Paris and Beyond

Our Personal Tour de France & Other Exciting Adventures!

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

Provence: Le Mystique, le Soleil, le Provençal


Well, we are about to wrap up our week in Provence. Our little “nid” (nest) provided us with the geographic center from which to explore the north, east, west and south of the Provençal region. We have seen castles, chateaus, fortified villages, and the Mediterranean Sea. This area of France is very different from the northern half of the country. It is dry, gets quite hot in the height of summer, has wide-open seemingly uninhibited spaces, flat terrain that can quickly change to hills, and is now occupied by many foreigners (mostly Brits) who come from colder, wetter climates.

Peter Mayle wrote A Year in Provence in the mid 80’s where he documented his experience moving from his native England and living in this area for a year. His insights into French culture still seem to hold true although time does not stand still and things do change. Some of the experiences we have had here has given us an opportunity to reflect on our own wants, needs, and expectations for ourselves. Part of the reason we wanted to come to Provence was because we had an ideal in our heads that maybe at sometime in the future, we might want to live here at least part of the year.

We both have lived in many places during our lives. From large metropolitan cites, to small isolated towns. In very cold climates where snow determined the pace of life to very hot, dry desert conditions where summer went on for nine months. Provence is a mecca for those that are retired (or are about to), who want to have dry, hot summer days where they can idle their time away sitting at a table in the plaza of a small country village.


The greatest benefit of traveling is that being in another culture (especially when you are out of your own country) makes you reflect back on yourself. Cheryl and I are starting to appreciate even more the south bay area where we now live. Its moderate climate, wonderful afternoon sea breezes, easy access to a tremendous variety of venues, and the exciting mix of people make it for us, the ideal place to live. The mystic of Provence is not lost on us and we can understand the appeal for those that are drawn to this area. We, however, will leave Provence with a better understanding of ourselves and an appreciation for what Provence is and how it has helped us understand ourselves better.

The places we have been to have been amazing, intriguing, and historical. We would encourage anyone to visit Provence and experience for themselves the mystique and charm of the southern sun.

Make sure to check out our favorite images of Provence via the link at the top of the page.

A Day at the Beach


This morning we realized we had had enough of Roman ruins, ancient buildings, and cobblestone streets. We had considered going to Arles, but Van Gogh is not there and neither is any of his work. Feeling a bit too warm, dry, and claustrophobic in our little Paradou nest, we decided to head to the beach. After all, the Mediterranean is only an hour and a half away and since I had never been there, Norman wanted me to experience it. We packed up a picnic lunch and were off — guided as usual by our now trusty GPS companion, Moneypenny. Eventually, we arrived at our destination, a seaside town called Le Grau du Roi, a challenge for English-speakers to pronounce with those two French r’s — we’ve been working on it all day. You might compare it to Santa Cruz or Oceanside in California. We stopped in at the tourism office where a very informative young man gave us the scoop on the area — where to park, which were the best beaches, and the name of a hotel with a very good restaurant — plus a map to go with it which is very necessary. It’s not a large area, but everything is tightly squeezed in and it’s difficult to maneuver around town without some guidance.

We found our way to a beautiful beach with easy parking. The French vacation in the south of France during July and August so we haven’t encountered seasonal crowds yet. We set ourselves up on the beach near the water. Fortunately, we found a few items in our apartment to help us along with this such as beach chairs and a picnic basket. For a couple of hours we enjoyed relaxing on the beach and swimming in the Mediterranean — yes, swimming! I’m a California girl, but I grew up swimming in pools all my life. I’ve never been fond of swimming in bodies of water that have no edges and where I can’t see what’s on the bottom. About the only place I’ve ever swum freely in the ocean is Puerto Vallarta — something about having young children with me and the intense heat helped me overcome my fears there for the time being. Today, however, I was drawn to the inviting waters of the sea. The water was warm and shallow for several feet and the bottom was covered only with slightly rippled sand. There were no rocks, seaweed, or critters to impede wading calmly into the gentle surf. As I got out farther, the water became deeper, cooler, and more refreshing. It was truly delightful!

