Saturday, August 11, 2007

Final Thoughts on our Trip

Wow! What an experience! With 118,127 steps over 56 miles of exploring on foot, many more miles by car, and 4658 photographs later, we could reach one conclusion - the beauty of this country continued to amaze us. That includes the beautiful art we saw in the unbelievable museums, which in themselves are magnificent. Versailles still continues to astound us as we revisit the images from our tour. The beauty of Paris and then later the small towns of the Provence area just continued to take our breath away wherever we adventured. The architecture from hundreds and hundreds of years ago, the cobblestone roads and bridges, real wood shutters that they actually use, bikers, fields of lavender, vineyards for miles and miles, terracotta roof homes, window boxes everywhere, prams filled with children and dogs on leashes nearly everywhere you looked. Truly, it was a walk back through time.

LaDawn and I were constantly astounded as to how they even built these amazing palaces, churches, and towers – nearly everything we saw. The French live in their history – everyday!

The pace of the people is quite a bit slower than what we have in our go – go – go American lifestyle. I “swiped” my credit card into and out of a ticket machine for one of the tours – nothing happened – I did it again – nothing happened. Then the attendant said the Americans are always in a hurry – he showed us how, in a much less hurried manner, we could acquire the tickets. No wonder their heart disease rate is so much less than the Americans – it’s not just the wine, it’s the lack of stress too – something to be learned here. Being there makes you want to slow down a bit too – and “stop and smell the roses” now and then.

The main thing that struck LaDawn and I were the people themselves – how friendly, how helpful everyone was - how just plain nice they were – that included just about everyone we met. At one point while reading a map, we had a couple just walk up to us to volunteer help. Heck, even the language barrier was not a problem - we all just picked through the words we knew and eventually got the help we needed.

People have asked, “Why were you blogging on your vacation?” The main reason is this. Vacations are something we all enjoy, and we all enjoy sharing the stories when we get home. But sharing the stories day by day via our blog, along with the interesting links, was a way for us to relive the day and also a way for you, our family and friends, to journey with us. We hope you all enjoyed the trip.

Au Revoir, Dave and LaDawn

Heading Home

The alarm went off way too soon, but we were up and out the door in 45 minutes. We wanted to get to the train station early so we could drop the rental car, organize all the bags, and find out where we needed to be to catch the right train to Charles de Gaulle Airport around 6 a.m.

We arrive at 5:00 a.m. but the gates are locked shut – the guards tell us they don’t open till 5:30 a.m. – 30 minutes before we needed to be on the train! Nothing we could do but just sit there. LaDawn kept telling me to practice the “P” word.

Once those gates opened, it was a whirlwind to get in, drop LaDawn off with all the bags, return the rental, get 5 bags muscled through the station, find the train, and prepare to board – remember, there are no skycaps around to help with any of this – you are on your own. We even managed to keep another American couple from boarding the wrong train. Anyway… we made it, saw a nice sunrise in the south of France, and the beautiful farm lands as we headed north.

Airport check-in was a breeze. As we stood in line, we struck up a conversation with some other passengers standing with us in line. This is where the “small world thing” popped up. The young lady we visited with was returning from her third business trip to India – she lives in Independence – not 5 miles away from us. Another gentleman was just returning from the West Bank, Lebanon, and Israel – he reports directly to the Vatican in Rome about the conditions of catholic elementary schools in the mid east. He lives in Cincy, but was going to spend a day or two in Dry Ridge, again right down the road from us – like I said, small world.

An hour later we were in the air. Yep, That's the Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium from the air as we were coming in for a landing at CVG.

Avignon – Palace of the Popes

On Thursday we left Crillon le Brave and headed back to Avignon to spend the night. We had to catch the TGV bullet train about 6 A.M. That meant a pretty early wake up call and we wanted to be close to the train depot.

We arrived Avignon about 1 p.m., got settled in at the Avignon Grand Hotel – a very nice place – heck, they even upgraded us to a suite – “clean living” I suppose. We still had one more day in the country and the Palais des Papes was walking distance away.

Avignon is a very old French city that sits right on the Rhone river. It’s claim to fame it that it housed the Popes for about 100 years from the early 1300’s – so of course, we had to tour the Palais des Papes. This was one very “cool”, and very big palace. All the treasures have since been looted, but it was quite an experience walking the space the popes walked 700 years ago. You look at the size and breath of these medieval structures, and you just marvel at the engineering that must have gone into these building projects.

We settled in for our last meal in France – you won’t believe where – it was O’Neill’s Irish Pub. Please no emails. It was prepared in a French style, very delicious, and heck, it was happy hour too. After that, it was back to the hotel and set the alarms for 3:45 a.m.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Heading For Home - But...

