Delacroix and the Louvre

Today we get a little artsy.  We have tickets to see the Eugene Delacroix exhibition at the Louvre, plus admission to the Eugene Delacroix museum.

We had a good breakfast and then headed over to the Delacroix museum.  It is literally two blocks away from our hotel, so we’re there in no time at all.  The museum is basically the studio he worked in, several small artworks and a lovely garden.  Most of the paintings were moved to the Louvre special exhibit, so our visit was relatively short.

Afterwards we took a nice walk over to the Louvre.  It was fun cutting up some of the small streets and seeing the little shops, galleries, cafes and people.  It provides a glimpse of the real Paris that you don’t see when you stick to the bigger streets.

We arrived at the Louvre and the ticket line was already pretty long.  Luckily, since we already had our tickets, we got to go to the short line and walk right in.  Sue made me promise not to make faces at the people who were looking at us as we strolled right to the front – but mentally – I did!

Under the pyramid, the sun was shining down and there were people everywhere.  The Delacroix exhibit was in a special area and tickets were issued by time, so it wasn’t as packed as the rest of the museum.  When our time came up, we headed in.

F6F70A99-F69B-4674-B123-553A45899BAD

We were familiar with some of his work, but didn’t realize the extent of his talent and how much he contributed to the art world.  The following photos will hopefully provide a little glimpse of his art.

2985A9B8-2C77-4392-9DEF-DD2C0F6119BE93D5F05C-C528-4613-9B4C-6A54E2B10BB0CB4B0405-CE86-43BC-A4B9-7FA36008A28078187B8D-7038-4AD8-95D8-BF3A52EC774ED3380EB2-8B27-4B50-8BFA-8D53AE602B15583EB1EE-F398-4C37-8412-DF5A021DA2F5

We were really glad that we bought the tickets for the exhibit.  It was enjoyable and educational.

Our tickets also allowed for admittance to the Louvre so we thought we would revisit a couple areas that we’ve not seen since we first went to them some twenty years ago.  We decided to first go to the Denon Wing to see the Italian works.  Unfortunately it was packed with people, many of whom don’t exactly practice good manners.

The first of the “famous” works we came across was the “Winged Victory”.  It stands at the top of a staircase, which means people bunch up on the stairs to snap pictures.  We were somewhat lucky in that we were at the tail end of a tour group, so once they moved on we had a open view.

Next we followed the crowd down a corridor.  We stopped about halfway down to see a few works by Leonardo Da Vinci before heading over to see the Mona Lisa.  They have her on a wall by herself, under plexiglass.  The area is cordoned off so as to create a corral for people and yet some try to push their way forward rather than waiting patiently for their turn.  Seriously, I’m not kidding.

78F68706-669D-4E0F-BF21-EED18865290BF7C03EB1-E49B-405E-AD1D-6AC64AC00630

After maneuvering through the throng of people, we made an executive decision that we had had enough.  A gallery of that size with so many masterpieces should be a pleasant experience; today was not a pleasant experience.  So glad we saw the Delacroix works without the crush of people – wish there was a better way to see the rest.

We walked back to the hotel, but made a stop to buy two palmiers and water for a little picnic back in the room.  I have to say, French pastries are just so good and a good way to tide one over before dinner.

We rested for a little bit before getting ready for dinner.  Tonight’s dinner is at a small restaurant called “La Bourse et La Vie”  It’s located close to the Bourse or stock market and just up the street from the Grand Colbert (featured in the movie – “Somethings Gotta Give”).

Anyway, dinner was excellent.  We enjoyed our Kir Royals and then started out with asparagus with a sabayon sauce.  For our meals, Sue had chicken prepared two ways: white meat chicken with white asparagus and the dark meat sautéed with mushrooms.  I had the night’s special, which was a grilled lobster with roasted white peaches.  We had a nice bottle of Auxey-Duress white burgundy that paired up perfectly.

Very happy we chose the restaurant.  Food was excellent, service was wonderful and prices were reasonable.  Definitely a winner, especially for such a small place.

Grabbed a taxi home and rested our legs.  Lots of walking today.

