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Monday, September 27, 2010

Sunday 26th September

We've had a feast of history here in Reims. The Notre Dame Cathedral, St Remi Basilica,Museums,the map room where the historical signing of the Nazi unconditional surrender took place on 7th May 1945. We've also learned that there are many kilometres of caves that run under the city. Once used by Benedictine monks as they joined Notre Dame and St Remi Basilica and also for shelter from the bombings during the war and now used to store many millions of bottles of champagne We've been in just a small area 20 metres under ground. The chalk room, pyramid shape was amazing and is ideal for storage of champagne at 10 degrees all year round.

We've walked our feet off which is just as well as we've gained a good sense of direction, necessary when the GPS cannot cope with this City, the largest we've been in so far. There are road works, roundabouts no longer there, the construction of tram tracks and closed off roads not to mention one way traffic. The weather has been wet and very cold with chilly winds. I think everyone here is wearing coats except us. Only got to 11 degrees by mid afternoon today so are pleased to have a warm apartment just 10 minutes walk from the main shopping/ restaurant precinct. For a very large city with huge numbers of tourists we have been astonished that all the shops except restaurants/bars are closed today.

Porte de Mars a 3rd Century Roman Arch - Reims

Courtyard of museum of Fine Arts

back view of Notre Dame, Reims

Cave of Taittenger Co

Staircase in St Remi Museum

Foyer at Munn Champagne House

Blue skies over Notre Dame Reims - doesn't show the chilly winds

One window in St Remi's Basilica

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Nolay Hotel

Pommard crop

Chateau Pommard

Very Pensive

Pommard Vines


Graham grinding the mustard seeds at Fallot's Moutarderie

More Photos

Pommard Chateau

Hotel-Dieu – Hospices de Beaune

Hotel-Dieu – Hospices de Beaune Hospital ward

Main shopping area in Beaune

Hotel-Dieu – Hospices de Beaune

Le Home hotel - Beaune

Market- Cheese and Jambon Cru - Imagine paying $50 for some ham & cheese at home! It has served us for 3 lunches and a couple of Brekkies so far. Still some cheese left tho'

Gourmet lunch shared with the family dog at Le Home

Road from Beaune to Nolay. Grape harvesters having a break

The Pink Room-Patchwork Quilt on bed and pink carpet on walls and ceiling!!! Very cute but very homely at Le Home
On the way from Beaune to Nolay
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Friday, September 24, 2010

Thursday 23rd September

We are in Beaune! And gorgeous weather 26-29 degrees and blue blue skies!

After about a 3 hour journey from Vichy with a breakfast stop along the way, we arrived in Beaune around midday to be greeted warmly by our hostess Mathilde. She not only showed us to our room which is basic but very “roomy” and very homely but also was keen to extol the virtues of her lovely Beaune.

We set off for Pommard, only about 3 kms out of town and visited the Chateau de Pommard. A very exclusive, working winery - Their wine is only sold at the Chateau. As we had to wait about 40 minutes for the tour in English, we were treated to a Picasso exhibition prior to our tour. We were given the history of the Chateau de Pommard which is 300 years old but since new ownership in 2003 a fantastic restoration has taken place. They grow all their own grapes and harvesting started today! They employ 50 pickers who will work over the next 8 weeks to pick all the grapes by hand in their 91 hectare vineyard. Having had a small amount of experience at this we know that day after day this would be back breaking work and the “pickers” were all ages. We were taken down to the cellars which is naturally cool with an 80% humidity all year round. They are confident that the year’s harvest will be fantastic as all conditions were great and they expect to sell all their wine from 2009 before it is even bottled. They do ship overseas but at 58€ a bottle of 2006 vintage, we won’t be sending any home for friends/ bosses!!

After the tour we were cheeky enough to have our picnic lunch in the garden area before going for a drive to Chassagne- Montrachet There were grape vines everywhere and pickers in full flight along the way. Some crops are picked by machine but there was plenty of evidence of hand picking that we were able to see.

