Saturday, August 6, 2011

Day 14 - Final Day

Well, this is the final day of the trip of a lifetime.  I knew that the time would pass quickly - so I tried to truly be present in each and every moment.  That was one of the reasons why I chose to document my daily adventures on the blog - so that when I re-read this few weeks from now, it will confirm that all really happened.

I wanted to make the last day special - but I didn't want to put pressure on the day (I am pretty good at that).  So last night as I was deciding what to do I realized that Paris means two things to me:  the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre.  So that is the way I chose to spend my last day here.

This morning I did not set an alarm but woke up around 7:30AM.  I had a leisurely coffee and internet browse, and then I mapped out my course for the day:  Cimetere Passy (near the Eiffel  Tower) - Rue Cler (open air market that is also near the Eiffel Tower) - and the Rodin Gardens (if the weather held out).  At that point my plan was to return to the apartment and wander the streets of Montmartre one last time.

my "home" metro station
I decided that I would record my "every day" life in pictures - as I truly want to remember and document each event - no matter how trivial.  So I spent quite a bit of time taking pictures in and around the metro.  I had to take the #1 train on more time - and when I exited at Concorde (my usual stop) I was a wee bit disappointed that my father/son duet was not there to serenade me.  Oh well, I thought, it is the weekend and they deserve the time off. When I exited at my next stop however, there they were --- and what were they playing?  My all time favorite, The Chicken Dance.  I knew that it would be a good day!

I had no problem finding the cemetery this go around - it helps when you google the exact street address and then query map directions.  I even located a PDF file of all the French cemeteries - although a map was readily available upon entrance.  I wanted to visit the Passy cemetery for two reasons:  it is in the shadows of the Eiffel Tower, which would give me a different point of view of her loveliness - and it serves as the final resting place for Edward Manet - Berthe Morisot - and Claude Debussy.  I had no problem finding Manet's headstone - the map directions seemed just perfect.  And while he does not have a bird's eye view of the tower - he is looking in her direction.

One of the many views of
the Eiffel Tower from the
Passy Cemetery
I didn't have such luck with Claude Debussy.  I walked and walked and walked in the small circle that was supposed to house his tombstone, but I never had luck finding it.  Perhaps it was because I didn't know exactly what I was looking for - or perhaps it was because I was getting tired and the gnats were driving me crazy (it never rained on me this morning - but the humidity was so thick you could almost gag).

After spending about 45 minutes at the cemetery I felt that it was time to leave.  I decided to take the subway to Rue Cler - the open air market that I went to earlier this week, but several shops were closed for lunch (note to Americans:  the French often take a two hour lunch - and 2-3 weeks off in the month of August.  They are not afraid to relax and rejuvenate!)

What an absolutely delightful surprise the #6 train turned out to be.  I caught the train at the Trocadero metro stop - but immediately after leaving the station it exits from the dark subterranean tunnels and travels above ground --- giving the passengers a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower along the way. Quite magnificent.

I was afraid that Rue Cler would be quite crowded this Saturday morning, but much to my surprise, it was relatively empty.  There were certainly people milling about - several tourists but also many locals purchasing their weekend supply of fresh fruit, bread, and cheese - perhaps it was the uncertain weather that kept people away..  In any case, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to slowly meander up and down the two block roadway and even dare to take a few pictures (after the experience at Rue Montorgueil - I have been rather skiddish about taking pictures of local shops).  There were several spots available at the famed, Cafe Marche - so I sat at a table on the front row, ordered a cafe creme, and enjoyed the view.  Unfortunately I could not buy any food products, as today was my last day - but I did manage to find a chocolate shop that had some decadent looking confections that I decided to bring home to the family (shhhh....don't is a surprise).

The skies were still cloudy, but fortunately no rain, so I decided to walk to the Rodin Gardens - where  I knew for only one euro I could eat my lunch in a beautiful setting.  On the way there, however, I passed by the Hotel des Invalides where I noticed a lovely flower garden with lots of bench seating.  I decided to go through and check it out.  Such a unique setting with few tourists.  The perfect place to relax with my bread and cheese.

