Monday, June 16, 2014

Tour of France 2014

We decided to do our trip to France from 26th May to 14th June. 3:00 pm. on the 26th of May found us at Ottawa International Airport waiting for our flight to Toronto and then Paris. There is not a direct flight from Ottawa to Paris via Air Canada. We spent a little while beforehand practising French and in particular Ed had been very dedicated practising every day and it showed when we were in France. We had decided to try to be minimalistic in our packing for carryon and I managed with a large travel purse type bag which carried my tablet, charger, camera and anything else I might need in the short run to Toronto and then Paris. We were taking our netbook (rather ancient now as it runs Windows XP), Ed's camera and his Ipod. It is the leanest we have ever traveled to Europe in terms of electronic gadgets. But this was to be primarily a vacation; limited genealogy. I took some images for transcription but did not do any genealogy on the trip as it turned out. I have decided that from now on for every three weeks that I put into transcription I will take one week off of transcription. That will let me fulfill my new challenges with respect to my research. I will always have one week in four which will let me do analysis and reconstruction.

There we were in Ottawa airport awaiting our airplane and we were quite early but prefer that so we are quite settled in and ready to board. The tablet worked very well in the airport and the longer I have the tablet the better I like it. I can easily multitask going between internet, email and skype at a flick of the finger. I can type small notes to myself if I am so inclined. With membership in My Heritage my entire tree is at my fingertips whenever that crosses my mind. I could also do that with Find My Past or Ancestry but I rather like the layout with My Heritage. The 4:00 plane to Toronto was just loading when we finished with security and we watched as that was completed and then they departed nicely on time. We were a little nervous at our only 1 hour and 25 minutes between our landing in Toronto and leaving on the Paris flight. But we were in the same terminal at Toronto for both landing and departing. We boarded at 4:35 pm and liked our seats. It was quite clouded in so settled in to just do a little reading until we landed in Toronto. We quickly moved over to our gate for Paris and the lineup was already in place so we joined that. We knew they were feeding us on the plane so did not even bother getting anything to drink but just waited about one hour before we boarded. It passed quickly actually and surprisingly.

Soon we were aboard and everything settled in and had our dinner. I like the dinners on Air Canada and whilst we had been waiting for that I started a movie and between the two the first two hours of the seven hour flight passed by. I was actually rather sleepy and ended up falling asleep just before Newfoundland on the map and slept until the middle of the ocean. Then I dozed almost until we were south of the furtherest west point of Ireland. Dawn was breaking and I watched to see if I could see Ireland, Lands End or Jersey or Guernesy. The cloud cover was too heavy and so we flew on towards Paris arriving about 20 minutes early and we had the shock of being told that there wasn't a gate for us to land at and we would land out in the field and be transferred by bus to the terminal. It ended up not being a big deal but we had to move to our travel agent's transfer point and it was to be the terminal right next to where we were landing. However, the bus brought us to the correct terminal and we quickly moved through Immigration and on to find our Tour agent. She greeted us by name which was rather refreshing and we settled in to wait for the van which was picking us up to take us into Paris. I wondered why she would know our name so readily and discovered that our trip was just 20 people for the French Elegance Tour. That was a shock but they apparently run them at 20 and try to stay around 30 so as to give lots of room on the bus.

We met a number of the people on the trip with us as we waited for our transfer to Paris. We tend to find that most of the people are Australian, American or Canadian on our trips and this was also true this time.

We did our usual rest as soon as we arrived at our hotel and we were at Day two. Two hours later we were out walking in an area with which we were familiar from our earlier trip to Paris. We had planned to see a couple of items that involved just going and having a look. Heading straight out from the St James and Albany Hotel which is opposite Le Jardin des Tuileries we decided to do a walking tour around the blocks and it worked out very well for us. We were able to visit Place Vendome, Place de la Concorde and the Eglise de la Medeleine. We knew we had a Welcome Dinner at 7:00 pm so paced ourselves accordingly. Our dinner was at Chez Clement on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees and we enjoyed the local cuisine and wine that accompanied our meal. The onion soup really stood out at this dinner. Paris is on Central European Time so that it is quite light until after 10 oclock pm. On our return to the hotel we walked up the street from our hotel to have a look at the golden statue of Jeanne d'Arc in Place des Pyramides. Our day in Paris was done and the next day we needed to be up at 6:30 am, luggage out at 7:30 am and breakfast at 7:00 am with a bus leave time of 8:30 am.

