Posted by: kdeversblog | October 12, 2017

Amboise: A lovely home base in the Loire

After the sparkling city life and abundant art in Paris, we were on our way to the Loire Valley. The Loire River, running east/west in the middle of the country, separates northern and southern France and is bursting with thousands of castles and palaces. They were built mostly in the sixteenth century to replace the outdated medieval castles. To help with upkeep and maintain ownership, the chateaus are open for visitors and the owners receive government compensation.

Aside from the amazing variation of chateaus, the Loire Valley is green and lush, blanketed in fertile fields and fed with abundant, clear running rivers and streams. It’s an important agricultural area for France. We saw the gorgeous produce in the Amboise market and tasted it in the restaurants.

The rain caught up with us when we arrived in Amboise, our home base in the Loire. With the help of a phone call with our host, we found our Airbnb apartment and settled in. John graciously let me have the bedroom with a very comfy queen bed while he took the fold out sofa. This was not a comfy bed, but he managed to get to sleep and get rested for his pastry run in the morning.

Our host designed the apartment and we appreciated her attention to detail and the fun artwork that was an integral part of the decor. John bought a yellow calla lily plant that matched the color scheme perfectly. The lovely plant traveled with us until it found a good home in Provence.

The bathroom was quite large with a rain shower and heated pipes for drying clothes. The apartment was well stocked with dishes and cooking utensils. It even had a dishwasher (that we didn’t use) and a clothes washer and dryer.

Amboise is a lovely town with lots of restaurants and shops. It was fun to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air or choose a cozy setting inside for our meals. Night time lights made it nice for an evening stroll or a last minute run to the grocery store.

On our last day, we decided to wash a couple of loads of laundry. This necessitated several phone conversations with our host but finally John was able to decipher the instructions. Since there wasn’t enough time to get everything dry, and many of my items needed to air dry, I used the heated pipes and the radiators. They worked great and everything was ready to be packed in the morning. Apparently the heated pipes are common in France and I’d love to have them in my house. Hmmmm, a future project!?

There are lots of bakeries and charcuteries in Amboise and we had our favorites. Each morning John would get pastries for our breakfast and a fresh baguette for lunch sandwiches. He made scrambled eggs to accompany the pastry and I prepared our traveling picnic. I cut the baguette into four chunks then sliced them down the middle, without separating the halves. Cheese and ham or chicken would be put in them later. I liked to have some olives and an apple as well. John liked custards of various kinds. He had his Coke Zero and I drank water. It was always easy to find a picnic table in a lovely setting for our picnics.

Fed with a good breakfast, with our lunch packed, and lugging maps along with Rick Steves’ book on France, we headed out for the next phase of our adventure, extreme chateauing in Loire!

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First on the list, the elegant Chateau de Chenonceau gleaming on the Cher River with well groomed gardens and inviting walking paths.

Posted by: kdeversblog | September 27, 2017

Chartres Cathedral: Another Notre Dame

The Chartres Cathedral is located 50 miles outside Paris and on the way to the Loire Valley. We opted to visit the cathedral rather than Versailles since there wasn’t time to visit both. The official name of the cathedral is Notre-Dame de Chartres and it is one of more than 100 Notre Dames in France. These cathedrals honor Mary, mother of Jesus as she was more accessible to the medieval people. The Chartres Cathedral is one of the best examples of pure Gothic design.

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There were at least four churches built on this same site, possibly beginning with a Roman pagan temple honoring a mother-goddess. The first Christian church was built in 876. When the third church burned to the ground in 1194, the people built the current Chartres Cathedral in record time.

Unlike the Notre Dame in Paris, and other monumental cathedrals that take centuries to build, Chartres was completed in 30 years. This meant that some of the children who witnessed the old church destroyed by the fire were alive to help with the rebuilding and attend its dedication Mass in 1260.

Entering the Cathedral we saw the candles and were surrounded by glowing stained glass windows.

The colors were vibrant, illustrating the Christian biblical stories. I was fascinated by the variations of marble used throughout the cathedral.

We didn’t go on any of the tours, instead we meandered throughout the cathedral and marveled at the beauty of the place. There was no charge for admission so I made a donation for the upkeep and upcoming restoration.

I’m glad we chose to visit this stunning Gothic Cathedral. It was a peaceful way to begin the next phase of our French adventure. Onward to the Loire Valley!

Posted by: kdeversblog | September 25, 2017

Last Tango in Paris

Our four days in Paris were packed with so many wonderful experiences from stunning art to endless gastronomic delights. I found myself exclaiming gleefully over every meal, glass of wine, and snack.

