Monday, November 27, 2017

FRANCEgiving 2017

75 miles. We walked 75 miles across France.

... and back to Paris.


It's been a while since I've been out of the country - I usually keep my traveling to the states, but when a round trip ticket showed up for less than $500 - we had to jump on it!


I had a trip to New York planned for just before our trip to France, and whilst there I managed to sneak a peek at the new Blue Box Cafe at Tiffany's Flagship store, watch Hello Dolly on Broadway, and dine at Ai Fiori and the NoMad Restaurant! Success all around.


We flew in to London Heathrow and memories flashed back to when I had studied abroad many many years ago in Bloomsbury and Stratford Upon Avon. Those were the days! Plays at the Globe, the British Museum, Afternoon Tea - severe FOMO definitely set in. Gloom and all, we watched the sunset before flying out to Paris.

I got to see the Eiffel Tower from the plane!


Day 1 - Paris

Day 1 was very short. We arrived in the evening and checked into our hotel before heading our for dinner. We settled at a quaint little restaurant called Le Bookie -

Everything was so good. I couldn't tell if it was because of the long flight or if the food was simply made with love - but we ate everything. I was, however, very surprised to find that no one in France shared anything. Everyone ordered their own pizzas and their own appetizers. We joked that we seemed like savages for sharing everything, but how can you enjoy all the things France has to offer if you're limited to only trying one thing per restaurant?

Total distance: 3.0 miles walked

Day 2 - Bordeaux

The next morning, we took the train from Paris to Bordeaux.

Spoiled with Wi-Fi and a total trip time of 2 hours, we were very excited about what was in store for us. We didn't realize until later that we had ridden a bullet train to Bordeaux - all the other train rides paled in comparison!

Bordeaux was definitely a top-3 city for me in France. 15 years ago, it was still an industry-driven city with warehouses along the Garonne River. It's been known as the wine-industry capital for a long time, and it's apparent in the way the locals drink their wine (with just about every meal...). We walked up the Garonne toward La Cité Du Vin, a museum for all things wine. It was gorgeous and immersive and had a massive wine library that I don't think I totally understood.

It was here that we boarded a small ship that would ultimately take us on a river cruise of the Garonne - it included 2 wine tastings and a spectacular view of the sunset. As soon as we boarded, Marie - our guide - started speaking in French to the 30 some-odd french locals that had joined us. I COMPLETELY forgot that we were in a foreign country and that we were the minority in this situation.

Luckily, Marie noticed that we stuck out like sore thumbs and took turns giving the spiel in French and then again in English. We had a private lesson in wine tasting and learned to smell, see, and taste: something about tannins and wine color and gurgling to make sure air bubbles did something or other. It was amazing. I felt like we got so much out of it!

That sunset? To die for. Probably the prettiest sunset I've ever seen.

We ended the night with crepes for dinner and a visit to the Église Notre-Dame. Stunning.

Total distance: 12.0 Miles walked


Day 3: Bordeaux --> Aix-en-Provence

In the morning, we bundled up to see the Basilique Saint-Michel.

It was cold and the streets were empty and I was surprised (yet again!) that the sun didn't rise until 8 in the morning. France is very slow-going. As an early bird, it was hard to want to do so much in the morning when the lights didn't want to go on until so late in the day!

The architecture alone put LA to shame. France is so rich in history! We learned that the architecture in Bordeaux, however, was "faked" to look like the historic stuff to keep consistent with the facade of it all. I'm not complaining. Old stuff makes me happy :)

We took the train to Aix-En Provence -

Had burgers for dinner, some wine at a local bar, and then checked into our beautiful hotel - Hotel Cezanne (named after the eponymous artist). The key was a bit of a shock as it was so dated, but I think it added to the novelty of the city.

so much cheese.

actual hotel key.

newfound wine-enthusiasts. 

Total Distance: 7.3 Miles walked


Day 4: Aix-en-Provence --> Marseille

Aix-en-Provence is known for their fountains - about 1,000 of them! Everywhere we turned, there was a fountain. In walls, standalone, in the middle of the street - fountains, fountains, fountains. A review on TripAdvisor suggested that if you were bored or had kids, a "keep-busy" event would be to count the fountains in Provence.

We walked all over the city (it was rather small) and stopped by the Paroisse Cathédrale Saint Sauveur - a beautiful cathedral right outside of the city's center.

We walked all the way up to Paul Cezanne's Studio - his place of residence for the last few years of his life - and we were able to see all the beautiful things that inspired him, be it still-life or landscapes.

I always admire those who can find inspiration in the simplest things. I think there's a part of my brain that wants to draw from material objects, but I don't think I function that way. I always look for clear lines and linear patterns, but find myself getting distracted because my brain can't process and turn 3D into 2D.

We had pizza, pasta, and risotta for lunch and wandered in the city center to people-watch for a few hours.

... and then we took the train to Marseille!

Total distance: 12.8 miles walked


Day 5: Marseille --> Nice

I wish we had more time in Marseille - we can't say we saw too much of it because it was nearly nightfall by the time we arrived, and the sun had only just come up before we left.