 

Posted in France | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Off we go to Paris

We really enjoyed Pontorson, but today we’ll be moving on to Paris.  Our train leaves at 9:14 am, so we needed to get up early to clean up, check out and walk over to the train station.

While checking out, we met a really nice couple from New Zealand.  They had only come in the day before to visit Mont Saint-Michel.  They were traveling on the same train as us, so we had a nice time chatting with them.  Sue and I chuckled as they had bicycled around Brittany, while I struggled to walk to the train station without huffing and puffing.  Oh well, you can’t win them all.

The train was right on time and we were whisked off to Rennes Station.  It’s a pleasant trip and only takes about 50 minutes.  Once we arrived, we had about an hour before our next train.  We found a comfortable place to sit and listened to a young lady play the same song over and over on a piano.  We enjoyed her playing – really!

Our next train would take us from Rennes to Paris.  It also arrived right on time and since it was a TGV, we cruised along and only took an hour and a half to get to Paris.  We arrived at Gare Montparnesse, which all things considered, was not too busy.  We were able to grab a cab and get to the hotel in about 20 minutes.  All said and done, our travels took about four and a half hours.

We are staying at the Au Manoir Saint-Germaine des Pres.  It is located in the 6th arrondisement of Paris, which is the arts and fashion area.  For those of you who know Sue and I well, we won’t be hanging out with the fashionistas.  In fact, I’m surprised they let us stay in this arrondisement.

Anyway, our hotel is located directly across the street from Cafe Flores and kitty-corner from Les Deux Magots – so maybe the intellectuals will also get a chance to chuckle at us!

We were greeted warmly when we arrived and within 10 minutes were checked in and up in our room.  We have a room on the first floor that overlooks Boulevard St Germain.  Pretty nice room too.  Nice big, comfortable bed, a couple chairs for relaxing, a desk and a decent bathroom area.  The real plus is that we have two large floor-to-ceiling windows that we can open for fresh air and to hear the sounds of the city.

Since it was already after 2:00 pm, we stayed in the room and rested before getting cleaned up for dinner.  Tonight’s reservations are at 6:30 pm, our earliest dinner of the trip, but one of my most anticipated.  I managed to get a reservation at “Restaurant Frenchie” after trying for the last three trips.

We had a cab for 6:00 pm and he was right on time.  Hotel manager said it’s about a ten minute ride.  Of course he wasn’t counting on there being heavy traffic.  Without the drama, we pulled up to the restaurant at 6:28.  We were a little worried about getting there on-time, and I think our driver was a little worried for a while too, but he came through for us.  When we exited the taxi, there were other patrons awaiting the opening of the doors.  Our timing was perfect as we were able to check-in and be first to select our table.

Frenchie’s has no menu.  Each evening there is just one five course meal that they serve.  We chose to go with the wine pairing menu, which the sommelier and chef put together.  How was it?  Awesome!  In all honesty, it is up there with some of the best meals we have ever had (outside of Mom’s beans, wieners and bacon).

Each course was described in loving detail and the paired wine explained as well.  The staff couldn’t have been nicer.  They kept things moving without feeling rushed.  There were two amuse-Bouche, four excellent dishes and then two desserts.  So much for a five course meal, the nice part is that while plentiful, each course was not a mountain of food.

ED10CCD9-4B98-4B73-8238-F3271DE7CD3302A81DD7-D806-4A86-87A8-F6E6EFF67A7B

Afterwards, we took a little stroll and then grabbed a taxi back to the hotel.  Since it was still early, we went across the street to Cafe De Flore for a Rosé nightcap before heading up to the room.

60CC8A3A-CB31-4870-A95B-F5BE46E881D1

It was a nice day and a great way to start out in Paris.

 

 

 

Posted in France, Europe | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Enjoying the day in Pontorson

Since today was a strike day for the railroads in France, we took advantage of an extra quiet day to check out the town.  Pontorson is a lovely little town that typically is used by tourists who want to visit Mont Saint-Michel.  They use the train station and shuttle bus, but never really see much of the town.

