Friday 11 September – Passy-Grigny to Francueil:
I’ve been in France too long (is that even possible?) – today I started my diary, as usual, with the date, but wrote Septembre instead of September…
We left our lovely B&B and set off on the long drive to the Loire Valley and our gîte which had been booked from Australia and where we would meet Cousin’s friend.
The mostly-motorway drive included a stretch that wasn’t there. At least, not according to our brand new road atlas. For something that didn’t exist it provided us with a smooth run and excellent food at our lunch stop.
Our gîte is very roomy – and it has a washing machine. Oh the little things you take for granted at home that seem like luxuries. And so I stay home to do the washing while Stu and Cousin go shopping.
Is it more dangerous to let them loose on the shops, or to leave me here with all this beer, cider, red wine and champagne?
The gîte has a pool, though it’s a bit cool for swimming, and a large garden full of fruit trees. How lovely.
We picked up Cousin’s friend from the train and came home to have wine, cheese and fuit.
Saturday 12 September – in Francueil:
Cousin and friend were picking up a car in Tours. Because nothing happens early on holidays we were late getting away and the hire car office was closed for lunch by the time we got there so we enjoyed Tours until they reopened and the girls got their car.
Stu and I went to Château de Chenonceau where the one hour audio guide took about an hour and a half,
enjoyed the floral arrangements made with flowers from the estate
and got lost in the maze – but not too badly.
Back at the gîte we sat out the back and drank champagne and ate salmon, paté, cheese, nuts, fresh fruit … then sat up quite late watching The Fugitive dubbed in French. I think it helps if you know the movie.
Sunday 13 September – Francueil to Nemours:
We planned to go to Château de Chambord this morning. As usual we were late getting away – despite being accused of getting up at the crack of dawn. 8 O’clock, I ask you! We packed and cleaned for departure. Our English-speaking landlady was away for the weekend so we enjoyed a round of conversational charades with her parents and claimed our bond back.
We did eventually get to Chambord just in time for lunch which was very good. And the Château itself is truly spectacular. Being later than planned we didn’t have time to explore the gardens but were impressed that they are free which surprised us as so many places aren’t.
We headed our separate ways and Stu and I drove as far as Nemours so we’d be reasonably close to Paris to drop our car off in the morning. Every exit we passed seemed to point to Fontainebleau, but we weren’t heading in that direction. I did quite like it when I was there 2 years ago with Mum so perhaps one of these days I’ll take Stu. We pulled off the motorway and stayed at the Ibis which was just a room. No fridges or even kettles in the rooms here. Dinner was at the grill next door then back to drink too many kirs. Oh well.
Monday 14 September – Nemours to Paris:
Everyone warned us not to drive into Paris and had fits when we said we were dropping off the car at CDG airport. In Tours we had changed this to Orly because the location suited us better. Really, it was no more of a nightmare than driving to any airport in peak hour traffic. Just follow the road and the signs. Anyway, we made it without too much stress, dropped off the car and caught a train into town.
Our apartment wasn’t ready til 4.00 but we had the security code for the laundry room which was off the room where we would pick up our key and leave our rent money in a locker. No need for any personal interaction, apparently. Anyway, we stored our bags with a whole lot of others and went walking … as if our poor feet hadn’t had enough already.
Walking past the Louvre you realise how big it really is.
We found a tourist office and a great little free walking guide with lots of useful information about opening times and prices. This came in very handy for planning. We’d intended to do the catacombes today but they’re closed Mondays, and the Louvre tomorrow but it’s closed Tuesdays. Moving on to plan B …
In the Tuileries Garden someone tried the gold ring scam on us. We’d read about it but were still surprised. My French isn’t good enough to say more than “Non”, but she got the message.
People say that the Metro is better than the Tube. Well, some do. Don’t ask me why. It’s OK. Certainly better than Brisbane transport. But just not quite the same as London.
Our apartment is very small and was stuffy when we walked in. So of course the first thing I did was open the window. Being on the ground floor this opens directly onto the street. What the ad didn’t say that there is an office on the same floor and that all the workers spend more time outside drinking coffee and smoking than inside working. It would have been nice to know.