Hotel-Dieu – Hospices de Beaune. What an amazing place this was and full of history – a charity Hospital for the poor. In the wake of the hundred years war, three quarters of the town’s population had no supplies. The hospice was founded by the Chancellor Nicolas Rolin and his wife Guigone de Salins. They endowed it with an annual income (a saltworks) and its own resources (vines) and engaged a large number of artists in its decoration.

Surprisingly it was built in 1443 and has multi coloured roof tiles which were thought to have originated in central Europe. The hospital wards are still set up with beds either side down the length of the room. The Hotel-Dieu operated as a hospital until 1971. Until 1985, the kitchen continued to function with modern equipment feeding the residents of the retirement home. It has now been restored to the early 20th century style. The Saint Louis room is home to many magnificent tapestries – on one side the story of the Parable of the Prodigal Son and on the other the story of Jacob.

The Hospices run 61 hectares of vineyards inherited over the centuries and each year since 1859 have organized the most famous wine auction in the world, held in November.

As is common in France most of the shops close at 12 or 12.30pm and reopen around 2-2.30pm. We did manage to find a baguette, a park bench and enjoyed our yummy lunch of ham & cheese with dried fruit to follow.

We decided to stay another day in Beaune and today went to Fallon Mustard factory, the only working mustard factory in France. The weather is perfect and we are having a marvelous time.
Some of the places we have stayed in do not have any coffee making facilities, so on our third day we bought a travel kettle and it has been fantastic. We have our thermnos adn cups so no problems with our hot drinks. We haev made all of ouor bookings on booking.com and have 3 criteria. Under 100 euros a night, free car parking and free Wi Fi. So far we've managed all three adn although we have Wi Fi here it is not fantastic in the room. To paste this blog, I have the computer perched on the window sill!
There is no doubt that with a longer stay, the roads become more familiar and we are less reliant on Suzie. In fact we didn’t even take her this morning.
Back on the road tomorrow and headed for Reims for three nights!
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bridge over the Charente River in Cognac

                                                                 Vineyards out fromCognac

Church in Vichy

Beautiful stained glass windows - Vichy

Bergerac Vieille Ville

Monday 20th September - Bonjour from Vichy

Since my last blog, we have covered quite a lot of France. We have been blessed with great weather - blue skies and sunny everyday. We are both travelling well and have to stop and remind ourselves that we are actually on this journey. We left Saintes Saturday morning headed for Bergerac.

We arrived in Cognac late morning and spent a few hours there. First stop - the information centre then to park the car and get walking!! We discovered that the tours of the Cognac houses were free entry today and the first tour in English was 2pm. After walking around the town and purchasing supplies for lunch from our favourite boulangerie - La Mie Caline we enjoyed a lovely lunch on the banks of the Charente River. We visited a museum that offered a brilliant multimedia presentation of the early days and the importance of the Charente River in relation to trade. In this city- there is a distinct smell - Cognac and we learned on our tour that 2% evaporates every year into the atmosphere. A very interesting tour and one worth waiting for. We left Cognac around 3.30 and continued our journey on the minor roads to arrive in Bergerac just after 6pm. Obviously just out of Cognac there were vineyards everywhere, all neatly in rows and heavy with grapes as they are about to be harvested in the next few weeks. As mentioned before the route is more scenic along the minor roads but this takes considerably longer because of all the small villages. We arrived in Bergarac around 6pm after a fairly comfortable journey. Our little Peugeot 207 is great but struggles a bit on the hills as we expected.

We were surprised to find Bergerac almost deserted on Sunday morning with most shops closed even the tourist information. Too bad we hadn't read the Lonely Planet guide properly or we'd have known. We have discovered that the best way to see the towns /villages is to park the car and walk and this we did again this morning. Along the banks of the Dordogne and into the Vieille Ville. Amazing buildings all shapes and sizes built in brick and timber. The renovated old town has been restored to its former beauty and we strolled along its many winding streets until we reached the newer area of Bergerac. We enjoyed a very leisurely Sunday lunch "Alfresco" before heading back to the car.

