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France Travelogue – 2016

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France Travelogue – 2016

On September 6, 2016, Posted by , In Travelogue,Uncategorized,Where we’ve been, By , , With Comments Off on France Travelogue – 2016

September 3, 2016

Hello, before I tell you about our jam packed day today, I have to add some other tidbits I forgot to mention.

First, the restaurant bathroom was unisex, with one stall for men, one stall for women and a sink all in the same small room. To say we weren’t expecting that would be an understatement. But we managed then and again today in a museum restroom.

Second, more about Napoleon. The reason why he always posed with his hand in front of his waist was not because of ego, it was because of intense stomach pain. When he posed, he was pressing against his stomach to ease some of the pain.

12 years after he died on St. Helens, he was disinterred to comply with his will. He said that he wanted to be buried in Paris, be interred the same way the Egyptians were, and have people kneel before him. When they dug him up and opened the coffin, they found that he was completed preserved even after all that time- except for one thing- his genitals. They were taken as a trophy, pickled and preserved and I’ll spare you all the history, but apparently it was ultimately offered back to France, who wasn’t interested. It is now in New Jersey!!! So New Jersey is more than a garden state…

Anyway, the reason for his stomach cramps, death and the preservation of his body is that someone poisoned him with arsenic, which is a preservative.

His body lies within a casket within a casket within a casket- ultimately within 6 different caskets. He is buried in Paris and his crypt is lower than usual, with a balcony above so people have to kneel to see him.

How’s that for a story?!

More about the Opera House. There are lamp posts around the entire House that are naked women holding lamps.

A random fact: there are 46 million Parisians and 64 million tourists a year! No wonder the place is so crowded!

Even more on Napoleon, which we learned today. Napoleon decided he wanted to be Emperor and to achieve that, he needed to be blessed by the Pope. Unfortunately, the Pope and Napoleon hated each other. So the Pope refused to come to Paris for the coronation. Napoleon wrote back saying” As you will. Just know that if you do not come to Paris, I will bring troops to Rome and imprison you for the rest of your life.” Naturally, the Pope came.

The coronation was scheduled for 10 am at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. When the Pope arrived at 9 am, Napoleon’s soldiers would not let him pass because Napoleon wanted to be the first person into the Cathedral. The Pope was told to get back into his coach and wait. He waited and 10 am passed, 11 am passed, and finally Napoleon arrived at noon, saying he had been busy.

When it came time for the Pope to lay the crown on Napoleon’s head and give the blessing, Napoleon told him to sit down. Napoleon had read the ritual very carefully and it only said that the Pope had to give his blessing, not crown the Emperor. Napoleon wanted to crown himself, which he did while the Pope sat with his hand up in the air to give the blessing.

Napoleon was wearing a very heavy suit of armor, so he went to change into something less heavy and crowned himself again. He changed into something more comfortable and crowned himself a third time. All the while the Pope was sitting behind him with his hand up in blessing.

Then Josephine came down the church aisle and the Pope stood to coronate her. But Napoleon told him to sit down again and Napoleon crowned Josephine.

One more rather gruesome discussion- Catherine says that the guillotine was a humane way to kill people, more humane than the electric chair or lethal injection because it was over so quickly. They no longer have a death penalty, so there is no further use for the guillotine.

Now, about our adventures today.

We walked to the metro, which is very clean, very organized, pleasant smelling, and no graffiti.
There is an electronic sign that tells you when the next train is coming and counts down the time. Inside the subway, there is legend that shows you where the train is and blinks near the name of the upcoming station.

Our first trip was to Notre Dame cathedral. Here are lots of things we were told, in random order as I remember 12 hours ago:

All churches in France are built from East to West, with East representing Christ’s head, the altar where his heart would be, etc., ultimately to his feet at the West side. You can always know where North is if you’re facing a church because North will always be to your right. Now if I can only find French churches when I’m lost in a woods, that would be perfect!
The Arch Bishop is housed in the Cathedral.
People used to be able to sell anything, even cows, in the front of the church. The sanctuary was separated from the crowds by large doors.
There are numbers that are very important to the church: 3 for the trinity (father, son and holy ghost; 7 for tribes of Israel; 28 for kings, etc.
There are three arched entrances to the church and each is decorated with amazing carvings and statuary, all of which has specific significance. Caroline told us about the middle entrance. The left side has to do with heaven and the right side has to do with hell. In the middle is the scales of life. One tier shows smiling people surrounded by angels- on the left and to the left of the people is an angel reaching out to them and surrounded by virgins with their lamps pointing upward.

On the right side you see people looking sad, chained together and being pushed and pulled by demons. They are pulled further onto the right side and turn into demons, including a demon pooping on another demon. All of this is very clearly depicted.

During the revolution, peasants pulled down the statues and beheaded them- not because they didn’t believe in God and Christ- but as a rebellion against all the riches and trappings of the church.

They also smashed all of the rosette windows. When the church was refurbished, it took artisans 20 years to recreate these windows. Then a year later, as war broke out and they worried that the cathedral would be bombed, they took them apart piece by piece, numbering them, and encasing them in boxes with the contents etched onto each container. They then sank them under the mud in the Seine to keep them safe.

Paris was never bombed and after the war they brought the containers up and opened them. The pieces were all intact but most of the numbers were gone! It took artisans 2 ½ years to put them back together. They are exquisite, as are the other very tall stained glass windows around the Cathedral.

Caroline told us that printing made the need for churches less necessary. Before, bibles were hand printed on parchment by monks and the bibles would be hundreds of pages and much too expensive and rare for common people to possess them. Once bibles could be printed and made available, and then translated into French instead of Latin, people could read their bibles themselves.

We walked a lot, seeing other buildings and fountains- and at noon had a wonderful leisurely lunch in a crepperie. We were able to select which savory crepe we wanted (I chose smoked salmon, lettuce and lemon, which was delicious) and a sweet crepe (mine had vanilla ice cream covered with almond slivers and chocolate sauce, also delicious!) The meal began with a large salad- mine had corn, lettuce, tomato, etc.- others opted for salads with ham and bacon as well. The service was pleasant but very slow. We were there until 2 pm!

Then we walked into the Marais, which is where Jews and gays live and which is known for artists and night life. One of the first things we saw was a plaque in memory of Jewish children deported from a school by the Nazis and the Vichy government. The addition of the Vichy government as a responsible party was added so that no one would forget their complicity.

Then we saw a wall with thousands of names of the French people who aided Jews- taking in their children and giving them Catholic names, helping get them out of the country, etc. The names are on the wall dated by when their family agreed to identify them and place their names. Many families did not want that recognition because they didn’t save Jews to get recognition.

Caroline told us about her great grandmother, who was part of the French resistance and poisoned wine going to the Germans, blew up bridges, and also, when told that the French flag could no longer be shown, started to make her own and at one time, wearing red, another friend wearing white and another wearing blue (the colors of the French flag), marched together toward Gestapo troops- for which they could have been shot.

Caroline showed us a flag her great grandmother gave her that she had made.

She was also involved in helping Jewish children cross the Alps, going from church to church. She did that for three years and then came back to Paris to see her mother- and that was the time that the children were discovered. If she had been there, that would have been the end of any possibility for Caroline.

Caroline also told me that her great grandmother always took her to the American cemetery on June 6th to honor the dead. She had Caroline select a service man’s grave to tend and honor, since she would not be able to remember the thousands of names. So Caroline goes every year on June 6th.

Something more about her great grandmother. She was working a radio and the Germans located her and those around her. Luckily, a British airman bombed the bridge so the Germans couldn’t get to them.

She was buried with a French flag, a British flag (in honor of the man who saved her life), and a German flag- because she had forgiven the Germans who were forced into the war and she felt terrible that she had killed them.

We were all sniffling back tears through her story. Her great grandmother’s name is not on the wall- she didn’t do what she did with the hope of recognition.

We went to the Sainte Chappelle, a beautiful example of Gothic architecture. It was built in seven years to house the relics that Saint Louis had purchased: the crown of thorns, some of Christ’s blood, the wood and the nails. Having these sacred relics in his possession made the already powerful monarch head of western Christianity.

He went on a crusade and was captured and imprisoned. His wife worked to have him freed, but he stayed in prison four more years because he refused to leave any of his men behind.
There is absolutely stunning stained glass. Arranged across 15 windows, each 15 meters high, the stained glass panes depict 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments recounting the history of the world until the arrival of the relics in Paris.

We went to an historical museum and then walked back to the metro. On the way, we passed a pastry shop known as the best place for eclairs. So we stopped and most went in and bought one or two, including Caroline.

