Thursday, 18th September – Paris

It’s fair to say that we absolutely fell in love with Paris yesterday. Today however, we had planned a day trip to nearby Versailles. A little further out, but worth the trip, was a chateau that is quite famous and the focal point of the small village of Dreux in the middle of rural France – the Chateau d’Anet.

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There may have been an ulterior motive to visit the chateau – it was the setting of another Bond movie. This time it was Sean Connery who flew from the balcony of the chateau using a jet pack! Below is the photo from the movie, then the actual balcony itself.

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Versailles is a quaint village – not very large, but very old. We wondered around the streets and stopped for lunch in a small park, and coffee in a small cafe. The only thing that wasn’t small was the Palace of Versailles which had massive gardens and is the main reason that people visit this town.

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We headed back to the apartment in Paris and had ourselves a little nap – we had planned to go out later that night to see the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe at night.

Our host Julien had recommended we enjoy dinner at a restaurant – Un Zebre A Montmarte. It turned out that the restaurant was up the hill from the Moulin Rouge so we managed to tick that off the list as well.

The restaurant was a great recommendation because the food, wine and service were all outstanding. Due to the required walk up a hill, the restaurant managed to not be overcrowded with tourists or suffer from tourist prices. We enjoyed an amazing meal, drank wine from the Medoc region of Bordeaux and fell hopelessly in love with Paris all over again!!

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By the time we had left the restaurant it had become quite dark and it was great to see the Moulin Rouge lit up.IMG_2863

It was well worth the numerous train rides to see these two famous landmarks, they looked so different at night, it was spectacular.IMG_2871 IMG_2874

2014 European Adventure France

Wednesday, 17th September – Paris

Last night we put a rough itinerary together for the next few days and investigated the public transport available. The Paris Metro was fairly easy to navigate and it seemed to cover all the destinations we required, so we decided to buy a 3 day pass for 24 Euro or about $36 AUD each – not bad value at $12 AUD a day.

We strolled the 5 minute walk from the apartment to the Metro, stopping to buy some breakfast treats at the local boulangerie before buying our tickets and making our way to our first stop of the day – The Louvre.

Over the last few weeks we had struggled to get a clear idea of the best way to purchase our tickets to the Louvre. There was conflicting information regarding whether it was best to buy them online or at the Museum itself. We had two concerns, the first that even if we bought them online we couldn’t print them off, you have to pick them up from the shop – like a Ticketek situation. The second concern was that we didn’t have a lot of time to waste trying to find the store and then get back to the Museum.

So we made the decision to get to the Louvre early and try our luck. The Louvre opens at 9am and we were there at about 8am so had plenty of time to get in line and see the spectacular surrounds. The best thing is that as the sun rises, it bathes the centuries-old buildings in pure gold. The sight is amazing and worth standing in line, even just to see that.

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Now, if you want the hot tip on how to see the Louvre, we highly recommend getting there early and lining up. Even if you have a ticket, you still want to be one of the first people through the gates.

The most famous work of art at the Louvre would have to be the Mona Lisa. Bec quickly cottoned on to what the couple in front of us were planning, they discussed what they were each doing as soon as the gates opened, they seemed to have a great plan and so we followed the American couple as they went straight to the ticket office, bought our tickets and then followed closely on their heels as they walked swiftly to the Mona Lisa. We got a front row view of this amazing piece of art and with hardly any one about. This has to be the best way to see her as we walked past later and saw the room packed shoulder to shoulder where the best view you can get is obscured by selfie sticks.

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So maybe the Mona Lisa is the most famous, but the sheer volume of outstanding works of art in the Louvre is bordering on insane. There is too much to see and you could spend a week wandering around the halls and still not see everything. Below are some photos of some examples – The Winged Victory, The Mona Lisa, Diana the Huntress, detail of the ceilings as you walk through and lastly the Venus de Milo.

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We stopped for a coffee at the cafe in the Louvre, looking out over the Napoleon Courtyard is a work of art in itself.

