Paris and the Loire Valley

Thursday, June 22

The trip started out great: we checked in at O'Hare and they upgraded us to First Class!  We had big seats with footrests, and personal TV screens to watch the movie(s) of our choice.  They gave us a bag with special socks, an eye mask, and toiletries to freshen up with in the a.m.  For dinner they served salad with lobster tail, caviar (we passed), and a choice of chateaubriand, veal, or salmon.  For dessert there was a selection of cheeses or an ice cream sundae. YUMSTER!  Neither of us slept very well.

The plane arrived at 8:00 am, right on time. We went to the Avis counter to get our rental car. There was a line and the woman took forever to do each person. Questions, stamp, questions, stamp, questions, stamp.  Finally it was our turn. She asked our name and.....what...wait!  A bunch of gendarmes came rushing into the area and said "There is a bomb threat! Everyone must leave immediately!"  We looked at the Avis agent, she looked at us. STAMP...STAMP...STAMP! "Go get your car!".  And out the door we ran.

We zoomed directly to Versailles. Since it opened at 9:00, we were one of the first ones there when the gates opened up.  Parked in the big parking lot and went in.

WOW! it is beautiful and huge! 

We took an audio-cassette tour of the main living chamber wing which includes the Hall of Mirrors. Awesome!

Then we took a tram ride to get an overview of the entire grounds (gardens, fountains, other buildings).

Both of us kept dozing off during the ride, so when we got back to the starting point we decided to head to our first hotel.  We walked back to the entrance and...uh oh!  The parking lot was full!  Where was our car? We were in a total jet-lag daze.  We knew it was a gray Citroen, which helped, since there were only about 500 other gray Citroens in the lot! We walked around for about 10 minutes and eventually found it. Whew!!!!

Our hotel was near Orleans, and we estimated it was about a 2-hour trip.  AAARRGGHHH!!!!  We got on some road and ended up back in Paris, driving in circles on the ring roads, going past the airport!  We had to stop and ask for directions...twice!   Good thing Wendy speaks French!!  Then (of course) there was a "deviation" (i.e., a detour...sounds so much nicer in French).  After many, many wrong turns we finally pulled into the driveway of our "hotel"; actually a charming old chateau in the little town of Vitry aux Loges.  But the drive was not all bad: we heard James Taylor sing "Up On The Roof" and we heard "Summertime Blues" (The Who) sung in French. We also saw a car, driven by a teenager, with an "Auto-Ecole" ("Driver's School") sign on top.

Anyway...we are now at Chateau du Plessis, run by Monsieur and Madame Beauregard.  They were very nice and had lots of good suggestions.  Their family has been in this house for over 240 years!  or, as Monsieur said: "Since before the Revolution"!!!)

We got in at 4;30 and after Madame and Wendy discussed the dinner plans, we both crashed on the oh-so-comfortable bed, with the windows wide open (though it is chilly) and the sounds of birds and church bells wafting in.  Two hours later (!!!) we got ready to go to dinner.  We had directions, but got a little lost, but eventually found the place: La Croix Blanche. It was a restaurant / dining room in a hotel that's been there since the 1700s.  We started with eperlans (tiny fried smelts - like French fries) - which we couldn't identify until after we had eaten some and then noticed the little eyes.  Continued with lobster bisque (for Wendy) and a salad with shrimp wrapped in pastry (for Wayne).  We shared a beautiful fillet of grilled turbot. Then Wayne had chocolate mousse cake (but of course!) and Wendy had melon with raspberries. Merveilleux!!  All this plus wine, beer, and mineral water for under 420F ($85!!).  Things are so relaxed here.  Tomorrow we are off to several Loire valley chateaux; real castles!!!

Friday, June 23

Today was "Let's visit the Chateaux Day"!  We started by sharing croissants and baguettes wit hour hosts. They gave us good maps and good directions. In fact, madame had us follow her almost to Orleans to make sure we got onto the right road.  Wayne had a real hard time keeping up with her - she was doing 90 kph on a narrow 2 lane road!  It was even worse once we got on the highway. There, the speed limit was 110 kph in many places. We were going 140 and cars were still blowing past us!  Luckily, the roads were in great shape. We went through many small towns. In most, the main street is wide enough for two cars! Unfortunately, there are usually cars parked all along the right side. So it is a cat and mouse game to see who gets through when someone comes from the other direction. And on the 2-lane roads, regardless of the speed limit, cars will be passing on the left (going both directions) all the time!