At this point I had decided that I had seen all that I cared to see in "the city" and decided that the rest of the day should be spent in my own neighborhood.  I went to the apartment to rest for a while - and then ventured back up to Sacre Coeur one last time.  She is truly beautiful and I will truly miss her --- although I must confess that I won't miss the hoards of people that surround her on the weekend.  It started raining around 5:00 and I considered that my cue to return to the apartment and begin the process of packing up.

Yes, this has truly been a trip of a lifetime - and I know I have been infinitely blessed.  I saw more than I really thought I would see - and I experienced Paris as a Parisian - which was the ultimate goal.  I learned that I can navigate a strange city on my own and I can converse in French "well enough"  I may not be an adventurer - but this was a spectacular adventure for me.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Paris Day 13 - FREE

As I write this pre-entry on the Friday before I leave (two weeks ago) I am already feeling wistful that time in Paris is quickly coming to an end.  I intentionally left these final two days completely free:  no tours booked and no expectations.  I still have plenty of sights left to see and restaurants left to sample, but I want these last two days to be spent doing what I feel in my heart I need to do.  It just might be that I am ready to see more and do more and add variety to my itinerary --- or it may be that I will want to revisit some new favorites --- or it may be that I just want to sit in a cafe, relax, and begin to process what all this amazing journey has meant to me.

Well, I definitely didn't sit and relax - but that may come tomorrow!

I had so thoroughly enjoyed the chocolate tour last week - and did not want "Tony" to spoil the Latin Quarter for me - so I decided to meet up with the same tour company this morning and explore the Mouffetard section of the Latin Quarter.  Unlike the chocolate tour - I didn't have to pre-register.  I just showed up at the assigned metro stop and participated.  The fee was 12 euro for a two hour tour.  It is billed as the Hemingway Tour - and the guide does discuss the author quite a bit - but really it was a tour of this particular section of the Latin Quarter.  I would not hesitate to recommend this group to anyone who is looking for a way to discover a new region of Paris in just a couple of hours.  The two guides that I had were quite knowledgeable - and passionate - about their chosen topic and so it was quite delightful to walk around and listen to their expertise.

Steps on the side of the church -
St Etienne-du-Mont
scene of Midnight in Paris
The weather was a bit odd today --- rain and cool and then bright sunshine, humid and hot.  The coat came on and off several times - but mostly it was just cloudy and really didn't prevent anyone from having an enjoyable time.  We saw two of Hemingway's apartments during his seven year stay in Paris - and we were able to walk down the market street of Rue Mouffetard.  But the true highlight for me was when we saw the steps where Owen Wilson, in the movie Midnight in Paris, is transported back to a different era.  It was truly magical and now I can hardly wait to see the movie again, now that I have seen this location.

The tour ended about 12:30 and I decided to take the metro to the Marais section and walk down rue Faubourg-St. Antoine to Place de la Bastille.  I wanted to try to imagine what it must have been like for the DeFarge's - in Charles Dickens's, A Tale of Two Cities - living in this area during the time of the French revolution.  Well, let me tell you it took some real imagination.  The street is filled with as many American shops (Gap - Izod - Nike) as it is filled with French couture.  I did manage to stumble upon the Marche d'Aligre - the street market that is touted as being truly authentic.  The sign says that it is open until 1:30 and they weren't kidding.  I arrived at 1:31 (I checked my watch) and all the vendors were packing up.  I wandered up and down the street however and realized that this market specializes in fresh produce.  It would be lovely to see at its prime, but I'm not sure that i would be able to purchase anything.  I was thrilled to have found it though.

The last relics of the Bastille
I continued walking down the gentrified Faubourg-St. Antoine until I reached the Place de la Bastille and it truly took my break away.  I spent a bit of time in the park across the street - munching on some bread and taking it all in.  I then decided to walk a bit out of the way to a small park on Rue Henri IV to see the few remnants of the original Bastille prison.  There is only a small plaque indicating their significance - and on the opposite side there is the space where the park employees store their equipment.  Not much of a spectacle, but I hope that I can bring this experience into my Brit Lit classroom next year.

Interior Park at Place des Vosges
At this point it was about 2:30 (significantly earlier than I anticipated) and so I continued down Faubourg-St. Antoine to Victor Hugo's house.  I had heard that it is quite a little gem in the city, as the fee to see the apartment is FREE and the views are spectacular:  overlooking the Place de Vosges.  I wish I knew the works of Hugo better, as I am sure that the apartment tour would have meant a bit more - but it was still fascinating to see how the writer lived.

