France

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Where in the world to visit is on everyone’s bucket list? Well, I know for me its, without a doubt, Paris. I’ve dreamed of roaming the streets of that romantic city, sipping espresso at an sidewalk café, strolling along the Champs Élysées, picnicking with bread and cheese and wine on the banks of the Seine and watching the thousands of people from around the world as they pass under the intricate arches of the Eiffel Tower. And as an added bonus we would also be touring the countryside.

The trip had been in the “serious planning stage” for the past three years and I could hardly believe the day of our departure had finally arrived. My traveling companion for this escapade was Jared, College Sophomore and my youngest son. With four years of French under his belt, he would be my translator. We have booked most of the hotels and arranged to rent a car for the second part of our trip. We had made sure to leave a little wiggle room for a few, off the beaten, path.

I hated that we would be flying out of JFK, although flying these days in general is not the most enjoyable means of travel. The tolls to get there are outrageous, the traffic slow downs annoying and the extended parking expensive. Unfortunately JFK provided the only airfare within our budget, so the annoyance was a necessary part of our fantastic journey.

Upon our arrival at JFK, we spent the next few hours negotiating the long and winding lines at the baggage and security checks, and finally boarded our red eye flight to Paris. We were so excited to be on our way and hardly slept at all on the crowded plane.

We arrived at the Charles De Galle airport, in the outskirts of Paris, a little after 3am NY time. The shuttle service to Paris, that we had arranged for online never arrived. After an exceedingly long hour of waiting and trying to struggle with their toll free number, we were finally told there was large accident on the highway leaving us to fend for a much pricier taxi. We were far too tired to care at that point and just wanted to get to our hotel as swiftly as possible. The driver apologized and told us that he would have to skirt the city, making our transfer to the hotel another slow and tedious process.
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We finally arrived at the hotel one hour and 70 euros poorer. The hotel chain we had selected was like a studio apartment, clean, efficient, and small, yet perfect for our needs. Maid service was weekly and we had a tiny kitchen in case we wanted to cook our own food. Not likely! Not wanting to waste a moment, we quickly freshened up from our long commute and made our way to the Métro and on to our first stop, the Eiffel Tower.

We walked along the Seine, its waters shimmering under the late afternoon sun and feasted on a couple of savory, ham and cheese crepes as we made our way to Paris’ most famous attraction. The sound of a nearby merry-go-round lightly filled the air with its music as the song birds harmonized with its cheery tune.

The Eiffel tower dominated the skyline as we made our approach. It was much larger than I had expected, the steel frame looming gracefully into the afternoon sky. Upon our arrival, we opted to skip the very long queue for the view from the top of the tower in lei of people watching. Thousands pass this spot each day and just to sit and watch was an amazing show all on its own.

We had hoped to stay there for a view of the tower at sunset, until we found out the sun wouldn’t actually set till 9:30. We’d been awake for over 36 hours at this point so opted instead to make our way back to the hotel for some much deserved pillow time.

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It was our intention to get up bright and early the next morning, but as our eyes, very slowly opened, we realized it was already 10:30 am and we were not even close to an early start we had anticipated. We quickly dressed and headed out the door. Notre Dame would be the first stop of the day on our tour of the city.

With its French Gothic architecture, this medieval Catholic Church is one of the most well known buildings in the world. With parts of the building dating back as far as 1160, it roof line is adorned with ghoulish gargoyles and its wall ornamented with chimeras fantastic creatures. Its south rose window is a stunning array of color and it bells echo into the city with every chime.

The lines were again too long to bother with the general tour. I’m not into that part of the tourist scene but was much more absorbed in the beauty of the architecture. So we circled the structure a few times and took even more photos before we ventured onward.

