Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Day in London, A Month in France: August 2013

We spent the month of August in France and have accumulated a lifetime of memories. There were so many unexpected moments. We have seen the most beautiful men and museums in the world. We took over three thousand digital pictures. And we have met new friends for life. France was everything and more the artists, poets, and composers espoused!

It all started when we flew out of San Francisco on Friday, August 2 and arrived August 3 in London where we stayed one day. During that time we saw both the 2013 Best New Musical ("Top Hat") and the Best New Play ("The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time"). Both were Olivier Award winners.
"Top Hat" is the new stage version of the 1938 movie with Astaire & Rogers that is a tap-dancing and singing dream. Irving Berlin's songs, hilarious character actors, and two leads who are so like the original make for a great show.
Also saw "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time," a very challenging and engrossing play based on the novel by Mark Haddon about Christopher, a 16-yr.-old boy with Asperger Syndrome. The lead and the entire ensemble give performances beyond great. The play is often like a dance of the exacting, yet jumbled thoughts going through Christopher's mind. Many difficult family & society issues are raised while still allowing room for heart and humor.

On Sunday, August 4, we took the 'Chunnel' train to Paris and spent two days getting our bearings for later as well as touring the Pantheon and Latin Quarter (and Eddie having the best mussels he ever had!).

DAY 4.  Monday, August 5:
- Took 3-hour bus tour arranged by Brand g Vacations (our cruise company).  Tour via an enclosed bus was not very good, but we did get some 'lay of the land' and some initial pictures of Notre Dame and Eiffel Tower.
- Visited in 6e the vast, old Montparnasse Cemetery, full of famous Parisians of old and with a large Jewish section.
- Toured the Panthéon, built by Louis XV in 1744 after a 'miraculous' cure from a mysterious disease.  Among those buried in its necropolis are Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Jean Moulin, Marie Curie, Louis Braille.
- Walked through the beautiful (and again 'vast') Luxembourg Gardens with its Palais du Luxembourg built in 1612 by widow of Henry IV.
- Visited St-Germain-des-Pres, one of Paris' oldest churches from the 6th century. Romanesque in style.
- Visited the immense St. Sulpice (built between 1646 and 1745) and the 1844 fountain and square in front of it.  Has one of the world's largest organs of 6700 pipes.  Has huge, beautiful frescoes by Delacroix.

DAY 5.  Tuesday, August 6:
- Left hotel lobby 8 a.m. for 4-hour trip to go to ship (the Avalon).
- Stopped for a couple of hours in Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy.
- We did a wine tasting and toured the historical Hotel-Dieu, a charity hospital founded 1443.
- Spent a couple hours wandering the wonderful, winding streets of the little town of Beaune.
- Arrived in Chalon-sur-Saone and boarded our 150-passenger river boat.

DAY 6.  Wednesday, Aug. 7:
- Arrived over night in Tournus in southeast corner of Burgundy.
- Several-hour, guided walking tour in morning.  Toured Abbey of St. Philibert, where Christianity first arrived in the second century, CE and one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture.
- Sailed short distance to Mâcon, Burgundy with its 14th century bridge (Pont St.-Laurent). Walked through town to see the remains of a 13th century church with its ancient sculptures (former Cathedral of St. Vincent).  Also toured the Church of St. Pierre and walked through fascinating streets, both in day and again in the night.

DAY 7.  Thursday, Aug. 8:
- Cruised on the Rhône in the morning, arriving on the Saône and traversing to the Rhône past amazing unusual, new modern buildings along river's edge as we arrived at Lyon, France's second (or 3rd if you believe Marseille) largest city, founded by Romans in 43 BCE.
- Afternoon coach tour of Lyon, including extended tour up the hill of Fourvière and the cathedral on top (Notre-Dame de Fourvière) and a walking tour of the Old Town (a UNESCO world heritage site) and its maze of medieval alleyways and beautiful Place des Terreaux and Place Bellecour.  Saw amazing murals on buildings on the edge of the old town. Lyon is considered the French capital of "tromp l'oeil" (eye deceiving public murals).

