Sunday and time to leave Paris where all we really did was drop of our car for shipment to the US and organize our “stuff” again to make it easier to carry.
There are several ways to get to London from Paris – you can fly, take a ferry or take the train through the Channel. It didn’t take much thinking about it to decided to take the train and experience high-speed travel underwater!
The Train takes about 2 ½ hours from Paris Gare du Nord Station to London St. Pancras Station. The entire distance is something like 450 Km or around 275 miles.
During the trip we were underwater for 50.5-Km or 31.4 miles and reached speeds of 300 Km per hour (186 miles per hour) or so. It was a smooth uneventful trip and included a lunch with wine! The train was practically empty with only maybe 10 people in our coach.
When we arrived in London, we gathered up all our stuff and headed for a Taxi and a ride to our VRBO apartment in the Soho or Covent Garden area of London. We had booked a nice basement apartment with a living/dining/cooking area a large bedroom and a bathroom with a classic old tub. All the comforts of home and in a great location to explore the City.
After catching an OK dinner at an Italian restaurant we decided it would be OK to try and take in a play, so after a while we walked down to Piccadilly Circus and the Criterion Theatre to pick up a couple of tickets for The Comedy About a Bank Robbery.
The area around Piccadilly Circus was filled with people all having a great time. We walked down the road a bit and popped into a couple of places to warm up. One of them, a very large bookstore, had the first Christmas tree we have discovered on our trip.
The play was a very funny play more in the style of a vaudeville production with lots of funny lines and actions. It was a nice entertaining evening and with all the other plays in the West End I expect we will see another one or two while we are here.
Rouen France – the Capital of Normandy – a lovely city where we stayed for a few days prior to going to Paris. We had NO specific plans other than to just relax and walk around the City. We stayed across the street from the main train station and very close to the Old Section of town.
During our walks we passed a number of Beaux Arts buildings next to sagging Half-Timber buildings, and even some places that appeared to have been damaged as a result of WWII.
During our visit to the Museum of Beaux Arts , we were most likely the only Americans in the place. Yes there were other tourists, it is the end of the 2-week school break, but most of the other folks were French.
It is enjoyable to be visiting places throughout our trip where the normal USA Tourist doesn’t come – particularly during this time of year. Rarely did we hear English being spoken, mostly French.
Claude Monet loved Rouen because of its light ,which reflects on golden sandstone building material off of the Seine. The Museum’s cathedral painting, however, is shrouded in a grey veil. The Joan of Arc room showed multiple artists through the ages who have portrayed The Maid, visionary and martyr. Enormous religious paintings rescued from churches during the Revolution fill many rooms, but are more easily viewed than those at the Louvre. Shops closed for All Saints Day, but fortunately for us, PAUL eateries were open for lunch, even late lunch.
Rouen is known for its Notre Dame Cathedral, with its Tour de Beurre (butter tower) financed by the sale of indulgences for the consumption of butter during Lent. The cathedral’s gothic façade (completed in the 16th century) was the subject of a series of paintings by Claude Monet (several of which we saw in the Museum of Beaux Arts).
Another well know feature within the old section of Rouen is the Renaissance clock mounted in an arch crossing the Rue du Gros-Horloge. This clock, the oldest in France, was built in 1389 and shows the phases of the moon and the days of the week. The façade represents a golden sun with 24 rays on a starry blue background and measures 2.5 meters (a bit more than 8 feet) in diameter.
We left Rouen heading for Paris as we needed to turn in our car for shipment to the USA. We are now without our own transportation – and are heading to London on Sunday via the Chunnel and EuroStar train. More about that later.
All my life I have known about D-Day and the beaches of Normandy. While I didn’t have any relatives (that I know of) actually involved in this effort, my father, uncles, grandfather were all in the Navy and so my military history was something that was part of growing up. While my relatives were all in the Pacific, Normandy and its beaches were certainly part of all history of World War II.
For our visit to the area, we stayed in Bayeux where, I came to learn was the FIRST village or town the Allied Forces liberated! Little did I know when I made the reservation at the hotel.
One of the first memorials I saw was a plaque mounted across the street from the Cathedral which states, in English, “To the glory of God and in the Memory of all Ranks of the 50th Northhumbrian Division who laid down their lives for justice freedom and the liberation of France in the assault on the Beaches…” I was to find more of these kinds of plagues as we toured around the area.