To say we were all pooped is an understatement, because it was in the eighties with high humidity. My feet were burning in my sneakers by the end of our adventure, which included walking up a very very long hill to get to our hotel.

After cooling off, I decided to take advantage of the very high tub (higher than my knees) and have a bath using the bath salts they kindly provided. I was doing well until I realized that I didn’t know how to turn the water off! I managed just in time. Good grief!

On a less personal note, I discovered that we are not scheduled to go to the Louvre. So, at this point I plan to use the free time after our afternoon tour to go there. We are going to the Orsay Museum tomorrow, among other adventures. The museum is said to have the largest collection of Impressionist paintings in the world and I can’t wait to see them!

Oh, before I end this missive, I have to say that the men in the group have taken me under their wing- very gentlemanly including me (along with their wives, of course), making sure I’m safe on the metro and on the streets, etc. and I appreciate their solicitude. I’m really enjoying everyone on the tour and hope to create lifelong friends.

I have taken many photos and tried to send them to my computer with no success. Otherwise, I could have attached photos to illustrate the comments in my message. I will ultimately post them on Facebook.

 

September 6, 2016

Hello.

This was a wonderful last day for the Northern France part of my adventure.

We drove to Honfleur, which is a charming coastal village. We saw one of the few remaining all wooden churches in France and then went to the Eugene Boudin Museum. Eugene Boudin is Honfleur’s most famous painter who is also important because he inspired Monet to start painting outdoors. Then we had free time to roam the city, which is described as follows:

Honfleur is a city in northern France’s Lower Normandy region, sited on the estuary where the Seine river meets the English Channel. Its Vieux-Bassin (old harbor), lined with 16th- to 18th-century townhouses, has been a subject for artists including Claude Monet and native son Eugène Boudin. Nearby Saint Catherine’s Church is a vaulted wooden structure erected by shipbuilders beginning in the mid-1400s.

There are restaurants situated one after the other around two-thirds of the harbor. Very narrow streets, lined with cobblestone (as has been true of everywhere we’ve been in Normandy and part of Paris), there are lots of ancient buildings. A number of them around the harbor are covered with slate tiles to protect them from the damp.

I walked through beautiful paths lined with flowers, saw graceful fountains and lots of ship motifs on the buildings (since it used to be a very important commercial port). The day started rainy, windy and cold and quickly became just lovely, warm with a nice breeze. After walking for two hours, I picked up a salmon sandwich and soda at a store and sat by the harbor to have my lunch. By the time we were supposed to be back at the bus, I was anxious to sit on something other than concrete!

We drove to Versailles Palace which is gilded with real gold. Louis XIV considered himself the sun king and that theme plays out through the entire enormous palace, which has 700 rooms. All of the doors are gilded in gold with intertwined L’s for his name and etched suns. The palace is made of marble from many different countries, there are colorful pictures and murals that cover the walls and the ceilings- predominantly depicting Louis and his glories, accomplishments and wars won and different Roman gods. The walls of his rooms are lined with silk.

Some stories about Louis XIV. He became king at age 5 and reigned for 72 years! He was a handsome man with great legs (!) who loved to dance. He had several mistresses who bore him at least 11 children, but he outlived his children and his grandchildren. Louis XV was his great grandchild and became king upon Louis XIV’s death.

Louis XIV established an elaborate court etiquette that had the aristocracy, including rebel princes, vying to participate in his rising and retiring. The greatest honors bestowed on nobility involved watching Louis XIV wake up (as the sun rose), take a bath, relieve himself (you had to be in the most intimate circle to have this honor!), get dressed, eat his meals, play games and dance at parties. If you didn’t come to the evening activities, you would get a letter from the king that sent you to prison.

Louis was meticulous and his extensive gardens are designed in geometric shapes. The gardeners would mow the lawn and then use scissors to make sure every blade was even. If even a weed appeared in the garden, whoever was responsible would have his hand cut off.

Louis XIV wanted orange trees and so hundreds were planted in pots and in the winter they were brought into the palace, watered and kept in good condition before they could be taken back into the Orangerie. There were also greenhouses in which flowers of every color were raised in pots. When Louis XIV entertained, if the visiting female liked pink, for example, Louis XIV would send out the word and in 24 hours all of the flowers in the gardens would be pink.
Each room in the Palace of Versailles takes your breath away with its grandeur, the rich colors of the wall hangings, the murals, the statues, and furniture of the day- its opulence. The Hall of Mirrors has the original mirrors along one wall (no one in France had ever seen mirrors larger than a small compact. Louis XIV sent artisans to Italy to learn how to make the mirrors-) and many chandeliers that were lit with hundreds of candles and reflected off of the mirrors. Just incredible.
Louis XIV always had a favorite mistress, who would sit on his right during dinners while the queen sat on his left. The king’s first true love was Mazarin’s niece, Marie Mancini, but both the queen and the cardinal frowned upon their relationship. Louis XIV was ultimately directed into a marriage that was a political, rather than a romantic, union by wedding the daughter of Spain’s King Philip IV, Marie-Thérèse, in 1660. The marriage between the two first cousins ensured ratification of the peace treaty that Mazarin had sought to establish with Hapsburg.

Marie-Thérèse gave birth to six of the king’s children, but only one, Louis, survived past the age of five. Louis XIV, however, had a healthy libido and fathered more than a dozen illegitimate children with a number of mistresses. Mistress Louise de La Vallière bore five of the king’s children, only two of which survived infancy, while her rival Madame de Montespan, who eventually became the king’s chief mistress, gave birth to seven of the monarch’s children. Louis XIV eventually legitimized most of his children born to mistresses in the years following their births.

Madame de Pompadour was the long-standing mistress of King Louis XV of France. Even when she was replaced by younger women, she continued to be his closet political advisor- so she was incredibly powerful. But that is another story.

Jumping over Louis XV, who wasn’t very remarkable and reigned only a short time, let’s talk about Louis XVI. He was the king during the American Revolution and sent Lafayette and troops to assist the colonies because he hated England and he wanted to establish good diplomatic relations with the emerging country.
He was married to Marie Antoinette when he was 14 and she was 13. She was an Austrian princess who was driven to France and at the border, they removed all of her Austrian clothing, took away her Austrian puppy, dressed her in French clothing and had her bid goodbye to her friends and family.

She never wanted to be Queen, nor did she want to live in Versailles. Louis XVI built her a small cottage and farm, where she lived and liked to herd the sheep. She never said “let them eat cake” nor was she responsible for putting the country into debt with any extravagances. But the people needed someone to blame and they hated her for being Austrian.

Louis XVI had actually signed an agreement to support the French revolution, expecting it to result in a King and an assembly that co-ruled. However, Marie Antoinette wanted them to go to Austria so that her family could protect them. Unfortunately, they were stopped and put in prison and ultimately beheaded.

Please google: photos of the interior of the palace of Versailles to get a sense of the opulence. Again, I’ll send my photos when I get back to Madison.

We drove back to Paris and had a lovely final dinner together tonight. Tomorrow, very early, five of us will take the train to Avignon where we’ll begin the next adventure: the South of France.

September 7, 2016

Bonne Nuit,

It has been a jam packed first evening in Paris! I met the 13 other people, all of whom have traveled extensively, some have lived in a variety of countries, a few know excellent or rudimentary French (I am among neither group), most are retired and either volunteer in inner cities and/or are involved with a Villager (?) project to enable elderly to stay in their homes. There is another consultant who conducts training and we’ re going to compare notes.

When we convened at 5:30 (17:30) Caroline introduced herself- she is vivacious, incredibly intelligent, perceptive and knowledgeable, and obviously loves giving tours. She is married to a chef who just opened his own small restaurant in Lyons. She said that her apartment in Paris is approximately the same size as our tiny rooms! In Paris, your choice is either location or size if you want to live downtown. We later learned that her small flat is a few blocks away from our hotel, right across the street from the Paris Opera house.

Side note: The Paris House was built over water and there used to be boat rides in what was essentially a cistern. The architect thought that the water would help with acoustics and would also be handy if there was ever a fire. The fellow who wrote Phantom of the Opera was inspired during a ride and went home to write the musical, with the setting in the Paris Opera House.

She went over our extensive itinerary, then handed out small amplifiers (on a cord that goes around our necks) and an ear piece- for the left ear- so we can hear her when we are off of the bus. She also gave us a map of Paris and extra batteries for our amplifier box.

