The Journey begins….Switzerland to France: Day 1

The Journey begins….
Newark, NJ

Newark, NJ


Mercredi (Wednesday june 3, 2009)

On the evening of June 3, 2009, my travel partner in crime, Dolores, and I board flight #80 on Continental Airlines for our eighth girls getaway trip together (husbands banned). We have since come to realize that adventure vacations are far more exciting than watching reruns of “Lost”. And we are hoping, by the way, that we do not crash and end up on an island with the “Others”.

By 7:30 AM we will arrive in Geneva, Switzerland. From there we will make believe we are rich, rent a car, and drive along the coast of the South of France sampling cabernet along the way, then board a first class train to Paris. Our plan is to eat large chocolate crepes with whipped cream on the last night there. Not bad for two Jersey girls who frequent  Irish pubs.

 

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Onward to Geneva! Day 2

Onward to Geneva!
Geneva, Switzerland- Day 2

Geneva, Switzerland

Jeudi -7: 30 AM ( Thursday, June 4)

Great flight, safe landing. First order of business at the airport is to get our train tickets to Avignon- $180 francs for two. We book the 8:17 AM for the next day. We also get free Geneva transport cards for buses or trains for our travel in Geneva. Which we use for our ride to our first night of lodging at the Hotel Bel Esperance, a B & B owned by the Salvation Army. Which, by the way is not what you may think. This Hotel is not for young hippies! ..It’s really nice, clean and absolutley perfect! The staff is awesome and a real bargain!

https://www.hotel-bel-esperance.ch/hotel-sympa-geneve/

Since check in is not until 2 PM, we drop off our luggage and then stroll the beautiful Lak Leman on the left bank of Geneva. We take photos of glacial rocks, the Genoa ship and Venetian sailboat.

We sit under colorful umbrellas while men play music in the streets. A Panni sandwich at a carnival in the Old City hits the spot. Later we we sit and stare at a Richard Gere look -a -like sipping red wine wishing he would invite us for dinner.

Geneva is very clean but very expensive. The businessmen and women are dress to kill! We arrive at our hotel to check in at about 4PM. A quick shower and we are off again to explore the nightlife. Stopping at the Red Fish, we sample excellant tapenade and more French wine.
Dinner at the “Chez Ma Cousine” -for a 1/2 chicken- Tres Bien!

http://www.chezmacousine.ch/site/fr/


Finally- sleep at midnight. I dream of Richard Gere and wake up really happy.

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Crossing the border to France -The Saleve- Day 3

Crossing the border to France -The Saleve
Geneva, Switzerland

Geneva, Switzerland


Vendredi- Friday 10AM. June 4 2009

After a delicious free breakfast in our hotel, we are off to find the train station Cornavan to be sure we know where it is for the following day . We take the #16 tram and then the # 8 bus to the mountain top for the tram – 10 francs and worth every cent!- to Saleve. 1118 meters up! Very cool!

https://www.telepherique-du-saleve.com

Breathtaking views from the top. Of course, our trip would not be complete without food and wine. We have our small bottles of wine, cheese (swiss, of course), strawberries and a loaf of french bread. We go for a small hike while we are on top of the world. Life is good. We are happy. It’s hard to leave the top of the world, but we must.

A bus trip back into town brings us back to reality. We decide on a boat trip – Dolores loves boats!- around Lak Le Man.

The plan was to take it to Cologne, a small Bohemian town, but we had the times wrong so after the trip across the lake we WALKED there instead. Up hill two miles!  Not a good  idea!  (But we do meet a  4 legged friend along the way.)

 

The town was beautiful but nothing was open. We could not even get a beer! A cab back to the lake and a bus to our hotel was the only way now as our legs no longer served us well. It was time to settle our bill by 9pm so we could take off early AM.

However, the night was still young so we wind up at an awesome street fair. Dancing in the street is the norm. We indulge, of course. And then eat amazing seafood and goat cheese galletes (crepes) from a street vendor. A glass of red wine goes with out saying.