Hard to tell the view - but
trust me - spectacular!
From here I caught the train home - although I knew it was a bit early to turn in (about 4:00)  It then occurred to me that I had not really had lunch (unless you count those two pieces of bread in the park) and I was starving.  I decided to treat myself to another Salade Nicoise at Le Relais de la Butte -- the first restaurant I visited when I arrived and the apartment was not yet ready.  I sat in almost the exact same place - still had the spectacular view - and enjoyed a filling salad.  As I was walking home (just a few steps away) I noticed a new sign for an apartment in the area --- similar apartment to the one I am renting --- and the price?  A mere 359,000 euros (approximately $503,000)  Hmmmm...I think I got a pretty good deal for paying 1,000 euros for two weeks and living like a true Parisian.

I am now glad that I called it an early day - it is down pouring outside!  I think I will relax - perhaps organize souvenirs etc to pack tomorrow - and think about how I wish to spend my last day in this beautiful city of lights.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Paris Day 12 - Tour Eiffel

While I have visited her before - and no doubt have seen her numerous times already this trip - I simply cannot imagine that a trip to Paris is complete without a formal rendez-vous with the Tour Eiffel.  I fully anticipate doing such touristy things as taking loads of pictures from Trocadero Square, riding up to at least the first landing of the tower, and treating myself to a boat ride along the Seine.  This is quintessential Paris - and I look forward to every minute of it.

I also hope to travel to the Ile des Cygnes (Island of the Swans) to visit the smaller Statue of Liberty that resides in France.  I have only seen her quickly  - and from a great distance - and I would like to visit her up close.  It is my understanding that one must travel past several homeless areas in order to reach Lady Liberty - and I hope that I do not chicken out.

In addition, the Musee Marmottan is nearby this area which houses many of Monet's artwork as well as other Impressionist paintings.  This museum was not included with the Museum pass, so I intentionally scheduled the visit a few days after that whirlwind museum tour.

Well, today was back to the walking tour.  I got rather used to being driven around the French countryside - but the walk did me good today.  I managed to drop my pedometer on Monday and broke the back off --- so I can only estimate that my step count today was between 12,000 and 15,000 steps.

I left the apartment around 8:30 so that I could travel around Montmartre and take a few pictures that I have meant to snap - but just have not taken the time to do so.  I went back to the original site of the photography class and took a few pictures of Sacre Coeur in her entirety.  I have retired the dslr until I get home - so these pictures were done with the point and shoot - but that is better than nothing.  I then walked a bit around the area in an effort to retrace the Impressionists' steps.  I walked to Place de Pigalle, where it is my understanding the origninal cafe Nouvelle Athenee stood, but now there is just an ugly fountain (with only stagnant water).  I think there is currently another Nouvelle Athenee that has been built - but it is significantly further down the street.

The one picture that I knew I wanted to take was of Degas's last home where he lived:  #6 Blvd de Clichy.  It was so strange to see the door open, a woman mopping the sidewalk, and the door flanked by commercial shops on either side.  I then went to find the door of Van Gogh (which I didn't knew existed until yesterday's tour) and it is still located in a very residential section:  54 Rue Lepic - which happens to be the same street, just a wee bit downhill, from the Moulin de la Galette.

It was then time to head out of the neighborhood and into the Tour Eiffel section of Paris.  It seems that in order to get to anywhere in Paris from Montmartre (line 12), I need to change at the Concorde station and transfer to line 1.  And every day when I exit the metro I hear this lovely French music echoing through the halls.  I don't know if this is a father and son duet or not --- but the elderly gentleman plays the accordian, and the younger one the tuba.  I decided to work up my nerve to take their picture today.  I had planned to offer them a bit of money for providing my entertainment these past few days - but come to find out they had a CD available.  PERFECT.  I bought a CD and took their photo.

It was then on to the Musee Marmottan - which features mostly Monet and Morrisot.  It was really a lovely collection and I thoroughly enjoyed walking through all the rooms.  Of course, the most significant part was in the basement which housed several sketches and paintings that Monet did over his lifetime and which had been in the possession of his son Michel.  There were also five portraits of Monet done by various artists over his lifetime.  It was really a lovely museum.

