From Paris to Lille
March 28, 2009, SaturdayParis, France - Lille, FranceInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!
It rained during the night but in the morning, contrary to all the forecasts, it's sunny.
The Eiffel Tower greets us from a distance as we step out onto the balcony, and far below a florist is putting out the racks of flowers and other plants. The corner where Rue du Buci starts is already alive with the activity that characterizes market day - every day on this rue.
We start up rue de Buci in search of a place other than a bar that will serve a croissant AND coffee. A Salon de Te named Bonbonniere de Buci catches our eye and we go upstairs after ordering a pain raisin and a chausson aux abricot and a couple of strong coffees. Anne has never seen apricot filling in a chausson (which is usually filled with apples or, on rare occasions, lemon)before so she just had to try one.
When we walked back toward our hotel, we stood in the little triangle space across the street from our sixth floor balcony and tried to identify it. We couldn't see it and finally determined that it was shielded from view by the fifth floor balcony. We'd choose number chamber 61 at the Hotel Le Regent any time. The balcony would be an especially nice place to enjoy an evening snack of wine and cheese.
We checked out and took the Metro to Gare de Nord where we caught one of the many fast trains to Lille.
Within one hour, we're being welcomed to Lille by Malika from the Tourist Office with a sign saying "Woodyard." She took us downtown to the Hotel Convent de Minimes where we dropped off our luggage in the lobby. Then back in her car for a quick drive (in the BB-sized hail storm) through the center of town to join the others on our group in an inspection of a hotel beside the new (from the 90's) TGV/Eurostar station. It's the first stop after Calais for the British visitors to France after emerging from the Chunnel at Calais. We were joined for lunch at the hotel by six Chinese Tour Operators, two of whom spoke eit
her French or English while the other four speak only Chinese.
First course was a fierce looking, but delicious, crayfish atop a fresh salad.
One of the Chinese ladies gave Anne and me silk folding fans from China with their tour company's website stamped on them. On one side is a picture of a landscape or dragons; on the other a Chinese poem
from the last dynasty.
From there Malika took us on a walking tour of downtown Lille, walking a gauntlet of towering black baby/dragons designed by a Russian artist to celebrate the entry of new countries into the European Union.
Then we enter ancient Lille, and a 14th century hospital and convent named the Hospice de la Comtesse.
There was an herb garden for medicines and rooms for the nuns to cook and relax. During the medieval centuries, hospitals were mostly a place where the sick were comforted in sanitary conditions until they either recovered or died with dignity. The nuns did what they could to create an environment for healing,
conducting a daily ritual of cleaning, treating, and praying for each patient. Many things in this northwest part of France remind us of Belgium or Holland.
The area of Flanders, encompassing what is now three different countries, was famous for lace, beautiful tiles (the craft originated in China, then spread to Portugal and on to France) of the blue and white so popular in Delft, and the typical architecture of the low countries with the tall buildings topped with curved or stepped rooflines.
The ancient kitchen walls are entirely tiled in the delicate blue and white squares.
Much of the construction of Lille was brick, following the wooden structures which burned, and it is painted a dark but bright brick red, highlighted in a dark golden yellow. Our guide tells us it's to add some brightness to the often grey days here in the north.
A commanding bell tower stands guard over the bustling
squares of the town center.
The current cathedral entry, added onto the centuries old original, is of unusual thin slices of semi-transparent marble - a unique look.
Two must-sees in Lille are its beautiful belfry and the lovely Meert tea shop.
They're proud to advertise that their waffles were de Gaulle's favorite.
Our guide takes us into the shop, and then, passing the long line waiting to enjoy a snack, to a private room where we sample their delicacies.
Yes, the waffles are terrific - not a thick rectangle which we imagined, but a long oval soft cookie filled with caramel.
We walked back to the hotel in a pretty hard rain. Fortunately, this time of year, although it rains on and off many times during the day, an all day rain is rare.
Another representative, met us in the hotel lobby to walk with us to dinner at another converted (rather un-converted) convent. This one is a hotel and restaurant with at least three cloisters. One is completely covered in glass with a big bar and seating area that looks very much like an atrium lobby in a modern hotel. The chapel and some of the nun's bed rooms, with the old names of saints still on the lintels are left intact. The hotel and restaurant had to be built around many of the old rooms which could not be destroyed or altered due to their designation as historically protected. We
were served a delicious dinner in a room with a brick barrel ceiling in the style of an Estaminet Gantois - a type of restaurant/pub that is popular in nearby Ghent, Belgium, then walked back past the eerily lighted churches of Lille to our hotel.
