Category Archives: France

Valentine’s, hearts and all

 Images via desdemventana
I must admit, I have an aversion to heart shapes, and to red (that flower above bothers me and I am resisting cropping it out as I think the photo would be highly improved without it).  So as one may see from yesterday’s post I am trying to challenge my inner heart scrooge.  I do find it interesting that the symbol, generally though of as the human center of emotional, moral, and spiritual being, comes to us from ancient times with varying opinion on what it references.  Some believe the human heart (although it only resembles it when from this angle), others the medicinal seed of the now extinct silphium plant, and yet others a direct reference to certain female anatomy.  The last theory “intertwined with the true-to-life idea that the heart emerged as a symbol for love in the now lava-covered city of Pompeii. It holds for true that brothels conveyed their business via heart-shaped symbols depicting female breasts and sexual organ. This symbol reached high popularity as a motif for tattoos during late antiquity and spread quickly with the heavy seafaring of the time. Since few wanted to declare the true meaning of the tattoo it was usually explained as a symbol of love.”
Quote via wikipedia.
One place I could certainly handle seeing the shape repeatedly would be at the Prieure Notre Dame d’ Orsan, an early 12th century monastery in Central France.  Wander on over to the website where you may take a virtual gaze at the gardens, enjoy a leisurely lunch of fresh ingredients from the orchards, organic gardens, and neighboring wine and cheese makers, followed by a restful sleep at the architectural beauty of a hotel, free of televisions and telephones.  Talk about a February 14th dream date!  What might you be doing for your dear?  I best get busy making banana pancakes for my love!


 Our next stop was Angles-sur-L’anglin, another official les-plus-beaux-villages-de-france.

This extensive name comes from the Saxon tribe, the Angles, that invaded England in the 5th century, as well as the river separating the upper portions, pictured above,

 and the lower portions of the village, pictured below.

It was a great village to stop for lunch and get lost in the pretty streets.  If one would like to stay awhile, the perfect plan would be to take this 3 day painting workshop.


After Paris and Versailles we were more than ready to get back to some peace and quiet.  We had already done a fair amount of camping in the weeks preceding in British Columbia and Wyoming but this would be our first experience in France . . . and we had no plan, no route, and no reservations.  Again, getting the I-Pad fully connected, best decision ever!
Huttopia Rambouillet was fantastic; $18 Euros per night for the standard pitch, lodge like reception with restaurant and conveniences (like a fridge stocked with wine and cheese from the region), and this brilliant all natural, no chemical pool, whose filtration is provided by the vegetation in the  wetland to the left.
Thanks to some great advice by our Parisan friend Veronique we set our route to see some of the 22 most loved villages by the French.

First up, Montsoreau, where we had an epic first evening.  After dinner at a darling little creperie we walked around the corner to the Chateau de Montsoreau, a beautiful white castle built in 1455 at the banks of the Loire River. There there just so happened to be a concert performance in the courtyard, followed by fireworks at the foot of the castle.

The next day we rented bicycles and wandered around several little towns surrounding.

Lunch stop at le saut aux loups.  The Loire Valley boast more than 600 caves carved into porous cliffsides, homes for wildlife and man since prehistoric times.  Today many residences and businesses alike still thrive in these subterranean environments, where the climate stays ideal whether winter or summer.  Many have been occupied as wine cellars, quoting
“In todays’ wine industry, caves are increasingly being used due to the many financial and environmental benefits, such as low energy and minimalised land usage. The high humidity of these caves, ranging between 70-90%, reduces wine evaporation and provides an ideal environment for storing red and white wine (suggested humidity over 75% for reds and over 85% for whites). The constant optimum temperatures, 13°C-15.5°C, provides a perfect environment for storing wine all-year-round.”

An antique shop within a cave.

Walking around Montsoreau at night was as picturesque as during the day.  Stumbled upon this amazing little cemetary and neighboring mansion.

Our final morning at the market we picked up fresh fruits, cheese, wine, and breads from local artisans, which were so tasty they were gone by the next village.


When we arrived in France we picked up our rental car and debated what to do from there.  Plenty of people had advised us to leave it at the airport versus trying to navigate Paris, well known for walking and public transportation.  The map looked like a straight shot from the airport to the hotel, how hard could it be?  Perhaps any other time of year, we should have taken the advice, but as the city was void of the typical mayhem traffic, finding our way to the B & B wasn’t terribly difficult.  We found a parking spot a few blocks away, and as our hotel greeter informed us that parking was FREE for the month of August, we lucked out with leaving the car parked in the same spot until we were ready to depart.  We had found a local telecommunications provider to set us up with a local SIM card and a one month plan for our I-PAD. BEST DECISION EVER!!!