We had another wonderful day today visiting Avignon today - this city was the home of the popes for most of the 1300's. I'm not "reporting" tonight because it is almost midnight here in Avignon and LaDawn and I have a train to catch at 6 AM. After about 3 1/2 train ride, we have to catch our Delta flight back to Cincy in Paris about 11:40AM - yep, kind of a tight connection - so it's off to beddy-bye for now. Updates and recaps over the weekend - Au Revior - Dave and LaDawn

Carpentras, Sunflowers and the Oldest Synagogue in France

Wow! What a trip trough the mountains - just beautiful! After we got out of the mountains, we continued on and passed some of the most beautiful sunflower fields we had ever seen - considering we had never seen any, it was a sight to behold. We had to beat the rain drops, but still got some great shots - I think LaDawn has one of the best shots with her close-up of one of the sunflower images that closes the slide show.

Now we land in Carpentras, a nice medium size town in France. Although we visited a beautiful church, one Carpentras' claim to fame is that it is home to the oldest synagogue in France. We took the tour and it was beautiful. About 100 families now call this synagogue their spiritual home.

We also visited Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a quaint little village known for it's antique shops and water wheels. The traffic was bumper to bumper, but once we got parked, it was a fun little visit.

Across the Mountains Again

We had a great time on our short visit to Sault. Now we headed back east in the direction of Carpentras, France - we had to cross the mountains one more time. We could have taken the quicker highway route, but saw a sign for the "Tourist Route" - we took that one - WOW! what a site. I was stopping the car about every 10 feet to take more pictures - the views were magnificent!!!

The first stop was this unbelievable Lavender field - LaDawn and I were both out wondering the beautiful views taking a million pictures among this this gorgeous French county scape.

After the lavender fields, it was the mountain route descending through the Gorge de la Nesque - be sure to check out this video of the bikers decent - it's what we saw! - the mountains the views were unbelievable.It was like traveling Route 1 through the US. It looked like a glacier just carved it's way down the valley. LaDawn and both think we saw more beauty today on our little adventure than any other day. Just fantanstic!

Heading to Sault - Lavender Capital of the World

Today we decided to head out to Sault. Now to get to Sault, you have to cross the mountains - what a trip. It reminded LaDawn and I a bit like Scotland - the trees get a bit scrubby and are not as tall - you just get a feeling that you are a bit higher than where you started.

The first thrill was coming back down the mountain on the other side heading in to Sault. Sault produces 80% of the world's Lavender crop. Lavender is a beautiful purple plant that fills the air with an absolutely wonderful fragrance. When we saw it by the road and got out of the car to take a closer look, you could smell it instantly - just beautiful.

The town itself sits up on a hill - a lot of towns in France seem to have that same kind of geography - very interesting and romantic to see. We roamed around a bit - there was a very nice street market going on which was fascinating to explore - yep that's where most of the souvenirs came from. Each town in France that we visited was a special joy - both in the look and in the people we met (and did our best to communicate with). It was a nice visit.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Wine Country!

Off to Chateauneuf de Pape today. Chateauneuf de Pape was home to the Popes in the early 1300's. Pope John XXII was the first to plant vineyards there. The drive was about 45 minutes from our hotel - and no wrong turns today! - but what a treat to drive through the French countryside.

We had lunch at a great little restaurant named Le Mere Germaine - wonderful food and ambiance, but be sure to take your MasterCard as Amex and Visa did not work in their credit card machine.

The cool thing about the town is that many of the wineries have their "Cave degustation" - that's tasting cellar to us - right in town. Wow! You can hit a bunch all at one time!

We also ventured out to some of the vineyards for some great tastings too. One of our favorites was Chateau Cabrieres. Our host was heading to Cleveland in a few months because he has family there - small world.

The experience was fun because they didn't speak much English and we didn't speak much French - but it all works out. We tasted many wines, purchased a few bottles, and had a great time visiting with the people.

Monday, August 6, 2007

A Walk to Bedoin - and Back

Bedoin is a small town just 4 kilometers (or an hour) - that's about 2.4 miles to us Americans - from Crillon le Brave. It was a warm day and that little road sure was busy. And when I have a camera in hand the walk can be kind of slow - so many pictures, so little time. Check out those weird little snails in the slide show too- they were everywhere!

By the time we got to the town - about 2:05 P.M. - we were a bit tired and in need a little lunch and refreshment. To our surprise, all restaurants close at 2 - no lunch to be found. Ah, but a little market had just what we were looking for - a little bread, wine, cheese, and a snack or two.