A variety of sunbathers and swimmers accompanied us for the afternoon — a grandfather playing water soccer with his grandson in the shallow waters, another set of grandparents introducing a toddler to the ocean possibly for the first time, and friends of all ages just hanging out together enjoying the day. Young men and women (some decidedly more enthusiastic than others) manned pushcarts along the beach selling glacé, beignets, and other tempting treats. People watching is always interesting at the beach, but after a couple of hours at a French beach, you understand why the Beach Boys wrote, “I wish they all could be California girls”.

As with every beach, thankfully, there is at least an ocean breeze or something a bit stronger — it’s what keeps you cool, right? In this case, it was a wind which began to pick up more and more taking the sand with it so we knew we would have to relocate for our picnic. We headed in the direction of the recommended hotel on the marina side of town and found a quiet park and completely unoccupied park, the perfect spot for lunch. We ate and relaxed surrounded by various building complexes which appeared to be vacation homes or rentals uniquely designed to looked like double-decker boats.


After lunch, we walked out to the hotel past the marina filled with countless yachts large and small all shamefully not in use. Just like at home, people are typically out working to pay for them and rarely get to set sail. The marina is ringed by a number of hotels all in keeping with the theme designed to look like ocean liners — a bit unattractive really. Once we reached the hotel restaurant, we discovered it was closed… no explanation — it’s open in the evenings (but apparently 5 PM was not evening enough). There was also a grill restaurant by the pool which was inactive but seemed to have the potential to open at some point (though it never did). However, since no one was around, it turned out to be our personal oasis complete with comfortable outdoor furniture and palm trees where Norman was able to catch a nap and I started this post.

Rested and rejuvenated we still had one more wish on our list — an ice cold beer which we found back on the main drag at Quai des Artistes (how appropriate!) across from the beach — Belgian, delicious, and cheap! 5€ for two — the total amount of money we spent for the whole day.

Time to return home and enjoy the last day of our week in Provence before we head off to Toulouse in the Languedoc.

The Route to Anywhere


One of the reasons we chose to travel throughout France in a car was because it is the best way to experience any location that you wish to visit. Driving is not for everybody, however, and there are many things you have to do to prepare in order to minimize any potential problems you might encounter.

First of all, let me preface the following with the fact that I (Norman) have previously driven through France, Italy, and Spain (although it was more than twenty years ago). The one thing that is very important to learn if you do decide to drive in France, is what the various road signs mean. There aren’t many, but it is vital to recognize what appears along the roadway. Another is that in many European countries, the “roundabout” is a very common feature encountered at major intersections in large cities, small villages, and even out in the countryside. You merge in and out of a roundabout so it is important to signal your intentions when you enter and are about to leave the roundabout. Signaling your intentions assures that everyone knows what you intend to do.

I have driven in very heavy and congested traffic in Paris, Lyon, Annecy and many small towns and villages. Keep in mind that many of the old city’s and especially the villages’ roadways were built for ox carts, not cars! The streets are narrow or windy or both and turning into side streets can be very sharp and short. Many smaller villages have few if any sidewalks so look out for pedestrians and bicyclists. You will also be sharing very narrow roads with 18-wheelers coming your way! So slow down and squeeze on by. They will be doing the same. I have to say that even in the heaviest congestion, almost all drivers have been calm, considerate, and courteous. When driving on two-lane roads, stay to the right (even if there is no one behind you). I learned rather quickly that cars that seemed to be far behind you caught up to you much more quickly than you thought they would. Also, in France, you can only pass a car on the left even if you are on the right-hand lane of a two-lane highway going in the same direction with no car in your lane in front of you. Many times I have seen cars going down the right-hand lane and as they catch up to a car in the left lane, they will slow down and switch to the left lane behind the slower car expecting it to move to the right-hand lane. So don’t dilly-dally; move and stay in the right-hand lane even after passing. Look out for speed traps. You will recognize them when you see a sign telling you that “for your protection, your speed will be monitored” (in French of course).

