Tag Archives: travel

1990-04-27: Last Days

Previous: Le Mont St Michel ~~ France 1990


27 April, 827 EDT, McLean, Va

Missed recording the last few days in France. On Sat, cleaned up gite & packed. Gave ‘tennis’ rackets & ball and some bubble stuff to prop; gave sheets & other stuff to farmer & wife who helped us. They invited us in for coffee but we declined. They seemed to appreciate the items.

Drove to Nantes Airport to check-out car return & S recognized EuroRent as the name of the place to return the car. We stopped in & confirmed that we all understood Tues as return day. This was a great relief to me. Also stopped at ‘i’ desk & made hotel reservations at Hotel de France downtown (the Jules Verne was the first recommended, but was not avail Mon). Also tried to confirm reservation w/ UTA, but no answer.

Checked into Hotel, right on shopping street & near ped. mall. Then went to Beaujoie Carrefour to eat at Crep ‘n Pizz again. Waitress recognized us, & seemed dismayed. Wups, forgot Fri. 20 April. We drove to Loire chateaux Chenanceau & others.

On the way, I called the Nante Peugeot agent again. She spoke no E but I was able (I think) to communicate that we had a car we wanted to return at the airport on Tues at 1130. Then I tried to find out where on airport we would find her. I thought she started spelling but wasn’t sure, and grabbed S as she walked past phone booth. S wasn’t sure she got it but we hoped it was close enough. This was the hardest comm of the trip, and concerned me the most, since I didn’t want to retain ownership of a car in France. The woman was very patient & kept trying.

Chenanceau was very good. Lots of furnishings, impressive architecture & setting. There were not too many rooms to see most of them, and with ability to imagine people using them. I liked it better than Versailles or Fountainbleau.

On Sun 22 April drove to more chateaux: Amboise, Chambord, & Blois. Amboise has suffered over the years, & only a small part remains, but interesting. Leonardo da V. spent his last years nearby. Chambord is very elaborate, but too large. Many rowdy school kids there. Most interesting double spiral staircase in center. Blois was interesting for its past notoriety: murder of duc … on king’s orders. Paintings & rooms with secret cupboards etc.

Monday, we did ‘cleanup’: washed car, got hotel desk clerk to confirm w/ UTA, final shopping & repacked for trip home. Cashed all French Franc TCs, to use when paying bill.

Tuesday, had breakfast in room, bought newspaper (Intl Her Trib), checked out and went to airport. Returned car – very easy. It had ~12050 km for 6 wks of travel. We returned it in very clean condition, no damage at all.

After the usual waiting (we were at ticket counter more than 2 hrs early, got to choose seats from restricted set because flight originated in Marseille) took off. I was across aisle from S & C & half a row forward. There was very little overhead stowage, only the dolls in their bag went up. Coats & other bags under seats. I sat next to man from Marseille who spoke no E. To my great surprise & pleasure I was able to tell him about our vacation – about 30 min in several sessions, with use of map of F from airline magazine & gestures, and he told me his plans. I must have learned something on this trip! S knew I was talking to him, but didn’t realize the conversation was in French until we stopped at Newark, and I wished him ‘bon sejour’!


27 April, 827 EDT, McLean, Va

The last entry in my journal was written at my desk in McLean after I went back to work. The last few days were very full and I was too tired to write before we left France.

On Friday, we drove to the Loire valley chateaux. There are so many of these, we had to select just a few, based on our schedule, the time to drive and the guidebooks’ descriptions.

On the way, we stopped at a phone booth just across the road from the Loire, next to a PTT. There was little traffic to create background noise for what I feared would be a tough phone call. Susan, for some reason, insisted I make the call to return the leased car. I got through, and started with a canned sentence (devised by S) about returning a car. The agent was patient (though I am sure she was as frustrated as I was at the inability to communicate clearly) and eventually I thought we both understood what I wanted to do, the company involved, the time and general location (airport), etc. Then I thought I try to nail down the location within the airport (which I had never seen). This was an insurmountable hurdle for me, but I felt we were very close, when Susan walked by on her way to the PTT. She completed the call. This was a very nerve-wracking experience, considering the consequences of failing to return the car. Fortunately the agent had great patience.

I like Chenanceau best of the chateaux we saw. One room, a small study, had drawings and paintings of the building plans and various stages in its development. I think these would make an interesting book. Each of the chateaux we saw had something to offer, and they were all worth a few hours to visit.

On our departure from the last gite, we had to get rid of many items we no longer needed or had room for. Toys we had bought for Chrissy were left with the proprietor, for his boy. Bedsheets, cleaning supplies and such were left with the farmer’s wife. At first she seemed to say she couldn’t accept them, it seemed too much. But Susan convinced her that we couldn’t pack them and take them with us on the plane. She seemed very happy. We were torn when they invited us in for coffee. We should have accepted, but couldn’t have drunk coffee, and were afraid we wouldn’t be good guests. I regret we didn’t try to socialize with them a bit, just to be neighborly.

After reconnoitering the Nantes Airport, I felt much better about the car return. We drove into Nantes to find the Hotel de France, and on the way saw the Jules Verne (he was a native of Nantes); it was a Best Western! We had chosen a ‘hotel with character’ instead. Part of its character was drain pipes from rooms on the floor above, which ran around the edge of the ceiling, and made gentle gurgling noises from time to time. The parking was in a tiny lot, with a combination keypad to open a gate. We had trouble every time, trying to make it work.

We went back to Crep ‘n Pizz and it was pretty funny to see the waitress’ expression when she saw us. I guess it’s as hard on them to deal with foreigners as it is for us.

The trip to the other chateaux was our last day trip. Chambord’s double-spiral staircase was pretty neat.

On the flight home, I was a little frustrated to be sitting separate from Susan and Chrissy again. But when the man next to me started asking if we were on vacation, and I started trying to tell him about it, I got interested in trying to communicate. Of course I wasn’t really speaking French; no verbs, for example. But I was able to point to some of the cities we had visited on the map, and indicated where our gites had been, how long we had stayed, that we had rented a car, how many kilometers we had driven, where we lived. He was able to tell me that he was also vacationing, would be staying in New York a few days, and then go to visit relatives in California, all without a word of English. I wondered how well he would fare in the US without English, compared with how we did in France with only a little French. I hoped he would find helpful, patient people as we did, but had my doubts.

I think that conversation, on the flight home, was a high point of my trip. It made me realize how fortunate we had been in dealing with people who took the time to help us. Without Susan’s little bit of French, I’m sure it would have been harder, but we found helpful, patient people every time we needed them, and they helped make the trip a success.

Another help was the tremendous amount of time Susan spent in the planning of the trip. Even though we didn’t have a set itinerary, she had a very organized list of places to go and things to see and do. We were never at a loss for something to do; instead we had to decide what could be left undone or unseen. In the end, we saw a great deal of France. When we talk to other people who have been to Paris for a week, it seems sad that they didn’t get to see more of the country. The next time we go, we may see more of Paris, but I’m sure we will still stay in gites, and get out into the country, where we can find a market in progress and buy a roast chicken and some fresh fruit, have a pique-nique and, maybe next time, relax a little. (1991-08-13)

Previous: Le Mont St Michel ~~ France 1990

1990-04-19: Le Mont St Michel

Previous: Carnac & Concarneau ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Last Days


19 April, 1942, St Omer

On Tues, went to Nantes for a “light day”. Shopped at Carrefour. On way into bldg, smelled something good, so looked around & saw sign (and open back door) for “Crep’n Pizz” restaurant. S had a copy of the gite’s key made for C, then we ate: this was one of 6 franchises (I guess) in this area, and was excellent (I was tempted to take menu for ‘recipes’). Probably will be all over France in a couple of years. Bought curtains & stuff from Carrefour, then drove to Gulf of Morbihan.
The day was like most have been here: windy & scattered showers – great cloudscapes. We all liked the peninsula, but S especially. Saw a new “chateau” that was worthy of a picture, but when we turned around in driveway, the owner drove up! We stopped at a tumulus & walked around & to top, started to hail & rain hard as we came down & we all got drenched, but the view from top was worth it.

Drove to tip of eastern peninsula around gulf & walked along edge, then bought little stuff, & frites & drinks, and started home. C bought the frites & drinks; she likes to buy things. On the way home, stopped at suspension bridge we have crossed several times, and had ice cream overlooking.
Wed drove through Rennes (which took a while) to Mont St Michel. This was much as described in guidebooks: souvenir shops on street leading to abbey, which is very impressive. There was no danger of parking lot flooding in tide this day. Bought ticket for tour ~1140 & were able to catch up to English tour guide that started ~1130. She was excellent, prob former teacher, controlled audience, educated & entertained, & earned tip, cleverly reminding us of it.

After MSM, stopped briefly in Dinan, but not very impressed with the artist/tourist colony. Perhaps the state of bladders had something to do with impatience. We had good meal at MSM. Also saw a lot of windmills along coast before we turned inland to Dinan.

Today was really a light day. Up late went to Blain to cash T.C. & buy flowers for farmer’s wife who helped us Sat. Tried to call UTA to confirm reservation Tues, but girl hung up when asked about English. Unable to reach Peugeot agent in Nantes, but one in Paris said “no problem” & that they would answer later. Came home & ate, totalled customs & packed a suitcase not to be opened til USA. S & C have gone out to call Florence.


19 April, 1942, St Omer

We had such good success shopping at the Carrefour hypermarche chain all over France, that it was one of our favorite things to do. We were really excited when we found out a Carrefour had opened in Philadelphia. We rushed there as soon as possible, hoping to find some French things, but were mostly disappointed. Later a Leedmark (part of French LeClerc chain) opened in Glen Burnie, and we occasionally go there, but they also don’t have many French items. Mainly these stores are pushing the hypermarket format, not the French connection.

In addition to the hypermarket, there are usually several small stores in the same building, like a mall. In Nantes, one of these was the “Crep’n Pizz” restaurant. This was a two-level semi-fast food. You could order at a counter and take food to a table, or could sit upstairs at a table with waitress service. Since we were in no hurry, and didn’t like the pressure of trying to read menus on walls behind counters, we sat upstairs. The menu had glossy pictures and descriptions of pizza, steak & frites, and other things. Susan and I ordered a mushroom pizza with cream sauce over it: fantastic! The menu listed six locations, and it seemed obvious to us that was bound to become a big deal. We subsequently went to others, and were always sorely tempted to take a menu, with the pictures and descriptions.

The Morbihan peninsula in southern Brittany was very appealing to Susan and me. The ocean and sky combination give a wide-open feeling that I really like. It is probably bound to be overrun by pleasure-boating people, with marinas everywhere (there are already quite a few). The weather in the spring was very dramatic, with clouds sweeping in from the sea, small thundershowers building up, and sudden, brief showers. We heard thunder, but seldom saw lightning. The net effect was a rain-washed sky a lot of the time, much nicer than the hazy skies in Alsace, or the dusty skies of Provence.

The tumulus was well-marked, right by the road. It was probably about 40-50 feet high, nearly conical. A path went around it, and one went to the top. Although there were showers around, we climbed to the top for the view, which was worth it, and even worth the drenching we got when we came down. When we came running to our car, soaked to the skin, there were a couple of people sitting in a car waiting for the rain to stop before they got out. We must have been quite a spectacle to them; it was terrific fun.

The trip to Le Mont St Michel had been near the top of Susan’s list since the start of our planning, and it didn’t disappoint. The guidebooks warn about the highly commercialized street leading up to the abbey, but also point out that it has been like that for centuries. From the parking area, we walked up to the mount, which gave us a good general view, including the ramp over which supplies and building materials were hauled up to the abbey. The crowd in the street was thick, but in a generally good mood; the shops were crowded.

The tour was the best we had; the guide was very polished. Her English was excellent, with just enough accent to be authentic, but no hindrance to understanding. She commanded the group, holding attention the entire time, with great presence. Near the end of the tour, she cleverly contrived to elicit applause from some of the crowd (I can’t recall how), and then stopped it with upheld hand, reminding everyone that there was a better way to express their appreciation. At the bottom of the last spiral staircase, she received fistfuls of appreciation, including ours. It was a terrific performance.

After the tour, we debated whether to eat on Le Mont St Michel, figuring the restaurants would be more expensive, or to drive on and look for someplace less expensive to eat. But since we didn’t know of any place specific, and we were hungry and thirsty, we ate on MSM. This was very good, in an upstairs dining room with windows looking out over the water (behind us). The waiters, waitresses and busboys were dressed in costume, and the decor evoked the period. (1991-08-13)

Previous: Carnac & Concarneau ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Last Days

1990-04-17: Carnac & Concarneau

Previous: St Omer de Blain ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Le Mont St Michel


17 April, 1920, St. Omer

Sun we drove to Carnac to see menhirs & dolmens. Arrived in town just after 1pm, musee closed. While looking at map, fellow walked up & gave us a flyer for restaurant. Not willing to deny fate, we walked around til we found it. The place was nearly full – of people & smoke. Someone waved us to a table, past a buffet table & the grill where a woman waving a long spatula looked very angry at someone – or everyone. We sat & waited. The place was a madhouse, with 3 people scurrying about to all tables, acting like waiters, but very badly. But they didn’t stop at ours & rarely looked at us. After 30 min we wondered whether to leave, but the smoke was clearing & we figured things would soon be under control. Wrong. Looking at other patrons, it was clear nobody was happy. But we waited some more. Finally woman took our order – we were given two aperitifs & pineapple juice for our patience. After we had our entree from buffet – which was pretty well wiped out by then – we waited some more. Some people were clearly angry & expressing it – others simply walked out. After waiting some more, we noticed the place was nearly empty. Then the cook apparently discovered there was a table that hadn’t been served & all hell broke loose in the kitchen. A waiter apologized to us & C got more pineapple juice. We finally got our orders, which were very good. Then we wanted to leave, but the guy in charge wanted to reward us for our patience with complimentary chocolate crepes & we couldn’t graciously decline. First he brought us a crepe that I think had been refused by another table, flambeed Marnier. I couldn’t eat it & he asked if I didn’t like it. Then he brought choc crepes – again very good. Then we paid – I had to tell him what we had ordered – & left. The whole lunch took about 2 1/2 hours.

The museum was still open for the afternoon. It seemed pretty good – all prehistory. We got a map of megalith sites & went to find the Carnac alignments. These were pretty impressive – stones from 3 to 10 feet tall – in long lines, but a few houses have been built among them & a road cuts across which somewhat disrupts the effect – not to mention the hordes of people walking, and climbing, among them. From there we followed map to two sites near highway. No other tourists & we could walk around & thru dolmens at leisure. This was really nice, could go through to look over the whole thing, then examine each stone for markings – C found a down-pointing arrow V about 1 1/2 foot long. The day was windy with scattered showers, but we didn’t get wet; warm in the sun.

Mon we drove further west through southern Brittany. This region has kept some aspects of Celtic past. Town names are given twice – French & Breton(?). For example: Carnac – Karnaq, Quimper – Kemper, Concarneau – KonKorne(?). Many place names begin with K; which I haven’t seen at all in rest of France. I’m sure there are differences in accent, but my ear can’t tell. I also haven’t noticed any physical difference in people, though there may well be.

