Category Archives: France 2018

La Rentree

Tomorrow we leave for my favorite city, Paris. Its beautiful streets, amazing pastries, abundant art and elegant culture always enchant me. Paris is more like a collection of small towns than a big city, and every block reveals some special delight.

This is a special trip because a dear friend is joining us for his first visit to this magical city. We are excited to share our favorite Parisian experiences with him.

After our week in Paris, we are renting a car and exploring some of the beautiful French countryside in the Loire Valley, Dordogne region and Aix-les-Bains.

La Rentree is a celebratory time in early September when the French return from their long, lovely August vacations to school and work. I am looking forward to my personal La Rentree, returning to the country I love.

The Long Journey to Paris

I always tell myself to be prepared for snafus when I fly, but until our flight from Amsterdam to Paris it had been years since I experienced major air travel challenges. My experience at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol reminded me of the importance of staying calm and flexible.

Ten minutes after boarding for our 1:00 PM departure, we had to deplane because the plane had a flat tire. The captain assured us it would be fixed and we would be on our way in two hours. Two hours later we once again queued at the gate, expecting to board the plane and be on our way. The departure time passed and no KLM staff appeared or made an announcement.

Three times we were given a boarding time, queued, saw no staff or heard any announcement about a change in departure. After the third departure time there was a near riot as angry passengers swarmed the information desk demanding answers. Eight hours after our original departure time, our flight was canceled, and we rescheduled another flight the next morning.

The next morning our new flight departed almost on time, and we finally arrived and moved into our Paris home-away-from-home by the Luxembourg Gardens.

A few hours later our friend Scott arrived and we explored our neighborhood.

That evening we went to my dear friend Moira’s home off the Rue Cler for wine and cheese.

By the end of the evening we had forgotten yesterday’s travel woes.

 

The Louvre and Wine Tasting

I love the luscious Charentais melon, a French variety of cantaloupe. Always fragrant and flavorful, they are one of my favorite French breakfast foods.

After breakfast we went on a guided tour of the Louvre, the largest museum in the world.

My main memory from our last visit to the Louvre in 1993 was how disappointed I was when I saw the Mona Lisa. It was dark, covered by cloudy glass and hard to see. Now the Mona Lisa has a new home in a larger, better-lit room and looks beautiful.  It is protected by special glass to prevent damage from flash photography and any other nefarious activity. Our guide explained why the Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world.

One could spend days in the Louvre and not see everything. In three and a half hours, our CityWonder Tours guide gave us the history of the building, escorted us to the highlights of the collections and taught us what to look for in each work.

After enjoying great art at the Louvre, we enjoyed great French wine at O Chateau. We tasted wine from six different regions. As a champagne lover, I enjoyed learning the proper way to open a bottle of champagne. Alain, our instructor, thought he had probably been our guide at an O Chateau wine-tasting dinner five years ago.

Post-wine tasting we enjoyed a lovely dinner at La Cantine de Troquet, located across the street from our apartment. The karma was great with charming staff, happy diners, and amazing food. I loved my beautiful dish of zucchini, eggplant and Parmesan cheese.

 

Jazz Evening

We spent a great day taking friend Scott to some of our special Paris places.

First stop was Paul’s favorite museum, the Musee d’Orsay, which has the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works.

We were lucky to catch one of the final days of a beautiful exhibit, En Couleurs, la Polychrome Sculpture en France 1850-1910, that looked at the revival of color in sculpture.

Then on to Montmartre, a lovely hilltop area of Paris that was the gathering place for many of the important artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

We were so happy to return to our favorite Montmartre restaurant for our favorite Montmartre lunch of soupe l’ognon.

We enjoyed a wonderful evening of jazz at Chez Papa’s , an intimate jazz club in the St. Germain area of Paris. I had made our reservation in French and over the phone (no verbal clues to see if they were understanding me), so I was so happy when we got there and they had our name on the list.

This quaint club reminded me of something from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

Lovely trio

 

Fabulous Food and the French Revolution

Today was our best Paris food day ever with lunch and dinner at our favorite Paris restaurants. After trying Le Reminet on a friend’s recommendation and loving it five years ago, we always return for a wonderful lunch whenever we are in Paris. The price for the three-course prix fixe luncheon has increased from 15 euros to 24.50 euros since we started going, but it continues to be one of the best lunch deals in Paris. My starter was an amazing broccoli soup, followed by a main course of fish, foamy Parmesan cheese and a four-spice vegetable puree.

Dessert was a sublime violet tart  (the cream was made with violet flowers) and passion fruit sorbet. The gentle violet cream and intense passion fruit complemented each other perfectly.

