Friday, July 11, 2014
It was a wonderfully cool travel day as we departed France…destination Switzerland. The French countryside was lovely.
We could always tell when we were approaching a village, because we would see a steeple way above the trees in the distance. As we drew closer, we would begin to see all of the houses gathered around it.
Our driver pointed out this monastery that was being restored. They have an organ that is over 1000 years old, and they still play it every day.
One of the men on the bus saw a rabbit hopping across a field that he swears was bigger than a St. Bernard. We had a great time ribbing him about it for the rest of the trip. Bert finally confirmed that it was a field rabbit, and that they weren’t uncommon, but not until it was almost time for us to go home. Love his sense of humor.
I was surprised to see so many vineyards in Switzerland. I had expected to see more of them in France. The Alps were magnificent. I don’t think I would ever get tired of looking at them. We stopped at a rest stop for lunch. We chose to get a gourmet burger and fries. I felt so sorry for the young man in front of us in line. He kept asking for a double cheeseburger and holding up his thumb and forefinger, which we had been told to use for 2. It was not on the menu. He ended up with 2 very large cheeseburger meals complete with 2 huge orders of fries and 2 large drinks. It would have been funnier, but it cost him $36. I asked him if he was going to be able to eat all of that, thinking we could buy one from him to help him out. He said he thought he could eat it all. He was rather green by the time he finished it. The food was excellent. I was impressed at the size and cleanliness of the rest area. It was like a mini mall, or small shopping center, with several restaurants, and a small grocery store. After lunch we went into store to buy snacks to have on the bus. I tried my very first Double Caramel Magnum bar. I know they have them in the states, but I had never tried one before, mostly because of the price. I discovered that they are worth every penny. We still had a lot of countryside to enjoy before we reached our destination for the day.
We stayed at the Art De Vivre in Crans-Montana. We loved our room with it’s down pillows and duvet, and our balcony with its magnificent view of the Alps.
There was a peaceful little lake about 100 yards from the hotel. We had time for a nice stroll before and after dinner.
It was a charming village. All the businesses had lovely flowerboxes.
This was the first place that struck us with the “I could live here!” Even with the clouds and the evening showers moving in, the majesty of the mountain ranges were intoxicating.
Our dinner was our favorite yet! We had a great salad, no clue what that dressing was, followed by some of the best spaghetti I’ve ever tasted. Next came grilled chicken with fries, and a dessert that I can best describe as a pear muffin cake. This meal I would definitely order on my own. We retired for the evening quite satisfied.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
Today’s adventure started at the Eiffel Tower.
Our city coordinators continually cautioned us not to look at, speak to, or interact with the gypsies in any way, warning how aggressive they could become. Boy howdy they weren’t just whistling Dixie. Some of our poor kids, who have been taught to make eye contact and speak when spoken to, were getting mobbed. Hubby and I made quite a few rescues of distraught teens that did not know how to get away when surrounded by 3 or 4 adults demanding they make a purchase. Lucky for me, I know a very kind and caring youth pastor who is a gypsy, who came from a huge family of hard-working gypsies. That enabled me to talk to the kids about stereo-types, and point out that not all gypsies behave like the ones we encountered here. There were armed military guards walking around, and the scam artists would scatter whenever they came near.
I forced my hubby and son WAY out of their comfort zones, insisting they go to the top of the tower with me. I did cave and agree to take the elevator all the way as opposed to climbing the stairs to the second level. A small concession on my part, considering how difficult it was for them. The views were out of this world. I could have spent hours up there with the wind in my face.
It really opened my eyes to how large Paris was, and how little of it we were actually seeing. Next we were off to Notre Dame. My son was highly amused by a restaurant café named Magots. Teen humor. Thought we’d never hear the end of the jokes that followed.
Our first glimpse of Notre Dame was awe-inspiring.
Thanks to Disney, my quest began to discover gargoyles. Because of movies and books, I had expected to see them all over France, and was starting to give up hope. I was not to be disappointed.
