A Travellerspoint blog

An Artists Paradise

Giverny & Montmarte

sunny 27 °C

27th September 2013

Waking up in a new hotel is always interesting. We got ready, alarm off at 615am and tried to find the breakfast room. Trafalgar have separate eating areas to the rest of the hotel so that we can sit together. Breakfast was the usual - pastries, fruit and cereal. I had a quick bite and then we were off.

We had the pleasure today, of heading off to Giverny, and Monet's home and garden. It was exquisite. We decided to go immediately to the pond area famous for the water lily painting. It was a catch 22 being so early, we got there before everyone else, but there was a man cleaning the pond smack bang in the middle of it! I creatively cropped him out of most of the photos. From there we ventured into Monet's house. It was quite small compared to the palaces we have been visiting lately, probably about the size of an 18 square house. There were prints of all of his works on the walls of each room, the originals are valued between $60million - 120million so they are all in museums or in some homes, but not many.

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Directly in front of the house is Monet's Garden. If there was ever a place of inspiration this is it. Everywhere you look there are flowers and arches. A cornucopia of colour. The way that this garden differs from most is the diversity and depth. The different types of flowers, different heights, all colours, intermingled with arbours and climbing frames. The most perfect cottage garden. Amazing.

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We had some extra time so we found a cafe a little way down the street and sat for half an hour. It was confusing to order - little English was spoken, and only Ethan got what he had asked for! It was soon all fixed up and it was pleasant sitting in yet another garden. A cat came past to visit us and Ethan loved that.

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From here we were taken back to our hotel for a couple of hours until this afternoon's farewell tour and dinner. We spent the time resting and packing our cases for the next morning's hotel swap. At 3pm we met down in the foyer for our last tour with Trafalgar.

So it's off we went to Montmartre, an artists colony - or so it used to be. Now it is too expensive and overrun with tourists for them to live there apparently. We had a nice long walk up to the funicular railway, which we rode to the top of the stairs. A short walk and we were at the steps of Sacre-Coeur and overlooking much of Paris. It was great. There was a band playing on a nearby street and artists doing portraits all around us. We walked through the basilica in silence, no photos allowed, so we took our time and had a look at the stunning gold leaf ceiling and stained glass windows.

An afternoon at Montmartre would not be complete without a walk through the cobblestone streets, and that is exactly what we did. Through the artist square, the souvenir shops and then the long walk back down to the area where our coach was waiting, near the Moulin Rouge.

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Next stop was our fabulous farewell dinner. We were driven back into Paris centre to Brasserie La Lorraine where we indulged in a 3 course menu. Our waitress was a bit surly because some people had forgotten what they had ordered - I don't blame her! We started with French Onion Soup - a favourite of mine since I have been here, and this one did not disappoint. Next up Ethan and I had chicken and vegetables, and David had a vegetarian plate. It was all exceptional. Dessert hmmmm... the boys had chocolate mousse and I had creme brûlée. What a lovely way to finish off our tour.

We were dropped off to our hotel and were told our check out was midday tomorrow so we thought we may as well save our packing up until then.

Posted by JenMF 13:13 Archived in France Comments (1)

CCCC - Chambord Chateau & Chartres Cathedral

Amboise to La Defense, Paris

overcast 25 °C

26th September 2013

Our last morning in Amboise, a really nice breakfast and we are on our way. It is an overcast day and is perfect for touring.

Firstly this morning we visited Chambord, and one of the most remarkable and recognisable chateaus in the world. It was constructed by King Francois as a royal hunting lodge and was only used about 6 times. He did not live to see its completion and it has never been inhabited on a full time basis.

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We gathered for group photo out the front of this magnificent palace, and the guide took everyone's cameras and took a shot with each - it took a while - but was a lovely thing to do. After that we walked up the long pathway to the main building. One of the most brilliant pieces of this chateau is the double spiral staircase designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. It was designed so that guests going up one staircase could socialise with people on the other.

We spent a couple of hours viewing the rooms with a guide, and then the lovely grounds then we needed to be on our way.

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After a 1 hour coach trip we arrive at Chartres and meet outside Chartres Cathedral, housing the largest collection of stain glass windows in the world - 140. Before we go into the cathedral, we have time to grab a bite to eat.

We found a lovely little cafe near the cathedral, a pizza place as we knew it would be quick. David had lasagne which was so good. Ethan had a four cheese pizza again - two days in a row, and I had a unique dish, trio of calzone. On the plate was one calzone split into three pieces, ham and mushroom, bacon and onion, and goats cheese and honey. It was delicious. Goat's cheese is a speciality over here and is the best I have ever had.

