Laura's Vacation Blog

Sunday, May 07, 2017


I never knew the charm of spring...
We spent the tail end of April in Paris and then traveled onto Normandy, Brittany and the Loire Valley. We arrived in Paris on Saturday afternoon, starving (they don't even serve peanuts on Iceland Air!), and eager for a nap. Our first night out, we found a quintessential bistro for a delicious dinner.

Our first full day out, Sunday, we spent the day in the Marais. In the morning, we visited a great market and picked up all sorts of goodies for our dinner; fillet of sole, bread, cheese, veggies, wine and some basic supplies. We visited the Place des Vosges and the Museum of Jewish Art and History. In the evening, we cooked up our dinner from our market purchases.The cheese we bought turned out to be one of the stinkiest on record! It overwhelmed the refrigerator in our apartment.

The cheese counter

Beautiful market produce

Place des Vosges

On Monday, we had a site seeing extravaganza. We visited the Louvre in the morning, focusing on only the Egyptian Antiquities section as so not to overwhelm. Even so, I think there were 30 or so rooms with the Egyptian Antiquities! In the afternoon, we walked over to the Ile Saint-Louis to visit Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame. And, we decided to climb the tower at Notre Dame for some amazing views. For dinner, we found this great place that had a cheese course--our first of several we found in France. They have a dozen or more cheeses and will slice you off a hunk of how ever many you want.

An ancient mummy

Stained glass at Sainte-Chapelle


 A view from the top

On Tuesday, we had another marathon day of site seeing. We visited the Orsay Museum and saw many of the great impressionist paintings including one of Monet's waterlily paintings. We hiked up to the top of the Arc De Triomphe and then hiked down the Champs Elysees. In the afternoon, we stood in line for 2 hours to see the Catacombs, an underground tomb of millions of bones. Afterwards, we went to the exact opposite attraction, the Luxembourg Gardens. In the evening, we had a super special dinner at Pre Catelan--a 3* Michelin restaurant. Everything we ate was so original and the flavors were so pronounced.

 The Arc De Triomphe

 A million stairs to climb the Arc to the top

 Quite a view

 A glimpse of the catacombs

 The Luxembourg Garden pond with model sailboats.

 The cheese plate at Pre Catelan

Our dessert -- an apple souffle with ice cream in this awesome spherical candy ball

On Wednesday, we spent most of the day at Versailles. On our way back from the palace, we stopped at the Eiffel tower for some up-close photos and a lot of harassment from street hawkers. And because we'd be visiting Giverny on Thursday, we popped into The Musee L'Orangerie right before it closed for a quick look at the 8 giant waterlily paintings by Monet. One of the cuisines we wanted to try while in Paris was Algerian so for dinner we found a great little restaurant and had a giant couscous platter.

L'Orangerie garden at Versailles

 The giant palace 

The Hall of Mirrors in the Versailles Palace

La Tour Eiffel

On Thursday, we rented a car and headed out toward the Normandy coast. On our way, we stopped in Giverny, where Monet painted his waterlilies and in Honfleur, a cute little seaside town that didn't see the bombing from WWII so is nicely preserved. Giverny was quite an inspiration. All of the spring flowers were in bloom, smelling wonderful! Just being there made you want to pick up a brush and paint. Honfleur had this lovely port and we just spent a hour strolling around, taking in the scenery. Afterwards, we continued our journey to Bayeau where we stayed at a bed and breakfast run by a couple who also had a cidery in the same building. Apple cider is a big deal in Normandy.

 Monet's garden

 The waterlily pond

 Honfleur's harbor
Timber-frame buildings on Honfleur.

We spent most of the day on Friday touring the D-Day sites along the Normandy coast. Before heading out, we first visited the museum with the Bayeau tapestry which tells the story of the Battle of Hastings and how William the Conqueror became King of England. For the D-Day sites, we started in Arromanches where there is an artificial harbor--old barges and ships were sunk to make a breakwater and then piers were floated in to allow the allied forces to unload their cargo. The allies figured that building this artificial harbor would be easier than capturing a harbor from the Nazis. From there, we visited a German gun battery and then the American cemetery. The cemetery had a museum as well with a powerful set of exhibits and a poignant movie that told many of the soldier's stories. It also revealed how thankful the Normand and Brittany people were of the Allied forces for liberating them from the Nazis. Finally, we visited Pointe Du Hoc where so many bombs were dropped that the earth is cratered.

The artificial harbor (what's left of it) in Arromanches

 The German gun battery

 The rapeseed fields in Northern France were all abloom. Here's an electric yellow view near the gun battery.

 Row after row of headstones at the American cemetery.