At least outside, I could take all the photo’s I wanted. Every inch was unbelievably beautiful. How on earth did they create something so incredible that could endure the ages?
Street performers only added to the ambience.
We walked to the lovely nearby St. Severin where the choir and string quartet performed.
Then we coached to Georges Brassens Parc for an outdoor band concert. It was packed with people. There were people from 2-90’s dancing and clapping to the music and waving flags. It was a lot of fun.
Then it was back to the Restaurant Le Saulnier for our dinner of some kind of beef with pasta. Very fatty. Dessert was some sort of puffy hollow flaky pastry with what might have been vanilla sauce. We were glad we had snacks in the room to munch on. On the ride back to the hotel, we saw lots of people dancing on the wide sidewalks between the streets. It looked and sounded like a lot of fun!
We were definitely ready for a good night’s sleep.
Wednesday, July 09, 2014
We started our day with a continental French Breakfast. To say we were disappointed would be a huge understatement. There was French bread, croissants, and chocolate au pain similar to the ones we were served in London, only not as fresh, and only about a third of the size. My preconceived notions were once again proved wrong. Where were all the decadent French pastries I have always heard about? Not here, that was for sure. Other choices were corn flakes, bananas, room temperature orange juice, coffee, tea, and water. I realized how thoroughly the Thistle hotel in London had spoiled us. I don’t think I’ll ever experience another breakfast spread that will match theirs. It was enough to meet our needs, but my greedy palate wanted more. My fault, not theirs.
We soon loaded the coach for the half hour drive back into Paris. At first I wondered why we were staying so far out, but decided it was probably for our safety. I don’t think Paris is the type of town anyone would be comfortable with the idea of a teenager sneaking out at night to explore. After all, kids will be kids, and even the best of kids make poor choices at times. The Saphir has lovely grounds, and plenty to do from tennis courts, gardens to walk in, game tables, lounges with big screen tvs and plenty of seating, to a very nice pool.
This morning the traffic was not nearly as chaotic, but still too crazy for my taste. The parts of Paris we drove through were less seedy for the most part, and there were interesting old buildings and sidewalk cafes to enjoy. The prude in me did tend to frown disapprovingly when Bert, our driver, pointed out the sex district and all of the exotic shops for sex toys. Their windows and ads were obvious enough, they really did not need attention called to them, especially with a bus load of teens, mostly ranging from 14-17 in age. The historic Moulin Rouge was in the mix.
Our first stop of the day was to visit Montmartre, and view the Basilique de Sacre-Coeur. (I still can’t pronounce either one correctly). It was gorgeous! Words cannot describe. Photos weren’t allowed. Selfie addicts were ignoring the rule, but we chose to respect their rules. Bathrooms had attendants, so we had to wait permission to enter, and have our stall checked before leaving. Interesting. One young lady was being chewed out (in French of course), and was sent back to her stall. Don’t know if she forgot to flush or what but, WOW, made an impression on me. Wish we had that in the states. Public toilets wouldn’t be so gross then.
Shopping in Montmartre was an experience and a half. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere quite so crowded, and it wasn’t even a holiday or special event. Our first stop and purchase was at a street-side creperie. I was fascinated watching them make crepes to order. We had never tried them before, so we decided that would be our lunch for the day. Mine was dusted in a sugar concoction, and a fresh lemon was cut and squeezed over it. It was utterly divine, and quite satisfying. Kept me full until dinner. My son got one filled with fresh whipped cream. He loved it, and it was hilarious watching him eat it. It was like he was 2 again. There was no way to bite it without getting it all over his face!
Right around the corner, the artist were set up, painting and sketching and selling their wares. For a while, I regretted that I didn’t buy an original painting to bring home, but now that I look around my house, I don’t know where I would have hung it, so it was a good choice. Around the corner and down the street, all kinds of different shops were set up. I looked for a t-shirt, but didn’t find one I liked, but I did find a beautiful scarf at one of the shops on the right. I recently learned how to tie them so that the fit like a vest. Can’t wait to wear it to school, and have people ask, “Where did you get that?” and be able to reply, “Oh, just a little shop in Paris, France.”
