ending 5 September 04 (Bob)
Foray into Belgium - After a day at a
1-star caravan park we headed out of Calais, and soon found ourselves across
another European border, this time in Tournai, Belgium. The town
had beautiful old buildings and a belfry that dates from 1100 AD. Our
impression of Belgium is that it is tidier, wealthier, and more industrial than
France. We will have to return later and see more of the country.
Champagne Country -
When we returned to France we headed to the Marne, the area where
champagne is made. We visited an up-scale winery as well as a local
co-operative and received information overload. We discovered what types of
grapes were used, what soil was needed, and the 'recipe'. Among the
Origin - Champagne was invented by a
monk, Dom Perignon in the 17th century. He determined what grapes to
use and how to introduce the bubbles that make it so special.
Ingredients - All champagne consists
of 3 grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grown in lime-rich
soils of the Marne, then fermented in vats and finally in bottles.
Most champagnes are a mix from several vineyards ('crus') and years, but
special ones can be from a single year ('vintage') or vineyard ('cru' or
The taste - Ratios of grape, minor
additives, sugar variations and quality control account for differences
between champagnes. Most champagnes are turned ('riddled') by machine
to collect the sediment in the neck - special brews are riddled by hand.
Lots of choice - There are scores of
brand names, most consumed within France with the biggies (Mumm, Moet
Chandon, etc.) being exported.
We will not run out soon - There are
MILES and MILES of caves carved in the limestone under the wineries to store
the millions of bottles of champagne now maturing to be sold in the next few
visited the Mumm winery - a fascinating tour of the whole process, a peek
at the cellars and 50-year old champagne, and finally a tasting. Of
course, we succumbed and carried away with a couple of bottles as 'souvenirs'.
Gay Paree - After the quiet of the
countryside, we girded our loins and headed for the big time - Paris! This
fabulous city pops up out of the farmland rather quickly. The angel in our
iPaq tried to direct Bob but fortunately we were also well armed with maps and
Judi led us to a soft landing at the Bois de Bolougne camping area on the
Seine, a 30-minute ride from downtown Paris.
ending 11 September 04 (Bob)
Paris - We had decided to make this
a 'scouting trip' only, and defer real sightseeing to a future trip, hopefully
with fewer tourists. But our resolve weakened and we snuck to a few of the
de Triomphe - this monument at the convergence of 25 streets (it seems
like that many anyway) is impressive! Finished in 1836 it features
plaques from all of France's engagements since then and a tribute to the
unknown soldier of WWI. From the vantage point of our next attraction, it
really stands out against the surrounding streets.
Tower - On our first day in Paris we hopped the elevator and rode
to the top - what a magnificent view of the city! Superlatives are
inadequate for the image of this structure. Some believed it was ugly,
and the stark steel makes it sort of Spartan, but it struck me a little like
Ayer's Rock did in Australia - large and unexpected considering its
surroundings. Buildings in the center of Paris are limited to about 9
stories high, so this 1000' structure really stands out.
Seine - We took an obligatory cruise on
the Seine, in our case with Vedettes du Pont Neuf that gave us good
views of the city from the water level. Museums, the City hall, and
splendid Alexander II Bridge are a few of the highlights of the 1-hour trip.
Louvre - So far we have not entered
this huge museum, but a quick visit of the courtyard and the Pyramid, newly
discovered in the 'Da Vince Code' has us looking forward to several
leisurely visits to some of the 400,000 exhibits in its vast interior.
Close Encounters - One of our first
personal encounters in France was with a lady in a park where we struck up a
friendly conversation. She was from Romania 60-some years ago and had lived in Italy,
France, and the US where she taught music at NYU. She was fascinated
with our sea travel and promised to stay in touch via email. It was a
nice introduction to this international city.
'Voyager' Crew - Our friends Peter and
Jeanette from Voyager, last seen in Thailand, were passing thru Paris while we
were here, so we hopped public transport and met them for a few drinks and
stories at a hotel near de Gaulle airport. The slight headache the next
morning was well worth it!
Administrivia - Time moves on and the
once-distant dates in our passports and driver's licenses have caught up with
us. So, what is easy to do back in the US has become a chore of
international phones calls, courier pouches, (almost) strip searches as we visit
the US Embassy, and long application forms. Now we have to camp in a park
in Paris while the bureaucrats do their jobs - tough life, huh?
ending 18 September 04 (Bob)s
Paris - We alternated trips to town with
relaxing at 'home' and had an enjoyable week without too much 'sightseeing
stress'. Some of the things that stood out this week:
- France can rightly be proud of its culinary products, and we cannot
understand why they don't all weigh 300 pounds. Most 'Boulangeries and
Pastisseries' sell bread and baguettes plus sweet delicacies like those
shown to the right.