Gas prices in France are some of the highest in the world. It is not that the price of oil is higher for the French (as compared the the U.S. for example), but that the government adds a hefty tax to every liter of gas (as much as 70%) — enough of a tax to make the price equivalent to about $6.50-8.00 per gallon. Why such high taxes? Taxes collected from the sale of gas for motor fuel pay for the very extensive and excellent roadways. Every paved road we have been on was in excellent shape. When driving through tunnels and over long spans of bridges, they too were very well-maintained. Even when driving down what seemed one-lane country roads far from anywhere, we have noticed how good the quality of the roadways have been. As with everything, there is a price to pay for quality. I don’t think the French complain too loudly about the price of gas, given the excellent quality of their roadways. The French are a practical people and will walk, bicycle, or take public transportation before they needlessly spend money on gas.

Keep in mind other expenses you will encounter if you plan to drive between two distant locations…toll roads. There are many throughout the country. You probably can get from one location to another by taking non toll roads, but be prepared to take a lot longer getting there. Sometimes you might double the length of your drive time if you decide not to take the toll road. Tolls roads can be expensive, but there is no more direct route from one place to another. On the other hand, when we took non toll roads on side trips, we got to see some very beautiful landscapes, country roads, and many charming villages. Another expense is parking. By planning ahead, you can use inexpensive or even free public parking lots.

The last piece of advice I can offer is to use the Internet as much as possible when planning your travel. We have been able to get very detailed information on almost all our destinations that pertains to driving via the Internet. Parking information, rates, driving directions, locations, number of parking spaces, security, etc. can be had ahead of time on your mobile phone or iPad.

All in all, I’d have to say that having a car is the best way to see the country. You can get to places that are either inaccessible by public transportation or would be arduous to get to at best. However, driving can be stressful, so plan ahead, get informed, and stay frosty.

Here are some equivalents:
1 liter= .26 U.S. gallon (1 US gallon = 3.78 liters)
Our car’s capacity of diesel is 60 liters (16 gallons)
The Euro = $1.25 U.S. Dollars
To fill up the 16 gallon tank @ 1.40 Euros per liter costs approx. 84 Euros ($104).

Distances and speed are measured in kilometers.
1 km = .621 miles (1 mile = 1.6 km)
Highway speeds as high as 130 km per hour are allowed = 80 miles per hour

On the Road in Provence



Roussillon is a small village set atop appropriately named Mont Rouge (Red Mountain) in the Luberon district of Provence. There really aren’t any particular sights to see — no castles, museums, or medieval ramparts — which can actually be a welcome relief for the long-term visitors like us. Roussillon’s attraction is purely one of beauty and charm stemming from its one unique feature. It sits on the world’s largest deposit of ochre, a reddish clay which produces a pigment that has had many uses throughout history. Primarily it is has been used in paints. The mining of ochre was the town’s economic base until WW II when cheaper substitutes were found.

A winding narrow road leads up the hill to Roussillon’s 2,000-foot high perch. At the top, the spectacular views are accompanied by a stiff wind better known as the legendary mistral. A walk around the quaint village, now totally dependent on tourists for its income, provides a sufficient amount of Provençal charm. Surrounded by red cliffs, the houses are painted in shades of yellow, brown, and red ochre accented with brightly colored shutters and doors which provide inspiration for any artist’s or photographer’s palette. This is how we enjoyed our time in Roussillon — capturing intriguing images created by the combination of shapes and colors.



Avignon’s claim to fame is that it was the headquarters of the Catholic church for 94 years beginning in 1309 when the first (and last) French Pope was elected. The church bought up the then tiny village and turned it into a Catholic metropolis which it believed would be much more secure than continuing residence in Italy. The town still thrives today but is no longer under the church’s influence and once again belongs to the French. What remains are various palaces, bridges, and fortresses that were built to support and defend the church’s endeavors.