Believe it or not, cars and motorcycles go up and down this street, and the crowd parts for them to pass, then fills right back in. Insane. I just have to share photos of these bras, panties, and pants for sale. I could not believe the way they were displayed. These were actual store fronts, not yard sales! It amused me that the throng of people around them stepped back out of the way as soon as they saw my camera up to take the shot. Wish people taking selfies were that considerate.
At the intersections, we would often see statue people, who would pose for a picture with you in hopes that you would throw some change into their case. Every visible part of this guy was shiny gold. I wonder how he stood all that make up, and how hard it was to wash off.
Early afternoon, we boarded our coach with a tour guide who pointed out many famous buildings, and shared some of the history of France with us. Her accent made her difficult to understand, and I always felt like I was a sentence or two behind. For some reason, many people liked to sit on the steps of the National Music Academy and eat their lunches.
Because the streets were not laid out on grids, the buildings were often odd shapes.
We ended up at the Louvre. I was not prepared for the size and magnitude of it. You could spend a month inside and still not see everything. We were free to explore the sections we wanted. Even with the map, it was difficult. We stuck with our son’s areas of interest, and viewed the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and the Greek, Roman, Etruscan, and Medieval sections, (with a quick run through the Egyptian section, my choice) before we ran out of time. When he was younger, I had read On Etruscan Time by Tracy Barrett to him. He loved seeing all the pottery and coins and other artifacts that were in the book. It was difficult to get a decent picture of Mona, because the painting is really very small, and the section is roped off, so you have to stand quite a ways back from it, and hope your zoom works. Not to mention all the selfie addicts who have no qualms about shoving their way right in front of you.
Next, it was back to the Restaurant Le Saulnier for our dinner. We had chicken cordon bleu with salad and fried potato chunks with chocolate mousse for dessert. Our entrée was smothered in some kind of sauce, which we scraped off to make it edible. The mousse was heavenly. I could have eaten a huge bowl of that! The rest was ok, we just don’t care for any kind of sauces or gravy on our food. Others really seemed to enjoy it.
Afterwards, it was off for an evening cruise on the Seine river. The views were gorgeous. Unfortunately, a rude selfie addict stood up in front of us for the majority of the cruise. He would not take a hint no matter how many people were asking him to sit down so that other people could see. Is there a selfie anonymous organization to help these people??? If not, there certainly ought to be. Luckily, I was sitting by the side of the boat, and had told my son to sit behind me instead of beside me, so at least we had an unblocked view to the side. Couldn't look back though. You guessed it. More selfie addicts back there.
I loved some of the artwork on buildings.
My preconceived notions about the bridges were all wrong. I had always heard about the many bridges over the river, and had assumed, because of the way they were mentioned in stories, that they were pedestrian bridges where people went to enjoy the view. Wrong! All of them had more vehicles than people on them. This one had to be reinforced because of the weight of all the padlocks people had put on it as a symbol of their love. Interesting tradition. Too bad hubby’s lock had broken.
Every few “blocks” you would hear a different kind of music blaring, and see people eating and dancing along the river side.
Loved, loved, LOVED the cruise! Despite the selfie addicts. Today’s impression of Paris was much better, but I still wouldn’t want to live there. You can see that our day was jam packed full of activity, and we were ready for that ride back out to our peaceful hotel in the country for a good night’s sleep.
Monday, July 07, 2014
Time to move on to our next destination. I was very impressed with how clean London was. We saw very little graffiti, and when we did, it was impressive. Here is an example.
I had hoped we would take the Chunnel, but instead we drove under the English Channel through the Black Water tunnel. We were on our way to Dover to catch the ferry to Calais, France, where we would proceed to Paris by Coach. At first I was completely enamored with the castle.
But soon I was equally impressed with the white cliffs of Dover. The view from the ferry was breathtaking. I had never ridden on a ferry before, and was surprised at the size of it. There were around 100 coaches, and numerous cars below deck. There was plenty of room for everyone to roam the deck, entertain themselves in the arcade or casino, grab a bite to eat, or take a nap in one of the many lounges. We spent most of our time on the deck enjoying the view and watching kids feed the seagulls. Many of them had never seen gulls before and they were having a blast. It was amusing watching them try to get the seagulls in position so they could take a selfie with them.