Given that it’s hard to go to sleep in such a beautiful city, we are forced to roam the streets again and now we end up at an Irish pub to indulge in a few Smithwicks, well…it happens.

Dolores finshed the night off with a McDonalds burger and I have ice cream. We remind ourselves we are on vacation and are allowed to be totally irresponsible. At 12:45 am we are finally tired and our Geneva beds are heavenly.

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On the Road in our rented Renault- Day 4

On the Road in our rented Renault….
Avignon, France

Avignon, France


Samedi- June 06, 2009

Amazingly, we wake before our alarm at 6:15. Already packed, we are out the door at 6:45 with a breakfast in our belly and packed sandwiches and fruit for lunch. The #16 Tram takes us to the train station on time. It’s a nice, comfortable, $80 trip to Avignon. We arrive in France and rent our Renault- nice and new but unfortunately with a dent, which cause us a slight but aggravating delay.

Although we get lost on the way to our Hotel Saint Louis (between Isle sur la Sorgue and Thor) we at least headed in the right direction. But, hey getting lost is a good thng! Infact, this time it was the best thing that could have happened.

http://www.hotel-saint-louis-provence.com

We stumble upon an amazing 12th century fortified convent- The Chartreuse de Bonpas – located on the border between the Comtar Venaissin and Provance in the Rhone Valley, which is also a splendid vineyard. We take a free tour,stroll the french style gardens and the old pond which was transformed into a pool in the 1960. Places here are very mysterious! Of course we buy many outstanding bottles of wine. Dolores and I were very thirsty after all that driving.

http://www.avignon-et-provence.com/en/monuments/chartreuse-de-bonpas

Next stop- Gordes!

There are hardly words to describe Gordes. It is a lovely traditional Provencal hilltop village with cobblestone streets and winding roads that lead to churches and castles. An understatement to say it’s extremely photogentic and magical. For me, although it is considered a tourist travel spot, it absolutely captured the essence of the south of France. It was just heaven to stroll the streets, have a glass of French wine at an outdoor cafe and take photos of the breathtaking views. We felt like we were on top of the world. Don’t miss Gordes!

Finally, after our day on another planet, we really do need to eat. There was absolutely nothing in Thor, but an amazing dinner was had right at our own hotel. Bon Appetite and Goodnight finally at 2AM!

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Sleeping in France- day 5

Finding a place to sleep!
Bonnieux, France

Bonnieux, France


Dimanche, June 07,2009

It’s really a bad thing when you sleep late on vacation, especially when you miss the most famous marketplace in the South of France!

Well, almost missed. The plan was to get up really early and spend the day browsing the world famous marketplace in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

Called the Venice of Provence, it’s history is known for water, water everywhere, but now antique market days are a huge part of it’s tourism on Sunday and Thursday. So, it is Dimanche and instead of rising at the crack of dawn as planned, we wake at 10:30am, ( no sleep night before!) A rush out the door barely dressed finds us finally there an hour later. Oh well, we did make it and it was as amazing as we were told.

I buy 10 bars of sweet smelling French soap, Herbs de Provence, tapenade and whatever else I can carry, not to mention all the cheese and bread and local produce I can stuff into my mouth. So, if you go, be sure to sleep the night before, get up early (the market opens at 9am) and park behind the post office in town- parking is a nightmare but don’t let that stop you- this market and its surrounding beauty is a must see!

(ps..read ” Peter Mayle’s- A Year in Provence)

https://www.amazon.com/Year-Provence-Peter-Mayle/dp/0679731148

Next stop- another must see, is the Lavender Museum at 84220 Coustellet, Provence.

http://www.museedelalavande.com/en/

Besides the obvious sweet smell of lavender, here Dolores and I learned everything you could possibly need to know about lavender. We learned how its distilled, how/where it grows, the different types. Did you know that Lavender is used for medicinal purposes but Lavandine is not! There is so much here and its so beautiful. Movies to watch too! Of course, we packed our bags filled with fine lavender gifts…ahhhhh….