We went to Douarnenez, seaport town with little or no tourist orientation. Walked around cliff edge & down to rocky beach, bought pastry which we ate on beach looking over pleasure-boat basin. Saw rain-wall coming as we headed for Locconan. Arrived at this strongly artist/tourist place ~1pm as rain hit. Parked & waited 5-10 min in car, then got out & walked around. Bought a few souvenir items & tried to get in creperie, but it was full. Took a lot of pictures of church & Renaissance houses. Passed thru Fouesnant, but saw no reason to stop, on way to Concarneau. This town has preserved walled part of city on island in harbor – inside is pure, and unabashed, tourist trap. On the way from parking, we bought more pastry & frites to round out lunch. Just inside gate was a group playing very nice ethnic music. They had cassettes, LP & CD for sale; I bought 2 cassettes. Later discovered many of the songs & instruments were ethnic of America Sud origin! S & C bought many souv., including the long-awaited dolls. Rain squall came thru once, emptying the street for 10-15 min, but it was gone very abruptly. On the way home, we watched the odometer turn over 10000km, average of 2km/wk. Also got stuck in traffic twice, either ‘rush’ hour or end-of-holiday traffic.


17 April, 1920, St. Omer

The restaurant in Carnac was one of the strangest events of the trip. We had been standing in front of a guide to restaurants and other tourist attractions near the museum, when a fellow carrying a motorcycle helmet and wearing a black leather jacket walked up to us and (I think) asked if we wanted to eat. When we said yes, he reached inside his jacket and pulled out a flyer for the restaurant, with a poorly done map. The chaos inside was at least partly due to the fact it was Easter Sunday, and that some of the waitresses or other help hadn’t shown up. We would never have waited that long at home, but something kept us there, and it was fascinating in a way (though not what I would call entertaining) just to see how it would end up. There was a dog at one of the tables, who kept going over to another table, obviously begging for something. Many people were angry about either the service or the food, and the people behind the counter were angry at each other or at the people who hadn’t shown up, or at the impatient customers or at everyone. At one table, it seemed some people were just getting their main course while others were finished with dessert. The whole episode was unbelievable, but memorable.

We much preferred exploring the two dolmens over viewing the Carnac alignments. One was nearly on the highway, a sort of tunnel with a few tumbled stones. To get to the other, we had to walk through a field and over a fence or hedgerow with thorns. It was more like a set of rooms, partially roofed and again some tumbled stones. We were the only people there, although we saw some other people going to view the second after we got back to the car.

At Douarnenez we just wandered around the shore. At one point Susan went on ahead of Chrissy and me on a clifftop path between flowering bushes and walled houses. Susan waved at us from up ahead, but I evidently missed the message she was trying to convey, and we walked well past her before we decided she couldn’t be up ahead of us. So we turned back and finally found her coming looking for us. From the look on her face, I could see she was upset at us so I said “You stupid woman! Where have you been!?”, in a drawn-out, disgusted tone of voice. This cracked us all up, and we went to where she had found a path down the cliff to the rocky beach. We climbed around the rocks and looked in tidal pools until it was obvious the tide was coming in rapidly. When we got back to where we had parked the car, we could see a squall coming ashore, with a very dark wall of rain rushing in over the sea. It was very dramatic, but didn’t photograph well. We weren’t threatened by the rain, but I think it must have been the same squall that pinned us down in Loccanon.

Concarneau was fun, especially listening to Mic-A-Mac playing and buying the cassettes. When I bought two, I got a price break. We’ve enjoyed listening to them ever since we got home, even though their ethnicity isn’t quite what we thought we were getting. (1991-07-12)

Previous: St Omer de Blain ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Le Mont St Michel

1990-04-16: St Omer de Blain

Previous: Versaille, Fountainbleu ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Carnac & Concarneau


16 April, 1914, St Omer de Blain

Three days worth: Sat drove to Blain, expecting shortest drive; apparent holiday traffic made slow going near Rambouillet. Still arrived Nantes with plenty of time (we were in Nantes because S didn’t tell me to turn before). (There have been a few navigator/pilot comm problems recently). S wanted to stop at Carrefour for groceries; on leaving commercial centre, police detoured us in a circle back to it; finally got back on road. We didn’t have any address for proprietor except ‘pont pietin’, so looked around a bit, found gite & waited from 1600-1615. Decided to try an ambiguous mark on Michelin map & found ‘pont pietin’, looked sort of like a resort. Gatekeeper was absolutely no help when shown our gite description with owners name & address. Returned to gite & then to pay phone; phone # seemed to be out of service. Returned to gite. When I called booking service from Paris, they had said they would call prop. & tell him we would be there between 4-5 pm, but it was ambiguous whether we would be at gite or prop. Decided to try neighbors. First one was a farmhouse, with door open. Stopped & called ‘Bonjour’. Woman saw Briand name & pointed, smiling, to gite. When we signalled he was not there, she looked at phone number & tried to call it. When that didn’t work, she tried to look it up in phone book, to no avail. Shortly the farmer walked up, and we all shook hands (very popular in France). He & S tried to figure out situation, & he decided the next door farmer might know the #. So we all walked over there. He (& his dog) was just leading about 4 cows from one field to another, but he left them to go on their own & went into his house (they seemed to know the way). He found 2 #’s, one the same as ours. Neither worked. Finally our farmer decided he should ride with me to Pont Pietin, leaving S & C with his wife (since the car was too full for all of us). I convinced S to ride in back, & we left C with the farmer’s wife. C was quite happy about this, even saying she didn’t want her book. When we got to Pont Pietin, the farmer took the same paper to the woman in the gatehouse, and she immediately phoned Briand, who was there within ~5 minutes. She also referred to him as ‘Docteur’. He apparently lives on the premises. The farmer got in Briand’s car & we followed back to gite. (By the way it was ~1655 when we got to P.P. 2nd time). The farmer got out & we thanked him, while C got in car. He went way beyond the call of duty, especially as he couldn’t speak E, and could easily have just shrugged the whole thing off as not his problem. (He even changed his coat before getting in our car). Briand showed us around & left, declining the 500F security deposit, declaring he had confidence in us. He had clearly been called by the booking agent, but what the message was we’ll never know. This gite is the largest of the 5 we’ve had, and the most comfortable. There is a leak from the ceiling near the front door, & in Sat nite’s rain we had to put a bucket under it. C didn’t sleep well, so none of us did Sat nite. Very windy.


16 April, 1914, St Omer de Blain

The adventure of getting into this gite was the most complex of all. When Chrissy was left behind by herself with the farmer’s wife, both Susan and I wondered how she was going to react; she apparently loved it, as high adventure. I have never found out whether she tried to talk to her, but she thoroughly enjoyed the experience. These people were so friendly and willing to help that it almost shames me to think how far I would have gone in a similar situation.

We ended up deciding that Pont Pietin was an asylum, and Docteur Briand the chief shrink, although we really had no basis for that. The behavior of the woman in the gatehouse was certainly peculiar, and the fact of a gate (and a very sturdy fence) gave a slightly sinister air to the place.

One feature of all of the gites which we really enjoyed was the shutters. The French still use shutters to augment security of houses, not as decoration. Every window and door has a functional shutter, with latches worked from the inside; door shutters have locks. So the ritual of going to bed is augmented by the ritual of shuttering the windows and doors. This gite had very thick walls, which made for a natural window-seat in Chrissy’s room. She could sit in the open window and read. This gite also had a swing set, which Chrissy used just about every day, and a garage. We didn’t park the car inside, because it was difficult to maneuver in the driveway, but we used clotheslines in it to hang laundry. It also had a soccer table game, with the players moved by rods. Chrissy and I played several times a day. (1991-07-03)


Saturday started the same as always. I am now ahead of Daddy. Got there, no one was around. Went to a (we didn’t know at the time) maniac mental hospital. Didn’t understand, (they didn’t) we left.

Previous: Versaille, Fountainbleu ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Carnac & Concarneau

1990-04-13: Versailles & Fountainbleu

Previous: Paris ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: St Omer de Blain


13 April, 1749, Fontenay-Mauvoisin

Wed. planned to go to Fountainbleu, then Versailles. (didn’t occur to us (me) it made more sense to go to V first, & spend lunch time driving to F). Missed a turn & got into edges of Paris, very heavy traffic & no signs to correct direction, & didn’t have Paris map. Eventually found ourselves circling around V (saw a Toys R Us) & decided to go to the chateau. Long line (nearly an hour) (45 min?) to get in; seemed to allow a batch from group queue & a batch from individual queue. Inside, each room was packed with people, difficult to move. Rooms very ornate, but too much so to sustain impression for long; I tired of it quickly. When crowd moved to hall of mirrors, it naturally spread out & we could see it better, end to end,quite impressive. I was unable to imagine function of most rooms in palaces or chateaus, unless they had a bed. All seemed same. On leaving the main part of tour, declined to go thru gardens (they were visible from some rooms, formal, sym, French style).

Drove to Fountainbleu, stopping at rest stop for lunch, got there 1405 & parked 20m from gate. Some groups, but much smaller crowds than V. Still couldn’t grasp function of most rooms. Queen’s antechamber had seating for 15-20. Q. B.R. next to throne room. Saw some of French-style garden, but English garden was closed. While inside, passed through guided tours. Some German, Eng, French. S remarked that tour guides always emphasize what they are interested in, just after we heard one talking about erotic art.

On returning, it was too late to try Giverny (~1700), so parked in Mantes-LaJolie & S bought a roast chicken, I bought more Meccano & S got C a bottle of bubble-blowing stuff, to play at gite, a great idea.

On Thurs, back to Paris. Up at 630, to catch 829 train, direct. From St Lazare, took metro to Louvre, ~945. No line! This was fortunate (as well as inexplicable) because C was not feeling well. Probably too little water, food, sleep; we saw Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, and got a drink before leaving. C lost color in face & had us worried, but started to recover after some water. Outside saw some archeological excavation, then went to metro to Sacre Couer. Took funicula up & went inside (views outside were not very good because of haze & low clouds). Dome makes it very different from other cathedrals; quite interesting, nice glass. S walked down, C & I took funicula. Bought several souv. in shops, & S & I got sandwiches (crudite & fromage), C got chips & we ate next to double carrousel. C & I rode (I looked silly), then C rode twice more.

In order to avoid changing trains, walked about 3 extra blocks & passed a luggage store. Bought a cheap one for souv. We then took metro to gare, & checked suitcase in locker (hi-tech). Walked a few blocks (past Opera) to dept store. We saw woman with donkeys & C tried to take a picture. Woman got angry & pushed C away. S bought many souv. in Gallerir Lafayette. This store had dome in top & was very attractive from all floors, stained glass. Went to gare, called agency for next gite & got train home, arriving ~545. Ate at Flunch, all ate well. C had bath.

13 April, 1900, Fontenay-Mauvoisin

Slept in til after 830, got up & went to Giverny. Overcast & light rain on way, but stopped before we got there. Entrance is through workshop (now gift shop), then garden, and house. We went into house, trying to beat a bus-tour, and it started raining hard. I was surprised to find Monet had many (>200) Japanese prints. Saw Hokusai print of giant wave, w Fuji in background, & recognized a few others.

Rather crowded in house & not all that interesting. When we went out, rain had stopped again. Took underpass to water-lily garden & saw Japanese bridge, boat, etc. C took several pictures, but crowds were frustrating. The gardens are very well kept; saw at least 4 gardeners. On return to Mantes, went to Flunch ~1200, pretty crowded, but well run. Oh, nearly left out Giverny gift shop. Many people, mostly American & some British, spending lots of money. Expected this would be a slow day, or even closed Good Friday, but that place can’t afford to close (even open thru lunch, tho guidebook says closed).

Looked in a couple of garden shops for spigots, but no luck. Leroy Mervin very much like Hechinger.

Laundry from 2 days ago still not dry in bath, so hung outside, until rain started. Totalled receipts for customs & charge slips & checked travelers checks. Packed souv. in new suitcase. Have general feeling like trip is winding down, though have another gite & 3 nights after that.


13 April, 1749, Fontenay-Mauvoisin

While trying to find our way out of the heavy traffic, we were briefly behind a flatbed truck with a load of bags labeled ‘Plaster de Paris’! So that’s where it comes from!

At Versailles, Chrissy amused herself in the packed rooms by separating herself from us, then trying to get back or see us through the crowd. At one point she was trying to communicate by mouthing some words to us through a gap between some people, and the gap kept closing and opening, interrupting the attempt. At least she enjoyed herself.

She had read something about Napoleon, so was interested in Fountainbleu as the place where he bid farewell to his troops. She stood on the famous horseshoe staircase from which he addressed them.

Chrissy gave us a scare at the Louvre. We had not realized she was feeling ill, until she turned pale, and basically just sat down on the steps, too ill to walk. She didn’t seem sick to her stomach, so we guessed dehydration was a part of it. We quickly got to the little cafe in the Louvre and had some orange juice and water, and she soon came around. She was tired, and fatigue probably contributed to it. We were all tired to some degree; the pace was too hectic; but then our vacations are never the relaxing kind.

She really enjoyed the double-deck carrousel near Sacre Couer. She was also happy to help pick out a suitcase to pack souvenirs in. She still considers this ‘her’ suitcase.

The incident with the donkey was upsetting. The woman obviously earns her living with souvenir photos involving the donkeys, and she was very cross when she saw Chrissy taking a picture without paying her. But her reaction seemed out of proportion, so we wouldn’t consider paying her after that.

When I called the agency for the fifth gite (from a pay phone in the gare; took forever to get any change) they were not very helpful. We had sketchy directions, a fairly clear picture of the house, and a phone number for the proprietor. But we weren’t sure that the proprietor was expecting us, and weren’t sure about trying to contact him. I told the agency we would try to meet him about 4pm, but wasn’t sure that everything was clear. As it turned out, it wasn’t. (1991-06-19)

13 April, 1900, Fontenay-Mauvoisin

In Giverny gift shop, they had a stack of reproductions of small paintings, Monet & others, simulating brushstrokes, etc. But when they were turned over, most had stickers from various American museum shops (Smithsonian, New York Metropolitan)!!

It seems as if I keep transcribing another rain, and yet our memories are of near-perfect weather. We were really incredibly lucky, in that rain generally (not 100% but maybe 90%+) fell while we were in car or indoors, not when we were outside. Still, this gite was the dampest of all, and recall that we noticed bookshelves were musty when we moved in. (1991-07-03)


On W. we went to Versailles. Stood in the wrong line at first but got in the right one. Very pretty place! I love it. Went to Fountainbleu. I really wanted to see this! Very very [???] nice! I love it! I wanted to see the garden of Diana but was closed. Left. Got a roast chicken, Meccano, and bubbles. I blew bubbles & then ate. Thurs., Paris. Got on train and I’m not feeling good. I am now ahead of Mom. Saw the Louvre: 1st Winged Victory, 2nd Mona Lisa, 3rd Venus de Miel. Went to Sacre Cour, after a while. Rode F. up and walked around. Mom walked down we rode F. D & I rode on a double [ sketch of double decker carrousel ] decker carrousel. It had a swing. I rode horse, I rode swing. Ate and rode 2 more times. Then we got a suitcase. Put souvenirs in it. Went to department store. Went home.


