Travelling the Roads

lAVENDERSo if you looked at the video post of driving in France, you will have guessed that we prefer the smaller roads to the autoroutes. They are much more interesting and attractive, but of course it takes much more time to get somewhere, especially when passing through the little villages. Travelling from late spring through summer and into early autumn we notice the different colours for each season : the yellow and purple of sunflowers and lavender in late spring and early summer, the gold of the wheat fields, and the lush greens of the forests and roadside trees; in high summer there are still sunflowers, as well as hectares and hectares of maize, and the serried ranks of grape vines – EVERYWHERE! And early autumn brings the colours of red and gold into the trees (we’re told that 70% of France is forested) and the colours of the vine leaves changing as well. The fields that were so colourful with all the varied crops are now bare earth, or with plantings of new crops such as winter wheat.The colours change with the regions as well, for instance Burgundy has the brilliant yellow of the mustard flowers, whereas around Paris there are fields of wheat as far as the eye can see.

Sosunflowersme of the roads we take are so old and narrow that I have called them our “Roads Less Travelled”! They are really beautiful, especially the avenues of trees where the tops meet and form wondrous green tunnels, with the sun filtering through. Anecdotally we are told that many villages and towns planted a roadside tree for each soldier from the village who died in the Great War (WWI). One hundred years ago the roads were much narrower, and now the trees have sometimes become a hazard to driving, with signage indicating dangerous roads, or a low speed limit, even on the more main highways.

So if you would like to share in our love of the French highways and more particularly the French byways, let us know!  We are taking bookings for next year NOW!!img_0460

France 2018

So here we are in France again … in the middle of a heatwave! Daily temperatures of up to 39 degrees celsius. Almost too hot to be a tourist!

I thought that first it might be interesting for you to see some of the roads we have travelled (thanks to Matt Sweet, who videoed and compiled this journey). It even includes a little of the autoroute travel, which we usually try to avoid. But needs must, when there is a train to catch!

Chateau of Chenonceau, the Chateau of the Ladies

Diane de Poitier's garden

Diane de Poitier’s garden

Chenonceau by night

Chenonceau by night

No visit to the Loire Valley is complete without a visit to the 16th century Chateau de Chenonceau, the Chateau of the Ladies.

Diane de Poitiers, the favourite mistress of King Henri II, was gifted the chateau by the king. However, she gave it back to the Queen Regent, Catherine de Medici, after Henri was killed in a tournament.

Catherine became Regent for her three sons after Henri’s death. Both Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici have left the legacy of two beautiful gardens. Diane had a 60 metre long bridge built at the chateau, upon which Catherine had a gallery built, with with 18 large windows and a slate and tile floor. This gallery served as a magnificent ballroom.

Louise of Lorraine was the wife of Henri III, and after his assassination she retired to Chenonceau to meditate and pray, living as if in a convent surrounded by nuns in white. Hence she had the name of “The White Queen”. However, her bedchamber in the chateau was totally draped in black – wall hangings, bed curtains,  carpets, ceilings …

Louise Dupin owned the chateau at the time of the French Revolution, and saved the chapel by turning it into a wood store, thus camouflaging it’s religious character! She was the grandmother by marriage to George Sand, and welcomed Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Diderot, D’Alembert, Fontenelle and Bernadin de Saint-Pierre to the chateau. Her kindness, generosity and intelligence saved Chenonceau during the French Revolution.

In 1864 Marguerite Pelouze, a rich heiress, acquired the chateau and restored it, but spent so much money that eventually the chateau was seized and sold.

In 1913 it was bought by Gaston and Simone Meunier. During the First World War Mr Meunier paid for the setting up of a hospital, whose different services occupied all the rooms of the chateau, including the Gallery. Throughout the Second World War the river Cher corresponded to the line of demarcation. The entrance to the chateau was therefore in the occupied zone on the right bank. The gallery where the south door gave access to the left bank made it possible for the Resistance to pass large numbers of people through to the free zone. During the war a German artillery unit was kept at the ready to destroy Chenonceau. The original stained glass windows in the Chapel were destroyed by bombs in 1944, and were replaced in 1954.

One could really spend a whole day at Chenonceau!  The magnificence of the rooms, the wonderful gallery, the chapel, the Renaissance furniture, the paintings and tapestries, the remarkable staircase, the beautiful ceilings, and of course the gardens. Apart from the two flower gardens there is also a vegetable garden bordered with apple trees, and more than 400 rose bushes covering more than a hectare. The flowers from the gardens and farm provide the chateau with it’s daily magnificent floral arrangements.

