get out to where Jack, our GPS, says “Proceed to the highlighted route.” We try to follow his original route but he keeps wanting to take us down a road that is shut off by bollards. No matter what, he wants us to turn around and go to the bollarded road. So we keep pushing on and the streets are getting smaller and smaller. At one point John has to make three maneuvers just to get around a corner.
Sometimes we wish we had a smaller car.
John has been calling this our Pope Day for so long that I can’t think of anything else to call it. We awake to the sounds of the mistral, the cold northwesterly wind that blows especially hard during the transition between seasons. This is our fourth day of it and I am ready for calmer weather. The wind has been blowing at around 20 mph with higher frequent gusts. Today on the bridge of Avignon it was hard to keep one’s balance.
But otherwise this is a great day. The palace that the French Popes built in Avignon is very interesting and the audio guide very informative. We find a parking garage under the Pope’s Palace and emerge to a striking view of the Palace. The Palace was built and remodeled over many centuries. In the end it was a barracks for soldiers.
The restaurant at La Mirande is a former Michelin star winner. We are swept into a lovely, quiet dining room. I am glad that John and I look presentable today. We chose a three course menu and then are blown away by how good the food is. It is beautiful and tastes wonderful. Every component has a purpose on the plate.
The service has been wonderful. Our waiter gives us extra wine, a rose from Cotes Ventoux. He jokes with us. Who said that the French are unfriendly and aloof. We have met nothing but warm, friendly people on our trip.
Sur le Pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse, l’on y danse
Sur le Pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse tous en rond
Our last stop in Avignon is a walk on the bridge made famous in song. Both John and I know the song. I learned it in English in grammar school and he learned it in French in high school.
It is close to 4 PM when we finish touring the bridge. Unfortunately the last item on our list for the day, visiting wineries to taste Chateauneuf-du-Pape, will have to wait for another day.
(Please imagine an accent over the final e of rose in all occurences)
This morning it is really chilly and the wind is howling. We are experiencing a mistral, a cold northwest wind that will last until Friday. It is really intense. We decide we will head down to Bandol to do a little rose wine tasting and take a look at the sea.
Not so fast, though. I take a shower and the bathroom becomes inundated with large black ants. They are everywhere – in the bathtub, on the towels, crawling around the mirror. Yuck.
No way are we staying in this room. I start to look up alternate hotels in the area. The problem is that everything is pretty well booked up. John goes to talk to the proprietors. They will move us if there is a free room.
We end up getting a room a couple of doors away. It’s for handicapped people and is actually quite a bit more spacious than our previous layout. I am still apprehensive that our ant problem will arise again in this room.
It’s after 11 AM by the time we move into the new apartment but we decide to carry on with our original plans and after a longish drive we get to Bandol around 1:30. First business lunch. We want a nice seafood lunch.
I order what I think is a brochette of wild sea bass with rice and veg. John orders mussels and frites. I end up with a whole fish that is impossible to filet. So in other words, mouthsful of bones. John’s dish is more successful with properly cooked mussels but soggy fries.
After finishing lunch we head outside to take some pictures by the dramatic coast.
After leaving the restaurant we head to Domaine Tempier where we taste two vintages of their rose wine and a mourvedre. We buy some of the roses and then make our way back to St. Remy de Provence.
Dinner tonight is paninis that John makes washed down with the rose wine.
It has been a long and windy day. We are hoping the mistral will be a little less fierce tomorrow.
This morning it is chilly and very windy. I had hoped to eat our breakfast outside on our little porch but the weather is not cooperating. Still, it’s nice to be in our comfy clothes having a small breakfast of tea and toast rather than the more elaborate breakfasts we have been having.
First we visit a small section outside the city walls. As a traveler approached the city he would see a large necropolis filled with monuments to the dead. One very important person’s mausoleum still exists. It is a monument in honor of a compatriot of Julius Casear’s in the Gallic campaign. Service in the army lasted anywhere from 16 to 25 years. If you survived, you were given a plot of land in the provinces.
We are pretty tired out from another full day. Tonight we fix penne with asparagus and have a relaxed dinner before retiring for the night.
We are up early today. Actually we’ve been up early every day that we’ve been in Vienne due to the terrible internet connectivity at our hotel, La Pyramide. I really don’t want to give them a bad review because everyone seems like they are trying hard and are extremely likeable. But we have two complaints, the air conditioning is very feeble and the room is hot and the internet does not work except for a small window between 3 AM and 7 or 8 AM. We have told them the internet is not working four times and they just say sorry. I think they need to try to get it fixed. But we are leaving now and we all say au revoir with smiles and we depart.
We stop at a service area for breakfast. It is not like our 22 Euro per person breakfast at all. Just a roll and some coffee but totally adequate.
We plan on stopping in Orange and visiting their Roman theater and museum before heading to our next stay in St.-Remy-de-Provence hereafter known as SRDP.
We find the theater with no difficulty and rent the audio tour. It is a really fine Roman theater and the audio tour is excellent. We learn a lot. I am always surprised when John learns something new. I have peppered him with questions about the Wars of Religion, the Hundred Years War, Charlemagne, Viking invasions and a lot of other things and he always knows the answer. He’s like my own personal Google. But we learn about the House of Orange and the Protestants in this part of France and the Edict of Nantes and the revocation of the Edict through the audio guide.