Previous: Paris ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: St Omer de Blain

1990-04-11: Paris

Previous: Belfort ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Versailles & Fountainbleu


11 April, 1940, Soindres

Too busy, too late to write, lately.

Sat: long drive to Paris. Stopped at Jardinerie in Vesoul to look for fountain-like spigot for our bathtub at home. Autoroute from Besancon to near Paris, then confusion & high tension trying to get right road without going into Paris. Not really difficult, just one place where had to make quick lane change, and one where had to merge abruptly. Drivers relatively forgiving of that sort of thing.

No sign for gite, & nothing matched picture, but at prop. address, woman came out to greet on second pass.

Most of gites so far have appearance of contractor reworking a shell of prev. structure (2 houses, 1 school). This one looks like owner fixed up, with care. Four rooms, living room = C’s bedroom; kitchen with largest refrig so far (window opens directly onto street); BR (window ditto) fairly large with built-in closet; bath large as BR (almost), 2 sinks,largest tub so far (larger than home), toilet, cupboard with vacuum cleaner, egg-shaped passage thru wall to BR, door to LR. All apparently done with care. Bookcase with many SF books in BR, quite musty.

Owner very careful to explain working of elec pump in toilet.

Sun. went to Paris to get our bearings. Turns out our luck has held up. The town 5 min. away, Mantes-LaJolie, is nearest town to Paris at which almost every train stops. Many trains, quite a few direct. Parked in auto-lot accross st. from station, even though closed Sun. Train stopped ~25 times.

Wore light jackets & we were all chilly in wind. Walked past closed stores & Madeleine to Place de la Concorde. Bought guidebook with map showing metro station and lines (very important). Bought carnet (10 tickets for metro) & went to Bois de Boulogne to find amusement park for C. Though chilly this was a success (also expensive, since we bought more ride tickets than really necessary). Took petit train back to entrance to park, then walked to Arc de triomph. Bought elevator tickets (~10 min line), then went to top for view & walked down. Took metro to Louvre, but line looked long & near closing, so walked along rive droite toward Pont Neuf. Bought PC & chestnuts from vendors who have stalls on stone edge. Saw cages of live chickens (~50) across street. Saw the loneliest thing: a young man set up his camera pointing toward Pont Neuf with timer, then went to stand in picture, alone. Ah, romantic Paris. Crossed P.N. to Ile de la Cite & got on cruise boat. About 1 hour, down to Eiffel Tower & around Ile de Saint Louis. Narration in E, F & German, mainly about bridges & buildings on river, but at least out of wind. Before boat left doc, girl went through taking pictures. When boat returned, they were on display. S thought ours very funny so paid 20 F.

Susan is finished calling her mother.


11 April, 1940, Soindres

Our brief stop to look for a spigot had to do with a fantasy of Susan’s and mine: we both think it would be amusing, interesting, or shocking to have a small gargoyle or other fanciful shape in place of the usual bathtub spout. We have talked about this for years, and thought perhaps in France people would use some sort of fountain ornament hat we could adapt for the purpose. No luck, so I am going to try to make my own.

The drive from Melisey to Fontenay-Mauvoisin was a long one. As we neared Paris, traffic built up and the road, which had been Autoroute the whole way, became a tangled skein of roads not clearly delineated on our map. We got through alright, but it reinforced our preliminary decision not to attempt to drive in Paris. We also joked that the stress of this kind of driving vacation in foreign country would be a severe test of a weak marriage, but it truly would; not of ours, however.

We found the village easily enough, and drove through its street twice. It is amazing how such small places can hide a house in full view. Most of the gites had the Gite de France logo in a visible spot, but not this one. The proprietor’s house is just across the yard from the gite, and the owner has his office (I think he is an architect) in a little room attached to one side of the gite. They also had a boy about Chrissy’s age, and they proposed the two of them might play together. Chrissy didn’t seem to want to, and I think the boy was relieved; he had other playmates.

On Saturday evening, we drove into Mantes-LaJolie to check out the procedure for getting train tickets. Susan didn’t want to go into the station, so she stayed in the car while Chrissy and I went in. We looked at the racks of schedule pamphlets, trying to find the appropriate one, but didn’t find one we felt was right. Finally, when there was no one in line, I went up to clerk, and tried to ask about trains to Paris. I had a terrible time understanding him, probably because nearly every train went to Paris. He pulled out a three-ring binder with pages of times in columns, different pages for weekdays and weekends. Finally someone got in line behind me and the clerk brusquely dismissed us. When Susan came in the next day, she had no trouble, and there was also an automated ticket-selling machine which took our credit card.

When we returned from Paris, and went into the car lot to get our car, there was another man just getting in his. He looked doubtfully at us, and finally came over and asked if we were going to try get out. Finally we understood that the gate would not open (on Sunday) unless you had a special permanent pass, which he had. He had us follow him closely up to the gate, waited until we were ready, inserted his pass, and when the gate went up, went through fast enough for us to follow him out before it came down again. A nice example of kindness toward strangers.

One of the neatest things at Bois de Boulogne was an oval track where Chrissy could drive a car, without any guide rails or other constraints except the curbs. It was about three lanes wide, wider where you got in and out, and she got (I think) three laps. She got in the car and appeared to listen to instructions (which pedal was brake and which was throttle). When the man stepped off, she smoothly accelerated, and then, before pulling out into ‘traffic’, looked back over her left shoulder just like she had been driving all her life! This so surprised Susan and me that we laughed the whole time. I think it was Chrissy’s favorite ride. (1991-06-19)


On Monday we went to an old abbey. It was very nice. We had to take a barge across the

[ sketch of crossing river ]

river to get to it. There were spots that would have a whole engraving or something like that. Then we drove to Honfleur a seaport town. Finally we satopped in a resterant and had a good meal. Walked around a little and drove to a little town called Bayeux. Bayeux (bayur) has a tapestry called the bayeux tapestry. It tells the story of William the Conqueror. I like it. We saw the English Channel, bought pasteries and went home. Next morning rode train to Paris and went to the d’Orsay. There was a long line so we went to stand in it. We got in grabbed a brochure bought tickets & went in. Saw several impressionists things and went to see a few Monets. I saw, an origanal, painting of the Japanese Bridge! I love it! After the d’Orsay we walked to the one & only . . Notre-Dame! We looked around outside, and went in. We don’t have to pay to walk around inside but to climb you have to pay. We went outside, paid & started to climb. A girl ahead of us, English, wanted her camera to take pictures. Remember her. Climbed a wide spiral staircase, dashed off to the gift shop, and got on a small staircase. These steps do not have lights. A teen with some people spoke English going down past us & said, ‘Forgot to tell you I have claustrophobia’? later the camera girl, coming down past us, well she didn’t go past us, higher up she had let mom past and then she let me up, but she said should have a system like this:

[ two sketches of people, labeled “20 going down Chuck” and “20 coming up Phil” ???]

I went up counting steps. 495 + 372 = 868.

Went down scared. Rode subway to Tour Eiffel. Waited in line for a long time and finally got on the elevator. Went up, and got off on 2nd floor. Changed elevators and went to the top. Looked around. There was a viewing platform and we went up. Came down & went down. Waited on 2nd floor & bought sweatshirts. We were in front of some Italian lady ogres!

[ sketch of lady ogre ???]

One of them shoved me hard in the back. We walked along a famed street in Paris. It had a lot of sidewalk cafes. Stopped in a Burger King had frites and went to Printemps, a department store. Had no souvenirs so went to 1 more store. Went to St. Lazare, & got a big double decker train. Home got carry out [???] and went home. Fell in bed & fell asleep. .

Previous: Belfort ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Versailles & Fountainbleu

1990-04-06: Belfort

Previous: Germany ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Paris


6 April, 1015, Melissey

Mme Tessane just stopped by to make sure we knew to go to Mairie to pay ‘chauffage’; a note was left outside yesterday. We are ready to go out, shopping in Belfort & Melissey.

6 April, 2023, Melissey

Though light rain, Belfort shopping was huge success. Bought Meccano set (have to get gears & motors later), & puzzle of French departments/regions. Had lunch at ‘flunch’, which I thought was another fast-food chain; turned out to be more like cafeteria with very large seating area & great traffic at lunch. Had paella – very good – shrimp (large), chicken legs (2-3 thigh/drumstick), mussels(~5), sausage slices, rice, saffron. Many choices – couldn’t keep track. Ordered by pointing (carrot salad etc).

After lunch, too full to get pastries, so went to Bonjour dept store. Got lots of small stuff for ‘gifts from france’. Cashed more T.C. in Ronchamp & mailed 23 P.C.

Today felt colder, walking around, than any other day. Bought gas for tomorrow’s move. Started packing for move, too. Totalled costs so far, approx. 7000 FF spent, total for customs only about 700$. Seems like we’re in our budget (ha! ha!).

On way home, stopped in Melissey market for a few things, then drove north of town sightseeing – very narrow twisty roads. Saw gendarmerie from which our visitors came & town dump burning trash. Many small ponds formed by damming creeklets for fishing. Afterwards S took the car out, C rode in front and I got in back. Right now, C is singing her head off in tub, the first we’ve had in a gite. The first two had showers only, and only the first could hang up the shower; the others (and hotel’s) are hand-held, which makes for an uncomfortable shower.


6 April, 2023, Melisey

The Meccano set was something we had wanted for a long time. We can’t find metal erector sets in US any more; everything’s plastic. I wanted to have something Chrissy could build with (and I could play with), and plastic sets seem to have very restrictive connectors, etc. I also wanted some motors and gears to make powered movable parts. Meccano was perfect, though expensive.

The meal at flunch was also an eye-opener. This is a very good compromise between American fast-food appetite and French full-meal tradition, for those times when we can’t bear another restaurant meal/scenario. The uncertainty and stress involved in choosing a restaurant and ordering/eating a meal detract somewhat from the quality of the experience. When you just want to eat and get on with the rest of the day, flunch (or equivalent) is just about right. Of course, we avoid American fast food chains as much as possible.

Driving around Melisey, discovered that in addition to farming, the area seems to be oriented to fishing vacations. All of the ponds are posted with requirements for permits, and there are camps nearby. Susan enjoyed driving the Peugeot, but was nervous about getting stopped without insurance, and with Chrissy in the front seat (which is also against the rules). (1991-06-18)


On Friday, we went to Belfort. We found a Meccano toy store. Mecanno is the co. that makes erector sets. Bought 1 & a puzzle and went to a

[ sketch of chef with platter ]

lunch. A spunky cafeteria. Nice! We found a department store and bought all sorts of things! Went to a bank near a wood man – M exchanged T.C. – Went around and got home. Then Mom drove, I rode in the front seat, Dad in back. Illegal! Fun!

Previous: Germany ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Paris

1990-04-05: Germany

Previous: Switzerland, Strasbourg ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Belfort


5 April, 2120, Melissey

Slept in for a change, with no deadlines. Around 930+/- left for Germany (Allemagne). A little more than one hour took us through border crossing to Mulheim, We stopped once before 11 at a rest stop to try to get DM in case we needed to buy our way onto German motorways as at Switzerland, but could not. The usual nervousness at how the formalities would be handled evaporated when the fellow inside the border station didn’t even raise his head as we slowly rolled by.

In Mullheim we found apparently free (at least we didn’t pay) parking & wandered around searching for a bank. C had the multi-lingual phrase book & found that the word for bank is bank. Soon found one & tried ‘Sprechen sie Englisch?’ on first teller, who said ‘Nein’ & several other things, saw our T.C & pointed to another window. At that window, clerk changed 200$ into 326 DM with minimum talk: Gutan tag, AufWiedersehen, danke. Went to shop nearby & bought postcards & map of Schwarzwald Sud. Next stop: pastry shop (~1130), bought ‘zwei’ pieces of ‘butter kuchen’ & ‘eine’ piece of ‘apfel-something’. S was surprised at my easy use of German! Little did she realize that has been the extent of my French all along! Ate the pastry in a park.

Back in the car,selected a route through part of Black Forest ending at Freiburg, with plans to stop as inspired. After a bit of confusion finding the start of the route, rapidly climbed into hills. These were patchwork of apple (?) orchards with trees wide apart, meadows, plowed fields & deciduous trees. Stopped for several pictures; very little traffic.

German road signs mostly incomprehensible to us, but direction signs very well placed & marked with town names, for the most part. (One problem trying to find road to Wehr; the sign only faced the traffic direction opposite the one we were on, till we turned around!)

As we climbed higher, the orchards disappeared & evergreens mixed into the forest. Most of the drive was during lunch/siesta, so no shops to stop at. Stopped once for short walk into woods. The scenery & quiet made the drive very nice, even C enjoyed it. One odd thing in Germany: roads have military speed limit signs, with speeds for trucks & tanks! This country should be very tired of the presence of military & threat of war.

The drive was pleasant, but we eventually headed for Freiburg. Found parking & a shopping district near cathedral. Food vendors sold fresh waffles (~3″x4″, with sugar & optional ‘apfelmus’, & Bratwurst a 14″ sausage on a 4″ bun, very much like a hot dog; C ate one of each.

Stopped in several stores & got quite a few small things. Stopped in Woolworth, of all places! After shopping, bought C an apple, then stopped in bakery & got 2 apple kuchen & 1 apple pie & ‘Krusten Brot’, all good, heavy German pastries.

Left parking lot ~5pm, traffic a little slow getting to Autobahn, but drivers not over-aggressive, and tolerant of a tourist’s last-second lane changes (as the French have also been; no problems with drivers anywhere, so far).

Rain started as we were leaving Freiburg, not a driving hazard. S was worried about clothes we had hung out last night & this morning, but rain didn’t reach Melissey.

S cooked ‘steak hache’ etc. & we tried to eat our pastries, but too full.


5 April, 2120, Melissey

Our side trip to Germany was intended simply to get a little flavor of the region (especially while the Black Forest is still a forest). As it turned out, the Alsace region of France is pretty much like the nearby part of Germany that we saw. The funniest thing was the way Susan reacted to my use of the language. When we stopped in the bank, she was apparently surprised when I greeted the man who changed the travelers checks by saying Guten Morgen (even though we routinely say Bonjour to French shopkeepers). When we went to buy a map, we were facing a rack with dozens of maps, when I suddenly reached past her, saying ‘this one’. I recognized Schwarz (black) and Sud (south) (as well as Nord on another one), and realized it was what we wanted; later figured out that wald was wood. The impression on her was out of proportion to my real ability. Finally when I asked for zwei and eine of various pastries, butter kuchen and apfel-filled, I guess it was too much for her. She was in awe the rest of the day. I may have spoiled the effect in Freiburg, after buying one last poster while she and Chrissy waited outside the shop. I pointed to the window display of the poster and the proprietor brought out a poster from behind the counter, apparently asking if it was the one I wanted. I nodded yes, but couldn’t say anything. After I joined them on the sidewalk, I said I was having great fun, but couldn’t remember the word for yes; they said ‘Ja!’, and laughed at me. Well, maybe it was pretty funny.