March 26-27, 2009
Reston, Virginia – Paris FranceInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!
After a half day of work, we’re off to Paris for a Maison de France
convention for tour operators. One of the sponsors, Air France, provided our tickets and there is a special hidden code on them that makes everyone who checks them ask us about the travel business- what we do, what's our company name, etc. Before the actual trade show part of the convention, we’re being transported by train to Lille near the Belgian border so they can show off that area to us. We're arriving in advance so that we can spend the day with friends.
The coach seats on Air France would be OK if everyone would recline their seats at the same time. Lacking such civility, many travelers spend long stretches of the flight loudly resisting and complaining about the seatback against their chins. Neither of us slept much - but we're eager to enjoy the day when we arrive in Paris
We were surprised to see security guards posted at each door as the RER (fast train from the airport) pulled in to the Chatelet station. There didn’t appear to be any problem, they were just looking at every person who got off each car. I’m glad I don’t look like the guy they were looking for.
We drop our luggage off at the Hotel Le Regent
in the 6th Arondissment on Rue Dauphine and set out on foot to find Ed and Sandy’s apartment on the other side of Boulevard St. Michael. Of course we get hijacked by an Eric Kayser pastry shop along the way. Almost there we realize that in our mental fog we left our camera in the luggage at the hotel. We’ll just have to use Ed and Sandy’s until we get back to the hotel.
The main door at their building is open but we don’t know which button to push to ring their apartment. An older lady is exiting so Anne tells her we’re looking for a couple of Americans staying at the house of a lady from Belgium. She knows precisely who we’re looking for and shows us how to get in the stairwell and which apartment Ed and Sandy are in. When you don’t have an apartment number, name, or phone number, there’s always another way.
We can’t believe we’ve finally met up in France! When we met Ed and Sandy several years ago at an unofficial Fodors forum
get together in Bethesda and started talking about the places we’ve been, I thought it was strange that we’d never bumped into them in Europe since we’d been to all the same places. After we met their neighbors, Jack and Anne, we vowed to each other that the six of us would have to plan to meet somewhere in France or Italy and hang out in a villa for about a week. Last November we met up with Jack and Anne in Paris and drove out to the Champagne region
and today we met Ed and Sandy in Paris. We haven’t gotten all six of us together yet, but we’re getting there.
They showed us around the apartment where they’re staying for three weeks. It’s very nice but it’s not what you’d normally expect of a weekly rental apartment in Paris. Usually, the owner has swept the place of any personal belongings or at least locked in a closet all evidence that somebody lives there. The bohemian lady who lives here full time just gave them the key and walked out, staying elsewhere while Ed and Sandy are there.
So it’s more like staying at someone’s house than renting an apartment. Sandy makes it their own with a luscious bunch of pink tulips on the table.
In the living room there is what looks like a pile of spaghetti that is actually a frightening tangle of electrical cords plugged into extension cords. Fortunately, Ed and Sandy have a survival plan if a fire breaks out. Along the halls and in almost all of the rooms, there are floor to ceiling shelves filled with books - enough entertainment for an avid reader for months!
They've sent photos of an eye-
popping church nearby, so we stop at St. Etienne du Mont and check out the amazing staircase.
In the quiet cloister, brilliant windows tell Bible stories to anyone with time to gaze.
Then the four of us head over to my personal favorite part of Paris: The Rue Mouffetard and Place Contrescarpe. Even on Friday morning, they’re sweeping up after a riotous night. But every morning there’s an outdoor market at the south end of Rue Mouffetard. So we passed up Hemmingway’s house and strolled through Place Contrescarpe determined to walk down to the
end of the Rue and stroll back. Sandy kept lingering and beckoning for Ed to come back and take a look at something but Ed kept everybody on track.
A daffodil seller calls out to us to choose a bunch of yellow sunshine.
At the end of the Rue we took some photos of the cheese market and the fountain then strolled back uphill. Now there was no hurrying Sandy. Ed said we’d linger later and now it was time to linger. And for me there’s no better place in the world to just stroll.
The fish markets, the coffee shop, the olivier, the perfectly stacked produce (Ed and Sandy pick our their daily punnel of spring-sweet berries), the beckoning little hardware store and an uncountable number of quirky shops for the quirky people who tend to congregate along a rue like this one.