A mix of old and new, Avignon is a combination of narrow cobblestone streets and wide avenues. It sports architectural styles from many periods in history. The Palace of the Popes covers 3 acres and is the largest surviving Gothic palace in Europe. The Church of St. Pierre holds an ornate golden Baroque alter. A few examples of architecture exist from the Middle Ages and can been seen in some buildings along the narrow streets now inhabited by residents and shopkeepers. And, if you’re not yet confused about where you are in the historical timeline, there’s a synagogue from the 11th century that was redone in Neoclassical Greek style in the 19th century.

This architecture and its accompanying ambience are what attracted us to visit Avignon. As we approached the walls of the city by crossing the Daladier Bridge on foot, we took in the views across the Rhone River. Once inside, we strolled past all the notable sights stopping here and there to sit, look, and listen. Eventually, we made our way to the park at the top of the hill, Jardin du Rochers des Doms, where more beautiful vistas of the Rhone River Valley awaited. Shaded from the increasingly warm sunshine and cooled by a strong wind while resting in this lush park, we were able to truly appreciate this opportunity to spend time in one of France’s most heralded regions, Provence.

If you haven’t discovered them already, please take a look at the individual gallery pages titled by region with additional photos from our travels. More to come…

Only Lyon


Our transition from the Alps to Provence led us to a one-night stay in Lyon, the second largest city in France. Lyon is unique for many reasons. It is an strange mix of old and new since the Nazi’s did their best to destroy everything on their way out in 1944. It has one of the most efficient and environmentally friendly transportation systems anywhere with electric buses, a tramway, Metro, pedal taxis for short trips, and over 1,000 city-owned bikes available for use at various locations.

Lyon, not Paris, is truly the City of Light. On December 8, 1852, a golden statue of Mary was placed atop the Basilica of Notre Dame. Everyone in the city welcomed her by lighting candles in their windows. This became a tradition and spawned an industry that has made Lyon the leader in state-of-the-art flood lighting displayed every evening with brilliantly floodlit buildings, and sights throughout the city.


More than anything else, however, Lyon is renown for its gastronomy perhaps spurred on by chef Paul Bocuse who is considered to be the ambassador of modern French cuisine. There are two traditional dishes for which Lyon is famous — Salade Lyonnaise and Quenelles. They are typically served at bouchons — small bistros that used to serve the silk workers during Lyon’s silk producing heydays in the 1800’s. I set out to research the best (and most reasonable) place to try them out. It took a bit of time, but I eventually found Café du Soleil whose owner is reputed for producing some of the best quenelles in France and providing them to over 100 local restaurants including those of Paul Bocuse. The restaurant is located in the area of Old Lyon where ancient buildings line narrow cobblestoned streets. Small, warm, and welcoming, it is decorated in dark woods and sun-themed (soleil) paraphernalia. We ordered a menu that included a salad, main dish, and dessert for one price plus a pitchet (more or less the equivalent of a half carafe) of Beaujolais. We both chose the Salade Lyonnaise as the starter which consists of a variety of greens in a light vinaigrette accompanied by salty chunks of ham and crispy croutons and topped with a poached egg — delicious and really a meal in itself. For the main dish, we each chose a different type of quenelle — one fish and one chicken. These are large, oval-shaped dumplings made from flour, butter, eggs, and veal fat plus dried fish or chicken. They are poached and then served with a sauce similar to béchamel. At first taste, it is difficult to discern the exact flavors, but then it grows on you and becomes very “moreish”. They are extremely tasty but very filling — the best of comfort food on a cold day in Lyon as I can imagine there are many. For dessert, Norman enjoyed Île Flottante (floating island), one that is rapidly becoming his favorite — merengue floating on a vanilla custard with caramel sauce. My choice was two scoops of glacé (ice cream) — one lemon and one cassis. In the end, we were a bit stuffed but completely satisfied with an experience we could ONLY have in LYON.