Now more than 70 years after D-Day, the Normandy coast is peaceful with lovely seaside towns and picturesque beaches. Many of the towns have names of the form something-sur-mer; sur-mer is French for “on the sea”. Behind the coast is an old-fashioned farming landscape of grain fields, cattle and pastures, hedges and farmhouses. However, the memories of war and D-Day are engrained in the landscape.
Along the 80-km (50-mile) D-Day invasion coast there are the remains of German gun emplacements and bunkers, while war memorials and monuments mark where the allied forces landed. Inland, there are monuments in almost every village and at every bend in the road,
for there is barely a square acre that wasn’t fought over. Along the coast and inland there are numerous D-Day related museums. Only by visiting do you get a proper idea of the vastness of the enterprise.
We started at the west end and visited Utah followed by Omaha both of which were American force Beach assault areas. From there we visited the American Cemetery and then a bit of Arromanches.
At the American Cemetery there are various sections – I looked at a number of crosses – solders from Texas, California, New York, Oklahoma, Illinois – from all over the country. All with dates of death within a few weeks of June 6th 1944.
Arromanches still has a portion of the pier created by sinking several ships bow to stern. Once these were sunk, the upper decks were destroyed allowing a platform for a pier to be created and thus other ships could tie up next to this “pier” and off load equipment, men and supplies
You cannot leave these areas without feeling a profound sense of loss – over 450,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy. While the battle started on the Beaches, it quickly moved to hedgerows, towns, villages, farmhouses and every yard gained was painful. A staggering number in such a short period of time. Along the roadside, you see these ‘can’ shaped monuments that mark the progress of liberation from the ground zero spot at the Beach.
So, we visited the area, saw the sights and left. However, you cannot visit, see the area and not be struck with how vast the landing force was and how much coordinated planning was required to get all the ships, men, equipment staged and moved across the English Channel.
The rolling green hills of Normandy, dotted with cattle and quilted with corn and wheat, cover peaceably the ruins, graves, and body littered fields with bombs falling around the roar of heavy artillery. Caen was rubble, as Germans made their last stand on the western front, and only constant bombardment above and around finally sent them out of the area. After an area was liberated, German soldiers of war (POW’s) were tasked with cleanup directed by American Corps of Engineers.
Small farms are still a viable way of life in the Normandy countryside, perhaps as a form of healing.
Mont Saint-Michel is, geographically speaking, a tidal isle. To you and me, this means that when the tide is low the mount is connected to the mainland, to Lower Normandy, by a narrow strip of land, but when the tide is high the mount is an island that propels 92 meters (300 ft.) into the sky some 200 meters (650 ft.) off the coast of France.
This is what makes Mont Saint-Michel so special; what makes it breathtakingly beautiful. Romantic. Spooky. Stay for a night in one of the isle’s numerous small but comfortable hotels, and I expect you would hear the sea drumming the rocks, the distant coastline wrapped in a light mist, and you only have to close your eyes to imagine wolves howling at hobgoblins and demons and old warriors, maces and axes upraised– why not a vampire, too? – lurking behind the isle’s centuries-old ramparts.
But beyond such Halloween fantasy, the Mount is one of France’s most visited tourist attractions – 3.5 million visitors annually. Therefore, once you have passed through Mont Saint-Michel’s wooden gateway and are on its main street –
Grande Rue, narrow, steep and winding its way to the abbey, now over a thousand years old (Benedictine monks began to construct it when they settled on the islet in 966) – you will be back in the land of the living. Grande Rue is a moveable feast of seafood restaurants, crêperies (pancake bars) and souvenir shops that sell anything from tiny pewter Archangel Michaels to mass-produced tapestries. Easy for us vagabonds to pass by without stopping on our trek to the top.
The mount’s main attraction is the abbey. To reach it from Grande Rue, we climbed something like 19 sets of stairs – or at least that’s what my step tracker said. At moments there are great views out over the bay and village, but the climb does seem to go on and on.
We got to the abbey and bought our tickets and discovered there was an English guided tour starting immediately – so up to the Terrace as quickly as we could to catch up with the guide.
