Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Journey Continues: Traveling in France, Summer 2013

After saying good-bye to "my girls," Zoë and Maya, I enjoyed a couple of days on my own visiting my  favorite spots, the Place Vosges, on the right bank, the small Museum Carnevelet, with it's fascinating story of Paris and lunching in a small cafe, sipping my wine and relaxing after my heady days with two teens!
On Monday, my girlfriend and college roommate from the sixties, joined me for a much dreamed about trip to France together. We took off the next day by train to Tours, in the Loire Valley, where we planned on visiting some of the many chateaux there. I had seen them fifty years hence but Farrel had never been to the region: it was a great review for me and fun for her, too.

We took a tour to four chateaux on our second day in the Loire Valley:  Chenonceau, Amboise, Chatigny and Chambord. What a wonderful day it was exploring these enchanting abodes of Kings and Queens, and their lovely gardens as well. For a little history of each check out the internet. My favorite was Chenonceau built in the 16th century on the River Cher, a tributary of the Loire, by Thomas Bohier and his wife Katherine Briçonnet on the site of a demolished fortified castle and mill belonging to the Marques family. After its former owner the keep was named the Marques Tower (you will see it in the photos). It was restored in the Renaissance style. The layout of the forecourt is a copy of the former medieval fortress surrounded by moats. Walking down the long pathway towards the Châtaux we came to the impressive main door. (unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of this wood door decorated with the symbols of its former owners and the salamander, symbol of Francois 1, who later inhabited it and installed his wife, Catherine de Medici and his mistress, Diane of Poitiers in its gracious rooms.  One of my favorite was the Chapel, with its lofty windows and serene feeling lighted by the stained glass.  The gallery too, with it's black and white checkered floor and many windows looking out on the river Cher was impressive but Farrel and I loved best the kitchen with its many copper pots and utensils of the time. Beautiful flower and fruits arrangements adorned the decor of today, all taken we supposed from the surrounding flower gardens and potagers (vegetable gardens).

Our next visit was to Amboise, heart of royal power in the Renaissance, built in the 15th and 16th centuries on the high promatory on what was once a  protective fortress above the town. Protected once by Charles VII's archers, later to be succeeded by Louis XI whose son and heir Charles VIII was born there. Charles later married Anne of Brittany (all this history you may or may not find as interesting as I do).  Perhaps the most interesting fact about Amboise is the presence in the chapel of Leonardo DaVinci's final resting place as he was one of many Italian artists commissioned by Charles VIII in 1496 to create the Lodge's interiors and gardens after the style of the Italian villas.  Leonardo, the great Italian master, left his mark on the Château and King Francois I granted him the privilege of being buried here in 1519.  He was named the Kings "first painter, engineer and architect" and was provided with a  place to live which one can visit in the town, where there is also a small museum of DaVinci drawings and inventions.  His house was called Clos Lucé, formerly the Manoir de Cloux. We went on the visit two other Châteaux, the last being the large, ostentacious 440 room hunting lodge, built to impress France's aristocracy. We found it cold and unimviting and were glad when the day ended with a degustacion at a lovely little wine shop on the grounds where we met a charming man, widowed husband of the former female vintner whose memory he honored with a bottle of wine named "Emotion"---how French! We bought a bottle of this rose to bring as a gift to our hosts we were visiting in the next days. Hope you enjoy some photos of the Chateaux!

From Tours we took the train to Poitiers, just one hour away where my French girlfriend, who I call my sister (soeur), Michelle, met us. This was a special visit as this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of our friendship and we had the good fortune of first eelebrating that in Mexico city during her visit along with a mutual friend, Mauricette, in February (see the former blog).  Michelle welcomed Farrel and the three of us had a wonderful time for the next two days visiting Mauricette, and Michelle's family as well as  the island of the ÎLE-DE-RÉ, on the Pacific coast just a few miles across a bridge from La Rochelle. My mmories of visiting there in the past run deep. Farrel was delighted and especially enjoyed, as I did, staying at the beautiful island summer house of Michelle's brother, Claude and his wife Aline.  We partook of their gracious hospitality and loved the cuisine of their kithen. You will see mouthwatering photos of a few of the delectables Aline served, always accompanied by wines from Claude's cave.  We walked in the small fishing villages, visited art openings, strolled the beach, perused the open markets and basked in the warm attention of our friends. I had told Farrel about the beautiful hollyhocks which grace every street in the Ile and she didn't believe me until she saw them with her own eyes. I've included some photos of those and a few of the picturesque cottages and doors. Enjoy.