We woke up very early in the morning to hike up the hills to the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde - a beautiful cathedral that we weren't able to see in the darkness, but the city it overlooked was gorgeous. We sat for a few minutes to enjoy the view, but because we had an early train ride, we had to book it back to the hotel.

In Nice, our first stop was the Basilique Notre-Dame de l’Assomption - another Notre Dame!

This one was a little different because it looked like an outlier. High buildings surrounded it - literally an H&M across the street - it was so odd to see history buried in modernity.

Soooo... Nice. Nice was SOOOOOO NICE. By far my favourite city on the trip. It may have had something to do with being so close to the water. Or how the city changed based on how inland you were. The coast was tourist-y, but as you got further away from it, the areas became residential and the crowds thinned out.

We walked, ate, walked to the Castle on the Hill (it was actually called Castle Hill!), enjoyed gelato at sunset, and had a wonderful night in the hotel room with room service and really bad French TV.

Total Distance: 11.9 miles walked


Day 6: Nice 

We were finally able to slow our roll in Nice. We got to roam the same streets for more than one day, buy tacky magnets for family members, and - you guessed it! - visited another cathedral! For a few hours, we forgot everything and sat on the beach. Chelsie tried to teach me how to skip rocks, but all I heard were ker-plunks. Me + rocks = sinking ships.

As day turned into night, it was time for the NIGHT TRAIN to Paris!

We thought this would be a fun adventure, as it meant consolidating time spent on a train and sleep time while covering distance -

It was definitely going to be an adventure...

Total Distance: 7.6 miles walked


Day 7: Paris!

I should probably mention that our 7 hour train ride turned into a 16-hour train ride. Our train stopped randomly in Toulon, and for a while, we couldn't figure out what had happened. We looked out of our window and saw people slowly filing out, but the announcements over the loudspeaker were in French, and clearly none of us could understand what was going on. It was 1 in the morning before someone knocked on our door to let us know that our train was going to be stopped indefinitely in the station, and that our new train was set to depart from Toulon at 5:45 in the morning. As in 4 hours later. We had our own room on the train (the perks of first class!), which was awesome - but it looked like those who were in second class had to get off the train and sleep in the station.

At 5:45, we left Toulon to head back up to Paris. Our train was delayed, and instead of arriving a little before 10 (an already 3-hour delay), we didn't arrive in Paris until nearly noon.

Luckily, we didn't have anything set in stone!

We went to the Louvre, walked along the Jardin des Tuileries, and got caught in a full-on rainstorm at the Notre-Dame de Paris (yes! another cathedral!) -

We stomped in our rainboots as the weather cleared up just in time for the lights at the Eiffel Tower to turn on.

But, as a foodie, I really wanted to go to Angelina for the hot chocolate. HOT CHOCOLATEEEEEEEE!

Delicious, but rather thick. But I do believe in trying everything at least once!

Happy Francegiving to us. We had a nice dinner at a cute little restaurant by our hotel -

and retired to bed early because we were so exhausted. CHATEAUS AND CHAMPAGNE AWAITED US!

Total Distance: 12 Miles walked

Day 8: Loire Valley

We were so excited for chateaus - predominantly because they were the inspiration behind this trip as a whole, but also because we knew we would be able to walk through history consolidated in singular buildings.

First Stop: Chateau de Chambord

We were told that this was going to be the biggest of the three Chateaus that we were going to visit.

The rooms were intricate - the chimneys aplenty! And hands down the largest chateau in the Loire Valley. It was believed that Leonardo Da Vinci designed the architecture of the chateau because of its Greek influences amidst the French construction. 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 84 staircases. Also - did you guys know that a king only needed to spend one night at a chateau to make it a royal chateau? This makes no sense to me, but okay.

We stopped for lunch in Amboise, which was on our way to our second castle. We would later return to see the chateau in Amboise, but because of winter hours, the chateau wouldn't be open until later in the afternoon.

Second Stop: Château de Chenonceau

Château de Chenonceau is a privately owned Chateau - not a royal one like Chambord but a significant one because it doubled as a hospital during WWI and also happened to be a gift (a gift!!!) to King Henry II's mistress in the 1500s.

Third Stop: Château d'Amboise

Château d'Amboise was the least impressive of the three chateaus we visited - mainly because it was just a remnant of a chateau. Much of it was demolished in the French Revolution, but! The best part of the visit was that it was the final resting place of Leonardo Da Vinci. A pleasant surprise.

The trip back was like driving back to Pasadena from Santa Monica in rush-hour traffic. Toward the end I started to get carsick, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief when we were dropped off at the...

Arc de Triomphe!

We made the walk back home, packed, and got ready for the flight home.

Total Distance: 8.8 miles walked.


All in all, a wonderful trip. We covered so much of France that I felt like we were always on the go - I loved having a purpose and I loved seeing so much rich history that it felt like 10 days just wasn't enough to see everything.

My next trip back will include Normandy, Lyon, and all the other cities along the border. Maybe I'll even sneak into Italy, Switzerland, and Germany.

Thanks for the memories, France!