A Travellerspoint blog

Day 35 oops said it was day 35 last blog (by mistake)

Wed 28th May Day 11 of French tour - Deauville to Paris

Well we had a quick look at the village of Deauville before leaving this sweet little town this morning. On the way out, we saw the fabulously wealthy homes at the top of the cliff overlooking the beach. What a wonderful area. 2 days there instead of 2 days way out in the wop wops of Tours would have been better Trafalgar (if you are reading this). We then headed to the long awaited destination for me, Honfleur. We passed through a forest this time which was something different for us to enjoy. Honfleur was as beautiful as I imagined and more really. I would loved to have spent longer here, at this little town on the water with its utterly magical houses, the usual pretty cobbled streets and a lovely, interesting happy feel. Next, we travelled on to Rouen, to see the spot poor Joan of Arc who was only 19 at the time, was burned at the stake. How sad is this place in the middle of the town where everyone came to watch this disgusting thing happening to a very young woman. At the spot, there is a simple garden with a small plaque - thats all! Rouen is a lovely, very busy, old city with a cathedral that Monet painted many times in his paintings. Another lunch near where he had taken his inspiration. Baguettes - are feeling very french now, with all this consuming of baguettes for our lunches. We can see why the French eat these as they are the cheapest lunches and very convenient. We certainly enjoyed this town all except for the very sad spot where Joan perished all those years before.
We are now continuing our round trip back to Paris to a nice hotel in a MEAN area, way a way from Paris central of course. It is reminiscent of Naples yet not as bad. Still pretty scary with pickpockets, people sleeping on the street and in a petrol station forecourt and hookers all around our hotel. Fleur, a bit like Grey Street in St Kilda but worse!
Our room with its tiny window was on the 1st floor and overlooked the street front, so we saw what went on there. We couldn't have the window open for fear of someone climbing up to it. Yes Kristin I know, it wouldn't have been a bear though. (More on that story later when we get to Sweden.... something to look forward to I guess dear readers.)
That night, we went on our very biggest spend of our additional tours. We went to Moulon Rouge! OMG -dinner included and squashed in like sardines but a nice dinner before the show all for the small fee of 300 Euros for the 2 of us. Now you understand why we missed Tours and Lyon, we really wanted to spend the money on this night. IT WAS ABSOLUTELY WORTH EVERY EURO TOO. If you are going to it, don't read this bit as I don't want to spoil it for you. The set and its contruction and the ease of how it moved was great for Des to see. For those of you who don't know, Des has built theatre sets for years and worked on stage manuevering them. The costumes where stunning and I was close enough to see them really well and with about 60 on stage quite often, all in the same costume, and those can can dresses, a sight for a costume designer, sewer and quick change lady's sore eyes! As you can probably guess, I did that for years in theatre but thankfully, have retired from it all now.
The choreography and extra parts to the show, such as a huge pool suddenly coming up from within the stage with water in it and real, huge snakes swimming in it, then one dancer, diving in amongst them and swimming with them and hugging them. Words fail me on that really. Then there were 8 shetland ponies suddenly coming on stage in a couple of parts. How well trained were they and completely unfazed by it all, as they strutted around the stage. Then there were the 2 acrobats as good as any Cirque de Solei team and there was the fill in man who did alsorts of truely amazing things. Then of course, there were all the dancers and yes men, the girls with no tops. What beautiful little boobs they had too (even for a woman to say). No sagging floppy things hanging out of their costumes there. They all had absolutely beautiful bodies - men and women alike. Julien had told us earlier, most of the dancers are Australian because the French are too lazy to do 2 shows a day. Facinating eh. Bare breasted women aside, this was such a tasteful and worthwhile show and yet another highlight for us to add to the many we have had in 35 days so far.

Posted by RitchieOE 00:45 Comments (0)

Thank you to all

I can't believe it

This is just a little comment to you all. I cannot believe you are taking so much interest in my blog. Too date, the most read blog was San Marino where 602 people took the time to read it. There have also been several in the 400's and 500's. Such a boost to keep going writing this. I am up to day 35 and we came home on day 61 so there's a bit more to go so hang in there kind readers. Wished I knew who you all are. Valda

Posted by RitchieOE 23:58 Comments (0)

