Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “vacation”

Freeway Free in France: Back to the 7me Arrondissement

My favorite pied a terre in Paris is the Jardin D’Eiffel, just off the market street Rue Cler (see above) by one block. 15 years ago when I first stayed the decor was dominated by giant yellow Monet-esque flowers on Royal blue  on drapes, pictures, and murals throughout (see below) , and the clientele favored busloads of Canadian and German students and tourists on a budget.

The old Jardin has undergone a 21st century revamp, and is now robed mostly in subtle shades of gray with some paisley drapes to brighten the feel (see above).  The elevator, however,  is no larger;  it can accommodate two people and two suitcases on if you are on friendly terms, or you can stash the suitcases in the elevator, push the button,and race the elevator up the stairs. DB and I are sharing a room facing the street – not the best, as the next door neighbor is the police station and we expect to hear sirens all night.  From the back rooms, if you lean out the window, you can glimpse the Eiffel Tower.

We arrived after an efficient breakfast at La Vielle Auberge, a lightning transit to the train station in Souillac, a bit of a hassle with ticket’s but we eventually got on the train and enjoyed four hours of French scenery, shading from Romanesque yellow sandstone  with steep-pitched roofs and bell-towers in the Dordogne to white stucco with mansard roofs and steeples in the Touraine.  Gare Austerlitz is large and bustling but well-signed, our Algerian taxi driver was friendly and expansive about  what we should be sure to see in Paris, and the staff at the Jardin welcomed us like old friends.

We took the Metro to the Place de ‘l’Opera and picked up our museum passes for two days of urgent museum – going.  This may be our last joint adventure for awhile, as we each have different plans for our stay in Paris.    WB missed the Louvre on her previous visit and expects to spend two days there, but wants also to fit in the renovated Musee d’Orsay, the Rodin, the Pere LaChaise cemetery, and perhaps a tour of the opera.  DM has a friend dating back to a working stint in London  who came to meet her and is staying at the Jardin, and also has a cousin who wants to return the hospitality DM showed him in the states, so after tonight’s dinner  she will not share evenings until Sunday. Dianne has not been in Paris in decades and has murky memories, so she may take the #69 bus tour around the city per Rick Steves’ recommendation and then follow her interests. 20160922_230844web

I have in mind the renovated d’Orsay tomorrow together with l’Orangerie which houses Monet’s water lilies, then there is another exhibit at the Grand Palais I want to find out about, and I need to visit Notre Dame and the Holocaust victims memorial and of course Berthillon’s ice cream and the Art Deco atrium of La Samaritaine, and Le Pere LaChaise cemetery with WB on Sunday.  Our walking tour will have been good prep for pounding all this Gothic pavement. Right now we are getting cleaned up in preparation for a celebration meal at l’Affriole, which it appears has developed enough of a reputation that Michele (who is French with family and friends in Lyon) had heard of it.

I am trembling at the potential cost.  But we have economized greatly up until now, having scrounged for lunches at the hotel breakfast buffets and having dinner and breakfasts prepaid during our hiking tour.

20160922_073111docWe decided to walk back from L’Opera (which was undergoing a revamp of its own behind a Rene Magritte-inspired façade) and stopped at a street-side cafe on Rue Tour Maubourg for wine, tea, and people -watching. We saw Cinderella’s glass coach go by, pulled by a rather ordinary brown horse and with two dotty English tourists inside.  Such is life in a tourist city.

Unfortunately l’Affriole did not live up to my memory. New management has revamped the decor here also, opening up the front of the place for sidewalk seating, which leaves one exposed to the curious glances of passers-by and other hazards.  In our case, a large dog decided to deposit an equally large souvenir on the sidewalk just by our table, and the dog’s owner loftily prepared to ignore the awkward incident until the restaurateur bounded out and demand she clean up after her pet.  She argued, gave in, and “cleaned up” by kicking the mess to the curb, then wiping her shoe carefully on the edge.  Not the most appetizing of beginnings.

