Sunday, September 25, 2011

France 1999 Final Entries

Wednesday, September 22

Today is Irene’s birthday and Dianne and Bill’s 20th anniversary. I stayed with the Merrill’s who are not bicycling either and we met the bicyclists in Beynac for lunch. There is a castle there called Beynac Castle. We took a boat ride on the Dordogne River and viewed that castle and three others from the river. They are quite spectacular. One is owned by an American businessman from San Antonio and it is called Frayrac. There are flower boxes in each window. Castelnaud is being restored; was built in the 12th century. Chateau Milandes was owned by Fallies Bergere star Josephine Baker, an American who used it for children of different races and religions. Dinner was excellent at a restaurant called Le Relais de Paste in Sarlat, recommended by Philip, the bicycle aficionado.

Visited Carcassonne another tourist trap, I’m sorry to say. Bagnols in Provence – one of the best towns – fabulous museum: Albert-Andrew museum with modern and contemporary art.

House Mus Treille is great although we have #8 room. Visited Arles – dirty town, Roman Ruins Avignon, big disappointment. St. Remy – good shopping. Orange – wonderful town, clean, good sopping, beautiful roman ruin still in use as a theatre seating 7,000. We have come to the conclusion that the small little towns have the charm and none of the tourist hype of the large cities. Many of the small towns on the wine road are absolutely charming.

Our final dinner on October 1 at Mus Treille was a huge success and ended on a high note.

We’ll be leaving the group tomorrow and on our way to the Riviera tomorrow with only Carole Wick. The Angladon in Avignon is a fine museum.

October 2

Back to my diary. Today became very exciting again. We left with French kisses for everyone from the country house. Lucie and Odile seemed genuinely sorry to see us go. Carol, John and I spent the day oohing-and-aahing over magnificent views. We first visited Gordes – a perfect French Village built into the rocks and a Cistercian Abbey dating back to the 12th century. It is still in use as a monastery and among other things the monks raise lavender. Of course, I bought more lavender and a wonderful cross for Eric for his first communion next May. It was sculpted by an artist whose name is on the box. Then we headed toward Trigance where we are staying in the Chateau Trigance. The trip through the mountains was incredible with mountains of stone reaching the sky all around us, and drops on our side to rival anything we’ve ever seen before in the U.S. The Chateau is sitting up on a cliff and the switchbacks to reach it had us sitting on the edge of our seats. The view from the outside Terrace is like being in an airplane. It closes on the first of November until March as the roads are dangerous and it is too cold, so they don’t have any customers. The room is the best we’ve had although Karen Brown made it sound cold and barren. It is a castle, after all.

The dining room is beautiful – a barrel vaulted ceiling with candelabras on each table. We felt like we had stepped back in time to the middle ages. We were tired after driving all day so early to bed.

October 3

Long drive to Grand Canyon on southern route to Corniche Sublime provided gorgeous and breathtaking views as we climbed to 1400 meters. The Grand Canyon is incredible rock mountains on all sides of a canyon too deep to see bottom. We drove for five or ten miles along its’ boundary on a two-lane road. The sun moved from one rocky precipice to another making them look as if they were snow-covered. We reached Moustiers in time for lunch. What a fabulous small hilltop village. Every house has hanging flowers from window boxes. Morning glories of purple climb the walls and a lovely chapel dating back to 445 ad. is sitting on a rock precipice high above the village. Many pilgrims climb to honor the Virgin Mother and many miracles are attributed to their prayers. Many consider it equal to Lourdes. We visited St. Marie – a very old church in the village. The monks who came here in the first century lived in caves and started this community. The faience pottery called Moustiers is made here. We left for Mougins and drove through beautiful mountains – saw truffle hunters along the roads. Mougins – pronounced “Mou jan” – lovely little village and our hotel is wonderful. Pretty and very luxurious. View of Mediterranean Sea if I stretch my neck out the window.

October 4

Started in St. Tropez and drove along the coast to Cannes. The road hugs the coastline and the mountains rise alongside. The water is purple and blue and you know why they call it Cote Argus. It is incredibly beautiful and similar to Southern California but more fertile and more dramatically beautiful. Sometimes the red rocks rise up hundreds of feet from the ocean to the road and again beside the road. The beaches vary from wide and sandy to a sea wall where the waves crash against the wall. St. Tropez and Cannes are lovely spots with beautiful people and expensive shops. All the best are here: Cartier, Escada, etc. We saw the location of the Cannes Film Festival. The movie stars have their hands molded into tiles on the walks.

A very long and tiring day and it was a relief to reach our destination here in St. Paul de Vence. The room is great with French doors to an outside terrace – charming.

