Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hilarious cat video

video

Taking a break from blogging about France to show you this hilarious video.  I want a cat!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

France trip review Day 2--Normandy to Loire Valley and Chenonceau

Our alarm went off at 8:30 and there was no way we were getting up then after our night last night. We slept for 30 more minutes and went into the dining room for breakfast. The two other couples staying in the chateau sat down for breakfast at the same time we did. Both of the couples were French so they talked to each other, but Chris and I sat there in an awkward silence (we were all at the same table). I had a feeling that they probably spoke some English, and I would later find out they did, they just didn’t talk to us!

Regis came in and served us all freshly baked croissants. I waited for the rest of breakfast, but that was it! We took a cue from the French couples and put jam on the croissants, which was delicious! We ended up having that same flavor of jam at every bed and breakfast we went to and I think it was apple. I never asked and now that I’m back in the U.S. I want to know. I’m thinking about emailing Regis and asking him. Normandy is known for its cider so there was a small glass of apple juice/cider at each place setting, along with a little bowl of vanilla yogurt. The other couples mixed in jam with their yogurt but I did not have it. There was also a mini crème brulee at our plates. Dessert for breakfast? It was good, but all the sweetness gave us stomachaches. We were really surprised that this was all there was to breakfast. In Italy we had all kinds of meats, fruit and tarts for breakfast—really a lot of food.

I was sad that we had to leave this beautiful place so soon. Normally we would not spend just one night in a hotel, but we were really covering a lot of ground this time. It was raining outside, but still beautiful. White geese were wandering around the 600 acres that made up the Chateau de Bouceel.


From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



As we were saying goodbye to Regis he showed us around the chateau and told us some fascinating stories. The Germans arrested his father during the war in the very lobby we were standing in—and his father had drawn a picture book depicting the whole scene. The book was of course in the lobby for us to look at and was fascinating. The lobby:


From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



Regis also told us about the American cemetery that was a few kilometers down the road and about a soldier’s grave that he takes care of. The soldier’s name is George Wicks and he was from Wisconsin. There is no special reason Regis puts fresh flowers on George’s grave, he just adopted it because he thought it would be a nice thing to do. A few years ago, one of his American hotel guests promised to find George Wicks’ family and tell them what Regis was doing for George’s grave because he was to touched by Regis’ story. A few months after that, Regis was on the phone with George Wicks’ nephew in Wisconsin!

We left the chateau, but not without saying goodbye to Titi. I made Chris hold her because I make him hold all cats, even though he’s very allergic. We almost lost this picture as you can tell by the part that is cut off, but you can still see the Chris and Titi! Titi is so cuddly and actually fell asleep in my arms as I was holding her. I forgot to mention yesterday that Titi was a stray that wandered onto the Regis’ property because someone had cut off Titi’s whiskers. I guess when you do that to a cat they get very confused and can’t find their way around:(



From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley




On our way to the American cemetery we drove through the town of Saint James.


From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



We made it to the American Cemetery and of course it was so so green and tranquil.


From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



There are 4,410 graves here and another 498 names of missing soldiers inscribed on a wall. We never found George Wick’s grave, but we didn’t see any others with flowers, so we knew it was really special what Regis was doing.

We left the cemetery on a back road to drive to our next hotel in the Loire Valley. Regis suggested we take the old road to see some interesting sites and avoid the autoroute. We did this for a while and the scenery was rolling green hills and houses and buildings that you just knew were so old.

We drove through the Foret de Berce (forest), which was surprisingly un-forest like because of all the logging! I have never seen so many trees on the ground. I wondered, why are all these trees being cut down? It would become a daily recurring theme on our trip—trees cut down EVERYWHERE. By the end of our trip I was starting to worry that someday soon France will run out of mature trees!


From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



After a few hours (and some stops at autogrille’s once we got back on the autoroute) we made it to our next hotel, the Chateau de Reignac, in the Loire Valley.



From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley


This was also a chateau but a much larger one—the Loire Valley is the home of all the grand chateaux and so to be able to stay in one is a real treat. Our room was at the very top up some very steep and narrow stairs.