I then caught the metro again and this time went to Trocadero Square - the heart of Paris if you ask me.  This is where you see the Eiffel Tower in all her beauty and are able to take a great picture (if you are patient with all the other hundreds of tourists trying to do the same thing).  After taking a few obligatory photos - I then walked down towards the tower and bought myself the quintessential - croque monsieur (basically grilled ham and cheese sandwich) and a bottle of water.  I sat on a bench and enjoyed people watching while eating my lunch.  This picture was my view from the bench - pretty amazing!

The one thing that I did not accomplish on my pre-write list was to go up the tower. The line was amazingly long (I would guestimate two hours minimum) and since I have already had that experience, I decided to forego it this time.  Instead, I followed my trusty map and managed to find the Allee des Cygnes - which is a fairly long alley, I am here to tell you - and I found the Statue of Liberty.  I had so hoped that it would provide a view of both Lady Liberty and Tour Eiffel (I know that there is a certain roadway where you can see the two together), but this was certainly fine.  Not many were there (it is fairly off the beaten path) and so obtaining a few pictures was possible.

I had planned to walk from the Statue of Liberty to the Passy Cemetery - but I was having a difficult time finding its exact location on the map.  It was starting to rain a bit harder and I decided to forego the cemetery in favor of returning to a more populated area.  Perhaps if I have time on Friday or Saturday I will try to find it - as it houses the final resting places of Manet, Morrisot, and Claude Debussy.

Once I walked back to the Eiffel Tower I noticed that the clouds were rolling in.  Rain had been predicted, and I did pack an umbrella, but the morning had been so warm and sunny that I left my raincoat at the apartment.  Not necessarily a wise move.  I did manage to walk to Rue Clerc (similar to Rue Montgorgeuil although smaller - only about two blocks long, but highly touted by Rick Steves) but several of the shops were closed.  I'm not sure whether they were closed for August -- or just for lunch (many establishments seem to close their doors between 1:00 and 3:00) - but it was nice to look around a get a feel.  I have pretty much decided to take another tour tomorrow that should travel to Rue Moufftard - where I am hoping to get a few pictures with some friendly shop keepers.

At this point it really started to drizzle and so I took out my trusty purple PARIS umbrella that I bought on the street - and it promptly blew upwards in the wind.  Oh well, I suppose you get what you pay for.  I figured I was too close to the Rodin museum to miss it, so I braved the now steady rain and walked the few blocks.  I had to stand in line - but it wasn't too bad.  The museum was very nice --- but it was sensory overload for me.  I barely have acquired a little appreciation for paintings - I haven't quite worked my way up to sculpture yet (although it is a little daunting how a sculptor has to consider all sides -- whereas a painter is just working in two dimensions).  If the weather were nicer I would have done as Rick Steves suggests and just paid the one euro for the gardens (which has to be one of the best deals in Paris).   They are truly amazing and I am considering - if I have time on Saturday and the weather is nicer - returning to the gardens so that I can truly enjoy them.

I got home about 5:30PM and decided to call it a night.  It was a good day - but I am ready to put my feet up and relax a bit.  Like I said, I think I will do the "Hemingway Tour" tomorrow which essentially covers the Latin Quarter - I figure I won't have to be wary of "tony" if I am with a group.  This is the same tour company that hosted the chocolate tour that was exceptional - so I have very high hopes.  After that, I'm not quite sure what I might do.  I think perhaps head over to the Marais section and check out the Faubourg-St. Antoine area.  It is amazing hard to believe that I have but two short days left of this fabulous trip of a lifetime.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Paris Day 11 - Giverny

Perhaps the visit to the Musee Marmottan filled my Monet void and I will not choose to travel an hour by train to his home in Giverny.  Or...perhaps that museum visit just left me wanting more.  Right now I have left this time free, but thought it might be nice to take the train from the Gare Lazare to Vernon and then on to Monet's final home.  The town sounds quite picturesque and worth the trip.  His home is open to view, and visitors are allowed to walk the paths in the garden and see his the famous waterlilies firsthand.  I would try to leave on the first train out in the morning, however, in the hopes of avoiding some of the crowds so that I can actually take some floral photographs without the backsides of fellow tourists.

