France Part One - Paris to St. Malo

19th May, 1995
20th May, 1995
21st May, 1995
22nd May, 1995

Friday 19th May, 1995

Eurostar train photograph

Eurostar Train at Waterloo International Station

Drop Cap verything went smoothly as we transferred by taxi to Waterloo International Terminal. The Eurostar is remarkably comfortable, seats a good size even in Standard class (as opposed to FirstClass) folding footrests, tray tables like aeroplanes, buffet bar and trolley service. When we got through the Channel Tunnel (not very interesting, all dark like the Underground - we had expected SOME fanfare) it really took off till it achieved 300 kph! Into Paris Gare du Nord where we were met by a nice little man with our name on a card and found that the couple sitting behind us were also on the tour.

Drop Cap e took off in a Mercedes from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon where our hotel, the Novotel Gare de Lyon is in the process of being built. It only opened two weeks ago and is surrounded by cement mixers etc. The driver had to go the wrong way down a one way street to get to the entrance. But it is lovely. From the Victorian splendours of the Grosvenor to the Space Age in one fell swoop. All the appointments are squeaky clean and new and it seems intelligently fitted up. They didn't seem to have our reservation on the computer but luckily our Tour Manager came along and sorted it out, as my French was proving inadequate. She seems good.

Paris Cafe photograph

Cafe les Deux Savoies, Paris, France

Drop Cap e went out to find some food and money at about 3 p.m. Food is a dreadful price - we had a steak and a schnitzel and vegs, OJ and coffee and it cost FF250! That is $70 odd. Then later we paid FF72 for two ham and cheese rolls and two cokes at the station buffet opposite. About $20! Luckily we tracked down a Cirrus dispenser at a bank near Place de la Bastille and got some more money. Another one tomorrow and we should have enough to go on with. We met our fellow travellers at welcome drinks. Thirty eight, somewhat fewer than in Italy. They seem the usual mixed bag but our Tour Manager, Jenny, seems more organised than Pino.

Paris Kiosk photograph

Advertising Kiosk, Paris, France

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Saturday, 20th May, 1995

Arc de Triomphe photograph

Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France

Drop Cap aris!! A free morning, lovely blue sky and sunshine, rather cooler on the ground but perfect for sightseeing. We bought Metro tickets (FF7) at Gare de Lyon and set out for Champs Elysees. We got out at George V so we didn't have to walk too far to the Arc de Triomphe. This is really great. We saw the Eternal Flame for the Unknown Soldier and the various memorials to the dead. The view down both sides of the Arc towards Place de la Concorde one way and the modern square arch of La Defense on the other is marvellous.

Metro photograph

Art Deco Metro Entrance, Avenue Kleber, Paris, France

Drop Cap hen we found our way around l'Etoile to Avenue Kleber. We were honked at crossing the road and thought "how rude!" but the guy stopped and in very rapid French asked if he could use our map to find Avenue Victor Hugo. I asked him to speak "plus lentemente", which he did and we were able to help him find it. In Paris half an hour and already we were helping the locals to find their way! So far the French have been most co-operative as far as helping us speak. Not what I expected at all.

Drop Cap own Avenue Kleber is the Palais de Chaillot and the Trocadero Gardens, which gives the best photo view of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The gardens in the foreground are full of fountains and the Tower, across the River Seine is in full view. We will be going there with the tour but sometimes further away gives the best photograph.

Eiffel Tower photograph

Panorama of the Eiffel Tower, from Trocadero, Paris

Drop Cap e had to be back at the hotel by 11.45 to put out the bags and by the time we reached Gare de Lyon we were almost late. So I sent Mac on quickly to put out the bags, confident that I could find my way back. Not so. I got lost in the arrivals section of the SNCF station and couldn't find my way out to anywhere familiar. So, gathering all my courage together and swallowing panic I went to the Orientation (information desk) "Excusez moi m'sieur, je suis perdue. Je cherche le Novotel Gare de Lyon s'il vous plait" He considered, then said "toute droite, tournez a gauche et montez". I did and there it was. Thank God for basic French programmes. Anyway, we forgathered for the bus. This time a big two deck blue and yellow Insight bus (like in the brochures) and off to Rouen.

