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Posted By Robin & Jim

Our last stop in the Loire Valley was the David d'Angers gallery.  David is a famous sculptor with pieces in many prominent places around the world.  He was an amazing talent, and the gallery was small, but very interesting - located in a former abbey. 

david d'angers gallery

One of the places on Jim's wish list for this France trip was Mont St. Michel on the northern coast.  The Mont is a rocky tidal island that was a monastery starting in the 8th century.  The abbey sits at the top of the tall rock, with a small town spiraling around the mountain leading up to the summit.  It was quite a climb up to the top of the abbey, but well worth it for the view and to hear about all the history of this amazing place.

mont st. michel

From there we drove to the opulent palace at Versailles, and then into Paris.  We used a big pile of Metro (subway) cards running all around the city to see as many highlights as we could in a few days.  We took a lovely dinner cruise on the Seine to see the city lit up at night, we enjoyed nice little lunches at sidewalk cafes, we toured Sacre Coeur, Place de la Concorde, the Arc du Triomphe, strolled along the Left Bank, and toured and climbed Notre Dame cathedral.  I think that was my favorite - the views of the city are wonderful, but the gargoyles were really exceptional!

notre dame view

We found Paris to be very crowded with tourists, but it was easy to understand why people find it to be such a compelling city.  It has so many sights and an endless variety of museums.  We spent just one afternoon at the famous Louvre, and I never realized that the buildings were once a palace - they are a work of art by themselves! 

louvre

The collections in the Louvre were unbelievable - you just have to try and absorb it in small bits at a time.

Of course no trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower, and we got to see it by day and by night.

eiffel tower

We all took the train through the Chunnel from Paris to London.  Jim's Dad flew back to Florida and we took two days to enjoy London.  Of course we headed right to the Royal Naval Observatory to see the Harrison clocks that were used to accurately calculate longitude on ships at sea.  We walked all around the town trying to see as much as we could, wrapping up with a ride on the London Eye to see the city by night - wonderful!


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We spent about a week exploring some of the lovely towns along the Loire River, and of course sampling many Loire Valley wines along the way.  Spending two weeks in the Burgundy region spoiled us though, as we decided we liked that region's wines a bit better.  The Loire area has a large number of famous chateaus - incredible mansions and small castles built by the ultra wealthy nobles and some of the French kings.  Each one is more ornate and elaborate than the last.  Chambord (below) was one of my favorites, with a roof covered in many different spires.

chambord

Another one that we both liked was Chenonceau, set astride a small river.  It features lovely formal gardens on each side, as well a labyrinth made from sculptured hedges.

cenenceau

Chateau Usse resembled a Disney-style castle, and it was one of the very few where family members still live in part of the chateau.  It had a large chapel set off to one side, horse stables, and of course a formal French garden.

chateau usse

We saw so many chateaus in the area that we got overwhelmed - opulence overload!  But I had never been to France before and Jim hadn't been there in 50 years, so it was good that we could see so much in the time we had.

We enjoyed the large towns (small cities?): Amboise, Saumer, Tours, Chartres, Orleans - they were full of history as well as bustling with business.  The sidewalks had lovely outdoor cafes and modern light rail systems.  But all of these old French towns have narrow streets, and it was typical to see a little Postal van-let stop right in the middle of the street - blocking all traffic - to deliver a package.  The French never seemed to mind this practice - everyone just waited patiently until the Postal worker returned and drove off.

Jim, of course, enjoyed pressing his nose to the windows of the chocolatiers and patisseries - with the brightly colored and artistically decorated confections on display.

 sweet treats

Sometimes he couldn't just look in the windows, and he had to venture inside!

One of our favorite towns was Saumer - we stayed in a hotel along the river that had a courtyard facing a chateau high overhead.  The restaurants were particularly good (or maybe we were just getting better at choosing), and you have to love a chateau that has grape vines growing just outside the walls.

saumer chateau and Jim


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

Our trip through France was a whirlwind, and we made the most of our time there.  I took a ton of photos and we visited many different kinds of places.

While on the Nivernais Canal and the Yonne River in Burgundy, we stopped in the large town of Auxerre.  Even a large town has many cathedrals!

auxerre

We explored the town and enjoyed the many restaurants as well as the bakeries.  Jim loved the gorgeous pastries and dessert treats in the patisserie shop windows.  I don't know how the French stay so slim with their devotion to fabulous breads (croissants, pain au chocolat, baguettes) and pastries.  But we wore the calories away with miles of walking and exploring all the little side streets.  The town had a lot of houses built in the 15th century - so impressive that those houses still stand today.  Imagine the stories those buildings could tell!

We explored the wonderful cathedrals - some built in the 12th century.

auxerre cathedral

It's amazing to think of all the skilled workers carving each stone, the architects who designed the soaring ceilings, and the muscle to raise these heavy blocks of stone to build each cathedral.  They are magnificent.

In Auxerre we took a day trip over to Chablis to see the famous vineyards and sample some of the different grades of Chablis wine.  The Grand Cru was really good but even the lower grades of wine were lovely. 

We enjoyed the rest of our canal boat cruise through the countryside and the little towns.  I liked the forests and rolling hills, and these beech trees with big green clumps of mistletoe growing everywhere.

mistletoe

After two weeks we picked up a rental car and headed to the Loire Valley to see the towns and chateaus and more cathedrals.  Our first stop was Orleans - a beautiful town that celebrates Joan of Arc, and we lunched in the shadow of this cathedral.

orleans cathedral

The carvings and details inside and outside of the Orleans cathedral was just stunning, along with the stained glass windows and statues. 

inside orleans cathedral
Many of the larger windows illustrate the story of a particular martyr - grim tales of struggles for power and cruelty, all in the name of intolerance.  Lessons history seems to repeat.