In the afternoon, we went on a French Revolution walking tour. Richard, our Fat Tire tour guide who was completing his PhD in history, did a fabulous job condensing ten years of history into a compelling two-hour presentation that took us to historic parts of Paris.

Our tour ended on rue de l’Ancienne Comédie, a small street in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres area of Paris which is one of the few historic areas in Paris that is the same as it was during the French Revolution (1789-1799.)  We had visited this charming street on past trips to Paris but never realized its historic significance.

Cafe Procope is the most notable site on the street. Begun in the 17th century, the oldest restaurant in Paris began as a coffee shop. Three hundred years before Starbucks popularized coffee shops, men would gather here to drink coffee, read the newspaper and discuss politics.

In the evening we had the most intricately prepared and presented meal of my life at Restaurant H. We tried Restaurant H on our last trip to Paris two years ago when Chef Hubert Duchenne had just opened his restaurant in the Bastille area. Since then it has earned a Michelin star and is even better than before.

We loved that the same two staff from our last visit welcomed us to the small restaurant which holds about twenty diners and is open for dinner from 8:00 to 10:00. We chose the five-course meal with wine pairing, but with an pre-appetizer, palate cleanser and three desserts, it was really nine courses.

The staff presented each course with a detailed description of what it was and how it had been prepared. Sadly, a significant part of the description was lost in translation.

The best part of the pre-appetizer was the intense watermelon square.

The appetizer was an unexpected combination of marinated tomato with corn sorbet and corn powder.

The main course was filet with the taste of barbecue, potato slices that looked like leaves and truffle.

The third dessert was a tray of little sweets that looked too beautiful to eat.

 

 

L’Atelier des Lumieres

Last night we had our final Paris dinner with friend Scott before he left for home this morning. We spent our last day in Paris at a wonderful new art museum in Paris, L’Atelier des Lumieres. Opened in April, 2018, the digital art museum is housed in a former iron foundry. The first exhibit , which has been held over until 2019, is based on the works of Gustav Klimt, a 19/20th century Austrian symbolist painter..

This immersive art experience is a combination of Klimt’s works projected by 140 laser video projectors onto concrete walls in a huge space accompanied by music from fifty speakers programmed to complement the visual experience.

It was pretty amazing to be surrounded by the beautiful images and music. We especially enjoyed it once we were able to get one of the few seats available.

One of the spaces felt like a house of mirrors to me as I walked on what appeared to be a room without a floor.

Sitting outside at one of our neighborhood bistros with a glass of champagne was the perfect ending a our lovely afternoon.

 

Chartres

Au revoir, dear Paris. After a week of successfully plotting our metro and walking routes all over Paris, my dear husband successfully drove us through the narrow streets of Paris and on to Chartres.

Chartres, our home for the  next two days, is a charming little town of 40,000 people about an hour south of Paris.

We arrived in the late afternoon and after a lovely dinner on one of the plazas enjoyed the Chartres en Lumieres, an impressive light and music show that adorns twenty-four sites each evening from mid-April to mid-October. Chartres was the first city to highlight its heritage with light and is now part of LUCI, the international network of cities on urban lighting.

By combining modern technology with ancient heritage, the city has created a stunning display. I don’t totally understand the technology that projects beautiful, changing designs, but the results are magnificent.

Although we had a phone app that helped us locate the sites, it felt like a treasure hunt, walking around looking for the light and music shows.

The next morning we explored other places in this beautiful little town.

Paul found a wonderful walking tour that took us to a shady park, quaint areas and narrow streets.

As we were crossing the Eure river, a charming French man stopped his bike and told us about a little path that would take us to the river’s bank.  Luckily I understood him well enough to find the little path.

Of course, Chartres’ main claim to fame is the beautiful Chartres Cathedral, home to the largest collection of medieval stained glass windows in the world.

Fortunately, we were able to schedule a tour of the cathedral with Englishman Malcolm Miller, recognized as the greatest authority on Chartres Cathedral, who has been studying it for more than sixty years. I had read that he was a bit quirky and sometimes decided that he would not give a tour, so I was happy when he appeared and our tour began.

His proper style and dry humor were as entertaining as the knowledge he shared with us. We learned so much about the architecture, windows and restoration in the 90 minutes we spent with him.

The cathedral is in the middle of a controversial renovation that is cleaning off 800 years of grime and restoring the walls to their pale ocher color. Some critics believe the renovation is removing the “patina of history”, but Malcolm Miller says, “rubbish”; the cleaning is restoring the cathedral to its original beauty. We saw dramatic before and after examples of the renovation.