A large portion of the day was spent in the coach. I tried to stay awake, but it was difficult. At one of the rest stops I bought what I would describe as chocolate covered waffles. Don’t know what they were called since no one was speaking English, and everything was written in French. They were quite tasty and very filling. I was still pretty full from breakfast, and these held me over until dinner.
We arrived in Paris in the evening. Our first impression was not good. It was not at all the romantic place I had seen depicted in the movies. Every place we visited in London was so clean. Our first sight of Paris was filthy at best. The traffic was insane, and that is probably an understatement. The streets are not laid out on grids. When we would come to an intersection, there were 4-6 choices of directions to turn, some of which required a wide u-turn. There were no lines on the streets, and in what I would think of as four lanes were crammed about 6 -10 vehicles facing various directions. Traffic was bumper to bumper, and when I looked down from the bus window, I couldn’t see the street because the cars were so close. Motorcycles and bicycles were weaving in and out of the cars as well as on and off sidewalks, and police officers were stopping and giving right-of-way to the motorcycles. It was mind boggling.
We were taken straight to the Restaurant Le Saulnier for our dinner. We were nervous getting off the coach, and wondered if there was a mistake, because it felt like we were in a ghetto. Trash and graffiti (not the pretty kind) were all over dingy walls. Trashy half torn off posters were hanging everywhere, and there were people begging and sleeping on the sidewalks. We hurried inside a restaurant which was being renovated on the outside. Inside was a pleasant and much needed surprise. The tables were set and waiting for us. The walls and ceilings were a beige/yellow. There were huge brightly colored paintings all around. The skylights were painted with vines and flowers. Quite beautiful.
Supper was “pretty” too. It was all arranged very pleasingly on the plates. It began with some kind of ham quiche. Not sure what else was in it. Next came turkey cutlets smothered in mushroom sauce served with rice, green beans, and French bread. Dessert was an apple tart. I scraped the sauce off of everything, and managed to eat enough of it to not be hungry. Nothing I would ever care to eat again though. Hubby wouldn’t eat any of it but the bread and a bit of the tart. I was at least willing to try everything. Our server did not speak English, but was very witty. He would tease us about not cleaning our plates, and pretend we weren’t going to get our dessert. It was fun communicating in a joking manner without speaking the same language.
After dinner we were off the Saphir Hotel, which was about 30 minutes out in the country. It was a sight for sore eyes.
Our room was nice and comfy, and we were ready to turn in for the night, but…Murphy decided to bring the law down on my hubby. (Possibly for his unkind remarks about the food. He’s a very finicky eater.) I had changed for bed, and he still could not get his suitcase open. Something had happened to the lock, and it would not open no matter what we did. I got dressed again and went looking for our one of city coordinators, who speak English, for help. I also wanted to escape the foul mood his frustration was bringing about. I found one in the lobby, and she translated to the guys at the desk what we needed. The boy she wanted was on break. She calls him her magician, because he seems to be able to fix whatever needs fixing. We had to wait a bit, but he popped in, and had me bring the suitcase down. I wanted it made clear I didn’t care about the lock, but not to break the suitcase. He took us to the kitchen, and managed to get that Samsonite combination lock off with a table knife, with no damage done to the suitcase at all. I was most impressed. That young man is indeed a magician.
Back to bed for a wonderful night’s sleep. Our bed was very comfy, and also very low to the ground. It was the first time ever that I could sit on the side and have my feet touch the ground.
Funny that our coordinators must have understood our 1st impression, even though we didn’t say anything, other than comment on the traffic. They kept reassuring everyone that tomorrow we would see the part of Paris that causes everyone to fall in love with it. At this point, it was hard to imagine.