Day 35 and Day 10 of France

Tours to Deauville

Sunny day with cold wind though. This time travelling on the bus with Julien again, through gorgeous little French villages and narrow roads making it so lovely. Nice to not be on motorways and enjoy the real French countryside.We actually saw the real France today and yesterday and it is wonderful afterall.
First stop, St Michel (the Archiangel) on a tiny island with a causeway out to it. Biting wind but still fantastic to go to. We climbed to the top, up all the stairs, to the Abbey and looked out to be able to see for miles and miles aound. From here their were views of Brittany on one side and Normandy on the other side. Wow, its amazingly flat, but really really worth the experience here. Nuns and Monks still live at the top in the Abbey even though there are so many stairs up to them. I did ponder on how they cope with all the stairs in their long cassacks and gowns. When we arrived at the top, where the beautiful church of St Michel is built, with its high ceilings giving beautiful accoustics, they were celebrating Mass and their singing was "heavenly". Other people where also taking part in the mass, so we found it was open to others and we just sat and watched, rather than joining in, due to our time constraints. It seemed so amazing, that high up on this rock (which is the Island of St Michel) there is this wonderful place where God is praised everyday. It was a very profound place to be for Catholics and Christians alike. We then walked back down the stairs to the little village below which is also on the island. It is a miriad of narrow winding cobbled streets on hilly terrain with again, lots of little interesting shops and lots of tourists flocking to this amazing place. Lunch of bagettes was munched sitting out of the wind, on even more steps, just outside the town, before we headed back along the long causeway to the bus. A very beautiful and memorable place to have experienced so we were happy.

Off to Normandy which also is really beautiful but with the sad reminders of the Normandy landings where on 6th June 1944, so many soldiers and civillians were killed. We travelled through the little villages where so many people lost their lives and were bombed to oblivion and the towns have since, been rebuilt. Now here, we discovered a different side to Julien. He is about 50 years old and he grew up in that area having been brought up by his Grandparents who lived through this terrible time during WWII. This area is very personal to him and he told us all about what it was like growing up there, since the war of course. Here we saw a very emotional Julien who was even crying at times as he told us about it all. Maybe this is why he is the way he is? Perhaps he puts on this huge bravado front as it had obviously affected him very deeply. We then went to Omaha Beach and the American Cemetry there and then on to Juno Beach where the Canadians had landed and been killed. We also went to their cemetry at Beny du sumer. All this had been very sobering for us especially the Americans and Canadians on our trip.
We arrived at our next stop for the night in Deauville, at dusk at 8.30pm. Too late to see this beaufitul town also. After we had dinner in our Ibis hotel, which was in the town this time and very comfortable, we were too tired to go exploring in the dark but could see the boat harbour just across from our room and thought we could get up early and go for a walk before leaving this lovely place. This had been a good day - sad - but good.
We decided the Deauville and Normandy area was really pretty and we could come back to here again. Perhaps, that could have been because we were not on the motorways for a change. By now, dear readers, you are probably getting the message, that I don't like travelling on motorways when on tour, do I.

Posted by RitchieOE 17:18 Comments (0)

Tours, France

Day 33 and Day 9 of our French tour

3rd wet day in a row - pity. We are in the front seat of the bus today too. So much more to see here.We all gleefully waived good bye to Julien today (its his day of rest, for some reason) and today we have Carol our local guide with us and a different bus driver - Bob. Perhaps we won't get lost today, one wonders.....
Carol was excellent. We were all very pleased when was even doing the town of Tours walk tonight, so thats all good for those taking the optional extra dinner and guided walk. Not us again unfortunately. I actually can't understand why these walking tours were extra, dinner yes, I understand, but to see the town that you have come to, surely that should be included in our costs. Another Tralalgar cock up I suppose. Never mind, this will just mean we have missed out on Lyon and Tours because of where our hotels are - too far away. Our hotel was way, way away again, from the town and today, it was wet and again no other transport to get there to see it for ourselves. Well we could have taken a taxi but we were being a bit obstinate there. So we had soup at the bar in the hotel. That seemed to be the only thing available to us that night, it would seem. Even that, seemed a bit of an effort for the French to conjour up for us. Man, I certainly understand why Europeans always enjoy Kiwi friendliness and hospitality now. It is fairly non existant in Italy and completely non existant in France. Switzerland was lovely though.
Anyway, we began the day with a trip to Chateau de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley and on the River Chur. Built in the 16th century, it was full of intrigue with King's mistresses and Queen's banishing and poisoning the mistress after the King had died. Also, the Queen, whose husband was assasinated by a monk so she lived in the Chateau for 11 years, in a black room, in mourning, never venturing out of it. The room still looks like that today too. Then during the 1st World War, in the gallery which was built over a bridge across the River Chur, and was 60mtrs x 6 metres in size, was turned into a hospital ward, as were all the other rooms in the castle. Then, in the second world war, as this area was a Free Zone, the resistance smuggled people through here in France. Plus the beautiful river it was set over and the imaculate and huge gardens and farm houses and stables, and the mistresses house she was banished too, made this a wonderful place to visit with Carol giving us such a good tour with so much information which we would never have had with Julien.
We then headed to Amboise, another little French town where Leonardo da Vinci is buried. such a lovely village, even in the pouring rain. Before we crossed to the town of Amboise, Carol stopped the bus and walked us over a grassy hill, down to the river's edge to show us a recent statue of Leonardo da Vinci reclining in all his glory, beside the river, just across from his town. Some of us were a bit naughty really, me included of course, and sat in his naked lap for a photo shoot. I am sure he would have been quite happy about that really.
Lunch in a little cafe in Amboise then off to the final Unesco World Heritage Site for the day - Chambord. Just as Chenonceau and the day before in Cognac, King Francis I popped up again. He had had this huge place built as a hunting lodge. Leonardo da Vinci was the architect. It was not finished in King Francis's lifetime. Although there is nothing in this huge chateau, set on acres and acres of land, the one attraction, apart from going to the top to view the property, was the amazing staircase that Leonardo designed. It is a double staircase which spirals around with a void in the middle. Its a bit hard to describe really, except to say if one person is either ascending or descending one staircase and someone else is doing the same on the other staircase at the same time and there are also windows on each landing looking into the middle void, you can wave to the other person. This appeared to have been built as a folly really but all marble and a real feat of architecture by that amazing man, Leonardo da Vinci.
We are constantly in awe of what he achieved in his lifetime.
Back to the hotel having done enough for us today anyway and it was still raining, we were happy to just stay in the hotel as it was very comfortable and warm and dry there. Thanks to Carol and Bob, we didn't get lost and were not always on the motorway (only some of the time). We had the best day in France today I think.(except for our free day in Nice),. Now why would that have been I wonder?