Side note: About the small towns:  these people are big on shutters! Every house and store has shutters on all the windows. And they all work!  There are very few signs on the stores, hardly any neon. And the buildings are all drab grey, cream, dust - very little color. When the towns close up (literally) it's like driving through a ghost town. No people, no windows, no lights, no movement. Even during the day, we drove through many towns and saw only 1 or 2 people moving. And another strange thing: the stop signs all say "stop", not "arret". Even though they are red octagons like we have, our hosts told us that "stop" is international!   And when you enter a town there is a sign with the name of the town; when you leave, the name is "slashed" out:


We kept looking for good radio stations as they faded in and out. When we found ones that played music (there was even a French-country-Western station), they would usually play 2 or 3 French songs and then an American one! It was weird hearing something completely unintelligible followed by Aretha singing "You better think (think think)"....or "I heard it through the grapevine" or the Doobie Brothers! took about 1 hour 15 minutes to get to the first castle: Chateau de Chenenceau.  Wow!  Awesome! A real moat and a drawbridge!! 

Inside they had many authentic tapestries, ceilings, and pieces of furniture that were 300 - 500 years old! There were also beautiful gardens. The castle is built right over the Cher River. It was a private castle, but used by kings, so there was no dungeon. It has a huge kitchen.

Then we went to Chateau de Cheverny. Again, it had beautiful stuff, including a document signed by George Washington and a clock that has been working perfectly (time, day, date, and moon phase) since the 1750s!  Mon Dieu!!

But the neatest part was the dogs. This castle was used to stage royal hunts (there was even a 6,000 year old set of antlers on one wall).  There is one building with over 2,000 antlers and many deer and boar heads. So they still hunt and maintain a pack of 70 dogs!  We were lucky enough to be there at feeding time. The dogs were in a large pen (like in a zoo). The keeper gave a command and the dogs bounded up a ramp to a "balcony". He shut the door to the ramp and then wheeled in a 100 gallon drum filled with casoulet ( just looked like casoulet!). He used a long shovel to fill five 8-foot troughs. He then opened the gate and the dogs lined up on both sides of the troughs!

At another signal they began to chow down. Less than two minutes later they were done!  He gave another signal and they bounded out of the pen to a fenced-in yard!

By this time it was 5:15, so we had to hurry to get to our last castle: Chateau de Chambord. (Do all the chateaux start with "Ch"?).

The castle (inside) closes at 5:30 and we didn't get there until 5:50, so we walked around outside (everyone said the inside is not so great anyway; that was why we went there last). It has over 400 rooms, so you can imagine how large it is. You have to stand about 1/4 mile away to get it all in the camera's viewfinder.

Side note: In all these public places there is a charge of 1 or 2 Francs to use the public rest rooms.

The temp was in the low 60s all day and very windy; made us feel right at home.

Then it was time to go back to our chateau. We needed to go through Orleans, and were able to do so successfully. Then we somehow managed to get on a bike path / service road (!) with signs reading "Passage tolerated but at your own risk". Oh those French!!!!  This road was only about 7 feet wide and though we didn't pass many cars, each time was a thrill.  The "road" paralleled the Loire River so it was really beautiful, though scary at times: No intersections, no signs, no indication where it would end.  We had no idea if we were on the right road or even going in the right direction, but we sure didn't want to try to turn around!  Finally, it widened into a regular street in Jargeau, and we actually knew where we were!  A quick turn through Chateauneuf, zip zip through Fay-aux-loges and into Vitry-aux-loges at 7:50.   The Beauregards were making dinner for us and had also invited their daughter, son-in-law, and one of their 16 grandchildren.

We had a grapefruit and avocado parfait, followed by veal with chopped meat rolled inside and great green beans, followed by a green salad followed by a cherry tart - all with plenty of red wine and French bread!  Ce Magnifique!  And great conversation (though mostly in French!).  The topics ranged from work to summer camp to Provence to restaurants to Paris to Judaism. We ate and talked until about 10:15, spent another 45 minutes discussing plans for the next day, and then up to bed.