We have visited the chateau several times, and have particularly enjoyed the night time visit, when the gardens are lit up and music fills the air.


Chartres – again

So here we are in Chartres again … loved it last year, looking forward to two nights here this time. We have a lovely B&B, Maunoury Citybreak, two minutes walk from the pedestrian zone. We have a small apartment with a delightful sitting area overlooking a garden, and les enfants can share it, though they do have their own ensuite bedroom as well. AND we have parking (unlike last year, when we parked in the city underground parking)

First things first – a drink in town! Followed by dinner with friends at the same Italian restaurant we ate at last year (boring, aren’t we!) A beautiful town to stroll around in, as parking in the city is all underground, leaving wide pedestrian zones & shopping areas. As it’s not officially holiday time in France the streets are not crowded, making for a very enjoyable experience.


Breakfast on the terrace in slightly cool conditions, then the day in town. A visit to the cathedral for some , to look at this magnificent building classified as a World Heritage site , one of the most visited tourist destinations in France. Construction of the Cathedral started in 1194 , after a fire destroyed the original building which was started in 1145. The building is almost perfectly preserved in it’s original design and details. The portal sculpture remains fully intact and its glowing stained glass windows are all originals, so it is the only cathedral that conveys an almost perfect image of how it looked when it was built. It’s really worthwhile to get an audioguide to discover the history of this incredible building.. It has been a major pilgrimage destination since the early Middle Ages.

A visit to the covered market was a true foodie experience! The local farmers were selling their fruit and vegetables along with a wonderful assortment of fresh meat, poultry, breads, cheeses, as well as local specialities such as the game pies of Chartres. Whew! Necessitated a post market verre du vin at an adjacent bar!

However the main reason for our visit to Chartres was to see the Illuminations – were so impressed last year, so thought les enfants should enjoy the experience as well. We hurried to the Cathedral hoping to find space on the Petit Train, which takes visitors on a tour of the Illuminations, but half an hour before departure it was full. However our hostess had told us it was really better to follow the blue light trail on foot to really experience the spectacle, & she was right. The Illuminations have been lighting up Chartres since 2002 and draw one million visitors from around the world each year. They portray the architectural and human history of the town and the cathedral in son et lumiere (sound and light) and it’s MAGNIFICENT!!






Cathedral Illumination, Chartres

Cathedral Illumination, ChartresI

Illuminations, Chartres

Illuminations, Chartres

Our visit to Auvers-sur-Oise

An early morning arrival at Charles de Gaulle Airport went without a hitch, though we four went through a routine questioning before exiting Customs. Not a problem.

Called TT Cars & were promptly picked up & taken to the Depot.  First challenge – a keyless start car! Took a bit of getting used to! And the Peugeot 308 turned out to be smaller than we had thought, fine for 4 people, not sure about 5.  We’re used to the ample storage space for the driver & front seat passenger, so the lack of this is also a challenge. But comfortable & quiet – especially when the motor cuts out at traffic lights!  Another thing to get used to.

We had expected really high temperatures so were a little shocked to find ourselves in 17 degrees – on with the woollens!  Arrived at Auvers sur Oise, 30 kilometres from Paris, a country village which lured 19th century artists from Paris. Artist Charles Daubigny arrived in 1860 & never left. Manet, Cezanne, Renoir & Camille Pissaro all lived there for a time. But we had come to pay hommage to Vincent van Gogh, who spent the last 70 days of his life here. We have followed Van Gogh from Arles to St-Remy-de-Provence, where he was at the asylum of St Paul de Mausole, and at the urging of his brother Theo he moved into the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise in 1890, where he rented a tiny 7 square metre room on the top floor. In those 70 days he painted 70 paintings that include some of his best known works. On July 25th, 1890 he shot himself in the chest, & although the bullet missed every vital organ he succumbed to his injuries 2 days later, dying in Theo’s arms.

The room where he died has been unoccupied since his death. The Auberge has been restored & we can visit the top storey & also the restaurant where Monsieur Ravoux & his family served meals to Vincent and other boarders in the late nineteenth century. We could have eaten there, where the chef features primarily locally sourced ingredients and dishes available in the nineteenth century, but it was out of our price range!

We settled on the Bistro across the road, where we enjoyed a salmon steak with risotto, served by a young man who had spent 3 months working in New Zealand & wants to come back!  We tried to visit the Chateau, which has a multimedia informational presentation about the Van Gogh era … but it was closed for renovation, not to be opened until after the tourist season finishes!

