France Vacation 2014

The following log covers a vacation trip to France in June 2014
This log is from the family vacation to Paris, Nice, Normandy, and Reims Champagne region starting May 30-June 12 2014. Like all blogs the newest entries are at the top.

Stuck in the airport, Day 2 – Wednesday June 11, 2014

Being stuck all day at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris for a 2nd day due to the train and taxi strike is leaving us very bitter about this vacation and this is likely going to be our lasting memory of France and any consideration of ever returning. My flight tomorrow is at 8:30am and I wish I was able to have left yesterday. Jan doesn’t leave until 1:55pm. We’re done here.

Not ending well – Tuesday June 10, 2014
Yesterday, Monday June 9, 2014, we went to the Musee de l’Orangerie that houses the impressionist paintings of Monet, Renoir, Picasso, and a bunch of other people I’ve never heard of. The keystone of this building is Monet’s Water Lilies. There are 2 oval rooms that contain the waterlily ponds that show the reflection of light as it passes through the day. It took 12 years for Monet to complete this work. I believe I could commission 2 large classes of 1st graders that can do this in one long afternoon. All in all it’s no where near as impressive as the beautiful artwork and sculptures on display at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega.

My take on artwork, especially paintings, is if I can do it it isn’t art and there is plenty of that to go around in this building. They had a special collection of etchings on loan that was exceptional. Everything was pencil or charcoal. Some you had to get up close to make sure it wasn’t a photograph. There was one very detailed etching that was about 10″x12″ that Jan and I were looking at and pointing out the many hidden things in the etching when we were told that we were looking too close (it had a glass covered frame).

We got back to the apartment around 1:00pm and I took a nap. I wasn’t feeling very well so Jan went to a pharmacy to get a thermometer and Advil. I had a 101.2 temperature and we spent the rest of the day in the apartment.

The fever was gone this morning and we decided we’d go out. It was raining some for the first time since we’ve been here. As we were getting ready I came across a news story about a rail and taxi strike beginning at 7:00pm tonight. We were supposed to check out of apartment Wednesday and stay at a hotel at the airport, but since we’d have no way to get to the airport tomorrow and no place to stay we decided to leave the apartment and stay at the airport for 2 nights.

So here we are with 2 days of vacation and stuck at the airport because of a strike. The taxi union said they’re going to disrupt traffic to and from the airport. I assume that means they’ll be blocking buses and cars from getting around the city.

Thanks for that.

Champagne Tour Reims – Saturday, June 7, 2014
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Today we arrived at the train station Gard de L’Est around 8am for a 50 minute ride to the Town of Reims. There we met our “France Bubbles Tour” guide Christine. Christine was from Paris but came to Reims one year for the grape harvest and decided she would prefer to conduct tours instead – we were glad because she was very knowledgeable and friendly. Our first stop was to the former Benedictine monastery where Dom Perignon invented champagne and saw his tomb at the foot of the altar in the chapel.

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We then headed to the town of Epernay for a tour of the Moët – Chandon caves. The guide at Moët explained the whole champagne process as we walked through the tunnels and at the end of the tour we had our first champagne tasting. A full flute not the thimble size sample you get at a typical wine tasting. Quite tasty!

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We left the Moët facility and headed to the vineyard of Michel Gonet where we ate lunch and sampled more champagnes. We started lunch with salmon tartare (yes it was raw) then a dish of white fish and vegetables. Following the fish was a sampling of local cheeses and a salad. Finally dessert…

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Of course each dish was served with a full glass of companion champagne. All the champagnes we tried here were made with Chardonnay grapes but it was amazing how different each one tasted.

Believe it or not we made it back to the van and rode to another vineyard. This one was called Champagne Bouche Pere & Fils. This is a family run vineyard and the owner, Nicolas, shared the entire process with us. It was such a nice and intimate tour.

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At the end of the tour we expected to sample one of their champagnes but Nicolas and his wife let us sample each variety they made – I think it was 5!!

It was now time to head back to Reims where we walked around the village till time for our train back to Paris. It was certainly a wonderful and memorable trip!

Paris – Friday, June 6, 2014
We had a busy day today and realized when we got back to the apartment that we took no pictures. The pictures in this post are not ours. Today was another bright, warm (80+ degrees), sunny day. We walked a little over a mile from our apartment to the Louvre museum. It was about 11:00am and I just knew that we’d have a 1 hour wait in the security line at the pyramid entrance but was surprised when there were only a few people. We took the escalator down an again all of the queues at all of the ticket windows were very short. We got our tickets and were in the museum. Just because there was no lines to get in doesn’t mean the place wasn’t crowded because there were easily a few thousand people in there. Like everyone else we went to see the Mona Lisa first. After hearing others saying that the Mona Lisa was smaller than they were expecting, Jan and I were both surprised at how large it was (about 2 feet by 3 feet).

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It definitely looks small In a gallery filled with massively large paintings (turn around and see Paolo Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana is 21 1/2 feet by 32 1/2 feet)

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We also made it a point to see the Venus de Milo statue.