Posted by RitchieOE 16:55 Comments (0)

Lourdes to Bordeaux

Day 31 and Day 7 of French Tour

Very cold and wet today with a maximum temp of 12 degrees and minimum of 1 degree. Another fairly pathetic breakfast, not much to write home about them, in French hotels though. Off to our cog train trip at La Rhune into the Pyrenees. Built in 1924, it takes 35 minutes to climb to the summit of La Rhune which is 905 metres (A bit on the small side for us after Jungfrau and the Matterhorn in Switzerland). It was 4 degrees and misty, as we waited at the train station, which gave it a really picturesque look in this very tiny village. It did remind us of being in Switzerland again, except it was colder here. When we reached the summit in this little open aired train, we were all frozen to the core and by then it was raining in on us too. The idea of this train, was to take us to the border of Spain, so we were all looking forward to that. Some more than others as there was a shop across the border that sold very potient alchol called Anisette. Naturally, not being drinkers, Des and I didn't need to taste this or buy it but we did enjoy our included cup of hot chocolate, which warmed us up. We took the obligatory photo of each other with one foot in Spain and one foot in France with Des singing something about "The rain in Spain falling mainly on the Plain" What, this was the mountain Des! Shut up OK and just get back on the train. Its too cold and wet here for me! The trip down was below freezing as now the rain was coming in on us all so 35 minutes downwards seemed more like 3 hours. Still it was another one of those unforgetable experiences we ENDURED!
Onto Biarritz for a hot lunch and a walk down to the lovely surf beach where it was too cold to linger there. Biarritz was a nice little town but the first cafe we went in to with 3 other couples from our tour bus was not nice. We actually saw 3 french waiters look us all up and down with utter distain and totally ignored us until we all gave up and left. They probably saw the bus drive by earlier and thought they would not lower the stuck up French ways to wait on us English speaking low lifes. No wonder France is suffering with the tourist dollar. We found a really warm little cafe further up the road. Basic food but extremely friendly staff and couldn't do enough to please us. I think this must happen quite a bit in Biarritz.
This time we actually were happy to be on the warm bus and off again on another long journey down yet another boring motorway to Bordeaux. My feeling by this stage: If Tralafgar added another 2 - 3 days to travel on lesser roads, the scenery would be much more interesting and therefore people may want to come back instead of thinking France was not a pretty place to visit. When we were on lesser roads, the scenery was lovely but we all know how boring motorways are eh.
Now we had left the hilly area and were on the flat - total flat again. Bordeaux is a pretty city with lots of Roman Architecture and an easy grid of roads making it easy to find your way around. The other thing about this trip we found, so often, we would only be in a town for 1 night and arrive at dusk or afterwards and be off by 8am giving us no time to have a good look at the area we had come to. Bordeaux was one of those towns. 2 days here would have been really good Trafalgar! :) We and the other NZ couple, Peter and Catherine found a little Asian Restuarant to have a delicious meal and a caraffe of Rose. All served by lovely young french waiters with the menu completely in French so it was a surprise as to what we were going to be eating. Our mains, we had guessed right so they were yummy. Our desserts, we had guess wrong - it wasn't chocolate log - we still don't know what we ate but it was nice though. On our way to this wee restuarant, we had passed though the square of the Cathedral of St Andrew. As it was late, the church was closed but their seemed to be something happening in the square that we soon found was a gathering of young Nazi facists. There was also heaps of Police with guns hanging around so we all moved away very quickly. It gave us a very strange feeling, very unnerving for us little peace loving kiwis. During our meal, they processed past our restuarant carrying raised flaming torches. It seemed fairly peaceful but the police and paddy wagons coming up at their rear may have been the reason for that. There were more police (hundreds by the look of it) than demonstrators. While they were passing, the lovely French waiter just quietly closed and locked the Restaurant door making us all feel a little more safe. We had also see Julien following all this to see what was happening and the next morning on the bus he said the Nazis are rearing their ugly heads again in Europe and it is beginning to look very dangerous again. He had never seen a demonstration like this and the raised flaming torches was a sign they are ready to strike. Well that didn't make us feel any safer did it!!! :(
We had to walk back the way we had seen them all heading, when we left the Restuarant at 10pm but didn't see them anymore. Here is this lovely old town with this as a memory for us and it wasn't good.