 

Onward we go- We drive through a small village Fountaine de Vauclues, of course its beautiful but no time to stop- bummer- our destination is now the photogenic village of Roussillion. You need a serious camera here and I am so glad I have one! There is no modern development here, only an enormous deposit of ochre giving the earth and its buildings a distinctive red color.

Its light is heaven to see early morning or late in the day. Cafes abound on these brilliant orange paths and we of course stop for a glass of Cabernet every chance we get. Not only is it very artsy, but Roussillion was also Europe’s capital for ochre production until World War 2. Insanely beautiful. I still dream about it.

Well, now we know that night will fall soon and we have no place to sleep. But who cares? We are in the south of France! But seriously, it would not be a good idea to drive in the dark. I am already shaking as Dolores navigates ditches on the side of the road! I read the maps and try to pick out a town that looks like it may have hotels and places to eat. The decision is made. We will stay in Bonnieux.

Turns out to be one of the highlights of our trip. We stay in a funky hotel/restaurant where no one speaks English. Love it! Nothing fancy which suits us just fine.


Infact, as we pull up outside, a naked man sits on the balcony of the room below where will lay our heads on the pillow. Interesting, but he does not scare us off. For 40 euros a night (huge huge bargain!) we do lay our heads on the pillow of the “Josephine” room of the Hotel La Flambay. We have comfortable beds and a tiny bath but who cares!.

We have plenty of room for all our stuff- as we have already accumulated too much. First thing is to celebrate with a glass of wine and turn on the Ipod – all of our French songs await. There is much dancing too be done now!

Soon afterwards we head out to explore before the sun sets. Of course we have coffee, tiramisu, flambee on a nearby terrace overlooking a castle. These things never happen in New Jersey, so we are quite happy and content even if naked men roam about.

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Travel to Aix de Provence- Day 6

Travel to Aix de Provence
Bonnieux, France, Day 6

Bonnieux, France


Lundi June 08, 2009

Today in Bonnniex, we do manage to get up early but after a very late night. Only about 3 hours sleep. At 10:45 AM  we are  devouring  probably the best croissants on the planet at a small bakery in town. The town itself is quaint, quiet, lovely. We visit the church, buy bee pollen capsules for energy, stop at the local grocer ( always our favorite activity) picking up fruits, veggies, & yogurt for our cooler.

 

We have a long day ahead as our plan includes heading out to the famous Aix de Provence that we read so much about. The drive is fine until we reach the crossing of the mountains. Yikess- narrow, winding and a bit scary. However, we make it to the post office in Luberon to buy stamps for our postcards. Then we hit pay dirt and find a winery and gardens in Pertuis. Oh Tres Bien! We taste and buy everything. The gardens are beyond amazing. Did we die and go to heaven?

Onward to Aix. After many roundabouts, horrendous traffic, Dolores freaking out,( I think she failed parking on her driving test) we search frantically for the Cezanne Walking Trail that I have been dreaming of for weeks. There are squares of gold in the street with his name on but we cannot find his fathers hat shop, the schools where he studied, the church he was baptized in, nor the house where he died. We do see one fountain but that’s it!

None of the buildings have any historical markings, I am beyond disappointed. I traveled timezones for a glimpse of my favorite artists history. So, I try to stop crying and we move on to a beautiful street fair.  I learn later that the visitor center in town is the only place you can get a Cezanne map.  Make sure you do this!

The town is nice but we figure we must have missed something. Aix de Provence was not what we expected.

The drive back is not nearly as scary and once again a surprise stop takes us to the ABSINTHE STORE. It’s incredible! We see a movie about the history, sample 5 different liquors plus a rose champange. Excellant! An American woman runs this store with her husband. I get her email and vow to stay in touch.

Back at the hotel, we have an outstanding dinner of fish soup and salmon and too much wine. Dolores tricked me and ordered a liter (only 9 euros!) So, of course, I had to drink it. Can’t let French wine go to waste. That would be a sin wouldn’t it?

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Nice is oh so nice!- Day 7

Nice is oh so nice!
Nice, France Day 7

Nice, France


Mardi- June 9, 2010

Today we are on our way to Nice, so Au revoir Bonnieux! Before we leave, we stock up on postcards and have a cafe au lait at our bakery in the sun. As it is hard to leave, we take one last walk in the green hills and take magnificent photos. With a quick stop at the post office, more euros (180) at the ATM we are off for another adventure.