Day three of our trip saw us headed for Rouen and World War II beaches in Normandy. We spent lunch time in Rouen and we walked all the way down the old street in Rouen past the astronomical clock and as far as Rouen Cathedral which we toured. We purchased a light lunch and sat and looked at the Cathedral. Rouen Cathedral was quite interesting and I let my mind race back through the centuries thinking about Richard le Blak a merchant at Rouen asking to come to market in England in 1174. He would have walked those floors I am sure. No sense of belonging on my part because I do not think I descend from this Richard but it was certainly interesting thinking about a person who quite likely attended that church. It was badly damaged in WWII and is undergoing more repairs since the original rebuilding was done following the wars. The Churches in France in a number of cases belong to the Government of France and are rented back to the Church for 1 Euro per year. In France, we understood, only selected buildings are maintained by the government. Rouen is where Jeanne D'Arc was burned at the stake. There is church on the site to her memory.

After lunch we headed for the Normandy Beaches. The tour guide decided to stop at Juno Beach where the Canadian Army took responsibility for landing in 1944. He said he had some time and about a third of the people on the coach were Canadian. I didn't know we were going to do that before we came and I felt a shock run through me. I have watched the Canadians storming the beaches so many times in film that I felt I almost knew the beach by heart. We stopped the bus and I quickly headed for the beach. I raced out on the pier to get a view of the beach from as far out as I could go. I did not really know what I would see or feel. No one I knew died on that beach or even landed on it but Canadians landed there and I feel akin to all those people who lived and died on the beach that day. It was pouring with rain just like D Day but I was greeted with a huge expanse of sand in front of my eyes all the way back to the edge of the beach. I was used to seeing all the blockades that had been put in place to prevent the landing on the beach and all that is gone. The sandy beach looks so welcoming and it had been so harsh on our Canadian soldiers who did so well that day achieving their objectives and moving inland. The price they paid gave back to France that beautiful expanse of beach. I finally reconciled that in my mind. Their sacrifice had given normalcy back to the French; had given life back to the French and as I looked around me I saw Canadian flags everywhere. The French have not forgotten those young men of Canada who died on those beaches. I said a prayer for those brave Canadians who died on those beaches 70 years ago (this was May 28 and already the grounds were being readied for the 70th anniversary of D Day on 6 Jun 2014). We walk freely on those beaches because they died and we must never forget that or let our children and grandchildren forget that.

The other item we were going to look at this day was the Bayeux Tapestry. I have heard of the Bayeux Tapestry since I was a child and this was one of my dream items to do on this trip. Its size is amazing, I guess I knew that it was very long, but seeing the actual length amazed me. The colours still so beautiful and the images so perfect. We had an audio guide and moved along in a group looking at all the images and listening to the guide. The time passed too quickly but there were so many people both ahead of us and behind us looking the Tapestry. We found a booklet that includes all of the images on the tapestry with a short writeup for us to look at when we return home again. On to the Novotel where we were staying the night at Bayeux. We had dinner at the Novotel.

In the morning we had an excellent buffet breakfast once again and on our way at 8:30 am and the forecast was for rain and it did rain. We were on Day Four. We were headed to the American beach at Omaha and the large American graveyard (only 50% of the people who died on the American fields of war in WWII are buried there; about 50% were repatriated back to the United States to be buried by their loving families). I said a prayer for those brave young men lying beneath their white crosses. The rows are so straight and they go on and on way out into the distance. We were all pretty wet by the end of our visit to the beach and the graveyard. We also visited Pointe du Hoc where many US Rangers lost their lives. They have left the grounds here as they were with bomb craters and pillboxes. The cliffs here are quite steep and high. We also visited Arromanches where the portable habours were set up about a week after D-Day. We then headed for St Malo and the rain was stopping. When we arrived the rain was gone and we walked through the streets of the old city stopping to eat a little lunch on the way. We tried two local desserts, Far aux pommes and Kurig naturelle. St Malo was about 90% destroyed by bombing but the recreation is absolutely perfect. I can never quite decide later whether I prefer the ruins in Italy or the reconstructions in the UK and France. Each had their own quality and if it was me I would rather rebuild like it was so that I can continue to enjoy the life that I had and so I think it is wonderful to have the reconstructions. It sort of puts defiance in the face of the enemy because you can recover from what they did. Perhaps not exactly the same but you make a new life in spite of the dreadful happenings inflicted on you by the enemy. We wandered around St Malo and walked up on the top of the walls until it was time to head for our hotel which was 5 star (Le Nouveau Monde Hotel). The old city is a walled city. Everyone thought a two night stay at this hotel would be awesome. We had dinner at a marvelous little restaurant on the beach looking out over the water. We had gone there at 6:30 pm but they did not open until 7:00 so we were back there right on time. I had fresh scallops and they were quite delicious – the best I have ever eaten I think. I had started off with onion soup. We had a brief walk on the beach at low tide. We could see the seaside from our hotel room and also hear the waves when the window was open.