The theater itself is the most impressive one we have seen so far. The seats are built into the side of a hill and the stage wall is over 100 feet high. Until the Christians took over and banned public frivolity it was the site of comedies and tragedies for hundreds of years.
Before heading to the Museum we stop for lunch at a cafe across the street. It is much warmer now that we’ve headed south and we sit outdoors for lunch. We order the plat du jour.
We start today with the incredibly expensive breakfast at the hotel. It’s a special treat for Mother’s Day. The eggs especially are cooked about as perfectly as you can cook a scrambled egg.
We want to go up to see the castle ruins above the city but we are told at the front desk that part of it fell down recently so it is no longer open to the public. Another great vista point, however, is the Belevedere at Mont Pipet. We drive up there and are treated to sweeping panoramas of the valley and the Rhone River.
Our main concentration of the day is the Gallo-Roman Museum.
Omnia Gallia est divisa in tres partes – the opening sentence of Caesar’s commentaries on the Gallic wars. Vienne was an important outpost on previously conquered parts of modern France. When Caesar started his campaign to conquer the other three parts was begun in 58 B.C., the thriving city of Vienne would have been important as a supply depot. The area around Vienne had been brought under Roman rule about one hundred years previously and it was a decidedly Roman city with amenities rivaling those of cities in Italy.
Romain-en-Gal, across the river from Vienne, is still being excavated. The museum and outdoor museum display various artifacts and the layout of the town.
Before the day is over, we also are interested in a place called the Isle of Butter. It is a natural area within the Parc du Pilat which extends all the way to the river here. Who wouldn’t want to see an island of butter. As it turns out, we walk down a path in the woods along with chirping birds and beautiful flowers to overlooks onto the Isle of Butter. The butter, though, is the way beaver used to be written. So it is really the Isle of Beaver. We didn’t see any beavers or sticks of butter floating by but it was a nice walk.
Later, we eat at the bistro at the hotel again since there doesn’t appear to be anything else open on Sunday. The meal is semi-successful.
We are still having massive internet problems.The system has not connected more than a few seconds at a time since around 8 AM. I guess that I will have to get up at 4 AM again to see if I can get this posted.
Anyway started the day with a fabulous breakfast which I am not going to describe now since tomorrow when we have it again I will bring my camera.
Today’s activities are to do the Vienne walking tour and have dinner at La Pyramide’s fancy restaurant. We start by walking to the tourist information office and past the pyramid whence the hotel and restaurant gets its name.
The pyramid was built during the reign of Augustus and was the centerpiece of a stadium. Apparently the Romans were having an Egyptian decor period and designed this little pyramid after the ones in Egypt. And now here it is stands in the middle of a side street almost 2000 years later.
Picking up our brochure for the walking tour we head through downtown Vienne which is bustling with a massive market day. There are clothes and books and vegetables and you name it being sold on the streets of Vienne. It’s very busy with a multi-ethnic crowd. We struggle our way through to the historical sites.
Then it’s back on the walking trail to look at some old churches. We take a closer look at the Cathedral of St. Maurice. John likes to call these Frankenchurches because they start out as Romanesque and then someone decides to put a new Gothic front on and whitewash the frescoes and this is followed by some Renaissance elements etc. The Gothic front of St. Maurice is pretty ugly but there are some interesting details inside – a carved zodiac, a 13th century carving of the dinner at Emmaus.
The dinner at HenriRoux La Pyramide does not disappoint. Since it is 5:30 AM and John is still asleep, I don’t have access to his brain for all that we ate. But I do have pretty pictures –
Dinner takes over two hours and even though the portions are very small, we are very full and look forward to a long night’s sleep.
Today we are driving to Vienne with a couple of stops along the way. John has found the Roche Solutre, a pre-historic site where early humans were making especially fine flint tips. There is a museum and a giant rock with hiking trails.
The ride through the countryside is beautiful. Quant little towns and vineyards are nestled into rolling hills. We find the site. The rock is impressive. It reminds me of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming except made of limestone instead of basalt. We go up the steep hill to the museum to find…that it is closed for renovations. So sad. Continuing up the rock with my knee and John’s bad hip is not possible so we turn around and drive back to the highway continuing south.
It’s now past 1 PM. We are low on fuel both for the car and ourselves. We figure we will take care of this once we are off the highway and on our way west to the Parc Regional du Pilat. No way could we miss out on a park named Pilat.
Once off the main road, there is no gas and nowhere to eat. We turn around and search frantically for a gas station. The first one we find won’t accept our credit card. We are all the way to Vienne now and on empty. Finally we find a station with an attendant. Good thing because now John can’t figure out how to get the gas cap open. Well, long story short, someone helps us, it’s past 2 PM so we eat at a McDonald’s and finally arrive at Pilat Park around 4 PM.
The park is not like what we would think of as a regional park. There are many towns in it and farms. There’s not a lot of wilderness. We find the park headquarters. We take numerous pictures. John relates how his name is Pilat. The staff is non plussed. Oh well, we are stupidly happy about all the Pilat things.