Unfortunately, being Monday, many places were closed.  With the Medieval Festival or “Pontorsonnades” being wrapped up, there was a lot of cleaning up going on.  Temporary structures being taken down, streets being washed and a total lack of people.  If you’re a Sci-Fi fan, it was like we stepped into the town with no people.  We kept expecting to see Rod Serling on a street corner.

The town of Pontorson lies on the Couesnon River and is home to about 4,300 people.  It was founded in the 12th century by William the Conqueror.  Our hotel, ‘The Hotel Montgomery’ was the residence of the aristocratic Counts of Montgomery and dates back to the 1500’s.  The main church – Norte Dame de la Paix was built between 1050 and 1120.   And that’s today’s history lesson…  Otherwise, the town is small but cute.  The people were all very friendly and seemed to enjoy being asked questions about their town.

Hopefully the pictures give you an idea of what the town was like.  A misty rain started as we were walking around, so we ducked into a Creperie for a bite of lunch.  So there are two types of crepes that they have.  The first is a buckwheat crepe known as a galette.  It is typically served as a savory item with meat, cheese, eggs and vegetables.  Mine had ham, cheese, onions and an over-easy egg on top.  Sue’s had ham, leeks and gruyere cheese.  Then comes the second type, which is the sweet version.  I had one with apple and salt caramel.  Sue’s had chocolate and banana.  Both were really good.  And, of course, we did manage to find a bottle of Rose wine to wash it all down.

058BA5F2-6088-4D33-87D8-E4AFC3499EC1

Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon – Sue reading and me writing.

Since most of the restaurants were closed, we tried a hotel restaurant called Relais Montois for dinner.  They feature a Mediterranean cuisine, which for us meant Couscous  served with vegetables, broth and grilled meats.  The meats included lamb, chicken, sausage and beef.  Really good and really reasonably priced.  It was a pleasant surprise and different.

25D9A034-8CD4-419E-8485-6C7DBB686304

We took a stroll back to the hotel to relax and got to bed early.  Tomorrow we leave for Paris.

 

 

 

Posted in France | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Beauty of Mont Saint-Michel

Woke up feeling refreshed and excited, as today we are heading to Mont Saint-Michel.  I have seen pictures and read about the Mont for years and today the pictures turn to reality.

Getting there from Pontorson is easy.  They have a shuttle bus that runs back and forth between the Mont and the train station.  It runs regularly during the day and evening and coordinates with the train schedule.  I guess that makes it easy for the day trippers too!  No gouging on price either – it’s €2.80 each way per person.  The ride takes about 20 minutes and the bus drops you off just about 150 meters from the entrance and picks you up in the same place – very convenient.

Laugh if you will, but the first glimpse of the Mont is magical.  It hardly seems like a real place.

F7CDFD22-B3E4-42EC-8B16-4A98D62A3ACD

Mont Saint-Michel rising from the sea

When we arrived, the skies were grey and the tide was already retreating from around the Mont.  It is amazing to me that when the tides are low, the water completely leaves the bay.  It goes from being an island to a rocky mass jutting from the muck.

Approaching from the causeway, it’s really special as it grows before your eyes.  Once off the bus, everyone automatically reaches for their cameras and crowds the railing to get their iconic first shot.  Sort of like this:

04195435-5E0C-4C64-8C26-6BFE5BEFD78D

If you notice on the above picture, the tide is already pulling out leaving just shallow puddles around the ramparts.  Later in the day, people will actually be walking out on the drying sea floor.

It’s just a short walk to get to the gates and to begin your exploration.  The views change as you approach and get different angles of the structures.

Once inside, it gets a little bit crowded.  The narrow, inclined walkways and abundance of stairs can test one’s patience if you aren’t prepared to deal with the people using them.  For instance, you might question why someone would be blocking the way with a stroller, and then be even more confused when there is no baby in the stroller, just a dog.

Anyway, the first part of the walk is hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and the ramparts, which you can merrily enjoy for free.  The second part is the Abbaye, chapels and cloister; there is a fee of €10 each and you can also get an audio guide for a small additional fee.