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The entire group met and took a tour of the cathedral after lunch. We commenced with the knave of the building which was huge. On the floors is a marble maze representing human gestation with 272 tiles in a circular pattern. Also unique to this cathedral is the beautiful Blue Mother stained glass which is arguably the most beautiful piece of stained glass in France. The other icon is the 'veil of the mother' a religious relic. We have 30minutes to look around this amazing place. A brilliant carving work surrounds the alter telling the story of Christ's birth, death and resurrection. There is also the world's largest rose(round) shaped stain glass depicting the 12 signs of the zodiac.

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From here we travel to Paris for the 2nd last day of our tour tomorrow. It is an hour's drive but there are many interesting things to see as we get closer to the city centre. Our hotel is 5star, Renaissance La Defence, and we have a great room overlooking the mall.

At 5pm we decide to have a look through the mall and just grab a bite in a food court if possible. The shops are fairly ordinary, it is not a mall like at home. We find a few shops and do some window shopping and then grab a bite to eat. I am not hungry and just grab a giant macaron. We have eaten so much that I just felt like a snack.

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Tonight most of the group are going to the Moulin Rogue but it is too expensive, AUD $210 each, and we also thought it was not suitable for Ethan. We rested in the hotel room and actually found an English speaking tv channel!
Usually we have had just BBC News. You get sick of that after a while.

We have another night here and then off on our own.

Posted by JenMF 10:16 Archived in France Comments (0)

Royals, Renaissance and Remarkable Residences

Amboise

sunny 25 °C

25th September 2013

We start today with an optional visit to Leonadro Da Vinci's house in Amboise, Chateau du Clos Luce. Leonardo spent his last three years there. It was built in 1471 under King Louis XI and was a summer residence for Kings. In 1516 King Francois held Leonardo in high esteem and appointed him first painter, architect and engineer. He paid for all of his works and expenses in return for conversation, which happened almost daily between the two. It is also known that Leonardo arranged all of the entertainment for the king's parties, including once, a mechanical lion in the courtyard that spewed flowers from it's mouth.

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The grounds are extensive, with a lovely house, surrounded by 3 gardens and some stables. We start at the side garden and then into the house via a spiral staircase from the days when this house was fortified. The rooms are beautifully decorated in furniture from the time. Leonardo's room still has some original frescoes and murals on the wall. Perhaps the most beautiful room is a chapel built for Anne de Bretagne. Charles VIII commissioned this built after Anne lost several children during infancy, and spent a lot of time crying and praying.

The basement now houses replicas of most of Leonardo's inventions. They are working models. Ethan and David spent a lot of time in there. I moved outside to roam around the gardens for half an hour. There is a wonderful garden outside the back of the home, but the most impressive for me is a lake at the side of the house, surrounded by beautiful flowers and arched by a two storey wooden bridge. Abutting this garden are more practical beds filled with vegetables, herbs and flowers, and a pen with chickens and ducks. The stables have now been converted into a cafe and gift shop.

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A short drive away in the city centre of Amboise is the Royal Palace. This is the burial place of Leonardo Da Vinci, and had been the place to stay for Valois and Bourbon Kings. It was built in 503, but has been extended over the centuries. We start by descending a unique spiral stairway that is so large that knights on horseback can ride into the castle this way. As with all of the palaces and homes, this is decorated beautifully. We move through the room until we ascend to one of the turrets and move outside to take in the view of the entire city on the river side. From here we are able to see the gardens and the chapel, on the same grounds, below.

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The gardens are perfect as we are heading to the chapel. There are sculptures and flowers and the chapel sits behind an avenue of tall trees. It is a small chapel, but the carving on the frescoes is exquisite depicting flora and fauna amongst the royal icons. Leonardo's tomb is very plain, just the way he wanted it.

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After some free time here we go into the town to have lunch. Just opposite we find a lovely cafe that has pizza. We have gone a few days without one so this sounded nice. We order different pizzas and I ordered a grenadine drink that I have not seen anywhere else. It was delicious. My pizza has spiced beef and capsicum, something I had not seen all through Europe so far. A refreshing change from margarita!

Our next stop was Chateau De Chenonceau, the most beautiful place I have seen so far on this trip.For the historical background, the “Château des Dames” was built in 1513 by Katherine Briçonnet, and successively embellished by Diane de Poitiers then Catherine de Medici. Chenonceau was protected from the hardship of the revolution by Madame Dupin.
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At Chenonceau Castle, the flower display in every sumptuously furnished room adds to its elegance. The room of Five Queens, the living room of Louis XIV, the grand gallery overlooking the River Cher, fabulous kitchens constructed in the piers of the bridge and the Green Cabinet of Catherine de Medici.

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We have a wander around the vast gardens and head to the stable. This has been transformed into a restaurant with umbrella covered tables out the front. Ethan has an ice cream and we just take a short break before heading back onto the coach.