Not only did we have google maps to guide us to Chateau Versailles, I purchased our tickets on the road there!  My online receipt had a barcode which was scanned in lieu of entrance tickets. 

 Versailles was a village, documented as early as 1038, but it’s link to royalty began when Louis XIII ordered the construction of a hunting lodge there in 1624.  By 1678 it was one of the largest palaces in the world, and for the Ancien Regime, the center of political activity.  They obviously adored all things lavish and highly decorative; ornate does not even begin to describe the place.

A welcomed distraction from all that excess, were the modern sculptures of Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos;

We were running for the door after a few hours of being shoulder to shoulder, tourists packed like sardines, in those countless rooms filled with those countless gilded, marble, crystal things.

Escaping to the gardens should have crossed our minds earlier as this,

 is how we felt at the end of the day!  Not only choking for air from too many people, but a little sick to our stomachs at the thought of all those riches, all those rooms, wasted for an arrogant few.

Oui, Oui Paris!

 I have already posted the US and Canadian legs of our summer holiday, but now it’s time to report on the European tail end of the trip . . . . vive la France!  France is the most visited country in the world (79.5 million foreigners welcomed in 2011) and August is known as one of the most popular months for holidaying here in the largest country in Western Europe.  Most Parisians flock to the southern coast themselves, leaving the city relatively empty.  Perfect timing for us traffic hating islanders!  We stayed at the Sourire-de-Montmartre, a beautifully situated bed and breakfast that looked one part Paris, one part Marrakesh.

How grateful we were for a plush bed and pillows and a hot shower to remedy the jetlag!

Breakfast was served each morning in the great room located on the top floor; a scrumptious spread of  fresh fruits, yogurts, jams, sweet cakes, coffee, teas, croissants, and baguettes.  I didn’t know at the time that enjoying a typical tea with honey and cream would be a luxury elsewhere in France.

 Montmartre, literally “mountain of the martyr,” history dates back to prehistoric times when it is said to have been a Druidic holy place long before the Basilica_of_the_Sacre Coeur was built on the base of the 130 meter peak.

 The neighborhood was favored in the late 19th century by artists including Picasso, Dali, Monet, and Van Gogh.  Many modern filmmakers have chosen the setting for their art as well; La Vie en RoseAmelie, and  most recently Woody Allen’s comedy Midnight in Paris.

 Sacre Coeur is a spectacular sight at night.  Built of travertine stone quarried within France, it will apparently remain white for centuries.

The steps in front of the basilica, the highest point in Paris, are dotted with people admiring the overviews of the city.

Lover’s Locks on the Pont de l’Archevêché

Golden statue from the Alexandre III bridge over the Seine

I am pretty convinced the 4 hours spent standing in line for the Eiffel Tower was worth it, these are  impressive views that greet you at the top.

I would think that visiting at night is a better option due to the city lights in all their many colors, with the added bonus of the post sunset sparkly light show on the tower itself, which is a little Vegas-ey in real life but makes for a quite romantic sepia photograph!

My father and his buddies camped on this very lawn in the early 70’s.  Nowadays your only allowed to picnic!

 The Pere_Lachaise_Cemetery was one of my favorite places in all of Paris.  After the memory stick containing these images went missing I spent four weeks mourning their loss when all of a sudden, it reappeared, how is still a mystery (as I ALWAYS remember exactly where I put everything, wink, wink)!  

Navigating the 110 acres is not easy, at least not if you are on a mission to find Jim Morrison’s grave or one or two of the hundreds of other famous persons plots.  I would suggest getting familiar with the virtual tour beforehand if you are dead set (no pun intended) on paying your respects to certain sites.

We were perfectly content to get lost in these cobblestone streets and maze of graves.   It is a hauntingly beautiful place, so easy to spend a few hours wandering aimlessly.

The cemetery opened in 1804, the first burial for a five year old girl which was only followed by another 11 burials that year.  By 1830, that number grew to 330,000.   Today, after five expansions, the cemetery holds between 2-3million that have been laid to rest here.

And what trip to Paris would not be complete without catching a famous cabaret?  We chose the Moulin Rouge to round out our tour of the Montmartre district and were not disappointed!  Paris was just the beginning of our journey which ultimately spanned over 3,000km, hence the overcharges on the rental car!  We owe a great big merci beaucoup to one Parisian in particular, Veronique your amazing advice and travel links proved priceless!  More to come on France soon . . . .