Lots of people were catching their breath after the climb to the Abbaye.  I don’t know how many steps there were, so I’ll just guess – Lots!

Our first stop was in the chapel where there was a Mass taking place.  We stayed and participated until the end of the Mass, which was a lovely experience.

Afterwards, we ventured into some of the other chapels, crypts and halls until we came to the Cloister.  Such a beautiful and tranquil area.  Keep in mind that the church and abbey have been around in part from the 700’s.  While the use of the structures has changed throughout the centuries, it’s interesting to see the efforts that have kept it intact.

As our tour came to an end and we started down from the Abbey, the wind picked up a little bit and it started to rain.  Luckily we both had jackets, so we stayed dry, but we also had a bit of a wait until the bus returned.

We opted to grab a quick sandwich and drink and to sit under cover for a little while.  Needless to say, it doesn’t take long to eat a sandwich.  In that time, the clouds blew by and the sun came out and the skies turned blue.  When that happened, the views became incredible.

Soon after we took our pictures, the wind picked back up and more clouds rolled in.  The bus arrived and we were headed back to Pontorson.

We arrived back at town and the Medieval Festival was still going strong.  There were more people strolling along, but the cooler weather was not helping at all.  Still, people were enjoying themselves and that’s the important thing.

To my bowling buddies:  on the chance that my bowling career is over, I may have found something a little easier on the back – Medieval Bowling!

Back to the hotel to clean up before dinner.  We enjoyed it so much, that we are returning to Le Relais Gascon and the wonderful Isabelle.  She was too nice not to visit again.

We had 8:00 pm reservations and good thing, as there was a full house tonight.  It would have been more difficult to just do a walk up.  The two-day festival was tiring, so Isabelle’s jester outfit was gone, but the blue hair remained.  Mind you, we believe she was grandma to the younger folks working there and probably mama to the folks doing the cooking.  We ordered a bottle of red wine from Saumur, which went perfect with our duck confit.  I also had a salad with grilled anchovies that was delicious.  Throw on a bit of dessert, especially my profiteroles and you get two happily sated people.

A slow walk back to the hotel and another day was complete.  Just a little relaxation before heading off to sleep.

Posted in France | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Moving on to Pontorson

Nantes was a great start to this trip.  We really enjoyed ourselves and only have good things to say and good memories.

We woke up early, cleaned up, went down for breakfast and then prepared to check-out.  We have a taxi scheduled for 11:00 am to take us to the train station.  Today’s travels are crazy due to scheduling.

We start by taking a train east to LeMans.  It’s only a hour trip, but we then have an hour wait for our next train.  That next train is also just an hour long and takes us back west to Rennes.  From there we catch a commuter train to take us to our final destination – Pontorson.

We had a couple little irritants along the way, but nothing significant.  We arrived in Pontorson right on time.

We are staying at the BW – Hotel Montgomery.  It dates back to the 1500’s and is a recognized landmark in the town.  Relatively speaking, our room is huge.  We have a king size bed, with a desk area and a sofa that also folds out into a bed.  The bathroom has double sinks, a large jacuzzi tub and a separate shower.  The room is in front of the hotel, so we get to oversee all the “action” in town.

While some may laugh, there actually was action this weekend.  The town is celebrating with a medieval festival.  Our hotel, being the oldest historical building is at the forefront of the activities.  It really is fun to see people dressed in period costumes doing things that would have been done in the past.  Music, dancing, jugglers, artisans demonstrating their crafts from wood-working to dress-making to bread-making and a beer chateau.  Lots of fun and it goes on through Sunday.

We walked around a little and took in the festivities.  They even had some games set up for people to play besides everybody’s favorite – “Watch where you’re stepping!” after the horses went by.  Some people were not good at the game! ::snicker::

We found a little restaurant that I had heard about called “Le Relais Gascon” and went in for dinner.  The owner was dressed in her jester costume for the festival and we had fun communicating with her.  Bottom line though, we had a wonderful meal and it was more than reasonably priced.  We shared a pizza as an entree and then we both had duck confit for our meal.  Oh, and there was a bottle of Rose wine that helped quench our thirsts.   I promised a TripAdvisor review to Isabella, she of the jingle hat.