The food, instead of bringing on the sort of ecstasy seen in “When Harry Met Sally,” did not measure up to either my memory or the best of the food we had enjoyed while hiking. So much for my “local expertise”.  But I still have a few 7me arrondissement aces up my sleeve.20160922_070928doc

 

 

Freeway Free in France – Hiking in the Dordogne – Day One (cont.)

september-2016-377webAt about the halfway point of our first day of hiking (9km) we felt raindrops.  Drizzle turned to gentle rain, enough to rate dragging out our rain gear – all except DB, who had left her poncho behind to save weight. (DB has some curvature of the spine and her backpack is not very comfortable, so she chose to leave some basic stuff, including sufficient water.  Fortunately both W and I tend to err in the opposite direction, and were able to keep her hydrated with our extra bottles, and fairly dry with my little polka-dot umbrella.). The ponchos added an unnecessary extra layer of warmth, so we kept trying to do without every time we felt the rain slacken, and then had to re-don when we got out of the sheltering woods or the rain renewed its attack.

september-2016-382webWe oohed and ached over a chateau whose ruined towers loomed above the woods on the left (it was burned by the Nazis in WWII) and exclaimed over weird fungi growing on logs and near the edges of the path.  We noted pear orchards, apple trees heavy with fruit, an occasional vineyard lush with grapes awaiting harvest.  We sampled wild blackberries at the side of the road, and tried to open chestnut husks to get at the chestnuts inside. (Chestnuts are stickery!”  And we were counting down the remaining KM by tenths.

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Finally we made it to Sarlat  after about 7 hours on the walk.  (It was supposed to take 5, but we missed a couple of turns, and some of us were pretty slow on the up hills)  The usual hotel for this tour company was booked up, so they put us in a backup – W and I are sharing a tiny room with two twin beds, minuscule night table shelves, one chair, and a clothes rack hung over the door on which we must try to dry our wet / sweaty clothing.  But the shower has cold water for my feet and warm water for the rest of me, and after the appropriate ablutions I am snuggled under the matelasse bedspread in my nightshirt while W in her night shirt is rapping out emails at the skimpy shelf-desk in the corner.   Our dinner reservation is in a half hour and we are hoping to be able to walk that far.

Today’s walk was the second longest of the 7.  Tomorrow we will be in Sarlat for the whole day; there is a “suggested loop” of 14 KM which takes about 4 hours per our tour route guide, or we can just wimp out and enjoy the famous market and explore the car-free streets of the old medieval town.  I’ll see what a good dinner and night’s rest does for me!

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But at the moment wimping out sounds great.

Freeway Free in France: Golden Carcasonne

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The city of Carcasonne is a World Heritage site, a well preserved/restored medieval castle and keep perched above a river in southern Languedoc.  The castle was originally built to protect villagers, merchants and serfs from raiders who plagued the Mediterranean coast from Africa, but later the attackers included Charlemagne, who laid siege to the town for months, and after that crusaders led by (later St.) Louis IX of France against the Cathars  (AKA Albigensians), who had been labeled as heretics by the pope.  Tolerance has not been much of a feature of Christianity in historic times, it seems.20160911_075143web

Carcasonne was in ruins after centuries of decay, when an Victorian- era architect/achaeologist who had been involved in the restoration of Notre Dame in Paris took an interest in restoring the city.  His first proposal was modest, aiming to restore only a portion of the site, but public response was so positive that he aimed higher and took on the whole site.  The result is amazing. Two fortified walls circle the city, there is a tournament ground for jousting and swordplay, the old lord’s castle is almost intact, and at the same time there is a thriving village of 200 households living within the keep, mostly occupied in tending to the thousands of tourists who flock here in the summer.

We arrived noonish after a lovely drive through Languedoc’s vineyards.  After a quick lunch we started on the castle tour/ battlement walk.  There was fascinating history in every room and great views from every arrow slot and murder hole.  Then we ventured into the church, with its gothic rose window, and caught a concert of traditional Provençal ballads sung by two white- clad ethereal women accompanied by a harpist and base player.  The plaintive plainsong- style music echoed amazingly in the old church.

We dined in an open patio at a restaurant recommended by one of the travel writers admired by both Winifred and Dianne, the Auberge de Lice.  We agreed that we had each enjoyed the best meal ever for 80 euros – three delectable courses beautifully presented  divided among four people, and an excellent bottle of local red wine. After dinner we walked along the exterior battlements, lit at intervals by recessed lights with the effect of torches.  As we walked back to our hotel across the 13th century bridge, the castle shone golden behind us.  It was magical.20160911_121923web

Trivia note:  Carcasonne played a major supporting role in “Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves” appearing as the village of Nottingham and Prince John’s castle.

Freeway Free in France: Rockin’ with the Romans

20160909_071609docStill in Arles

After our homage to Vincent, we switched back about two millenia to the time when Pompey was conquering the southern Mediterranean, just before he was recalled to Rome to help put down the slave rebellion led by Spartacus.  He helped establish the fort we visited yesterday at Ambrussum, but it was Augustus Caesar who visited a few assassinations and de-throneings later and established the Arena and the theatre, both of which are still in use.