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With our heads spinning and smiles on our faces, it was time to set out see more of Paris. The next stop on our itinerary was La Madeleine, which we decided to walk to. We stopped for lunch and saw amazing things on the way, including Our Lady of the Assumption Church.

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La Madeleine is a Roman Catholic Church, originally designed as a temple in the glory of Napoleon’s Army. It was absolutely spectacular inside, the ceiling art, sculptures and use of lighting in this huge building was breathtaking.

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From La Madeleine we walked down to the place d la Concorde. The first photo below is the view from the front steps of La Madeleine to the Obelisk. It was a very busy road and we saw some of the crazy Parisian driving we had been told about!

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The Place de la Concorde is the largest square in Paris, the sheer size of it, the number of sculptures and history was spectacular. Below are pictures of the Fountain of River Commerce and Navigation and the Obelisk of Luxor.

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One of the most amazing elements of the Place de la Concorde is the view – we could see the beginning of the Champs de Elysees with Arc de Triomphe in the distance, the Louvre behind us and even more amazing buildings across the Seine. The Champs de Elysees is possibly the most famous street in Paris, if not in the world so we made our way down this iconic stretch.

Along the way,  we came across the Grand and Petit Palais and decided to detour briefly to have a better look at these unbelievable buildings. While exploring, we were surprised to see a statue of Winston Churchill and a magnificent bridge.

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The bridge was called the Pont Alexandre III.

It has gold statues atop massive pillars, views of the Eiffel Tower and even an Ice Cream Man! The Ice Cream Man sold cones out of the back of his specially modified car and loved having a chat even more than he loved being a third generation Ice Cream Man.

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Keith is a huge Star Wars fan and before we left on our trip he found the t-shirt in the picture below. We were both stupid with excitement about getting this picture!  IMG_2619

The Arc De Triomphe is also a famous monument in Paris and we could see it in the distance. The only thing that separated us from the giant arch way was hundreds of designer shops on the famous Champs de Elysees. Many other people had the same idea – the street was packed, but lots of fun to check out the shops.

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The Arc de Triomphe honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

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Next on our shortlist was the Eiffel Tower. It was quite a walk from where we were so we got back on the Metro. Making our way up from the (underground) Metro, the view from the Trocadero Gardens was superb! We walked around the Eiffel Tower to take more photos from different angles.

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It had already been a huge day, but we still had a couple more famous landmarks to see. After a well deserved coffee break we again got on the Metro and headed towards the Pantheon.

After looking through the Pantheon we noticed the Saint-Étienne-du-Mont across the road, Paris is full of old historic buildings such as this, the history and amazing architecture was fantastic.

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After we left the Pantheon, we headed down hill through the Sorbonne to the Ile de la Cite, an island in the middle of the Seine river. This is a very special island that holds the famous Notre Dame Cathedral.  We crossed over one of the many beautiful bridges connecting the island with the rest of Paris and were just blown away by how impressive the cathedral was. Below are some photos of the Notre Dame Cathedral and some of the bridges that lead to it, for example the Pont de l’Archevêché and Pont Notre Dame.

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Since we had such a long day – it was now getting close to 12 hours of walking around Paris – unfortunately we were unable to actually see inside Notre Dame.

We continued on across the island and found ourselves in front of the Town Hall (Hotel de Ville). It was an amazing building with a huge plaza out the front of it. We also found a Metro station that promised to take us home to rest our weary feet.

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Once back at the apartment we decided to utilise the kitchen for a home cooked meal, it would be some time before we could cook for ourselves again, as once we left Paris and went back to the UK we were staying in hotels each night.

2014 European Adventure France

Tuesday, 16th September – Lyon to Paris

We had a long drive to get to our final destination in mainland Europe – Paris! Without considering stops it was a six hour trip. With this in mind we left Lyon very early. Stopping to get some supplies for the trip, we found the best cheese aisle in the supermarket – 12 fridges just of Camembert, not different types of cheese, just Camembert!!!

It was a beautiful day and the drive through this part of France was amazing. The scenery was gorgeous and with so much to look at it really didn’t feel like we were driving for so long.