Variations in Green


Saint Germain dedicated his life to the pursuit of purity. Isolating himself from the world, he spent his days as a hermit high above the hills of Talliores. The Hermitage of Saint Germain (and its small cemetery) overlooks the beautiful lake of Annecy (La Lac d’Annecy) and is dedicated to this hermit saint. Today we walked the trail of Saint Germain. Starting from our bed and breakfast, we walked up the mountain to the Hermitage, where we enjoyed a spectacular view of the lake and surrounding “mastiffs” (dramatic mountains that give this area such appeal). After a short rest, we continued up again to a high valley, then down into the lush green forest following the saint’s very own path — a walk that took us on a five kilometer (3.10 mile) mountainous loop.

Here, green is the color of spring. Light green, like the soft green skin of the an unripe fig, clings to the bark of a tree. Glance away and you the catch the dark blue pear green contrasted by deep brown purple green of the moss firmly anchored to weathered stone. Take another step on the carpet of a thousand shades of green. The dappled sunlight highlights the vivid yellow greens of the canopy high above our heads as we walk by lichen covered rocks painted in shades of cream/red/melon/tan/brown/orange/avocado/grey greens. Green/white/blue leaves that lay on the ground are shaded by the vigorous growth of broad pastel lime green plants pushing their way past the grayish maroon greens of decaying branches and bramble. Look and you can see the dark grassy green along side the emerald greens in the sinuous veins of large boulders. On occasion, the powder bluish teal green of Lake Annecy could be seen through the phthalo green leaves of trees whose somber deep tones obscure individual shapes yet, they are framed by mint, asparagus and sea greens leaves backlit by the bright sunlight trying to push its way through the deeper/darker cucumber/watermelon/olive greens of the heavy, thick, lush green forest. As we walk along, we come to a fast running spring whose clear yet faintly greenish waters tumble down into a deep abyss of yet more variations of olive/turquoise/jade/amber/viridian and deep ocean greens.


At last, after a couple of hours, we complete our journey, stopping where we started. Accompanied, surrounded, then enveloped in and finally released from Saint Germain’s trail’s springtime embrace.

The extended heavy spring rains this year have not only given this area this immense blanket of green, but everywhere you look, flowers of all shapes, sizes, and colors bloom. The local people appreciate this and supplement nature’s gift by providing concentrated clusters of multitudes of colors from window sills and patio rail containers that spill their cacophony of colors into your eyes.

This blog is dedicated to my daughter who is infatuated by Herman Melville’s ten-page description of white when referring to Captain Ahab’s nemesis, the great white whale…Moby Dick.

Spires to Heaven


This morning, after having a sumptuous French “petit dejeuner” of fresh orange juice, fresh home baked five grain bread, homemade quince jam and yogurt with cereal, we departed for the Alps and to the valley village of Chamonix.

Chamonix is the premier winter and summer recreation area of Europe. The “village”, like any popular tourist area, has grown over time and now over 8,000 inhabitants call this home. Situated at the base of 15,771 foot Mont Blanc, it is the quintessential picture of a charming alpine village.

Before leaving Talloires this morning for Chamonix, it was raining heavily. We decided to go forward with our plans despite the weather. While we were hoping that the weather would be bright, sunny, and warm, we believe that when traveling anywhere, you need to adapt to every situation with the goal of enjoying your experience no matter what. After all, there are things that are totally out of your control.

Taking the scenic route (south), we meandered through some of the most beautiful mountain settings to be had. Little villages clustered along our route added country charm to the towering mountains as we made our way. After an initial detour that took us through some remote areas, our approach to Chamonix became sunnier. And upon our arrival, we were greeted with a great view of Mont Blanc, the surrounding Alps, and a warm sunny day.

Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate and go along with your plans and as it turned out, while it was sunny, warm and bright in the valley, the top of the Aiguille du Midi (at 12,601′ where we planned to take the gondola up to) was too cloudy to see anything. So we opted to stay in the village and wander about. We stopped in at La Taverne de Chamouny, a German-style restaurant with a large outdoor terrace situated in the middle of a pedestrian plaza, and enjoyed German sausage with scalloped potatoes and German beer.

The wonderful thing about eating out at a restaurant or café, simply having something to drink be it a glass of wine, beer, or cup of coffee, is that once you sit down, the table is yours for as long as you wish. No one comes around with expectations that you will have to leave soon so that they can turn over the table to another customer. You can stay as long as you like, relax, and enjoy yourself. We have found this out at every cafe or restaurant we have enjoyed and today we spent three hours just hanging out, people watching, and admiring those amazing spires to heaven that lead to the Alps’ highest mountain…. Mont Blanc.

Medieval Times


If you’ve ever wanted to have a real medieval experience, the countryside of Burgundy is the place to do it. On a quiet Sunday morning (most everything is closed as Burgundians enjoy a true day of rest), we left our hotel in Beaune to follow the Burgundy Canal north to the Abbey of Fontenay. Along the way, there are many sites to be seen not the least of which is the beautiful pastoral countryside populated here and there with the most intriguing white cows that are much prettier and less smelly than American ones. Even the cows are more sophisticated in France.

Our first stop was Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, a medieval castle that monitored travel between Burgundy and Paris from its 2,000 foot hilltop setting. The view of the Burgundy canal and the valley from the top are your first indication that you have traveled back in time. As you walk through the tiny village, you are in awe of the quaintness of authentic medieval architecture evident in every house and building. At this time of year, flowers of all kinds are in full bloom pouring out of window boxes and surrounding the old stone structures. Having taught 7th graders about the Middle Ages for several years, it was fascinating to see first-hand some of the true origins of this period of history.

Next stop, Semur-en-Auxois, a sleepy little medieval town with a couple of notable sights. Semur boasts 18 original medieval towers that were once connected by defensive ramparts to protect the city center from invaders. The town’s main sight is a church, of course — the Church of Notre-Dame, with some original stained glass windows from the 13th century as well as a set of windows honoring Semur’s WW I soldiers. Apparently there were many men from this entire region who lost their lives in the Great War. As you climb a hill on the way out of town, you are rewarded with a magnificent view of the whole town making you feel as if you are looking at a Disney recreation of a medieval village but knowing that the people below who live there are real and not imaginary characters.


The jewel of the trip is your arrival at the Abbey of Fontenay, one of the oldest Cistercian abbeys in France, founded by St. Bernard in 1118. The purpose of the Cistercian movement was to reestablish the simplicity, solitude, and poverty of the early church. While it is a lush, peaceful, and inviting environment today, it is shocking to imagine what life was really like for those early monks for whom it is said St. Bernard created a “horrible vast solitude” among the marshy bogs (meaning of Cistercian) of Burgundy. Nevertheless, the movement spread essentially colonizing Europe religiously and lasting for almost 700 years. Since the monks had to be self-sufficient, it was necessary for them to develop talents in many areas one of which was the forging of tools such as the hydraulic hammer. Indeed, many consider Fontenay to be one of Europe’s first metalworking plants. They also grew a variety of herbs for medicinal purposes and raised huge trout to serve the nobility though, by their vow of poverty, they were never able to partake of any of it themselves.

Just outside of Fontenay we came across a small picnic area by the side of the road and stopped to have our lunch. Once rested and nourished, we were ready for our return journey. We followed a slightly different but equally beautiful winding country road all the way back to Beaune. It was such a satisfying trip because it was one of those rare experiences where the sights along the route were as appealing as the destinations.

From Rain to Shine


Often when you plan to do things in your travels, it’s more complicated than you think it will be and takes a lot longer than you expect but it’s usually worth it. On the last day in Paris, we needed to go to the airport to pick up the car we were leasing for the 5 weeks of our trip we would be driving throughout France. Since we did not want to drag our luggage through the streets of Paris again, we thought it would be more convenient to leave it in the apartment and get it on our way back with the car. The airport is north of Paris and we were heading south so passing back through Paris was unavoidable anyway.