Then we boarded the bus. I think it took us 2 hours to get to the restaurant! Since I hadn’t had any lunch and my typical dinner time is around 5:30 or 6, I was famished. The meal was quintessentially French. It began with wine, blanc or rose, then French onion soup which is called onion soup in France. I passed on that and started on the bread. Our entre was pork over potatoes and very nice. Dessert was crème brulee, which was very tasty- I’ve never had it before.

During dinner, we chatted with Caroline who told us regarding their politics:
There is no electoral college- the French would never stand for it- they want their votes counted.
The campaign is only a few months. It begins with 12 individuals and gets down to 2.
No individual can give more than $10,000 Euros and no company or organization can donate money to a campaign.
During the campaign, personal and political matters are separated- and only political matters can be discussed. If personal matters are brought up, the other candidate can sue the slanderer and that person will be immediately ineligible to run for office.

Does that sound civilized and exactly what we need in our country????

Our restaurant was right across from the Cathedral Notre Dame, which is exquisite. I’ll get better pictures tomorrow during the day. We went to see the Eiffel Tower. At 9-9:10 pm it has sparkling lights (although they didn’t come through in the photos.) It is 1000 feet tall and used to have 1789 stairs up to the top (1789 referring to the revolution). It took over 2 ½ years to build it and no lives were lost during the construction. Isn’t that amazing? It is just iron girders and thousands of rivets.

In anticipation of their 100-year celebration of the revolution, the government asked for ideas for something large and dramatic. One person proposed building a tall sprinkler that would rain on the entire city. Eiffel proposed his tower and they liked it.

However, after it was built there was an enormous hue and cry because people hated it- girders shouldn’t be in the open- they should be covered with stone; it was so much taller than the 600-foot-tall building- and so heavy, since it was made of iron, that people feared it would kill them all when it fell during a high wind or storm. They also thought it was ugly and would rust.
One gentleman conducted a letter campaign against the Eiffel Tower, but also ate his lunch there every day. When a news reporter asked him why, he responded: “This is the only place I can’t see the Tower!”

They call the Eiffel Tower the Lady of Paris.

Driving along the streets, you see- throngs of people shopping, eating indoors or at outdoor cafes, zillions of motor bikes (and ones with two wheels in the front and one in the back), and tall buildings that look triangular as one side goes down one street and the other a different street. There are tall windows and beautiful wrought iron trellises around the small porches, many of which have colorful plants. The street names and districts are written on small blue signs on the buildings themselves.

Caroline said that the left bank of Paris is where you are smart and the right bank is where you shop (I think I’ve got that right).

Plane trees border the streets on either side. There are monuments and amazing statues and friezes. There is a statue of Churchill, who France loved, and a statue of Charles de Gaulle walking- to indicate that France is moving forward.

And lots of Greek-inspired statues of Napoleon. A bit about his story. He was born into a pretty well off family that didn’t have enough money to send him to the military academy. Madame de Pompadour, using her own and Luis XV’s money, established another military academy for folks like Napoleon. He went there at 15, left at 17, and then quickly moved up the ranks due to the revolution (other countries wanted to take advantage of the turmoil in France). He became a general and eventually the Emperor.

It was his idea to remove 12,000 homes because the center of Paris was so crowded there were hygiene issues and the military could not walk abreast down the streets if there were revolts. So the streets were widened. Before he made this change, the inner city was populated by the poor and the rich lived on the outskirts of the city. After he widened the streets and decorated the city so it would attract visitors, the rich moved into the city and the poor, unable to pay the new rents, moved out.

Paris is divided into 20 districts. The first district is in the very center of Paris and the other districts spiral out around it-so the highest numbered district is the farthermost district.

Sorry, it’s almost midnight and my brain is fried.

To summarize, an AMAZING adventure!

Fondly,

Deb


September 8, 2016

Hello.

This was a wonderful last day for the Northern France part of my adventure.

We drove to Honfleur, which is a charming coastal village. We saw one of the few remaining all wooden churches in France and then went to the Eugene Boudin Museum. Eugene Boudin is Honfleur’s most famous painter who is also important because he inspired Monet to start painting outdoors. Then we had free time to roam the city, which is described as follows:

Honfleur is a city in northern France’s Lower Normandy region, sited on the estuary where the Seine river meets the English Channel. Its Vieux-Bassin (old harbor), lined with 16th- to 18th-century townhouses, has been a subject for artists including Claude Monet and native son Eugène Boudin. Nearby Saint Catherine’s Church is a vaulted wooden structure erected by shipbuilders beginning in the mid-1400s.

There are restaurants situated one after the other around two-thirds of the harbor. Very narrow streets, lined with cobblestone (as has been true of everywhere we’ve been in Normandy and part of Paris), there are lots of ancient buildings. A number of them around the harbor are covered with slate tiles to protect them from the damp.

I walked through beautiful paths lined with flowers, saw graceful fountains and lots of ship motifs on the buildings (since it used to be a very important commercial port). The day started rainy, windy and cold and quickly became just lovely, warm with a nice breeze. After walking for two hours, I picked up a salmon sandwich and soda at a store and sat by the harbor to have my lunch. By the time we were supposed to be back at the bus, I was anxious to sit on something other than concrete!

We drove to Versailles Palace which is gilded with real gold. Louis XIV considered himself the sun king and that theme plays out through the entire enormous palace, which has 700 rooms. All of the doors are gilded in gold with intertwined L’s for his name and etched suns. The palace is made of marble from many different countries, there are colorful pictures and murals that cover the walls and the ceilings- predominantly depicting Louis and his glories, accomplishments and wars won and different Roman gods. The walls of his rooms are lined with silk.

Some stories about Louis XIV. He became king at age 5 and reigned for 72 years! He was a handsome man with great legs (!) who loved to dance. He had several mistresses who bore him at least 11 children, but he outlived his children and his grandchildren. Louis XV was his great grandchild and became king upon Louis XIV’s death.

Louis XIV established an elaborate court etiquette that had the aristocracy, including rebel princes, vying to participate in his rising and retiring. The greatest honors bestowed on nobility involved watching Louis XIV wake up (as the sun rose), take a bath, relieve himself (you had to be in the most intimate circle to have this honor!), get dressed, eat his meals, play games and dance at parties. If you didn’t come to the evening activities, you would get a letter from the king that sent you to prison.

Louis was meticulous and his extensive gardens are designed in geometric shapes. The gardeners would mow the lawn and then use scissors to make sure every blade was even. If even a weed appeared in the garden, whoever was responsible would have his hand cut off.

Louis XIV wanted orange trees and so hundreds were planted in pots and in the winter they were brought into the palace, watered and kept in good condition before they could be taken back into the Orangerie. There were also greenhouses in which flowers of every color were raised in pots. When Louis XIV entertained, if the visiting female liked pink, for example, Louis XIV would send out the word and in 24 hours all of the flowers in the gardens would be pink.
Each room in the Palace of Versailles takes your breath away with its grandeur, the rich colors of the wall hangings, the murals, the statues, and furniture of the day- its opulence. The Hall of Mirrors has the original mirrors along one wall (no one in France had ever seen mirrors larger than a small compact. Louis XIV sent artisans to Italy to learn how to make the mirrors-) and many chandeliers that were lit with hundreds of candles and reflected off of the mirrors. Just incredible.
Louis XIV always had a favorite mistress, who would sit on his right during dinners while the queen sat on his left. The king’s first true love was Mazarin’s niece, Marie Mancini, but both the queen and the cardinal frowned upon their relationship. Louis XIV was ultimately directed into a marriage that was a political, rather than a romantic, union by wedding the daughter of Spain’s King Philip IV, Marie-Thérèse, in 1660. The marriage between the two first cousins ensured ratification of the peace treaty that Mazarin had sought to establish with Hapsburg.

Marie-Thérèse gave birth to six of the king’s children, but only one, Louis, survived past the age of five. Louis XIV, however, had a healthy libido and fathered more than a dozen illegitimate children with a number of mistresses. Mistress Louise de La Vallière bore five of the king’s children, only two of which survived infancy, while her rival Madame de Montespan, who eventually became the king’s chief mistress, gave birth to seven of the monarch’s children. Louis XIV eventually legitimized most of his children born to mistresses in the years following their births.

Madame de Pompadour was the long-standing mistress of King Louis XV of France. Even when she was replaced by younger women, she continued to be his closet political advisor- so she was incredibly powerful. But that is another story.

Jumping over Louis XV, who wasn’t very remarkable and reigned only a short time, let’s talk about Louis XVI. He was the king during the American Revolution and sent Lafayette and troops to assist the colonies because he hated England and he wanted to establish good diplomatic relations with the emerging country.
He was married to Marie Antoinette when he was 14 and she was 13. She was an Austrian princess who was driven to France and at the border, they removed all of her Austrian clothing, took away her Austrian puppy, dressed her in French clothing and had her bid goodbye to her friends and family.