This time, however, we check the map and ask a store clerk for an easier way over the mountain, one that hopefully does not include ditches on the side of the road. Luckily we can head towards Camillion to avoid crossing the mountain range. Once again the gods are with us and we stumble upon another gem right in town- a winery! La Cave de Bonnieux to be exact.

Lavender fields and yellow flowers surround this magnificent winery. Not to mention more wine tasting and more French wine for our suitcases. The prices are great and we fill our own bottles from wine in barrels with hoses! This is way to cool to pass up of course.

Finally we hit the road- the Autoroute A7 that is towards Nice. A stop for lunch at about 2:30 pm finds us at the Auto route rest stop. It’s crazy- the food is unbelievable! This is certainly not our definition of fast food. We have an amazingly fresh chicken salad sandwich with real chicken and fresh baked bread. And to top it off they offer fine wines!

Who knew? This is certainly not Newark, NJ. After this lovely driving break from the Auto route, we finally reach Nice, France. The Mediterranean is so many shades of blue it takes my breath away.

Young people are playing volleyball on the beach, the weather is perfect. Convertibles abound along the main drag that we drive on. I am surprised though that it looks somewhat like Seaside Heights, NJ! Old bars and little hot dog type stands run along this road.

Of course all the large hotels are here too, but they nothing fancy nor art deco looking. However, one block in it’s a totally different story. Now, we feel like we are in Nice. Outdoor cafes cram the ctiy streets. Colorful umbrellas, music, the smell of fresh baked bread and steamed mussels fill the air. High heels pound the payment along with sneakers. Nice is nice, Nice is fun, lively, and exciting.

But now its time to park the car. Oh no!- but luckily we find a lot- the “Louve”- and walk from there to find a hotel around the block. The Hotel Nouvel looks good and the price is right too. For 110 Euros we have a clean room with two twin beds, a bathtub, and a terrace with an open window. Lovely!

So, Since there is no time to waste, we are off for a happy hour in town. We stop at a small outdoor cafe, Les 3 Diables (three devils), for a much needed cold Heineken and people watching.

We will need the extra energy to now go back to the car and drag the remaining luggage to the room. Remember we bought all the wine along the way! And of course Dolores is famous for buying new things for inside her suitcase.

But after two successful trips, our hungry bellies need a good dinner. There is no question that it will be mussels in garlic and butter and a good bottle of wine. Heaven! An after dinner drink at a small pub finds us listening to Beatle songs. Lights out finally at 2AM on our comfy beds.

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Ahhh…Picasso! – Day 8

Ahhh…Picasso!
Antibes, France, Day 8

Antibes, France


June 10, Mercredi

Never thinking that returning a rented car at Eurocar would be scary, Dolores and I now have altered our opinion on parking garages. We spin, and turn in circles 6 levels up wondering if we will ever see daylight again. Our little stick shift foreign car nearly stalls on our ascent up.

We roll backwards and we pray, sure that we will either owe 12,000 euros in damages or we will be found dead in our rent a car never to return to New Jersey again.

But we somehow manage to avoid death and are able to plan the next adventure- our daytrip train ride to Antibes!

It’s only a half hour from Nice so no problem getting there. The deep blue Mediterranean is the first thing we see as we step off the train. This doesn’t happen in Colonia, NJ so I am more than happy. The first thing we notice is Fort Caree. It’s massive and dominates the landscape.

We walk towards Old Town with its original ancient walls and narrow cobblestone streets crammed with stores, cafes and restaurants all along the water. And of course we don’t miss the colorful Provencal Market in the center of town.

All so pretty. We savor a delicious lunch at a small cafe. I try something new. A veggie Gullet- tomatoes, mushrooms, and cheese in a buckwheat crepe. A Beire tops the taste buds. I am a now a happy camper.