We set our alarm for 6 AM to make sure we got an early start. We had promised to be out of the apartment by noon and we figured this would give us plenty of time. We made breakfast so we could use up the last of our fresh groceries and be fortified for the journey. After doing the last of the cleaning, we set off to the Metro station at 8:15 connecting to the RER train for the 45 minute ride to the airport. Of course, it had to be the coldest and rainiest day of our entire week in Paris making travel a little slower and more difficult than usual. Eventually, we arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport at 10:00 as planned. Next, we had to find a public phone (per instructions from the car leasing company), figure out how to use it, and call the company so they could pick us up in their shuttle. They told us to wait at departure Door 2. Being fairly unfamiliar with this gigantic airport, we made our best guess and chose Halle 2. After a few minutes, it dawned on us that this wasn’t the right place so we found our way to departures and went outside. Time passed and no shuttle appeared. Ah! Once again we realized we were still not in the right place. We were standing at Door 16! By the time we found door #2, it was 10:45. Norman went back inside to call the company — surely they had missed us. They instructed us to go to the nearest information desk, have the attendant call them, and wait for them there. FINALLY a young man showed up and escorted us to their shuttle.

Once at the car leasing agency, things progressed fairly smoothly in picking up the car. This type of leasing for Americans driving in Europe is a really good deal especially if you are staying three or more weeks. You can’t even beat the cost of the car with Eurail tickets which don’t really provide daily travel or access to out of the way places. We had arranged for a brand-new Peugeot Sedan. It’s very luxurious and comfortable and gets better mileage than most American cars. It has automatic everything you can think of plus GPS which was briefly explained to us before we took off — programmed by another young employee to get us back to the apartment. The car comes with very little fuel so we were handed a map with directions to the nearest gas station. Unfortunately, the gas station stop was not programmed into the route and the map was far from accurate so we missed the station completely. Before we knew it we were enmeshed in heavy midday traffic heading into the city with no gas station in sight. We were pretty sure our AAA coverage didn’t extend to Paris so we had to find gas somewhere. The signs at one exit seemed to indicate a gas station in the vicinity so we got off but just ended up going around in circles and ending up back on the freeway. We held our breath and hoped the gas would get us to the apartment.

We made it to the apartment but as we had anticipated, there was no place to park on the narrow one-way street. So Norman parked in front of the building’s garage exit door and hoped no one would be leaving home soon. He waited with the car while I made a few trips back and forth with the luggage. We got lucky, got the car loaded, and got out of there. Still no gas in the car though and it had already warned us twice that fuel was low. We had directions to the nearest gas station but it was still raining and driving in Paris under those conditions in a car you’ve never driven is no pique-nique! Alas, we passed it up — a little tiny storefront kind of gas place with one pump you would never recognize as a “gas station” — a little tiny turn in right off a busy, main street — and if someone is already there, you’re out of luck. After parking around the corner and figuring out how to get back to it, we were finally successful — fill’er up — €82 ($102), ouch!! Well, it was completely empty and it has a 60 liter (16 gal.) tank. So that’s about $6.37 per gallon. In a pinch in the middle of Paris that’s to be expected. At least we weren’t standing out in the rain waiting for a tow truck.