Saturday, June 24

We're off to Chartres!  That is the name of the town and also the name of the cathedral there.  We are getting better - we only made one wrong turn!  It took about 2 hours to get there, but we had a pommes tart from a patisserie to help.  We saw the TGV zoom by.

Chartres, the town, is very big. Many new buildings and wide streets. Then we took a walking tour (avec cassette) of the old part of town. Much has been restored, but there are still some buildings and bridges that are as much as 700 years old!  Then there is Chartres Cathedral.

It is a classic example of Gothic architecture, though it has been added onto over the years. As we learned from our guide, the cathedral was built as one of the first universities, in the late 12th century, on the foundation of earlier churches dating back several hundred years.  The hundreds of stained glass windows tell stories - this was how people who came to the church (especially the illiterate ones) were educated in history, philosophy, and theology.  There must be thousands of statues, each one different from the rest.  The inside is even more impressive. We were there at 3 - 4 pm (on St. John's Day), so the sun was at a great angle through some of the "clean" windows (only about 25% of the windows are clean. The guide said it would cost F26 million to clean the rest!).  The arches and stonework were amazing. The cathedral is the goal for pilgrims primarily because it contains a piece of Virgin Mary's clothes - it's on display and has been for 750 years!  After the tour we climbed to the bell tower, several hundred narrow, winding steps. At various levels you step out onto balconies and can look over the church, the red roofs of the town, and the entire valley.  We were fortunate to be there when a wedding was going on. Can you imagine being married there?!  Then the bride and groom were driven off in an open antique car with the cheers and good wishes of family and many tourists.

We walked around the town and were drawn to some singing. We turned into a little square and it was a school carnival celebrating the end of school. The children were in costumes (Indians!), and singing and dancing and there was a bake sale like you wouldn't believe (we bought a pear tart) and bean bag games and bozo buckets, etc.  It was a real slice of authentic French culture.  Then, the long drive back, but it was much shorter as the navigator (Wendy) stayed awake and we didn't make any wrong turns.  We heard more French music - their taste runs from accordion to xylophone - but then switched to a classical station. The weather was again in the low 60s, but the day was beautiful!  For dinner, the Beauregards sent us to Dom de Chicamou, a beautiful dining room attached to a 10-room hotel. Everything was elegant and excellently prepared. We had vegetable potage, lobster pieces with sauce, monk fish, pork with blinis, fruit stacked with wafers and chocolate mousse cake with pistachio sauce (seems to be a local favorite).  Then back to Vitry just as the light was fading (10:20) for our last night here.


Sunday, June 25

Today we got up early to head toward Provence.  We were fed, packed, and out the door by 8:30.  The Beauregards gave us complete directions and even a map and assured us it would take no more than 5 or 6 hours. Hah!!  Maybe those were French metric hours!  Including several stops for gas, stretching, and a quick bite to eat (at the "Restaurant Rapide"), it took us 8 hours to get to our next B&B, Le Mistral.  Although, the last 20 minutes were spent crawling up the narrow, twisting road to the top of the mountain to get to the tiny town of Ventabren. We forgot that today was Sunday and that everything would be closed; we only had a few Francs left (oops), so we kept looking for a place to get more. We charged our lunch and gas and finally found a "change station" at an oasis on the tollway ("peage le autoroute").  Would you believe they wouldn't take traveler's checques? Only cash - between us we had $8, so we got F39.  That meant we had about F120. When we got off the tollway, the toll was F104!!! Whew!! Later we found out the tollway takes credit cards! 

Anyway, we are now at the top of a mountain that overlooks the Mediterranean on one side, Aix-en-Provence on another, and a 2,000 year old Roman aqueduct on another. Our hostess is Lynn McDonald - a transplanted Californian who has been here 20 years. Her house is incredibly charming - each guest room is a different color (we are in the Jeune - yellow - room), with beautiful finishings, knickknacks, pictures, and lots of books. She greeted us with wine on the terrace on the roof! What a view!  And it is almost 80 degrees out; what a change from up north.  She is so nice and is helping us plan what to do for the next few days. 