I  decided that we should take a little drive along some of the narrow roads out of town and we were well rewarded for the effort. Along beautiful narrow roads and totally surrounded by vineyards and just 7kms out of Bergerac we found the Monbazillac Chateau. Built in the mid-sixteenth century, the chateau is situated in the heart of the prestigious Monbazillac vineyards. It was certainly worth the short drive as the views were spectacular – vineyards as far as the eye could see.

We travelled today to Vichy in Auvergne in central France. We decided to travel on the paege as it was significantly quicker - 3 1/2 hours instead of 5 1/2 hours to travel the distance. The roads are magnificent and well worth paying the 22 euros. Most of the way the speed limit was 130. Vichy is best known as a spa and resort town. It was the de facto capital of Vichy France during the World War II Nazi German occupation from 1940 to 1944. We walked along the river banks for a while, through the parks up into the old village before taking a 30 minute train ride around the city. We did sample the lovely spa water but did not avail ourselves or the other spas. Evidently people come from all over to drink the different spa waters for the healing properties.

We're off to Beaune / Dijon tomorrow and will stay there a couple of nights and as has been the case so far, every area has offered something completely different. We are certainly enjoying every experience.

We have been surprised that we have been able to get accommodation for very reasonable rates that include free car parking and free Wi Fi internet and Booking.com has become our favourite site. We book ahead usually only a day or two.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friday 17th September

It's never too late.... to live in the present

Most problems are fears of the future
or worries from the past.
If you live in the present they don't exist.
In the present you're as alive as you can be.
Your decisions are spontaneous.
Your heart is open.
Your spirit is free.

"Life is short and time is swift"            Proverb

We’d decided to have a leisurely day – a slow start and walk into the main town centre and find the market. We woke around 9.30am and after coffee set off on foot. We left the hotel with no map/no GPS but fortunately headed in the right direction and after about 15-20 minutes caught a glimpse of the Saint Eutrope Church. From there we found the market with fresh fruit & vegies, meat, seafood, poultry and cheese. We bought a punnet of raspberries which were very delicious and this was pre breakfast snack.  

We then headed on down to Quartier Saint Pierre and had coffee and croissant for breakfast now 11am. We found the Musee de l’Echevinage a collection of 19-20th Century paintings.

Did some window shopping along the narrow alley ways in the main part of the town centre before heading back to the market where we purchased, tomatoes, an avocado, bananas and strawberries. I'm even improving getting the right money to pay!! Found a boulangerie on the way home and complete with baguette we headed back to the hotel for lunch.

The diet ratio now is about 2:2 with breads, croissants & pastries to fruit & vegies.

Too bad about the footy scores - but well done to the Magpies.

It is a perfect Sunny 25° today and there is daylight until about 8pm. It's really fantastic.

I think we've walked well over 6kms all up today so time for a rest now!

Friday, September 17, 2010


It's never too late... to say thank you

It takes so little.
Yet it means so much.
Make the effort.
No matter how late.
Mean it.
Say it generously.
It lifts spirits.
It maintains friendships.
And seals love.

"who gives not thanks to men, gives not thanks to God." Arab proverb

Merci, merci beaucoup is heard everywhere here in France as well as Bonjour, Bon Soir, Au Revoir...

Only an hour further south on our journey, we arrived at Saintes. A City full of ancient monuments. Today we visited what remains of an ampitheatre which was built in 40 AD. Very hard to imagine. We followed three walking tours which started at the Ampitheatre and we then found Saint Eutrope Church. The church was built by Benedictine monks and consecrated in 1096. The crypt was huge with amazing architecture. Further along on our walk we came across an Archaeological museum as well as a couple of churches and a convent  - Abbaye aux Dames. The beautiful narrow streets with buildings imposing and often the outside walls are on the lean add character! 

A wonderful experience and very different from the Island and Loire Valley. Most people speak some English but today we've been challenged! My school girl French was not all wasted.