She never wanted to be Queen, nor did she want to live in Versailles. Louis XVI built her a small cottage and farm, where she lived and liked to herd the sheep. She never said “let them eat cake” nor was she responsible for putting the country into debt with any extravagances. But the people needed someone to blame and they hated her for being Austrian.

Louis XVI had actually signed an agreement to support the French revolution, expecting it to result in a King and an assembly that co-ruled. However, Marie Antoinette wanted them to go to Austria so that her family could protect them. Unfortunately, they were stopped and put in prison and ultimately beheaded.

Please google: photos of the interior of the palace of Versailles to get a sense of the opulence. Again, I’ll send my photos when I get back to Madison.

We drove back to Paris and had a lovely final dinner together tonight. Tomorrow, very early, five of us will take the train to Avignon where we’ll begin the next adventure: the South of France.

September 9, 2016

Caroline, who has a Fitbit, calculated that we walked over 6 miles a day for our 6 days in northern France- and a number of those miles were uphill or up many steep steps- all in high temperatures and high humidity. No wonder we’re pooped!

This morning five of us took a shuttle to the De Gaulle airport, where we were to get the train to Avignon. Thanks to help from a lovely young woman who told us she transports kittens to different places around the world (?), my heavy suitcase got on the shuttle and so did I. Unfortunately, I was right where the shuttle doors closed inward and pinched my behind every time…

Road Scholar did well by us on the train because they put us in first class on a bullet train that went an average of 120 miles per hour (and 180 miles per hour at its fastest)- so it only took 3 ½ hours to get from Paris to Avignon.

We had to pile into two different taxis to get all of us and our luggage to our hotel, which is right across from the Medieval stone ramparts that surround the city center. The hotel is very nice. We expect good things, such as: room to move, a comfortable chair, toilet seats…

Since we arrived before our rooms were ready, we left our luggage with the front desk and went to find a place to eat. The city is ancient and every few corners there is a very old statue of Mary and child up on a cornice of a building. Many of the roads we walked on were very narrow, although cars and motorcycles careen past at what seems to be dangerous speeds.

We found the outdoor café and had terrines, which in my case was a thick piece of toasted bread (longer than the width of the large plate) covered with a chicken salad with large lumps of chicken, lots of corn and other vegetables. It was delicious! I also ordered lemonade which, as was the case in Bayeux, really lemon-flavored sparkling water. I think I’ve learned not to order it again…

When we got up to pay the bill, I realized that we had been sitting next to an ancient church and that there was an ornate fountain right behind us. For some reason, there was also a bicycle with colorfully knitted handlebars, wheel covers, brakes, seat, etc. How often have you seen a knitted bicycle? Yes, me neither.
We walked through the streets, surprised to find that almost all of the stores were closed (for two hour lunches!) It was even hotter and more humid here in the south of France, which I suppose was to be expected. After trucking around, going into different shops as they opened, and finally getting some excellent sorbet and ice cream.

When we got back to the hotel, I learned that I had a roommate. I wasn’t thrilled, especially when I got to the room and saw that it had two twin beds that were pushed together! I pushed them apart to the extent I could (about 10 inches). I also despaired that the shower and sink were completely open to the room (the toilet has its own small room with a door that doesn’t really close). I finally discovered that what looked like two walls were heavy doors that could be closed to seal off the bathroom. Ah, at least some privacy!

I’ve gotten to know Mary (from Colorado) over the past few hours and she is an absolute stitch. I’ve tried to help her with her Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime phone, with Sprint. She hasn’t been able to text her son, even though the Sprint folks told her she had international access.

We tried following directions online, but her phone lacked a vital button. I thought about taking out her battery to see if the phone would reset, but can’t figure out how to take the protective cover that the phone seems to be glued to. The young man at the front desk spent some time trying to problem solve, to no avail.
There are 23 people in our group, again mostly women with a few scattered husbands. We have retired educators, two retired nurses, two retired attorneys, a retired psychologist, etc.

Dominique, our guide, is a tiny vivacious French woman who is at least 10+ years older than Caroline (who will be 30 in November) and has a strong accent when she speaks English. She is not as fluent as Caroline, who studied in England. However, she really impressed me with her organization. She had a map posted so we could see our routes. She went over the entire itinerary. She had arranged for there to be nibbles, water and wine, which was a very nice touch and greatly appreciated by all.

She also told us the magic words to use so that French people warmed up to us rather than fulfilling the snooty stereotype. The words? “Bon jour!” She said to say it as you enter a store even if the shopkeeper is talking with someone else. Who knew? She also gave us a few more French phrases, such as:” s’il vous plait,” “au revoir,” and told us how to say “merci” correctly. She also told us that leaving a 10% tip is expected, which I certainly wish Caroline had told us last week. However, the tip should not go on a credit card because then the restaurant owner gets the money.

She warned us to put all of our valuables into our room safe, including our passport and all but one of our credit cards because the areas we would be visiting were rife with pickpockets. Duly noted and action taken. Since we share the safe, Mary and I had to agree on a code we would both remember- so I suggested 9916 for today’s date. If I forget, please remind me!

Two funny things tonight. First, I asked Roberta to pass the butter and first she tried to hand me the salt and pepper, then the wine, then the water bottle, then the bread… I have gotten the distinct impression that she doesn’t hear very well.

Second, Mary told me that she wanted to plot our trip on a map, so she bought a map of France. Then, because it was too big, she cut the top half of the map off. We spent about 15 minutes trying to find Avignon on the map, only for me to realize that it was on the part of the map that she cut off!

It will be interesting how well our group coalesces. I sat at a table with 10 people. Two women liberally shared their opinions about everything throughout the meal. Three women were unhappy with the leg of duck, which I must admit (given my first and only other experience with duck last week) was dry and not as tasty. I don’t recall any of the northern France group ever complaining about the food.

It will also be interesting to see how everyone handles the “moderately challenging” adventures in store for us. Several women are very large, others seem somewhat frail, and at least one person uses a cane.

Dominique was sensitive to people’s jet lag and our starting time tomorrow is 9:30 am! Our lunch will be after 2 pm, so I’m going to grab some fruit and croissants from breakfast to take with me.

Wonder of wonders, our starting time on Sunday will be 10:30 am! After that, we’ll be back to starting at 8 or 8:30 every morning.

Well, Mary has showered and is in bed, so it’s my turn.
On to a new southern France adventure!

September 10, 2016

We did not start our adventures until 9:30 am, at which time Dominique gave us our “whisperers,” which is what she calls the receivers we used in the previous tour. I think that’s pretty charming.
We loaded onto a bus that could carry 50 people- with the smallest amount of leg room – comparable to uncomfortable airplane seats. At least we could spread out and each get a window if we wanted.
As we drove, we saw hundreds of olive trees as well as what looked like silvery leafed aspens.
We drove to Arles, where hundreds (possibly many many more) people were there to celebrate the Feria du Riz Festival with music and children baiting small bulls whose horns were corked so no one got hurt. The music that we heard was Spanish, we saw enormous pans of paella being cooked on the street, and the weekly huge Provencal market.
Arles is a city at the mouth of the Rhône River in the Provence region of southern France. It was first settled in the 7th century BC, as Thêlinê, by the Greek colonists who had founded Marseilles. Arles later became a provincial capital of ancient Rome, so there are many remains from that era, including Arles Amphitheatre. There are very ancient buildings with ornate carvings and statues, including at least two magnificent churches.

Arles is famed for inspiring the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh, who was there for 15 months in the late 1800’s. During that time, he produced more than 600 paintings portraying the town. We saw the café that Van Gogh painted, as well as where the yellow house where he lived used to be…

Dominique explained that the only marshy area in France is in Provence, which is where rice is grown. This Saturday was the first of two days of a celebration of the rice harvest.

There is a strong Spanish influence, since Provence is close to the Spanish border. Not only is paella a local dish, they also have Spanish bullfights in the Roman arena. In these bullfights, the bull is killed. In the more gentle bullfights, men and children get in an enclosed run and wave at small bulls whose horns are corked. In these bullfights, the bulls are the stars and are not harmed.