On the to- do -list is also a visit to another famous artist! With 3 or 4 levels we enter the 17th century Château Grimaldi, home of the Picasso Museum which, in 1946, also was Picasso’s home for six months.

When he finally left he gave all the works he had created here to the Château. Besides his famous paintings and drawings, we are surprised to also see colorful plates, pottery and outdoor sculptures..

For only 6 euros, it was a destination well worth the short wait in line. Although there is much to see here, one of the best is simply the views. Beautiful Chuches, the magnificent Mediterranean. What more could we ask for? Well, of course, there is shopping.

We will, after all, be heading to Paris so Dolores was in desparate need of a fancy, smanchy skirt for the city of lights. After strolling a few more streets and a quick beer at a small cafe, we head back to Nice.

I am exhausted and decide to try and rest up a bit but Dolores heads off to the department store to look for her coffee plug pot. (its a long story- check Eyewitness News for updates) Yea, success..now we are both happy campers!

Back at the room, we try to figure out how in the world we will fit massive amounts of bottled wine into our suitcases for the return trip home. We were so excited to buy it, we forgot that small fact. I spend too much time packing and repacking worried that all of my clothes will be wine red when I open my suitcase at home.

But who really has time to worry now. We are in France and there are French bistros to go to! We have dinner at 10PM at a perfect outdoor restaurant.

Pasta with pesto for me and Squid for Dolores. She is the more adventures eater. They are both amazing and the people watching is more than half the fun.

Another late night counting sheep. But they are French sheep, so it’s all part of the adventure.

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Rail Europe to Paris!- Day 9

Rail Europe to Paris!
Paris, France Day 9

Paris, France


June 11, 2009- Jeudi

Who can sleep when they know they are going to Paris for the first time? Not I, for sure. I am up at 6:30AM, showered and ready to leave our beautiful room in Nice at 8:15 AM.

We catch the 9:41 to Paris at the Gare Lyon train station once again and use the machine to print our tickets and then validate them. ($120 US dollars) A must or you will go nowhere!

Yipeee, we are on the correct train #6174. And we are going first class! Reclining seats and a table. Not bad for two Jersey girls. We arrive in Paris at 15:19 ( 3:19pm).

I am excited, overwhelmed and wish I had a week here. But, alas only two nights so I must explore quickly but remember to also live in the moment. We have an idea of what we will do and see but really haven’t planned anything. No time.

 

 

We will stay in the Best Western Grand Hotel De L Univers

http://www.hotel-paris-univers.com

https://www.raileurope.com

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Happy Birthday to Me!- Day 10

Happy Birthday to Me!
Paris, France- Day 10

Paris, France


Vendredi June12, 2009

Ahhhhh…Paris! Just writing and saying the word makes my heart sing. Yes, the city of lights. It is a city for the senses, and one you can never get enough of. From the train we take a cab to the Best Western Grand Hotel De L Universe.

I am in Paris and can hardly breathe! With only one day here we pop the cork on a bottle of wine, toast Paris and head out to explore the streets.

With much to cram in, our first stop is the Notre Dame Cathedral (full name: Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, “Our Lady of Paris”) It is a beautiful cathedral on the the Île de la Cité in Paris. Begun in 1163 and mostly completed by 1250, Notre Dame is an important example of French Gothic architecture, sculpture and stained glass.


The Notre Dame is the most popular monument in Paris and in all of France, beating even the Eiffel Tower with 13 million visitors each year. But the famous cathedral is also an active Catholic church, a place of pilgrimage, and the focal point for Catholicism in France – religious events of national significance still take place here.

A stroll through the Latin Quarter brings us to an outdoor cafe for a glass of French cabernet.This famous Left Bank neighborhood, so named because the numerous university students in the area spoke only Latin to their professors until the French Revolution, preserves an authentic Parisian atmosphere of old. We move on and later, the aroma of freshly baked baguettes entices us to make a mental note to stop for a cafe au lait later on in the day.

Of course the Arc de Triumph is massive, hard to miss.The arch is a site of memories, current events and celebrations. The lists of the dead will move you. And the cars that drive around the monument will terrify you! Standing in a direct line between the Louvre and the Grande Arche de la Defense , the monument links the past with the present and offers amazing views. A truly impressive landmark, 50 meters (164 feet) high and 45 meters (147 feet) wide, Paris would not be Paris without it!