We are now relaxing prior to walking "20 meters" to the only restaurant open in the town on Sunday night (although Lynn said we could have pizza sent up from Aix).  The restaurant was literally in a cave; it used to be a wine cellar cut right into the side of the mountain. We had smoked salmon, magret de canards avec pommes, beef slices, fish soup, and crème caramel. We were the only ones there! Guess there's not much eating out on a Sunday night in Ventabren.

Monday, June 26

We were awakened by a loud pounding outside our window (shuttered closed of course!). Who had the nerve to pound so early?  Uh's 8:20...we slept about 11 hours in our super comfortable king-sized bed.

We got ready quickly and went up to the rooftop "terasse" for breakfast.

Wow! Full sunlight, freshly squeezed orange juice, juicy strawberries, croissants, etc., with yummy jams de Provence (3 kinds), and café au lait. It was like heaven! 

Today, we're off to Cassis, a fishing village on the sea.  After about an hour on the road we arrived, parked the car, found a bank, and the Office de Tourisme to get a map.  What a beautiful town. Cafes on the port, wonderful small shops, a lighthouse ("phare"), walking trails, and a beautiful park with a lake and gardens.

We went down to the beach and discovered that it (like many in France) was a topless beach! Wendy said she felt foolish and out of place being (basically) the only woman there with her top on, so, whoosh!  Off it came. 

Then we strolled on the promenade and had some extraordinary sorbet at a Haagen Daz store!  It was served to us by a waitress as we sat on the terrace. Wayne had a beautiful plate with 3 kinds of sorbet and a peach and kiwi slices, all in raspberry sauce. Wendy had lemon sorbet in Sprite.  The total bill was exactly F100 ($20); a bit pricey for "ice cream", but it was our dejeuner. By then it was 4:00; we walked a little more and headed back to Ventabren. 

Lynn greeted us with juice, wine, olives, sausage, and the best merengue kisses with chocolate chips.  As we sat and ate, we discussed where to go for dinner! Wayne didn't want to go to Aix and then have to drive back in the dark (Lynn had suggested a 10:00 reservation!!!). So we decided to eat in a restaurant halfway down the mountain in Roquefavour. The Hotel Arquier is situated right next to the aqueduct! And we ate on the terrace right next to the river.

The ambience was awesome, and the food was even better! Wendy had a tomato stuffed with veggies; Wayne had celery and carrot coulis (French for "mooshed up stuff") with shrimp in some kind of sauce. Next, Wendy had salmon coulis with mussels and rice; Wayne had the most delicious fillet de bouef ever!..with little onions on the side. We skipped the cheese course (as always) and Wendy had profiteroles; Wayne had lemon sorbet. Incroyable! And it was only $80!  Go figure.  Then a short drive back up the hill, just as it was getting dark, and into our comfy bed.

More about Ventabren: The quiet here rivals that at Bryce Canyon in Utah.  In the a.m., you can hear the roosters crowing in the valley. This is a case of life imitating art - to us, the town is so beautiful, it looks like a movie set.  But it is real.  Each "house" (though they have separate doors, all residences on each block are connected) has different colored shutters and window boxes with beautiful and the lavender (grown here) is everywhere.

Much more colorful then around Vitry-aux-Loges.

At each intersection of the narrow cobblestone streets there are flower boxes, and many of the buildings are covered with ivy and the sky is a deep "Provence bleu"!!

Tuesday, June 27

Today we visit Aix!

Breakfast is again on the terrace - fresh fruits and melons, hot chocolate, jus de raisin (grape juice), and a basket of assorted baked goodies - just for the two of us!  Then we drove into Aix.  Wow!  It's huge - and watch out for the major rotunde (rotary) in the centre ville; it's clogged with cars and buses, and, just like in National Lampoon's European Vacation - once you're in it, it's hard to get out! Especially when buses are blocking the street you need to exit on.  But we finally got out and made it to the parking garage. And this was something new to us:  when you pull in you get a ticket, date and time stamped. When you are ready to leave, before you get your car, you put the ticket in the machine and it tells you how much you owe. You put in the money and get your ticket back. You then have eight minutes to get to your car and drive to the exit where you insert the paid-up ticket (what happens if you take 9 minutes?).  This town also looks like it's right out of a movie set - narrow cobblestone streets (with narrow cars to match, and lots of mopeds and motorcycles zooming by); old buildings with stores on the ground level and apartments above (avec shutters, of course!), and lots of statues and fountains and plazas and churches. The police sirens go "DO do Do do Do do" just like in those old movies.