 

 

Amboise

We are so thankful that a friend who lived in France for thirty-five years suggested that we put Amboise, a town in central France’s Loire Valley, on our itinerary. As soon as we drove in to the charming city, we knew we would love it. Our adorable apartment is on Rue National, a pedestrian street in the heart of the historic district.

Our first visit of the day was to the Chateau d’Amboise, a residence for French kings from the 15th to the 19th century.

Located right in the city, its towers offered us amazing views of the Loire River and city below.

Although the rooms were not as lavishly furnished as some chateaus, the building and grounds were beautiful, and it was fun to imagine how people lived there.

In the 16th century, King Francis I invited Leonardo da Vinci to to come to the chateau where he lived and worked in nearby Clos Luc until his death three years later in 1519. His remains are supposedly buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert on the chateau grounds, but there is some question about their authenticity.

I discovered a new favorite food at lunch. A Breton galette is a type of buckwheat flour pancake with a savory filling. My galette was filled with three cheeses and Paul’s had the kind of Mexican ingredients found in a taco.

Our lunch waiter recommended that we visit Caveau des Vignerons d’Amboise a wine shop across the street that is located under the chateau that specializes in local, small-production wines. I later read a review that said they no longer offer tastings, but we were able to taste a number of wines and learned a lot about the area.

Wine with lunch, wine tasting right after lunch, and then on to our next stop, wine tasting at Les Caves Duhard.  Our scenic route to the caves took us by the river, up hills and through narrow streets.

The winery is located in caves that were left as a result of excavating limestone used to build the chateau and other buildings. The caves provide consistently perfect 50 degree temperature and 80 percent humidity for storing wine.

We were lucky to have a private tour from two very knowledgeable and charming sommeliers. Our tour felt like a mini-lesson in wine tasting. We had a great experience trying to identify common wine scents.

After I asked some questions about champagne, our sommelier opened two bottles of champagne for us to compare, one from 2015 and one from 1997.

 

 

Chateau Chaumont-Sur-Loire

Many of my favorite travel experiences are unplanned; we discover something while on a walk or notice a poster or pick up a pamphlet. We decided to visit the Chateau Chaumont-Sur-Loire because I picked up a pamphlet when we were in a cheese shop yesterday about an international garden festival and contemporary art installation at the chateau.

Upon arriving at the chateau, about ten miles east of Amboise, we learned that there was a classical music festival on the grounds, so our serendipitous day just kept getting better and better. On our way to listen to a Brahms performance we passed the first of many beautiful art pieces we would see on the grounds and in the buildings.

After the musical performance we walked around both the permanent and festival gardens.

Patrick Dougherty, who had an installation at the Sarasota Museum of Art, had an installation in the historic garden.

The stables were nicer than many homes, and the harnesses were made by luxury designer Hermes.

The chateau was founded in the 10th century and most of the rooms were in need of repair. Few of the restored rooms were furnished. The art installations in the chateau were an interesting contrast with the neglected rooms.

It was a wonderful day of beautiful nature, music, art and design. Paul put together a sampling of our day.

 

Amboise Market and a Lovely Walk

I love going to French markets. The flowers and produce are beautiful; the prepared foods are enticing; and the people watching is the best. I almost always see some unfamiliar food item, and I am constantly amazed that people will buy clothes without being able to try them on. The Sunday market in Amboise, the largest in the Loire Valley, met all my market expectations today.

It was an absolutely perfect day to stroll the market and enjoy the beautiful sights and smells. After trying some delicious cheese, we chose two, one an old favorite and one brand new to us, for our lunch. We got a fresh baguette and a beautiful lettuce at other stands and were set for a great lunch from the market.

In some ways the market reminded us of the Minnesota State Fair. There were interesting live animals

and a vendor selling the exact same “magic” egg beater we bought at the state fair years earlier.

After lunch and a brief nap to recover from our great market lunch and local wine, we set off on one of Paul’s famous walks. We love walking explorations of new cities. Paul does a great job plotting routes that take us to areas we would never see otherwise. In the past he used the CityWalks app, but this time he used a new app, MapMyWalk.

In a very short time we were out of the city and heading down a dirt road.

We walked through a vineyard,

and saw a beautiful view of Amboise below.

Part of our walk was outside the city limits.

I am a sucker for gadgets and was excited to try out my scarf with a hidden pouch for keys and phone. It sounded like a great idea when I ordered it, but in reality, it was hard to get my phone out of the pouch. I will go back to using my trusty cross-body travel bag that I have had for more than twenty-five years.

I will be sad to leave this charming city tomorrow, but I know I will return and plan to stay longer on my next visit.