On the way, we came across the vehicle below. We couldn’t believe that one truck was towing so much. It was a camping truck that was towing a camper-van, that was towing a food stall on wheels with a motor bike attached to the back! Definitely not legal back home.

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We finally got to Maincy, specifically the Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte. The reason for this stop has a lot to do with the fact that we are big fans of James Bond movies. This particular Chateau was used as the Drax manor in Moonraker.

The Chateau itself is amazing and has spectacular gardens and surrounds. We had a good look at it from the outside and took lots of photos, but decided it wasn’t worth the $20 AUD each to look through on the inside. Of course, if we were going to spend the whole day here it would be worth it, but with still an hour before we got to Paris and daylight fading we were happy with an outside look.

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Near the car park, across from the entrance of the Chateau, we saw the forest that surrounds the estate. Keith instantly recognised the forest from the quail hunting, doberman chasing, high drama scene in Moonraker where poor Miss Dufour meets her end. On the left is the photo Keith took, on the right the scene from the movie.

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Whilst we’re comparing our photos and scenes from the movie, below is the photo we took and the second, the first glimpse of the Chateau in the movie, with Bond being flown in the helicopter. It hasn’t changed much since 1979, or 1641 for that matter.

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After leaving the Chateau we steeled ourselves for the drive into Paris itself.

We are in an Air BnB property for the next four nights – a small one bedroom apartment 15 minutes from the centre of Paris by Metro. We did have to navigate through Paris traffic to be able to get there, but once there everything was so close and convenient.

We had been warned not to drive in Paris, especially the centre, so we were lucky enough to be able to skirt the city itself and kept the car garaged for most of the four days.

After meeting up with Julien, the owner of the apartment, we got settled in and explored the local area on foot. It was a busy little area, with lots of restaurants as well as shops. We had some dinner, got some supplies for the next couple of days and made our way back to the apartment. We had a lot to see and do in the next three days, so we spent some time looking into public transport and sorting out our itinerary.

We went to bed excited about the next day, so many personal bucket list items were about to be ticked off for both of us. Bec could hardly sleep she was so excited to be in Paris!

2014 European Adventure France

Monday, 15th September – Lyon

Researching the public transport in Lyon, we had discovered that for 5.50 Euro ($8.15 AUD) each we could pretty much take any tram, train, bus and the funicular all day. To get our money’s worth, we tried to do as many of those as possible!

The Tram. We made our way to the tram stop Maryse Bastie not far from where we were staying and found a patisserie¹ where we bought some pastries for breakfast. Being excited to serve a couple of Aussies, the staff gave us extra stuff for free!

We took the pastries with us and walked the remaining two minutes to the tram stop. All the public transport stops appeared to have a ticket machine, it was easy to use and we had no problem obtaining the all day pass we were looking for.  We were taking the tram to meet up with the correct train line.

The Train. The Metro line then took us only a couple of stops to Place Bellacour which is a massive square in the middle of Lyon. Within the square is a huge fountain with a statue on top called Statue d’Antione de Sain-Exupery which is very white and easily seen.

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We then walked along the River Saone enjoying the street markets.

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On our way to the Church of Saint-Nizie, we decided it was time for a coffee. There wasn’t anything that was open, so we stopped in at McDonalds. We were pleasantly surprised as the coffee was great. Over coffee we took the time to check the map to ensure we were heading in the right direction.

It turned out that the church was just around the corner. In fact, it was a very busy corner – one where Keith almost got run over taking the photos below.

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We made our way to Place des Terreaux which is basically a large plaza. The centre piece of the plaza is the Fontaine Bartholdi. The fountain has an interesting story – the city of Bordeaux held a competition for the design of a fountain in 1857 and the 23 year old Bartholdi won. They then decided at the time not to build it. However, years later after Bartholdi built the Statue of Liberty, the mayor of Bordeaux decided to actually go ahead with the fountain. Prior to completion it was deemed too expensive so they sold it to the city of Lyon where it remains to this day.