On day Five the sun returned. We headed for Mt St Michel and this was a very special place. We had a guide familiar with Mt St Michel to lead us and she did an excellent job. We quickly climbed to the very top (probably 1000 to 2000 steps upwards) and the views were quite spectacular. The weather had cleared nicely and we could see for miles. This is a working area still with many many shops and places to live inside the walls of Mt St Michel. The Church is enormous and has a lot of interesting artifacts. In the shop, I found a bowl with our grandsons name and it was the first time that I had ever found anything so purchased that. Ed found a large cup and saucer and both were made in France. We did discover as we moved around France that they do have a lot of items for tourists which are made in France. We slowly made our way back down a different route looking at all the different shops as we moved towards the exit. This is a very busy tour area plus we were there for Ascension and it is a four day French holiday. The lineups were enormous as the weather had finally cleared and everyone was taking advantage of it. They have painted cow statues at the village and we bought a couple of miniatures to take home. We left the Channel coast and headed back across country to Cour-Cheverney which was nearly a five hour drive to our next resting spot. This was a renovated Chateau and we had a very pleasant dinner there. We had time before dinner to take a stroll through the town and enjoy a French village. We spent two nights at our hotel (Relais des trois Chateaux Hotel). The breakfasts were buffet both times with lots of cheese and fruit – my favourite.

Day Six was again sunny and saw us touring Chateau Chenonceu. This is a fascinating and famous chateau which is built across and in the Cher River quite literally. There had been a mill on the site and the footings from the mill were retained and a Chateau built across the river. It had been a Royal Chateau for some of its existence but was relatively small having just 20 rooms so did not remain a royal residence very long. The rooms were well appointed with period furniture and our guide was most knowledgeable on both the history of the Chateau and the families who lived in it. The grounds were quite extensive and we spent a very interesting morning there. We moved on to have lunch at Amboise where the weather was improved and getting warmer. Here we were to visit Clos Luce which had been the home of Leonardo da Vinci during the last three years of his life and he is buried in the Church there. We toured his house and saw some models built by IBM from his drawings. This evening we had the first of our optional events and this was a dinner out at the Restaurant de la Tour with authentic local cuisine and it was an excellent meal.

Day Seven and we were in motion once again, packing up and moving on towards the Atlantic coast this time. The sunny weather continued. Our first stop was Fontevraud Abbey which is in the process of reconstruction which includes a hotel attached to the Abbey. This is a large Abbey with many many buildings either attached or detached from it. We spent the morning there and took pictures of the tombs of Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine and son Richard the Lion Heart (and his wife Isabella). These four effigies had been repaired and were quite awesome looking especially as they were the only items in the huge nave and we moved on to some of the other parts of the building which were extensive. I especially found the kitchens to be most interesting. An ancient building with a number of internal fireplaces and the cook would choose the fireplace to light based on the wind direction. Once again a huge building with huge fireplaces. We stopped for lunch at Parthenay. Because of the holiday only one restaurant was open to serve food. Time was precious to us that day as we were headed towards La Rochelle and Ile de Re. Perhaps one of the most important parts of our trip was to go to Ile de Re and St Martin de Re as this was the home of Ed's Huguenot ancestors. There were stories of enormous traffic jams and it was a mystery as to whether or not we could even get on the island until we actually arrived. Fortunately the traffic jam never materialized on our way onto the island but the weight of the bus forced us to take the long way to St Martin de Re. Here we were greeted with an ancient fishing village and we wandered the streets for about an hour and finally had a waffle with whipping cream (a specialty on the island) before we headed back to La Rochelle. Fortunately we had taken the time to stop at our hotel so just had to head back and have our dinner which worked out quite well. La Rochelle was also the home of our grandson's 15x great grandfather Isaac before he and his son came to Quebec in the mid 1600s.