Then we were given two hours to enjoy walking through the ancient city and the market. This market was enormous (for those of you in Madison, Wisconsin, it took up a good half of the Capitol Square). We only saw less than a quarter of the market, where vendors sell clothing (light cotton from Italy that feels and looks like rayon), soaps, mattresses (!), colorful woven baskets, lavender (this is the place where much lavender is grown)- and then lots of different spices, olives, sausages, nougats, bakery goods, cooked meats and raw meats for sale, flowers, all sorts of vegetables, jams, tapenades- it was overwhelming.

One of our number needed a skirt and found one, we tasted different nougats (and purchased some from a charming young woman who was selling 3 + 1 and wanted to know how to say that in English: buy three and get one free). I’ve never had nougat before and it was delicious- particularly one studded with different kinds of nuts. Yum!

We found a lovely shop that sold rice and lavender products: soap, cookies, chocolate, sachets, loose lavender, jams- anything you can imagine that could possibly have lavender in it.

It was in the mid 90’s with comparable humidity, but sunny with an infrequent breeze. We have at least four people with leg or foot problems, one frail but feisty woman who seems to have come with a younger neighbor who holds her arm as she walks- a very differently abled group than our 14 in the earlier tour. The Paris five (as we call ourselves) are amazed and somewhat disheartened at the pace- and also the group leader.

This is a very different tour than I experienced in the northern France tour. The pace is very slow and Dominique shares very little information or history of the city. Later, we five determined that Dominique’s role was simply as a group leader, responsible for keeping us organized and getting us to predetermined locations. “Experts” will give us information when we go to museums or historic buildings.

Caroline really spoiled us for any other guide, because she served as group leader, tour guide and expert.

I have to admit that when I signed up for these tours, I fully expected a leisurely time seeing sights and having some small explanations about them- which is exactly what this southern France tour appears to be. The northern France tour was almost over rich with history, details, information, and moved at a very fast clip. Having experienced that, I now long for much more information and history- which we haven’t received so far.

We had lunch near the Rhone river (just not in sight of it). Again, it was very drawn out- a good two hours and definitely not my favorite meal. It began with two large chunks of different types of Feta cheese (I don’t eat cheese), and olive tamponade (a Provençal dish consisting of puréed or finely chopped olives, capers, and olive oil)- which I didn’t like, and six leaves of Romaine with dressing. I ate the last. Our lunch was rice and some white fish covered with some cream sauce. Since I generally eat fish with my lemon, this was just all right. Oh, and 6 green beans.

Dessert was some white fluffy ice cream with some caramel and a small slice of what I think was gingerbread (definitely not the quality that my son Seth makes). Ho hum.

But the conversation with the couple across from me was lovely. Everyone has incredible stories and enormous amounts of travel under their belts. It’s fun to learn about their lives and their travel experiences. For example, this couple attends college courses only for seniors (meeting 2 hours a week for 10 weeks on every topic imaginable). I wasn’t aware that this even existed. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the college. I’ll have to ask them about it again.

Also, so far everyone I’ve met shares my political views (terror and disbelief about Trump) so that makes it pretty copacetic.

And please don’t worry that I’m not getting fed, because food is plentiful and, with few exceptions such as this lunch, excellent.

After lunch we got back on the bus to drive to the Pont du Gard, where an ancient three-tiered Roman aqueduct spans the Gardon river. The aqueduct was built over 2000 years ago, in 19 BC, by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, the son-in-law of Augustus. Two tiers still stand.

The intrepid five climbed the many stairs to what we thought would bring us to the first tier of the aqueduct- where we expected that we could walk on it. It was disappointing to do all that work only to discover that access to the aqueduct was locked.

We also went into a museum about how the aqueduct piped water into Nimes, providing over 30,000 m³ of water each day to supply its population with baths, public fountains and other aquatic features. These are shown in several vivid reproductions.

The Romans used pressurized water that went into wooden and lead pipes. The museum shows all of the brilliant engineering and construction used to create and maintain the aqueduct.

Finally, back to Avignon, where the intrepid five (I invited Mary but she was exhausted) went back into the old city to buy something for dinner. We brought it back (sandwich for me, bread, cheese and wine for the others) and had a lovely impromptu picnic in Joan’s room. There was a lot of stimulating conversation, because LaDonna is very knowledgeable about politics, French government, Native Americans, Mormons, etc.- and Joan added her knowledge as well.

They met working with the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, whose mission is “to advance and share knowledge of the human experience through archaeological research, education programs, and partnerships with American Indians.” http://www.crowcanyon.org

Tomorrow we don’t begin until 10:30!!! When we asked why so very late, Dominique explained that we could only get a reservation with a guide to take us through the Palace of the Popes for 11:30.

 

September 11, 2016

What a treat to be able to get up at 9 am and not leave until 10:30 am on our adventure. This tour schedule may be very laid back in comparison to last week, but it comes at a very good time.

Although I have washed my undergarments in the sink, I only have 1 pair of clean pants left. I had discovered to my chagrin that the hotel laundry didn’t operate on Sunday, but I had expected I could get my clothing cleaned tomorrow (Monday). No dice, they don’t open their laundry on Monday either. So I found out where there is a laundromat.

I also needed to exchange some US dollars into Euros and the front desk showed the conversion rates. Apparently, however, that is all they do- provide the information. They don’t exchange money. So I found out where I could do that, also.

Tonight I checked the Nice hotel we will be moving to on Tuesday morning and discovered that their services include a laundry. I am going to do my best to make my one pair of pants last so I can take advantage of the hotel’s laundry service. Doing laundry in a laundromat once on this trip was sufficient.
Today, we walked through one of the gates in the ramparts of Avignon to the center of the old city where the Palace of the Popes is located. We were given a tour of the Palace by Camille, a young, very knowledgeable and personable young woman.

Here are some miscellaneous facts about the Palace:
It was once the largest Gothic building in the world, measuring more than 165,00 square feet.
It served as the temporary home for the Papacy from 1309-1377. (I’ll bet many of you didn’t know there were ever Popes in France. According to Camille, no pope has visited France since 1377).

It started when Italy was plagued by political instability, eventually driving the popes out of Rome and forcing them to travel to find secure locations throughout the country.

The Palais is actually made up of two buildings: the old Palais of Benedict XII which sits on the impregnable rock of Doms, and the new Palais of Clement VI, the most extravagant of the Avignon popes.

The construction design was the work of two of France’s best architects, Pierre Peysson and Jean du Louvres and the lavish ornamentation was the work of two of the best students of the School of Siena (Italy),Simone Martini and Matteo Giovanetti.

It is relatively easy to tell the old and the new palace sections apart, because Pope Benedict XII was very austere and Pope Clement VI had beautiful tapestries (gone now), murals, statues, and a beautiful bedroom whose walls are covered with frescos of birds, vines, animals and other pastoral scenes.

Pope Clement VI loved music so there is an enormous hall that has amazing acoustics!
Camille sang a brief song and her voice, which was very beautiful, sounded as if there were twenty other singers.

During the French Revolution, the people wanted to destroy the palace but didn’t know where to start. Instead, they scratched out the faces and hands of the saints depicted on the walls or in the statuary.

For a while, there were two popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon. You can learn more about this at http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-28/1378-great-papal-schism.html

When a conclave was held in Avignon for the cardinals to select the new pope, they were walled into a large room, the windows were walled up, and they received food, water and other provisions through a hole in the floor. If they took too long to make a selection, the food was diminished until all they received was bread and water. Since the cardinals were used to a very lavish and luxurious existence, they hurried so they wouldn’t be subjected to this!

When the palace was an army barracks for thousands of soldiers, they walled off some windows, added others and also added one or two more floor levels in the great halls where three hundred men slept at the same time. With the acoustics, imagine the ruckus caused by all of their snoring!

After the tour, the intrepid five sought out an indoor market that was a feast to the eyes with a riot of color from all of the sausages, olives, fruit, vegetables, pastries, wines, meats, fish, cooked dishes and candies for sale.

We also shopped at small jewelry stands and I took photos of the two-level carousel that included a round seat comparable to a spinning tea cup, beautifully painted horses as well as other animals, including a sweet elephant- and very classical, somewhat risqué paintings on the ceiling!

We had lunch, then walked to see the Pont du Avignon, which is a bridge built between 1177 and 1185 that used to span the Rhone river. Only part of it is left, with a small cathedral at the top. The river is very serene, with a nice breeze since it was 100 F today!!!

We walked all over the city and then, when the others were ready to go back to the hotel, I went to take a tram that also went around the city (to the places we had already walked!) but provided some very brief historical information. Two facts that I remember are: (1) Napoleon was in Avignon to redact some document and (2) there are ruins of a Roman forum under the town square.