From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley




From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



This chateau was nice, but it really didn’t compare to the Chateau de Bouceel. I was afraid that we had started on such a high note and that nothing would compare. This room was the most expensive room we were staying in the whole trip so I really had high hopes for it. I think I just wished the room were more in the character of the rest of the chateau.



It was about 3:30 so we had time to go to one chateau that day. We went to Chenonceau, which was only about 25 minutes away.

The grounds of the chateau were not as green and colorful with flowers as it was still cold, but you could see the potential.


From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



The chateau itself was built in 1521 standing in the River Cher, which I think is the most magnificent part of it. We were a bit disappointed with the inside because it was clearly old, but they had decorated with fresh flowers and things that you wouldn’t expect to see in a “museum”. The chateau is privately owned, maybe that’s why. Several of the fireplaces were burning wood and there was fresh cut wood in the kitchen as if someone was ready to cook. Just not what we were expecting for a historical place.




From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley




It was getting late so we decided to go to the town of Loches for food. This charming medieval town was a really neat place.

From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



Our favorite was the Cathedral of St-Ours. This was an environmentally friendly cathedral because they used compact fluorescents and waterless toilets! It was really cool to see someone mixing such a historical building with eco-friendly ideas.



From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley




We actually ate at an Italian restaurant that night because there was not much open and what was open was full. I did get my crème brulee, however!


From France Day 2 Normandy to Loire Valley



To see the rest of our pictures from Day 2 click here

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

France trip review Day 1--Paris airport to Normandy, Mont St. Michel

After the drama of our flight from JFK-Paris we arrived in Paris-- 6 hours late. We had 4 hours to drive and I had planned on having over 12 hours of sunlight to drive in. Since we landed at 12:30pm local time we got our bags and rented our car. We were famished so we stopped at an "autogrille" which is like a truck stop here in the U.S. These chips caught Chris's eye so he had to get them

From France--Day 1 Normandy


That is "Chicken and Thyme" flavored chips. They turned out to be totally disgusting, as you can imagine potatoes flavored as chicken would be. The auto grille had many interesting flavors but one notable absence that I would take note of after many stops at the autogrille--turkey. I don't think the French eat turkey! I could not find it anywhere. Their pre-made sandwiches at the autogrille were always chicken salad, ham and butter, or chicken and bacon. The autogrilles also have a huge wall dedicated to sweets. They love their sweets in France! Even things that we have in the U.S. come in a sweeter variety in France--Coke is sweeter, as is Red Bull!

After driving for about an hour on the autoroute, I spotted a church on a hill in the distance. France does a great job of telling you about cultural, historical and tourist sites to see off the autoroute. I saw a sign that said the church on the hill was an abbey! We love abbeys, as our two favorite places in Italy were off-the-beaten-path abbeys. We unfortunately did not get a lot of information about this abbey, but it is beautiful!

From France--Day 1 Normandy



From France--Day 1 Normandy



From France--Day 1 Normandy



We got back in our car as it was getting later in the day and we still had a few hours to drive. I really wanted to see Mont St. Michel at sunset and I thought since we arrived so late there was no way we would get there in time--but we did! We started seeing signs for it and suddenly saw it in the distance! We got off the autoroute and it was quite a drive off the main road. The grass on the way out to Mont St Michel was so green and there were cows everywhere! I have never seen the grass so green and the sky so blue.


From France--Day 1 Normandy



Here you can see Mont St. Michel in the distance--nothing around


From France--Day 1 Normandy



Finally, we got up to the island. This picture does not do it justice, but it was beautiful at sunset!


From France--Day 1 Normandy



The grass you see in the picture above is completely covered when the tide comes in. As we were standing there the tide was coming in so fast. We had no idea what a treat we were in for later! The causeway going out to the island is not submerged in the tide but the parking lot is, so it is possible to drive out to it when the tide is in.

