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

Thursday, 11th September – Bordeaux

A quick five minute walk to the bus stop took us past just an everyday local house which is so typical of this area of France – understated beauty.

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The bus took us to the centre of the city in around 15 minutes. From the transport hub, we set off to explore the city, our first stop being the Notre Dame Church. The church actually seemed quite small after all of the gothic monstrosities we had seen, but was no less beautiful. We also walked along the Rue Sainte-Catherine a long smoothly paved pedestrian street for opulent shopping.

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We came across a large city plaza with an information centre where we researched wine tastings, it was here we were surprised by a group of young people staging a flash mob in front of us – half a dozen or so people frozen in a straight line, all with different poses. They stayed that way for about 10 minutes and then walked off as if nothing had happened!

After organising where to go for our wine tasting, we explored further Bordeaux further, finding one of the largest open plazas in Europe, the Place des Quinconces. In fact, it was so large that a circus had randomly set up in one corner and we walked past camels, lions and elephants.

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After enjoying a coffee and baguette near the transport hub, we caught a bus back to our apartment. We then drove north enjoying the scenery of the Medoc region for about an hour to our destination the Chateau Dauzac. We had arranged a tour of the estate which included a wine tasting session. The vineyards of Chateau Dauzac cover 40 hectares and there have been grape vines growing there since the 12th century. It was an excellent tour, our guide was a lovely local who had a great sense of humour. We were joined by another couple, an Aussie from Cronulla and his girlfriend from Brazil. It was nice to speak to another Aussie after so long and hear about their adventure touring France in a combi for over a month.

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On the way back to the apartment we happened across the second place named after a family member, first it was Chateau Beck, this time – Chateau Dillon!

2014 European Adventure France

Wednesday, 10th September – Bayonne to Bordeaux

After a relaxing evening catching up on some sleep we got up and out of the hotel early to explore Bayonne and Biarritz before making our way to Bordeaux.

Finding the perfect parking spot outside the old town of Bayonne, we were immediately drawn to the old apartment buildings. A quick glance would have you think they are old and run down but there was just something about them that was charming.
IMG_1137The town was quaint with small narrow buildings and cobbled streets. Our first mission was finding somewhere to grab a coffee and something to eat. It was a mission as it was really early and nothing was open yet. Finally, we found a bakery and had a ham and cheese pastry that was incredible.

(Note: Upon returning home to Australia and watching an episode of  Luke Nguyen’s France we discovered that Bayonne is famous for its basque ham! No wonder it was so good).

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One of the main attractions in Bayonne is the Bayonne Cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Marie de Bayonne). Its twin gothic spires can be seen from most parts of the city, and the inside is amazing. The stain glass windows spill colour on to giant buttresses that hold the church up. Even the church grounds are surrounded by gothic archways, with the light painting pretty designs on the walls.

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After looking around Bayonne, we headed for costal Biarritz. It was a spectacular day with cloudless blue sky framing the wonderful beaches. We were excited about two elements – the first being sandy beaches, the second a decent skate park. Suddenly it actually seemed worthwhile bringing the skateboard half way around the world!

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We washed down a coffee with regrets of having to leave so soon, noting that this part of France is definitely on the return to list.

Our next destination is Bordeaux a short 2 1/2 hour drive away. It was a beautiful drive, through small French villages and as usual a short drive became longer as we stopped frequently to enjoy the sites. Eventually we were excited to drive past a sign that indicated we were in the Bordeaux region, below is our first glimpse of the famous grapes from this area.

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We have two nights to explore the region, and had organised to stay in an Airbnb property. Once we had settled in to our apartment we caught up on some washing, it had been nearly a week since leaving Rome and this was the first stay of more than one night. It was also the first opportunity we had to enjoy a home cooked meal and enjoy a couple of glasses of wine. Reviewing our shortlisted sightseeing list and familiarising ourselves with the public transport options, we had called it a night.

2014 European Adventure France

Tuesday, 9th September – Arles to Bayonne

We had a very long drive ahead of us today, approximately six hours from Arles to Bayonne with a stopover at the much anticipated castle city Carcassonne. After a quick breakfast we were on the road before sunrise and the view was spectacular. Bec was very excited to find Chateau De Beck along the way. Once the sun came up it was clear we were in for another beautiful day.

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We arrived at Carcassonne mid morning and found a free spot to park all day. The only hitch was that we had an impressive up hill walk – it was both lovely in parts with cobbled walk ways but hard work in the heat.

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The views of the castle on the way up made the hard work worth it, the blue sky, green grass and castle vista was amazing.

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After entering the walled city we immediately came across the Basilica of St. Nazaire and St. Celse, an incredible church with fantastic stained glass windows and very gothic in style.

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Inside the streets of Carcassonne there are a number of market style shops and places to eat, it’s very pretty and has been restored and maintained well.

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We didn’t pay to enter the main keep, however it is essentially a castle within a castle which was never penetrated by enemies at any time. It’s a huge structure, designed for the entire village to take refuge in times of war, and in times of peace it was the main residence of the King/Viscount/Ruler at the time.

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We spent the majority of the day enjoying the city, on the way down the hill heading back to the car the view of the castle was exceptional.

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Our last stop of the day was the coastal town of Bayonne, we left Carcassonne driving along the Spanish/French border. At a rest stop we came across this sculpture celebrating the Tour de France.

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We’d had a huge day arriving late we had dinner and decided on an early night. We’ll enjoy exploring Bayonne and Biarritz tomorrow.

2014 European Adventure France