Sunday, July 06, 2014
By this point, my body is starting to adjust to the time difference, and I’m noticing a few more things, like the sun rises at 4:30 a.m. and sets at 11:00 p.m. No need for daylight savings time here. I was totally unprepared for this revelation. After another delicious breakfast buffet of fresh fruit, freshly baked breads, and fresh cheese, we were off for our 1st concert. That was, after all, the main purpose of this trip. We began the day at Wesley’s Chapel, which was breathtakingly gorgeous with all its stain glass windows. The string quartet and choir performed here. It was an entirely different experience hearing them perform in this setting. Most impressive.
Next, we boarded our coaches and proceeded to the Victoria Embankment along the Thames in central London. There we had another lovely “chef in a box” picnic. The park was filled with many business people enjoying their lunches outdoors as well. After lunch, the band set up in the bandstand and performed their first 90-minute outdoor concert. They drew quite an audience and enhanced many a lunch hour for sure. Afterwards, we packed the equipment on the coaches, then we had the rest of the afternoon and evening to explore London on our own (in small groups). So many sites to choose from, so little time.
We chose to begin our exploration with a river cruise on the Thames. It was divine. Our captain was entertaining, and did a great job of pointing out the sites, answering questions, and going slowly so that we could enjoy the view and snap what photos we wanted. I never realized what an epidemic of selfie addicts there are out there. What an eye-opener. I enjoyed the anecdotes about Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
There was a great view, and more history about the Tower of London.
Bridges and architecture fascinated me.
After our cruise, we walked over to the London Dungeon, enjoying various street performers along the way.
While pricey, the dungeon experience was well worth it, and I would highly recommend it. Again, I was disappointed that photos were not allowed. The performers did an outstanding job, and never broke character. They covered many of London’s factual as well as fictional infamous characters. It was extremely interactive and entertaining as they involved the patrons in their performances. We were not expecting there to be rides involved, including one similar to a log flume, and one that reminded me of Disney’s Hotel of Terror, only a smaller version. Took us quite by surprise, which just added to the fun. The experience also lasted a lot longer than we expected. I thought it would take about 15-20 minutes, and it lasted around 90 minutes. That made the cost seem not quite so bad.
As we emerged from the dark, I felt something hit my chest. I immediately looked up, expecting a pigeon, but didn’t see anything. After a couple of steps, I felt something sharp poking me. I looked down, and discovered that the nose pad had broken off my glasses. It was quite jagged, and poking my nose as well. Luckily, I had prepared for boo-boos (like all good mommies) and had a Band-Aid in my pocket, which I used to rig my glasses so that I could see without cutting my nose. No idea what caused it to break, but a small annoyance like that was not going to ruin my good time.
By this time, we were ready to just soak in the scenery, and find a place to eat dinner. Somehow I just couldn’t convince the boys that they wanted to experience High Tea. Go figure. We took off walking in the general direction of our hotel and checked out all the sidewalk café’s we could find. We finally agreed upon a Pizza Express. That may not sound adventurous, but believe me, those pizzas did not look anything like the ones I’ve had in the states. They were very tasty, and a good choice for the experience. Nothing about them tasted like any other pizza I’ve ever had. The meat was a bit too much for me, so I picked it off and gave it to the boys. I like cheese pizza, which was not an option on the menu, so that worked out well for us since the boys like more meat. Since the soda cost less that the water, we went that route. Also an experience. Although the names were the same, Coke and Fanta, the taste was not. The flavors were much more intense. I don’t know how else to describe it.
After our late supper, we continued to stroll leisurely to our hotel, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city. I was still enamored with all the window boxes full of flowers. We took an extra-long time walking around St. Paul’s Cathedral to enjoy is fully from all sides one last time. It was our last evening in London, and we intended to savor every moment. I, personally, can’t wait to go back again.
I know I’ve left things out that we did, like visit Harry Potter sites like King’s Cross station and Charing Cross Road. Hard to include it all. I took over 2000 photos, so I have to pick and choose on those too. Next trip, I plan to attend a High Tea, and visit Kensington Palace and Park to see the statue of Peter Pan. We only had so much time, so there was no way to see it all.
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