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We spent a few hours in the museum and then went to lunch at a Asian Fusion restaurant called Xin Gainian. I think that just means they can combine Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese food together and call it whatever they want and no one can question it. In any case, it was good and we enjoyed it.

We found out that at 3:00pm on the 1st Friday of each month (today!) the Cathedral of Notre Dame displays the relics of the Crown of Thorns We walked to the Cathedral and sat in a pew and watched the service.

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After the service we decided to take a one hour boat ride on the Seine River on this boat.

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This is the course that we took. Starting and ending at Pont Neuf
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Nice, France – Thursday, June 5, 2014
I don’t know how this has happened but this is a bright, sunny, warm day and I’m on vacation. Absolutely fantastic.

Much like our first day here in Nice we walked all around the streets. On some streets it seems that every other shop is a place to eat. I unexpectedly realized that spending 24 hours on the French Riviera is plenty. Aside from strolling and eating there’s not much else to do – like most places I suppose. We spent an hour or so sitting on a bench on the elevated walkway that spans the entire length of the ocean front. You have to take the stairway to get to the water’s edge. We watched as people placed their towels on the rocks to lie down shaking our heads the whole time. If this is the only beach you have, I’m sure I’d do the same. I’ll have to put the French Riviera on the list with Aruba and Hawaii of places where the beach is not as good as the beaches in Gulf Shores and Florida panhandle.

Like the Petrified Forest in Arizona, Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, and Denali, Alaska I can put a check mark next to Nice as someplace I’ve been but don’t have to go back to.

Here are some photos of the streets in Nice, France.

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French Riviera – Nice France
Well this is it, I suppose – the French Riviera.

The beaches look like gravel parking lots.

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The Mediterranian Sea.
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Train to Nice – Wednesday June 4, 2014
We had another early start today with a a 7:45am departure from Gare du Lyon train station on our way to Nice. We got there via metro subway. It was slightly raining this morning so a good day to be leaving Paris. The train was very uneventful other than hitting 185 mph. I took this photo of a vineyard from the train about halfway through our 5 1/2 hour ride.

Region south Of Lyon  France
Region south
Of Lyon
France

Arriving at Train station in Nice, France.

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Taking a break
After wasting half of a day waiting for her luggage, it was time for Jan to settle in with a Sandy-sized glass of white wine.

I had a Leffe beer. More on France’s inability to aquire/brew/import a decent beer another time.

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Luggage – 3 1/2 days later
Here is p*ssed off Jan finally getting her luggage after 3 and a half days of missing in action.

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Outside our apartment window
Took this photo from our apartment window. It is the Sorbonne – University of Paris.

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Bayeux – escargot
At the end of our Normandy tour we stopped at a restaurant in Bayeux and they had escargot on the menu. With all of the butter, garlic, and herbs it tastes like eating a chewy mushroom.

Here’s Jan trying her first escargot.

Normandy – Monday, June 2, 2014
Monday we started early by leaving our apartment before 6:00am to catch the train from the Gare Saint Lazare station in Paris to Bayeux, France (with a train change at Caen). We got on the metro subway station near our apartment (CLUNY-La Sorbonne line 10), switched to metro 12 at Sevres-Babylone that took us to the station. When we arrived, 45 minutes before we were to leave, we see that our train had not been assigned a platform yet. After deciphering a French language sign we see that platform assignments are made 20 minutes before departure. Now we know there’s no reason to get to the train station too early.

Paris Metro map
Paris Metro map

The train to Caen was nothing special. As we were pulling away I was wondering how they were going to turn the train around since 95% of the seats (including ours) were pointing backwards. No turning around. It’s 2 hours to Caen riding backwards. We made our quick train switch at Caen and rode the 20 minute nicer commuter train to Bayeux where a van from Overlord Tours was there to meet us and 6 others.

Our tour guide for the day was a mid 40’s year old chap from Ireland named Colin. He was a good tour guide, explaining more of what we were seeing, background stories, accepted and alternate viewpoints of what you were looking at. A very good and enjoyable guide.

Our first stop was emplacement of four German large gun batteries. One of the batteries had been destroyed during the war but the others remain intact.

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We then went to Omaha beach and walked around a bit. Colin explained what happened at the location that we were standing at. This is the where I apologize for not having pictures to post here. I took a lot of pictures during the day with the big camera forgetting that I needed to use the iPhone camera, too, to upload to this site. Therefore, I have almost no pictures to post of this day.

We then went up to the American Cemetery Colleville-Sur-Mer were 9,387 soldiers and a few sailors killed during the Normandy campaign are buried. Being this week is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing there is a lot of activity going on that took away from the solemnity of the place. There are grandstands and stages being erected, mowing, trimming, large areas roped off, etc. We were able to walk around in the areas away from the grandstands.

After about an hour at the cemetery we were taken to Pont du Hoc. This is the spot you see in all of the movies because it is where the most casualties were taken. The Ranger battalion scaled the cliffs here and fought the German counter attacks for 2 days.

Pont du Hoc
Pont du Hoc
Pont du Hoc German marine outlook/barracks fortification Pont du Hoc
German marine
outlook/barracks fortification
Pont du Hoc

Our tour continued to Sainte-Mere-Eglise (had lunch here), La Fiere, Utah beach, and Sainte-Marie-du-Mont.