The town also offers an Impressionism museum that sounds fascinating, and having lunch in a cafe outside the city of Paris may be the perfect way to relax after a week and half of constant travel.

Ok --- well, there was a bit of adjusting going on here.

After the experience with Tony - my "pick up" guy - I have been a little leery to travel too far out of my comfort zone --- and getting on a train to Giverny at Gare St. Lazare was definitely out of my comfort zone.  So over the weekend I decided to splurge and take my chances on another tour.  I had found this tour some time ago.  The negative side of the tour was the cost (169 euros) and the fact that it received mixed reviews on Trip Advisor.  However, over the weekend I decided to thoroughly read the reviews and it seemed for every negative review, there was a response from the company asking to be contacted so they could make it right.  This seemed like a step in the right direction.  In addition, this tour not only provided transportation to Giverny (if i took the train I would have to catch a bus or taxi from the station in Vernon to Monet's house) -- but it also included a second tour to Auvers - where VanGogh spent his last days.  I threw caution to the wind - once again - and booked it.

The tour was scheduled for Wednesday - so my original plan to do the Eiffel Tower and Marmottan museum beforehand has been switched to tomorrow (so stay tuned....)

Unlike the wine tour yesterday - this tour picked me up right outside my apartment.  Again, they were only about 5 minutes later than anticipated, so that was perfect timing in my book.  The tour guide was not as polished as Jean-Bernard --- and he was also training another guide, so most of his time was spent speaking french with her.  There were only two others in the van, so we were a small group.  Sylvain (the guide) was very good about pointing out areas of Paris that we might be interested in as we were leaving the city, and he provided good commentary about Monet on our way to Giverny.  The others in the van were very quiet, so I assumed that this would be a very independent (and quiet) day.  Which is not a bad thing in my book.

It took about one hour to drive to Giverny - but we were able to park right away - obtain our tickets - and enter the gardens by avoiding the crowded lines.  It was beautiful - spectacular - in fact, I am not sure that I could find "le mot juste" to describe these gardens.  Almost sacred.  There were numerous tourists, but all were quiet and respectful.  The rainbow colors of the flowers - the tranquil lily pads floating in the water - the majestic weeping willows all worked together to provide the most serene setting.  I spent about 30 minutes walking the pathways and taking pictures.  Quite honestly - we could not have asked for better weather.  It was raining in Paris when we left - but had dried up with cloudy skies when we arrived at the gardens.  I think if it had been a sunny day the crowds would have been fierce - and it would not have been as enjoyable in the rain.  Simply perfect.

We then exited the gardens and walked towards the house.  Flowers were blooming absolutely everywhere -- and in every color and size and shape.  I am not even a flower lover and I was swept away by the beauty.  We entered the house and were able to tour (although not take pictures of) the living room - the salon where he painted - the dining room - the kitchen - and then venture upstairs to see two bedrooms and a hallway.  It was fascinating to think that Monet walked these same stairs that I was climbing.  I must admit that I was somewhat appalled by the actions of other tourists.  We were politely told not to take pictures inside (and there were plenty of postcards available in the gift shop afterwards) and yet people were clicking right and left.  One mother had her toddler child sit on one of the chairs to pose for a photographic -- can you believe it?!  I rushed out of the room before I was about to same something rather unkind.

We were then able to visit the Impressionism museum which was currently exhibiting a collection of Impressionism paintings from the Clark collection.  They were magnificent - several Renoirs, plus Degas, Manet, Monet, etc.  The ideal part of this tour, I think, is that we were allowed a full two hours to see and do whatever we wanted.  If we wanted to stay in the garden two hours and forego the house tour and museum, we could.  While the guides did not actually lead us through the exhibits - to be honest - there was no need for them to do so.  It was the absolutely the perfect amount of time to spend - and I spent it exactly the way I wished.