We walked back into the city to have a meal with the entire group. This restaurant served much more quickly than we’ve experienced to date, but we still began with drinks (wine for those who drink wine) at 7:30 and four courses that didn’t end until after 9 pm.

Since I knew that I had to write a Laurel Learning Tip for tomorrow as well as this email, I set off by myself to get back earlier. Of course I got very lost and three young Frenchmen turned me around, wrote the directions on my map and headed me in the right direction. I finally got to the hotel 10 minutes after everyone else made it back!

So, it is now 12:30 am, I’ve written and posted my Tip, had a shower and am ready to go to bed because we leave at 8 am to go visit various fortified cities in Provence.

By the way, every famous building we’ve toured has exited through the gift shop. The Palace of the Popes was no exception. It had loose tea for every Pope (Joan said she didn’t know which were the good popes so she wouldn’t be able to choose the tea), wine (!), lavender items, metal helmets, wooden swords and wooden cross bows, among other touristy items. We managed to avoid making any lethal purchases…

 

September 12th, 2016

Today we drove to Les Baux de Provence, which is a very picturesque medieval village at a fortified rocky site in the Alpilles.

The Alpilles, or little Alps, are “one of the absolute “musts” in Provence, embodying the harmony of sublime landscapes, a still untamed natural environment and proudly preserved traditions. It conveys an image of deepest Provence, the authentic Provence with its style and refinement. This is the Provence of St Rémy de Provence and Baux de Provence… This is the land of the authors Alphonse Daudet and Frédéric Mistral, and also the land of Van Gogh who lived in St Rémy and who was inspired by its light, its sunflowers and its famous cypress trees.

The landscape here is magnificent: little mountains covered in scrubland, pine and oak forests, and fields of olive trees stretch as far as the eye can see. Here and there you will glimpse avenues of cypresses, leading to superb renovated country houses or ancient drystone farmhouses.”

The Grimaldi family (Monaco) owned this land before they gave it to the King of France, the buildings, and houses in the valley- and still come to the area and have held weddings there.
We climbed the steep cobblestone streets to the church, built in the 12th and 16th centuries. We also went into the Musée des Santons.

Santons are small hand-painted terracotta nativity scene figurines produced in the Provence region of southeastern France. Santons derived from the idea of the Provencal inhabitants on their way to the Nativity with their humble, local offerings. There are hundreds of different clay figurines that depict the colorful people, traditional trades, activities and costumes of Provence. They are charming. You can see some at http://www.beyond.fr/themes/santon.html

Then we went to Glanum to see two Roman monuments of the 1st century BC: a mausoleum (empty) and a triumphal arch still retain much of the statuary and decorative embellishments after these thousands of years. Just amazing.

While we were there, Dominique provided us with small square anise and caramel butter cookies and Pastis, which is an anise-flavored spirit and aperitif from France, typically containing less than 100 g/l sugar and from 40–45% ABV (alcohol by volume). The Pastis is diluted with water because it is so strong. I had a few drops with a half glass of water and could taste the anise.

Off then to Saint-Remy-de-Provence, where a boulevard encircles the old city, to find some lunch. My compatriots had different buckwheat crepes filled cheese and ham, or cheese and vegetables, or cheese and…… I had a fruit salad that was lovely. We sat under spreading chestnut trees with a nice breeze. And no meal is complete with my friends without having ice cream, or glace. There have been places to purchase glace all over every place we’ve visited

With an incredible assortment of flavors. I’ve had lemon, mint chocolate chip, and most frequently raspberry sherbet that is delicious.

Our next visit was to Carrieres de Lumieres, which is a former limestone quarry with art-based multimedia shows, projecting images of famous paintings set to music. This program projected Marc Chagall’s work on walls, ceilings and floors. At times, it was dizzy making, but it was always colorful and moving as it showed the progression of his paintings. The different periods of his work were emphasized with different music that ranged from Carmen to Janis Joplin, Count Basie to Russian and Israeli tunes. This lasted about 30-40 minutes.

There was also a much shorter program evoking impressions of Alice in Wonderland.

It was an extraordinary multimedia experience. You can read more about it at http://carrieres-lumieres.com/en/home

We weren’t done with our day. We went to St Paul de Mausole’s mental hospital where Van Gogh was voluntarily confined for ten years (after he cut off part of his ear). We saw the chapel, the cloisters, his work room and his bedroom, as well as many of his paintings. I also roamed the outside gardens and was excited when I saw a small iris garden. I was sure I had discovered his inspiration for his beautiful irises painting! Then I walked further and found that there was an entire field of irises (just leaves showing now).

By the time we got back to Avignon, I was exhausted. We also had to pack up, because tomorrow at 8 am we start a new adventure on our way to Nice.

I’m enjoying my roommate, Mary, as well as many of the others in the group. It’s different, slow paced, very low key, but enjoyable none the less.

Bonne Nuit,

Deb

September 13th, 2016

This morning we left Avignon with our luggage to go to our next location. We were told to leave our big bags outside of our doors by 7 am, which I did. Then I saw the skinniest young man pushing a trolley with my bag on the very bottom, scrunched down by all of the weight of the other bags.

I’m happy to report that it doesn’t appear to have suffered any lasting damage- nor do the items within show any distress.

On the trip, which took over 2 hours, Dominique provided the following miscellaneous information in response to questions:

We have noticed that the speed limit is posted once and then again about a mile away, although that sign has the word “rappelles” under the speed limit. I may not have written the correct tense for the verb, but apparently the second sign is telling drivers to remember the speed limit! I love it!
Dominique converts temperatures from Centigrade to Fahrenheit with the following formula: F= (2 x C) + 32. The temperature today was 31 C, which is 94 F.
The first king of France was Clovis and 18 subsequent (not consecutive) kings were named Lovis or Louis. Pretty cool, eh?

I have proposed a drinking game to my Normandy peers: Dominique says “Voila!” almost every other sentence. Sue told me that it means: “So there you go!” Now if I was only a drinker! LaDonna, who likes her wine, said she would be under the table and comatose within the first hour…

This was really a day of misadventures in terms of traveling. Traffic out of Avignon was terrible and then the city of Aix had, according to Dominique, created new one way streets and restricted parking. We were trying to get to the atelier (workshop or studio) of Paul Cezanne, who is a famous local. After numerous passes, our driver was finally able to get us within walking distance.

A friend of Cezanne left his workshop untouched after Cezanne died. So you can see his hats, his smocks and coats, and most incredibly, the various objects that he painted. There was a video playing that projected his paintings and I could look around and see the items! His atelier is lovely, with an enormous window virtually the entire side of one room that obviously let in light. His workshop home is surrounded by lovely trees and flowers, so it is very charming. I really enjoyed this visit.

Aix is very proud of Cezanne, so there are streets, businesses, buildings, etc. with Paul Cezanne in their names! Aix is a very old city founded in 123 BC. You can learn more about it at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aix-en-Provence

Next, we had a short drive to Antibes, which is a resort town between Cannes and Nice on the French Riviera (Côte d’Azur). It’s known for its old town enclosed by 16th-century ramparts with the star-shaped Fort Carré. This overlooks luxury yachts moored at the Port Vauban marina. Our “short drive” got much longer because again we had terrible difficulty parking the bus, circling the city several times. Finally, we were able to get off. The Normandy group made a beeline to a museum that was showing a Turner exhibit (I love how Turner uses light in his paintings and have prints of two of them at home). 

There was a very long line- and across the street was a bookstore. I darted over there while the others waited in line and was able, with the help of the shop person, to find two books I wanted. The line had moved in my absence and just as we were about to get to the ticket counter, LaDonna pointed out that the entire museum was moving in a slow line. There were people there from a number of different tour buses as well as luxury liners. So we had to vacate those plans.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Antibes has enormous markets- for both edibles and wearables. We wandered from tent to tent looking at clothing, shoes, handbags, scarves, etc. etc. Finally, I had had enough of that and broke from the group to go do more sightseeing and get some lunch (pad thai from a street vendor), which I ate in a park while people watching.

Back on the bus to go to the Picasso Museum (formerly known as Chateau Grimaldi). This involved more driving around- and parking near the marina, where we saw a gazillion private yachts moored and, further out in the water, absolutely enormous private super yachts moored at the “Billionaires’ Wharf.”
Here is more information:

“Antibes is one of the biggest luxury yachting centres on earth, with a huge port that curves around the horseshoe-shaped bay between the medieval ramparts on one side and Fort Carre on the other.

Moorings & marinas
Antibes has been an important port since before the Middle Ages, when the Crusader ships stopped here on their way to the Holy Land, and, in the modern era, was the base of Louis XIV’s navy and was later bombed by the Germans due to its strategic importance during World War II.