It was in the 80s again and clear. A perfect day. We went into many, many stores and bought lots of stuff. There was a farmers' market with clothes and fresh produce; magnifique!  We had lunch from 1:30 - 2:30, then more lemonade and Scweppe's tonic at La Deux Garcons at 5:00. This restaurant was founded in 1792! Definitely the place to sit and watch the world go by.

Finally dragged ourselves home at 6:00 just as our shopping bags broke!

Side note: The French.  The people here are all so friendly. When you walk into a store it's "Bonjour Madame, Bonjour Monsieur", and when you buy something it's "Merci Madame", and when they bring your food or your purchase, they actually say "Voila!" (Sacre bleu!!!!), and when you leave it's "Au revoir Madame, Monsieur".  And very helpful when you ask questions or for directions. And they love their dogs - so many people have dogs with them, either on a leash, no leash, or carrying them. Many poodles (but of course), but also many other kinds. And they are allowed in the stores; even the restaurants!  And, we've determined, that there are French men and French women whose sole job it is to go around all day carrying bread!  They have it in their bike baskets, on their mopeds, under their arms while walking... at all times of the day.  They're always walking around with the bread!!!

And, when you are driving, there are signs at each major intersection (though the roads themselves are not well marked), and the signs generally look like this:  one arm will say "Paris" and the other (opposite way) arm will say "Autre Directions". Meaning "go this way to get to Paris and go that way for everything else"!. No matter where we were driving, we always turned toward "autre directions" and got where we wanted to go.  How do they do it, those crafty French!

For dinner we ate at La Petite Auberge back in Ventabren, this time 50 feet from our room, overlooking the valley. Starting off, they brought a selection of entrees (their version of hors d'oeuvres), including breaded sardines, mushrooms marinated in Provençale oil, marinated and grilled red peppers, calamari in marinade, tapenade, salmon spread, ratatouille, a seafood crepe, breaded zucchini, and a popover!  Then, Wendy had a tian of fish mousse and Wayne had chicken a la Petite Auberge (with piped out potatoes around the edge of the plate). Both were accompanied by great vegetables. For dessert Wendy had tarte tatin avec crème anglaise; Wayne had charlotte au chocolate. Yum!!  Then a short walk back to Le Mistral. What a day!!!

Tuesday, June 28

We woke up so stuffed we changed our plans for the day; decided to go to Les Baux au Provence where eating would not be the focus of the day - history would.  Another sunny breakfast on the terrace and off we went into the mountains.

An hour later, we arrived at les Baux - a middle ages town built into the mountainside.

Except for all the great shops and snack spots, we could have been in the 12th century! It was beautiful, though very hot. We walked through the ruins: castle, hospital, dungeon, eglise; saw catapults, etc., and incredible views.  The stores had wonderful fabrics, pottery, olive oil, nad postcards.

We stopped for lunch at a café / bistro. Wendy had a salade Nicoise, Wayne had bifteck. The waiter brought a pan of water for a customer's dog at the next table.  Then, around 4:00, we headed for Arles - another town with lots of old ruins, and the place where van Gogh did much of his work. We saw a first century coliseum that is still used for bullfighting.

Also, some more old churches and parts of walls, etc.  We took a ride on a petit train, so we got to sightsee and relax.  The driver also gave a commentary as we went through the narrow streets (in French of course!). He would talk for about 30 seconds and Wayne would ask "What did he say?", and Wendy would translate, like "There's an old building over there"!!!  It was a great tour.  After 2 1/2 hours, including a stop at a McDonald's where we saw a birthday party and checked out the "Royale with Cheese", and lots more shopping, we headed home. Lynn had told us that there was a great pizza "place" right at the foot of the mountain leading to Ventabren. The place was a trailer and we would have certainly turned our noses up at that if we were home, but, what the hey.  As we pulled into the "lot", the radio was playing the Blues Brothers singing "I Need You". We ordered a "super" - jambon, olives, mozzarella, and champignons. They cooked it over a real wood fire. We took it back home and ate on the terrace as we watched the sun set behind the distant hills. Glorious!