Someone please pinch me! We take corny photos, I walk around in a daze not really sure that I am here. I poke my head in the Mercedes store and then must go in and buy a cap for my son, who adores those luxury vechiles..

Then more corny photos. And then of course more walking. We stroll past the Luxembourg gardens- also closed. But a peek was better than nothing. Of course, I salivate to see the Louvre but with only one day we can’t do it all-( a great excuse to come back!) so we hop on the Metro and explore whatever we can drink in.

I even spot a couple who just tied the knot! In Paris yet along the Champ Elysees!  Could not miss this shot!

By late afternoon we are exploring the incredible Opera House which is like stepping into another world. It’s massive interior and staircases leave one breathless.Although slightly smaller in scale than its predecessor, the Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique, the Palais Garnier is a building of exceptional opulence.

It seats an audience of roughly 2,200 under a central chandelier which weighs over six tons, and has a huge stage with room to accommodate up to 450 artists. The style is monumental and considered typically Beaux-Arts, with use of axial symmetry in plan, and its exterior ornamentation.

We pass the Parthanon building- a greek government building and take a few quick photos. Dolores has waited a few years to go back to the Fragonard Parfumeur shop that she visited once, so onward we go to explore the scents and naturally buy something expensive.

We have dinner at an Argentinian restaurant that stirs the senses once again. We sit a a table with other travelers and enjoy conversation and other languages. Yes, the gift of travel abroad is priceless.

And of course, how can one forget Montmartre? A city in itself. Quaint, lively, historic, fun and nearly on top of the world. The view is incredible. Montmartre is a hill 130 metres high, in the north of Paris in the 18th arrondissement, a part of the Right Bank, primarily known for the white-domed Basilica of the Sacré Cœur on its summit and as a nightclub district.

The other, older, church on the hill is Saint Pierre de Montmartre, which claims to be the location at which the Jesuit order of priests was founded.

Many artists had studios or worked around the community of Montmartre such as Salvador Dalí, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh.
Montmartre means ‘mountain of the martyr’; it owes its name to the martyrdom of Saint Denis, who was decapitated on the hill around 250 AD. Saint Denis was the Bishop of Paris and is the patron saint of France

The Eiffel tower- I must laugh- we spotted it from a distance and it looked so close, we decided to walk to see it. Twelve thousand steps later, it was still miles from our touch!

Ah…so close but so far….Another hop on the metro, (hoping we get off at the right stop…) We do, although I hardly know how we made it there. I feel like I am in a movie now. AM I REALLY HERE??? I make Dolores take a photo so I can prove it to myself someday when I am 93 and don’t remember a damn thing.

At the end of the night- (where ,by the way, it does not get dark until 10PM -at least in June anyway) , I announce that since it is my birthday, I want to eat a French dessert crepe with gobs of chocolate and cream at an outdoor Paris cafe. Dolores will not argue with me on this at all- why would she?

So, given that there are only 3 million cafes to choose from, we easily settle in with all the other Parisians and make believe we are we speak fluent French, are sophisticated and worldly, even though we are wearing American sneakers instead of French heels!

But, I could care less. I will eat a to- die- for Strawberry French Crepe covered in whipped cream shortly . We order and my wish arrives. But a surprise comes with it. A sparkler has inserted itself into my French Crepe! Our cafe table is is as bright as the City of Lights!

I am amazed, thinking for sure that Dolores must have alerted our waiter in her best French accent that it was my birthday!

I gaze her way waiting for her surprise announcement, but she is as puzzled as I am. Instead she looks at her watch, tells me it is 11:59 PM and shouts “Happy Birthday Deb!”

My heart skips a beat, and then it is 12:00AM Paris time. I am one year older and in Paris. I look at the table next to me. They have a sparkler in their French Crepe too!…Ahhhh…another birthday or do all desserts come with sparklers?
In Paris, I suppose they do.

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