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The plaza also houses the Hotel de Ville or the Lyon City Hall. It is an amazingly beautiful building, the first photo below is the front and the second the view from the rear of the building.
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Our final destination in our sightseeing tour of Lyon was the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere. To save time we decided to catch the train back to Place Bellecour and walk across the Pont Bonaparte. The view on the bridge was lovely and perfect for our first selfie of the day.

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After we crossed the bridge we had lunch in a tiny cafe in the Place Saint-Jean. After looking through the Lyon Cathedral, we made our way to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière.

The Funicular. The Basilica was located on top of a hill that overlooks all of Lyon. The most efficient and direct route was via funicular.

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The view from the Basilica grounds was incredible, we could actually see the Place Bellecour.IMG_2145

The inside of the Basilica was absolutely incredible and far outshone the simple exterior. The artwork and architecture were very impressive and we both agreed that this was one of the most beautiful churches we had seen.

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The weather was beautiful and we had made good time on our list of ‘must see’ destinations, so we walked to the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière. Beside the obvious amazement of seeing these ancient ruins in such good condition, we were also surprised that there was no entry fee, no security and not many people around. In truth these ruins are just as amazing as anything we had seen in Pompeii or Rome. The Amphitheatre is still functional and used frequently for festivals.

The theatre was built in two steps: around 15 BC, a theatre with a 90m diameter was built next to the hill. At the beginning of the 2nd century, the final construction added a last place for the audience. The diameter is 108m, and there were seats for 10,000 people.

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What an awesome day! We both enjoyed so much about this amazing city, beside the key landmarks we have talked about, the entire city was full of beautiful buildings, gardens and had a lovely relaxed attitude. The public transport was easy to use and cheap!

¹ It was this Patisserie that started a conversation – ‘What is the difference between a patisserie and a boulangerie in France?’ Later that night we consulted ‘The Google’, and found that to be known as a Patisserie one must have a licensed master pastry chef. To obtain this title the chef has to complete a lengthy training process and pass an exam.

2014 European Adventure France

Sunday, 14th September – Bourges to Lyon

We spent the night just outside of Bourges, but since we got there in the dark, we were up at the crack of dawn to do some sight seeing.

We only had a couple of sites on our short list, the first being the Cathedrale St-Etienne (St Stephen’s Cathedral). It’s one of the largest most impressive gothic churches in France and is UNESCO listed.  The morning sunlight played on the outside of the cathedral and it was absolutely beautiful. The church gardens were incredible and overall the architecture was mind blowing.

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After consulting the map we determined we could walk a loop around the town without too much trouble. The town is rich in history, with many old buildings and cobbled stone roads however there are a number of new modern buildings here and there.

The town was really quite pretty, with lots of gardens and quaint ‘arty’ shops, it would have been easy to spend the entire day window shopping.

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On our way through the town we came across the Palais Jacques-Coeur, an impressive residence built by a prominent and well known businessman in Bourges.

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Our next destination was Lyon, a four hour drive from Bourges, we decided to break up the trip with a brief stop in Moulins. It was not a town we had done any research on, however we immediately stumbled across the Moulins Cathedral.

We decided to pop inside for a quick look and were really surprised. Whilst it was very statuesque from the outside we had not expected such a grand interior. The Cathedral has been well maintained, given that it was built in the 15th century.

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We were delighted to find some markets taking place behind the Cathedral, we gave in to temptation grabbed a coffee and some scones and enjoyed people watching for a bit.

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Eventually we continued on our way and once in Lyon met up with our AirBnb host. We had two nights in Lyon and decided to catch up on washing and have a relaxing evening by going out for dinner – Japanese in France.

2014 European Adventure France

Saturday, 13th September – Nantes to Bourges

We had a busy itinerary today, sightseeing in Nantes before moving on to Bourges via Angers and Tours.

With much to see in Nantes before we left, we were up before the sun and the view was spectacular, the picture below was taken from the Pont de Briand. Walking through the city we came across a number of Boulangeries that were filled with incredible sweets.