Wednesday, June 28

Another awesome day!!! We started out by finally exploring the Roquefavour aqueduct which we had been driving past each day.

We drove halfway down the mountain and took a side road for about 1/2 mile. Then a sign said "to view the aqueduct, parking was obligatory", so we left the car and started off on foot. We could not actually see the aqueduct from this location.  There was a main path and many side paths, and no signs, so we kept walking and walking and hoping we were on the right one and it was getting hotter and hotter, and after about 30 minutes we rounded a corner and there it was!  We were at the TOP of the aqueduct!  It was built around 2,000 years ago by the Romans and restored in the 1840s. Awesome!  Then we started back. To make it go faster Wendy sang "99 bottles of beer on the wall" in French and, just to be safe, she started at 300!  She got down to 250, but the walk took longer than that sounds.  Then we drove to the bottom of the aqueduct and explored it more from there.  Looking up to the top, it is so massive.

Then, back in the car for the ride to Moustiers Sainte Marie (another town built into the side of a mountain!), famous for its pottery. This place looks just like Switzerland (according to Wendy) with the river running through town.

We ate lunch at La Bastide de Moustiers. It overlooks the valley on one side and the sheer rock walls and mountains on the other. Just as we sat down at our table on the terrace..... started to rain, so the staff opened up big umbrellas to cover everyone. The mist and thunder made it so ethereal!  

There is no choice to the menu; they bring out whatever they have cooked. For firsts, they brought a green salad with a tart stuffed with potatoes and pears and herbs. We were full, but soldiered on!  Next up was a small tomato stuffed with a squash mixture and a small squash stuffed with a tomato mixture!  Wayne took a pass, but Wendy said it was good. Then, thin slices of beef with 8" pea pods and the sweetest carrots ever. By now we were on our second glass of wine (Wendy) and second bottle of Schweppes (Wayne). Then the fromage course (Wayne passed again). It looked and smelled like fromage de vomit. Then dessert: pain perdue, which is French toast!  With it was a bowl of grapefruit and orange slices and some peach sorbet. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.  Wendy finished with coffee.  Did we mention the pace was relaxed? The meal lasted 2 1/2 hours! So romantic!

Then we explored Moustiers. As we walked we realized that there was a church halfway up the mountain, so we had to climb. Actually, there were stairs all the way up, but it was rather steep and we were rather stuffed. More incredible views!

Then we left and drove to a beautiful, large lake.  We went down to it and did the obligatory toe dip. By then it was almost 5:00 so we started back. We did fine for the first 45 minutes, then we made a wrong turn somewhere and drove through a little town called Mosaic de Provence. We saw some old men sitting on a bench. About 20 minutes later we came to a little town called...yes! Mosaic de Provence! Same town!!!  We had driven in a big circle!  The old men were still there, so we kind of ducked down as we drove past. We had a map, but it didn't seem to agree with reality!  After some intense discussion, we took a road heading west (directly into the sun), sang the Gilligan's Island song and prayed. We went through some narrow roads which looked as if they hadn't seen a vehicle since Louis XIV was a toddler.  We came to towns that weren't on the map! Kept following the "Autre directions" signs. Finally we found a road that was on the map, and took it to the A8 and home - at 8:30!!!! Though we weren't hungry yet, we wanted to get a sandwich from a little restaurant in town, but it was closed, so we finished last night's pizza (which was probably a smart thing to do). Then we packed and went to sleep.  At about 4:30 am we were up; neither of us could sleep. So we quietly went out onto the terrace and looked at the stars. Magnificent!!!!