Our Guide, a lovely young woman, whose name I never quite caught, was very knowledgeable about the Abbey (well she is a licensed professional after all) and took us on a tour lasting about an hour and a half – through the
crypts, gardens, formal spaces and
working spaces including the big wheel used to haul stuff up the side of the rock.
We chose to eat a late lunch overlooking the beaches rather than hiking out on to them.
All in all it was a fantastic day and the weather could not have been better.
No visit to Bayeux, Normandy would be complete without a visit to see the Bayeux Tapestry. This Tapestry is 70 meters long and 50 centimeters high. The Tapestry highlights the conflict over the throne of England between Harold, Anglo-Saxon King Edward’s son-in-law and Norman William the Conqueror, from 1064 until the end of the Battle of Hastings.
The Tapestry begins with King Edward (the Confessor) of England realizing he does not have an Heir so he chooses William the Bastard to be his successor. King Edward sends Harold to Normandy to confirm to William that he will be Edward’s successor on the throne.
However, at the death of Edward in 1066 Harold seizes the crown of England.
In response, William and his troops cross the channel to fight Harold at the Battle of Hastings
where Harold killed and his troops defeated (slaughtered) in battle on October 14, 1066. William subsequently becomes King of England and Brittany. Normans were Viking descendants.
The detail of facial expressions, troop movement, horses, sailing ships, even the carnage of war is compelling.
The history is embroidered on woven linen using wool threads colored in blues and greens with woad (and weld for green) and madder root for red and brownish purple. It is felt by art historians to represent Anglo-Saxon (not Norman) artistry of 1070. Since it was commissioned by a Norman cleric, the Anglo-Saxon version of the conflicts may have been omitted. Nuns probably did the embroidery work, rather than, legend suggests, Queen Maude and her ladies in waiting.
The “tapestry” has only recently been permanently housed for viewing. Previously, it was displayed in Bayeux Cathedral for festivals as a banner mounted around the sanctuary.
After lunch, we went to the Museum of the Battle of Normandy. This unique museum covers the preparation of D-Day to August 29th 1944. There was a lot of history, pictures historical information and material including weapons, radios, tanks, guns and lots of other information. It was interesting to learn about the composition of the various Allied Forces and how they were coordinated. I expect over the next day or two we will learn a lot more about this as we visit the actual landing beach sites.
The last few days had us first in Vannes and now in Bayeux. Vannes is in the northwestern area of France – Brittany. We spent a relaxing day walking around the old medieval area of town visiting a number of different shops and going into the Cathedral.
We had a lovely lunch at a spot called Le Tete En L’air that I found in Trip Advisor. Interesting concept, you tell them the number of courses you want and what you don’t like (in my case animal organs) and they bring you surprises. After you have finished your dish they tell you what you had. Nice concept and the presentation were really well done.
After lunch we walked back to our hotel and relaxed with a lovely bottle of bubbles.
We left Vannes and headed to Bayeux – this is to be our spot from which we will visit Mont Saint Michele (Monday) and possible do a D Day Beaches tour. However, first we stopped for a lovely lunch in a small hill top town of Avranches. Delightful lunch and afterwards we walked around a bit before continuing on to Bayeux.
After we checked into our hotel we strolled out to see what we could find. There are two museums we are specifically going to do (tomorrow) the first is for the Bayeux Tapestry said to have been made in 1070s – making it really old and the second is the Museum of the Battle of Normandy. Little did I know, until we got here in Bayeux, that this little town was the first town liberated after the D Day landing! More on that tomorrow.
So, as this is just a quick update, I can safely say that this area of Brittany we have pass through has been delightful. Lovely views at every turn.
Over the last week we have stayed at a wonderful VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) in the small village of Rochecorbon France. Our hostess, Frédérique was wonderful. It turns out she has four units in an old mill structure where they live in one unit and rent out the other three. Each of the units has various amenities but they all have wifi, kitchen, bath, TV and other the other things you might expect. Having free parking was a plus of course.
Prior to arrival she sent us a packet of information including restaurant recommendations, descriptions of all the various Chateaus and monuments in the area and general more information then we could take in all at once sitting. One of her restaurant recommendations required prior reservations. When we asked about it, she made the reservation a couple of days before we arrived – very nice place called Les Gueules Noires (in our post dated 10-20). Just around the corner from the front door is a bakery – where I went every morning for fresh bread and just down the road is a small market with all the essentials you might need (including frozen pizza).
