Sunday, 31 July 2016

The Loire week one

Saturday evening

Arrived at Saumur, met by parental and taken to the new homestead, gite very nice, tres rustic in a one horse town that's lost its horse. Hail and well met with family and friends, much wine and beer consumed.

Sunday 24th

Race day in Puy de Notre Dame. Local town organises an annual race around the town for vintage cars and bikes. All amateur and mostly local, hay bales for protection and good fun all round. In the centre of the track, in a winery, big tents set up, one for food and one for drink. 2 euros for a half pint of beer, after watching the first couple of races (crazy, some real nutcases out there, including a side car woman passenger doing yoga to keep the bike on the road) the gentleman retire to the bar and don't appreciably move for the rest of the day.

Picked up later a bit wobbly for dinner at the gite, arrived home to find Marcus with a bite from something that has swollen to a big blister, not good. BBQ skewers and wine form dinner, cracking day.

Monday 25th

Marcus's finger more swollen so decide to head for doctors. Arrive and ask at the pharmacy as doesn't appear to be a doctor about. As Marcus raises his hand to show the pharmacist he catches his finger on the counter and busts the blister! He yelps, the pharmacist screams and everyone jumps backwards. As all are watching the dripping blister the bit of skin that was covering it and was subsequently sticking to the counter drops to the floor with a small squelch. Ushered out very quickly to a nondescript door which is the dr's surgery. Nice people waiting look worriedly at his finger let us go in first. Eccentric French dr reassures Marcus and parents with a 'hmm, yes, French bugs are very bad'. Various checks and says it's not too bad, writes prescription and charges us 23€, probably straight in his back pocket. 24€ in the pharmacy and we're done.

Back to the homestead then a visit to the supermarket which is always interesting. After head into Thouars for a mooch about, lovely couple of very old churches and a chateau that's now a music school, very picturesque.

More eating and drinking in the evening and as new game called Mölkky that involves throwing bits of wood, good fun, can see it being a good drinking game.

Tuesday 26th

Visit to the chateau at Montreuil-Bellay. Lunch first, intended restaurant closed so we have to hunt around, find the Hotel Splendide, not quite up to the name but nearly there. Chateau most interesting, like one of the previous owners as he had a drinking club called the Sacavins, sound like jolly good fun. Also find nice restaurant to take the folks to later as a thank you to them.

Think I am going to die due to over consumption of paté, rilette and fromage...

Wednesday 27th

Off to meet friends of the folks, Harry & Joan. Meet at a restaurant for lunch, most convivial but food not great apparently. Back to theirs for the afternoon more drinks and silly games. Pa and I lose at snooker but I beat him at table tennis and darts (!).

Reason for waiting around is that we're off to a Japanese garden for a night time viewing. Sure the garden is very nice but too dark to tell and their idea of lighting not too illuminating. The experience is meant to be enhanced by traditional Japanese folk tales at various points around the garden but as all in French with no English audio guide it all gets a bit lost. Nice try but lot of work for a midnight finish.

Thursday 28th

Quiet day. Visited some picturesque towns around the area for a mooch, again some lovely old churches and an abbey. Lunch at the Café des Arts, very nice with a huge beer collection. Food better than previous day, and excellent mixed grill and more cheese.

Harry & Joan over for a BBQ in the evening, more wine and Mölkky.

Friday 29th

Puy du Fou park. Enormous theme park quite close. Essentially 7 or 8 big shows, like The Vikings and The Coliseum, really well done, fighting, chariot races, explosions and action. Cast of thousands set in a beautiful park. Weather very drizzly but better than being too hot. Highlight was the bird show, hundreds of birds of prey dancing around the sky and skimming just over your head, awesome.

Dinner at the park with odd French 'entertainment' involving drinking wine from shoes. Afterwards went to the Ciniscene spectacular show about the history of the area, amazing, photos I took won't do it justice but huge show spanning the last 1000 years. Home at 2am.

Saturday 30th

Quiet day but went to Thouars festival in the evening, from being completely dead when we visited on Monday now full of people, more beer at the Café des Arts, stronger stuff this time, all very enjoyable in a community having fun. Not a good night in the family backgammon tournament, lose a game to 16 and 13-34 down overall...