(Thanks, Vincent)

Nice, and back to Paris

Friday, June 30

Today was pretty much a travel day. We had our final incredible breakfast on the terrace, packed up, said au revoir to Lynn, and headed for Nice.  The two hour drive was through more beautiful mountains and valleys and past quaint villages and modern towns, and fields of lavender. France is so picturesque!  We made it to Nice at noon.  Of course, everything closes from 12 - 2 through June 30th!!! So we could only eat lunch, but couldn't see the Chagall Museum, which is one reason why we came here. 

So we found a place for lunch at an outdoor café overlooking one of the most famous city fronts on the Mediterranean. Of course, it was Salade Nicoise!  Then we walked around a little and bought some candied fruit (a specialty of the region) for a work friend of Wendy's whom we would visit later in Paris.

Then to the aeroport where we took a 1 hour 10 minute flight back to Orly.   Paris!!! Compared to all the towns we've seen on the trip, it is huge!  We checked in at the Hotel Le-Sainte-Beuve. Compared to the B&B's, the main room is tiny, but the hotel is charming. The temp outside is close to 90 (and humid, like Chicago; very unusual for this time of year). We freshened up and took a 30 minute cab ride to Frederique's house (Wendy's workmate). As we got there, her 3 year old daughter Juliet had just fallen and broken a tooth! Pierre (her husband) was calling a doctor. We tried to entertain Francoise, their 18 month old son. Eventually, Juliet stopped crying and began to put on a show as all girls that age do. What a doll! Of course, when it was bedtime she didn't want to go (water, pee-pee, kisses, etc. In other words, the normal routine!). In the true French fashion, we didn't start eating dinner until 10:00! Frederique made a simple, light (good move) plate of salad, tomatoes, shrimp, melon, and, OF COURSE, a loaf of French bread! And, a special treat from Pierre's home area of LeMans: riette (or rillete) - which is the French version of potted meat food product (although it is usually made with canard)!!!!  Wayne liked it, which amazed everyone!

For dessert, an incredible cream-filled tart topped with raspberries, blackberries, and gooseberries, and great chocolat glace. At 12:45 we said we had to leave, so Pierre very generously offered to drive us home. Even at that hour there were many cars on the streets. And of course, our street is so small, it's not even on his Paris map! He stopped twice to ask for deirections, but each time it was une Americain! Finally Wayne recognized a building and said "Turn here" and there we were!!!

Saturday, July 1

Today we explored Paris!  But first - breakfast in our room - a bowl of peaches and cherries, juice, yogurt, coffee, croissants - yum!  Then out we go.

The elevator in our hotel must be the smallest in the world. It says it holds 4 people (max), but even 2 was tight. And it takes a full minute to get from the lobby to the 6th floor.

Side note: In Europe, the main floor is floor 0, the next floor up is 1 (what we would call the second floor), etc.  The sub-floors (basement or in a voiture parc) are "-1", "-2", etc.  Makes sense.

We had a great Metro map, so we hopped on, changed once, and came up right near La Tour Eiffel.

It's really neat!  We took the lift to the 1st and 2nd etages, then up to the top. Again it was about 90 outside and humid, so it was really brutal up there. 

Then, back on Le Metro to our next stop - Les Bateaux Mouches - the sightseeing boats that go on the Seine.

We took a nice 75 minute ride - very comfortable and relaxing.  The audio (in French, English, German, Italian, and Japanese) told about the history of the buildings and bridges we passed. 

Then, back on the Metro for a ride to the Tuileries, a former palace. 

We walked around and saw the obelisk and, in the distance, the Arc de Triomphe.

Then it was time for lunch, a salade Nicoise with Orangina and a liter of water, and cold chicken and frites, (with mayonnaise), and 2 bottles of Schweppes, and sorbet. Then a walk through Le Petite Arc and into the Louvre courtyard. There were so many tourists there we decided to take a pass.  Back on the metro (very easy to get around, very well marked, and we never had to wait for more than 2 minutes for a train!). Next stop - Notre Dame.

Unfortunately, the west (front) façade was covered by scaffolding, as they are doing some restoration.  The inside was huge and dark and gloomy....