So, replete (and not a little tired) we headed off to our accommodation for the next 2 nights, 2 hours away at Maunoury Citybreak in Chartres. Next installment …

Van Gogh's room At Auberge Ravoux

Van Gogh’s room At Auberge Ravoux


Attic of Auberge Ravoux

Attic of Auberge Ravoux

Our car for the next 3 months!

Our car for the next 3 months!


Long Haul Flying – it ain’t what it used to be!

I remember (now, THAT”S an old person’s saying!) when flying was quite a luxurious experience – smaller planes, more individual attention, Business Class was pretty good, First Class was superb. And I know because we used to be able to upgrade to Business Class with air points (just try that THESE days), and were once then upgraded to First Class. A memorable experience.

As the years have gone by, and we have flown to Europe 23 times, First Class has mostly disappeared to be replaced by Business Class (probably the like First Class, but how would I know), then there’s Premium Economy, which doesn’t look that much better than Economy and to my mind wouldn’t be worth all that extra money (only on observation from walking through to cattle class at the back of the plane) and finally Economy, which is not too bad a way to travel (if one hadn’t experienced the bliss of Business or First Class in other years!) So my first words of advice – NEVER fly First Class or Business if you can’t afford to keep doing it for the rest of your life!

Our favourite airlines have been Emirates or Singapore Air, and earlier on Air NZ until flying through the USA became just too horrendous, so Cathay Pacific seemed worth a try (to say nothing of the great price offered if you booked 9 months in advance). We’ve flown them before, but this time we definitely noticed that they were downgrading. Firstly, no little amenities bag!  Ouch!  I was counting on the little toothbrush & toothpaste kit. I already had an eyemask courtesy of Emirates, and the socks I never use anyway, having been converted to pressure socks, but I do remember when we used to get little tubes of hydration gel, maybe some moisturising cream – sigh.

I guess we don’t really need attractive printed menus, but the plainly typed sheet of paper was to be shared between two people – well, not a problem, we were a couple. It did say on the menu “tea or coffee” but I certainly wasn’t offered any, maybe we had to specially ask. So at breakfast I did ask, and then requested a refill, which came in a paper cup. I have to say, the food was the best I have ever had on an airline, even if we did have to eat with plastic cutlery, and there was never any salt or pepper supplied.  The Movenpick icecream was delicious!

Interestingly, the drinks came with the food trolley, so I and the ever-loving asked for a gin and tonic – yum. But that seemed to be it, no wine offered with dinner – again, maybe we had to ask specially.  What was really difficult was waiting a couple of hours after we boarded at Hong Kong before we were offered a cold drink. We felt really dehydrated and again, I guess we could have asked but being the considerate travellers that we are (!) we thought the cabin crew might be rather busy!

Now for the seating : the A350 was OK, large screens, and an innovative double layered tray system with a higher drink holder so you didn’t bump it in the night; the 777 actually seemed to have a greater seat recline (though I could be mistaken as I found it difficult to even get the A350 seat to recline at all). But my problem was that I really like it when we can go on line & choose our seats well in advance – oh no, sorry, you bought the cheap rate tickets, no choice allowed! And they had our money for all that time! Then we like to choose an aisle and a window seat, hoping that the middle seat won’t be taken ( well, it worked on Emirates & it was great!). But Cathay won’t even ALLOW you to book separate seats like that. And being in the middle, which I usually am, is not easy!  Especially if there’s a large man in the aisle seat with nowhere to stretch his legs except in your space, and nowhere to put his arms except on your arm rest. And I really can’t blame the guy, what else can he do? I’ve got really good at shrinking myself & sitting motionless for many hours! Lucky I don’t need any toilet breaks!

This might sound as if I really hate flying.  I really don’t, and I know it’s the only way to get where we need to get to in the shortest time. But I do like to feel a little pampered on a long haul flight – so Emirates & Singapore Air, offer some nice cheap flights for next year & I’ll see if you’re still as good as I remember!

Europe 2017 Here We Come!

Ready to go!

So time to leave the cold and head for the heat. And what heat! We hear it’s up to 40 degrees celsius, so bring it on!

I’m trying to “pack light” this year (not that I ever really “pack large”) so have managed to get 3 1/2 months worth of clothes into my cabin-size luggage, which I’ll put in the hold. It weighs 11 kgs – not bad! It’s one of those hard shell light bags, but it’s another story with the cabin luggage. I have a small bag on wheels but empty, it weighs over 3 kgs, so not much leeway there. And I have to say, my ever-loving will be putting my liquids into his hold luggage! Well, one can’t travel without hair product, skin product, contact lenses … !!