20160909_055112docWe started off with a stop in the 12th century at the Cloistre de St. Trophies, a cool and calm spot right off the main square. The cloister included many  statues which had been so badly eroded you could hardly make them out, but a few that had been sheltered are very human and evocative.   Then we walked along the wall of the city overlooking the Rhone, well culverted against flooding, admiring an old Romanesque church which had been converted during the Revolution to a union hall for shepherds, a large domed building which was the remains of a steam bath built by Constantine, and a number of long views down the river to unnamed castles and fortifications in the distance.20160909_065114doc

The Arena was being set up for a cordillera that evening (that’s a kind of bloodless Provençal bullfight). In exploring the arcades,  we entered into a sort of human Whack-a-mole game.  DB had decided not to do the river walk but instead to meet us at a garden after our Arena visit.  C and I somehow got separated from WB, and we next spotted her halfway around the arena as we waved from the tower.  Ten minutes of brisk walking through the arcades later we arrived at where she had been, but no WB.

20160909_071525web Scanning the arena, we spotted her in the Tower!  Heading back to the tower, I heard my name called.  It was DB, AWOL from the garden, who had just seen WB at the base of the tower.  “I’ll meet you at the entrance to the tower, ” she said.  By the time we got there, WB  was back a quarter of the way around the arena, and DB was nowhere to be seen.  And so on. We finally joined forces and made our last tourist stop at the old Roman theatre, much pillaged (as was the Arena) for building materials over the years, but now set up for open air musical and theatrical performances. We tested the acoustics and found them sadly lacking compared to Ephesus in Turkey or the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. allyson-and-friends-063web

Travel Tip:  Arles is a busy city as well as a tourist stop.  It is also home to many festivals throughout the year, attracting still more people.  If you are arriving by car, try to get there early in the day, and find a parking place by going off the main road through the center city (Preferably downhill – you’ll appreciate that after exploring all day!)  Once you have a parking place, the next stop could be the Office de Tourisme de Arles, conveniently located on the Blvd. des Lices, near the Theatre Antique. Here you will find excellent maps of the center city, friendly advice about getting around, and zillions of beautiful postcards.  Enjoy!

To Russia with Mom: Useful Equipment for Elderly Travelers

Here is a checklist of useful equipment and supplies.  Much of this should be in the zippable tote bag you carry on to the plane or train.

  1. A foldable cane.  Not only will this provide extra balance and security on uneven pavement or cobblestones, but it sends a signal to surrounding people that this person may be moving slowly, may not respond quickly to the unexpected, may not be stable, and they will give you wider passage, a helping hand, more consideration.
  2. A head lamp/lantern/flashlight. Lighting in hotel rooms may be inadequate for visually handicapped travelers – a bright LED headlamp is great for late-night reading or early-morning packing.

In one otherwise excellent Russian hotel, we were told that there would be no electricity between 6AM and 10AM the following morning (thus disabling the elevator, the bathroom lights, and the coffee machine in the breakfast room).  We were lucky that we did not need to bring our suitcases down from our second floor room any earlier than 10AM.  Wearing my headlamp I descended the steep, dark stairs and retrieved a cold breakfast and thermos of tea for us.   My head lamp features an attachment that converts it into a lantern;  this was a vital accessory in an electricity-deprived, windowless bathroom.

3. Noise-cancelling headphones.  These are really good on airplanes to enable hearing-impaired to enjoy the audio and movie channels more fully. (Tip:  if you have an old set of Bose earphones, you can trade them in at a Bose store to purchase a new set at a hefty discount.)

4. An ample supply of adult diapers (If there is any possibility of incontinence)

5. A packet of pop-up wipes such as are used for babies – handy for cleaning hands, spills, surfaces as well as any toilet accidents.

6. Energy bars for snacks.

7. A blow-up neck pillow – make sure it is easy to inflate and deflate, and has a comfortable cover.  Older old can fall asleep at the drop of a hat, but also wake up with stiff joints.

8. Travel sox – it is nice to take off shoes if you are on a long flight.

9. A shoe horn in your carry-on – to get those shoes back on after they have swollen in flight.

10. A couple of packets of plastic utensils (very useful in eating that cold breakfast)  Nab a couple of extra packets from the airline meal trolley – these are perfect!

11. Extra batteries for flashlight, hearing aids, noise-cancelling headphones

12. Medications pre-loaded in pillboxes marked for each day of the week.

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