Her husband, Nicoles took care of any problems in the apartment – changing out the chairs, putting in new light bulbs and making sure the wifi was working properly. Both he and Frédérique speak several languages of course and spent several years living in the San Diego area of California for a while so the have some understanding of we Americans for sure.
This has been a wonderful base for our exploration of the Loire Valley and I would highly recommend it to anyone needing a spot to relax and stay for a few days.
You can reach out and reserve this little slice of heaven for yourselves by contacting them at: www.loirevalleymedievalgetaway.com
If you do, be sure to say hello to Frédérique for us!
When Janeen discovered that the annual Garden Festival at Chaumont-Sur-Loire (Flower Power 2017) was about to close, it didn’t matter if it was rain or shine so we headed out to discover that it was all about.
The Chateau has been around for almost 1000 years under various ownerships and conditions. As with many of the older Chateau’s, they have fallen into disrepair but this seems to have survived. It became owned by the State in 1938, and has been the site of the Garden Festival since 1992. Contemporary garden designers are assigned a plot, and write a theme script to match their planting displays. Some of Janeen’s favorites are featured in the photos.
Most amazing was the designers’ ability to plant to theme from April through October. Perhaps the roses floating on a water mirror of water lilies were not as vibrant as they were earlier in the season, but the image remained.
The mini greenhouse complete with giant lily pads and tiny frogs stayed tropical despite the outdoor autumn chill and red and yellow leaves falling.
Rita Smith, I have included many photos within the witch’s haven, still flourishing with medicinal and sensory plantings as well as a bottle tree and metal lid wind chime.
Cindy, you came to mind, as certain beds were entirely purple, from low-lying vines to tall asters and dalias.
The passion flowers hang down from tall planters that represent “stones” that a “king of flowers” sought to imprison all flowers within, only to have them break through the stone after his death. Many of the displays used the theme of fragility and strength, both attributes of the flowers of the earth.
The Chateau interior reflects 19th century owners updates, so, although quite lovely in the photos, we chose to view the more impressive 19th century stables.
Art installations are tucked into every available “outbuilding” space, the stable have long strands of dried flowers, statis, which I coveted for my wedding bouquet.
The horses of Chaumont were treated royally, and had leather from Hermes and electric lighting and running water.
Five years ago we spent several days in the Loire Valley. One of the highlights was a visit to the gardens at the Château de Villandry. Well, we are back and while it is always hard to revisit something that was so great on your first visit as there could be a let down or disappointment. Well, it didn’t happen. We arrived late mid morning in a chilly time but it didn’t dampen our spirits of the lovely views of this magnificent place.
Originally the area was an ancient fortress knows as Columbine. Jean Le Breton acquired this and a new Château was built on the old foundations. The château remained in the Le Breton family for more than two centuries until the Marquis de Castellance acquired it. During the French Revolution, the property was confiscated and in the pass to Napoleon who gave it to his brother Jerome Bonaparte. In 1906 Joachim Cavallo who poured an enormous amount of time, money and devotion into repairing it and creating extremely beautiful gardens purchased it. Its famous Renaissance gardens include a water garden, ornamental flower gardens, an herb garden and an extensive vegetable garden. The gardens are laid out in formal patterns created by low box hedges.
Still owned by the Carvallo family, the Château de Villandry was designated an historical Monument in 1934 and is a world Heritage Site. It is one of the most visited chateaus in France.
After we entered we went to the upper level to take overlook photos of the full gardens, then hiked the wooded area toward the greenhouses.
The ornamental Garden of Love is best viewed from above. Following the recommended path, we strolled past water gardens (complete with pair of swans) to the upper level sun garden, maze, and herb gardens. The formally laid out vegetable gardens can be viewed from the herb garden, emphasizing the alternation of dark (red cabbage) beds and light (bright green celery leaves). These “decorative kitchen gardens” are laid out in nine squares of equal size, but with different geometric patterns in each. The November to March scheme of plantings had already begun, displaying pumpkins on pedestals, beetroot tops, cardoon, white cabbages, and dark green broccoli looking cabbages alongside red cabbages and leeks.