After three days, we left the island and headed south to Rochefort, a charming town, once the seat of ship builders where the Hermione was built for Lafayette to sail in to America. Imagine! Before the Revolution.  For the past three years a replica of the Hermione has been in construction and the unveiling ceremonies are planned for July of next year---will you be there? I may be!  Rochefort is a very pretty and interesting town with other things besides the Hermione to its credit: namely, an annual International Film Festival, which had just finished (see my photos), a replica of the arc de Triomphe, and a wonderful museum where we were to visit the collection of photos taken by Pierre Loti, a famous writer and photographer. I was particularly interested to learn that Loti was born here as I visited a small place in his memory in Istanbul, Turkey in 2010. He had a famous love affair with one of the Sultan's Harem which ended tragically (I won't go into detail; you can read about it and him on the internet).
From our day's visit to Rochefort we continued on to St. Emillion where we were to spend two days and nights visiting its lush wine country. My friend, Farrel, lives in Sonoma, California and is a wine connoisseur and enthusiast. She runs a B & B there and often hosts guests from France. Last year one of her guests, his wife and small daughter shared with her the fact that François' father lived in Et. Emillion and was the owner of a Chateau and vinyards there. Continuing their correspondence for the past year, Farrel had occasion to mention we would be in France and François wrote with an invitation to visit his father and attend a private wine tasting at his Chateau, truly a pleasure. From St. Emilion we continued our journey east of Bordeaux to the region known as the Perigord and the Dordogne river valley. On our way we stopped at Caudoine, a lovely town known for its famous Abbey with its beautiful cloisters, representing three different styles of architecture, Renaissance, Gothic and Romanesque. The heavily timbered cover of the open market was particularly interesting as were the small boutiques surrounding the central square. Back on the road we were exhilerated by our first view of the picturesque Dordogne River as we crossed a bridge and halted the car to photograph it and several dozen swans swimming there. We knew we would soon arrive at the small village in the Dordogne where Michelle's niece, Patricia,  lived and where we would spend the next four nights.  It would be another reunion for me as I met Patty, nineteen years ago when Gary and I along with our dear California friends, Peggy and Roger, rented a house in the Dordogne for a month and enjoyed biking and exploring the valley and it's many fortified castles and small villages.

More about our travels in the Dordogne in my next blog. Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Paris with Teens

When they were six and seven I promised my niece, Maya and granddaughter, Zoë I would someday take them to Paris. Well, the time had come: now 17 and nearly 18, the two were ready.  So for the past year I poured myself into preparing for this adventure: Paris with Teens.  What fun, a chance to see Paris again through young and fresh eyes!  Well, I had a lot to learn and that I did, mostly fun, all enlightening on the world of today's teens, and some frustrating moments, but not enough to ruin what turned out to be a "formidable" (French word for wonderful, not formidable) adventure.

The trip started out with some trepedations as I learned the week before that my granddaughter Zoë had come down with a bad sore throat, passed off by an Urgent Care doctor as just a slight throat infection which could be treated with a simple antibiotic and surely be cleared up by our departure date a week later. We were to fly to Pennsylvania first to pick up her cousin, my niece, Maya and after three days there we would make the big "puddle jump" over the Atlantic and wing our way to Paris. Well, the best laid plans----A day before departure, I got a call that Maya had stepped on glass and couldn't walk very well. I was beginning to think our trip was jinxed but my positive nature, told me to ignore any trepidations and continue as planned---until the second day in Harrisburg when Zoë awoke with her throat nearly closed off it was so swollen. My sister-in-law, Cindy and I rushed her to Urgent Care and the throat culture proved she had mononucleosis---oh, dear, what to do now. With hasty calls back and forth to Dawn, my daughter, Zoë's mother, we began to think of cancelling the trip. I had luckily secured trip insurance just a couple weeks prior and tried to assure the girls we would be able to do it next summer. The doctor said Zoë's throat would be better in three days once the prescribed Prednisone kicked in.  She would be tired and need rest periods.  Cindy took Maya into her podiatrist and after some minor surgery, the glass was removed from her heel and Maya learned how to change the dressings. With the girls upbeat spirit I couldn't bear to disappoint them and so on June 13th, my brother drove us to Dulles airport in Virginia and we departed on our much awaited Parisian holiday.