First stop Charles de Gaulle Airport, pick up our lease car (yes, CAR, no van this year) and head for Auvers-sur-Oise, town of the Impressionists. The village where Van Gogh spent the last 70 days of his life also had residents Manet, Cezanne, Renoir and Camille Pissaro. What a feast of art history!

And then to Chartres – for the Illuminations! Saw them last year and they were stupendous! However, on reflection, after 36 hours travelling, including a day of sightseeing, the Illuminations might have to wait until the next night!  I think bed will call …

So that’s the start of our European Odyssey. Stay with me and we’ll discover the sights together.

Travelling in Germany – some observations

August in Germany

August in Germany

So it’s not touring France, but yes, we’re in Germany now. The countryside is beautiful, fields looking colourful with crops being harvested, large patches of forest, tractors with trailers of grain driving through the main streets of the villages & small towns – a bucolic scene. But travelling here is not that easy!

Frantically harvesting

Frantically harvesting

We like to keep off the autobahns if possible – too many large trucks, cars travelling at impossible speeds, you have to travel at up to 150 kms per hour just to keep up & to keep out of the way of the trucks.  Needless to say, there are no speed limits on most of the autobahns!  But travelling off them is not easy, there are so many road works, especially in holiday time, so detours (“Umleitung” – when we travelled here with our children 36 years ago, we were very surprised to see so many towns called Umleitung!) are everywhere. The GPS often can’t cope – if you don’t have “Traffic” loaded – so a road map is also a necessity, & you need to know that “U1″ or 2 or 3 or whichever number applies to your detour is actually your designated route. It can add quite a bit of time to your journey.  On the other hand, there are very frequent traffic jams (“Stau”) on the autobahns, sometimes 20 kms long & lasting for hours. The “Traffic” programme breaks into your radio transmission & also your cd player, with information about which autobahns have traffic jams, how long they will last, how far the traffic is backed up … but you need to understand German!  We like to use the eco route option on the GPS, or even more often, the no motorway option – can take longer but is definitely more interesting.

We also like to stay away from the big cities, so some of the problems we encounter are probably because of this choice.

# Many small hotels and bed & breakfasts don’t answer their phone during the day, and don’t have answerphones.

# Signage to tourist sites are often contradictory or non-existent

# Bars/cafes where one can get a coffee en route are very difficult to find. (We travelled from Frankfurt to a town near Hanover on a Saturday just after midday and found NOWHERE to have a lunch or even a coffee, short of going into the heart of the town where we may have found something.) No little roadside cafes, though sometimes there is an Imbiss, a sort of bar in a shed or caravan. Bottled water & pretzels for lunch!

# Cigarette vending machines everywhere – no wonder so many of the young people smoke.

Sad sight in every town

Sad sight in every town

# And the very worst thing for us was that many places don’t take credit cards – unless they are German. So you have to travel with a wad of euros with you all the time. Many tourist sites will only take cash, including the famous castles on the Rhine. Also cafes, restaurants, and worst of all, doctors, chemists, and hospitals. We had the experience of one of us being in hospital for 3 days, money up front was required, in cash, per day! Even with a French bank account, in euros, we couldn’t use our card.

# Food – schnitzel, schnitzel, schnitzel! Chips, sausages, potatoes baked in foil (pretty nice, actually!), & lashings of whipped cream on desserts, even when you ask for no cream. The accompanying salads are usually chopped lettuce, grated carrot, sliced onions, tomato, cucumber, and salad cream. Pizzas everywhere, good ones. However, if you go to a nice restaurant the food is very good, wine can be expensive, but beer is cheaper & very good (so I’m told by one who knows!) There’s good non-alcoholic beer too, often more on the drinks menu than regular beer. Best place to eat? With friends!

So Germany is a place of contrasts.  If you stick to the regular tourist sites, cities,

and good restaurants you probably won’t have problems.  If you’re more adventurous & want to experience real German life, be prepared to cope with all of the above.  It can be fun!

Bordeaux – Cite du Vin (City of Wine)

Bordeaux – what a beautiful city!  Sadly only a weekend there – but we will be back!

We discovered a wonderful Bed & Breakfast only a short tram ride from the old centre, the Villa St Genes, only 2 very large bedrooms  with modern bathrooms … and a swimming pool!  Absolute bliss in temperatures of 37 degrees Celsius. We didn’t really want to leave the pool but tourism called, so we boarded the modern tram & set off to see the sights.

The old town was pretty crowded, but still worth a wander around the small streets and a reserved meal at Le Petit Commerce – luckily we booked as people were being turned away all the time.  We chose the restaurant because it had very good seafood, and we weren’t disappointed.  The wine was pretty good too! A great place for people-watching!