As far as diet is concerned - baguettes, pastries and croissants outweigh fruit and vegetables by about 4:1. I wonder if we'll get sick of the fabulous pastries?

Another day here tomorrow then off to Bergerac via Cognac.

There is no change to the rules for driving as set out on the first day. The roundabouts are plentiful and I am getting more confident especially if only one lane. Unfortunately today there were two lanes entering a roundabout and I couldn’t take the correct exit because of trucks on my right, so around again. I do remember these roundabouts form 2004 and also the traffic lights which are overhead but also a very small set at eye level.. very cute!
I think for every man, woman & child in France there must be at least one dog. They are everywhere along the streets in shops, at restaurants - All shapes, breeds and sizes...on leads and in shopping baskets... so much for OH&S.
Signs on buildings along the streets.. you do need to watch where you step too!
Ampitheatre with Saint-Eutrope Church in the background
Some of the reconstructed pieces in the Archaeoligical Museum
Au Revoir... Until next time

Thursday 16th September


After a wonderful three days in the Loire Valley, we set off for L'Ile de Re a small island of  La Rochelle.  

L'Ile de Ré is an island that is apparently very popular with the Parisians for their summer holidays. We are stayed at St Martin which is a quaint fishing port and one of 10 separate areas. The island itself is about 30 kms in length and 5 kms at its widest  point and main production is salt. There was a gorgeous waffle shop and we decided to try one – chocolate and Chantilly. Oh dear, much too rich and messy – never again.
Our excellent GPS took us right to the door of Le Clos Rhea. This place is in a very narrow street and was all locked up like Fort Knox. We did have some difficulty with getting in as we couldn’t be heard despite pressing the bell several times. However eventually, we were met at the gate and shown around the complex, paid the bill and were given instructions regarding security entrance and exit from the complex and finding the parking out the back. This required driving around one way streets and was a bit tricky with the tiny narrow streets and driveways. This village is typically French with whitewashed buildings and green shuttered windows and of course the very narrow streets.
Typical cobble stoned street
St  Martin - Port
Le Clos Rhea- our accommodation

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Monday 13th September

Bonjour mon amies

It’s never too late... To take a trip

Change the scenery of your life.

You don’t have to travel far.

It’s an adventure.

A chance to refresh. To Learn. To compare.

To meet new people.

To make new friends.

To view things anew.

To grow.

“Travel broadens the mind” Proverb

Graham was convinced that our GPS should work and so after resetting it, voilá -it sprang into action! We added destinations and were ready to put it to the test.

We have now visited 3 Chateaux in the Loire Valley - all unique and magnificent. Tapestries, furnishings all from the renaissance period 16-18th Centuries. I was especially surprised to see the curtain fabric and wall coverings in a couple of the bedrooms– very “French General” in type. (French General is a Moda range of patchwork fabrics recently available in Australia) Considering the age of these “originals” I was blown away.

Wall paper and curtain material
Villandry has the most amazing gardens. Over 85,000 vegetable plants, 400 roses and 125,000 other platings along with 1200 lime trees. 10 gardeners are employed to manage these spectacular gardens. The chateau itself is a bit tired but well worth the visit. Azay-le-Rideau was the second chateau we visited yesterday and this chateau is nestled away behind quaint little houses.The château of Azay-le-Rideau was built from 1515 to 1527, one of the earliest French Renaissance châteaux. Built on an island in the Indre River, its foundations rise straight out of the water.
We had our first experience of driving down the very narrow streets, often only room for one car at a time. Surprisingly they are two way traffic streets with signs to give way at various points along the street. So far so good with the driving,seems to get easier every day.