We continued on our, soon to be, very long and extensive walk in the direction of the Louvre. The Louvre touted more lengthy lines, so spoiled by the museums of NYC, we decided instead skip the inside and to meander around the courtyard and delight in watching the other tourist.Of course this meant the opportunity to take more pictures. The compound was mammoth and you could easily spend a week exploring the 650,000 square feet of art and antiquity. I wouldn’t have known where to start even if I wanted to wait in one of the extensive lines. Did I really need to wait in a very long line just to see the Mona Lisa for a few short minutes? Not this time! The iconic glass pyramid dominates the courtyard and sits in strong contrast against the stone, palace like architecture of the rest of the complex. People took turns standing on 2 ft. pillars pretending to hold the pyramid in their hands while their companions photographed the illusion. Jared refused to entertain that idea so we continued to wander.
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After departing the courtyard, we resumed our stroll, under the puffy clouded sky, through the Jardin des Tuileries past the towering Obélisque and onward through the colorful Jardins des Champs Élysées. Jardins means gardens, in case you wondered. The park finally opened up onto the L’avenue des Champs Élysées with its wide sidewalk, very prices stores and upscale tourist. Nice place for window-shopping and people watching but a $400 pair of shoes is not something I’m really after. We walked and walked and walked till we finally reached the Arc de Triomphe. We had walked about 4 miles and were starting to feel we would very soon need to replenish ourself with more food and drink.
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By now it was late afternoon so we decided to move on and go to check out the view from the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. To the relief of my thankful feet, we took the Métro this time. Enough of the walking already, I told Jared no more of these unplanned 4-mile treks!

The Sacré-Coeur Basilica, consecrated in 1919, is located at the top of the Butte Montmarte, and is the highest part of Paris. The streets leading from the Métro were narrow and twisting and felt like a Paris of old. Tiny shops selling meat, sandwiches, pastries, bread and cheese lined the cobble stone streets. We purchased a snack from a local sandwich shop. Jared got a baguette sandwich with ham, tomatoes and cheese and I got a piece of the finest quiche I had ever tasted. It was topped with slices of warm Brie and ripe tomatoes. Both meals came with a cookie, that when we opened latter, found was more like a creamy, custard tart. Yummy! I love the way they do food here.
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The view from the steps of the Basilica was a panoramic scene of the Paris. Inside we found an astonishing cathedral made of stone and glass. The enormous domed ceiling was decorated with the largest mosaic in France, measuring 1574 square feet. No pictures were allowed inside but to our delight, we found on the back side of the cathedral that we could purchase a ticket to the top of the Church’s towering dome. They had failed to mention the long walk up the three hundred and twenty five steps of a spiral staircase, but in the end we were lead of to a 360-degree view that took our breath away and was worth every step.. We circled the tower taking in the astonishing view of the city from the many angles.

We headed back to our hotel, now very familiar with the Métro and slipped into bed dreaming of our adventures and looking forward to the next day.

The next morning, we were feeling a little overwhelmed from the previous days events so opted for a later, this time intentional, start to our day. The first stop of the day would be the Père Lachaise Cemetery. Buried here are many notable figures from the worlds of literature, theatre and music. Included in this star-studded line up are Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Édith Piaf, Gertrude Stein and a bunch more you probably wouldn’t recognize any way. All were cremated and placed in above ground tombs.

The sizeable row upon row of vaults, over 2000 in all, created a city of dead dating back over the past 200 years. We wander the “streets” of the cemetery taking in the beauty and design of each crypt, many devoted to a family with countless occupants in each. Some had small ponds, some statues, many with elaborate gates and many included a tiny chapel for prayer.
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From there, we once again boarded the Métro bound for a destination of Jared’s choice, the Musée de la Musique. Situated on the grounds of the Philharmonie de Paris, this museum’s impressive collection of instruments included a 11.5 foot string bass called an Octobass, of which there are only two in the world. Looking like a giant cello, it would require a 12’ ladder in order to play. No wonder it never really caught on.
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They also had a Theremin, which is an early electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact by the performer, which Jared attempted to play. He waved his hand in the air between the two metal arches. The sound was very eerie like something from an old sci-fi movie. An old movie played beside the unusual instrument showing a female musician from the 30’s mastering its sound.
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The next day was Saturday. We woke up and headed for yet another subway excursion to try our luck at the Paris Flea Market at Clignacourt. The sizeable market, which is only open Saturday thru Monday, boasts some 2500 venders. This would surely be more than enough to keep us busy for a few hours. There were row upon rows of petite stalls and miniature shops actually divided into 15 separate markets, each with their own specialty.
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Some of the market’s specialties included new cloths, large vintage furniture, bric-à-brac, jewelry, 17th century to 1970’s antiquities, graphic arts, old advertising, vintage and antique textiles, strange oddities and so much more. It was overwhelming and exhilarating all at once. We didn’t buy much but it’s not always the purchase but the hunt that makes flea marketing so much fun.

As Jared once again shepherded us on another long trek we meandered our way along the various shopping districts and along cobblestone streets towards the ever-visible Eiffel tower.