Montmartre - Judi bought a couple of
prints and the salesman showed her some featuring Montmartre, so we decided
on the spur of the moment to find it. What an interesting place!
On a hilltop overlooking Paris, Montmartre is home to artists galore
(including Picasso at one time) so it was packed with artists with oils,
watercolors, sketchpads, and musical instruments. It was a very lively
and exciting spot with lots of places for a spot of wine or cup of
Shopping - Paris has a well-deserved
reputation for world-class shopping. Fashions in all price ranges
(from moderate to very, very expensive), shoes, bags, and perfumes make it a
heaven for shoppaholics. Streets are lined with the global names like
the GAP and small shops featuring haute couture.
Public Transport - Paris has a
world-class transport system. The Metro (subway) is fast, frequent,
clean and well-signed. It integrates with the bus and train system, so
one can go between any two points in the city with ease. We bought a
weekly card for $19 that allowed unlimited travel with the city - a bargain
compared to the $10/day we were spending the first week we were here.
and Plazas - They are everywhere, making Paris a very pleasant place for
walking and touring (we have not tried to drive here). Concorde Plaza
at the right is near the US Embassy and is typical with beautiful fountains,
walking spaces and plenty of opportunity for kids to play. Crossing
the Seine just to the south is the Alexander III bridge, ornately decorated
with gilded statues and bronze plaques.
Opulence - When we visited Romania we
were impressed by the gold and carvings in the
In Paris we are beginning to see what real opulence was by looking at the
rooms and gardens of the Louvre. We have not seen Versailles yet,
but can see how the lifestyle of the Louis' could lead to a revolution and
the guillotine for the royals.
The Louvre - This is billed as the largest
art museum in the world, and we believe it. The palace at its core is a
quadrangle about 2 city blocks in size, but concealed under the courtyards are 2
more levels which house half of the exhibits, plus ticket and reception
area, and a shopping mall. It is HUGE!!! We decided to visit a couple of
days this week, spent 12 hours in its rooms, and probably saw 15% of the
exhibits and jogged through another 15%. Some of the highlights:
Mona Lisa - Since it is a 'must see'
in the museum, there are signs all over the Denon wing directing the casual
viewer to it - so we followed the crowd and gazed at this piece of art with
all of the other visitors. Like many people, we said to ourselves "Is that all there is?" But it was still special
to see this famous painting.
Venus de Milo - another world famous
woman, in this case over 3000 years old by an unknown sculptor. It was
discovered on a small Greek island in 1820 and brought to the Louvre to be
French Paintings - The French
paintings were brighter and more alive than the dark paintings by the
'Masters' from Holland and Germany and we enjoyed them more. One could
easily spend several days slowly perusing each one, but as often happens we
sort of rushed it and just got an overview.
- The Louvre has rooms and courtyards filled with sculptures from
pre-historic times to the 19th century, and styles to appeal to all tastes.
We found some of the classic Greek and Roman sculptures to be the most
attractive -perhaps that is why their appeal has remained so strong over the
Room - The museum has done a good job organizing the artifacts from
Egypt in chronological order so one can see the progression in form and
style for the 3000 years from ancestors of the pharaohs to the end of their
dominance as the Persians took over that part of the world.
Pyramid - Versailles is a traditional 17th century palace with high
ceilings, ornate carvings, and a solid feel to it. When I. M. Pei was
commissioned to design a new entrance for the museum, he broke all of the
rules and created a steel and glass pyramid surrounded by water in the
middle of the museum courtyard. Many hated it, but it is striking and
very functional, and creates lots of interior bright space and is very
come through - In record time (a mere 7 days including
2 trans-Atlantic crossings), the bureaucrats in
Maryland and the US State Department did their thing and Judi had her shiny new
passport and Bob had the papers to get a new driver's license. Our hats
are off to them!!
ending 25 September 04 (Bob)
Traveling South - We have an appointment
in Calpe, Spain at the end of the week, and so are now making tracks through
France on our way to Sunshine Coast. The countryside south of Paris is
mostly flat agricultural land with fields stretching to the horizon. Two
days were on motorways (expensive, good, and fast) and the third day was on 'A'
class roads through small towns and villages - slower but free and more
interesting. As we neared Toulouse it became a little more mountainous and
beyond we encountered the Pyrenees, that pile of rocks thrown up by
Spain/Portugal smashing into southern France. Tucked away in these
Andorra - Another tiny independent country
established by its neighbors, in this case France and Spain where a Spanish
Bishop and the French President share power as heads of state. It seems to be
a couple of duty-free towns surrounded by ski and camping areas with horrendous
traffic. One has to drive through a 8000' pass over good switch-back roads
and great views and then drop into a deep valley.