A three minute walk back to the hotel left us plenty of time for a nightcap in the bar before heading up to the room to relax.  Tomorrow we’ll visit Mont Saint-Michel.

Posted in France | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Nantes – So Much To See

Our last day in Nantes and there are many places we want to visit, even if for just a brief visit.  We’re going to start with a good breakfast at the hotel before we leave.  They really have a decent breakfast buffet with lots of choices.  One of my favorites is pain au chocolate, and their’s was great.  Nice and flaky pastry with just the right amount of chocolate – Yum!

So off we go.  Our first stop along the way was at the Passage Pommeraye.  A passage in France is like a covered walkway between two streets with lots of shops and cafes.  The one here in Nantes is absolutely gorgeous.

We continued on our way to the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne.  It was the home of the beloved Anne of Bretagne,  daughter of Francois II, Duke of Bretagne.  Her family connections led her to be married to two French kings – Charles VIII and Louis XII.  She was well regarded as a conscientious ruler who protected her people from being over run by the French monarchy.

The chateau was beautiful.  It is set up so you can walk the ramparts and courtyard for free.

Inside, it is a museum with artifacts dating from the 16th century through World War II.  It was an interesting museum to walk through.

While in the courtyard, I took a picture of a couple who ended up being from Canandaigua, NY, who live in Paris for three months each year in an apartment they inherited.  Sweet!

Our next stop was the Cathedrale of Saints Peter and Paul.  It’s very understated, built in a Romanesque style.  As is our custom, we stopped by to light candles in memory of our parents and loved-ones.  This time we didn’t even burn ourselves lighting them!

We continued on afterwards to the Jardin des Plantes.  It’s a beautiful park with lots of flowers, trees, ponds, manicured lawns and benches.  Perfect place to stop and relax and just smell the freshness of the air, scented with flowers of all types.  There’s also a children’s playground at one end, so quiet meditation might not be found here by everyone.  Just saying!

Rounding out our whirlwind day was a stop at the Musée D’Arts De Nantes.  It’s said to have one of the finest collections of artworks outside of Paris.  We were really impressed with some of the paintings and sculptures located there.  But I’m still not a Picasso fan.  Say and pay what you will for his art, but give me Botticelli, Monet and Chagall anytime.  Anyways…

By the time we finished at the museum, we were both tired and ready for a rest.  We made our way back to the hotel, made arrangements for tomorrow’s taxi and then relaxed before dinner.

Tonight’s dinner will be at L’Instinct Gourmand.  It’s a small place that has been heralded for their creativity.  Nothing weird, just using the freshest ingredients and melding flavors.  Definitely looking forward to eating there.

We both felt much better after resting.  Time to clean up for dinner and then off we go.  Nantes is definitely a city where you can walk fifteen minutes and find lots of great restaurants, bars and things to do.  Ten minutes later we arrived at the restaurant.  We were looking at the menu posted outside, when one of the guys offered us a card in case we were interested in making a reservation.  We just smiled and said we have one for 8:00 pm, so he said come on in, no need to wait until then.

Again, they were mainly speaking French, but guiding us through with some English.  Our waiter was really friendly and helped us with the menu and wine choice.  Since I’ve gushed about every meal we’ve had so far, I won’t stop now.  Wow!  We both had the same thing, which is highly unusual, and we both were blown away.

When we were seated, there was a glass of spiced popcorn waiting on the table.  Regular popcorn, but with cayenne and chili powder to make your mouth water.  We, of course, started with a Kir Royal and then moved on to a Rhône blend wine.  Our starters were smoked duck with a cucumber sorbet and baked bread crisp that was delicious.  For our main course, we had roasted porcelet (piglet) with roasted artichokes.  Absolutely delicious.

 

For dessert, we strayed.  Sue had a roasted rhubarb dish, while I had a praline ice cream tart.  Wanna guess how they tasted?

Really reasonable prices for a wonderful meal.