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At 500pm we are in the coach and heading for Tours. Our guide takes us for a walk around the city and through the old Basilica of Saint Martin. Part of the basilica was burned down and it's rebuilding commenced in 1886. The crypt of Saint Martin is in this church, and we go down a stairway into the tomb. It is very ornate, covered in mosaic floors and etched walls.

For dinner we walk around to a restaurant dedicated to Leonardo Da Vinci. The meal is fabulous and we have a guitarist playing songs both in French and English. He even knows Waltzing Matilda!

We walked back to the coach and there is one of the group members still in there. She had wandered off during the tour of the basilica and could not find the group again. Our travel director had spent over an hour looking for her around the streets. She missed a great dinner!

It was quite a long drive back to the hotel but it was filled with singing and laughing as our travel director performed some crazy dance moves in the aisle!

Posted by JenMF 09:53 Archived in France Comments (2)

Saints and Chardonnay

Mont Saint Michel & Amboise

sunny 27 °C

24th September 2013

Today I woke and immediately knew i wanted to photograph the Mont St Michel abbey. It was still dark and I stepped onto the balcony to see what it would be like. There she was to the right, out my window, enveloped in a cloud of fog. I rushed to get ready and walk the small distance from the hotel to the viewing platform. There were already people there with tripods and what not, I just had my arms and a camera! It was the most beautiful sight. Sun rising up behind and the fog slowly melting before my eyes.

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I made it back to the hotel just in time for breakfast. I had something small to eat because I had not packed all my gear up and the cases had to be put out. In the midst of packing everything up I inadvertently packed the room key into my case and it was put on the bus. What a debacle. We had to rush to get the shuttle that would take us to the abbey so I would work this out later. Our hotel was so hot last night we hardly slept.The room was nice but having no air conditioning really wasn't good.

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The shuttle took about 5 minutes to get us to the abbey car park. A 10 minute walk saw us at the front door step (gate). What a sight! It was beautiful. Completely different to this morning, all the fog and lifted and the sun was shining. Our guide spent the next hour and a half taking us on a tour of the abbey. Inside 3 of the 12 chapels, through the cloisters, monk's dining room and main cathedral. There are currently 2 monks and 6 sisters that live in the abbey, and 25 people who live out on the island.

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Walking back to the shuttle we saw a military plane, similar to a Hercules I think, fly above and drop some paratroopers. It was just luck that I had my camera ready. It was a really cool thing to see. They did 3 fly overs, dropping about 10 men every time.

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After the tour we looked around but really did not have enough time to shop as we needed to get the shuttle back and be on our ay to Amboise, with a couple of stops on the way. We grabbed a quick bite at a bakery in town and then almost immediately had to board the coach.

We travelled to a lovely winery in Tours. We sat under a huge sycamore tree while the owner spoke to us about all of her wines, and the history of the company. I don't like many wines but I was intrigued by the walk down to the wine cellar. On two tables were glasses for everyone and baskets of bread. Plates of different goats cheese, a speciality here, were on either side of the bread. We tasted 4 wines starting with a sparkling, and all white wines, which are popular in this region. We all left with some wine, none of us sure how it would travel.

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Our hotel for the night, a 45minute drive away, is Novotel Amboise. It is modern and fresh hotel in a nice location. We are having dinner in tonight and it is quiche, followed by beef casserole and then apple tart. It was all very good, but of course there were some people around us not happy. We noticed that a lot of people on the tour had a sad lack of manners actually. Just yelling on the bus that it was too cold, or taking other people's seats. No please or thank you, or general etiquette. There was also one lady who did as she pleased everyday - walking into shops when we were in the middle of a tour, demanding things that were not included, and one night she missed a wonderful dinner because she walked off, didn't have the guides phone number and was missing for 2 hours. It was quite an interesting group of people.

It was very hot in the rooms again so we opened the windows. We didn't realise until later that when you open the windows, the air conditioning stops working! You live and learn

Posted by JenMF 12:53 Archived in France Comments (1)

Sacrifice on sandy beaches

Bayeux - Omaha Beach - St Malo - Mont St Michel

overcast 25 °C

23rd September 2013

Never have I felt so grateful for my freedom than after a visit to the DDay beaches and the Normandy American Cemetery. The Australians were not fighting at these particular beaches but you certainly get the feeling after visiting, that this was a massive joint effort to fight off The Beast on all fronts.
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We started out early this morning and drove just 10 minutes to Omaha Beach, and other nearby beaches, one the main landing areas of Allied American and Canadian troops in World War Two on June 4th in 1944. It was a strange experience walking on the same shores so many years later. There is a bunker at one of the beaches and a memorials at all of them. At Omaha there is a brilliant sculpture and it is said to be good luck to take a pebble from there.