Since we both enjoy the quirky romantic comedy, Amelie we decided to visit some of the sites that were in the movie. Click this link for movie info. Amelie movie

We made sure to use the Abbesses subway stop where Amelie saw the musician playing. The cafe where Amelie worked, Les Deux Moulins was smaller in real life than it appeared to be in the movie and the bathroom, also featured in the film was teeny. In the bathroom, a window display was crowded with Amelie memorabilia. I highly recommend the movie if you haven’t seen it.

Then it was off to visit Ron Bowen in his art studio located at the foot of Montmartre with a sixth floor view of the hill leading up to the Basilica.

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It was a pleasure to visit with Ron, an American expat who studied art in Paris as a young man then moved to the city permanently in 1970. It is a remarkable story of courage and innocence. He didn’t know anyone and had only his compelling knowledge that Paris is where he should be as an aspiring artist.

It was obviously the correct choice since he has been very successful and is well known for his clear and selective approach to scenes that are laced with shadows and subtle value changes. Check out his website to see examples of his work. Ronald Bowen art

We took him to lunch at one of his favorite cafes nearby where I had the best fish and chips I’ve ever had (sorry Burgerville!). John and Ron had duck and it was a great way to finish our visit with Ron. The French tend to serve fries with many of their meals, here they are called “frites” and they really are delicious.

Since we were near the Basilica Sacre Coeur we wound our way up the hill for a quick visit and saved some steps by taking the outdoor lift. I was especially glad not to have to climb more steep and seemingly endless stairs. The Basilica is young by French standards, only 130 years old, but it proudly stands on the highest point in the city.

Notre-Dame Cathedral was one of our last stops in Paris. It was dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus, that’s why it is called “Our Lady.” The building was begun in 1163 and completed two centuries later in 1345.

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This medieval wonder is beautiful and while the work was supervised by Master Masons, the people who lived in the area did the actual work.  Huge stones were hauled from distant quarries and a 30-foot-deep trench was dug to lay the foundation. Workers walked on treadmills to lift the heavy stones up, one by one.

Notre Dame is an impressive landmark and we saw it during our boat ride down the Seine as well as on foot.

Our Paris visit wouldn’t be complete without some wonderful jazz to enjoy and John found the perfect show. We were the first people to arrive at the intimate cafe called Sunset/Sunside. The trio of singer, pianist, and clarinet player offered emotional and heartfelt renditions of Billie Holiday favorites.

It was a delightful show and the performers were obviously having fun on stage making beautiful music together.

It was sad to think of leaving Paris, but we knew there were wonderful experiences ahead. We had our farewell dinner at a unique and stunning restaurant called Le Train Bleu. It is situated at the end of the train tracks, the food and presentation was superb, and the staff were friendly and attentive. The decor can be distracting because it is lush and ornamented but that’s just part what makes the experience so much fun.

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The next day we said good bye to our delightful Airbnb apartment and took an Uber to pick up our rental car. It is a modern Citroen, perfect for traveling the narrow roadways and comfortable.

We had the perfect location in the St. Germaine area of the Left Bank for exploring the town, and John did a masterful job of planning and navigating us to our destinations.

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Next stop, the glorious pure Gothic Chartres Cathedral.

Posted by: kdeversblog | September 20, 2017

Art Treasures in Paris

 

There are so many places to see fabulous art collections in Paris, but we only had a few days so we had to be selective. Rather than get swallowed up by the overwhelming quantity of art and people visiting the Louvre, we chose to visit the Orsay Museum and the Orangerie Museum.

First, we had to get fortified with a ham and cheese omelette and croissant at our usual neighborhood cafe. Then we headed to the subway and the Orsay Museum.

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Walking into this museum, I realized that it was going to be an amazing opportunity to view Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. The main hall is huge with a large clock at one end.

There are multiple levels and as we made our way through the galleries, I felt like I was seeing old friends. The photographs I had seen in textbooks as a student and shared with my own students as an instructor, came to life. I could see the brush strokes and finally appreciate the actual sizes of the paintings.

 

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It was a thrill to see Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, as well as those of Degas, Cassatt, Cezanne, Monet, Manet, Renoir, and Gaugin. Many others were there as well as one of my new favorites, Luce.

To be able to see Dega’s ballerina sculpture was thrilling. He was the first artist to add an actual article of clothing rather than create the illusion of fabric.

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Of course Mary Cassatt is one of my favorites.

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In the upper level there was another great clock that allowed us to see the city through the markings. It was also a place for people to relax. The cafe had unique lighting and looked inviting, but we had other plans.

It was time to say goodbye to the treasures in the Musee d’Orsay and head over to the Musee de l’Orangerie.

On the way , we saw Rodin’s sculpture The Kiss. This is one that I share with my students and it is an iconic piece, full of grace and passion.

I knew that we would be seeing Monet’s water lily paintings, but I was not prepared for the visually overpowering experience. We walked into the room and it was very quiet. The entire room was devoted to the semi-circular mural-size paintings.