We finished the evening off with a nice stroll back to the hotel and a nightcap with our  bartender friend Alexandra.  Wonderful conversation and an excellent Loire Valley Rose’ made in Chinon.

Since we have a train to catch tomorrow, it was time for us to get some shut eye.

We were very impressed by Nantes.  It has a little bit of everything for people to enjoy and has some very friendly people trying to build it up again.  We were so glad we decided to add it to our itinerary.

 

 

Posted in France, Loire-Atlantique | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Nantes – Our first day.

A good night’s sleep and a nice shower and we were ready for our first full day of exploring. Today’s plan was to explore the Isle of the Machines.

So to really understand this area, you have to think science and imagination: Jules Verne meets Dr Seuss. I can’t believe I’m gonna say this, but you also need to throw in some children to really make it fun. Their reactions made it even more fun from an adult standpoint.

The walk over took about twenty minutes. The city was fairly busy – lots of people heading to work or school.  The Loire River was brown and muddy from the rains to the east of us.  Luckily, they passed us by and we have nice weather.

The island was once the center of shipbuilding in Nantes. When the industry died out, many jobs were lost and the area declined. About twenty years ago, some people got together and decided to re-purpose the buildings and make the area vibrant. The island now has a few attractions and some nice restaurants and parklands.

Our visitation target was Les Machines de L’ile. It is an ecological experience without the boring stuff. They have created mechanical bugs and birds that are hands-on experiences for children or maybe small adults. (I didn’t qualify!)

In addition to the little critters, they also created a forty foot tall, forty five ton elephant that is the main attraction of the machine creatures. Whether you go for a ride (we did) or just watch as it goes by, you see nothing but smiles. Since it also trumpets as it walks and sprays water, you can guess how much the kids like it. I hope the pictures give you some sense of the sheer size of the mighty pachyderm.

The other main attraction is a three level carrousel inspired by Jules Verne and deep sea creatures. This is not your typical horses and tigers, this is octopuses, crabs, fish, sea horses and even a bathysphere. Each of the rides has levers and handles to push and turn to make the creatures move and “come alive”.

Very interesting, very cost friendly and very educational.

Afterwards, we walked back to the hotel and relaxed for a little while before dinner. We actually both fell asleep for a couple hours. I guess we’re not used to the fresh air and walking around or maybe there was still a little bit of jet lag.

Newly refreshed, we cleaned up for dinner.  Tonight we are going to a place called “La Souris D’Agneau” or “The Lamb Shank” for us English speakers.  Since we both like lamb, this sounded like a winner to us.  Others complained that they didn’t have enough selection on the menu, I say: “Don’t complain, just don’t go.” D’uh!

Anyway, we had a great time.  We had reservations at 8:00 pm and were the first ones there.  That provided us with the owner’s undivided attention and a little more TLC.  He only spoke a little English and we’ve already heard about my French, so it was interesting to go back and forth and both know what each other wanted or praised.

The meal was outstanding.  We started with our Kir Royal as usual and a house made duck pâté that was stuffed into a fig.  It was absolutely the best pâté we have ever had, hands down!  Our main course was the lamb shanks.  The lamb is slow cooked for many hours and literally was so tender you didn’t need a knife.  It was plated with roasted potatoes, that when you ‘tres bon’ them, you get a second plate of them with a big smile from the owner.  We also enjoyed a bottle of red Chinon wine that paired perfectly with our meals.  All in all it was a wonderful meal, that left us full, though I did have chocolate mousse for dessert – I couldn’t help myself; I love chocolate mousse.

So after our meal, we took a pleasant stroll back to the hotel.  Well, to be honest, I tapped ‘drive’ in the directions when we were checking them, so we walked twice as far as necessary to get back to the hotel.  But it was still a lovely night.

Stopped for a nightcap at the hotel bar and met the bartender, Alexandra.  As it was not busy, we were able to sit and chat for a while about everything under the sun.  Such a nice person, with a great background of travel and adventure.   And a new convert to the “The Botanist” Gin.

After a delightful chat, it was bedtime.  Much more to see tomorrow.

Posted in France, Loire-Atlantique | Tagged , | 2 Comments