Category Archives: Reconnaissance Mission 2013

Chez Nous 2013

We’re on full-steam-ahead mode now. You’ll be happy for David when you hear that I’m finally helping with the packing. I’ve now packed 29 boxes of books, which is more than half of the fiction section of our library. It was actually kind of addictive, like a jigsaw puzzle, so I will definitely be packing more of the library, I promise.

Here is the final post about the 2013 reconnaissance mission, originally written just after we had arrived home (chez nous):

We managed to dodge all the transportation strikes in France and the lightning in Denver that almost forced our plane to land in Colorado Springs instead, and got home late Thursday evening, the 13th of June.

Here is the last set of photos from our three weeks in France. These are a few I wanted to send earlier, but they didn’t quite make the first cut. So for a temporary farewell to France, here they are.

Musée d’Orsay
Musée d’Orsay

Inside shot of Musée d’Orsay. No photos allowed in among the paintings, but this is from the little scenic overlook you can climb up to after you finish admiring the Impressionists. I think I was allowed to take this shot, but if not, it’s too late now!

Musée d’Orsay
Musée d’Orsay

The posh restaurant at the Musée d’Orsay mentioned in an earlier email. Fortunately the rain chased us in there.

Square Gabriel Pierné, Paris
Square Gabriel Pierné, Paris

Tiny park in Paris with benches after my own heart.

Parc de la Tour Saint-Jacques, Paris
Parc de la Tour Saint-Jacques, Paris

Another shot of the park with the pretty blue benches.

Ile de Ré
Ile de Ré

One of the other beaches on Ile de Ré. Love this picturesque ramp, but my favorite part was the sign right next to it saying, “Beach Access 0 km →” (or more likely Plage Accès) pointing to the right AWAY from the ramp. I can agree with the 0 km distance, but I question the need for the sign in the first place and certainly the direction of the arrow. Quoi? (Roughly, Huh?)

This and other mysteries will perhaps be solved soon. We fly to France on the 26th of March.

À bientôt, la belle France!

Montmartre 2013

June 2013 — the final leg of the trial run. Trying to find the Avis rental car drop-off in Marseille was a bit hair-raising, involving David driving in a large and unfamiliar city in bumper to bumper traffic (sometimes literally) and me periodically hanging out the window  or even jumping out at various corners and accosting strangers for directions.  But we finally found the place, parked the car in an open spot and went looking for someone to check us in. When we finally did, they had no interest in actually seeing the car and just said something to the effect of, “Oh, it’s parked down there. Okay.” No checking for new dents and scratches. No even making sure it’s actually in their lot. It was a little unusual, but no additional charges ever came through, so I guess all was well.

From there, we walked around the corner with our bags and followed the crowds, since not one sign pointed us to la gare (the train station). After a few hours on the TGV — super comfy, big cushy seats — we made it to Paris for an afternoon and evening in Montmartre. Longest taxi ride ever in near grid-locked traffic from Gare de Lyon, but still only 24 euros so didn’t break the bank. We’ve learned not to attempt the Metro with multiple bags, especially if there will be a connection, which there would have been. If you’ve never used the Paris Metro, be forewarned that many steps are involved, some go down just to go right back up FOR NO APPARENT REASON except to bedevil those dragging around bags on wheels. Not to mention the random confusing forks in the road. Someone should create a map of the underground tunnels leading to the various stations. But since I’m not aware of one, take a TAXI!!!!!

But we made it. Took a bit of a wander round after checking business emails, bien sûr (of course).

Le Moulin de la Galette, Montmartre
Le Moulin de la Galette, Montmartre

Try to ignore the couple in matching T-shirts checking their i-Phone. Pretty much impossible to avoid tourists in your photos of Paris/Montmartre unless you’re willing to get up at the crack of dawn (which I’m not, even though the light would be beautiful). This restaurant was the setting for a famous Renoir painting, Bal du Moulin de la Galette. Moulin is French for “windmill.” So if you’ve heard of Moulin Rouge, it’s a red windmill that happens to be over a very expensive well-known nightclub.

Montmartre
Montmartre

Everything is VERY cute here.

Montmartre
Montmartre

More cute.

Montmartre
Montmartre

Super cute. Thinking about trying to get a table for dinner. We didn’t make a reservation which is often a mistake in Paris, but we’ll wander over around 8 and hope for the best.

 Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre
Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre

This is the view of Sacré Coeur when coming up from the public WC’s (down the steps southeast of the entrance, in case you’re ever looking), which I was very happy to have found! Absolutely magnificent cathedral. Made it inside today for the first time. Last attempt the line was too long. No photos allowed inside, I’m sorry to say, but it does help to maintain the sacred space feeling without cameras snapping away all the time.