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We didn’t have an itinerary of places to see this morning, instead we were keen to just walk a loop around the city. The first notable structure we came across was Le Lieu Unique, accommodating the National Centre for Contemporary Arts, pretty fancy building for an old biscuit factory!

We continued our walk down the Cours Saint Pierre where the September festival was taking place. Crossing the road we made our way to the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. This is a catholic cathedral which took 457 years to complete!

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After checking out the church we continued our way to the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne (Castle of the Dukes of Brittany). A fairly impressive castle with an equally impressive moat, it was once the residence of the French Monarchy and now houses the Nantes History Museum.

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We continued our walk through the city, there is a huge parkland area known as the Square Elisa Mercoeur where we found the most incredible children’s playground. This sculpture/tree house was in the likeness of a dragon with a red slide his fiery tongue.IMG_1572

Walking through what seemed like the commercial part of the city, past some markets over a bridge on the River Loire, we came across an amazing sculpture which was an empty lot with a giant tape measure draped across neighbouring buildings.

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Our last stop before heading back to the hotel was Machines of the Isle of Nantes, like an art museum but on a huge scale. Once at the hotel we took one last quick photo of the awesome view from our window and then headed off toward Bourges.

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On the way to our first stop, Angers, we came across a few random sites in little villages – for example, the castle ruins below. No sign board, no tourist stuff, just a huge ruined castle in the middle of the village.  IMG_1640Throughout our drive around France, we have noticed many chateaus on huge estates. When we drove past the one below, we actually turned around and stopped to take a photo. The sheer size of the place was amazing, and we couldn’t even see the estate it was on! It looked and felt like a storybook French Chateau.IMG_1643After getting excited about these random encounters we arrived at a small town called Angers. I don’t recall why this town was on our itinerary (it may have been the name) but once we found parking and walked around the corner, we saw a sight unlike anything we had seen before or since.

The Chateau d’Angers is a ridiculously huge castle in the middle of Angers overlooking the river Maine. Although we didn’t go inside, we spent an hour or so walking around the outside of it. The gardens, the moat area, and what we could see of the inside were just spectacular.

IMG_1656IMG_1657 IMG_1666IMG_1679IMG_1700IMG_1688Walking around the old town, we saw amazing little homes – one in particular that was built between 1399 and 1400. The central cathedral – St Maurice Cathedral of Angers – is an outstanding example of gothic cathedrals, complete with its twin spires. Inside it had the high vaulted ceilings and incredible sculptures and stained glass.

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After having some lunch in Angers (and Keith beginning his addiction to Peach Iced Tea) we headed on to the next city – Tours. Again, it may have been the name that put this city on the itinerary. However, once there, we really enjoyed the walk through the old city streets.

The main highlight was the Cathedral of St Gatien which started being built in 1170! It has massive twin gothic spires and we were lucky enough to see a wedding taking place. We also had a look around some of the other attractions of the city for example the Chateau de Tours and the Pont (Bridge) Wilson over the Loire River – both pictured below.

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2014 European Adventure France

Friday, 12th September – Bordeaux to Nantes

We had a very long day of driving ahead of us – 5 1/2  hours with our final destination being Nantes.

Another beautiful drive this time through the west side of  France. We enjoyed making many stops to look at the different villages and of course sampling many coffees and pastries at various boulangeries.

There were many interesting things to see along the way, including the roundabout decorated with giant snails! We even found a beautiful riverside park to stop and have a picnic lunch/cheese feast.

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We deviated slightly from our path to Nantes to a small town called Saint Brevin les Pins. Keith had seen an article when researching things to see in Nantes about the Le Serpent d’Ocean – a sculpture of a giant snake that changes depending on the tide.

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We spent a couple of hours looking at the sculpture and enjoying the view, having lunch at a nearby cafe before getting back in the car for the last couple of hours to Nantes. The hotel we stayed in was probably one of the ‘fanciest’ of our trip, the view in the pictures below was from our room. After a long day driving, we headed out and found an awesome cafe where we enjoyed a bottle of Medoc wine before finding somewhere for dinner.IMG_1507 IMG_1508

2014 European Adventure France