The Grand Tour, Part 3: Mont St Michel and the Loire Valley

Remember how I mentioned fleeing to the country? Granted it was planned ahead of time, since we signed up for a few day trips to see some key places outside of Paris, but this first stop was it:

Mont St Michel was fascinating. An island only intermittently connected to the maintain. World Heritage site. Monastery. Little village souvenir shops. An art exhibit juxtaposing medieval architecture and modern art. Er… is that right?

Definitely modern art, at least. Click to embiggen the birds. We had lunch on the way up with the bus. Sat with a family from…somewhere else. Drank some scumble. No that’s the Pratchett name. Norman apple liquor. Calvados. We bought a tiny bottle to share with Jeff’s mom.

Exiting through the gift shop (and walking back to the bus) entailed walking past some painted cow statues reminiscent of a campaign I saw in Chicago growing up. I’ve always like world maps, so of course I’m featuring this one.

And now for documentary evidence of the aforementioned fireworks. I think that’s really all there is else to say.

Our next day trip was an outing to three Loire Valley castles. Amboise first, where da Vinci stayed before his death. The park there includes several of his machines. Fascinating! And an adorable turtle sculpture in a fountain as we returned to the bus.

Of course, we were able to get sorbet, too, which was lovely. Especially when served two flavored in the shape of a flower!

Stop two, Chenonceau. The estate includes two beautiful gardens. The arches over the river were right on the line between Vichy France and occupied territory. It allowed for movement by both refugees and the French resistance!

Finally, Chambord. Architecturally ridiculous, but home of the famous eponymous raspberry liqueur, which is delicious. The modern art displayed inside was interesting, too. All in all a good day.

The Grand Tour, Part 2: A Whirlwind in Paris

Oh hello, has it been almost three years? And now I have three trips to type up? Good grief. Jeff has been begging for me to finish recounting these stories, or at least this one in particular, and since I got started storytelling something else but this feels easier to pick up than moving to the second installment of the next, let’s give it a shot.

In Paris, of course, one must see the major landmarks. We perhaps started our first half day off with a wander? At some point we started our four day Paris Pass – with only a three day window in which to use it. I was determined to get the maximum possible value out of it. Thus began the death march of art.

Our first act upon redeeming the Paris Pass (which I recall being annoyingly difficult) was to take the bus around the major landmarks. Here, of course, the Arc de Triomph, where some few days later our erstwhile President followed us (oh the joys of a military parade) and we fled the City for a peaceful day in the countryside. Admittedly we returned to the riverside for the Bastille Day fireworks.

One of our favorite finds proved to be the Petit Palais, which houses a lovely art collection, a cafe and a central courtyard. The back portion was challenging to navigate, though, with enticing staircases that may have drawn me out of bounds. Across the way, we visited a science museum and the aquarium. I enjoyed finding hands on exhibits to share with my sister.

We finished the evening with a cruise on the Seine, taking sunset photos of Notre Dame and coming back to find the Tour Eiffel lit up (and blinking?). We saw some of the ubiquitous merchandise vendors flying light up toys to entice buyers as well, but demurred and returned – via metro, of course – to our lovely hotel handily close to grocery stores, cafes, patisseries, and a laundromat.

The next day was truly a slog, and the death march of art resumed in earnest. We began at L’Orangerie, where we saw the enormous and rightly famous Monet waterlilies, as well as a mesmerizing temporary exhibit.

Across the river, security theatre was in full force at the Musee D’Orsay. I was entranced by the scale models of the Opera sets. We accidentally went through the Impressionist exhibit backwards – we wondered why the paintings got worse!

We took a well-deserved break and attempted to learn about wine. We didn’t finish any of the offerings, but the final dark vintage with a mushroom aftertaste was definitely the loser of the bunch. Then we dashed back for one more museum as fast as we could… and I biffed it on the sidewalk. Just full on sprawled, lengthwise on the sidewalk. Someone kindly asked (in French) if I was alright. I was!

Our final museum for the night was, you guessed it, the Louvre. Despite it being their late night, the glass pyramid entrance was nearly deserted. I loved seeing the excavations of the oldest layer of the castle.

We bustled through as many sections as we could. Luckily, it was less our era than the other two museums we’d visited. Still, this painting of the life of Jesus caught our eyes – it was weird enough we practically expected to be a Bosch!

But we weren’t truly done yet! We headed south to the Tour Montparnasse and enjoyed a wide view of the lit up city at night, the boulevards creating rivers of light.

We resumed our trek rejuvenated the next morning at the Rodin museum. The man truly understood the human form. There was a study of hips and legs in a dance pose there that was amazingly athletic. I wished I could take it home.

We joined a tour of the Paris Opera House – where the Phantom of the Opera is set. I didn’t particularly care for the new ceiling fresco (just not my style) but we got some shots for my mother. The costumes archived in niches of the lobby were more to my taste. It’s funny but now I don’t remember what language we chose for the tour. Probably English, though.

We hit a couple more places with the Paris Pass – the Wax Museum (where I sparred with Jackie Chan) and the Chocolate Museum. You actually get to sample different types of chocolate as you go. These are chocolate statues!