We then climbed back inside the van and ventured to lunch at a lovely little restaurant, Le Moulin de Fourges, about twenty minutes down the road.  The restaurant obviously caters to the tourist crowd - as we were placed in a separate building from the main house - but it was still very pleasant. Having led two student group tours to London, I must say I am accustomed to tour meals that are less than mediocre - but not so in this case.  The three of us travelers were sat at a table together - and the two tour guides sat alone.  This proved to be a wonderful idea.  The three of us - all single women traveling together - opened up and shared a little bit about our lives.  Chelsea was an Art History major at Arizona State University student who had just finished a four-week intensive language course in Lyon and today was her last day in Paris before heading back to the states.  Margaret was probably a late 50s professor teaching art history 101 in Kuwait at the American University.

We had an absolutely lovely chat together over a simple meal of salad - chicken with mushroom gravy and mashed potatoes - pomme tarte - red wine and coffee.  It is highly unusual that these kinds of mass lunches are as tasty as this one - nor as inclusive.

The next stop was Auvers - and Chelsea was a great admirer of VanGogh so she was able to share lots of information on the one hour drive.  When we arrived we first visited his room where he spent his last days.  Because others were superstitious of staying in a room of a man who committed suicide -- all the furniture had been removed and the room left exactly as it was in July, 1890.  The holes where he apparently hung his paintings to dry were evident - and a portion of the 7 square meter room has been partitioned with the hope of putting the original painting of "his room" for us to view.  It was a sober experience.

There was another room that we were able to visit where they actually have his iron bed and marble washstand set up the way they think perhaps it was originally placed.  This room they have wallpapered in a sunny yellow and it is not nearly as sacred - although very interesting to view.  The museum has also put together a fifteen minute video that chronicles the last few days of his life -- marrying photographic images of the area at that time with his actual paintings of those places.

We then walked from the restaurant above which he lived to the cemetery where he is buried next to his brother Theo.  Along the walkway there are plaques that show a famous VanGogh painting next to the actual sight.  One such place was at the "eglise" - and we were not only allowed to take pictures outside, but inside as well.

 It was then just a short walk up to the hill to the cemetery -- very understated - where we found the two brothers' graves.  We later learned that it was just across from this cemetery where VanGogh shot himself - which led to his untimely death.  All in all it was a very worthwhile experience.

We then traveled back to Paris - only about 40 minutes away - and I arrived home a bit after 5:00PM.  I am half tempted to go out and do something - and half tempted to stay home and relax, plan my last three days in Paris, and just relish the joy of these two tours.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Paris Day 10 - Winery Tour

I have great expectations of this trip - and I hope that it does not disappoint.  I had originally thought that perhaps I could visit the Beaujolais area of France (Lyon) as that is my favorite wine to drink and brings back such fond memories of living in New York City and celebrating the winter months with good friends and fruity wine.  However, the distance between Paris and Lyon is just too great to attempt during this short trip.  So that led me on an internet search for a wine tour that is within a day's travel of the city.  One option was Riems, home to the great champagnes of the world - but I am not much for the bubbly, so I continued to search.

I booked with Wine Day Tours because they offer small groups (no more than eight) - private mini van service - visits to two local wineries who promise to take us out to vineyards and truly teach us the process from start to finish - as well as a sampling of their fine products - and a visit to a local farm that makes chevre (goat cheese - my favorite!).  This is an all day affair (7:30AM - 7:30PM) and includes breakfast and lunch.  I hope to document this unique educational adventure with lots of photographs.  I only hope that I am not the only single in the trip and feel like a fifth wheel.

WOW -- what a marvelous day with terrific people and a wonderful tour guide!

I had to meet Jean-Bernard at an unfamiliar metro stop this morning at 7:40.  He is happy to pick up customers at hotels, but for obvious reasons he can't be expected to make stops at every apartment.  I arrived right on time and he was only about 5 minutes later than expected  PERFECT timing!

The van was full - and all of South American decent.  There was a couple (probably early thirties) from Brazil and very welcoming; two girlfriends on vacation from Brazil (probably mid thirties) and one was the life of the party - a real delight; and then two guys from San Francisco, probably mid twenties who were very nice but still dealing with jet-lag.

While Jean-Bernard has only been doing this tour a little over a year (he was let go from work about two years ago - spent a year deciding what he really wanted to do - and then started the company) - he is a top of the line professional.  He schedules stops every hour - so those who have rather small bladders do not have to suffer.  The first stop (just outside of Paris) he included hot coffee a croissants for us to munch on.  The next stop was just outside of Pouilly - at a goat cheese farm:  Ferme du Port Aubry.   Absolutely delightful!!