Next, we drove to our hotel for the night, the Chateau de Bouceel. When we drove up the driveway I knew I was instantly in love



From France--Day 1 Normandy



This is where we're staying tonight??!!?? All my obsessive researching for great hotels paid off! We were greeted by a hee hawing donkey and Regis, the delightful owner who spoke perfect English. He quickly told us that we were in a for a special treat tonight because this was one of only a few nights a year that the tide was completely in at Mont St. Michel--it would be a true island tonight--and it was happening in 1 hour! We quickly brought our bags in so that we could go back to Mont St. Michel and see what all the fuss was about.

I was stopped dead in my tracks when I saw our room!



From France--Day 1 Normandy



From France--Day 1 Normandy



There was even another smaller room connected with a twin bed


From France--Day 1 Normandy



As Regis was showing us around the room, in comes a wonderful surprise! Titi (pronounced "tee tee")!


From France--Day 1 Normandy



Regis thought nothing of it when I scooped Titi up in my arms and took him over to our bed. It was the first of many encounters with hotel dogs and cats.

Regis made a dinner reservation for us at a restaurant near Mont St. Michel to eat "the best lamb we had ever tasted". Well, I had never had lamb, so I didn't really have anything to compare it to. Regis said that the lamb feeds on the grass once the tide goes out around Mont St. Michel, so the grass is very salty, in turn making the lamb salty.

We drove back to Mont St. Michel and it was beautiful lit up at night! We couldn't get a picture of the tide of course, but it was cool being surrounded by water on this island. We couldn't get great pictures because of the darkness, but here is one



From France--Day 1 Normandy



From there we went to the restaurant to eat the salty lamb. It was good! I was proud of myself for trying something new. We realized that we needed gas before we got back to the hotel so we asked the waiter where the nearest gas station was. He spoke little english so he pointed in a direction, said 7 kilometers, and kept saying "automatique". I took this as being a "pay at the pump" type of thing and I said ok. He kept stressing to us that it was "automatique" and seemed concerned, but I assured him as best I could that we were ok with that.

We drove to the gas station (in the middle of nowhere) and it was pay at the pump, but it wouldn't take our credit card. We tried every card we had, but none of them worked. I thought maybe our bank had turned off our cards because they thought it was odd our cards were being used in France (even though we called to tell them we would be here). The error message was in French, of course, so we couldn't really understand what it was saying, other than error. There was of course no attendant and no one in sight in the tiny town.

We got back in the car and immediately the gas light turned on. I was starting to get nervous. It was raining, cold, and we were in a place we didn't know. Running out of gas is something that runs high on our list of stressors. We drove in nervous silence back to the autoroute (about 9 kilometers) hoping there would be a gas station there. No such luck. There was no one around and nothing open. We drove up one exit and saw a hotel that was open. I got out of the car (since I knew some French) and went in to ask the attendant where the nearest gas station was. The woman didn't speak a lick of English. She apparently couldn't understand my broken French because we weren't really getting anywhere. After a game of charades I finally figured out that there was a gas station 6 kilometers on the autoroute. However, she kept saying "automatique", just like the waiter at the restaurant.