Apparently the park was created as an artisanal protected area. Kind of like a modern Sturbridge Village. Products from the land diligently crafted is as much a part of the park as are the hiking trails. What’s this? A Pilat Brewery? Yes, we will go visit that.
Arriving at the Brasserie du Pilat we sample some beer, take some pictures and John once again tells the proprietor that we are Pilats. Not much reaction.
We head back to Vienne and check into our hotel, La Pyramide. They have a two star Michelin restaurant where we have reservations Saturday night. The room is fine but the Internet is not. Also the air conditioning is feeble. We are not making much headway with the person at the desk. John learned French before the Internet was invented and he can’t explain the problems.
We have dinner at their bistro. Dinner is fine.
Our hotel is conveniently situated right next to the old section of Beaune and everything we want to see is within a few minutes walk.
Next stop, Autun. Autun was formerly known by its Latin name, Augustodunum, and was founded by the Emporer Augustus. There are still traces of its Roman roots around town. Part of the city wall still exists and there is a Roman theater that at one time held up to 12,000 people. Now it sits crumbling overlooking a soccer field.
This morning we wake up feeling that jet lag weird. Even though we are sleeping better than we sleep at home, our heads are buzzy and we are fidgety. The third day is always the worst.
At breakfast we meet a couple from Florida. Even though we send out our best “do not disturb” mental signals, they are eager to help us enjoy our vacation. They explain travel in the wine region of France and go get us a book so that we may better plan our visits to wineries.
Escaping our new pals, we bid adieu to Auxerre and hit the road for Chablis. We choose a winery to visit and are arriving at the door when our new friends from the hotel arrive at the same time. Weird. However, the guy seems disgruntled about white wine and decides to pass on the winery.
We order the offering of the day – a first course of country pate and a second of some kind of fish (cabillaud) with rice pilaf and vegetables. The fish is sadly way overcooked but the vegetables are good and the sauce is lovely. We have a glass of a 2012 St. Roman chardonnay.
Not surprisingly we slept like the dead last night. We’ve learned from prior experiences that usually we are so exhausted the first night that we sleep only to be followed by two or more restless nights.
We have breakfast at the hotel. It is a dreary looking day with light rain. We have only today in Auxerre so a few raindrops are not going to stop us. Our first stop is at Visitor Information. They have a walking tour of Auxerre which should take us to all the most interesting spots. After collecting our map, we are on our way.
A local artist, Francois Brochet (1925-2001) has carved wooden statues that are civic art around Auxerre. He has a museum here in Auxerre but it is only open July and August (of course.) The first statue that we come upon is of the 17th century writer, Nicholas Restif de la Bretonne. Further down the street there is a statue of Marie Noel, a famous poet in France. The last statue we encounter is of Cadet Roussel, a character from the French Revolution. The walking tour is named after him.
We are only supposed to be going back to change our outerwear since it is no longer raining and pick up the car for a short trip over to Chablis but we make the mistake of lying down to stretch out our creaky joints. Uh oh, I am asleep.
So John and I end up taking a nap instead of visiting Chablis. I guess we needed it. Later we head out around 8 PM in search of dinner. Now we are used to things not being open on Sunday. And also on Monday. But Tuesday, too?! Out of a list of five places that the hotel has sent us to only one is open. It’s pretty crowded but we get a small table next to a little girl who seems charmed by the mere existence of John. She smiles when he smiles and laughs when he laughs. She is intrigued by this extrememly large man speaking gibberish.
Our waitperson is a lovely young French girl who has been perfecting her English by living in Stockholm for the past year. John speaks his French to her and she speaks English back. I smile. She shows us the board with the menu on it. The menu is the menu for the weekend apparently since on a Tuesday most of the items are unavailable. It would have been easier if she had just told what to eat. It is all pretty good but not amazing.
We climb back up the hill to the hotel. We have a jovial Franglish conversation with Eric at the desk. It’s off to blog and bed.
Today started really, really early. We are up at 2 AM and on the road to the airport at 3 AM. The nice check-in lady at American seeing our hiking poles and limps, asks us if we’d like wheelchairs. Nothing like getting the trip started on an upbeat note. We are now officially elderly. We demur. We are selected as TSA pre-check people and zip through the security lines with our shoes, belts, laptops and liquids in tact. We are happy to see that the Admiral’s Club opens at 4:30 AM and settle in until flight time.
Well, really no harm done. The champagne dries. We watch movie after movie. We do not sleep. We arrive in Paris, collect our rental car, and plug in our GPS. We have decided to stop in the city of Sens on our way to our first night stay in Auxerre.
It is market day in Sens. We drive around and around the city center trying to find a parking space near the cathedral. Finally we find a space several blocks away. The car is parked and we are off in search of lunch.
Near to the cathedral we find the Cafe de la Halle offering a plat du jour with entree, coffee and dessert for E12.50. The entree turns out to be duck confit with Lyonnaise potatoes. It’s really good although a little heavy. The coffee is rich and the three little desserts are pretty impressive. Thus sated, we head to the cathedral.