While I could wax on and on about today's excursion - I thought I might allow my pictures to do the talking.  I took over 350 photos today (with my compact camera - I don't trust my dslr anymore) and have really only briefly reviewed them.  I was very excited to share the day with you, however, so here is quick review.

We were able to watch them make a fresh batch of cheese from the morning  milking.  The 400 goats are milked twice a day:  once in the morning and once in the late afternoon.

After the cheese is properly made it is put in the drying room.  How long it dries is dependent on how aged you want the cheese.

We were able to try 4 different agings:  the "fresh" cheese which was only 6 days old; then another cheese with a slight bit of mold (we were assured it was "good" mold) that had aged about 3 weeks; another that had aged about 6 weeks; and the last that had aged about 8 months.  I thought goat cheese was always soft - but I guess I have never had aged goat cheese.  The 8 month old tasted similar to Parmesan to me.

After the tasting we were allowed to look around the shop (they not only had cheese --- but fresh creme - fresh butter - dried sausages from another local farm - several different styles of jam - fois gras - etc, etc etc.  If I didn't have to carry it all on the metro - and if I were staying another week, I could bought half the store!  We were then allowed to tour the farm a bit and see the goats. They were SO much fun!

From there we went not too far down the road to winery.  In this area most of those who live in the villages are somehow connected with the wine business.  This particular winery has been in business for hundreds of years - and her house was beautiful.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to take many pictures as we were in a hurry to get to lunch.  She only makes white wine, however, and we were able to taste all four different whites that are made.  It was a very worthwhile tour.

Next we drove across the Loire River (which is VERY shallow -- quite surprising to me) to the Sancerre region.  We had lunch at a lovely restaurant - where one side is a Michelin Star restaurant - and the other side is a bistro.  We ate at the bistro, which suits my taste just fine.  As part of the wine tour, we had a three course meal that consisted of a very fresh pasta salad, roasted chicken and potatoes, and fresh fruit with espresso for dessert.  Simply perfect.

After lunch we went to the "old" town of Sancerre.  We visited the wine museum, which was really quite informative ---explaining the difference of terroire and how the same grape grown in the same region can create such different wines.  We were then allowed to walk around this quaint section of town for about 40 minutes before we had to board the van and head to the second winery.

As wonderful as the first part of the trip was --- the second was hand's down my favorite.  The Wine grower was very personable - obviously passionate about his wine and willing to share any information (and wine) that he could.  We spent over an hour in his tasting room - tasting 2 reds - 3 whites - and then he allowed us into the fermentation room to taste "straight from the vat".  What a wonderful experience.  I don't think any of us wanted to leave and all felt as though we had found a new friend in Michel.

And if that wasn't enough - as we headed out of town Jean-Bernard stopped along the side of the road and allowed us to walk through the vineyard and take a few pictures.  OH MY - another truly great experience.  In this picture I wanted to try to show what is meant by 'terroire'   The soil in this region is not so much dirt, but rather limestone and/or flint. Look how rocky it is!

The grapes themselves are still rather small - and green.  They should begin to change color in about 15 days.  This year the harvest will be very early - probably the first part of September.  While I have experienced mild temperatures, it was apparently quite warm in France in March, April, and May which has meant an earlier harvest than usual (it is my understanding that if you take this wine tour during the harvest - you actually get to go into the vineyard and cut your own grapes --- how great would that be?!)

As we were loading into the van we noticed that Jean-Bernard made a quick dash to the vineyard one more time.  Come to find out he picked a few small berries for us to taste.  The skin was still very thick - and the taste quite bitter - but I was amazed how the taste of the flint rock came through the fruit.  I guess I did learn something today.

All in all an absolutely fantabulous day --- and I am now very excited to see Giverny tomorrow!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Paris Day 9 - FREE

Most of the museums are closed on Mondays, which tends to open up the day for other activities.  I have absolutely no preconceived expectations for today - and seeing how I am entering the second week of the trip, that is probably a good idea. 