Click on the slideshow of our trip to Paris:

All went well on the airplane:  Zoë slept through much of it and both girls spent time on their ipods. Note: I had asked that they not bring any "devices" and the parents backed me up on this. It seems we overlooked something and both girls had their ipods. This proved to be a distraction. I had tried to rev them up for studying some French on the flight, a word list I had prepared ahead of time and to look over the itinerary.  My thought had been to make it fun and prep them for what was ahead. Both girls had taken French in school but admitted not to being able to remember much or speak the language, not unusual.  I hoped the trip would give them new incentive to continue their studies of the language, and open the door to the wonders of foreign travel, something I knew both sets of parents supported.

We arrived early the following day and managed to get a taxi at the airport, too tired to try going by the local RER( a suburban train that takes passengers into the city from the airport).  We arrived at the door of our rented apartment in the 11th arrondissement (neighborhood), and excitedly climbed the circular staircase to the third level (the girls loved the staircase though we all whined about carrying our suitcases after a sleepless night).  We opened the door to our Paris Pad---a charming, newly remodeled and cozy apartment with bright colors, a clever pull down bed ( a modern version of a Murphy bed) in the living room and a futon couch bed in the small bedroom, plenty of room for the three of us. The kichenette was well equipped and came with a bottle of wine on the counter,which Maya eyed. She   asked "Aunt Sherry could I just have a sip for dinner---Daddy lets me." We had a discussion about the merits of being allowed a little wine with the family from time to time so that it would not be forbidden thus tempting to overindulge with friends before legal drinking age. Though this had been Gary's and my policy when raising our teen daughters, also,  I wanted to respect both sets of parents' rules. It was clear Zoë didn't feel comfortable with this, so we adopted a "maybe the last night policy" with a sip or two for Maya with dinner.  If that sounds contradictory just trust me and the girls: no one got  drunk and we had a fun and interesting conversation discussing  boundaries.

Day one was wonderful, as we three stolled down the Paris streets, discovering our local boulangerie (French bakery) where we would buy our daily baguettes and croissants, sometimes a fluffy pastry and macaroons(the newly fashionable and multi-flavored ones).  I taught the girls the French word for "to stroll,"  flaner,  and they more than once told me that  to flaner was one of their favorite things to do. They quickly picked up how the Metro (the underground subway)worked and maneuvered very well in and out of Paris street traffic (tourist season had begun). We visited the Notre Dame but avoided the long lines to go inside and the girls decided seeing it from the outside, especially the beautiful flying buttresses in the rear, was satisfactory. Though I had a detailed itinerary for each day, I told them ahead of time that it was up to them what we did and didn't do---that I would only guide them when I felt they might miss some highlight they would regret later. I had purchased Paris Pass tickets, which allowed us to avoid museum lines, gave us free entry or discounts at most sites, the a boat trip on the Seine and the big Red Bus that traverses the city showing off the main points of interest.  I regretted this purchase as I learned that being 17 or younger allows free entrance to most sights anyway and, also the limitation of having to use our tickets in 4 consecutive days put too much pressure on us. Oh, well, live and learn. Each night after dinner which we had fun preparing in our Paris pad kitchen, the girls would pour over the guidebook and my pre-made itinerary telling me what their priorities were. With some minor adjustments due to times various museums and sites were closed and open and transportation considerations, I was able to honor most of their wishes.