Drop Cap propos Paris - it seemed to go out of its way to be typically Parisien today. Half the people had dogs and half of those were poodles. Then a guy started playing a piano accordion in the Metro. It seemed like a film. Louvre Metro station is like a museum, full of statues and interesting pieces in niches. Not vandalised either. In fact all the metro stations had displays or murals illustrating the area or the name of the station. It seems to be a smaller but shallower and better kept system than London.

Rouen photograph

Grand Horloge, Rouen, France

Drop Cap ouen is a delightful medieval town with twisty cobbled streets and half timbered houses and shops. (McDonald's in a medieval shop front is interesting). We saw the Cathedral and the Grand Horloge (a 13th C clock) and followed the pedestrian streets to the square where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake. There is an interesting modern church built on the site, but the square is lovely.

Rouen photograph

Medieval McDonalds, Rouen, France

Caen photograph

Abbaye des Hommes, Caen, France

Drop Cap fter Rouen we drove through lovely green farmland to Caen, where William the Conqueror lived. He and his wife Matilda established two abbeys (one for men and one for women) and they are both buried here. Another quite pleasant Novotel for dinner (OK) and an early night.

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Sunday, 21st May, 1995

Arromanches photograph

D-Day Museum, Arromanches, Normandy, France

drop cap n interesting day today. We started out at Arromanches, where the D-Day landings started. We saw the remains of the artificial harbour built in sections by the British and towed to Normandy and saw a film about it at the Museum. Then on to the American War Cemetery at Omaha Beach where there was a ceremony going on for Memorial Day. I only think of the waste of lives when I see these places, but we have some very vocal survivors on the tour who blazon it out all the time. Very boring, considering on D-Day I was exactly two months old.

Bayeux photograph

Cathedral, Bayeux, Normandy, France

drop cap fter this we went to Bayeux where we viewed the famous Tapestry, billed as Queen Mathilda's but it seems unlikely that she did sew it. The current view is that it was done in a monastery and used as a propaganda news organ for the illiterate (which was most people in those days) They hung the panels in the church to present the official version of events. It was wonderful though, 1000 years old and so graphic, Mac and I were thrilled to find we could read most of the Latin text and of course we were full of the history of the Battle of Hastings from Battle only a couple of days ago. We bought some books about it and some takeaway - Bayeux is most civilised - there are seats everywhere for pedestrians. It's a charming little town generally, Mac found a waterwheel busily churning but it was only a decoration, according to the patron of the shop it was attached to.

Mont St. Michel photograph

View of Mont St. Michel from the Coach

drop cap fter lunch we drove to Mont St.Michel, a spectacular sight on its rock. We were to go around the monastery (right at the top) but my legs gave out before I got there and I chickened out. It seems I made the right decision as a snafu occurred and people were very late back to the bus. While waiting for them to return we saw a white cat climbing the cliffs towards the monastery. According to Mac, it was the highlight of the day. We also saw at least five differently garbed ethnic Celt folk dancing groups, playing bagpipes and drums. The costumes were lovely, the high lacy headdresses draped in ribbons and flowers were lovely. Our hotel was on the mainland end of the causeway and seems quite OK.

Monday, 22nd May, 1995

St Malo photograph

Ramparts of St. Malo, Brittany, France

drop cap ff early to picturesque St.Malo in Brittany, a fortified town with lovely ramparts and cannon looking out to sea. Ferries to the Channel Islands leave from here. We had a stroll around the ramparts and a sticky bun then on again, lunch at a roadhouse at Laval then Saumur with a castle (or chateau) looming on a hillside overlooking the Loire.

St. Malo photograph

Cannon at St. Malo, Brittany, France

Saumur photograph

Panorama of Saumur, from the Coach

Necropolis photograph

Royal Necropolis, Fontevraud Abbey,
Tombs of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine

drop cap hen on to our hotel in Fontevraud Abbey. They have built the hotel in part of the nunnery and are restoring the abbey and church. Inside the church is the Royal Necropolis with the tombs of Henry II (Plantagenet) and Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart and Isabella of Angouleme, third wife of King John. It was a fascinating place and I intend to see more of it tomorrow.

Fontevraud photograph

Abbot's Kitchen, Fontevraud Abbey

drop cap he scenery today has been lovely, little Breton villages, not of indomitable Gauls but equally indomitable Celts, and green fields and forests. Quite lovely. We are very taken with France.

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