While driving around, we saw a hilltop airstrip with several sailplanes. A few days earlier, we had seen sailplane trailers on the Autoroute. We didn’t stop, since there didn’t appear to be any flying going on. (1991-06-18)


Next day

[ sketch of a person with a hat ]

went to Germany. Walked around, and got pastries. Ate, and got in car and went to the Black Forest. Got 2 nutcrackers, 1 for me, 1 for Angee and went to a spot where this was our menu:

  • 1st
  • C         Apple Waffle
  • DM      Hot Dog
  • 2nd
  • D         Apple Waffle
  • C         Hot Dog

Good! Sometime mom said Deux! [ sketch of hand holding up two fingers ]

And Dad came out of a store after rattling off a sentence or 2 & said “I can’t remember the German word for yes!” “YA!”

Previous: Switzerland, Strasbourg ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Belfort

1990-04-04: Switzerland, Strasbourg

Previous: Aix-en-Provence ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Germany


4 April 90, 2113, Melissey

On Monday, 2 April, packed for overnite & drove to Switzerland. Although no Autoroute much of way, the road was good & weather nice, though hazy still. At customs, had to buy 30 SF sticker to use motorways. Since we had no SF, had to change money at nearby store. Customs had posters of ~10 terrorists, but I didn’t examine them. Swiss speed limits are 10 less than French: 50 in town, 80 between, 110 motorway.

Got off motorway at wrong exit in Lausanne & had to cope with heavy traffic, construction & a different approach to road signs all at once. S navigated us to the lake edge, parking & tourist office OK. The Swiss road signs are less clear & less useful than the French, which have been very helpful in all cities & towns.

Had lunch (hamburger/fries) in cafe (even though we saw signs that they had McD), looked in a couple of shops, then moved car uptown toward AmEx office, to check for mail. Letters from the Groves & Florence. Bought chocolate & went to park to eat & read mail. Street sweeper on park walking path drove past twice. Big sweepers on streets have vacuum cleaners in back.

Continued driving clockwise around lake & stopped in Vevey to look for decent map of lake roads; they didn’t have Michelin maps. Stopped in Montreux & bought postcards. C played on playground at lake edge while I tried to get map from tourist office. Turns out we missed start of jazz festival by only 4 days; that would have made things more complicated, I’m sure.

Continued around lake, back into France, where customs asked if we had anything to declare, then waved us through.

Stopped in Thonon-les-bain where we found a 2-star hotel (C wanted to hold out for 3-star). Though on side, not lakefront, room had view of lake from balcony. We went into town & bought cheese (swiss) sandwiches & chips; C didn’t have any but chips, but she spent the time feeding swans. Then we went to glacier & had a banana split. S called Florence while C & I watched boules games. Somewhere along here, I apparently lost a patch of the town, not discovered til we got to hotel and all was closed.

Tue we had breakfast at hotel. TV in salon had weather. Rain all over France & thunderstorms in south. Rain was light as we drove to Geneva.

Parked near tourist office, & visited Franz Carl Weber toy store. Then moved car closer to old city. Shopped awhile, & found another FCW store: great fun. Liked the look of Meccano erector set, but put off buying since it’s made in France.

Continued drive to Lausanne where we stopped to return to a lakefront store. I got a Swiss Army Knife, like S’s but with magnifying glass, philips screwdriver, toothpick & tweezers!

Drive home was through snow & rain, but very light & road was above freezing. Stopped at market in Besancou. S bought lace curtains & necessaries.

Today drove to Strasbourg, arriving in time to buy tickets, at tourist office, for famous cathedral clock. Cathedral very impressive; climbed ~450 steps to platform at top; watched tower clock chime 1/2 hour, then climbed down while group of Italian boys & girls (high school or college age) counted steps in steady cadence. C really doesn’t like to climb stairs or heights, but was very brave. Clock was pretty neat, esp. rooster.

Found pizzeria for lunch, but C wouldn’t eat. If I get fat from this trip its because of eating her meals. Chef & waiter seemed concerned that something was wrong with it. Petite France area looked nice, canals.

Driving home, many police, apparently waiting for airport motorcade. (Also saw some go up to observation deck, which was closed p.m.)

At home, S washed clothes & cooked chicken dinner. C & I played with tennis game. C also talked/petted cows.

After dinner, gendarmes came to school. We heard car drive up, & knock on downstairs gite door (outside door was open). I went onto landing & said Bonjour (sic). They came up and looked at passports etc, tried to figure out why we were there, but gave us up as harmless & went away. C spent most of the time they were here making notes about their visit!

C has spent most of past 3 days planning her birthday party & a play she is writing. She is doing an excellent job, meticulous in detail, trying out parts on us.


4 April 90, 2113, Melissey

The haze was so thick that we couldn’t get a decent look at the Alps. The contrast between French and Swiss road signs was surprisingly great (to me). For instance, the signs in France nearly always helped us to be in the proper lane at intersections, and guided us from one town to another. In Switzerland, it seemed they assumed drivers knew where they were going. The Swiss reputation (as we got it) for cleanliness and unfriendliness appears deserved. We didn’t see much to attract us back, although the shopkeeper where I got my Swiss Army Knife (and we bought many souvenirs) was very helpful and took quite a bit of time with us.

The hotel in Thonon-les-bains had an unusual custom. They locked up after (I think) 10 pm. After that only an emergency could get you out.

In Strasbourg, we got a slight shock on descending the tower at the cathedral. There were several men carrying assault rifles, apparently preparing to ascend. Later we figured out that this must have been part of security procedures for European Council or Parliament meeting.

The visit of the gendarmes to our gite was a surprise. There were two, one senior and one junior. Susan noticed that their uniforms appeared spotlessly clean, perhaps new. We never found out why they were they were there. Maybe in that rural place, they just check out all strangers. We had a terrible time understanding them, and they couldn’t understand us. They seemed to ask what kind of work I did, or asked if I was there to work. We tried to emphasize ‘tourist’, and when asked where we had been (or where we were going), mentioned the cities we had been to from this gite. I’m not sure they believed us, it all sounded pretty disorganized. At any rate, they stayed about 15 minutes (all of us standing, except Chrissy, who sat at the dining table, taking notes).

Somewhere in this week, Chrissy started showing boredom, and her party plans and play were escapes for her. We kept trying to get her involved with the trip, and her journal, but it was hard to motivate her. On the occasions when she could play with other kids, she was too reticent, and we had to leave before she warmed up. (1991-06-18)


Next day we packed a bag for overnight and started for Switzerland. Went through customs – got a sticker to drive on autoroutes – and changed a bit of money. Ate lunch, looked in a few shops and went to see if there was any mail. Grammy & Groves sent letters, bought chocolate and went to a park to eat some toffee and read the letters. Went on driving found a great playground

[ note about Franz Carl Weber Dreamland, puzzles, balloons, & lots more, with drawing of two balloons ]

and I played there while dad went to T.O.! Went to a hotel back in F. and went to a snack bar. D & M had sandwiches gave me bread to feed swans. Swans are tame! I had P.C. and banana split. Went to hotel * * (2- star) and wrote and went to bed. We woke up – went to Switzerland. In S. we parked near a tourist office, and went to a . . . well, guess! A Franz Carl Weber toy store! Went to another town and papa bought a . . . SWISS ARMY KNIFE

[ sketch of a Swiss Army knife ]

equipped with a toothpick, magnifying glass, tweezers, etc. etc. * * *. Went home & M. bought lace curtains etc. * * *. Next day drove to Strasbourg. Strasbourg has a wonderful cathedral. It has as astronomical clock. When we first saw it, it

[ sketch of clock stuff ]

wasn’t in motion so we climbed to the top of one of the tall, tall towers. We climbed down with people behind us counting in Italian! We went to wait in line to see the clock in motion. We saw it – really neat and went outside to look for a restaurant & souvenirs. Found a restaurant, ordered, and I didn’t like what came. Bought 4 bananas for me and drove on. Home, and PD came to our gite!? Crazy!

Previous: Aix-en-Provence ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Germany

1990-04-01: Melissey

Previous: Aix-en-Provence ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: ??


1 April, 1930, Melissey

Drove here yesterday. Windy in south & hazy. Very hazy here – couldn’t see mountains. Our instructions were to get keys from M. Tessane with phone #, but no address other than mairie (the mayor’s office), which naturally was closed when we arrived Melissey. We parked & started looking for someone, found hardware store open. On entering, woman asked if she could help us. She didn’t speak E, but on seeing our gite directions, asked her son to show us to M. Tessane’s. He drove, we followed, 4-5 km to farm with letter ‘T’ in colored tiles on the roof.

Mme Tessane came to greet us & our guide departed (his E was quite good after he had a chance to practice during the drive). Followed Mme Tessane to gite, without quite noticing the route. She expected confirmation of payment, but when told that was all we had (or words to that effect) she said something about a ‘fait accompli’ & took our 500 F deposit.

We then unpacked, made up beds, cleaned house (second cleaning of the day), planned our week, ate S’s home cooking, & went to bed.

Departure from Mallemort gite was a matter of eating, showering, cleaning (1 1/2 hour or more), paying for heating (150 F) with 100 F note & all of our change (148 F).

Today, drove through Belfort & Mulhouse to Colmar. Very pretty ‘centre ville’ with a nice museum (see guide). Walked around following part of Hachette’s walking tour. Tried to stop for carry-out food, but C wouldn’t commit to anything, and the queue was more like a mob, so kept walking. Many attractive houses in a style more like (I imagine) Germany than like anything we have seen yet. Area along a canal called, of course, ‘Petit Venisse’ was quite nice, several cafes, flowers, swans.

Departed Colmar for Gunsbach & saw many little villages, many vineyards. At Gunsbach, Schweitzer home/museum was closed, but S was satisfied to have seen the village. They all look quaint, well-kept & still active, unlike rural communities in US, which seem to be abandoned by young people & become run-down. These have new houses at edges & show vitality.

Called Carl. Everything there seems OK. He had the confirmation of the Melissey gite. C has been tricking us with April Fools jokes all day.


1 April, 1930, Melissey

In Melissey, as at Cenac/La Traverse, we had no trouble finding someone willing to help us make our gite arrangements. Susan’s strategy was to look for a pharmacy on the theory that a professional business is most likely to have an English-speaking person. Failing that, any open business is fair game. In Melissey, the woman in charge of the hardware store immediately ‘volunteered’ her son, who was obviously appalled at the idea of having these foreigners made his responsibility. But he went along, and at the end seemed both pleased to be able to speak his little bit of English to us, and relieved that he had handed us off to Mme Tessane. She in turn, when it was clear we didn’t have all the official confirmation paperwork, was willing to let us move in, confident I suppose that she could get us out on Monday if the booking agency didn’t confirm our payment.

This gite was actually a renovated two-story schoolhouse, with a gite on each floor. We had the upper floor, which contained three bedrooms, large living/dining room, kitchen, bath, WC. There was a yard with clothesline and picnic tables (granite blocks). The building was on what seemed to be a dead-end road, with one house further down than we were. It was apparently occupied, although we never saw the occupant. (It later turned out that the road was not a dead-end). The land was largely cow pasture, and Chrissy immediately befriended the cows, feeding them handfuls of grass, naming them and generally keeping busy. (1991-06-18)


On Saturday, we drove to Melisey. I don’t like riding in a car. The house is nice – formerly a school. 3 BR, 1 bathroom, WC, K, LR, DR. Nice! Rather old though! I peeped into the windows downstairs:

[ sketch of floorplan ]

The attic is rather ugly, some kids must have stayed here – there are candy wrappers up there and a bag of candy on the fireplace; there was a town/school clock in the attic.

Previous: Aix-en-Provence ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: ??

1990-03-30: Aix-en-Provence

Previous: Orange, Le Puy, Aigues-Morte ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Switzerland & Strasbourg


30 Mar, 1216, Mallemort

Went (walked) to market in Mallemort. At regular store, got canned goods etc. At Fri open-air market got dried apricots (40 F/kg), strawberries from Spain (25 F/kg), roast chicken (45 F/kg). Carried all back & ate fresh stuff (chicken still warm). Delicious! And no sauce other than natural juices of chicken, so C loved it! Must look for markets more often.

30 Mar, 2007, Mallemort

Drove to Aix-en-Provence to see famous Blvd & E bookstore; bought C Don Quixote (she has finished 3 Musketeers, but they didn’t have any other Dumas) & a couple of others. Also stopped at B & R for ice cream & sat at their sidewalk cafe. Better than home.

Forgot to mention: In Camargue saw museum at roadside with traditional gypsy carts. Every May European gypsies go to Camargue, but nowadays they use regular house trailers & campers; we’ve seen several groups of them during the trip.

On return to gite, left C reading while S & I walked into Mallemort again. S called Florence & we bought pastry & more groceries. S cooked spaghetti (from Italy!) & made sauce from can, with added mushrooms; peas, strawberries from Spain, Nestle Quick rounded out meal. Packed as much as possible for tomorrow’s move.


30 Mar, 1216, Mallemort

This was the first market that we really used the way the locals do. In Sarlat, it was more like a fair (for us), where we looked at goods of many kinds (e.g., clothes, tools, vegetables, potted plants, toys), but didn’t consider it for day-to-day stuff. Also, it was just a part of that day’s planned trip. In Mallemort, it was only a half mile from the gite, and emphasized weekly food shopping needs. We bought food much as the locals were, and considered it a great success. For the rest of our trip we were on the lookout for these markets, which are typically held once a week in each area. The fresh fruit and vegetables at this time of the year were largely from Spain. In supermarkets we also saw some from Israel and other Mediterranean countries.

30 Mar, 2007, Mallemort

Aix has the ‘most beautiful street in the world’, which turned out to be a broad boulevard. On the south side are many businesses (banks, travel companies, shops). On the north side are many restaurants, where people sit in the sun and enjoy leisurely meals. We didn’t feel like eating while there, but spotted Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors. Went in and ordered ice cream, and sat in the sun just like everyone else. The selection in the English-language bookstore was a little disappointing; prices pretty high too, although many used books at lower prices. Many books for French to learn English for business and other specialized use. One book we got was Kipling’s Kim; Chrissy couldn’t get into it, but I read it during the rest of the trip. Since we returned home, I have been reading it to her, explaining as much as necessary; great fun.

We spotted gypsies from the first few days of the trip. Typically a group of about five cars, trailers, and campers would be set up near one of the better roads. They were set up as a campsite, with clotheslines (which is probably what caught our eye), and general look of a camp, not too tidy an impression. Did not see the people clearly. My impression now is that we saw them more in the south than in the north. (1991-06-18)


Next day we went to the market in Mallemort and got a roast chicken! Delicious! We drove to Aix en Provence and got books at E bookstore. We stopped in a B & R too. Went home.

Previous: Orange, Le Puy, Aigues-Morte ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Switzerland & Strasbourg

1990-03-29: Orange, Le Puy, Aigues-Morte

Previous: Riviera ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Aix-en-Provence


29 Mar, 1840, Mallemort

Two days of touring (by car). Yesterday went to Orange, to see Roman theatre; then went to Le Puy.

Drive to Orange uneventful, though still windy. Some kind of festival apparent: young people in costumes. Those not costumed apparently subject to shaving cream attacks from passing cars. The theatre is the only one with its back wall (behind proscenium) still intact, complete with statue of J. Caesar waving to crowd. Still used for opera in summer. Also saw adjacent ruin of temple in pretty bad shape, hard to discern layout.