Monday, 25 July 2016

Notre Dame

Venus de Milo

Napoleon's tomb

Panorama from Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

Panorama from the Arc de Triomphe


So our last day in Paris so we thought we'd go high.

We all slept pretty well for the first time, until around 6am, so that precluded an early start but then we've had enough of those. Breakfast from the station again but from a different stand, though same brand, and her the helpful lady serving told me I could have my coffee white if I liked, been drinking black coffee for breakfast so far, which has not been pleasant. Also Marcus happy as he got his grille pommes today and lack of comment must mean it was OK.

So, off to the Basilica de Sacre Coeur as it is a high point, literally and figuratively, in Paris. Got the bus which was meant to take us within a stone's throw but on the way about 4 stops suddenly disappeared. Perplexed we (or rather I) decided we should get off and try and find our way there. I quickly discovered that a Lonely Planet pull out map is not a particularly good substitute for an A-to-Z and I was soon a little bit worried, especially as the Guru had a 'don't make me walk too much today' look in her eye.

Luckily we spied a staircase and knowing the church is up thought might be onto something. I also accosted a startled looking old lady, along of it was the way, she smirked at me and said 'yes, up, going all the way!' which I took a good sign. So up we climbed, a lot of steps and through some very nice residential bits of Paris until we eventually came to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur, which looked gorgeous in the morning sunshine. Then we bought tickets and climbed up to the dome for a view of over Paris, this was absolutely spectacular, a little hazy but as it was a sunny day the views went on for miles. There church is only about 100 years old so inside the decoration is a little more Art Deco that the places of worship we have visited so far so that was interesting. Then down the steps and lunch at the bottom of the hill with a beautiful view of the Basilica.

Next it was the Arc de Triomphe , across town on the metro this time, not too busy at the big arch so didn't have to wait, up the steps again (over 500 with both visits!) And this time glorious views along the grand boulevards and the Eiffel tower.  After that it was a stroll along the Champs Elysée watching the preparation for the finish of the Tour de France on Sunday and then back to Montparnasse to catch the train to the countryside.

Slight problems with finding the right train/platform/tickets but we got there eventually and meet up with the folks in sunny Saumur.

Saturday, 23 July 2016


Up early but not quite as early as Thursday, which was a good sign. Breakfast again from the stall in the station, this time they got the order wrong, one more pain au chocolat, one too few grille pommes but there you go, eaten in the hotel room this time rather than with the crazies in the station.

Bus up to Palais Royale and picked up our pre-bought tickets to Museé de Louvre, all very smooth, I must admit. We went into the museum through the famous glass pyramid entrance and I must admit it was impressive. Not so impressive was fast queue for people with tickets as pretty much everyone had already bought tickets so it was just another big queue. Still, the unwashed queue did build steadily and was bigger by kick off time.

It's hard to love the Louvre as it is so big and so busy. We did a greatest hits tour as we weren't sure how long we could keep going for, things like the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace are beautiful to look at but difficult to appreciate due to the crowds. The worst is, of course, the Mona Lisa, you don't so much look at it as survive the experience of getting close to it - is just so busy with people taking photos with the their phones and iPads, and selfies with selfie sticks!, that you can't stop and consider the actual painting at all. Shame, but there you go.

Highlights for me were the Raft of Medusa, the Coronation of Napoleon, the statuary of Versailles, Puget in particular and some of the items from Mesopotamia like the Hammurabi. All beautiful and sometimes times they were in nice and quiet rooms too. The last highlight was a cup of coffee that only cost 2 euros, who said museums are expensive...?

We kept at it until about 1pm but with energy levels flagging again we headed back to the hotel for a rest. Recharged we headed to Invalides and the tomb of Napoleon. Have been here before but it is undoubtedly an impressive place. Entry there also got us into the Museé de l'Armeé, which had very interesting exhibitions on arms, armour and there world wars. Shame that we had got there quite late - no gentle music and a quiet request to finish what you're looking at before you leave, just 2 large blokes shouting at you to, slightly more politely, get there fuck out right now. Charming, especially as the guidebook says it closes at 7 not 6.

Anyway after that it was off dinner at Chartier, this is an old Paris institution that my father went to when he lived in Paris in the sixties and he then took us to years later on a family holiday. My brother took his family there a few years back and now I've taken mine. Hopefully Marcus and Charlie will take their families to eat there one day...