Passing most of its life as a fishing port, Port Vauban of Antibes is today the largest yachting marina in Europe with 1700 berths ranging from 4.5m to 165m, and is logistically made up of two separate marinas, a professional fishing port and a shipyard.

There is also a small port at the base of the Cap d’Antibes called Port Salis, suited to small vessels, and the nearby ports of Juan les Pins, Port Crouton and Port Gallice, taking the total of Antibes-JLP berths to an enormous 2,800.

The IYCA (International Yacht Club of Antibes) Quay
The privately-owned IYCA on Quai Camille Rayon, or ‘Millionaire’s Quay’, is probably the most famous of them all- for this is where the huge superyachts gather. On the IYCA, a 60 metre yacht (near 200-foot) is a minnow, dwarfed beside the palatial megayachts of Roman Abramovich, Paul Allen and the Saudi princes.
The (well-sourced) story goes that the owner of superyacht Coral Island, an Arab gentleman, once said to his accountant upon returning to their berth in Antibes after a trip, ‘You know, maybe I should buy this berth’. The accountant replied, ‘Sir, I bought it a while ago on your behalf for 20 million euro, it’s saving you a lot of money.’  The even more laughable aspect to this astronomical purchase is that the ‘purchase’ in question was just for the lease, which will run out in 2021 when the IYCA returns to being council land rather than a private operation.

While there is a security guard posted at a boom gate on the IYCA to stop unauthorised vehicles, both tourists and visitors are welcome to walk along the IYCA, gawping at the huge shining yachts with their helicopters and swimming pools. And no, you can’t board ‘just for a look.’

If you do happen to have a spare €20 million+ to buy a berth lease, or fancy paying thousands a night to dock your 50metre+ superyacht, then you’ll be interested to know that the IYCA has plenty of room for the fuel trucks to dock, as well as waste services, electricity and water services and all the other things you’d expect from a luxury yacht marina. It also has a helicopter landing pad- that’s in case your yacht isn’t big enough for the helicopter to land straight onto its deck. (If not, you’ll be outclassed here and it’s probably time to buy a bigger yacht.)”

The Picasso Museum was interesting in that our guide was enthusiastic and able to point out useful information. However, the place was crowded and the rooms were small- and most annoying, a number of our group had no concept of moving out of the way to let others into a room or even onto a stair landing!
After that, we had just a little time to walk around Antibes. Some local artist had positioned figures of nude men (completely anatomically correct, by the way) in various poses throughout the city. Some were pole vaulting or wrestling or leaping from a building, etc. They were very graceful and very nicely done, but the dangly bits were somewhat off putting!

However, these were nothing in comparison to some wire sculptures being sold in a covered market. The focus again was on single naked men- with large corkscrew “penises” or simply large “penises.” More expensive, however, were two men positioned in various sexual poses. Good grief!

The city of Antibes is very lovely.

Then we boarded the bus once more to make our way to Nice, where again there was terrible difficulty getting to our hotel. We are going to have a bus tour of the city tomorrow, but I think we had plenty today. Poor Dominique was beside herself, because we had reservations at a restaurant for 7:45 pm and by the time we were able to pull our bags off of the bus and get into the hotel it was almost 7 pm- and 23 of us had to register and get our room key cards. 

Then there was the added difficulty of the one elevator that could only hold two people with luggage! Mary and I were on the 4th floor, but a porter said he could carry Mary’s carry-on bag and my huge suitcase up for us. So we all trudged up four flights of long curving stairs, with me carrying my heavy carry on! We were all breathing heavily by the time we got to our room.

This room is incredibly small (or not incredibly, because it is a constant occurrence). Our twin beds are two twin mattresses on the same bed, so our intimacy will be enforced.

As soon as we got into the room, I looked to see how to get my laundry cleaned by the hotel. However, when I added up what it would cost (over $100 Euros!!!) I decided that I’ll just have to find a laundromat tomorrow night. Because the heat and humidity have been high enough to leave us all soaking at the end of the day, I haven’t been able to use clothing more than once. The sink is too small to wash anything larger than underwear and there is no place to hang clothing to dry in the small bathroom, either.

Next, back down to the lobby to walk to a restaurant only a block and a half away. Again, the starter was very delicious- a small salad with great dressing and three meat/tomato sauce/vegetable concoctions. I didn’t care for the duck in mushroom sauce or the spiced diced potatoes – and even the mixed vegetables were limp and overcooked. However, the conversation with Suki (my age) and her daughter Amy (40) and Mary was fascinating.
It’s past 11:30 pm after a long day, so I’m not going to relate our conversation. But I enjoyed the dinner because of it. The desert was some soufflé with Grand Marnier and since I don’t drink and don’t like the taste of alcohol, I had a small bite and that was that.

The walk back to the hotel was brief but lovely, with comfortable temperatures and the ancient buildings lit in a way that they glowed. I took photos and will be interested to see if any turned out.
Voila!

September 14th, 2016

This morning we drove around Nice in our huge bus. We went past sites too fast to see (the Russian Orthodox church, which was spectacular- or at least I think it was…), or appreciate them and had opportunities to take photos of the panoramic view of the entire city from two different heights on Castle Hill, and drove along the Promenade des Anglais along the water, where we saw the flower memorials for the people who died there on July 14th. Afterwards, Caroline said that she hoped we had a better idea of how to get around in Nice. NOT!!!

Then we were dropped off at the flower market in the old town, which was bustling and also had vegetables, fruit, many different fragrant soaps, olive oil, lavender, more soap, more lavender, tapanades, etc.- as well as many artists with bright vivid colored paintings of places in Nice. If I had lots of money and more wall space, I would have been in heaven. As it was, I was sorely tempted.

The buildings in old town are beautiful, made of yellow stone with green or red louvered shutters that are built so that the bottom half can be opened to let in a breeze while the top half stays closed to keep the sun out. There are a lot of terra cotta colored buildings, with terra cotta tiles on the roof. More embellishments with statuary and flower motifs, large parks with tropical plants and trees, a carousel (of course!), and many open air cafes and glace (ice cream) shops.

Fenocchio Glacier off the square has the following flavors:

 

Just try to pick one! And don’t ask me what most of them are- I haven’t a clue!

This walk through the market and the old town (down narrow winding streets) could have given us a real appreciation for the history, the buildings, the people. But Dominique is simply not Carolyn, so that was very disappointing.

We had lunch in a restaurant in the old town. I ate the starter, a lot of bread and the dessert. I just couldn’t bear to eat the fish (I really don’t like fish!) But I was satisfied.

Then back onto the bus to see the Matisse Chapel in Vence that Matisse created for the Dominican Sisters. It is described as follows:

“The Rosaire chapel, conceived by Henri Matisse remains a sacred art monument, unique in the world. From 1948 to 1951, Matisse drew up the plans for the edifice and all the details of its decoration: stain glass windows, ceramics, stalls, stoup, cult objects, priestly ornaments… It was the first time that a painter entirely designed every detail of a monument, from the architecture to the furniture. The first stone of the chapel was laid in 1949. The inauguration and consecration of Notre Dame of Rosaire, took place in 1951. For Henry Matisse, ‘this work required me 4 years of an exclusive and tiring effort and it is the fruit of my whole working life. In spite of all its imperfections I consider it as my masterpiece.’”

It was fascinating to hear the docent explain the significance and symbolism of the drawings and the designs of the stained glass windows. On the back wall he has drawn what look like charcoal figures of the 14 stations of the cross. On the front wall, behind the altar, he has an enormous stained glass made with green, blue and yellow. These represent cactus, which Matisse felt represented God (since it can give life- its flowers and the water within in- even in the desert. It is a fascinating story, which you can read at https://vence.fr/the-rosaire-chapel?lang=fr

Following this, we drove to St. Paul de Vence, which is the most charming old city that I have visited during both weeks of my stay in France. And unfortunately, that is when my phone (with camera) depleted its battery!

Here are photos of the ancient buildings, winding narrow roads (that are studded with river stones in beautiful designs), flowers and ivy, artisan shops- truly a place I would love to visit for hours- and with lots of money to purchase the art: http://www.gettyimages.fr/photos/saint-paul-de-vence?sort=mostpopular&excludenudity=false&mediatype=photography&phrase=saint%20paul%20de%20vence

It started to drizzle jut after we climbed back on the bus to return to Nice. During the brief trip, in answer to questions, Dominique told us that:

French restaurants do not condone sharing a meal- not even sharing slices of pizza.
The French do not take “doggy bags” of leftover food. They would not like to eat the same thing twice.