...and we thought Chartres was more impressive (even though all of these windows were clean).  Then 283 steps to the top of the bell tower. Luckily we had bought a bottle of water before we started up.  At the top, they give a mini-lecture on the 300 year old bell (Emmanual), and they clang it (by hand) while you are standing inside!  Then, back down and into the metro and over to Montmarte.  We had more Scweppes and Orangina at an outdoor café.  We had planned to go to Sacre Couer, but it was now 7:00 and it closed at 6:00, and our legs were threatening to go on strike.  So we boarded the metro one more time, came back to the hotel, took the world's most refreshing showers, and then walked to Le Chat Grippe for dinner (we had heard it was good, despite the name meaning "Cat flu"!!).  We have been eating good French food all week, but this was exquisite and beautifully presented.  They started us with raw tuna and tapis (olives and garlic moosh). Wendy then had a mixed salad with chunk de homard. Wayne had canard ravioli...mmmmmm.......the Wendy had St. Pierre (a sea fish) and Wayne had veal with curry sauce with green apple / spinach moosh. Heaven!  Then they brought a plate of sweets (candy, cookies), then a dessert of apple tart and a chocolate cake filled with mousse of chocolate and pistachio, and pistachio sorbet on the side.  Then a walk back through picturesque rain (we had our umbrellas) and into bed at the reasonable hour of 11:30.

Sunday, July 2

Up early, the same ho-hum (ho ho!) breakfast and then back into the metro for our exploration of Montmarte.  The metro stop was a killer - a winding stairway that seemed to go on forever and reminded us of climbing to the top of Chartres.  By the time we got to street level we were exhausted, and it was only 9:30!  We walked a few blocks and came to Sacre Couer.

Most impressive, but more stairs!  Undaunted, we began the climb under more searing heat.  This church is "only" 125 years old. It has a unique dome instead of a main vaulted ceiling. We were lucky enough to get there just as High Mass was starting. That was really neat. We stayed for a while then took another petite train ride around the area. We saw buildings where old artists and poets had lived, the Moulin Rouge,

...and more quaint, narrow streets than you could shake a baton at.

We then walked around the artists' area.  On the way back to the metro we found a great store where we bought a photo album. By then it was 1:15 and we had to catch the metro for our special fancy lunch at 2:00.  We went down and got on, and when we came out 45 minutes later - aaarrgghhh!!! It was pouring!  And no umbrellas! The stop was at the entrance to the Bois de Boulogne, like Central Park in NY. We dumbly assumed that the restaurant would be right near the entrance; non!  We walked and ran and got soaked and kept going deeper into the woods. It was 2:10 by now. Finally we flagged a taxi and he drove even deeper (we never would have found it), and finally we were there.  Probably the fanciest restaurant in Paris and we got a great table near the terrace where we could see the rain and the trees. As it was Sunday, all the people (lots of families) were there in the finest clothes...even the dogs! We knew this would be our last meal and so we went wild.  First: langostinos for Wendy, veal chunks in a vinaigrette sauce with mushrooms for Wayne. Then they brought us a large (large) shrimp, gratis. Then salmon with mushrooms, and pork slices with petit pois moosh (divine). Of course, wine, water, and Schweppes. Then a plate of freebie sweets and cookies. Then dessert - a chocolate / pistachio cake and strawberries with orange sauce. In between there was thunder and lightning and more rain, but eventually it let up. All this came to F1400 - the most we had ever paid for a meal, let alone a lunch. But it was certainly worth it.

It had started to drizzle again by the time we finished, so we got another taxi to take us back to the hotel. We asked for the "scenic route" so we saw many other monuments along the way. A beautiful city. 

We dumped our stuff, grabbed our brellas and headed back to the metro.  On to Le Marais, the old Jewish section. Delis and kosher butchers and synagogues and a whole different world. Raining harder!  Back to the metro and over to Rue St. Germain to have a "drink" (yup...more Orangina and Schweppes) at another famous café Aux Deux Magots.

Since people sit here for hours, they have to charge a lot - $6 each for our drinks!  We walked around, got lost for a little while, found the metro and got back to the hotel. A fabulous day.

Monday, July 3

Woke up at 6:30, wrote some last minute postcards and packed.  This was the best trip ever!  One more breakfast and then on to Orly.

Au Revoir, France!!!