We stopped to see this newly erected statue of Richard Winters, Commanding Officer of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment.

Richard Winters CO, Easy Company 2nd Bn 506th PIR
Richard Winters
CO, Easy Company
2nd Bn 506th PIR

Louis Vuitton Paris
We were walking along the Champs-Élysées and noticed the Louis Vuitton – Paris. We stayed on this side of the street for obvious reasons.

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A day of viewing – Sunday June 1, 2014
This first full day in Paris we just wanted to see a few of the sites, but not get in line to go inside. We’ll leave that until another day. Since yesterday was a complete bust thanks to Delta (still bitter am I?) we just wanted to see the city since we are going to be gone all day on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday next week.

We took the metro train to Trocadero across the Seine for a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower. It was another good weather day in Paris. I have been here for 4 days with great weather since I’ve been here. God must think I’m in Paris, Tennessee or something.

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We hopped back on the metro train to the Arc de Triomphe, a spectacular monument inaugurated in 1836 commemorating the grand victories of France that pretty much ended when this thing was built. The center between the 4 columns has an eternal flame with the resting place of an unknown French soldier killed in World War I. The Arc de Triomphe is a beautiful piece of architecture. There is an underground walkway that leads you to the monument where you can walk around, which we did. You can also buy tickets to get to the top but we didn’t do that.

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Outside the Louvre Museum. We will go inside another day.
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Thanks, Delta
Flying 1st class and having “Sky Priority” still doesn’t exempt you from having lost luggage. Yep, that’s right. Jan stood at the luggage carousel for an hour for no good reason upon arriving to Paris. So that means going to the lost baggage counter to fill out the forms to get your suitcase. Not the vision you have of starting your vacation. We took the 45 minute metro train ride to our apartment so she can see where we were staying. Since she had nothing, and the airline said “call us in 3 days if you haven’t heard from us”, we had to go shopping. The fun just continues. Shopping for women’s stuff is bad enough but shopping in a place that you have no idea where to go is worse. So we spend the entire rest of the day shopping for stuff that she didn’t want. We did have a French cuisine lunch and, of course, topped it off with pizza for supper. And not just any pizza. A Paris pizza that for reasons unknown to us includes an egg on top.

Egg pizza

Early start
It is Friday morning, May 30th, 2014. I’ve been in Paris for about 18 hours. I walked around some but haven’t seen much because I’m not allowed to see anything good until Jan gets here (guess who came up with that one). I’m allowed to go to the grocery store and get stuff for the apartment, I can eat out (but not too fancy), I can go to anything automotive, military, or brewery related (ALRIGHT!) but haven’t seen anything like that yet. I’ve been on the metro subway looking for the different train stations we have to use next week. Weather has been great.

This morning I saw this and thought it was funny.
Parisian kitty

France Vacation 2014
Jan and I are in the midst of planning a vacation to France. I will be travelling to Freinhausen, Germany for work on May 24th. It’s about a 45 minute drive north of Munich and I will be there for a software test that starts on Monday, May 26th and ends Wednesday, May 28th. I will be staying in the town of Pornbach, Germany at the Hotel Bogenrieder and, looking at their website, I may never leave. They have a restaurant, beer garden, and distill their own schnapps!

Since I’m going to Europe, Jan and I decided to make a vacation of it. After discussing several options we decided that we’d go to Paris. I will be flying from Munich to Paris on Thursday, May 29th and Jan will be flying from Huntsville to Paris on Friday, May 30th and arrive Saturday morning around 9:00am. When we first started making our plans my software test was supposed to end on Friday, May 30th, but they changed the dates. We already bought her plane ticket by then, so that’s why she’ll be in Paris 2 days after me. We will return on Thursday, June 12th.

We’ve planned a few side trips and, for the first time ever, we are not renting a car during our vacation. We are using only the France rail system to get us everywhere. Instead of hotel we’ll be staying in a Latin Quarter apartment

June 2nd
One of the things that we are going to do is to travel to Normandy. On Monday, June 2nd, we’ll take the train from Paris to Bayeux for a tour of the battle sites and American Cemetery Overlord Tours. We booked an evening return train so that we can spend a little time in Bayeux.

June 4-5
We thought that since we were in France we’d venture by train down to Nice on the French Riviera. We’ll be staying one night at Hotel Lafayette. Not exactly sure what we’ll do in Nice other than walking around and seeing Nice.

June 7
This day we’ve chosen to go on a tour of Champagne vineyards with France Bubbles Tours. We’ll take the train from Paris to Reims where we’ll be met at the station by the tour van. We booked a later train, like in Bayeux, so that we can wander around Reims. How much wandering depends upon how many Sandy-sized samplings of Champagne we get.

June 8-12
We’ll be wandering Paris the remainder of our vacation. I will be returning on a 8:30am flight on Thursday, June 12th, and Jan’s flight doesn’t leave until 1:55pm. Don’t feel too bad for her that she’s flying alone. She’s riding in the upper deck of a 747-400 in first class.

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