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We crossed over one of the bridges that straddle the Seine  and it was lined with thousands of “love locks.” You sign your name upon the padlock, secure it to the railing and toss the key into the Seine. Apparently it’s a bit of an environmental issue with the fish eating the keys, but the tradition continues to be a draw for tourist wishing to show their undying love for one another.

 

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Along the way, we stumbled upon a most unusual building whose whole front was covered with plants. I mean literally covered. Plants and flowers grew from every inch of the 5 story structure. The building was alive! This was the epitome of green construction.

We caught another metro and when we finally arrived back at the hotel that afternoon, we decided to see what was Anthony Bourdain’s take on Paris. An episode of Layover, Paris, inspired us to try our hand at ordering some real French Bistro cuisine for our evening meal.f_P1280020

Back to the Métro and onto the district called Montparnasse, under the shadow of Paris’ tallest skyscraper, the wildly unpopular Tour Montparnasse. Completed in 1973, this tower is very out of place in the Paris skyline. After its construction, building over 7 stories were banned. People joke that it does have the best view because it is the only place the tower can’t be seen.

We found a considerable variety of affordable restaurants in the area. Although many were quintessential Crêperies, we succeeded finding a endearing little bistro, with a pre-fix menu. Seated at a sidewalk table, we reveled in watching the people stroll by as we ate.

The waiter was quite kind and sympathetic as we stumbled through the menu with our IPhones tuned to Google Translate. So much for Jared’s four years of French. His French was definitely helpful but was just barely enough to get by. The waiter’s English turned out to be about as good or bad as our French. When we inquired what the Plate de Jour (plate of the day) was and he pointed to his upper arm. We stared at him not having a clue as what he was referring to with that gesture. He also withdrew his IPhone, typed something into Google Translate, and showed us his result, BIB. Even more confused we all started to laugh. As we continued to decipher the menu, the waiter returned once again with the word Flank written on his pad. Now we were getting somewhere. Jared ordered the Plate de Jour, French onion soup and for dessert a croustad aux pommes a L’Armagnac maison. This turned out to be an apple turnover doused in liquor. Good thing the drinking age is 16. I decided upon marchons de carnard donfits aux pommes sarladaises or roughly translated, pieces of duck with roasted potato slices.

When it came to my dessert, I ordered fromage blanc aux prueaux d’Agen. I thought I was ordering a cheese plate but what arrived was a yogurt like custard with a rich prune sauce in the center. It was very bland tasting till we notice the waiter had brought over a small jar of sugar earlier. Jared suggested it was for my dessert and low and behold it made a world of difference. When the waiter returned I confirmed that was what the purpose of sugar. He was quite amused and laughed at our discovery.

We departed the Bistro, full and pleased with our first try at Bistro food. We procured some fresh bread, fruit and cheese for a later snack and headed back to our hotel.

We awoke up to cloudy skies and a chance of rain so promptly departed our lodgings in search of the Porte de Vanves flea market. This rambling barrage of tables circled a few blocks and was just a short, leisurely walk from our hotel. We spent a couple hours, rummaging through boxes and picking over tables laden with everything from junk to treasure. Acquiring a few trinkets, we headed back to the hotel for a little R&R before dinner. Tonight we decided, we would to try one of the many Crêperies we had encountered on our restaurant search the previous night. Jared ordered a crêpe filled with Cheddar cheese, egg and bacon. I had one stuffed with bacon, goat cheese and tomato. We really need a Crêperie in Pond Eddy!

Giverny

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The trip to Giverny would prove to be one of the highlights of our tour. Giverny was home to Monet and the inspiration of many of his exquisite watercolor paintings. We had purchased our ticket the night before so as to not be so rushed in the morning. The trip involved a 45-minute train voyage to Vernon then either a shuttle or a long, 3-mile walk, not the 1 mile I had read in a post.
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It was fortunate we arrived at the Saint-Lazare station early with ticket in hand since only one train car had the revered second level and we claimed two of the prized seats. We traversed the countryside backwards but with eyes wide open, peering out the oversized window. The train rumbled along the Seine most of the way so our elevated view was gorgeous. We passed by quaint villages, rich farmland, countless small but productive gardens and even a French manor or two. This tiny taste of the countryside excited us about the upcoming second leg of our journey into the rural France.
f_IMG_1559When we arrived at Vernon Station, there was once again another the line, this time for the shuttle to the Giverny which was another 1.5 miles away. To our delight and appreciation, the restaurant on the corner offered bike rentals. Yeah, no walking! We snapped up two of the well-worn vehicles and peddled along the level and scenic bike path towards Monet’s Garden. Giverny was a little village in itself so we stopped for a quick bite at one of the take-away shops. I had the finest potato au gratin I’ve ever eaten. America could really do with some fast food like the snack we had just devoured.