 Craters from the bombing at Pointe Du Hoc

Look down at Omaha Beach

On Saturday, we got an early start driving out of Bayeau toward Dinan in Brittany. On the way, we stopped at a breathtaking abbey built high on an outcropping at the mouth of a river, Mont Saint Michel. You reach the abbey by a long causeway boardwalk out to the little island. Years ago, you could drive right up and park at the base of the island during low tide but you'd have to get moving before the tide comes in or your car would be underwater. They don't let you do that anymore and instead have built big parking lots about a mile away with shuttle buses to deliver you to the base of the abbey. Mont Saint-Michel had quite a bit of restoration work occurring but we were still able to tour the abbey. The views were gorgeous. We departed Mont Saint-Michel in the early afternoon without eating at the super crowded restaurants on the island. Instead, we drove about an hour west to Cancale for a real treat of a lunch--fresh shucked oysters! This little community has a huge oyster farming industry in their harbor and a half dozen purveyors selling fresh oysters off of carts in the harbor. For about $6, you can buy a dozen oysters, shucked on the spot with a lemon and eat them right on the seawall, which is exactly what we did. Yum! After a little exploring in Cancale, we departed for Dinan, a quaint town that avoided much of the WWII bombing. Our B&B host recommended a restaurant that was in one of the (slightly leaning) timber-framed buildings throughout the old town. I don't recall what we ate but the ambiance couldn't have been beat.

 Glorious Mont Saint-Michel

The chapel at Mont Saint-Michel

The oyster beds in Cancale


 Our oyster supplier

The Dinan restaurant

A peek at the timber-framed buildings lining the streets of Dinan

On Sunday, we woke up to gray skies and rain. Justin and I suited up in our rain gear to explore the town. We got started early, when nothing was open, so we walked down to the river and then walked along the city walls while the rain let up a bit. We popped into a handful of galleries and other little stores and shared a crepe and a bottle of cider for a late lunch. All afternoon, we hung out at the B&B reading while it showered outside. And for dinner, more crepes. We were in the land of crepes!

 The Rance River

 The raincoats got plenty of use!

Dinan's city wall

On Monday, May Day, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the B&B before heading out on the road for the Loire Valley--we were a little worried that restaurants wouldn't be open on May Day. We drove straight though to Amboise and arrived around noon. Lots of stuff was open so we didn't have to worry about our next meal. In Amboise, we visited the Chateau Royal D'Amboise where Leonardo da Vinci is buried. Inside the chateau, there is this spiral ramp (with quite a pitch) that allowed horses to cart the nobility right up to the terraces. We walked it but the kings and princes didn't have to.

 Chateau d'Amboise

 Leonardo's Grave

 The stag horn decoration on the St. Hubert Chapel at the Chateau

 These Lebanese cedar trees were throughout the Loire Valley and were pretty stately

Chateau d'Amboise all lit up at night

On Tuesday, we had a full day of chateaus. The first chateau we visited was Cheverny--it's claim to fame is all of the hunting dogs that are housed on the grounds. We arrived in time to watch the daily feeding of the hounds. That display takes about 30 seconds for 60 or so hungry dogs to scarf down their pound of food. The Cheverny chateau itself is pretty grand, and well appointed, just as you'd expect for a king's digs. In the afternoon, we visited Chambord which doesn't have the dogs but has about 50 chimneys, a heck of a lot of square feet and a really clever double-helix staircase. The place was huge. We walked down to the end of the waterway to take in the beautiful views.

 Feeding the hounds at Cheverny

 Chateau Cheverny (we were early enough that few visitors were on the grounds--a rarity on this trip)

 The music room in Cheverny

 Chateau de Chambord

 The double helix staircase at Chambord...there are two separate sets of stairs in this staircase that get you to all of the floors, but never intersect.

 A corner of the kitchen at Chambord

 F for Francois, and Feinstein, and Fallstrom

Chambord from the end of the channel

On Wednesday, we were out visiting chateau again; this time Chenonceau. This was really a lovely one. It was a little smaller than the others but by no means small. Straddling a river, Chenonceau seemed lighter and brighter than the others and the garden was a little more colorful here. The florist at this chateau was quite a talent. Later in the afternoon, we strolled around Amboise exploring all of the stores and having a look at the troglydite dwellings.

Chateau Chenonceau

 The gallery of Chenonceau; the river that Chenonceau straddled was the line of demarcation during WWII and this gallery was used to sneak people from the German-held territory into the free-zone.

The beautiful copper molds in the chateau's kitchen

One of the many bouquets 

On our last full day in France, we rented some bicycles and pedaled through the vineyards and little villages nearly to Vouvray. Boy, was I out of bicycling shape! We returned and ate lunch at a little cafe and relaxed all afternoon at our apartment, packing up our bags and preparing for our long journey back to Seattle.

A break from the bikes near one of many vineyards.

A cool old Michelin marker we passed on our bicycle journey.

Au Revoir