Category Archives: The Grand Tour

Home Sweet . . . Garage?

We made it to Boston late on Saturday, the 5th of July and then up to Lake Sunapee on the 6th, so we really are home, sweet home, in a way. Just in time for this:

Fireworks over Lake Sunapee --  July 6th
Fireworks over Lake Sunapee — July 6th

This place has been a treasured home base for David’s far-flung family for many years. But before I switch gears to the New England summer, I have to show you where we spent the last three nights in almost-Paris.

You know when real estate people talk about location, location, location? You should probably listen. And if your first thought about lodging is “how fun and quirky”? Rethink your choice, especially if you also think “too bad about the location.” It’s time to back away from the computer. Really.

So here’s how “fun and quirky” this place was:

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IMG_4168IMG_4174David was at my mercy, since I had made all the arrangements. Oops. Sorry.

So if we had had pre-schoolers along, maybe,  but there was the added bonus of the sketchy neighborhood, which required bars on the windows and combination-code-operated bolted entryway.  I started getting claustrophobic as soon as I realized in a fire, electrical systems have a tendancy to fail, so how would we get out? Yikes.

Other than that, though, it was an excellent experience in seeing the more multi-cultural side of living in Paris–or really almost-Paris, since we were just on the other side of the périphérique in Saint-Ouen, where they have massive street flea-markets with every possible kind of dusty old castoff you’ve ever seen.

So although I won’t book that apartment again, and I cannot recommend it to you, we’re actually sort of glad we did.

Hard Drive Crash!

Well, excellent timing, I guess, since we’ll be back in the states later tonight, if all goes well. But my computer is temporarily toast — or en panne, as they say here.

So no photo software at the moment. I hope I’ll be able to pull it off yet, since I really wanted to show you photos of the crazy apartment we rented in “sort of” Paris. It’s actually just on the other side of le périphérique from Montmartre, in Saint Ouen, where all the flea markets are. So we’re still walking everywhere, including all the way to the Rodin museum on Thursday, near the Eiffel Tower, though I admit we caught the Metro on the way back.

But now it’s time to pack up and leave France for a while. We’re headed here:

Sunset on Lake Sunapee
Sunset on Lake Sunapee
Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire
Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire

But first we have to make a connection in London. Last time I came home from Paris through London, a weather delay caused me to miss my connecting flight, and spend five hours — yes FIVE HOURS — in line waiting to be rescheduled. And today it’s raining. Just saying.

So please wish us traveling mercies. And if we do end up in interminable queues, wish us charming companions while we wait, like I met last time.

And for all of you already stateside, have a safe and happy 4th of July!

Touring and Tasting: Loire Valley

We’ve been here in Tours since Saturday afternoon, but the time has flown by. Tours is beautiful, with many VERY old and noteworthy buildings, including a magnificent cathedral:

Cathédrale Saint-Gatien de Tours -- Detail
Cathédrale Saint-Gatien de Tours — Detail of Front

But Tours is also in the heart of the Loire valley, which is absolutely encrusted with châteaux and blanketed with vineyards, two of my very favorite things.

Random gorgeous château in the distance
Random gorgeous château in the distance
Vouvray Wine Tour
Vouvray Wine Tour

Yesterday (Monday) I met up with friends, Dany and Francis, who took me to Vouvray for a tour of les caves and some wine-tasting. David stayed back to relax a bit and give me a chance to speak French without the need to translate for him. Since we went early in the afternoon we had a private tour (in French with the occasional English translation for wine-making terms I didn’t know). Les caves were carved out of the limestone cliffs, so double-bonus: beautiful châteaux and other buildings, plus dark, cool space to make wine! 

Today David came along to Chinon for another cave tour and tasting (also turned out to be private, since we were so early — 10 a.m. this time. Rise and shine people! There’s wine to be tasted.)

Château de Chinon
Château de Chinon

The area, including the château was under English control for a while, but the woman giving us the Chinon wine tour said, “Heureusement, Jeanne d’Arc est arrivée . . . ” (Fortunately Joan of Arc arrived . . .) “sinon nous boirions du thé et mangions de la viande bouillie!” ( otherwise, we would be drinking tea and eating boiled meat!)

Restaurant Les Grottes, Azay-le-Rideau
Restaurant Les Grottes, Azay-le-Rideau

Then to lunch here (where neither tea nor boiled meat was offered). Super cute à l’intérieur but it was such a gorgeous day we chose to eat à l’extérieur. 

Then a walk around town to peak at another château and take more photos.

Une maison sur l'Indre
Une maison sur l’Indre — House on  the Indre River

Another fabulous day with friends. 

Dany (left) et Francis
Dany (left) et Francis

Merci beaucoup, Dany et Francis!

 

 

Leaving La Rochelle

Alors, le premier séjour à La Rochelle est terminé. (Well, the first sojourn in La Rochelle has come to an end.) We picked up the rental car Saturday morning, said au revoir to Jacky and Pascale, drove back to the house to load up, and hit the road. Before I close that chapter, one last image of fun in La Rochelle, courtesy of Pascale:

BBQ chez Pascale et Jacky 19 juin 2014
BBQ chez Pascale et Jacky 19 juin 2014 — le fromage (cheese course)

Then we were off to Tours, where I had stayed with a couple–my “host family”–during a week of intensive French classes a couple of years ago. Just a bit more than two hours away, but it has a totally different look:

Tours
Tours — NOT our apartment

I found a great apartment to rent for a few nights. It’s part of the former cloisters of Saint Martin.

Galerie du Cloître Saint Martin
Galerie du Cloître Saint Martin

Our apartment is directly above where I was standing to take this photo. Bonus points: Where’s David?