The gardens were astonishing; every inch was lined with a rainbow of various rich and seductive colors. Flowers of every variety dotted and lined the paths. My favorite section was the lily pond, immortalized by Monet’s watercolors. I took so many pictures that editing them will take a whole other vacation.
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After the garden tour, we leisurely made our way back to Vernon exploring the tranquil village till our return train arrived. We bike along the river exploring an old mill, and ancient church and what looked like part of an old castle. Tomorrow would be our last day in Paris for a while.

f_P1280032We took it easy most of the day but for our last night in Paris we would once again like to thank Anthony Bourdain for directing us to some outstanding street food. Forget the posh napkins, tablecloths and seating, the Camion Qui Fume is Paris’s first American-style burger truck, run by Californian Kristin Frederick. The truck pumps out about 500 gourmet burgers a day often to long lines.
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The succulent burgers were mouth watering and the fries, hand-cut, were perfectly cooked. Jared ordered the burger de jour with provolone cheese, mushrooms, tomato and ketchup. I got the classical with cheddar, lettuce, onions, pickles, tomato and mayo.

Finding our venue involved checking their website for that days location of the food truck. We then relished our feast on the steps of one of Paris’s classic pieces of architecture turned into a garden and watched as a mounted guard paraded past with band in tow.f_IMG_1571

Romanèche¬-Thorins
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The next morning we procured our tiny car and headed out of town. Its diminished size would be much better for the back road travels we anticipated. We decided to switch gears and head towards the French Alps instead of spending four days in Lyon. It also tuned out the hotel I had picked for Lyon was 30 minutes out of town in a kind of sleazy part of town.

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We had seen enough of city life anyway and were anxious to experience the rural French countryside. So we adapted our plans and hopped on the toll road, which is much quicker for longer hauls but a little more pricy.

 

We had a bit of trouble figuring out the toll system, at first ended up in the wrong lane and then had to back out of the tollbooth because it didn’t take credit cards. The toll for about 100-mile journey was 28 Euro. Ouch! But the food at the rest stops was pretty tasty. It was far better than any of the junk food available at the NJ Turnpike food plazas. I had a scrumptious tart with cranberries, pistachio and custard.

 

Our evening would be spent a small hotel called the La Maison Blanc f_P1280329located in the small village of Romanèche­-Thorins. The town radiated with quaintness, if the is such a thing, rolling vineyards, and a windmill dating back to 1813. We treated our self to a hotel with a swimming pool, as the weather was getting quite warm. The hotel was old but clean and the restaurant was amazing. We sat outside over looking the pristine blue pool. Swifts skimmed the surface of the water acquiring tiny drinks of water.

The meal started with an appetizer that was some sort of pureed avocado dish. I ordered a potato au gratin that was creamy and delightful and Jared had the special, which included three, perfectly cooked, meats. It was our favorite meal so far.
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Le Palais Idéal de Ferdinand Cheval

The next leg of our journey would take us to the village of Annecy, our base camp for the French Alps. This would be our home for the next two days as we explored the area and made our way to Chamonix.

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f_P1280411Before arriving in Annecy, we took a side trip south to something I had discovered on the Internet, Le Palais Idéal de Ferdinand Cheval. In 1879, the Postman Cheval began this strange endeavor in his garden from the odd stones he stumbled upon during his daily rounds. To augment the stones, he used various shells including snails and oysters, all assembled with lime mortar.

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Working alone, it took 33 years to complete. Every inch of the unique structure was decorated with unusual ornamentations, figures of plants and strange animals. The image on the web site showed two men in front, now obviously inserted with Photoshop, giving the illusion it was a massive castle. In reality, it turned out to be more like the size of a very large house. I was fascinated by it’s intricate designs, and to Jared’s dismay, I took an enormous amount of pictures. After our viewing, since the day had become extremely hot, we opted for ice cream and the soothing coolness afforded by our air-conditioned car. We bid au revoir to Hautervies and resumed our three-hour journey to Annecy.