Then on to La Pre Verre for a filling lunch - 2 or three courses of interestingly prepared food. Two of us ordered the daily special of a phyllo pouch filled with seafood and couscous "a l'oriental."
From there we walked a few blocks to the National Museum of the Middle Ages also known as the Musee de Cluny. When we were brainstorming about a must-see in the 5th that all four of us would enjoy, we almost simultaneously decided on the Cluny Museum. No, this has NOTHING to do with George Clooney, fortunately, but it’s the museum connected to the excavations we’ve often seen from the right side of the Boulevard Saint Michel when we’re walking from the Sorbonne to the Seine. We all wanted to see the tapestries of the Lady with the Unicorn, but having never entered the museum we were eager to see the rest of the collection too.
The entry courtyard boasts an ancient well, gargoyle and all - a rare chance to see one at ground level.
There are Roman era thermal baths and a lot of other artifacts from before the fall of the empire. But most of the statues, weapons, crucifixes, stained glass windows, jewelry, and caskets are from the era between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Renaissance.
The big draw, however is a cycle of tapestries from 1500 each depicting a lady with a unicorn illustrating the five senses along with a sixth sense, that of love and understanding - can you tell which sense this exquisite tapestry depicts?
These six tapestries are hung around the wall in a barely lit cylindrical room. The low light is to preserve t
he colors in the tapestries.
We learned long ago to avoid museums on the day we arrive in Europe so before too long inside, Anne and I had to go explore the museum gardens, strolling through the delicatey lacey vaulted chapel on the way. The fresh air did us good but we were both anxious to get back to our hotel for the obligatory first day nap. So we said goodbye to Ed and Sandy until dinner.
Dinner is at Bouillon Racine
, a delightfully decorated Art Nouveau treasure from the early 1900's. The restaurant was completely restored in 1996, using almost lost techniques and skills - it's bevelled mirrors, stained glass, carved woodworks and gold-leaf bringing classification as an Historic Building of Paris.
We sat and talked in the exquisite surroundings, sipping a recommended Bordeaux, and then ordered dinner.
Kirk's duck leg was photo worthy - and so delicious that he nearly licked the plate clean.
We all wanted to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle as it does with tens of thousands of tiny lights every hour on the hour from dark until 1 AM. So we let Ed and Sandy in on our little secret of standing in front of the Pantheon and looking across the Jardin de Luxembourg at the tower as it sparkles. Tonight there are only two other couples waiting for the lights but though it is well lit, there are inexplicably no sparkles. Maybe the sparkle guys are on strike.
We tried to time some photos to catch the floodlight as it came around - rather far away to photo. We set up a camera to get a good shot of the four of us - can you tell by our big grins how much fun we're having?! Thank you dear friends for planning such a marvelous day to enjoy together!
At about 10:30 back at our hotel a little musical combo starts singing Frank Sinatra era songs in the little plaza six floors below us.
We were ready with the ear plugs but they retired before we got to bed.
At 11:00 Anne went out on the balcony to see if the Eiffel Tower lights were sparkling and with a squeal, she exclaimed they were. The strike must be over, the tower is sparkling again and all’s right with the world.
Country and Castle
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Hinton & Windsor, England
Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!
We wake up this morning in our third hotel of the trip - Hinton Grange
, deep in the countryside. Some traveling friends told us about this charmer, so we included a night here to see if it would work for the Mozartfest
tour. The grange originated in the 14oo's and has been added on to over the centuries.
Each room has a claw-foot bathtub right out in the room, with a wc tucked into a corner behind a door, and a coal-burning fireplace (10 pounds extra to use it, due to the extensive clean-up required). Vintage furniture and wrought iron headboards or four poster beds fit right in to the old-fashioned rooms.
There are a couple of com- fortable English country sitting rooms -
if we had more time it'd be a great place to just relax for a while.
Breakfast is served in the cheery
conservatory, looking out on the beautiful gardens. This would be a great place for a traditional Sunday lunch, especially if the weather is nice enough to wander outside.
Topiaries of ships, roosters, and animals playfully surround a manicured circle,
and long swathes of green grass lead to inviting benches.
We're taking a late flight home this afternoon, giving ourselves time to enjoy a couple of hours in Windsor on our way to Heathrow Airport.
The sun's peeping out for an hour or two, and the town is bustling with Sunday shoppers, walkers, and tourists.