DAY 8.  Friday, Aug. 9:
- Continued to tour Lyon all day.
- Visited the Centre for the History of the Resistance and Deportation, housed in the former Military School and occupied by the Gestapo during the Occupation.  Exhibits provide the history and feeling of the Occupation of France, details of the deportation of Jews, and heroes of the resistance. During WWII the city was a stronghold for the Resistance.
- Walked a long distance to visit the Lumière Museum, home to the extraordinary late 19th and early 20th century inventions of the Lumière brothers in their former chateau that was the very birthplace of cinematography in 1895.  The museum is full of the first-ever still and movie cameras, 3-D photographs, movie posters, pictures from the first movie houses, and the earliest movies themselves.
- Revisited the wonderful and intriguing Old Town, including the Cathedral of St. John.

DAY 9.  Saturday, Aug. 10:
- Day time sail to Viviers, a small walled city.
- Walking tour of medieval Viviers and organ concert in the Romanesque Cathedral of St. Vincent, consecrated in 1119.

DAY 10.  Sunday, Aug. 11:
- Arrived in Avignon, fortified capital of the Vaucluse region and referred to as "The City of Popes."  Served as center of the Catholic Church in the 14th Century (home of 7 Popes and 2 anti- or schismatic-Popes), with the walled-in city (2.5 miles of 14th century ramparts) dominated by the Palace of the Popes and the adjoining Cathedrale Notre-Dame-des Doms.
- Walking tour in the morning, including a tour of the Palace of the Popes, one of the largest medieval Gothic buildings in Europe.
- Went to the Musée Calvet that started with the private collection of an 18th-century doctor with works by Manet, Daumier, David, Courot, Soutine, Brueghel the Younger, and others.
- Visited Musée Angladon-Dubrujeaud, a museum opened in 1995 containing the magnificent collection of Jacques Doucet, a Paris dandy & dilettante.  He collected a number of young artists early in their careers: Picasso, Braque, Max Jacobs, Duchamp, etc. and then continued to collect them and more.  Set in his former abode and with canvasses also of Cezanne, Sisley, Degas, and Modigliano, this collection was kept secret by his heirs until only recently.
- Climbed to the Rock of the Domes Park above the Palais, with its jaw-dropping views of the Rhône, the surrounding countryside, and the UNESCO Pont St- Benezet (a 12th century bridge with only half remaining after generations of war and flooding).

DAY 11.  Monday, Aug. 12:
- Arrived in Arles, capital of the Provence region and at the northern tip of the Carmargue.  Founded by the Greeks, favorite of Julius Caesar, and home for a time to Vincent Van Gogh, Arles is a gem to visit.  (This is where Van Gogh painted many now-familiar works, where he invited his fellow painter and then-friend Paul Gauguin to join him, and where he cut off part of his ear after having a falling-out with that friend over such issues as whether better to paint out-of-doors or in the studio.)
- 3-hour, guided walking tour in the morning, including a tour of the Roman Amphitheatre, built in the 1st century, seating 25,000, and still in use today for bull fights/contests and concerts.  Stopped by several sites where Van Gogh painted famous pictures.
- Visited the Musée de l'Arles Antique, erected at the site of an enormous Roman circus and full of ancient sculptures, boats, mosaic floors, sarcophagi, jewelry, etc. of the Roman and early Christian times of Arles.  Includes the only know bust of Julius Caesar still existing that was created during his life.
- Visited the Romanesque, UNESCO St. Trophime with its front portal adorned with scores of sculptures (including the only know Mary lying in a bed with the Baby Jesus and the 3 wise men lying together in the same bed).
- Walked underground in the Cryptoportiques, ancient underground galleries dating to 30-20 BCE and used as a refuge for the Resistance members of WWII.
- Went inside the Roman theatre, also of the 1st century and also still used for production although only a few of the original Corinthian columns still exist.