I have several possible options, some of which include a tour of the Parisian Canals - or a step back in time at the Jardin d'Acclimation nestled in the Bois de Boulogne (this was recommended by another terrific blogger, Virginia of Paris through my Lens) or perhaps just mellow out and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of Paris Plage (the most amazing and creative urban transformation:  tons of sand is trucked into the city and spread along the banks of the Seine to create a beach atmosphere for the people to enjoy throughout the hot weeks of July and August).  I have not completely ruled out the possibility of staying in my neighborhood and strolling the streets of Montmartre, perhaps visiting its small museum and cemetery.

Ok - Well, obviously all that pre-planning is slowly going out the window!

I decided early on that the Parisian Canal tour was not a high priority item - so I immediately canceled that idea.  While the Jardin d'Acclimation sounds fun - and the Bois de Boulogne a unique Parisian experience, quite honestly my run-in with "Tony" in the Latin Quarter has rather put me off going to totally unfamiliar places.

Instead, I decided to spend the morning close to home.  I ventured out with my "good" camera and tried to take the pictures that I missed last Monday due to that pesky dust issue.  I managed to take a few of the artists around the Place du Tertre (although some are very anti-photographs and others practically pose for you).  I learned which two sides of the square I prefer - those artists who are working on original paintings - and which sides to try avoid - artists who wish to do a portrait of the tourists and charge a pretty penny.  They can be just a bit too pushy for me.

After taking several photographs I decided to do some souvenir shopping.  It was not yet crowded in Montmartre and I knew I wanted to take my time in selecting just the right gift.  I didn't get much in the way of presents, as I sincerely hope that I can return to Paris with the rest of the family.  But in the meantime, perhaps these little momentos will get them excited.

I took all the souvenirs back to the apartment - grabbed a quick bite to eat of some leftovers - and then decided to head towards Notre Dame and perhaps capture a few photos there.  I challenged myself to take the subway that takes me right to the Ile de la Cite - which meant that I had to change trains not once but twice.  I navigated the metro system well - but I'm not sure that it actually saved me much walking time.  The line to get into the cathedral was much too long for me - so I chose just to take a few pictures outside and then walk along the Seine and visit the bouquinistes.

I was shopping for vintage postcards and while I found several - I couldn't help but think that these are probably manufactured in the 21st century but made to look antique.  Oh any case I wanted some semblance of what France must have been like around the turn of the century - so I chose some postcards that showed the street scenes - as well as some postcards that showed the people.  I even managed to take a picture of a helpful bouquiniste.

At this point it was about 4:00PM -- too early to go home, but too late to take on another adventure in a different arrondissement.  As luck would have it I was at the Pont Neuf and noticed a sign for a boat tour, Vendettes Pont Neuf.  Well, this was not at all on my schedule of events - but I wanted to do something fun, and the thought of sitting for an hour on a moving boat sounded delightful.  The cost was just 2 euros more than Bateaux Mouches (which I had planned to do late this week anyway) AND....I was the second person on the boat - which allowed me to go to the top and sit in the front row so as not to worry about anyone's head in my photographs.  It was obviously "meant to be."

My "dust" friend - I
can't decide if it looks like a
dying black seagull -
or a runaway scarf
We sat on the boat for about 20 minutes before it "set sail" and I took several pictures to pass the time.  Then on the way out I really began snapping.  It was a marvelous excursion and I was so pleased that I had given in to the spontaneous.  And then.....the dreaded dust appeared!  UGH --- I really can't tell you how much I loathe this situation.  I don't have to worry about dust with my point and shoot (and thank goodness I thought to bring that with me) --- but it is certainly does not provide the close-up shots I enjoy nor is it a "fast" as the dslr.  What I have learned, after reviewing the pictures, is that the "dust" is not evident in all of the photos - it just depends on the composition.  And I suppose that for many of these pictures (like the one I decided to share with you here) I could easily mask the dust spec out in post production (I guess now is the time to learn photoshop!).  But that takes time - and it is not as easy to do on all the pictures - and doggone it, I really have tried to take care of my camera and I do not like feeling like a failure.

Once I returned to the apartment Itried t o do everything I know I to do and the dust still remains.  Tomorrow I am supposed to go on a lovely winery tour - and Wednesday I am supposed to go to Giverny, Monet's home and exquisite gardens.  I suppose I will take double pictures:  one set with the dusty "good" camera - and another set with the reliable point and shoot.  All I can say is....Zut alors!
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