IMG_3938And an extra ten bonus points: Where’s Sunny? Taken up in the loft bedroom of the apartment.

Our two-story window is the one on the far left.
Our two-story window is the one on the far left.

Did our usually strolling, then got in the car looking for some wine to taste, but alas les caves (remember, say cahv) were closed on Sunday, so drove to Amboise instead and had a look around.

Amboise from across the Loire
Amboise from across the Loire

The château that still stands is seriously impressive, but is merely a fraction of the original. Lots of beautiful details like this:

Château d’Amboise
Château d’Amboise

This is over the door to the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, where Leonardo da Vinci is buried:

Chapel Saint-Hubert, Château d’Amboise
Chapel Saint-Hubert, Château d’Amboise

A few folks looking ready for a masquerade ball were wandering around to add some authentic flavor.

Château d’Amboise
Château d’Amboise

Just one of the gazillion châteaux of the Loire Valley.

Château d’Amboise
Château d’Amboise

The beauty here in France is almost staggering sometimes, and we were fortunate enough to have a gorgeous day in which to appreciate it. Not a bad way to ease the temporary parting from La Rochelle and our La Rochelle friends!

Fun in the Sun: Brouage and Ile d’Aix

I had to set an alarm to be ready early enough for this jam-packed day, but was it ever worth it — absolutely perfect weather, gorgeous scenery, minimal crowds, delicious food and wine, and of course lots of laughs with our fun friends, Jacky and Pascale.

They picked us up at 8:30 a.m. and took us first to see Brouage . . .

Brouage
Brouage
Brouage
Brouage

. . . a 16th century citadel that used to be on the coast, but now, where the sea used to be:

Brouage
The fields around Brouage — like a watercolor painting
Medieval WC, Brouage
Medieval WC, Brouage

I had the wrong lens on to get the full shot of this, but be sure to note more than the pretty stone. The board with the holes . . . that’s the far end of an eight-seater toilette. Yes, EIGHT. Awkward. Lots of cobwebs, so apparently NOT still in use.

After a walk around the perimeter and a stroll through the village, which apparently had not really ramped up for tourist season, we got back in the car and headed to Fouras to catch the ferry to Ile d’Aix (pronounced eel dex).

Pique-Nique in a bit of shade
Pique-Nique in a bit of shade — Photo by Pascale

First order of business, find a bit of shade pour le pique-nique.

Brouage-Aix 25-06 022Then a stroll (with photo stops) around the island. Do you think I have enough bags and cases to juggle while I snap photos and change lenses? My fab hat did come in handy, though. (These two photos by Jacky)

And for all of you playing “Where’s David?” . . . .

 

 

 

Brouage-Aix 25-06 023

Super photogenic place:

Ile d'Aix
Ile d’Aix
Ile d'Aix
Ile d’Aix

Eventually, of course, we had to head back, and although we managed to score great seats on the ferry for the return trip . . .

Pascale and Jacky
Pascale and Jacky

Malheureusement (unfortunately), they were  not on this boat!

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Les Parcs de La Rochelle

One of the great little parks in La Rochelle is the Parc Animalier, a completely free tiny zoo. Look who lives there:

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This mini-zoo is sort of a bonus tacked onto the corner of the main green space of La Rochelle. Parc Charruyer is enormous, running all along the edge of the centre ville of La Rochelle, all the way to la mer.

IMG_3791It’s big enough that you can choose your experience, a wide paved walkway, lined with benches, that you’ll share with cyclists, dog-walkers, and parents pushing strollers. Or a rockier path down closer to the stream, that you’ll share with the occasional runner . . . IMG_3816

Parc Charruyer

And these guys:

Frog Enhanced

Duck and Duckling Enhanced

But on either side, on the far edges, the Wildwood awaits. If you choose either of two narrow hiking paths tucked into the woods, one by a tiny creek, and one on the far side of the stream, you’ll share it with . . . uh . . . who knows . . . . I save those for when I’m with David.

Into the woods of Parc Charruyer . . . .
Into the woods of Parc Charruyer . . . . the not-so-secluded part.

These aren’t the only parks in La Rochelle, but they’re certainly my favorites. Genuine treasures, they’re free to anyone, including this guy, heading in as we were heading out:

Lizard Cropped

Au revoir, monsieur. Bonne après-midi.

The Writing on the Wall

The spring 2014 visit to La Rochelle is almost over, and I’m realizing there were posts I meant to create that never happened. Better late than never, I’ve decided, so prepare yourself for a bit of an onslaught this week. You’ve been warned.

I read an article today in the New York Times about an artist who crafts “three-dimensional graffiti,” which reminded me that I’d been meaning to do a post on the graffiti of La Rochelle.

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Like most cities, La Rochelle definitely has graffiti, some of it unfortunate, but some of it impressively artistic.

There’s an empty building near the vieux port that has apparently been authorized for graffiti. David saw a guy around lunchtime one day working on a wall, and no one seemed at all interested in stopping him. Here are a few of the best I’ve found:

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Tree Graffiti Cropped

David discovered all these on one of his walks early in our stay, and took me to see them. I tend to think of graffiti covered spaces as kind of sketchy–ouch, sorry about the pun–so I was super nervous walking around this little courtyard, even though it was about one in the afternoon. Not sure what I thought would happen, but once I took a deep breath and regained a bit of sanity, I started to really appreciate the artistry.

Most graffiti seems to gather in certain locations, but occasionally you can just stumble upon a tiny bit of ornamented wall, like the first one and these final two. Yes, I know the last one is not really art, but it makes me smile.

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Je t'aime croppedWhich means, “You, there! I love you!”

Now don’t you feel special?