We enjoyed Montmartre enough that we’ve booked a few apartments in this quartier for our various stays in Paris, one of which has a front door on a landing of one of these stairways:

Montmartre
Montmartre

We did make it home to Colorado the next day. La grève (the strike) was finished in the morning as promised (just making a statement, not hamstringing the entire country). The whole experience certainly broadened our horizons. That last evening, while I did another check of business emails, David watched some sort of Asian cooking show (with English  subtitles) where several people were outside around a fire, roasting a spider they had inserted (somehow–I wasn’t watching) in an egg. Yikes. Definitely had to take that man to go find some dinner.

Sausset les Pins 2013

9 June 2013 we drove the rest of the way to Sausset les Pins (near Marseille) to visit some customers of ours. Even though we kept to the back roads again, we made pretty good time following a couple on a motorcycle ahead of us driving as if the furies of hell were after them. We decided if they could handle all the turns at that speed on a motorcycle pulling a trailer, surely we could in our little car. Every so often I’d try to explain which turn to take at the next roundabout, but David would say, “I don’t care where you’re going, I’m following them!”

Viaduc de Millau
Viaduc de Millau

Our one departure from the back roads. This is the Viaduc de Millau (another photo shot through the windshield as we were speeding along). I took a shot of the valley very far below, but it turned out to be mostly of the blurry side rails, so I’ll spare you.

This was the view from our balcony in Sausset les Pins:

Sausset les Pins
Sausset les Pins

Pas mal, n’est-ce pas?  Which means roughly, “Not bad, eh?” (But you probably figured that one out.)

The next day we took a bit of a walk from our hotel to scope out the area. The beach there is mostly stones, but there were a few people lying on it anyway, with not so much as a towel, let alone a chair or yoga mat or any sort of padding. And they were doing a pretty good job of looking as if they were enjoying themselves. We, however, were not tempted.

Sausset les Pins
Sausset les Pins

The color of the water really is this spectacular in places.

Sausset les Pins
Sausset les Pins

And if you’re lucky enough to have a sailboat, the wind is blowing pretty much all the time. But if you don’t, as we of course do not, you can sit on a whale’s tail and stare longingly out to sea.

Sausset les Pins
Sausset les Pins

Château des Baudry 2013

Winter’s grasp is unrelenting today, so although the snow is very beautiful, here are a few more memories of warmer days. These photos are from the trial run France trip last May and June. After lunch in Saint Émilion, we drove the rest of the way to Monestier to spend the night at Château des Baudry and have another of Hélène’s amazing meals. We discovered this place on our first trip to France in September 2011 and it was just as excellent the second time.

Château des Baudry
Château des Baudry

Definitely a place to stay if you’re ever in southwest France.

Courtyard, Château des Baudry
Courtyard, Château des Baudry

Interior courtyard. The entry hall and all the rooms surround this. Each room has a door onto the outside and also one onto the courtyard, complete with palm trees, lemon trees dripping with lemons, and goldfish lazing around among blooming lily pads.

Château des Baudry
Château des Baudry

Lots of little scenic spots begging to be photographed.

Château des Baudry
Château des Baudry
Château des Baudry
Château des Baudry

Everything in bloom here too.

Last time our room was the massive corner room. This time that room was taken, but we had another beautiful room. All the rooms are less pricey than rooms in Paris and two to three times the size. I made sure to get the tutorial on the shower this time (left knob is on/off, right knob controls temperature), since last time although I lucked out the first two days, I managed to inadvertently change something the third day and had a cold shower.

Monestier, France
Monestier, France

View to the neighboring château.

Saint Émilion 2013

Grâce à une gentille Française (Thanks to a kind French woman) a few errors in my French were noticed and have now been corrected in earlier posts: Il fait soleil (not du soleil) and Train à Grand Vitesse (à not de). Merci beaucoup! The following is another of the accounts of our trial run last spring:

Au Revoir, La Rochelle
Au Revoir, La Rochelle

Sunday, 9 June 2013, was goodbye to La Rochelle for a while and  Day 1 of the road trip. We rented a car at the La Rochelle airport. Pascale and Jacky kindly drove us there and went in with us in case my French was not up to the task. (It wasn’t.) The guy filling out the form to note the previously existing damage on the rental car was a bit cavalier and we had to have him add a few X’s once we actually saw the car. If you’re familiar with these tiny streets with stone buildings pressing in on both sides, you’ll know why all the cars are so small here. Yes, actual cars drive on la petite rue pictured below. 

One of the tiny streets of Saint Émilion
One of the tiny streets of Saint Émilion

It’s not even full tourist season yet, but parking was at a premium. David was not too excited about driving through the town searching for a spot, especially at one VERY tight corner. I think he was relieved we had to park several blocks out of town. Definitely, made leaving easier.