Day eight and we headed away from La Rochelle towards St Emilion  bypassing Bordeaux where we would spend the next two nights and would be returning after our wine tour. At Chateau Franc Mayne we had a tour of the winery and then a wine tasting. A most interesting morning. We then moved on to St Emilion and lunch which we enjoyed at Le Trouher Creperie Bretonne and followed that with a tour of the old part of the village. In our wandering we found the ancient Church and spent a little time looking at it. St Emilion was also once a walled town. Then on to Bordeaux and a tour of the old City. The walking tour of Bordeaux with a walk-on Guide was quite interesting and we walked the “triangle” around the old square. The Guide was the most interesting part of this tour as she kept up a running history of the City of Bordeaux. We then had a driving tour of Bordeaux and again the old City and we ended our tour at the Cathedral Church which has its roots in a 1000 year old roman church Romanesque style with equal arms and you could seeing the footings of the early romanesque church. Then a huge latin cross structure was added in the 15th 16th century. Perhaps most striking for me was the similarity between the doors into this church and the doors into Notre Dame in Paris. Indeed, the doors of Notre Dame in Paris are a copy of the doors of this Cathedral Church of St Andre in Bordeau. By the end of the day the temperature was up to 27 C. We were in for warmer weather later. Hotel Pullman Bordeaux Aquitania.

Just a note to say that we stopped in several villages and towns that are on the pilgrim path to  Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Day nine and we didn't pack our bags which was very nice. Instead we were on the bus at 8:30 a.m. And on our way to the Dune of Pyla (Pilat) on the Arcachon Peninsula. This immense dune is the highest and largest of its kind in Europe and was a little different for us as it is entirely of sand with no green vegetation (several km in length). There is a flight of stairs up to the top of the dune (about 200 steps) but you could also just head up the side doing a crisscross pattern and get to the top. Once at the top the view was terrific and as I looked along the dune I noticed it was higher further on so headed that way; once reached the next point was also higher but decided not to do that as I have a feeling that it just always looks higher! Headed back down and our next stop near Arcachon was part of an optional tour and we stopped for a taste of oysters (or shrimp which Ed and I ate) . We watched people eat oysters. The shrimp were excellent and I managed to break off the head with eyes and descale my shrimps and then eat them. They were delicious – freshest shrimp I have ever had I think. The young lady gave us a short talk on Oyster fishing which was very very interesting. We then moved on to Arcachon where we wandered for a couple of hours and could have lunch. We settled for a nice walk along the beach and the promenade and then gelato ice cream which was very good. We then headed back to Bordeau and dinner.

Day ten and packed bags out at 7:30 and then breakfast. Excellent breakfasts with cereal and yoghurt to begin and then on to cheeses and fruits and toast. Our next stop was Brive-la-Gaillarde, Dordogne valley and we stayed at Hotel Le Quercy Brive la Gaillarde. This was a nice hotel and fairly modern (i.e. lots of plugs). But we had a busy day along the way as this was our time to stop and see the ancient cave drawings. There was a change in our itinerary as we couldn't go to the Rouffignac Caves and had to go to Lascaux II which is a copy of the original cave drawings of Lascaux I which were found by a group of schoolboys in 1940. In just 23 years the cave was infected by human environment and had to be closed but this exact duplicate was made and it was quite fascinating. I think what I most noticed was that the animals that had been drawn looked so real and had a feeling of being in motion. Seeing the original would be nice but I will believe from pictures of the original that this copy was exact (supposed to be 99% accurate). From there we went on to Sarlat-la-caneda which is a 9th century limestone village. We spent our lunch time there wandering around and Ed had a Croque Monsieur and I had ice cream. The church was quite interesting again and in behind was a quite ancient mortuary and grave yard. We were then back on the bus and arrived at Brive-la-Gaillarde at 4:15 pm. That evening we took an optional tour to Collonge la Rouge and all of the houses in this village were built of red limestone. This village is a stop on the El Camino de Santiago or the Way of St James which is a major Christian pilgrimage route and there was one large symbol denoting that. We wandered about looking at all the red stone buildings and then Ed had a local beer and I had ice cream once again.