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The coach was quite silent on the way to the Normandy American Cemetery and I am sure that everyone has been effected in some way. On our coach there are about 25 Americans, some Canadians and the balance are Aussie & Kiwis. We all understand the importance of the Allied troop efforts at this time and are humbled by what we see and read. As we enter there is a message engraved in the wall. " You can manufacture weapons and buy ammunition, but you can't buy valour and you can't pull heroes off an assembly line" Sergeant Ellery, US 1st Infantry.

The museum is comprehensive, beginning with a breakdown of all of the Allied countries involved in the effort. Then there is a huge display of everything you ever wanted to know about the planning that went into the troops assault. This included information on how the Allied forces mislead the Germans with some false, leaked, information which helped them win the final battles.

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After a short walk through an atrium with some memorial plaques, it is out to the cemetery. My first impression is that these gardens are perfect. There are 3 gardeners that I can see and I'm sure there would be more. Initially there are just gardens everywhere, and then you come to a view of the actual landing beach nearby. A turn up from the beach lookout sees you in amongst the most amazing memorial. A tall statue surrounded by maps of all of the Allied troops landing areas. There is also a rectangular pond that leads out to the graves.
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It is very moving to stand with the white cross gravestones of 10,000 soldiers surrounding you. It is eerie and very sad indeed. I chose to take 20minutes to wander through them and read some names. The saddest are the ones without names. There are some 1000 soldiers with "known but to God" written on their stones. As I left there I realised that this makes it even more important to live your life to the fullest, making the most of their sacrifice.
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It is a big day today and we head back into Bayeux to see the famous Bayeux tapestry. It is not actually a tapestry, but an embroidered cloth and depicts the Norman conquest of England and the battle of hastings. It is 70 metres long and is thought to be from some time in 1070's. This is an amazing feat being kept in such good condition after so many centuries. This viewing only takes about 20minutes as the tapestry is in one room which you walk around only one way.

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Lunch today was at a lovely traditional French Restaurant. We were all very impressed with our meals. Ethan ordered Croque-monsieur, posh name for a ham and cheese sandwich, or so we thought. It came out with an abundance of ham and cheese inside, but it was also covered in an inch of melted cheese on the outside. He was very pleased. David ordered a ham and cheese crepe and that was good too. I tried the casserole of the day, thinking it would be like a stew. It was a whole breast of chicken which had been cooked in a white wine sauce. his came with vegetables as well and was really good.

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After a long time on the coach we finally reach the next place we are visiting, Saint Malo, a gorgeous walled city renown for its piracy in medieval days. Our guide Coco, was very funny and knew everything there was to know about this country. Yes it is a country, separate from France. Back in the 12th century a bishop took over this island and made it a tax free haven. They had an abundance of fish and sailed all over the world trading the fish for salt, spices and other luxury items. There were also many pirates that lived there, at that time it was within the law to steal off other vessels. The only places they didn't get to were Australia and New Zealand, they were not discovered.

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We took a walking tour around the parapets and turrets of the city wall and were shown pictures of the waves on a very high tide and during a storm. When the tides is high this place is off limits to everyone. A very handy situation in ancient war times. The photo below shows the boats lying on the bed of the ocean, when the tide comes in the boats float up, but it looks a little bit strange seeing them with the tide out like this. Our Travel Director Julien met us at the cathedral with a special treat, a Kouignamann cake. He bought 4 large ones , still hot, and cut them up for everyone to have a piece. Very thoughtful, and a great surprise.

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After our tour we have 45minutes to look around the township. They are famous here for their salted caramel, nougat and chocolate. Of course I have to buy some of each. It's AUD$35 for me to have 2 types of nougat and Ethan to have some caramel white chocolate. Two thirds of the stores are food stores here. We come across an ice cream shop, and knowing it is 6pm and we will not eat until 830pm, we decide to have one. For the first time in my life I have seen macaron ice cream. It is a very good quality vanilla ice cream with crushed macarons through it. It is the jammy bits of macaron that make it extra delicious. The boys had two scoops of chocolate brownie and snickers and then we walked back to the coach. What a brilliant afternoon.

Back via the freeway was much quicker and we got to Mont St Michel at 745pm. The sun was setting so I ran to the beach - yes ran it is hard to believe but I did run all the way. It was about 400metres I suppose. There is a viewing deck that looks out to the abbey. It is a vision, perched up on an island of rock. Dinner is in 15minutes so I have a chance to take a few snaps and then I must head back.

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This particular tour varies from the previous one so much it is not funny. Every meal that is included is 3 delicious courses, last tour the food was ordinary. Tonight we start with vegetable soup, followed by chicken in a cream sauce with vegies and then finally a creme caramel. It was all served with bread, wine and a special shot of spirits they have over here made from apples.

It was bed time and time to get ready for another day on the road tomorrow.

Posted by JenMF 12:21 Archived in France Comments (0)

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