Annecy
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Annecy is located at the base of the Alps on the shores of Lake Annecy. This medieval village is a prime tourist town with lots of shops and marvelous food and quaint accommodations. Our hotel, should I say motel was not in that league. It was 10 minutes out of town and though clean, the smallest room I had ever stayed the night. The bed barely in fit the cramped quarters and the bathroom, with the shower, were no larger than a closet. The weather was in the 90’s and our hotel did not provide any AC. We quickly headed for Annecy for an afternoon of food and photography, not wanting to return to our room till the night air had cooled it a little. Tomorrow morning we would travel to Chamonix.

Chamoix
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We woke early for our short trek to Chamonix, the site of the first winter Olympics in 1924. The striking mountain scenery that lined the road to Chamonix was breathtaking. I could hardly believe Jared and I were in the French Alps.

f_P1280983This leg of our adventure took a little over an hour, and as we approached the town, the Alps towered in the background. Some were still topped with a coating of snow despite the 90+ degree temperature at the base.

f_P1280856We had planned to take a tram to the top of Mont Blanc but when we arrived we found it didn’t open for another week. We were directed to a train ride up the mountain to see the Glacier and visit an ice cave carved into the glacier. The small gauge train slowly winded its way up the steep grade till we were deposited at our station. There would be the option of a tram half way to the glacier or a walk along a craggy path. We opted for walking down and then taking the tram back up.
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The path we took also led to a popular ice and rock climbing wall, a smooth shear face dotted with climbers. To our dismay, moments before, a climber had fallen 500 feet to the rocky ground below. We watched at the rescue crews arrived and a helicopter came to take them away. We never heard any thing about it on the news but prayed for a safe recovery.
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Once we arrive at the tram’s let off point, there was still a 500-step climb down to the ice cave. The cave was carved from the massive glacier that despite its size, had melted in height by over 300 feet due to global warming since the industrial revolution. The ice that was there for thousands of years had simply melted away in less than two hundred years and was no melting faster then ever.

The cave was lit with colored lights and provided a cooling respite rom the hot summer heat.
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Clermont-Ferrand
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The next morning we left Annecy to the western part of the country. We chose the town of Clermont-Ferrand as a halfway point for our travel to the Bordeaux region of France. Ok, I thought last nights room was small but this one was even smaller. It would just be a short stop over so we quickly departed our cramped quarters and headed for the center of town to play tourist. There was live street music everywhere. We stopped for a cold beer and watched the people stroll by. fP1290006

In the town square, we met a bride-to-be doing some kind of traditional money collection scheme. Dressed in pink and wearing an innertube, her and her friend were dressed to match. So cute! f_P1290019

As we feasted on yet more on ice cream, this little boy joined us in the shade. He informed us that the proper way to eat cookies included dipping them in milk.

We walked around the winding streets and settled on a great little restaurant on a cobblestone side street. Jared had his first cheese Fondue and adored it. The dipping plate was piled with breads, cured meats, pickles, fruit and other little treats. The meal was excellent and we headed back to the hotel for a good night rest. Tomorrow we would be staying in a well deserved, semi-luxury hotel, in the medieval town of Sarlat-la-Canéda.
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Sarlat-la-Canéda
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We arrived Sarlat-la-Canéda and finally we had some exceptional accommodations for the next two days. There was a lovely swimming pool, a TWO room suit and bath room bigger than our last two hotels rooms. We were just a 10-minute walk from the center of this remarkable, medieval village. We excitedly wandered the twisting streets, with me taking hundreds of pictures.

f_P1290114It was Sunday afternoon so most the shops were closed and the streets were fortunately very quiet. We wandered through narrow alleyways and into ancient courtyards. Much of the early architecture was preserved and it felt as if we had stepped back in time to a era of knights and dragons. I though Jared would ditch me for all the pictures I found myself taking, but I was inspired by arches and towers that dotted the village. The warm and golden color of the local stone pervaded the buildings and against the rich blue sky it was truly magical.
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We returned to the hotel for a swim then headed back for an evening meal and, of course, more crème glacée (ice cream)! f_P1290731

Château de Beynac
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One of Jared’s request excursions was to a castle. Today’s escapade included a trip to the Château de Beynac, a massive castle perched atop the golden cliffs of the Dordogne River. We decided to skip the guided tour and thoroughly explored each of the great halls, high towers and courtyards on our own.
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Arriving right when they opened, we had the place practically to our self. Some of the yellow limestone walls opened onto bedrooms with private toilets, well really just a small room with a hole in the floor. Other rooms looked to be great banquet halls. I could imagine the countless guest that had entered and dined in these vast spaces. We climbed massive stone stairways and peaked over ancient parapets. Jared really enjoyed the ancient weaponry display in one of the main halls. f_P1290601

There was, what looked like, an immense kitchen with hooks hanging from the lofty ceiling for meats and a giant hearth for cooking. Wine barrels lined one of the walls and a heavily used cutting block poked out of a corner.
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F_P1290472A restoration project was in progress with men fixing roofs and cutting new stones for a battered wall. The sign stated its start in 1990.