October 5

St. Paul de Vence is another wonderful hilltop village with streets so narrow and steep you must leave your cars in a car park. Many galleries and wonderful nooks and crannies with charming doorways. My camera doesn’t get a rest and I hope they all come out. We drove to the Nice Airport to check out the time for Thursdays’ flight before driving the shore route from Nice to Monaco and Menton. It is an unbelievable shoreline – mountains down to the sea peppered with beautiful homes built into the hillsides. Can there be so many billionaires? The yachts look like cruise ships and there are harbors full of them. We stopped at Eye, a hilltop village a mile up from where we left our cars. I took some great pictures. The sights and views from the top of Eze take your breath away. You look down on the Azure Sea where the sailboats look like toys and the mountains loom out of the ocean on all sides. Our eyes cannot take in all the beauty everywhere. Monaco is full of skyscraper condominiums and hotels perched on cliffs surrounding a magnificent harbor filled with yachts. We had lunch at McDonalds – good to get a McChicken sandwich.

October 6

Great day – fabulous weather all this week on the Cote d’ Azure and the Riviera. Today we went to Nice and walked the Anglars Promenada. It is a magnificent beach although rocky and a wide Promenade with a section for bicycles and skaters and a space for benches in addition to a very wide walkway for pictons. Went through the wonderful hotel with a huge Baccarat crystal chandelier – magnificent – beautiful shops. We went to Henre Matisee Musee – disappointed to find only one completed painting – mostly sketches for others including the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence. So off to Vence to find it closed today. It was a fun day but we are ready for home. McDonalds for dinner so we can eat early. Restaurants don’t open until 9:30 and you are lucky to finish by 10 o’clock.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

France 1999

Monday, September 13, 1999

John and I decided to try Jane and Bill Murrays’ solution to jet lag and rose at 4 a.m. to get on French time. I was exhausted during the morning and fell asleep about 9:30 a.m. for an hour. Except for that it really worked for us and we slept over an hour on the plane (a first for us) and arrived Paris feeling terrific. We are amazed!

The flight and our trip to Dulles with Irene and Carole went smoothly. We are flying a 777 Boeing and we enjoyed the individual TV’s plus at least three films to choose from. Food is typical airline – pretty bad. Arrive Paris at 8:30 only 20 min late to cloudy skies and dense fog. Nothing can disturb us. We caught a cab to Paris – Oakleys, Merrills in one and Irene, Carole and us in the other.

Tuesday, September 14

Our hotel “Prince Conti” on Rue Guenegaud is tiny, but very French – fabulous staff helped us in and got us settled in our rooms, but beautifully decorated. We walked to the Louvre to see the Pei Pyramid and get the Paris feeling – seeing lovers kissing on Port Nerf reminds you that this is a romantic city. The first day is always difficult because of being tired, but John and I both feel great because of sleeping on the flight. We visited St. Eustace church – very old – very run down and went to the roof of Samaritaine for lunch and a view of the city. It wasn’t a good day – showery, so very few patrons, but a lovely view of Paris. Lunch par bonne. Cocktails at 5 and out to a light supper at 7. Bed will look good tonight. Paris really comes alive at night, but not for us tonight.

Wednesday, September 15

We wake at 8 a.m. to rain – really pouring. Breakfast in the hotel worked well for us – a nice little serve-yourself-buffet including bacon and eggs for hot items. The group going to Normandy – Olsons, Royer, Merrill and Fearens lost their B&B reservation. Joselyn sold their B&B. They filled the wee lobby here for hours searching for a new place and getting rental cars. John and I left in the rain for the metro – getting soaked on the way but found our way to Invalides, checked out his rental for Friday and walking on to the Rodin Museum. (Bought an umbrella in the subway). The sculptures are magnificent. “The Tinker” (original) is in the gardens, as are many in their final form. Inside you see the same in a smaller piece as a study. His couples are magnificent – such grace and beauty of the two figures as they meld into one. His women are beautiful. His “Gate to Hell” is huge in the garden and scary as human figures writhe in hell. After lunch in another brasserie (croquet monsieur again) we took the metro to the Marmottan museum. It is housed in a beautiful old home and it is a magnificent collection of Monet including the famous “Impression Sunrise.” Many of Berthe Morisot’s drawings, watercolors and oils. She has a unique style and we enjoyed them. She even had some pastels. Pissarro, Gauguin, Sisley and Rodin had works of art there, but they were beautifully hung in a magnificent gallery. Some furniture made it look like a home.

We are exhausted. The sun did come out in the afternoon and as we went back to our hotel, I don’t even know how I’ll eat dinner, as we are tired – still jet lag! Restored after a shower, we joined the group for cocktails and dinner at Le Restaurant des Arts near our hotel. Excellent and well priced. Four of us had Cod – fabulous sauce and five star desserts.

Thursday, September 16

Slept until 8 again – gorgeous day, about 65 degrees. We walked across Pont Nerf to a little brasserie for coffee, juice and croissant on our way to Notre Dame for a brief visit and to light a candle for our millennium baby. We came home through the Latin Quarter and it is very picturesque little restaurants on both side of a narrow cobblestone alley. Many small parks dot Paris and we cut through a small one filled with sculptures on our way back to meet Francois for lunch. He arrived about 12:15 and we went to a colorful brasserie near our hotel and ate outdoors in a sidewalk area. Francois looks great and he stayed with us for the afternoon. We met an American couple from San Francisco who suggested we shouldn’t miss Picasso Museum where his private collection was on exhibit, so Francois guided us through the metro.  The exhibit was interesting but I’m not a fan of Picasso and find it hard to understand much of his art. However, it was interesting and it was fun to be with Francois. He has changed – not so brash – more mature, but a very bright young man whom we believe will be successful at his chosen career of teaching history. Irene joined us to the museum.