Almost forgot: getting off autoroute at Orange, was stopped by pair of Gendarmes apparently attracted by red license plate of unusual design: 3508 TT 92 09/90. We have only seen one other of same design, and that was before we realized how rare it was. Don’t know what it means. Gendarmes asked for car papers & ‘permit’ (I guess drivers license) but before we could understand them, one asked ‘Blackstone. That’s you?’ I said yes (should have said c’est moi) & they waved us on; a great mystery. Also cashed travelers checks in Orange, bought bread & saw local Arc de Triomph on way out of town.

The drive to Le Puy turned out longer than we thought; we had looked at large france map instead of regional map & hadn’t estimated time/distance closely. The road we chose was through & over mountains to valley in which Le Puy lies. In the mountains, S remarked she saw snow up on heights. I expressed doubt, but it was soon clear she was right. The wind was gone, but we were under cloud with intermittent rain, which turned to snow. We were re-assured by a changeable light sign telling that the pass to Le Puy was ‘ouvert’, but wondered why such a sign was necessary. After a while, reached a probable high point & pulled off near a gas station so C could make a snowball (she was pretty unhappy in back seat); the snow was too dry. As we started up again, saw a car coming the other way start to spin on snow blowing across road. The trip down was OK; saw one plow going up. Occasional snow drifted thinly over road was not too slippery (at my speed) & snow in pines was very pretty; looked like Christmas. In Le Puy,parked under main square & walked around looking at some very old & well-preserved bldgs. Some parts were nearly-deserted & probably looked exactly as they had 500 yrs. ago. Le Puy has many lace shops & C & S bought small pieces. We bought some pastry & started to get ready to head for “gite sweet gite”, buying postcards.

In order to avoid the mountain’s scenic road, we took the less direct autoroute toward Lyon, then south. Stopped at rest stop & had pork/veggies; C had hamburg with mashed potatoes – pretty good. The drive home was pretty long, though autoroute to Senas, 68F, got home about 9.

Gite was still cold (radiators were not working when we got back from Riviera), so bundled-up warmly again for bed. Still windy.

There are very few American cars on road: one Chrysler LeBaron & several Ford Escorts.

Today was to be a light-travel day, after exhausting our car-stamina yesterday. So instead of Carcassone, went to Aigues-Morte, very well preserved walled city in Camargue. I didn’t think much of Camargue – guidebooks described it as natural preserve, but the part we saw has large drainage works in progress & farms & vineyards. Aigues-Morte is quite nice. Got there just before noon, walked around (small city) looking at menus & shops, chose an out-of-the-way small restaurant (~10 tables) with 58F ‘fixed’ menu (5 choices for each of two courses) & child’s menu. We were the only dejeuner patrons. S had chicken/mushroom after sea-food mix on shell. I had omellete after cold veg. All quite good. C had her 2nd best hamburger of France. After lunch looked at some shops & bought postcards & a gift horse for Jessica, one of the white Camargue horses.

Toured tower used as prison for Huguenots, & walked ramparts, half circumference of town & back. I bumped my head on a doorway to one of the gate towers (they are all different heights, mostly tall enough).

Stopped at beachfront bar in Les Stes Marie for coke, orangina, strawberry milkshake & frites, then drove home. The heat was working.

S made supper & washed more clothes in sink. While snacking, owner came by to enquire about heat & how things are. S carried on interesting chat in F, telling where we had been this week etc.


29 Mar, 1840, Mallemort

In Orange we completed our planned Roman sites. In our planning we had targeted prehistoric caves, Roman sites, and Brittany menhirs as historical interest items. So far we were doing quite well. The Roman sites we saw were those supposed to be the best-preserved, and we all found them interesting.

The incident with the gendarmes in orange was peculiar. We had noticed that our license plate was distinctive and rare, but not its significance (we never really found out). It was pretty clear that the Gendarmes saw it first and then waved us over. Their surprise at discovering the car was registered in my name was also peculiar.

As usual, we arrived in a town as they were having a festival; we were beginning to expect it. This one looked something like Halloween with the costumes. The custom of throwing or spraying shaving cream (I doubt it was whipped cream) made us a little nervous, so we stayed away from the curbs and out of alleys with merry-makers.

The trip to Le Puy was more exciting and longer than it should have been; poor planning in this case. The snow was never heavy, and the road was well-plowed; the car that we saw spin was just poorly driven. Still the views in the pine forest coming down into the valley, with snow falling among the trees were very pretty, and certainly in contrast with the near-desert landscape on the other side of the mountains.

While we were in Le Puy, wandering around, we found ourselves completely alone, except that we could hear a jaw-harp twanging behind us, echoing among the medieval stone buildings. Eventually a young man came along and passed us, playing that peculiar instrument oblivious to us. Later we noticed a woman in a black, hooded cloak ahead of us, sometimes hidden by a turn in the narrow streets and alleys; we weren’t following her, just going in the same general direction. Her appearance added to the timeless sense of the place.

On the trip home, we passed nuclear power plants along the Rhone river; I can’t remember how many.

The gite was evidently having a problem with its heating plant (the radiators were cold). We had tried to contact the owner, but she was not at home. The temperature was quite low after dark, and the wind-chill was seriously cold outside. Inside, we all wore sweaters and socks in bed, and used jackets as extra blankets. It was not very comfortable. It was hard to get enthusiastic about washing up in the morning. We left a note on the owner’s door, something to the effect of “le chauffage es mal”, but I can’t remember quite how we put it. Heat was restored after two nights without it (and one night we spent in Menton).

Our lunch in Aigues-Morte was interesting. We had been using a special menu-oriented dictionary, arranged by courses and emphasizing the meaning of phrases on French menus. This was very useful to us. When we entered this restaurant, which was like the living room of a house, noone came to take care of us. Apparently the hostess was afraid to deal with foreigners like us! Finally the proprietess/cook came out and nearly forced us to make choices, before we had fully interpreted the menu. She also seemed to say something about one of the choices that we thought was octopus: either it wasn’t ready, or it was all they had, we couldn’t tell which! At nearly every restaurant we tried in France, the food was very good, carefully prepared and served, and better than we could appreciate, even when we didn’t always know what it was. I always felt sorry that Crissy couldn’t bring herself to try a greater variety. (1991-06-12)


Drove to Orange to see Roman theatre – nice. People were getting hit with shaving cream. The police stopped us because of our license plate: Weird!!

[sketch of license plate: white letters on red background, 3508TT92]

We also saw a victory arc. We drove going to Le Puy through snow – made a snowball. It was nice. Le Puy was where we were. We saw a mystery lady and an alien. Next day we went to a nice walled city. We walked around the walls but couldn’t go whole way. We had to walk back!

[ sketch of path around three of four walls, and return. ]

Previous: Riviera ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Aix-en-Provence

1990-03-27: Riviera

Previous: Avignon, Pont du Gard, Nimes ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Orange, Le Puy, Aigues-Morte


27 Mar, 2049, Mallemort

Yesterday, drove autoroute to Frejne-St Raphael. Day began in strong wind (which S remembered is called Mistral), which died down as we proceeded south. Followed coast road along Cote d’Or & Cote d’Azur (Cannes, Nice, Monaco & several smaller places). Cote d’Or was quite rugged, red cliffs, pebble beaches, blue-green water; very scenic. Cote d’Azur rather depressing as it is very heavily built-up over naturally scenic terrain. Stopped in Monaco to see Oceanographic Museum & Cousteau’s aquarium (rather ordinary). Continued on to Menton, somewhat less built-up. Stayed at 3-star Princess et Richmond, quite nice, 1st floor, sea-front room with balcony.

Evening mini-snack menu at desk (no restaurant in hotel, so eat in room), from 7 to 8pm. They ask that you order by 6:30; we wanted to walk a bit, so asked (at 6:50 by our watches) if we could order for 7:30 (staff at desk spoke E). Girl, shocked, said it was 10 before 8! We had missed France’s change to Daylight Saving Time on last Sunday of March! We knew it was to happen then, but had lost track of weeks since we hadn’t been looking at calendar.

The terrain & vegetation grew more ‘Mediterranean’ as we neared coast, as might be expected. Cliffs plunge right into sea in many places; many small coves, some with small beaches, little sand; beaches at Cannes & Nice very narrow (~10 yards or less when we passed).

S & I had twin beds, first since 1971 (She recalled the occasion.) & I slept badly. This morning, we had breakfast in room, then walked about an hour around Menton shopping district. Drove back to Monaco for changing of palace guard (officers apparently gave orders in Monagesque dialect); saw cathedral, very nice, but my shoes squeaked on stone floor every step.

Left Monaco for middle corniche (road) toward Nice. Stopped in Eze for panorama, pictures. Took upper corniche back to Menton (excellent views), then autoroute home.

As we proceeded north in Rhone valley, wind increased, but now seems to be dying down somewhat. Stopped to shop in Senas. I chose a cheese by its convenient size so I wouldn’t have to ask clerk to cut slice of larger cheese; it wasn’t labelled except for (very high 67,80/kg) price, but it was quite good, with the crackers called Shuttles.

S washed more clothes in sink, which are hanging in wind, cold & probably not getting any dryer.


27 Mar, 2049, Mallemort

It is easy to see why the Mistral is so prominent in Provence stories and descriptions. It is much like a Santana wind in Los Angeles, but lasts for longer at a stretch. As the Rhone valley widens in the south, the wind speed decreases, but in Mallemort it was pretty strong.

Our Mediterranean trip showed beautiful landscapes, but also the famous resorts that are so overbuilt we would never consider staying there. We stopped at a roadside (clifftop) stand for sandwiches and drinks, and sat at tables near cliff edge to eat. I accidentally ordered a sandwich called a Mister (?) which was very good, ham and melted cheese on hard roll.

It was fun to drive into Monaco, saw the Monte Carlo casino (from outside), and the palace guard. We saw the site of the upcoming tennis tournament. When we later watched the Monaco Grand Prix on TV, we saw the same roads we had driven on, and enjoyed it all over again; great fun!

The incident of forgetting Daylight time was classic; the desk clerk’s response when she realized what had happened was, “Oh well, you’re on holiday!”

It rained on our windshield (about 10 drops) as we entered Monaco. That was the first rain on the trip.

From Menton, we could see into Italy, and we could also see snowcapped peaks in the Alps. (1991-06-12)


On the 26, we drove through a wind that they have so often it is called the Mistral. We saw the museum of Oceanographics. It was super! We found the palace and went to a hotel with a view of the Mediterranean from our window. Then we found out there had been a time change! We went back to Monaco next morning – We saw the changing of the guards. It was nice. A small band played. The band consisted of 1 drum & 2 horns. We ate in a café and started off. We saw the Exotic Gardens. It was cool. I got an olive wood bracelet. Went home, did regular things and went to bed.

Previous: Avignon, Pont du Gard, Nimes ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Orange, Le Puy, Aigues-Morte

1990-03-25: Avignon, Pont du Gard, Nimes

Previous: Mallemort ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Riviera


25 Mar, 2106, Mallemort

Trip to Avignon this morning through very arid-appearing countryside, still with many orchards & vineyards. Weather was clear but very windy all day (after a.m. clouds blew away to SE). Palais de Papes was interesting (complete with automatic underground parking). Basically an empty shell with a few tapestries & a couple of exhibit rooms. Some room descriptions in English. Ate lunch at cafe (rapid service) right in front (50m) of main entrance (crepe with ham/cheese/egg). Walked up to park on hill over-looking Pont d’Avignon; a rock structure had a fountain & pool at its base, and misters provided an interior moist, shady place for moss & ferns to grow, very unusual. Wind made descent difficult (and blew dust in my eyes all day).

Visited Pont du Gard, remnant of Roman aqueduct ~19 BC (-19). Able to climb hill by river and enter the canal (or walk atop the canal if so desire; too windy today). Height of canal is 5 1/2 – 6 ft (except where top flagstones are missing) so I had to stoop most of way. No mortar between stones; perfect joints. The river was very low, but supposed to submerge piers in flood.

At Nimes, auto-parked below square and walked to Roman amphitheatre. This is practically complete & still in use. In winter they erect a dome-like covering over the inner tiers of seats for concerts etc. While we were there, it was setup for a dinner of some sort, 50 tables of 10 settings with fancy setup (champagne flutes, etc.) Stage had amps and lighting for concert.

Tour of arena went from front row of seats up through levels to top where slaves would watch. Guide said seating was segregated by class. Lower classes had to walk up stairs & ramps; senators walked down a short ramp.

Also at Nimes climbed a tower overlooking city, apparently remnant of a castle. This was no worse than climbing a lighthouse (e.g. Barnegat Lighht), except the walls of the tower were at least 20 ft from hand-rail of steps around central pillar; constant presence of abyss was somewhat unsettling!

After descending, inspected ruin of temple of Diane. This surprised me with many arches & barrel vault ceiling (remnant). Very different from “Maison Carree” which was essentially a temple as one sees in books, apparently well preserved (I don’t know if it has been reconstructed), although columns were badly eroded in places.

Walked through another carnival, bought steak-frite sandwiches & sat on bench next to bumper-cars to eat. C got to ride a pedal chariot, complete with horse steered by reins, 10F for 10 min. Finally returned home & hung up some wash in continued wind.


25 Mar, 2106, Mallemort

When we got to Avignon, most of the gates in the wall around the old part of the city, where the palace is, were blocked off for a bicycle race later in the day; there were also many market stalls set up around the wall. After failing to find parking outside the wall (as we had expected) we entered through one open gate, drove up road into heart of city, through square which was covered with tables from restaurants (only a meter from tables on both sides of car, like driving through a sidewalk cafe, which we were) and suddenly a sign for underground parking. We went down a ramp, got a ticket at gate, and parked. This ticket had magnetic strip with entry time; to get out you take the ticket to a machine (like a Washington Metro farecard machine), insert it and pay indicated parking fee; the ticket will then open an exit gate for about the next ten minutes (we never found out what would happen if you took too long to exit after paying). When we came up out of the parking garage, we discovered the whole thing is right under the palace!

The palace itself was less interesting; lunch in the open with all the wind was also rough. The whole thing seems very touristy (little souvenirs, etc).

Pont du Gard was great. The ancient aqueduct came down through tunnels in hills, and into the stretch still standing, which is about 300 meters. The rock is a type of sandstone which compressed over the years, so that there is practically no joint between weight-bearing blocks. The whole thing gives an impression of great strength and precision of design and construction. Climbing up the hill to the tunnel was fun, and walking through it was even more so. The tunnel is constricted in places by buildups of calcium carbonate. At the outer end (in the middle of the river gorge) a spiral staircase has been built to take tourists back down to ground level.

We went to Nimes primarily to see the amphitheatre (which I would call a coliseum). It was used in middle ages as palace for some nobleman, who built rooms in the archways and corridors under the seats. These have been removed, and the remaining structure is a nearly intact coliseum. I wish we had seen it without the dome, which prevented getting a panoramic view across the arena; still it was good to see it being used in a non-destructive way (apparently). (1991-06-12)


Went to see Avignon next day. Saw Palace of the popes. Very impressive! We went to eat lunch. Lunch, hah! Crepes was our lunch! We were on time but they had nothing good! We saw Pont d’Avignon, and a place that was shady, mossy, and had swans. We climbed it with the wind and tried to go down into the wind but couldn’t. We visited the Pont du Gard, part of a Roman aqueduct. Pop and I got separated from Mom and climbed the rough way up. Mom was wondering how far behind we were and she was surprised whe she saw us in front of her! She went through the bridge first 10 people in front of D & I. As we neared the end Mom was down the spiral staircase and Dad jumped on top and looked around. He didn’t come down right away though. I started down the dark stairs alone. Mom told me how brave I was. Then we went to Nimes. We saw a Roman amphitheatre. It was nice! We saw: an old Roman house; an old Roman tower; and an old ruined temple with marvelous gardens around it! There were little pedal chariots for hire and we hired one! It was cool! Then we got a sandwich: steak on the bottom frites on the top. They like bumper cars here!