We stopped for lunch and a look around in Saint Émilion. It was nearly 2:00 by the time we got there, found a parking space (no easy task) and a restaurant that would let us in (full or done serving), so within a few minutes, everyone else in the place had finished up and left and the staff was resetting for the dinner crowd.

Saint Émilion
Saint Émilion

We apologized (in French of course) for arriving so late, ordered and ate quickly, and the waiter was gracious. Lunch is served at very specific times in France and if you miss it, too bad for you!

Saint Émilion
Saint Émilion

Tough to get photos in Saint Émilion without having them infested with tourists. You have to point, focus, shoot, with no dilly-dallying or someone in shorts and tennis shoes will pop around the very medieval corner you were framing so artistically. I shot this one over everyone’s heads.

Saint Émilion
Saint Émilion

Lucked out here with this tiny alley, but if you look carefully you’ll see the top of the tower is full of people.

Saint Émilion
Saint Émilion

Another cute little private spot. No one is there because, as we’ve already covered, LUNCH IS OVER!!

Saint Émilion
Saint Émilion

No one in sight. Shoot fast!

Vendredi Soir (Friday Evening) 2013

Here’s the rest of vendredi soir (Friday evening).

Coquelicots, Ile de Ré
Coquelicots, Ile de Ré

Driving back to Pascale and Jacky’s. This is still on Ile de Ré. Doesn’t it look exactly like a Monet? The red poppies (called coquelicots) are eye-catching in private gardens but absolutely stunning massed in huge fields.

Le Jardin Chez Jacky et Pascale
Le Jardin Chez Jacky et Pascale

More gorgeous flowers, these in Pascale and Jacky’s backyard.

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Jacky trying to BBQ after the rain started and sent the rest of us inside. David’s compassion is apparently stronger than mine or Pascale’s.

Jacky and David
Jacky and David

Gotta love le BBQ!

Pique-Nique on Ile de Ré 2013

Toward the end of our two-week trial run, we spent another thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and evening with our new friends Pascale and Jacky, which somehow works even though David still speaks pretty much zero French.

David gamely ventures a “bonjour” or “merci” from time to time and neither Pascale nor Jacky speak English, although Pascale occasionally does a goofy imitation of David saying “Me too.” Not sure why that strikes her as funny. David comes up with teasing and jokes that I manage to translate at least well enough that we’re all laughing much of the time.

Site of Pique-Nique
Site of Pique-Nique

This set of photos is from our afternoon on Ile de Ré where we had a pique-nique, then a complete tour of the whole island. The pique-nique was very French, even though we were sitting on rocks looking out to sea, complete with aperitif (our favorite Pineau de Charentes–sweet and cold), then multiple courses and wine, ending with a nice soft camembert. We’ve never liked camembert in the states, but Jacky says the secret is to find a soft one, a week to ten days before the expiration date. To confirm that it’s soft, you take off the lid and give the middle a good press with your thumb. “C’est pas poli,” (it’s not considered good manners to do so) he warned us, so you have to first glance around furtively to make sure no one is watching.

This island is very popular with cyclists, so many went by while we were there, and every man, woman and child, without exception, wished us, “Bon appétit!” Dining is VALUED here.

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It’s definitely the height of rose season right now. They’re everywhere, and definitely on Ile de Ré, the island just over the bridge from La Rochelle. The bridge is a big swooping 2 km beauty, that you could walk or bike over, but you’d have to be dedicated. The middle is HIGH.

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We climbed up another little tower, this time a bell tower in a church in Saint Martin, with a tiny creaking wood staircase so small, they’ve installed a couple of stop lights to regulate the flow. It’s actually forbidden (in French) to pass anyone on the straightaways. Your only chance is if the person on the descent crams into a corner at one of the turns. The person in the lead of the ascenders announces how many are in the ascending party so the descenders don’t resume heading down before all are by. Et voilà!

Saint Martin de Ré
Saint Martin de Ré

This is the view from the top. Worth every claustrophobic, dusty, hair-raising moment.

We climbed down just in time. The huge bells tolled just as we made it outside.

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Then we walked toward the port to try to see the donkeys that wear pants called “les ânes en culottes” but, alas, they only work Saturdays and Sundays.

Ile de Ré
Ile de Ré

In a week or so the entire island will be covered with holly hocks. Here’s an early one.

Ile de Ré
Ile de Ré

Looking out from the western tip of the island at the base of the old lighthouse. This beach has concrete and stone walls that trap fish when the tide goes down, but this method of fishing is dying out with the older generation. Seriously gorgeous, though, n’est-ce pas?

Ile de Ré
Ile de Ré

Another cool sign.