Tuesday, May 5, 2009

France trip

Back from France.

It was great. We spent a few days touring Normandy and Brittany and then stayed in a rented house in the Cher River Valley with friends Ralph and Elizabeth Bincarowksy (close to the Loire Valley) and rented bikes - they were clunkers and hills were killers. We did some great long rides in the country side. Terri and I finished the trip with a few days in Paris. 

In the past we did the museum explorations and this trip was about walking neighborhoods and some some shopping. Terri had put off buying here to shop there and so on Thursday, April 30th we scoped out a bunch of stores and planned to buy Friday, the 1st of May. Well, we didn't realize that May 1st - May Day - is the equivalent of Labor Day here, but with all retail closed. No shopping and we left early Saturday. The customs people raised a little eyebrow when we had nothing to declare after two weeks. 

Highlights and very few low lights.

French countryside is beautiful. Many, many farms. The mustard was in bloom and there would be these great swaths of yellow.

Normandy and the D-Day museum and battle sites were very emotional - unimaginable.

Mt. Saint Michel. So beautiful to look at, seemed to be somewhat of a tawdry tourist-trap once there. The main street is lined with curio shops and so-so restaurants. The actual Abby is interesting. All crowded.

People in France are extremely nice, very warm and very helpful. In Paris you can run into a few cool people, but I think it's because they are big city people who have to deal with us tourists. Also, they don't care if you are American or from the moon. Additionally, they don't know the difference between an English accent, various American accents or any other English accents. I can't tell the difference between Belgian French, French French or any other.

Drivers are generally courteous.

Dogs are everywhere, especially in the country. When we were riding, we were constantly serenaded with there barks. Made us miss our guys.

The Lilacs and Wisteria were in bloom (and there was a lot of it) so many great smells.

The farmers markets were great. I wanted most of it.

Food, of course, can be great. But there is also a lot of mediocre food, even in restuarants full of locals. French Fries every where. And the steak with Pomme Frites can be tough, grissly and flavorless. Salads are great. A lot of good pizza. I do like restaurants that let you linger. They let you sit as long as you like. Coffee is fantastic. Wine is cheap. You can find nice local wines for about two Euros. The bitter and milk is sweet and wonderful and what do I need to say about the cheese and bread. We OD on pasties.

If you are a gardener you would enjoy Chateau  Villandry - not too far from Tours. Amazing gardens.

We flew Air France (second trip on them). Nice airline and for us quite convenient. Non-stop.

Paris is so crowded. If you want to do a cultural trip, I would suggest going in the winter, when there aren't crowds.  When you are in Paris, there aren't many places where you can see the Eiffel Tower. All the buildings are about seven stories, so you are always in a canyon.

In the country, retail shops (including grocery and pasty shops) are open from morning to noon. They all close and the restaurants open for two hours. The restaurants close and retail re-opens. Hard to find a restaurant at 2:05. Sunday afternoon and almost everything is closed.

For the first time I noticed that in appliance and decor stores that the appliances are now sized to what you would find in the US. You even see large outdoor BBQ kitchens.

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