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I started to walk into the room and then stopped. Tears filled my eyes and I started to cry. I’ve never had any art experience to rival this. I wasn’t embarrassed, it didn’t matter to me that there were other people there. I could have been alone in the room except that John hugged me and offered his support. Even recalling the experience brings tears to my eyes as I write this.

I know these photos will not show the astonishing beauty of the paintings, but they are a reminder of the experience. There was another room with the Willow Tree paintings, but I prefer the Water Lily images.

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It meant a lot to me to experience these paintings, it was like entering Monet’s world. I loved looking closely at the brush strokes and imagining how he quickly and intuitively applied the paint to the canvases.

There was a small collection of art in the lower level of the museum, this is a small sampling.

This was truly a wonderful experience and one I will never forget. France has offered us her treasures and she has preserved and presented them beautifully.

Posted by: kdeversblog | September 18, 2017

The Eiffel Tower: Industrial Age Icon

The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 as a centerpiece of the World Expo and to commemorate 100 years after the French Revolution. It wasn’t intended to remain after the Expo and yet it is still here and is the most visited monument in the world.

It is completely repainted every seven years. Today it’s a tawny brown color. John and I visited the monument on a blustery, rainy day. We rode the elevator to the first viewing point and took photos of Paris.

 

There was a life-size display of M. Eiffel talking with a colleague in his Tower office.

Then we took a different elevator to the top viewing spot, 1,063 feet above ground.

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We waited in so many lines and as we wound our way around, the wind tore at our jackets and destroyed my umbrella. We really couldn’t see much of anything from the top so we didn’t stay long. I could feel the Tower move a bit in the wind, or maybe it was my imagination. Regardless, I was glad to be back on the ground and out of the mass of people shivering and jostling to get out of the weather and into the elevators.

It turned out that the best way to see the Eiffel Tower itself was on the boat ride we took down the Seine River. It was a lovely evening, our last in Paris, and it was a great way to see the city.

We rode up to the Eiffel Tower then turned around and skirted the two islands.

 

Later, we were able to see the Tower lit up at night and watch it sparkle with the twinkling lights. This happens at 8, 9, and 10 p.m. and the show lasts for about ten minutes.

Posted by: kdeversblog | September 18, 2017

The Pantheon in Paris

In Paris it seems there are as many motorcycles as cars. The bikes can zip between cars in the lanes and seem to be utterly fearless. I’m sure they all have smug smiles as they leave the cars languishing in traffic. Sometimes the cars seem to view the lane markings as suggestions and we saw a few close calls as cars start to drift from one lane to another. The bikes fill their own lengthy parking areas so closely spaced you could easily walk down the line from seat to seat.

Approaching the Pantheon we saw an example the this cozy line up.

The Pantheon is a gorgeous treasure located in the left bank near the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Inside the Pantheon the walls are covered with fresco paintings depicting the struggles of the French people through their history. Partial covers are hung above the paintings to filter the light and protect them during restoration.

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The dome is carved and also painted with frescoes. The light through the windows creates soft shadows throughout the rotunda.

A Foucault pendulum swings back and forth and there are many lovely historical sculptures.

This New-Classical monument honors the French people and provides a burial place for many French VIPs including Voltaire, Rousseau, Alexander Dumas, and Victor Hugo. It is also the final resting place for Marie Curie, Louis Braille (inventor of the Braille language), and the hero of the French resistance, Jean Moulin.

Posted by: kdeversblog | September 11, 2017

Lush gardens, tiny boats, and pony rides

Le Jardin du Luxembourg, the garden at Luxembourg has it all. It’s the perfect place to take a leisurely stroll and marvel at the beautifully designed and well-kept garden spaces.

There is a nice breeze this day, but according to the signs it can be a virtual mistral . . . Hang onto your hat!

The plantings in the main area are lush and follow a pattern of repeated colors with taller accents of grasses and shrubs. The realistic statuary adds lovely focal points and sets off the green lawn within the garden space.

I was fascinated by the extremely large containers that held the small trees and the large cement planters overflowing geraniums. These huge items fit the large open space perfectly.

The garden also includes a large manmade pond where children launch tiny boats with long sticks. The breeze moves the plethora of boats around the pond.

Walking around the grounds we discovered a semi-hidden spot with a fountain and vines trained on tree branches. The leafy vines created huge loops strung out from tree to tree.

And there were adorable small ponies for the kids to ride. This reminded me of Elli and Fran at the Lake Serene Pony farm when they were young girls.

It was a lovely, peaceful day at the Jardin!