Day 11 and it was June 5 (the day before D-Day). Breakfast (no cereal but good cheeses and fruit cake) and then no bags out as this was a two night stay. We boarded the bus to go to La Roque-Gageac where the houses are built into the stone face of the mountains which tower above this stop. We had ice cream here – I had walnut ice cream which was excellent. Then on to Domme which is a walled City and we were to have our lunch there and enjoy the market. Here I bought a leather red arm band for me made by a local artisan ( I collected her card). As if that wasn't enough in our day we went on to the Chateau de Beynac (built before the 100 Years War) and was the property of Eleanor of Aquitaine and used principally by her son Richard the Lion Heart. This is a really ancient castle that is being refurbished by the owners. We went all through it and the views from the top of the walls were fascinating. Most of the castle is empty but the size of the rooms, the thickness of the walls are all worth seeing now hundreds of years later. Back to Le Quercy and dinner at La Truffe Noir where we had duck, whipped potatoes and stuffed tomatoes. I actually ate the thigh of the duck and it was very well cooked but I do not really like duck. But all in the name of local cuisine. By this day the weather was heating up, 28 C.

Day 12 and June 6 – imagine D Day in France 70th anniversary. We had visited the Normandy Battlefields earlier and seen some of the preparations. We were off on the bus to Vichy today. But first on to the Massif Centrale and the dormant volcano of Puy de dome where we would have lunch. I had noted that there were Roman ruins (Mercury Temple) at this stop but had it in my mind that they were at the bottom of the hill. Actually they were at the top beyond the top of the funincular train station which brought us up the face of the mountain. We climbed up to this spot where there had been a temple to Mercury and there was also a museum there which we spent a little time in. I thought I would walk over to St Barbary's temple but got on the wrong road so could see it but not reach it readily. Headed back and we went back down the rather steep slope to the building for the Funicular Railway and had a rather good lunch. I had a salad mixture of potato salad, string carrots and a crab salad with a roll and chocolate cake and Ed had a salmon pastry and a cherry torte. A most enjoyable lunch which we partially shared. Then on to Vichy and the Vichy Spa Hotel Les Celestins. I was immediately attracted to the D Day ceremonies on the TV and sat there for a number of hours watching the main event at Ouistreham on the British Beachhead (Sword) and it was extremely well done. The French President gave a rousing talk which was followed by a creative dance depicting the war years. Then everyone dispersed to the various battle fields for the national memorials. Following that we went for a long walk which included a walk down the Napoleon Gallery which is a well known shopping area in Vichy. We were hungry so went and had our dinner along the Allier River at the Brasserie d'Alligator. Ed had a mixed grill and I had a pizza. Both were excellent. Temperature 30 C.

Day 13 and breakfast at this hotel was amazing. At least a dozen different kinds of cheese and so many cakes – pound cake (lemon, plain and chocolate), fruit cake and a walnut cake (all of which I sampled). Finally cereal again with yoghurt. Then a bowl of fresh fruits to go with the cheeses. There were also trays and trays of cold meat and hot meats which I walked by. Nice to look at but not my favourite! Then back on the bus for 8:30 am and on our way to Dijon. The landscape is rather interesting as there are hedge rows which we haven't really seen too much of here in Southern France. Very hilly and the farms look amazing. All the land appears to be tilled and France is the second largest exporter in the world after the United States of foodstuff. Row upon row of vineyards as this testifies to one of the larger wine areas in France. We arrived at Dijon around lunch time and had three hours to walk around the old market area of Dijon. Found a nice shirt for Edward. We toured the Museum of Fine Arts housed in the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy – namely Charles the Bold and Philip the Good which included the marble effigies from their graves in Notre Dame Church. The paintings were many that I had not seen before including one amazing one of David holding the head of Goliath. We went off to our hotel at 3 pm and it was a lovely hotel (Mercure Dijon Clemenceau) and again just a short stay. We had an optional tour in the evening to the vineyard of Phillippe Bernard at Fixin, Clos St. Louis. He has a large series of vineyards and gave us tastes from four different bottles of his various vineyards. Later we shared a club sandwich and salad for a light supper. Decided it would be nice to do a wine and cheese for Christmas Eve this year. Off to bed early; very tired but a long and interesting day. Temperature 31 C.