After our little respite we headed back - did I say there no taxi's for the ride back either. Yep, we got our exercise in for the day - still a pretty walk.

Crillon le Brave

It was not the easiest place to get to, especially if you don't speak the language, but no problem. LaDawn and I took about 10 wrong turns before we got here and finally pulled into a gas station - many of the gas stations here have no attendants, at least on Sunday - to ask for help from a fellow motorist. I know what you are thinking - LaDawn doesn't speak French - your right, but she communicated enough so that in the end the accommodating driver said follow him. I have to say the people over here have been about the friendliest any we have traveled. The language is a challenge, but after a smile or two, we all get it worked out.

What an idyllic location. The hotel is about 25 miles outside Avignon, located in the town of Crillon le Brave. The city was named after a famous French warrior. Check the link for more info - very fascinating. It was in decline until the 1970's, but now is host to the wonderful hotel - Hotel Crillon le Brave.

We had our best meal of the trip at the hotel restaurant last night. Service was very good - thankfully everyone spoke very good English - and the wine was wonderful. We are headed back there again tonight. All the images are from just around the hotel, restaurant, and our room - absolutely gorgeous!

Heading South

We had a train to catch to Avignon in the South of France - Part 2 of our trip. The train station is a bit different than the airport -no skycaps to help with bags. Nevertheless, we managed just fine.

We traveled the TGV bullet train down to Avignon. These trains travel at about 200 mph - that's fast - so an 8 hour drive turns into and a 2 1/2 super comfy, quit ride.

It was really cool to see the countryside change as we headed south. Paris in pretty flat, but as you head further south the topography turns into rolling hills and finally mountains. One more very important item - we made it to wine country - the adventure continues!

Notre Dame

It's our last morning in Paris and we planned to go to Sunday services at Notre Dame. This cathedral has to be seen to be believed. How did they build structures like this 800 years ago? Notre Dame took 171 years to complete!!!

The cathedral was filled and we had front row seats - quite a Sunday service. This particular mass was with Gregorian Chant, so the mass consisted on French, Latin, and Greek - and we were confused before.

St. Mary's Cathedral in Covington, Kentucky - we I photograph weddings occasionally, is actually a smaller replica of the famous French version. Check the link to see the similarities.

Again - a great experience!

Napoleon - Resting in Peace

Our last full day in Paris - we started a little stroll around town, just taking it easy. Then there it - was a Metro station (that's subway in France) and we off on another adventure - let's check out Napoleon Bonaparte's grave. This, by the way, is not to say that the Metro experience was not an adventure unto itself. Anyway we were off.

This “hotel” was built as a military hospital for wounded soldiers in 1671. It housed more than 6,000 soldiers then and even today a few dozen soldiers still live within the facilities. In the center is again a magnificently beautiful church, gorgeous altar, and breathtaking ceiling, with an amazing golden dome. The dome is 351 feet high and can be seen from all over Paris.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s body rests in grandeur in the crypt directly below the golden dome of the Dome Church. It is a magnificent tribute to whom the French consider their greatest military leader.

As with so many of the buildings and places of historical interest throughout Paris, the Hotel des Invalides includes a museum, this one dedicated to the military history from WWI and WWII and well sculpted beautiful gardens completes the area.
Enjoy the show - subway and all.

The Beautiful Eiffel Tower

We left the the Louvre about 9 P.M.(that's 3 A.M. back home) and walked to the Eiffel Tower - about an hour. This might seem like a long walk, but in Paris at dusk, it is not. Everywhere you look, there is something beautiful to see.

Known as the most recognizable symbol of Paris, the Eiffel Tower was very impressive. It stands 1,050 feet high and can be seen from all over the city.

We arrived at 10:00pm just in time to view the amazing light show that is performed for only 10 minutes every hour. Perfect timing for some great photographs!

View From the Top

OK - it's shopping day today so down Avenue Haussmann we go. You have everything on this street - from designer shops to street stands. One of the main stores is Printemps department store - this place is like Bloomingdale's of New York - anything you could ever want all under one roof.

One of the "coolest" parts of Printemps is its outside cafe and restaurant on the top floor. The 360 degree views of Paris were spectacular!


LaDawn and I had a very interesting experience coming back from Sacre Coeur. We thought we would take a short cut down these stairs. We love walking and the stairs seemed to lead to a particularly visually interesting part of town.

Wow! the whole place was teaming with activity and energy. We found ourselves in the mist of this wonderful open air market - the colors, smells, motion - it was a sight to see. Someone was even selling ears of corn so I had to give it a try - delicious!