We finished the evening with a stroll back to the Place de la Grande Theatre where we enjoyed the country music of busker Chris Paulson – even bought a CD!  What did surprise us was the overwhelming police presence – gendarmes as well as police municipale, walking, in vans & cars, and on motorbikes. They were pretty laid-back though, as were the general populace, and we never felt threatened by either group.

After a delicious breakfast poolside we set off again for a morning in town before we took our client to the railway station for her to catch the TGV to Charles de Gaulle Airport and her flight home to NZ.  Again there were very high temperatures, not conducive to enthusiastic sightseeing!  But the Miroir de l’Eau (Mirror of Water) was delightful.  We had visited it the night before, a flat area in front of the magnificent Bourse building with small water jets creating a mirror-like expanse where both children & adults walked & ran & cooled off.  At night it had reflected the Bourse, a stunning view.  On either side stretch colourful gardens where people relaxed on the benches.  However, small squares with inviting tables in the shade called us out of the sun to drink beer & wine & listen to more music!


We took our client to the station – Gare St Jean – what chaos!  It is being totally renewed, in fact I think there were renovation works being done here years ago when we took clients to catch a train. A word to the wise : leave plenty of time to catch your train, the platforms are difficult to find & the timetables are chaotic!


An interesting evening awaited us! It was the night of the European Football Final being played in Paris and all the restaurants & bars semed to have large television screens and tables & chairs out on the streets.  We decided not to book a meal but to take our chances on a restaurant. Not a good idea!  When we went to catch the tram it was so crowded it seemed as if people were falling out the doors!  Change to Plan B – we walked!  Followed the tram route & the crowds until we were nearly at Place de la Victoire, 2 stops away, & found a wonderful modern bright restaurant, Le Bistro Regent, with NO TV! Therefore it was very quiet, we were almost the only customers. For 12.50 Euros each (incredible price) we had the best steak we’ve had so far in France, a bowl of fresh green salad, & a bowl of shoestring fries (hadn’t seen THEM since we were in NZ!). Great service – well, I suppose they were delighted to have customers!


Afterwards we strolled around the square watching the people at the bars who were trying to watch the match on pretty small TV screens, then decided to head home on the tram before the match finished.  Had to resurrect Plan B – the trams had stopped running due to a fault in the system.  So a long walk back to the B&B, leaving us feeling we had walked off our dinner at least!


The next morning we left the city, but vowed to return for a longer stay, maybe in cooler weather to discover what else Bordeaux has to offer.

Miroir de l'Eau reflecting the Bourse

Miroir de l’Eau reflecting the Bourse

Miroir de l'Eau

Miroir de l’Eau

Fish restaurant in the Old Town

Fish restaurant in the Old Town

Busker in La Place de la Grande Theatre

Busker in La Place de la Grande Theatre

Water, water everywhere!

IMG_20160604_225756 IMG_20160604_224715 IMG_20160604_224808 IMG_20160604_103610Unlike most other times we have arrived in Europe, this time we were met with cold temperatures (down to 11 degrees centigrade), grey skies and rain.  LOTS of rain! Cold and wet on our one day in Amsterdam, sometimes showery in North Germany, the water levels were rising when we got to the Rhine, and finally, flooding in France. A once-in-a-century flood in Paris, apparently, causing the evacuation of works of art from the cellars of the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay. We had to travel into Paris to pick up some luggage and it was complicated by the closure of some Metro stations due to flooding, thereby necessitating a 45 minute bus journey & return, & infrequent & crowded RER trains, due to a rail strike.


When we eventually took to the road at 4.00 p.m., what chaos!  Roads closed, detours … and water EVERYWHERE.  We had decided on a town further south, but realised we probably wouldn’t be able to reach it, so looked for accommodation en route. All booked out, because of the flooding, either by evacuees or by travellers with the same idea. I remembered an hotel we had stayed at years ago in Montargis, our original destination, so phoned & booked ourselves in. Then, venturing on some roads that were partially closed, we finally reached sanctuary at 8.30 p.m., 2 & 1/2 hours later than usual. Relief, followed by a good meal and lots of red wine – of course!

But it was so bad for the poor people affected by the flooding.  Here are some photos taken en route, also a flooded street in Montargis. And everywhere there were piles of debris, goods ruined by the water & waiting to be collected.  Crops were also ruined – hope they have insurance cover. Though a local told me that the Government, because it is a local disaster, will top up peoples’ claims to the level decided by the government – sometimes months later, of course.  It’s the same all over the world.