At last we were on our way to Beaune in the heart of Burgundy. As we drove south, the rain began to subside and the sun began to shine. What a welcome relief from the cool, wet weather of the past week! By now we were using the GPS more or less successfully and glad to have it. It speaks to you in a woman’s voice with a British accent — sort of like the one in James Bond’s cars. We’re trying to decide what to name her. Maybe one of our favorite Bond Girl names. Beaune is an old, fortified medieval town surrounded by a stone wall. You have to navigate the “ring” road which goes around it in only one direction. After many twists and turns through various roundabouts, our girl got us to our hotel, Belle Époque. It was 5 PM. The gentleman at the desk quickly showed us to our room explaining that they had to make some sort of change and give us a different room than we requested. This one he said was “a little big”. No kidding!! When he opened the door, we walked into our own little chateau — two stories with a spiral staircase leading to three bedrooms, a beautifully tiled large bath, and a walk-in closet. The walls were covered in a typically French patterned blue brocade and the slanted roof on the second floor was hung with miniature chandeliers. We were speechless! A shining end to our long, exhausting day… at Chateau Bleu.


The Fruit of the Vine


Today we started our journey in Beaune by visiting the Hôtel Dieu (a charity hospital for the poor) built by the wealthy chancellor of Burgundy, Nicolas Rolin, near the end of his life as a gift to the citizens of Beaune. During the Dark Ages, the plague devastated the population and 3/4 of its citizens were impoverished. For the poor, the Hôtel Dieu, was a place to go to die, free of charge. For the wealthy, in a separate section of the hospital, one could receive better care and higher odds of surviving “The Black Death”. For over 500 years, the hospital became established as one of the most important centers in the region for the treatment of the ill and did so until 1971. The Hôtel Dieu was a remarkable place and served its purpose well.

Being a charity hospital, funds had to be raised to pay for the day-to-day operations somehow. Beaune is renowned for being in the middle of one of the most prolific wine producing areas in France. And so, the idea to hold an auction once a year to raise funds for the hospital by auctioning off certain quantities of wines that are produced locally came naturally. This idea favored everyone. Wines producers, buyers, and the hospital all benefited from this event. The auction still occurs every November.

The region’s largest producer of wine is Patriarche Père et Fils which has the largest wine cellar in Burgundy. The cellar has more than 5 kilometers (3.10 miles!) of underground caves that run throughout the city and today stores more than 3,000,000 (yes, 3 Million!) bottles of wine.

One of the most pleasurable and interesting aspects of wine tasting at Patriarche Père et Fils is that you receive a Tastevins, a shallow saucer with a thumb handle, that you take around with you to taste the wines. The tour is self-guided and takes you directly down into the caves where you are astounded by the vast number of chambers most of which are filled with hundreds and hundreds of bottles of wine. Cool, dark, and musty, the caves provide the perfect temperature for the dusty, aging bottles that are stacked on simple notched strips of wood. There are no barriers, locks, or impediments of any sort other than lack of lighting in a chamber where one might be discouraged to enter.

You can wander about, explore each chamber, search for a particular wine, year or region. No one comes to rush you to the tasting room and out the door. While there are ” tasting rooms” similar to what one can experience in the U.S., our tasting room(s) consisted of an inverted barrel on which a single lit candle rested next to a bottle of the wine to be tasted. These barrels were situated in the very chambers where the wine being tasted was stored. There were five chamber “tasting rooms” with a total of 13 wines from whites to reds.


Imagine casually strolling along these cool caves surrounded by immense quantities of wine both in barrels and bottles. Arriving at the tasting chamber barrels, you simply serve yourself from the open bottle. Taking as much time to taste each wine with no one to hurry you along or make you feel uncomfortably ignorant of your taste or lack thereof. We lingered at each bottle, relaxed and truly tasted each wine (sometimes more than once). And if a particular vintage didn’t suit our taste, we simply poured the sample into the bucket that was provided. It was made clear to us (by a young woman who explained the tasting procedure) that it was up to us to decide if we did or didn’t like a particular wine.

All in all, our wine tasting experience lasted several hours. And it has been one of the most pleasurable wine tasting experiences we have ever had. The most astounding thing was the trust, respect, and freedom that we were allowed to feel by being allowed to wander about the caves by ourselves; given the trust not to disturb or destroy a single bottle of wine. And most importantly, the respect we felt to enjoy our experience, by taking as much time as we wished without hurry, worry, or doubt.

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