Previous: Mallemort ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Riviera

1990-03-24: Mallemort

Previous: Lascaux II ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Avignon, Pont du Gard, Nimes


24 Mar, 2011, Mallemort

In our 2nd gite, but what a day! Up at 715 to start cleaning; the proprietor of our 1st gite at La Traverse had said he would come at 1000 (although he didn’t seem too happy about it). We managed to finish packing & clean the place (better than we found it) by 945. Took pictures of interior. Owner came at 956, ‘chatted’ for a minute, checked elec meter (supplementary charge 23,80) & wished us bon voyage (or words to that effect).

Hit the road at 1003, trying to find gite in Mallemort by 1700. Stopped for 10 min at rest stop to buy sandwiches (quite good, ham/butter on french bread), chips & little cakes. This was where road crossed a canal, and the rest stop (very new/modern) served boats as well as cars, between Toulouse & Carcassone.

Nearing Carcassone ~1330, I was wondering if it would be worthwhile to drive so far to see the medieval city, when suddenly it was visible from the road. Large walled town on a hill, surrounded by newer town lower down. We will definitely spend a day to see it.

The rest of the drive was routine. Mostly fast, but occasional construction; tools pretty easy to handle, except one 86F surprised us. One more stop for gas near Arles. Girl came out to pump it & asked how much. I wasn’t ready & flubbed my response; she asked “Full?” and I said “Yes”. She asked “Are you British?”, “No, American”. “Oh, where are you from?”, “Washington, D.C.”, “Oh, I lived in Washington for a year. I’ve been back in France for five months.” So we asked her advice on the time to reach Mallemort & best route. She estimated 1 hour (it was ~1540). What a coincidence! So many service stations, it must have been a very low probability to meet an E-speaker, & one who had lived so near us a few months ago. Thus reassured we found our way to Mallemort. Our directions were to get into the village & follow signs to gym/swimming, then past 3rd house before the canal. As we entered the town, the road was blocked because a festival/parade was going on! Unable to find the required sign, we carried on through the town, skirting the closed area, and came almost at once to the gym/swimming sign. A few hundred meters further on was the Gite de France logo & the house pictured in the book. The owner lives next door, with fields behind & orchard on the other side. Close to the road, but screened by tall shrubs & pine-trees. The house is very nice, 2 BR, K, LR (2 din tables) Shower & WC. A nice walled terrace.

Beds appear a little different, but it would take a lot to keep us awake at this point. Forgot to say, we arrived at the gite at 1647. Although I didn’t notice while driving, I was trembling while unpacking, until after S had prepared supper (duck casserole, beans, noodles, applesauce, bread, jam). Now to bed.


24 Mar, 2011, Mallemort

When cleaning the gite at La Traverse, we went all out to leave a good impression. We even scrubbed old mold off the plastic shower curtain, and hung it over the clothesline. While we waited for the proprietor, we took a lot of pictures to help us remember the gite by. It really was a nice place to vacation. Our whole trip plan was validated by that week in La Traverse.

That view of Carcassone was enticing, but we still didn’t manage to get back to see it.

This was our most tiring day so far, one of the worst long drives of the trip. I didn’t realize how fatigued I was getting until we got to the gite, thank goodness! Our original plan to share the driving would have been better, but in the event we got by, though a few days were pretty rough.

By now, I don’t remember what was different about the beds in the Mallemort gite. I do remember that this one was advertised with a washer, but only had a little plastic toy-like washer in the master BR closet. We washed by hand in sink. (1991-06-12)


Dad went in to Cenac next day. You could see Domme from our road! We swept our gite and cleaned it. Man came – we left drove all day and got to 2nd gite. They had a parade to welcome us! This is what it looked like:

< get picture? >

I liked it!

Previous: Lascaux II ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Avignon, Pont du Gard, Nimes

1990-03-23: Lascaux II

Previous: Sarlat, Rocamodour, Domme ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Mallemort


23 Mar, 2100, La Traverse

Yesterday drove to replica of Lascaux cave, Lascaux II. Guidebooks downplay it, compared to other caves, but we all felt it was very good. Of course we lucked out again. On buying tickets, we were told we could go in with 10:15 tour or wait til 11 for English. C immediately cried “English!”, to the staff’s amusement.

C & I went to a little playground to wait out the hour delay, but soon a woman came up to us gesturing to her watch & to the ticket booth. S came running up to tell us the E tour was waiting for us. Turned out to be a bus full of English exchange students they had arranged the E tour for, and we tagged along. The guide apologized up front for his E; he wasn’t the usual E guide, but he was very good. Gave an interesting talk in the “airlocks” about the cave’s background & the artwork’s background.

The replica itself is astonishing. A team of 10 sculptors reproduced the galleries in stone-colored concrete, with an accuracy of 1/2 cm. Then artists reproduced the paintings, attempting to develop the same techniques the original painters probably used, with the same pigments. The result is very impressive, and the original cave is still available for research. My impression of the famous bull’s gallery was of a composed whole, from a single painter. It did not give the impression of random arrangements. According to the guide the period of painting was at most 500 yr. & possible as a little as a few weeks. It was definitely an organized, cultural activity, involving the building of scaffolding & the use of lamps & other tools for working on the artwork. Many people must have been involved in the production, for the benefit of many more. But the impression is of a single, or possibly a few, showpiece(s). I think it best to see actual caves first, and later Lascaux, since it seems unusually, highly developed by comparison. Seen first, it would create unrealistic expectations for the others.

After the tour had begun, an English couple, apparently retired, joined us in progress. We spoke to them afterward. They are staying in Domme & have been coming to France for years. According to them, the French have ‘given up’ the resistance against using English, about 10 yrs ago. It was obvious even to me that it has been widely ‘corrupted’ by the E language; this couple seemed to confirm it. They also mentioned the weather. I haven’t had to mention it because it has been nearly perfect (for tourists) since we arrived. The past couple of days have grown hazy, but otherwise clear. The stars have been very numerous & bright from the gite, far from light pollution. But these people said the Dordogne has had little rain for over a year, and Nimes, in the Provence region, has had almost none for two years. Great weather for tourists is becoming a disaster for local agriculture.

After Lascaux II, we drove to Limoges. As has been the usual pattern so far, found a prime parking spot to see the porcelain shop S wanted to find, and to walk around the medieval part of the city. Saw another street market (the one in Sarlat was gone when we drove through en route Lascaux) & many half-timbered houses, in an area being renovated. Also saw someone sleeping on a mattress on the sidewalk, very dirty, apparently homeless. Much graffiti in this area indicated social unrest & recalled one I saw in Bordeaux: Renovation for the population, not the speculation!

After Limoges, the sky was thinly overcast but didn’t really look like rain. Drove home & S cooked Beef Bourguignon, again.

This morning the sky was cloudy to South, clear to North, but the clouds moved S, to be replaced by scattered cumulus. Drove to Cahors & the Lot & Cele valleys. These valleys feature cliffs quite different from those at, e.g. Rocamadour. Had lunch at a restaurant (appeared all new inside) but C didn’t like much: mystery soup (very good), red cabbage, tongue with pickle sauce, steak with pepper, potatoes mashed with pepper or something, cheese & walnuts. All good, far too much for us, even if C had eaten. We definitely don’t ‘appreciate’ food in the same way as the French evidently do. I also feel like we disappoint, rather than amuse, them when we don’t approach it their way.

In Cahors we cashed some Travelers Checks & I mailed some postcards, without benefit of E. Reminds me, yesterday C & I bought some pastry & canned drinks in Limoges while S was doing something. After a while, she started to worry about me & came to find us, just as we stepped out of shop ‘smiling all over my body’ as she puts it! Its fun!


23 Mar, 2100, La Traverse

Some guidebooks put down the Lascaux replica, but don’t thoroughly explain why. I think that people who see only this cave might get a distorted idea of the caves generally. In my opinion it is truly (literally) exceptional, and should be seen after getting an idea of the more usual types of cave art. I don’t recall any guidebook mentioning this.

I mentioned our good luck a couple of times. We really had phenomenal luck in the weather, in finding parking where and when we wanted it, in finding our way around the countryside and in the towns, in coming across market days and local festivals nearly everywhere we went. This kind of blind luck, far beyond what good planning could have arranged, made the entire six weeks a joy, practically problem-free. I know of no way to explain this.

On the French attitude towards English, the English couple said that they had noticed a change in the last few years. For example a maid they had known for years, suddenly began to speak English to them; apparently she had known it for years, but wouldn’t use it before. The pervasive use of English words in advertising, even puns based on English words, indicates some of this attitude. I don’t recall seeing anything like a similar use of other European languages.

In Limoges, Susan found a shop that sold factory seconds and odd lots of china, which had been mentioned in one of our planning books. She took plenty of time and chose some plates and saucers to ship home. We worried about the shipping, but everything arrived safely. It would probably have fared worse in our car and as checked luggage going home; it was also pretty bulky. We also went through one of the pottery museum/showrooms which was interesting (with a film on pottery-making, in English). (1991-06-12)


Next day saw a reproduction of Lascaux. Then we bought a new set of dishes and went to a porcelaine shop – 2 dishes. Ate dinner went to bed. In Lascaux II a man asked if we were in a real cave – guide banged on wall said “no”. In porcelaine place saw demonstrative film.

Previous: Sarlat, Rocamodour, Domme ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Mallemort

1990-03-21: Sarlat, Rocamodour, Domme

Previous: Biarritz ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Lascaux II


21 Mar, 1914, La Traverse

Check-out time was “mid-day”, so got up & out to walk a bit around Biarritz & have breakfast. Walked to beach & out to viewpoints on rocks; very nice views N & S, tho a bit hazy. Many stores, hotels, casino closed; some cleaning up for season. Found a nice Salon de The for petit dejeuner with view of ocean thru very large window. Bought postcards & WSJ at Maison de la Presse across st. from H.

After checkout, drove further S to St Jean de Luz. This seemed even better (to us) than Biarritz; less glitzy or something. In ten years it will probably be just the same. Climbed to a beachfront park with great views along coast. C got to play on swings, etc for a few minutes. Left for Bordeaux ~1230 on Autoroute.

The drive went through the Landes dept. Trees are planted on very precise grids and rows, apparently part of timber management. The land gives impression of woods at distance, but (at least near road) is nearly monoculture of tall, thin trees with no branches ~40 feet.

Shopped again at Carrefour Merignac. Drove into B. to check mail at AmEx (Oh, I had first bit of intestinal distress at Carrefoure mall; the ‘hommes’ room was closed for cleaning, but after a bit of confusion, the attendant convinced me to use ‘femmes’ room). Traffic in B at ~1630 was heavy, so S got out while I tried to drive to parking lot near H. Majestic. Of course, I missed the left turn & went past Eglise St Michel, several seedy back streets near the waterfront, across R. St. Catherine & who knows where else before finding my way back to the AmEx office. Found S at parking lot on verge of panic. After that, repeated drive from B to Cenac & gite.

Today had 3 objectives: Sarlat, Rocamodour & Domme. Also had to have oil changed in Peugeot to keep warranty in force. Got to Sarlat ~9:45 & left car at dealer. By showing the warranty booklet, they knew what to do. They put the car in the “Service Immediat” stall & promised it in 1 hour. We walked into Sarlat a little way (past a fencing school; Salle de Armes), then turned & went back. The car was ready, no problems; only paid for oil & filter. We then drove to medieval city of Sarlat, where there was a market in progress. Walked up & down the long, straight main st. & eventually bought a ‘chouet’ (spicy hamburger on a stick, with frites). The narrow twisty streets, old buildings, cathedral really give good impression of medieval appearance, despite a few cars, glass storefronts, elec. wires superimposed. Walking a narrow st between tall, stone bldgs you feel suddenly cool & then warm, depending on whether sun has shone on a spot yet.

The road from Sarlat to Rocamadour was under construction & required a ‘deviation’ which must have tripled the distance. The terrain was different from any seen so far. Evidently a plateau dissected by numerous valleys & canyons. The road was constantly winding, up & down; the very bottom of the valleys had green fields, often with sheep & a small stream, the fields only a couple hundred meters wide. The slopes were very dry, with a lot of exposed rock, either whole or broken, & vegetation almost like mesquite bushes, giving a nearly desert appearance. Near one of the ridges, came to 3 signs for Rocamadour: the cite, the chateau & the vallee. took the cite which turned out to be the middle way, and the best. The town’s one street is about 1/2 way up (or down) the cliff. The street is normally closed to cars, though store owners were preparing for season. Up from the street (201 steps) is the sanctuary. Up from there is the defensive chateau. Parts are closed til 1 April, but the parts we saw are worth the trip. It is an ancient site (Henry II of England made the pilgrimage there ~1172, penance for murder of Thomas a Becket). For leg-weary modern pilgrims, there is an ascenseur, which we disdained. At the top, came upon an old man playing a Celtic harp softly; very pretty sound. Even C said that made the climb worthwhile.

Departed Rocamadour by vallee, but essentially more up/down/right/left. The roads all day were nearly deserted (except a van full of gendarmes), which made the drive pretty easy.

Domme is a bastide, perched on hill near our gite. Mostly still closed up but impressive view. Church seemed pre-gothic to my eye. Simpler lines but pleasant proportions & design.

After Domme, went to La Roque Gageac (of which C got poster in Sarlat) to have steak/frite & crepes. The steak/frite was peppery, but C ate nearly all. She ate fraises/chantilly, but not the crepe.

Flashback: In Bordeaux, saw a shop window with busts of ordinary men, women, children. Called ‘Academie de Visuel Sculpture et Haute Technologie’. They advertised 15-second poses for sculptures! Wish I had gone back to get brochure or other info on technique.

21 Mar, 2116, La Traverse

While driving today, it occurred to me that this trip is one of discovery. Every day, many times, we discover, for ourselves, things that are clearly explained to people who speak French. I think this is part of what makes ordinary things, like just food shopping & driving around, interesting; I wouldn’t ordinarily choose to do these things at home. It is fun to attempt deciphering French store signs, billboards & place names, for the sense of discovery. In some ways it is like solving a puzzle or deciphering a code. An example was the tour of Fond-de-Gaume cave. To the French people on the tour with us, it was mostly like a lecture; for us it was mostly someone using a pointer to things to look at in one point, and to look for in the next. Of course, the tour was organized so everyone got some sense of discovery: as when the guide had us all file into a gallery facing a dark wall & then flipped on the light switch & everyone at once, with no prompting, went “Ooh!” at the sight of a parade of bison about 8 feet off the floor. The more mundane bits of discovery we get everyday are just as interesting in their way, if less exciting & mysterious.