Sun 20th May Day 32 of OE and Day 8 of France.

Soon after boarding the bus this moring, we arrived in St Emillion, a lovely little old town where they grow graves grapes for graves wines. Many of the tour group tasted the wines while Des and I set off to enjoy the beauty of this old French Village and Church. Here there is also a church that only the locals can attend Mass at and it is in a cave under the village. The town reminded us of the village in "La Chocolat". Although the weather was again cold and wet here today, the village was still once again, beautifully unique and pretty. We got on the bus again and would you believe it - we spent the next 1 hour on the bus LOST! Des and I were sitting in the front seat today so we could verify this huge mistake by the driver and stupid Julien. We actually went around the same roundabout 3 times in that hour without Julien mentioning how stupid they were. It wasn't until he heard me say, "this is the third time we have been around this roundabout Des" that he actually apologized for getting lost ... for a time as he put it. This guy tells us he has been doing his job for over 20 years..... how can he get lost in a small area like this? Another experience we shall remember for a long time and another black mark for Trafalgar. Perhaps this is why it was easier to stay on the motoway as we hadn't even found our way back to it by then and, perhaps, that is why it takes so long to get to our next destination. Bearing all this in mind, this was the first time we had been able to sit in the front of the bus and actually see where we were going. Who knows how often this had happened before you have to ask yourselves. Unbelievable really! Just another tick for Cosmos as we were never lost with them. About 2 1/2 hours later we found our way to the next destination of Cognac, to a very wealthy distillery there. All the way, Julien was going on and on about Cognac and the good distilleries and the bad distilleries and that this was the only one to buy your Cognac from blah blah blah and even more blah!!!!! We had to go even though we actually weren't the slightest bit interested in how Cognac was made. The distillery was interesting even for us though as it was housed inside an old castle of Francis I in the actual church he had been baptised in. This castle was, in the 1700's, bought by a family who started the Cognac business that is still in existance there. Amazing that it was the church that the cognac is stored in the barrels. The most expensive bottle of Cognac, which Julien told us was the only one to buy there was over 4,000.00 Euros which Des seems to remember was about 750mils. Imagine that smashing on the plane back to NZ. No thanks Julien. He certainly must have been getting a cut at this distillery, we are sure.
Back on the bus, destination Tours. Very slow on the motorway as there had been a huge accident in the wet further along, which held us up as the traffic on a sunday afternoon was banked back 40km. That gave Julien more time to talk AT us about all the kings and queens of France and all the mistresses of the Kings. Unfortunately, that was my fault because I asked him a question about King Francis the first. I was possibly, a little unpopular with everyone else on the bus (that was 48 others I think). He never SHUT UP! Because of the 40km queue on the motorway, Julien chose to head off for a "Happy Place" stop for us and hopefully the backup would have cleared by the time we joined it again. Hell, everyone else on that motorway had decided to do that too so the queue for the ladies toilet was as long as France itself so I chose to hold on...... Why is it that the men don't EVER NEED TO QUEUE? but the women do? There was never enough time allowed for the womenfolk on our tour bus as you were only ever given 20 minutes before you had to be back on the bus. This was never enough time for everyone to have gone to the loo.
Back on the motorway to the banked up traffic and we still had 160 km to go and its 5.55pm already and we started off at 8am..... We finally arrived at 8pm a nice hotel in Tours though. There turned out to be quite a lot of Catholics on our tour including a Priest from Canada. We had dinner at the hotel and the Priest then doned his vestments and those who wanted to attend, us included, headed off to a conference room to celebrate Mass with Father Joe and Des leading the singing and me being the Minister of Eucharist. Just like at home really.

Posted by RitchieOE 20:18 Comments (0)

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