Posted by: kdeversblog | September 10, 2017

An adventurer’s breakfast

Just a few blocks from our Airbnb is a delightful restaurant where we had our first Paris breakfast , a perfectly cooked omelette with ham and cheese, a flaky croissant, toasted baguette with butter and jam, tea, and orange juice. It was delightful to sit outside and watch the international world of Paris stroll, run, and selfie their way along the sidewalk.

We find a nice place to sit at a small found table and order our breakfast. Then the server arrives with a square table top that attaches to the round table. This gives us the space we need to the meal.

This meal was such a delicious way to start the day that we have come here three days in a row. It’s consistently lovely and the servers are friendly and bilingual. This meal always kept us going through the morning as we walked and used the subway to get to our destinations. John is a master subway navigator and the system is beginning to make sense to me.

Each subway stop has its own unique “look” which makes it fun. The entrances have lovely art nouveau elements in the fences, lights, and signage. John has been patient as I try to understand the system of different lines, directions, and stop names. The tunnels and trains are uniformly clean, wall maps are everywhere and for the most part signage is clear.

The only challenge for me has been the seemingly endless stairs in the subway. You have go down stairs to get into the subway, up stairs to get to a different line, then down again to get to a different direction, repeat, repeat, repeat! Eventually we used the RER and discovered they have escalators – oh, joy! The RER is more of an express train and the M, or Metropolitan is local with more stops. We’ve used Uber once and a taxi but mostly it’s lots of walking and subways.

I love the view from our apartment. We are on the third floor and it’s fun to open the two big windows and observe the activity below. We are on a relatively quiet street but there’s lots of activity at the bistros and shops. One of the aspects of Paris that I appreciate is the aromas of food and spices that fill the air. There is an overall sense of calm and peacefulness that I find very welcoming.

There are lots of cars and motorcycles and drivers don’t hesitate to communicate with their horns. The police and emergency vehicles have a distinctive blue light on the top of their vehicles and the sing-song siren I’m used to hearing in European movies.

I’m using my rudimentary French all the time and I love it when people respond in kind. Although sometimes we use one another’s languages. I’ll leave a shop with a happy “au revoir!” and the shop keeper responds, “goodbye!” Funny!

Posted by: kdeversblog | September 10, 2017

Paris casts its spell

img_0427Like countless numbers of people before me, the vibrant and beautiful city of Paris has charmed me with its delicious food, gorgeous architecture, and easy access to art and culture.

My friend Marie drove me to the airport on Wednesday, September 6th and although I had some pre-flight jitters, I was excited about the trip. I knew that Marie would take good care of my dogs and Richard was at the house, so the homefront was in good hands.

After the flight to Atlanta, a reasonable layover and an eight hour flight to Paris, I sailed through baggage claim and customs.

My first view of France was a during a long descent to the Charles DeGaule airport. I was surprised to see so many open fields and small clusters of buildings.

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The Viator shuttle met me and several other passengers at the airport and the drive to the Airbnb where John and I are staying was a stunning introduction to the city. All sizes of motorcycles vied with cars, with a few bicycles thrown in to increase the danger factor. I recognized landmarks that were only familiar as photographs or movie locations. As we paused in traffic, I turned my head to see the Eiffel Tower and craned my neck to peer straight up its full length.

John welcomed me at our  Airbnb on rue St. Andre des Arts in the St. Germain area of the East Bank. I felt a bit tired since I barely got a few hours of restless sleep on the plane, but after getting settled I was ready for a walk around our neighborhood. It surprised me how I quickly adjusted to the time difference and experienced no jet lag. After a solid ten hours of sleep the first night I was refreshed and ready for our J & K Excellent Adventure to shift into high gear!

 

 

Posted by: kdeversblog | September 6, 2017

Leaving the smoke behind

The fires raging in Oregon have brought ash floating in the air and settling on everything. The air is white and many people are wearing breathing masks, including the mail carriers and anyone who works outside. The sun, when we see it is an angry smear in the sky.

I put out fresh water for the neighborhood cat that likes to visit. It probably didn’t take long for it to get coated with fire debris.

Maxine and Macky seem to be wondering what’s happening. I’ve tried to keep to my regular habits as much as possible. Macky must have had a case of sympathetic travel nervousness. During the night he vomited and of course I stepped on it this morning. Just a reminder of doggy love!

It’s amazing how complicated it is to fly now, especially overseas. But finally the day of departure has arrived. I’m packed with bags the right size and under the weight limit.

The one peach I was saving to eat today tasted lovely but my own case of nerves prevented me from eating it so I gave it to Marie. I was able to eat one last strawberry, though, after washing off the ash!

It was so nice to have dinner with Fran and Josh last night. We looked at the map of France and traced my route from Paris to Marseille by way of the Loire valley, the Dordogne, and Provence. 25 days on my Excellent French Adventure with my friend John Hollister. A couple hours and I’ll be onboard Delta and the fun begins!

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