21 Mar, 1914, La Traverse

Of course we dipped our fingers or toes in the Atlantic; now we have done so from both sides. Biarritz was very quiet early in the morning out of season. Susan found a shop where she bought some Basque linen, to have something from Pyrenees. The Wall Street Journal was the first paper I bought in France. I expected to miss knowing what the news was, but as it turned out this didn’t bother me (I don’t usually pay very close attention anyway); but I did like to occasionally get something in English to read.

From St Jean de Luz we could see into Spanish Pyrenees, but we didn’t have sufficient reason to drive there.

Along the autoroute, we stopped at a rest stop to eat. Got terrific steak and frites, along with fruit cup. This experience changed our attitude towards rest-stop eating places, which had been very negative for no good reason.

We approached getting the car serviced with trepidation, unsure if we would be able to communicate what we wanted. But our fears were unfounded, since the warranty book had coupons for specific services, and procedures were clearly spelled out (apparently). When paying, we had to wait behind a man who was having some problem with his bill. After he stepped away from the window, I stepped up; then he came back and said ‘excuse mois’, and had some kind of exchange with the clerk. This was the only time I heard that phrase in France; everywhere else it was ‘pardon’.

In Rocamadour, the path up the cliff from the sanctuary to the chateau winds back and forth past a series of stations depicting the life of Jesus. As we neared the top, we could faint music, and we all stopped talking as we walked up. As we rose above the level of the ground we saw the old man sitting on a shady bench with a Celtic harp, playing a slow, soft melody that might have been from the Middle Ages. The overall impression was magical and I was glad that Chrissy enjoyed it.

Surprise! I already commented on the ‘Academie’; I didn’t remember that this entry was in the journal.

21 Mar, 2116, La Traverse

While reminiscing about our trip during the transcription of my journal, I had forgotten all about this entry, and the sense it describes. The discovery, shared between all of us, really was an everyday occurrence. And we never solved all of the puzzles. For instance, many stores (and billboards) have the word “meubles” on them. Our dictionary was vague on this word, something like furnishings. But we never went into one of these stores to actually see what it was selling. From the outside, they appeared far more generalized than furniture. Part of the fun was noticing the store type by its name, usually while driving somewhere, and trying to recognize some category through its windows, also anticipating that someday this small mystery would be cleared up; but it never was. (1991-06-11)

The Fond-de-Gaume was terrifically interesting, even though I soon tired of the strain of trying to understand the guide’s word. But her emphasis in using her pointer (a flashlight with an arrow-shaped beam) and her tone of voice was a fairly usable mode of communication, readily interpretable. Whether my interpretation was accurate or not I can’t say for sure; but I did construct a coherent interpretation that I found satisfying. I think that is about as much as one can expect from any single mode of communication. (1991-06-12)


Checked out and headed for a nice place by the ocean. Walked along and came to a playground. I stayed there while M & D went to look at cliffs. Then we walked along the beach (stones) and went to car. Rode home through Bordeaux. Went shopping in Bordeaux. Got home safe. Next morning the oil needed to be changed. Left car and went to walk around. Saw a bring spring festival. It was all over! Tourist Office bought poster of creperie. Went to a historic town and climbed 201 steps ([???]) I got a little good dog. We went to Domme next. It is beautiful! Went to creperie. Went home.

Previous: Biarritz ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Lascaux II

1990-03-19: Biarritz


Previous: Cenac ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Sarlat, Rocamodour, Domme

This day’s plan to see Oloron and find a beret came full circle much later during the trip for Kristin Beach’s wedding.


19 Mar, 2115, Hotel Plaza, Biarritz

Surprise. Today was to be an outing to view the Pyrenees. The plan was to drive to Pau & Oloron Ste Marie, with stops at Grotte Pech Merl (near Cahors) & St Bertrand de Cummings. After the first leg turned out to be pretty slow (though scenic) we skipped Pech Merl. We also skipped a toll road resulting in a longer, slower drive. The N-roads are typically 2-3 lanes, with the center lane available for passing some of the time. The D-roads are 2 lanes & we often spent a long time behind a slow truck. The toll road is similar to Interstate in US. On the way to Pau, we took a side trip to Ste Bertrand de Cummings, a medieval town with quite old cathedral (see guidebook & pix) & nearby Roman ruins. The town is in 2 parts. The historical high part, walled, & a lower part. We parked the only car in a 100-place lot & walked past the cathedral looking for a restaurant ~1pm (we heard the bell on the hour). The town was like a ghost town, no one walking or driving. One bar was open, but prop told us nowhere to eat in high town (we think). After walking a bit more (incl. past a family of 3 eating on their terrace) we went back to car & drove to low town. S spotted a sign for a restaurant open all year. This was a special spot. Apparently locals eat there all the time; no menu; we didn’t know what or how much to expect. Each place had 2 plates, stacked. Waitress brought 3 servings of ~1/2 cup of a rice/salmon cold casserole w/ 1/2 hard-boiled egg, 3 slices of salty corned beef, 3 slices of sausage ~ 3″ across, 1/4″ thick, basket of bread (which saved C), carafe of red wine & water, & shredded carrots with a light dressing. The sausage was not real tasty, (but it had an effect on S), and the corned beef was quite salty; but the rest was very good. I felt sorry for C, eating only the bread, and figured we’d have to find her something else to eat soon. Then the waitress came and took our top plates & left the fork & knife! Then she brought a salad (lettuce), fried potatoes & 3 slices of steak! We were already full!! But of course we did our best. C said the meat was heavenly, and ate her fill. Then she & I had ice cream (had to peel the foil off strawberry/choc/vanilla). The locals were in & out, and at least one couple (tourists) appeared amused at us. The place had a mounted wild cat & boar’s head (very large and fierce-looking).

From there we passed through Pau & onto Oloron (for reasons that are obscure). The town is the source of berets (didn’t see any), chocolate & linen. We were tired & considered finding a hotel, but didn’t really like the town, so carried on to Bayonne. All of this area’s towns are industrial with suburbia all around; pretty depressing. Got to Bayonne just before sunset, but passed a decent-looking hotel that appeared to have parking. When I got to a circle where I could turn around, I got in an inside lane & couldn’t get out; so I went around again, but got in outside lane too early, and had to leave circle in direction of Biarritz. I didn’t feel like turning around again, and S had always wanted to go there, so we just kept going. On driving around a bit, we found this hotel with parking & a snack bar a block away. We can see the ocean from our window.

It seems we spend a lot of time looking for food, either a restaurant, creperie or market. Eating should be more relaxing, but with all the driving, and wondering whether C will eat, it isn’t. We have been ‘on the go’ a lot, but I hope the pace slows a bit.


19 Mar, 2115, Hotel Plaza, Biarritz

Our general plan included day trips from the gite-of-the-week, with typically one night in a hotel per week, near the extremity of a trip too long for one day. This week it was to be the Pyrenees. Since this was the first week, we were still learning to relate the different kinds of roads on our Michelin maps to the real world; we were also trying to calibrate our list of places to see and things to do to. Peche Merl was on Susan’s list, though I don’t remember what it was supposed to be, and we weren’t sure it was open yet. So when the trip started out slower than expected, we cut that branch of the trip out and headed south/west.

Near some city (it might have been Pau), we saw a SupperGuppy aircraft, the type used for transporting rocket boosters of large diameter. We had never seen one before, except pictures, and it was amazing that something so ill-proportioned could fly.

Ste Bertrand de Cummings was a strange experience. The town was so quiet, we practically whispered the whole time we were there. We never got inside the cathedral, though we walked around it. There were lots of small lizards sunning on the southern side of the stone walls, very skittish.

The ‘lunch’ at the local inn was one amazement after another. When we got there, S asked if they served lunch, and we were shown to a table. The general impression was that they were not used to tourists coming in. There was a table with four place settings, partially consumed, but noone sitting; later some men in work-clothes came in and resumed their meal there. A couple (in traveling clothes?) who seemed foreign (British or ?) sat in one corner and seemed to watch us without staring. Susan and I looked at each other and couldn’t figure out why there were two plates at each place. When the first courses were brought, it seemed like a large lunch, and when the waitress left one of the plates and the silverware, we still couldn’t figure out what was going on. All of this took place with no speaking, since there were apparently no choices to be made. During the meal, there was a small dog wandering around the dining room, and when C and I got our ice cream, it ran over and stood on its hind legs next to our table. At one point it put its front paws on our legs. Our first experience of French dogs in restaurants! Pretty funny.

Oloron was a bust, confusing to drive in and hard to park. We walked down one main business street and looked in a few shop windows, but couldn’t see anything that interested us. I still don’t know why we went there.

Ending up in Biarritz was strictly comical. Going around that traffic circle in Bayonne (to which we also had no reason for going), Susan started yelling at me when it was clear I couldn’t get out at the point we had entered. I had already figured that out, but it was like going around in an airplane when the approach isnt set up right; you just go around and try again. Chrissy started getting upset when Susan got loud, but it didn’t take long to decide that going to Biarritz (only a few km) wasn’t likely to be worse than staying in Bayonne. The fact that I remembered Susan talking about Biarritz during our planning sessions at home clinched it.

When we got to Biarritz, we spotted a sign for parking on the hotel’s sign, so that decided that. Had no trouble getting room, though I got lost and couldn’t find it when they went up while I parked the car. The elevator opens onto a mini-lobby on each floor, with about eight doors. I didn’t remember the floor for sure, or the room number, and they didn’t leave the door open. I forget how I got in.

After getting settled, we went to the snack bar (a lot of glass, modern furnishings, booths). There was an American couple there, a fat man with a load voice, whom we ignored. We ordered hamburgers, but unfortunately Chrissy’s came with too many things on it. We had ordered in English, but the young waiter wasn’t very sure of himself and somehow it came out wrong. (1991-06-11)


Next morning we got up went to Cahors then to Toulouse. We passed through and went to high part of St. Bertrand de Cummings. No one was open except 1 bar. Told us no eating places in high town. We went to a year ’round restaurant and ate a bit. Correction, look at our menu!

  • SM      salt ham
  • SM      sausage
  • SM      salmon mixture
  • SMC    carrots (light dressing)
  • C         bread
  • SM      lettuce
  • SMC    fried potatoes
  • CMS    steak
  • MC      ice creme

Then we went to Oloron, a berets place. Of course, we don’t see any! We went on to Bayonne, got there about sunset, and passed a good hotel with parking. Got to a circle, Pop got on an inside lane and couldn’t get out! Went around again and (by accident) headed for Biarritz. We found the Plaza Hotel and a snack bar. Could see Ocean from our window. Biarritz is a seaside resort, so walked around a bit. They had some great rocks and statues! Saw a beautiful butterfly pin – but shop was closed for season. Checked out and headed for a nice place by the ocean. Walked along and came to a playground. I stayed there while M & D went to look at cliffs. Then we walked along the beach (stones) and went to car. Rode home through Bordeaux. Went shopping in Bordeaux. Got home safe.

Previous: Cenac ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Sarlat, Rocamodour, Domme

1990-03-18: La Traverse, Cenac

Previous: More Bordeaux ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Biarritz


18 Mar, 2100, La Traverse

Yes, Another hectic night. Although the clerk at H. Majestic arranged for us to meet the proprietor of the gite at 4pm Sat, he apparently thought we would be there Fri. After our drive & lunch from Bordeaux, we found Cenac easily, but could not find gite. Susan found someone at pharmacy who spoke E & gave directions, and we found it right at 4; but no owner. After waiting & phoning & waiting & phoning etc, our neighbor arrived home ~7pm. Even tho he spoke no E, he knew how to reach owner & knew where keys were to let us in, so we didn’t have to wait outside in cold & dark.

The gite is fabulous. Half-meter thick stone walls. Kitchen w/ French doors to terrace. Living rm w/ dining table & fireplace. Shower/lav & WC, washing machine. Upstairs 2 BR (double & 2 twin). ‘Rustique’ furnishings, but more than adequate. We were ecstatic.

When owner came S realized he had expected us Fri. We showed him our copy of contract with dates. He kept it, apparently hadn’t received one from booking service. After checking elec. meter he left us, to meet again Sat @ 10.

Sat dinner was rice crispies, very rich milk & oranges, from store in Merignac.

Today, breakfast same as last night dinner, then off to Les Eyzies to see caves & museum of prehistoric stuff. The caves were very worthwhile (Fond-de-Gaume & Conbarelles). The guides spoke F of course, but simply seeing the 3-d reality is much better than book pictures. The guide in the 1st was emphasizing the artistic character (I think), particularly the way the painter used the contour of the rock to give a realistic treatment of animals. They are taking great pains to preserve the cave art for future generations while showing to us now. The second cave was mostly engravings, little pigment. The guide was mainly a catalog. C much preferred the second, perhaps because the guide was easier to understand.

Coming back from the caves, I had my first run-in with a gendarme. I rolled through a stop sign at a 3-way intersection, as he looked on. He shouted to stop; I stopped & got out. He (I think) asked if I had stopped. I answered ‘not quite’ & he (I think) said that in France I had better stop at stop signs, & walked off. Naturally, I have resolved to stop at stop signs.

C’s tastes in food run to the plain, so it has been hard to get her to eat much of the F food at restaurants. She hasn’t eaten salads or foods with sauces. This p.m. we found a creperie & gave her crepe w/ sugar & strawberries. She was overjoyed & commented that we spoil her.

Tonight at the gite S prepared a can of Beef Bourguignon, noodles & applesauce. To our great surprise, C helped herself to meat & potatoes & spread sauce on noodles, then ate it all. She even commented later how good it was. When I mentioned getting onions in my second helping, she said: oh, that must be what I got. It was slippery (or slimy) going down.

I called Carl when we got back to Cenac, just after 6pm. He seemed relieved that we were getting on so well. I don’t think he thought we were going to make it!

S seems impressed that I can ask for tickets & order food, but it could be done in sign language in these constrained situations, particularly since most people we deal with make their living by dealing with tourists. Still it does feel good not to feel like a fool.

We have purchased domestic stuff & are doing laundry. It is so much more relaxing to be in a place of our own, instead of one room in a hotel. C can be exuberant & we don’t worry about noise, etc. This is definitely the way to go.


18 Mar, 2100, La Traverse

Our problem meeting the owner occurred because the hotel clerk was unfamiliar with gites, and their arrangements, as I suppose we should have expected (and also, of course, because we didn’t speak enough F to deal with proprietor directly). Although the owner must have been irritated, he was gracious. We later figured out from his phone number and the time it took him to get to the gite after our neighbor called him, that he lived about 45 km away; not a trivial distance on those roads.

This gite was not advertised with a washer, so we were very surprised to find one. It was very small, fitting in a broom closet, but we only had small loads to do. Wet wash was hung on line outside to dry, and brought in at night to finish. The kitchen had a gas stove and water heater, supplied from a bottle outside. It had a little refrigerator, the size used in hotel rooms. There was a kitchen table and two chairs, and a good sized trestle table with four or six chairs in the living room. The bathroom had a shower with a hand-held shower-head, as did nearly every shower we saw. The WC was a separate room from the bathroom, which was also typical. We wondered at the designation WC (short for the English phrase Water Closet), but encountered it quite a bit. Never got an explanation. The living room also had a soft stuffed chair and sofa. The upstairs bedrooms were separated by the space for the staircase, which was a square spiral in three sections. They were under the gables, with dormer windows on the front. There was a skylight over the stairs in the back. The master BR had an armoire; the other had a closet.