We find a parking place near the Two Brewers Pub
, which we've read serves a good Sunday lunch.
Can you read the sign? It boasts that the pub is "dedicated to life, liberty, food, drink, and the pursuit of other less serious matters."
It's right beside Windsor Great Park's Long Walk
, filled with families enjoying the early spring,
a carriage - full of tourists,
and even a guard walking to work.
We were last here in 1996 on our trip with Josh, and don't remember much more than the castle...and oh, there's the bank that "ate" our ATM card and we had to stay longer than we'd planned the next morning to rescue the card!
The crooked house still stands, tilting crazily beside the Theater Royal . It's now a tea room
, with what's said to be the best cream tea in the area - wish we had time for just one more tea!
Sunday morning parishioners file out of St. John's Church
, where spring has definitely arrived - love those daffodils flowing down from a knight's tomb.
Lunch at the Two Brewers was good, but not as good as we'd hoped. Maybe the usual chef is off today.
We enjoyed leafing through the old books on the windowsill by our table - everything from vintage Readers Digest condensed books to Sherlock Holmes.
Then off to Heathrow and back across the pond. Next trip - Paris!
Searching for the Perfect Village
Saturday, Feb. 28, 2009Cotswold Country, continuedInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!
As we drive through this glorious Cotswold countryside, we realize that it's been a loooong time since we were last here together. Way back in 1996, when we took Josh to Capernwray
in northwest England, where he studied for a year.
On our printouts of information regarding our next stop, Burford, I noted "took photo of Josh at the top of the street". We had so much fun on that trip, taking turns stopping at places Josh wanted to see (Abbey Road for the Beatles, Manchester for Oasis) and those that were on our list: Oxford and the pub, Eagle and Child
, where C.S Lewis and his writing buddies hung out, and lots of charming villages in England and Wales.
Burford stays on our list for the Music and Markets
November trip - it's of a different design than the other villages we've stopped at, with its long High Street full of interesting boutiques and places to eat, such as the Mermaid Pub, above.
As we sat enjoying one more cream tea at Burford House Hotel, we decided that we hadn't yet seen a quintessential honey golden stone Cotswold village, so we'll plan to spend just a bit more time on our planned day trip and head north to the Slaughters and Bourton on the Water.
It's getting dark, but we're hoping to have enough time to see those hamlets today. And sure enough, when we get to Lower Slaughter, we know this is IT - just what we'd imagined, and
what we want to share with our guests. Among all of the charming and beautiful villages in this area, few can equal the mellow, picture-postcard allure of Lower and Upper Slaughter.
Grim as the name sounds, there's no connection to death and destruction - the word comes from the Anglo-Saxon term slohtre
, or muddy place.
We saw no mud in the pristine town, but there is plenty of water here.
A lively stream bursts out of the chute beside the water mill and meanders through the village, still and quiet in the early evening.
Another impressive "wool church", St. Mary's, is sur- rounded by ancient grave- stones dizzily tipping towards the grass.
The road out of the other side of town heads down to a ford, and a placard warns us that it's a deep ford, and not suitable for normal vehicles.
So we turn around and head for one last stop - Bourton-on-the-Water. Another village that calls out for a nice wander, with another inviting stream crossed by low footbridges, but we make quick work of it in the dark, and look forward to returning during the daytime later this year.
A Cotswold Market Town
Saturday, Feb. 28, 2009Cotswold Country, continuedInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!
In our quest to find the best southwest Cotswold villages for our November tour, we continue our loop through the countryside. Next stop is Northleach an inviting and friendly village, one of the less touristed and least spoiled in the area, that reminds us that it received its authorization to serve as a local market center way back in 1277. The spacious central square is lined with tidy cottages and shops, many with traditional stone-tile roofs.
Looks like it's still a popular market town, with a busy butcher shop, a couple of pubs, and a Bakery-Fruiterer (haven't seen that before!) Greengrocer.
And down a little lane is ye olde jail - empty today.
Kirk enjoys a coffee in a comfortable wine and coffee bar and is deep in conversation with the locals when I return from picture-taking.
Like many of the Cotswold towns, Northleach became quite wealthy in the 1200's due to the wool trade,
and the soaring church of St. Peter and Paul bears witness to the fact.
Springtime snowdrops carpet the graveyard, and inside,
treasured memorial brasses on the floor are testaments to the wool merchants who endowed the church - each merchant has a wool sack and sheep at his feet.