Back in time for cocktails and dinner at Paul’s on 15 Place Dauphine – 35 quay des orfèvres. Excellent and reasonable. Food is very expensive here so $39 is good. Back to our hotel to pack for tomorrow. We are looking forward to getting to the country.

Friday, September 17

Beautiful morning – early up at 6. John and Carol went to pick up the rental car and Irene and I waited with the luggage. It was 9:30 before we started and we were able to get out of town OK, but headed North instead of South on the Peripheral ring road. This extended our trip by an hour as we ended up doing a complete ring before heading south to Limage and Sarlat. We stopped for some time at Oradour, a memorial village left as if time had stopped on June 10, 1944 after 200 German soldiers rode tanks into town, violated the women and shot 642 men, women and children – setting the town on fire to incinerate the victims and everything that would burn. It is a sight I will never forget and more emotional and upsetting than Normandy.

We arrived in Sarlat at 7:30. Dinner had been postponed until 8:15. Dinner was fabulous – salad of duck and greens, a Dordogne specialty – rack of lamb, roasted potatoes, mushrooms – then a cheese course and a dessert to die for – chocolate and cream cake on thin sponge cake set on framboise sauce and a Bavarian cream sauce. Just wonderful! Bed at 10:30. It has been a long, long day. Tomorrow we move into our Country house to relax.

Saturday, September 18

Today was great fun – cloudy day and temperature about 65-70 degrees. After breakfast at the Madeleine, we visited the market. Every street and alley was filled with vendors, selling everything from cooked Bouillabaisse to art. The town is delightful with wonderful winding cobblestone alleys. You can go in the front door of a restaurant and right through to a lovely sidewalk café on a rear terrace on another alley. The tables are covered with Pierre Due-type prints with bright coordinating napkins. The place is mobbed. It runs until 12 o’clock from about 7 a.m. Carole and I fell in love with the work of a watercolorist and I bought a rooster for Susan. It was $100 – Carole bought a cow. We had garlic soup in a bread bowl for lunch. Then we left for Marcillac to see our country house.

The anticipation is such fun as we drive into the country. We left on Rt. 704 to the turnoff for Marcillac St. Quentin over a winding one-lane road – mostly uphill with very few homes. In the square at Marcillac we came to Maison Nouaille and drove through ancient pillars on a gravel driveway to a beautiful sandstone home. The place has the equivalent of three houses – two swimming pools, three kitchens. We are in the main house with eight people. Four in an adjoining house and four in the house across our back driveway. The place is fabulous. The girls shopped and we had a great dinner. Nan, Irene, Marion and Jeannice did most of the work. Our bikes arrived and we’ll try them out tomorrow, weather permitting.

Sunday, September 19

Off on our first bike ride of the trip even though rain is threatening. Eight of the 18 have decided to ride to Montignac and to visit the Lascaux Caves. The ride was downhill for two miles then up for three. By the time we were halfway there, I was exhausted. My beautiful perigot bike weighed a ton and got heavier with every mile. We visited the cave and saw a cave made to resemble the Lascaux because so many people were visiting the cave, the atmosphere was being affected and the paintings would be ruined. They are 17,000 years old and were discovered in 1940 by four refugee boys and a dog. No lunch except vending machine food, as we were too tired to go into Montignac and come back up a steep hill. We started back – just John and me, but the trip, which should have been easy, was exhausting. The hills never stopped. Everyone was lost in one way or another but all turned out well when we struggled home to a spaghetti dinner the girls had fixed. It was delicious and much appreciated. A hot tub was also delicious. These tubs are grand and you can soak in hot bubbles up to your neck.

Early to bed. More biking tomorrow. I have mixed emotions.
Monday, September 20

The bicyclists left after breakfast with van and trailers loaded with bicycles. Carole and I stayed home to paint – it was a lovely peaceful day. She taught me some yoga positions and we painted without interruption. She is such a good artist. I caught up on our laundry so it was a super day for me. John said they went to La Buge, Les Eyzies, Leon – Suresenes and Montignac – all nice little towns. Dinner at the four seasons in Sarlat was excellent for everyone but John and me, as we ordered beef, which was tough as shoe leather. The vegetables were excellent – our artichoke heart was filled with carrots, celery and potatoes.

Tuesday, September 21

Left today for St. Emilion. It is a picturesque town – very quaint, but a bit of a tourist trap. Mostly wine stores. The tour of the Hermitage of St. Emilion turned into a farce, since the tour guide started by making jokes of his miracles and then explaining that the statue of him was really a statue of St. Francis. It was a long ride from Marcillac and we were detoured on the way home through Castelnaud where we found a better bike road for tomorrow. I am not biking tomorrow because my stomach has been giving me a problem since the first day of biking and I feel it is aggravated by the biking. Very poor lunch, but we came home to a fabulous meal of soup and salad and great pain fixed by Jeannice.