With Zoë's tiredness due to Mono the Red bus tour was a blessing. We could get off and on when we wanted. One of our first stops was the Arc de Triomphe (Etoile). From there we strolled the Champs Elysees to the Place de Concorde with its huge Egyptian obelisk. Seeing the Louvre at the end of the Tuileries gardens, with it's so often photographed I.M. Pei glass pyramid was a reward after the long walk.  Both girls liked the picnics we prepared each day, allowing us to save time and money we would waste in restaurants, to eat when and where we wanted and  to have more time outdoors observing people, watching the street performers and taking the Paris "scene." Another favorite was stopping for a dessert crèpe at the numerous concessions (this became an obsession for Maya who loved her crèpe spread with gooey Nutella chocalate sauce---Zoë and I teased her about her needing her daily crèpe fix once she tasted her first one).

The third day proved to be one of the most challenging: Zoe awoke covered in a red rash all over her body and face. Both Maya and I were aghast and of course, worried. I immediately was able to get an appointment with a local doctor through the pharmacy just a block from our apartment. It turned out she had a drug reaction: one is never to mix amoxycillin, the anti-biotic she was on for the sore throat, with Prednisone prescribed for the Mono.  I had asked about this at the Urgent Care facility in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and was told she should continue both prescriptions. I'll leave it to readers to decide  whether or not to always question Urgent Care recommendations when in doubt.  Poor Zoë ---she was a trooper and though humiliated to wear her cute parisian wardrobe of skirts and dresses and choosing instead to cover her rash infested body with pants and long sleeve shirts, she didn't give up but continued to walk the streets of Paris, take the metro and generally push herself to soak up all of the amazing city. I admired her forbearance.

Visiting the Louvre was eye-opening---its huge galleries and hundreds of works of art overwhelmed the girls as I worned them it would and they agreed later that the smaller Musée D'Orsay with its vast impressionist collection was more pleasureable, though in the end they chose stolling the streets over museum hopping.  They loved stopping at local street markets and purveying the beautiful displays of fresh veggies and fruits, stopping occasionally at a small street side cafe for citron pressé (the French version of fresh lemonade), stepping into cute boutiques to browse or occasionally shop for shoes or a  dress. They were good about not making "shopping" their main goal each day and happy that we could fit it in around other sights---mostly enjoying picking up gifts for family and friends. For the most part they were very selective and chose to stay away from things that were tourist "junk". One of our most fun shopping experiences was visiting the famous English book store, librarie in French, Shakespeare and Company, on the Left Bank opened by Sylvia Beach, an impassioned reader and free thinker, for the  post WWI Lost Generation. We had a mission, to find Maya's dad, my brother, Todd, a copy of one of Hemingway's famous novels. This led to our exploration of the shelves packed with stimulating books (both girls love to read for which I am so happy ) and Zoë searched for an appropriate book for her mother.  It was touching for me to be a part of Zoë's thoughtful decision: an original rendition of Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare; she knew her mother loved this play in her days as a drama major at the Uof O.  

A highlight was the night we took the boat up the Seine, observing the city from its famous river, watching the people stroll the quais and the lights go on around the various sites ending at the Tour Eiffel, aglow in sparking luminescense. The girls were delighted and I was, too, as I listened to the accompanying music of old songs by Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier---Voila, I was still in love with Paris!

Noteworthy, too was our day in Giverny visiting Monet's Garden. We awoke early, made our way to Gare St. Lazare and took the 45 minute train ride to the small town of Vernon where we boarded a navette, a bus for the gardens and small village of Giverny.  Walking amongst the gorgeous array of flowers and following the paths to the waterlilly pond and overhanging Japanese bridge, the girls and I grew heady with the beauty of it all. Maya and Zoë later said this was one of their favorite days as we sleepily descended the train and etro to walk back to our apartment.

The grand finale, the night before the girls' departure, we went to dinner at a charming Parisian restaurant and started with an aperitif followed by a three course French meal. The girls ordered French onion soup with it's guyere cheese and bread topping and we all had a delicious fish dish for our main course. We toasted Maya as it was her birthday the next day.  I felt a bittersweetness of having to send them home but looking forward to the next leg of my trip back to France, on the 50th anniversary of my original arrival there right after college: it was 1963 and I had my first job at an American Military base in Poitiers, in the southwest of France, as a civilian employee. It was to be a major turning point in my life and one for which I am forever grateful. The next blog will be about my reunion with my French girlfriend along with an old college roommate and our adventures in other regions of France. Join me.