 

Back at the hotel, I washed some clothing in the sink (who knows if it will dry!) so I could meet Sue and Glen, LaDonna and Joan to go back to the market area to have a farewell dinner- because Sue and Glen are leaving tomorrow afternoon, while the rest of us will be here until Friday morning.

We had a lovely dinner under a canopy as the rain drizzled- Glen had a pizza with everything on it, I had grilled veal and frites (French fries that are just “fries” in France) and salad; and Sue, LaDonna and Joan had huge pots of mussels and frites. Our conversation began with LaDonna asking us where we felt that Dominique fell on the Carolyn scale. We decided on 3 out of a possible 10.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that Dominique, who is ambidextrous, keeps confusing right and left- so we never know where we should actually look for something she wants us to see. She has to be in her 40’s if not older so we would think by this age that she knew her right from her left. She also repeats everything she says three times, which means that once she has the microphone on the bus, she never stops talking.

And when we would like her to talk, to tell us what we are seeing and why it is important (using the “whispers”) she simply doesn’t.

We also had quite a discussion of American politics, Trump and many other governors, senators, representatives and mayors in different cities who are a complete embarrassment. I learned a lot!

On our way back, we stopped for ice cream- small dishes with one scoop that you eat with a tiny little shovel spoon (it looks like a shovel, with a flat square surface you use as the spoon).

I walked with Glen, who really zooms along, and we saw dancing fountains lit with red, blue and white lights; and the seven statues of Massena Square: https://www.lomography.com/magazine/12063-the-seven-statues-of-the-massena-square-nice-france ; and an enormous nude statue of Apollo in a fountain: http://www.bestofniceblog.com/what-to-see-in-nice/monuments-in-nice/apollo-statue-in-place-massena/

A funny story: the sculptor contracted to create the Apollo statue confused the French word for “long hair” with the French word for “horses”- so instead of long hair, Apollo has horses on his head!!!

Oh, I just remembered that LaDonna researched the Dilbar, the enormous private yacht we saw in Antibes. It is evidently the largest yacht in the world, owned by a Russian man. It is 512 feet long and cost at least $600 million. She can accommodate 40 guests and a crew of at least 80.

You can see a photo and learn more about the yacht and her owner at  http://www.superyachtfan.com/superyacht_dilbar.html

It will be hard to see Sue and Glen leave tomorrow and even harder to part from LaDonna (on her way to London) and Joan (on her way to a cruise to Iceland). We’ve become a family over the past two weeks. I hope that we will stay in contact with each other.

Well, it’s midnight and time to call it a day.

Fondly,

Deb

September 15th, 2016

Hello.

My clothing did not dry, so I had to wear long pants again. The weather forecast was for 78 but it was way hotter than that…

For our last day in Nice and in France, we took the bus to the Matisse Museum. While we waited for it to open, Christine (our wonderful docent about Picasso yesterday) took us for a walk in the gardens of a monastery right next door. Even in the autumn, there were lots of fragrant roses, a multitude of different colored flowers, orange trees, pomegranate trees, olive trees, and enormous magnolia trees. There was also a spectacular view of the city of Nice, right past a formal herb garden.

She explained how you can tell if a church is Dominican by two things. First, Christ is not shown on the cross- he has his arms to the side but he also has wings. Second, there is a motif of crossed arms.

The cross we were looking at that had these symbols also had a pelican and three fish. The “pelican in her piety’ in heraldry and symbolical art, is a representation of a pelican in the act of wounding her breast in order to nourish her young with her blood a practice fabulously attributed to the bird.”

The three fish, however, had nothing to do with the Dominicans or religion in general. They were the symbol of the family that donated the cross!

We also saw quite a bit of Roman ruins.

We went into the Matisse museum, where Christine showed us his evolution as an artist as he copied other painters and experimented with different techniques. I wasn’t aware that he also sculpted, which she said he did for fun. Some looked similar to Rodin. He also experimented, drawing sketch after sketch after sketch until he captured what he wanted.

Matisse also did this with some of his sculptures. There was a series of four sculpted heads of a woman. The first was lifelike, the second started to exaggerate some of her features, and by the fourth, she was almost a caricature. She said that Matisse tried to simplify his art to get to the essence of the person or object.

We saw more sketches that we had seen in the chapel yesterday, as well as examples of his cut outs, which I prefer to his other work. You can see some at https://www.google.fr/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=matisse%20cut%20outs

He was recovering from an operation and couldn’t sit or stand and paint, so he began to cut out shapes in different colors. Then he had someone arrange them to his satisfaction. There was one wall completely covered with different flower and fruit shapes in vibrant orange, yellow, green, and blue- which he designed the year before he died at 84. There is more information about his life and work at http://www.biography.com/people/henri-matisse-9402564

Next, back on the bus to drive a short distance to the Chagall museum. Chagall was alive when the museum was built, so he determined how his paintings should be arranged.

“The national Marc Chagall museum, was created by the artist’s will to bring together in one purpose-built place his most important biblical works: the 17 paintings which make up the Biblical Message. It is organized around the set of works produced by the painter on the Old Testament theme. The museum offers the visitor a first room containing twelve large-size paintings illustrating the first two books of the Old Testament, Genesis and Exodus. In a second, smaller hexagonal room are five compositions on the theme of the Song of Songs, another Old Testament book.”

Having seen the Chagall light show in the quarry, I was prepared to simply appreciate his use of colors. But Christine explained the biblical significance of each painting and pointed out all of the symbols and motifs he used in most of his paintings.

Marc Chagall was born in a small Hassidic community on the outskirts of Vitebsk, Belarus. He incorporated his village into most of his biblical paintings, as well as:

A flying fish
A mother holding a child with no face (until Christ is on the cross, when the child suddenly has a face)
Lovers shown fused together so you see three legs instead of four
A Jewish wanderer
David playing the harp
Christ on the cross (even though Chagall was Jewish)
Angels
Two yellow antenna or horn-like appendages on the top of Moses’ head which signified his connection to God
Adam and Eve
A donkey

Just listing these does no justice to the paintings, each of which tell different stories along each border, at each corner, and within the paintings. Colors also held great significance for Chagall.
You can see these biblical paintings at https://www.google.fr/search?q=biblical+paintings+by+Chagall&espv=2&biw=1253&bih=593&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwisr_7q25HPAhWKuBoKHX4lAhUQsAQIGw

Actually, these paintings are small tableaux drawn from larger paintings. Imagine 6-8 of these together. For example, https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2634/3867417936_d3b9b70639_z.jpg?zz=1
is in the lower left hand corner of one painting.

If you look closely at this painting when Adam and

Eve are cast out of Eden, you can see many of his different motifs:

Here is one of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments:

Again, none of this captures the feel and the colors of the originals- and you need Christine to explain them!!!

We also saw some of his stained glass, which is exquisite.

Back on the bus to the hotel, then to lunch with Sue, Glen, LaDonna and Joan before Sue and Glen had to leave. After we said our good- byes, LaDonna, Joan and I walked back to Massena Square.

On our way, we stopped into an enormous department store that had two floors partially full of handbags! I’ve never seen so many in my life!They, as well as everything else, were very pricey.

LaDonna found a floor plan- the ground floor was 0, the second floor up was 1, etc. and that is how it has been in every hotel here. The elevators also have -1 to go to the basement. Pretty confusing.

Anyway, she didn’t find what she was looking for (a small 2017 calendar with the Eiffel Tower on the front), so we went on. I was able to take photos of the 7 men on poles who represent the 7 continents having a conversation (although it eludes me how they are supposed to be communing with each other when they don’t all face each other).

I was also able to take photos of the front side of the Apollo with horses on his head. What a stitch (and he wasn’t wearing any!) A bad pun, I realize.

Next it was definitely time to have glace, and this place provided two scoops for 2.50 EU, so I had coconut and dark chocolate. Just wonderful!

We walked past two buildings with trompe l’oeil windows and shutters and flowers- I thought it was real until Joan and LaDonna pointed out they were painted. The Matisse Museum also had trompe l’oeil windows and embellishments on the front and also on the ceilings, so they looked as ornate as the real embellishments we’ve seen.

Joan wanted to walk on the Promenade and that is what I thought we were really going to do. Instead, Joan’s and LaDonna’s voyeurism came to the fore as they watched the bathers on the beach to see the topless women (we only saw three) and Joan watched three young men change from their swimsuits to shorts…

Anyway, then we walked back to the hotel.

I’ve got to end this because it is time to get ready to leave for our tour farewell dinner.

Fondly,

Deb

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