We cautiously drove to the next gas station. When we made it we had the same problem--error. We were beyond frustrated! There was a button to push for help at the gas station, but of course no one answered. I was starting to panic. Chris suggested we drive to a hotel we passed about a kilometer back and BRING someone back with us to show us how to use the machine. Of course, when we got to that hotel, the front door was locked. We felt totally defeated. A man appeared in the lobby and so we signaled for him to come help us. We were so relieved to learn that he spoke English, so we told him our situation. He kept telling us "tomorrow you put gasoline in your car!" After a few times of this and us telling him we already had a hotel room 20 kilometers away, we realized that even though this man pronounced his English almost perfectly, he could not comprehend the language. It was a very odd combination. After a few minutes of back and forth we figured out he was trying to tell us he could not help us because you need a pin for your credit card to use these gas stations. We asked him to come with us and enter his pin, or even use his credit card and we would pay him cash. We finally got it out of him that he was Italian and the pin code is a French thing. I was about to cry. I didn't want to drive back to the hotel because it was about 20 km driving through the country and I didn't think we'd make it. We sat in our car and I started to panic. I was starting to realize that there was a good possibility that we would be spending the night in our tiny little car. I figured Regis would figure out we didn't come home last night and would come looking for us eventually. We were trying to figure out what to do when the Italian man knocked on our window and offered to drive around and find a gas station for us so we wouldn't waste gas doing it ourselves. It did cross my mind that we were getting into a car with a man we didn't know who didn't fully understand us (and we didn't fully understand him either), but we had no choice. Chris and I got into Marco's (finally got his name out of him) tiny car drove back to the gas station and looked at it again and he told he told us that it was for "French only". I started to feel sick, or about to cry. We drove a few km down the autoroute with no luck, then back the other way and finally found one that was attended! He drove us back to his hotel and kept saying "you campaign me". We had no idea what he meant. He told us a story about a time he was going to miss a flight because he ran out of gas and a man offered his "Ford Mustang" to him to drive to the airport. It was a long and drawn out story, but he was trying to tell us "someone did this for me once, so I'm doing it for you, and you must do it for someone else" .
When we got back to our car Chris said “I’ll do the same thing for someone else like the man in the Mustang did for you” but he didn't really understand us. We got in our car and hoped we could make it to the gas station. We noticed that Marco wasn't going back in the hotel, but he was signaling for us to follow him back to the gas station! How nice! We followed him and he got gas also, but I noticed that he had half a tank, so I think he was just being nice making sure we could make it there. Chris told him he wanted to pay for his gas but he would not let us. When they went in to pay Chris said Marco even tried to buy Chris a cup of coffee! We safely drove back to our hotel and went to bed!

To see all of our pictures from Day 1 click here

Monday, April 06, 2009

We're home!

Going to get the puppy now.

Made it to Dallas

Barely made our connection, but now we're off to get Riley!

On our way home

We overslept this morning for our taxi and the airport was a madhouse. We were told by an American Airlines employee that security was on strike, but that the planes will wait for everyone. The line was not moving for a long time but 2 1/2 hours later we were checked in. It was actually American Airlines security that was on strike, not airport security. We walked straight onto the plane (with a quick stop for a croissant, which is now my favorite!) And now we're sitting here waiting to take off. We are flying to Dallas with a 2 hour connection, so I hope we make it! We want to go pick up Riley when we land at 6:30pm which is almost 2 hours each way. We miss our Dalmatian!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Paris

Today we rode segways around Paris-the best way to get around! Below is a video of me riding in front of the Louvre.

video

Sacre Coeur at night

My favorite in Paris.

Friday, April 03, 2009

France day 6

After the photo mishap this morning we didn't have much time to drive far. We decided to go back near the Spanish border to check out some Cathar castles. Catharism is a Christian sect that flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries in southern France. Below is their Peyrepertuse castle--you can see on the right of this picture the road leading up to the parking lot. We had a very slippery hike up to the top. Imagine natural marble stones that are wet from the dropping rain...yes, I did fall one time and it hurt! This picture does not do the view justice. The view was amazing and I will post more when I do a detailed review of this day.




France Days 2, 3, 4 and 5


The Bourges cathedral again (but a different picture this time)








Here we are in front of Chenonceau in the Loire Valley








An American cemetery in Normandy






Of course I have to include Napoleon! He is a Great Dane who lives at our hotel in Beziers. There have been so many animals here that I'll have to do a post dedicated to the animals




The cathedral in Le Puy-en-Velay, in the Massif Central

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Got the pictures back!

$40 for a recovery program and 3 hours later we got them back. We lost half a day but it was totally worth it.

Today we're touring Cathar country and it is fascinating! Raining here but we're still enjoying ourselves. Tomorrow we're off to Paris and we're riding segways around the city:). Emily--I promise not to run into a bus!

This morning

On our way out the door this morning we lost the first 4 days of pictures. We are so sad. The first 4 days were the best by far. We're trying to recover them now...