Today we set of for Chenonceau, the third of our chateaux in this area. To our surprise, there were many, many tour buses and cars already in the car park and people everywhere. Certainly this was a very popular chateau. We headed through the entrance and along a beautiful treed archway and made our way to the chateau. Chenonceau is by far the best of the three in terms of restoration and furnishings, tapestries and floral arrangements. This is a very grand chateau on the  River Cher.  A huge chateau with super huge bedrooms, a mammoth kitchen, sculleries and staircases to a further two levels. Spectacular, ell preserved tapestries adorned every wall. Due to the immense number of people, I thought I would be lucky to get any decent photos but patience is the key. We wandered from room to room in total awe of the surroundings. What a magnificent castle, surrounded by water. Beautiful rose gardens, a maze and vegetable gardens too. Some of the largest pumpkins I have ever seen. Not to mention the many other surrounding buildings. 

This chateau was our favourite by a long shot and we’re glad that we’d left it to the last to see.

The weather has been great. Overcast and some rain yesterday morning but lovely sunshine in the afternoon. Today beautiful sunshine all day about 24°C.

My French is improving everyday and communication is quite easy really. Most people in the  hospitality industry speak English too, but they are very happy for us to try.  This is a wonderful country for a holiday!

Inside the maze at Chenonceau


Au Revoir... until next time

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Friday 10th September – Saturday 11th September2010

At Melbourne Airport, I picked up a great little book “It’s Never Too Late....” by Patrick Lindsay and I will use some of his quotes along the way in this journal.
It’s never too late...To Make Plans,
Looking ahead takes you out of the daily grind.
Planning ahead brings hope.
Small plans first, with realistic goals.
Build confidence.
Then make bigger plans with bigger goals
Always have plans.

“You are young at any age if you’re planning for tomorrow” Anonymous

Leaving on a jet plane... well Cathay Pacific.
What a fantastic airline – from checking in luggage to everything else along the way. Comfortable seats, great food and entertainment in every shape and form.
Movies – Letters to Juliette then Love is (all in subtitles), Sex in the City 2
A very good start to a wonderful holiday.

We were greeted at Hong Kong International Airport with a fairly spectacular “light” show. Little did we know that the lightening would delay our flight a further 2 hours. Plenty of time to check the Footy Scores – Well Done Cats!!! We left HKIA at around 2am (Aussie Time) – 12 hours flying time to Paris. We managed about 7 hours sleep. Our arrival time in Paris therefore 8.30am instead of 6.30am (Local time)

After clearing immigration and collecting bags we found our way (with some help) to the free phone for the car pickup – TT Car lease. We were collected and taken to the depot. This was the part that scared me the most. However, I was prepared to follow the instructions of the GPS to the letter. The adrenaline kicked in big time and after signing the documents we were given the keys to our little silver Peugeot 207 .

Things to remember when driving in Europe
1. Sit in the driver’s seat and take a big breath!
2. Note the gear stick on the right and check out controls
3. Stay in the centre of the driving lane – don’t crab to the right.
4. Set up the GPS
5. Follow the car in front – hopefully there will be one!

Sadly our GPS didn’t kick in fast enough, so we decided to hire one from the car company @ 6 euros a day. I don’t think we would have made it out of Paris without it. I’ve never seen traffic like it. We crawled along in 1st gear most of the time and occasionally got into 2nd. What a scary start. 

We followed the directions very closely and after driving about 270 kms, arrived at Le Vinci Hotel in Ambois (The Loire Valley) around 3pm. This is indeed Chateau country- large signs seen along the roadway. The sun is shining and we are enjoying 26°C. After coffee for some revival we walked down to the main town area and using limited French and English purchased some basic food requirements to keep us going.

We’ve learned how the “paéage” system works on the motorway and observed speed limits from 30 – 130 kms/hour.
The adventure has well and truly begun.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Almost time to go

After a 9 month gestation period, (since booking our trip) the arrival is imminent… Our departure date is now only 4 sleeps away. Suppose I’d better start packing my case soon. It seems there is so much to do and not enough time to do it in. Fortunately it doesn’t take either Graham or I very long to get organized once we get started with the packing. As we’ll have a car, we are mindful of lifting luggage in and out of the boot so travelling light is the key. You’ll be pleased to know that I haven’t seen any “stubbies” out yet. I don’t think we’ll be going into very hot weather even toward the south of France and certainly by Belgium it will be much cooler.