After about 8 wrong turns, we decided to check the map and voila' - it's so cool to talk French - we figured out where we were. We were quite a bit from the hotel so we stopped at Le Panorama Brasserie, had a glass of wine, then dinner, and a serenade to finish our adventurous day.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Most Magnificent Museum in the World

Yes it is - the Louvre is the most magnificent and largest museum in the world. You can not cover it in a day. We just kept moving from one gallery to the next. Yes, we rented the "mp3" head phones self guided tour, but if you listened to each entry, you might be there for a whole month. This place is unbelieveabe in it's scope of galleries and collections.

On top of that, the Louvre is its own attraction without the galleries - the ceilings, floors, halls, and rooms - all defy description unless you are standing in them! Check out the images - again, unbelieveable!

Now the art - the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, so many masterpieces under one roof - its breathtaking. There is a building project underway to build another museum to exhibit the some of the other 2/3's of the exhibits that are currently in storage! It makes you want to read the Da Vinci Code all over again.

Promising Actor Dicovered in Paris

That's right - this is one for Entertainment tonight. Robbie Acklen, acclaimed Cincinnati actor was discovered in western Paris yesterday at the NYU Paris workshop.

We had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with Mr. Acklen before the NYU's final Paris performance. The time we spent with Mr. Acklen, students and staff, was an exhilarating experience. We look forward to his return to the Cincinnati stage.

Click on any slide show image for a larger view.

Sacre Coeur Basilica

Sacre Coeur Basilica in one of the most beautiful churches in the city. It watches on the city of Paris from it's highest point. It was built as a memorial to the 58,000 French soldiers killed during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

It was a cloudy day when we made the trip, but still great weather. We even did the tour to the top of the dome - boy, was that a lot of steps.

We even visited the crypt underneath - we have some tales from there too whwn we get back in town!

All in all another beautiful visit.

Paris Streets and Traffic

One of the most amazing observations we discovered upon walking thru the city and viewing the city from the Dome of Sacre’-Coeur was that the streets of this city are NOT formed in grid style. There are NO blocks. Most are streets lead from triangle to triangle. So at intersections there may be as many as 6 or 7 streets meeting the intersection.

If you have ever climbed up the Empire State Building and looked down upon New York City you can find easily the streets and intersections. Not here. It is difficult to recognize or even to locate the streets - just a mass of housing. Very fascinating.

And some really good news – the traffic is never that bad, even in “rush hour” – if there is such a thing in France.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Heading to Versailles

This is my second trip to Paris, but LaDawn's first. I told her we had to see Versailles - truly unbelievable! Built by King Louis XIV around 1678 - this is the largest palace in Europe. This is where royalty lived till Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette fled as a result of the French Revolution. Take a peek at the pictures` and you will see why the peasants revolted.

Another interesting fact - the Treaty of Versailles, ending the First World War was also signed here - pretty cool history.

The opulence is overwhelming. The Royal Chapel, finished in 1710, is regarded as one of the finest Baroque buildings in the country and is an awe inspiring place of prayer.

The Queen's bedroom, where the Queens of France gave birth in public view to assure the linage was witnessed. 19 royal infants were born here. Check out the other images to see the grander. By the way, that's LaDawn and I standing in the original "Hall of Mirrors."

Thursday, August 2, 2007

More pics from d'Orsay

OK, this "blog thing" can get real complicated. Let's see if this works. Check out the d'Orsay album. Here is the slide show. Enjoy!

Off to Musee d'Orsay

One of the world's leading art galleries - Musee d'Orsay - it's setting in a converted railway station is magnificent. The size of the place just blows you away. We saw Monet's, Renoir's, Van Gogh's, Gauguin's, and too many more to even name. We spent about 5 hours there and still didn't see it all - just unbelievable. Can't wait for the Louvre.

Flowers Everywhere!

Next we strolled the neighborhood - wow, flowers were everywhere - on balconies, in shops, at restaurants... just beautiful!

A Walk Through the Neighborhood

We got a good rest and couldn't wait to get out and explore that first day. The first thing we did was check our the hotel - one of Hilton's 5 star world class facilities - everyone was as friendly and helpful as they could be. We checked out the stairway to the ballrooms - its a wedding photographer "thing" - and already was getting some ideas for images.

Off to Paris

We just landed in Paris. The weather is just beautiful - temperatures in the high 60's and mid 70's - blue sky and white puffy clouds. Our flight in was confortable and relaxing. We flew Delta Business Class this time - can't beat those point upgrades - and the service was wonderful. We even got a little sleep on the way. As we were crossing the English Channel, the sun was just rising on a great day.

We "cabbed" it to the Hilton, Arc de Triomphe - right in the middle of Paris. We finally got settled, caught a brief rest, and set out exploring the surrounds.