Day 14 and we are headed for Strasbourg via Colmar. The countryside has changed as it is more treed and the fields tend to be cash crops. It is a long drive to Strasbourg and we make our lunch stop at Colmar a rather interesting village in Alsace.  We bought two interesting desserts for lunch along with a coke – a strawberry cream cake and a chocolate layer cream cake. We wandered about the market area and found a stork on top of the church steeple of St. Martin. It was my first stork and I was quite captivated by the bird. Eventually as we moved about we discovered that there were two adult birds on the nest and probably some young although we could not clearly see them. We spent quite a bit of our spare time looking at them. We then moved on to the Dominican Priory which holds a couple of national treasures – namely the folding altarpiece and the painting of the Madonna with roses. There were a number of other national treasures also housed in this Dominican priory which we toured and that used up all of our time. I managed to purchase a copy of the folding altarpiece (an interesting paper construction). We then moved on to Strasbourg and our hotel right on the island in the centre of the city – Regent Petite Hotel France. Our hotel was marvelous. It was an old mill that had been converted to a hotel with all the rooms facing the canal and retaining much of the exterior look of the mill with the water still running underneath and all the machinery of the mill still visible. We found some time before dinner to walk to the Strasbourg Cathedral and it is even more impressive in reality than its pictures. Write-ups do not totally do it justice. Dinner was at the hotel restaurant and was an epicurean delight. We headed upstairs as we were both really tired and our three days in Strasbourg promised to be very very busy ones. Temperature 36 C.

Day 15 (breakfast on the patio) and this was a holiday but a walking tour of the old town of Strasbourg had been organized for us which ended at the Cathedral. The tour included the astronomical clock and we were then in time to see the hour change and all the interesting fixtures make their motions. I am sure if you lived there at some point in your life you would want to watch all of the various times occurring on the clock. Lunch for us was a light affair and we took a ride on the double decker Carousel. Then we were off to Colmar for our Alscae wine tour which involved going towards Colmar and then working our way back seeing the various wine fields, seeing more storks at Riquewihr and stopping in Ribeauville for shopping and then to a Reisling wine tasting. We then had dinner at Scherwiller which was a rather interesting meal given that we had already had several glasses of wine without any bread. Finished our dinner and home just after 10 pm. To bed early as tomorrow was going to be another busy day. This was our hottest day thus far temperature 38 C.

Day 16 and this was our tour of Baden-Baden in Germany and a tour of the Strasbourg canals by boat. Baden-Baden was interesting because it is part of the Palatinate (earlier name for the area) from which Ed’s ancestors came down the Rhine. We had the joy of seeing our flag flying in Baden-Baden and this was perhaps as a member of NATO. We walked about here and found a really interesting Roman Ruins site although we did not investigate that any further than looking into the windows which was quite a good view anyway. There really wasn’t time to do more than that. We had a light lunch and then made our way back to the bus as we had our canal tour to do in the afternoon in Strasbourg.  The heat was still intense (33 C) and the prospect of a boat tour was somewhat daunting although we knew the boats were air conditioned. But it was a very warm trip around the canals of Strasbourgh but I did get to see the European Parliament buildings located there. They meet in this area just once a month as the regular meetings are held in Brussels where we did see those buildings on our last European trip. We finished the tour at the Cathedral and looked around this area for a while and had a light dinner which, given the amount of food which we had eaten on this trip, was a good idea!

Day 17 (breakfast on the patio) and we were on our way to Verdun to see the Ossuary and memorial tower to the French soldiers there. First we had a stop at the remains of Fort de Douaumont where you can still see the trenches and underground fortifications. There wasn’t time to tour this rather large underground structure but it would have been interesting. We were soon on our way once again to Verdun. This was the place of the heroic French stand in World War I to break the advance of the German forces and basically the line scarcely changed in the four years and at a cost of 500,000 French soldiers and 500,000 German soldiers. So much death of youth and the visit to the European Parliament buildings came together in my mind as the future of Europe is just so much better with this historical community of nations working together. We walked through the grave stones reading names and spent most of our visit time doing that. I found the idea of visiting this Ossuary Memorial and then the Mercier Champagne tour to be direct opposites on the same day but much was to be learned about French Resistance and how the many peoples of France did their utmost to work against their oppressors during WWII and that included these great chasms in the earth which could help to hide the secrets of the Resistance. We enjoyed our tour and the drink of Champagne (Mercier) and as I drank I thought of it as a tribute to those brave young men at Verdun. The Cellars of Mercier are one of the oldest and were hollowed out by hand in the late 1800s. They and other Champagne producers in the area have millions of bottles of Champagne stored underground in various stages of production. Our hotel this evening was the Hostellerie La Briqueterie Vinay at Epernay and it was a perfect country spot. We had a lovely patio outside our room and we really enjoyed our stay there. Dinner was at the hotel and it was a superb group meal. When we are on such a tour I like to just be part of a large group personally and not break up into small tables. It is just fun to listen to the conversation around the table.Temperature 26 C.