The electric service was in a small tumble-down building behind the house. There was a cement mixer and piles of sand and gravel. The gite had obviously been recently renovated. The other building must have been a small barn at one time. We went up stone steps to second floor where electric box was, and owner recorded the meter reading (which was digital, not like the analog ones we have). This would be used to compute our extra cost at end of week. We gave him a deposit (a hundred francs), from which he would deduct electricity, gas and cleaning if necessary.

The milk in France is commonly sold in cardboard packages at room temperature, and it is either whole milk or enriched in cream; since we were used to skim milk, this was a shock. We found later that by adding chocolate powder it was more palatable.

Les Eyzies is a tiny town. It had only one restaurant, and that was full by the time we went to see about lunch. A river runs by (the town is perched on the side of a gorge), so we took bread (Harry’s American bread!), peach jam and bottled water (Vittel, I think), and made sandwiches under a tree, watching ducks and people fishing. Delightful.

After lunch we climbed a road up to the prehistoric museum. The exhibits were interesting: bones (human and animal), stone tools, bone tools, etc.

We got to Fond-de-Gaume just before they re-opened after lunch, and waited with several other people. They limit the number of visitors each day, to help preserve the caves. We bought tickets and walked up hillside to cave entrance, among group of about twenty. After brief introductory remarks outside, entered the cave. They have put railings and plexiglas shields to keep hands off paintings, and lights. The guide skillfully controlled the lights so that each point she made in her lecture got the attention of the audience. Even without understanding the words (guessing at meaning of maybe 10 words) it was an interesting lecture, since the basic material was visual. The way that the painters used a bulge in the rock to underlie a shoulder or haunch was fascinating, and simply invisible in flat photos. At one point the group was shepherded into a narrow gallery, with our backs against one rail, in near-dark. When the anticipation reached the right level, the guide turned on the lights to the paintings, about 7-8 feet up the wall we were facing. As everyone recognized a procession of horses and cows, a great (and satisfying, I am sure) “Oooh” arose. Great fun, and well worth it.

Combarelles was less elaborate. The cave is less well protected. It has very little pigment, so exposure is not as damaging, I guess. As we arrived, we could see a group just entering, so we figured we would have to wait 30-45 minutes. But they waited for us; something they couldn’t do in normal season, I’m sure. This was one of the advantages of coming in the early spring; although some places weren’t yet open for the season, most were, and the crowds were small, and the people working at them weren’t fed up with tourists yet. The guide at Combarelles simply carried a flashlight, pointing at an engraving and naming it, then pointing at and naming each part, head, neck, horns, front legs, back legs. It got repetitious, although in some cases it was necessary in order to recognize the object. They have placed steel gridwork on the floor, and parts of the cave haven’t been opened to public; we came to the end and could just look through a steel grid door. She also pointed out the occasional modern engraving of initials in places.

Guides expect tips, and we were happy to oblige, a couple of francs to five francs, depending on how much we liked the tour. They have a way of letting you know they expect it without being obnoxious about it. It was an interesting contrast to the American way, where a similar tour guide would probably be astonished to get a tip, and show it.

My stupid (but inevitable) mistake in rolling through a stop sign shook me up. The gendarme was standing about twenty feet away, to my right. Susan saw him and immediately started to yell at me, when I heard him shout (Alors?). Even not knowing what word he used, it was obviously a command to stop. I don’t know if he believed that I didn’t speak French, but he didn’t seem angry, just stern. I was very grateful to be let off with a warning, which was very clear, at the same time that it was incomprehensible. He didn’t even ask for my license or papers.

The Beef Bourguignon was a great hit; we had it probably once a week after that. We went to a grocery store in Cenac and bought household goods (cleaning supplies, clothes hangers) as well as food. The stores are very similar to non-chain stores at home; the carts are the same, aisles the same, cold cases, etc.

We used pay phones outside the PTT to make phone calls to home, using MCI card to charge the calls. The French pay phones have a digital display of the amount of money you put in, which counts down as you talk. You get a chance to add money before it cuts you off. We used this system when trying to contact proprietors, etc within France; I never quite got used to it, mostly because I never knew how much money I was going to need, and also because some phones wouldn’t accept some types of coins (e.g., two franc coins, or one of the two types of ten franc coin). It was a relief to occasionally talk to someone who spoke perfect English. Also I think Carl had his doubts about this trip; I think he thought we didn’t know what we were getting into; he was right, but we knew that too!

As far as buying tickets and ordering food, it was largely accomplished without real speech. If you hold up three fingers (thumb and first two fingers) at a ticket counter, mumble and show money, you will get three tickets. In a patisserie, if you point and hold up one to three fingers, you will get what you want. It is a good idea to say “Bonjour, Madame” to the clerk. This alerts them to the fact that you don’t speak their language, and they tend to pay closer attention; they also count your money more carefully. In the restaurants a lot is accomplished by pointing at the menu items; the custom of prix fixe meals is very helpful for tourists, since it constrains the choices that must be communicated. (1991-06-11)


On our 4th day (jour) in France, we went to our 1st gite. The man wasn’t there so we waited and every hour or half hour we tried to call. Every time he wasn’t there. Finally the neighbor came home. He phoned, got the keys and let us in. This is what it looked like:

< get picture? >

We waited for the owner to come and check the meter and so on and so on. he came and looked over everything. We ate dinner and went to bed. We had walls 1 1/2 feet thick. The next morning we went to a super market. By the way, the owner thought we were supposed to be at the gite the day we called. We then went to see 2 caves with engravings & paintings. 1st paint, 2nd engravings. Before the caves we went on a picnic with sandwiches& cookies. Then we went to a prehistoric museum. Then we went home. But coming back from the caves we had a run-in with the cops. Dad went through a stop sign that a cop was sitting next to. Here is their conversation:

Cop: Did you stop? Dad: Not quite. Cop: Well, we stop in France!

Close call! We found a creperie. I got a crepe with strawberries & sugar; Dad got a sugar crepe; Mom got a crepe with chocolate syrup. We went home and had our 1st encounter with (Beef) Boeuf Bourguignon. I like it. Everyone was surprised. We went to a coin phone booth. We called Uncle Carl. There are mainly card phone booths. What do they expect a lost kid to do? Pull out a card? Talked to U. Carl and went home. We do our own laundry.

Previous: More Bordeaux ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Biarritz

1990-03-16: More Bordeaux

Previous: Bordeaux, day 1 ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Cenac


16 March 1990, 1708, Hotel Majestic

Yes, a day has been skipped. Yesterday wore us out so much we went straight to bed. Petit dejeuner downstairs was very nice: hot chocolate, orange juice, croissant & bread with jam, sweetened yogurt. Leisurely ate, and we were ready to see some of Bordeaux. The Jardin Publique is a series of shaded lawns, flower beds, a pond for swans and an island playground. We strolled around & saw a ruin (portion of a Roman amphitheater), cathedral with varying styles, a large clock in an arch crossing a narrow street. All of this is surrounded by or embedded in streets of shops, every kind. There are many things exactly as at home; some nearly the same but with French labels; some plainly French. Many fruit & vegetable vendors at sidewalk tables. Parking of cars on sidewalks of narrow streets. We returned to the pedestrian mall for lunch. I bought a sandwich & salad for S & me while S & C went on to McD for C’s Chicken McNuggets & drinks. I neglected to check the prices & offered 20F to girl for ~42,50F worth of food; register did not display total to me. After brief panic 50F made all OK.

After lunch we got car out of garage & headed to Le Teich for Parc Ornithologique. This is 150 ha preserve in wetlands. Most of the wetlands were drained in 1800s. Many species migrate through or remain for winter. They have a few pens & aviaries for captive birds & nice trails with observation blinds for viewing migratory birds. C bought bag of grain, but few birds pestered us for it (goats did, though). It appears to be important site for European birds. There were a few visitors & a group of ~10-15. One of the observation decks had been burned by vandals in 1988. C left her name/address in registration book at end of trail.

From Le Teich we drove to Pyla to see dune. Driving was very easy the entire way. The dune was impressive, but I wondered about its past & likely future. It has grown into a canyon & is surrounded by evergreen trees. Is it going to overgrow them or shrink? We were there ~1800 and got drinks & postcards.

We returned to Bordeaux after dark. Traffic was quite heavy & we were unsure of the streets, so this trip was harder. Eventually with C reading street signs and S reading map we found our way to hotel. We changed into better clothes & went out at ~2000 to find restaurant. In vicinity of ped. mall, we ‘read’ menus until we found restaurant: Le 4 Saisons which offered a 104F meal: drink, salad, bread, mixed-grill on skewer, veg., ice cream. C had ‘chips’ (waiter spoke enough E) instead of veg & ate a lot of meat. A large meal, much more than we needed. Instead of wine, C & I asked for water.  After a while, S pointed out that it was probably tap water; so much for precautions. We all had some. So far no ill effects. Our table was adjacent to the grill. The meat was cooked over charcoal; potatoes baked in a large iron bowl on tripod adjacent. Chef controlled heat (and flames) by spraying water from plastic bottle. We returned to hotel ~2230.

Forgot to note: late the 14th while we were walking from shops to hotel, C asked “Is every day going to be like this?”

16 March 1990, 1753, Hotel

Got up late, 845 or 900, went down for petit dejeuner & went to AmEx. Letter confirmed gite at FONTENAY MAUVOISIN. C exchanged $15 of her own & S changed some TC. We returned to hotel & asked fem clerk to assist us in contacting proprietor of gite at Cenac for tomorrow. No one could attend then (~1130), we were to try again at 1230. We went to find Bradley’s English books, bought some for C, & went to Jardin Publique again. At 1230 she called again & confirmed we are OK, but did not get directions once we reach Cenac; oh well, that will be another adventure. Also verified we do not need to bring blankets.

16 March 1990;, 2117, Hotel

Went to mall between airport & Bordeaux, near Merignac. Bought stuff likely to be needed to set up initial housekeeping at gite. Also bought portable radio. Filled car’s tank, this time with ‘Super’. Started back to Bordeaux ~1630, well before dark. Traffic seemed to be getting heavier, but fairly easy trip.

Walked (thru fairly seedy looking section near waterfront) to Eglise St Michel & walked around it.

After returning to Rue St Catherine, went to local spring fair. Very much like local carnival: rides (bumper cars very popular), games (luck & ‘skill’) & entertainment (the ‘American Show’ seemed to be a girl show that would probably be called the ‘French Show’ at home). Sampled a food stand: hot dog is inserted into hollow bun; had pork brochette on bun. Really just like carnival at home, except language. I successfully navigated the food stand with the willing cooperation of a helpful native who clearly had no E.

Forgot to note: at Le Teich, they had a ‘pique-nique’ table!

There is a lot of American popular song in the background music here, and English words/phrases in store names & ads, including plays on words: ‘Lord Gym’.


16 March 1990, 1708, Hotel Majestic

We went downstairs in the hotel for our first breakfast in France. The ground floor lobby was roughly like this:


When we ate, we were the only ones in the dining area.

The incident when I tried to buy sandwiches was unusual. The shop’s register had a digital display (as most shops we saw had), but the display was turned so that only the girl behind it could see.  She spoke the total due to me, but of course I couldn’t understand her.  When I handed her an obviously (to her) too small amount, I could see her start to panic, like she was about to ask her manager for help; I forestalled this by offering the larger amount.  The register displays throughout the trip made it very easy to buy things, and the currency was easy to work with (except that there were two kinds of 10F coins).

The dune at Pyla was interesting, but since we were out of season, the climb up and down was without benefit of wooden steps shown in postcards. This made it more fun.

The trip back brought us into Bordeaux during rush hour. This was a big mistake. Traffic was very heavy, and the roads are not well marked as to number and location of lanes. There were a lot of buses, which have right of way. No one seemed to get angry at us, but I know we were not as efficient as the native drivers.

The first restaurant trip was also interesting. The custom of posting menus outside all restaurants, and of single price meals with just a few choices (prix fixe) is very good. It made it much easier for us to choose a place where Chrissy had a chance of getting something she would eat. One of our hopes for the trip was that Chrissy would broaden her tastes a bit, but she never did. She settled on a few things (notably steak hache), and stuck with them. I felt silly when we realized that we were drinking tap water, despite our plans, but we never had any ill effects from the water in France.

16 March 1990, 1753, Hotel

The letter we got from AmEx was for the last gite on our itinerary.

The call to the proprietor of the Cenac gite was important.  We guessed that we needed to bring our own sheets, pillow cases, towels, washcloths, and soap.  We also guessed that each gite would have dishes, pots and pans, and blankets.  But we wanted to be sure, so the call was reassuring.  The clerk who made the call for us was very helpful, but apparently was not familiar with gites, or the procedures.  The gite book had warned us that the proprietors didn’t speak English, so every bit of help was needed.  The problem of actually finding the building once we found the town was one we didn’t really worry about.  We felt we had a couple of hours leeway in making contact with the proprietor, and that that would be sufficient.  (Little did we know.)

16 March 1990, 2117, Hotel

The trip to the mall was mostly to Carrefour, which was a name we would become accustomed to throughout our trip, since it was one of the largest hypermarket chains.  We bought the cheapest radio we could find, just so we would have some contact with the outside world (no radio in car).  It had AM/FM/SW (though with different names).

After our last trip after dark, we didn’t want to do that again, so got in before ‘rush’ hour.  The Bordeaux streets are too narrow, and turns too irregular to support the very heavy traffic at rush hour.

Our walk to Eglise St Michel was through the kind of area we would avoid at home: lots of noisy bars, pawn shops, boarded-up windows, narrow or no sidewalks and pretty dirty. Still we didn’t really feel threatened.  Somewhere on this walk we passed an amazing shop, unfortunately closed. The window display was of 2-3 busts of children and adults, in different finishes (terra cotta, white), and the sign over the door said something like ‘Studio de Visuel Sculpture et Haute Technology’. A sign in the window seemed to say that they made sculptures based on one 30-second sitting. I really wish I had had a chance to talk to them and find out what they did and how they did it!  (1991-04-10)


We got up the next morning, but we must have gotten up late because there was noone else in the breakfast room. Breakfast was nice: a croissant, slice of bread, hot chocolate, orange juice, jam, butter (or should I say burre?), sweetened yogurt, and some sugar Mom took pleasure in collecting. We went to some public gardens where there were some beautiful swans. Then we went to see the cathedrale. It had lots of buttresses and flying buttresses. We went back to Rue de Ste. Catherines and ate lunch. We then went to a place that had birds, goats, sheep * * *. I liked it. There was a giant sand dune so we went to that. In a postcard it showed _steps_ going up but there were no steps when we went up!!! On the third day we found the English (Britain) bookstore and bought some (3) books. We went to a supermarket then. We went back to the hotel and asked the girl who spoke English to make a phone call to our first gite (jeet). We went to the carnival across the street then. It had those machines that you move the pinchers around and hope. I did a lot of hoping. In fact, I did 12 francs worth! We went back to hotel and wasted time.

Previous: Bordeaux, day 1 ~~ France 1990 ~~ Next: Cenac