The food was OK, the service as I remember and the atmosphere outstanding, as it should be, and great value too. Then it back to bed, managed to start awake until after 10 tonight, getting better...

Friday, 22 July 2016

Day one

Busy day at the coalface of a sightseeing. Woke up at 1am and all of us wake and compos mentis by 3. Various administrative tasks sorted and blog post written then headed out at 6, went first to Gare Montparnasse to buy travel cards, all very straightforward, then to the bakery to buy breakfast, very pleasant croissants in the station seating area.

To the Ile de la Cite, in front of Notre Dame at 7am, deserted so a magnificent view with no crowds. Was there as the sun come up beside the towers, a glorious scene. Didn't open for a while so we went for a wander past the Palais de Justice up to Pont Neuf. Then back to Notre Dame for opening time, absolutely stunning inside, and we got to look around whilst a service was taking place which added to the atmosphere.

Saint Chapelle didn't open for an hour so we had coffee then wandered back, found a queue but not too long. Saint Chapelle was gorgeous inside, the stained glass amazing, a small chapel but we'll worth a visit. Bought combined ticket with the Concergerie next door, haven't visited before, was the prison where revolutionary prisoners were held before trial and execution, not too many got out at the height of the terror, including Marie Antoinette. Again well worth a visit.

Went bank to Notre Dame to see if we could climb the towers but by now the place was heaving and queues enormous, no thanks, so we wandered to the Ile de St Louis to buy lunch, found a lovely bakery and had a picnic with a view down the Seine.

Fueled up we went to the Museum of Anatomy & Palaeontology, Marcus wanted to go to a science museum. Lots of bones, which was impressive, but a very old style place so just, literally, a big room full of bones. There most interactive things where the signs saying Do Not Touch. Must try harder, this is the 21st century!

Museum was very hot and we were flagging by now so back to the hotel for a rest. Refreshed we went to the Jardins du Luxembourg, which are just down the road and had a pleasant stroll amongst many happy and relaxed Parisians. Then just a short walk to the Pantheon, not sure I've been here before either but again a most impressive monument, high domed ceilings and lots of interesting people interred in the crypt, including Marie Curie so Marcus was happy (he likes a scientific angle).

Flagging again so we stopped to buy some victuals for dinner which unromantically for Paris were eaten in the hotel room before we all dropped off by 9pm.  History and religion done, culture tomorrow at the Louvre.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

En vacance

Right, we are back in blogging mode as for the next couple of weeks we will be the Seine Riverview and the Loire Riverview as we holiday en France.

Up at the crack on Wednesday Japan time as wanted to get to Narita before the rush hour really started, Tokyo, rush hour and suitcases not a great mix. So left the house at 6.20 for an 11 o'clock flight. Travel OK and to the airport in plenty of time. Second breakfast then onto the plane. Flying Air France for the first time, very full, no spare seats. Talking of seats, found v uncomfortable for my back, which doesn't usually happen. Partially made up for with free champagne in economy.

Good selection of films, watched Spectre (not seen, excellent), The Big Short (not seen, excellent, hate bankers even more now) and the Force Awakens (seen lots of times). Good OK, long flight. Slightly worried before takeoff as cabin crew with 'security' on badges as appeared to take a woman off the plane, but they could have been upgrading her - she didn't look very happy if they were! But plane didn't blow up over Russia so all good.

Arrived on time, quickly through immigration with the most bored looking policeman checking passports I've seen, would give an English jobsworth a run for his money in the 'couldn't give a fuck' stakes. Cup of coffee and a ham sandwich for Marcus as he missed food on the plane when sleeping - first encounter with French people, spoke a few words of French but not too many Japanese interspersed (my brain on works in two modes, English and other languages and they tend to all come out in the same sentence, terribly confusing for the recipient as I don't even realise...)

Bus to Gare Montparnasse, through Paris in the evening rush hour, crazy driver but he got there in one piece. Paris looks both beautiful and ugly. Short walk from there station to the hotel, check-in no problem and up to the room, basic but clean and tidy, will do for 3 nights.

Shower and crash out by 9pm, it's been a long day but we made it.