By noon, the castle was quickly filling with busloads of tourist. We bid a fond goodbye to the marvelous castle and headed back to Sarlat-la-Canéda for another afternoon of exploring and eating our way through the village.
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After a quick break we head back once more to the village for a treat of Café au lait and macaroons.
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Journey to Lascaux
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What a day, very difficult and yet still very rewarding. We left Sarlat-la-Canéda early and made plans to visit the prehistoric cave painting of Lascaux. Our French cell package had expired the previous night so we decided to use the car’s GPS in lieu of renewing the service. I had forgotten to get the exact address of site so set the GPS for Lascaux city center. Two hours later, along extremely narrow and winding roads, we arrived in what the tiny signpost announced was Lascaux.

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We quickly realized this tiny hamlet, with no sizable village in site, was not where we were supposed to be. A moment of panic seized us as we stopped at the next crossroads and to our relief, found an older gentleman working in his garden. He kindly tried to help us set our GPS for the correct coordinates but his spelling was bad and the communication barrier was proving to be far too great a challenge.

A few minutes later, a farm tractor drove by and the kind man called him over to aid us. He was able to give us the correct spelling of the town we needed to be in, but when we tried to plug it into our GPS, it declared we were 14 hours away.
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Unfortunately the GPS was trying to send us to the wrong Montignac. We weren’t quite sure what to do now. As we continued to fight with the car’s guidance system, the gardener, seeing we weren’t leaving yet, knocked on our window and told us to wait a few minutes. We weren’t quite sure why but then, to our delight, the tractor driver returned with a map! I thank the kindness of strangers and will pay this effort forward at the first chance I can.

We ended up back tracking the winding roads to the site of the duplicate cave. An hour later, we finally arrived at our intended destination, Lascaux II. We remained in good cheer since the drive was through the beautiful French countryside. I had stopped numerous times along the way to take more photographs.

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The original site was discovered in 1940 and closed to the public in 1965 due to the damage being unknowingly done by visitors. They brought in pollen and algae which attached it self to the walls and CO2 which began to discolor the paintings. .f_P1290852

The entire cave was duplicated so that visitors could enjoy these specular images. Even Picasso, when he viewed the originals in 1950, declared he had met his master. The new installment, 200 meters from the original site, opened in 1983. Lascaux II is an exact replication of the original site within a 5mm tolerance. The cave is as close to every curve and surface of the original cave as possible.

The 17000 year old paintings were meticulously reproduced using the same techniques and materials used so long ago. I am so delighted we had found our way back to our intended destination instead skipping it because of time restraints.
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Our evening’s lodgings were to be 4.5 hours away at the Kadampa Meditation Center-France in the town of Saint-Mars-d’Outillé. I was eagerly looking forward to visiting this sister center to my own World Peace Temple in Glen Spey, NY. We had booked two dorm rooms and would spend the next day roaming the large estate before returning to Paris.

Without a working phone, I tried to email the center to let them know we were going to be very late, six hours to be exact. As we drove the long journey, with the help or hindrance of our GPS, we encountered a completely closed off portion of the highway. There was no indication of how we were to navigate the unexpected detour. Thankfully, Jared worked it out and we were once again we were back on track.

As we drove along the back roads waiting to find the next major highway, our gas tank continued to make its way to empty. We must have driven 100 miles without ever seeing a single gas station and I was beginning to get a little more than nervous. The first gas station the GPS said we would encounter woefully never appeared. I was not feeling too confident the second was going to be where it was supposed to be either and our tank was now reading 1/8 full. To our relief, the second station was where it was supposed to be and not a minute too soon.

Once we made it onto the toll road, upon exiting, we couldn’t get the toll machine to accept our only credit card. We scraped every last Euro to pay the first toll. At the second toll station, after the machine rejected our card again, it spit out the ticket so forcefully it popped out of the machine. It began to blow away so I quickly jumped out of the car and chased it down, much to the dismay of the driver behind me.