Day 18 and our bus was headed for Reims Cathedral – the early French Kings were crowned there and Joan of Arc had lead the French armies to victory so that the young Dauphin could be crowned there. Her tragic death at the hands of the English army (burnt at the stake as a witch) is well known to school children here in Canada. We had visited the site where the burning took place earlier. There is a statue of her in the courtyard of Reims Cathedral where she is looking lovingly towards God and it is He that has told her to do what she did according to history. We spent an hour at Reims and then we were on our way to Paris – the City of Light and I do find Paris to be a beautiful City. Row upon row of perfect housing flowing out from the Eiffel Tower. We were there after a rather long drive because of heavy traffic and then taken on a "long" bus tour of the City of Paris. The Tour of two hours was perhaps too long although in retrospect I am glad that we did do the tour as we once again saw the sights that we had seen on our last tour of Paris in 2010. The refresher was nice but the tour was long and I just wanted to get off the bus! We walked up to the Arc de Triomphe from our hotel which was about 5 kilometres round trip. We had hoped to be there in time for the lighting of the eternal flame to the unknown soldier buried there. We did make it in time and it was a beautiful ceremony with a number of different military tunes played by the band and then ended with La Marseilles (French National Anthem) which we learned as school children in our French classes. We then took the elevator up to the top of the Arc and I have to say that this view is just as good as the view from the first level of the Eiffel Tour. As it turned out this was a crispy clear day in Paris and we could see for miles. We spent about an hour at the top of the tower and then had our dinner at the George V Café on the way back to our hotel (Saint James and Albany Hotel Spa). Temperature 28 C.

Day 19 and there were several optional tours planned but we had decided not to do these and instead made our way to the Louvre first thing in the morning. The lines were very short at this time and we, of course, made our way to the Mona Lisa once again. Last time we were on the outskirts of a large group surrounding this famous painting. This time we were right at the tape which held the people back but we were so very close. We spent a little time there looking at this world famous painting and then moved on to various other sections but principally the Italian, French and English paintings and of course the statue of Venus de Milo. We then found the area set aside for displays of the French Kings and by then the three hours had passed and we were hungry for lunch which we enjoyed at Pauls Cafe in the Louvre. Our afternoon was to be a walk to Notre Dame Cathedral where there was a huge lineup but we noticed that it was moving quickly so we joined it and soon we were in the Cathedral. This building was heavily damaged during the Revolution on the main level but the upper windows were still intact and quite beautiful. We spent a good hour touring the Cathedral and then decided on a bicycle taxi back to our hotel. This is an interesting way to see Paris. We moved quite a bit slower through the streets and had good views of various items which we fortunately remembered from our two tours of the city. Dinner this evening was to be a Closing Dinner at a local restaurant the Flora Danica on the Champs Elysee. It was well chosen and the meal was excellent. I will always think of the meal at Epernay as our Closing Dinner because I enjoyed the collegial seating all at the same table.

Day 20 and the day consisted of an early breakfast and then onto the airport and our flight back. This was to be a 30 hour day as we moved back in time. Our flight was on time at Charles de Gaulle airport and our seats were excellent as we could see once we left the clouds over Paris the coastline beneath us and the islands of Guernsey and Jersey, then we were delighted to see the southern most coast of England, Lands End which we had not seen before from the air. We watched two movies and by then we could see the coast of Newfoundland and icebergs glistening beneath us in the distance. Good views of Newfoundland as it was clear in the skies above that province but starting to cloud in as we reached the Gros Morne National Park area. Then cloud all the rest of the way to Montreal where we landed a few minutes early. We had just 2 hours to make our flight to Ottawa and we needed all of that time as we worked our way through customs and then waited for our luggage and then back through security and walking to the very end of the terminal to our small plane to take us to Ottawa. Airborne right on time and home a few minutes early to Ottawa airport. Home by 6:00 pm.

Next tour will be a boat ride on the Rhine coming downriver from Switzerland to Amsterdam and perhaps next year.

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