In its favour, it is very close to lots of cafes, bars and a couple of supermarkets, so we went shopping for essentials which included the obligatory bottle of wine … only to find that we appear to have rented the only apartment in the whole of France that doesn’t have a corkscrew.
Stu went out to find one and was gone so long I was starting to worry. He improved his conversational charades and found a pharmacist who wrote “tire-bouchon” for him so he at least knew what to ask for. And eventually found one. A lucky escape.
After dinner we went for a walk and a Grand Marnier crepe and wandered through a couple of arcades before getting caught in the rain and trying to shelter in a narrow doorway. That was futile so we made a dash and got drenched.
Tuesday 15 September – in Paris:
Our mission to see the catacombes hit a snag as they were closed today and tomorrow due to electrical problems.
Putting Plan C into action.
Off to see Napoleon’s Tomb which is very impressive.
But even better was the musée de l’Armée where we spent hours looking at swords, pistols, armour for people and horses, crossbows and cannon … the list went on.
We walked for a while and somehow managed to find some lunch, but only just. There are a few places in Paris that sell food. 🙂
then headed to the Arc de Triomphe where there were a lot of preparations for the evening ceremony to relight the flame so we decided to climb the Arc first then wait and see what was going on.
The top of the Arc is a great spot to watch the traffic going around what must surely be the world’s most disorganised roundabout. How anyone on the road knows what’s going on I can’t imagine, but there’s a reason you access the Arc via walkways under the road.
Back at ground level we waited for the ceremony. Absolutely no idea, even now, what it was about but apparently it’s no problem to close a section of the Champs-Élysées and the Arc. The ensuing traffic chaos was entertainment enough, even without the parade and the band. Have you ever seen a coach turn at right angles across 4 lanes of traffic to escape a partially closed roundabout?
And after that we ummed and ahed about whether to climb the Eiffel Tower or do a river cruise as it was such a fine night. But we were pretty burnt out so skipped it and headed home for a (relatively) early night.
Wednesday 16 September – in Paris:
The Louvre this morning.
First, the obligatory Mona Lisa. It’s hard to avoid. You kind of get swept along with the crowd. As everyone will tell you, it’s surprisingly small. The signs say “no flash photography” (in pictures, just in case anyone is illiterate or doesn’t speak French). Apparently some people are unable to read pictures either, but no one seems to take any notice.
Then we accidentally found the Venus de Milo (twice) while getting lost on the way to the Egyptian antiquities where we spent a good couple of hours in the relative sanity before getting lost again on the way out.
We checked out the prices at the Eiffel Tower where we were noticeably unharassed by souvenir sellers – only a couple – though we did see one get handcuffed to a light post.
The river cruise, I swear, had exactly the same commentary as the last time. Fair enough, I suppose. Most people would probably only do it once.
It was a bit unpleasant at the top of the Eiffel Tower – windy and cool. That’s our penalty for not going last night when it was fine. And for catching the lift up. Our feet have finally given up on us in protest, so we just had to cheat.
Back on the ground we found a little cafe where we had dinner at some ridiculous time of night. It doesn’t seem to matter here.
Thursday 17 September – In Paris:
Our last day today so we took this last opportunity to visit the Catacombes. Or at least we tried to. It turned out that the real reason they have been closed is due to vandalism and the closure is indefinite. Bugger.
We’re becoming very European. Breakfast was at 11.30am.
Off to Notre Dame where the audio guide was quite confusing in places and we weren’t always sure we were in the right spot or looking at the right thing. The crypt – always one of my favourite parts of a church – has a lot of excavations from the roman Period. It was interesting but we both felt it could have been better explained. Or maybe we just need to suck it up and learn more French. The boards with the English information ran out about a quarter of the way round.
We had a nice walk around the back streets then back to the apartment to pack before finding another spot for dinner and a yummy nougat glacé dessert.
And another early night … haha. Midnight.
Friday 18 September – Paris to Brisbane:
And that’s all for this trip. Until next time, France, au revoir.