By the time we finally reached the center, it was already 9pm. Lucky for us, the sun doesn’t set here till 9:30! Maneuvering in the dark would have been a lot more unnerving. Upon our arrival, the place looked all locked up. As we walked to the side and peered through the fence we saw a single young women dashing to another building. Our unexpected greeting momentarily startled her but thankfully she understood English. Sophie was her name and I gave her the biggest hug when she opened the door. She retrieved someone in charge and helped us to our rooms. I was never so thankful as then for my worldwide Kadampa family, so eager to make us feel at home.
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We woke to a cloudy, about to rain any time, kind of day. KMC France was still unbelievably beautiful even under slightly these less than perfect conditions. f_P1290885

We spent the morning wandering the grounds, exploring the water wheel, winding through the gardens and peering into the ponds. Of course, I was talking oodles of pictures.
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We stayed for a delightful lunch then made our way back to Paris and onto a hotel nearer the airport. We were booked to fly out early the next evening. We dined in the hotel restaurant and I surprised at the quality of the meal and the reasonable price. I had escargot and asparagus and Jared had Salmon with fresh vegetables. For desert, of course we had dessert, Jared had lemon sorbet with a raspberry sauce and I had Crêpe Suzette.
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Back to Paris and the Palace of Versailles
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We had arrived at our fancy chain hotel near the airport the night before with the intention to spend the next day sun bathing by the pool till it was time to depart for our flight home.

A quick tour of the facility and we discovered the pool was actually inside so besides swimming, there wasn’t really going to be much else to do. Not even a gift shop for distraction was to be found so we head up to our room for a good night sleep. When we got up the next morning and found breakfast was 16 euro each, we decided to pack our bags, checked out of the hotel and spend our last day in France at the Palace of Versailles. We had it penciled in on our original list of things to see in France but never found the time to squeeze it into our schedule till now.

Then, what should have been an hour long trek to the east side of Paris took nearly two hours with traffic. Jared and I had an audio book to finish so we didn’t mind the bumper-to-bumper snail’s pace as we made our way along the highway. We had cash for the tolls this time!
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The Château de Versailles was the center of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV and Marie-Antoinette moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution. As the people of Paris starved outside the walls of the Palace, the extravagant Marie-Antoinette was heard to proclaim, “let them eat cake.” This did little to improve her popularity with her subjects.
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When we finally got to Versailles, we realized we should have probably departed the hotel much earlier than we had. By the time we found a parking spot and strolled over to the Palace, the lines for entry were already wrapped around the courtyard. Crowds of tourists, from all over the world, were unloaded from the hundreds of busses that lined the parking lot. f_P1300161

The grounds were vast and entry was free so we merrily wandered the gardens, sauntered the courtyards, strolled around the pools and watched the other tourists, and of course ate more crepes and street food until it was time to make our way to the airport.
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Au Revoir to France
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By the end of our 16-day adventure we had experienced 2 trains, 1600 miles in a rental car, 12+ cities, tons of wonderful food, 2000+photographs and two weary travelers. Looking back on the pictures it is amazing all we got to see and do. It was truly a dream vacation with very little hitches, the worst being tollbooths that spit out your ticket into the wind.
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Jared’s favorite thing was the food, especially dessert. We devoured homemade crème glacée daily, sometimes in place of breakfast. We adored the bistro food and couldn’t get enough crepes and croissants. And believe it or not I LOST 10 lbs. Must have been all the walking.

We almost skipped Monet’s gardens in Giverny. I’m so pleased we decided to go at the last minute,
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The diverse scenery and medieval architecture was delightful. The Château de Beynac was nothing less than amazing and I was awed by the replica of the 17000 year old cave painting of Lascaux II.
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Seeing the Eiffel tower from so many vantage points added to the mystique of the famous landmark. For the most part the weather was perfect, even the hot days provided blue skies with puffy white clouds. When it rained, there was plenty to still amuse us.
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There was so much contrast between Paris and the countryside and I can’t imagine missing either.
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And I still can’t believe we were in the Alps! I’m so thankful we changed our itinerary mid vacation. Annecy was such a wonderful layover.

Seeing the melting glacier at Chamonix really put global warming in perspective. If the current level of melting continues, it will be gone in 2030. That would be such a loss for all.
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So now we are home and I want to thank my son Jared for being such a wonderful traveling companion. I hope we see the world together again soon! Next time maybe Thailand!
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