DAY 12.  Tuesday, Aug. 13:
- Disembark from the cruise boat.
- Took train to Montpellier for a 4-day stay at the beautiful, gay-owned B&B, Les 4 Etoiles.  Montpellier is capital of the Landuedoc and an ancient university city of 380,000 founded in the 1160.  The walled-in upper old city flanked by its 18th-century, 9-mile-long, triple-layered Saint Clément Aqueduct is full of winding streets, with outdoor settings for cafes and restaurants around every hidden corner of its alleys.  Montpellier is now considered the 'second gayest French city" after Paris and the fastest growing city in the country.
- Walked through the old town to explore its streets, promenades, and tree-lined boulevards of outdoor cafes.  Each time we left our B&B within a few blocks of the walled city, we walked under the aqueduct and climbed several levels to the Promenade du Peyrou, a terraced park overlooking the city with a Roman-like temple, an Arc de Triomphe built in 1691 by Louis XIV to celebrate various victories and a vast statue of the man himself on his horse.
- Explored the gay scene and found what was to be our bar of choice for each afternoon.

DAY 13.  Wednesday, Aug. 14
- Spent most of the day visiting the vast Musée Fabre, one of France's best art museums that began when Napoleon sent to the City an exhibition in 1803.  Francois Fabre contributed his vast collection in 1825, with more contributions coming through the years.  The museum was hosting a most impressive visiting exhibit of Paul Signac's works, a contemporary and friend of Seurat. Together they helped develop the pointillist style.
- Visited the Hotel Sabatier, a museum of decorative arts of the 18th and 19th centuries.
- Walked past the immense Place de la Comédie (a vast plaza called Montpellier's own living room), through a major shopping center of several levels to arrive at the lower, very modern city recently constructed of immense hotels and condominiums, built in Las Vegas dimensions but in keeping with the columns and style of the old City and with several, ever-more-modern Arcs de Triomphe.  We ended  at the River Lez.

DAY 14.  Thursday, Aug. 15
- Walked round trip of about 18 miles along a path on the River Lez to the Mediterranean beach town of Palavas-les-Flots that was packed with holiday tourists.  We had lunch at a fun bistro called Nexxt and then walked back.  (Took bathing suits, but we did not have time to dip or lay out.  LOL.)

DAY 15.  Friday, Aug. 16
- We visited in the home of a new friend, Yann Golgevit, a classically-trained counter-tenor who now sings professionally throughout Europe as a jazz and contemporary music performer.
- Walked more streets and shopped. Sat in more cafes for beer drinking and watching people.
- Eddie walked into the Cathedrale St-Pierre to hear a 15-piece woodwind group give an afternoon concert.

DAY 16.  Saturday, Aug. 17:
- Took train from Montpellier to Nîmes and Nîmes (BTW, denim is the French words "de Nimes", indicating a fabric which was first made in the southern French town of Nîmes.) to Aigues-Mortes.  Arrived in the 'city of the dead waters.'  It is France's most perfectly preserved walled-in city.  Once a port city (and France's first port in the 13th century), it is now 4 miles from the sea.  In 791, Charlemagne erected the Matafère tower amid the swamps for the safety of fishermen and salt workers. Louis IX (later Saint Louis) started his two Crusades from this town.
- Walked on top of the entire ramparts that surround the town.  Constructed between 1272 and 1300, they look out over salt marshes.
- Toured the Tower of Constance, a castle of the Middle Ages.
- Visited Notre-Dame des Sablons, completed in 1246.
- Walked through rest of town and its quaint streets and many shops and cafes.
- Boarded our 22-passenger boat, the Soleo, at 6 p.m. for our next cruise and adventure, a Provence Bike and Boat Tour.

DAY 17.  Sunday, Aug. 18:
- Biked a total of 27 miles in the Camargue, crossing the village of Le Grau-du-Roi and discovering the west coast and small villages on the seafront.  We passed the hundreds of yachts in the immense Port Camargue and reached the beaches of Espiguette, where we stopped for a couple of hours for lunch and watching tourists and ocean.  The sun was very hot, and we sat on the beach under our umbrellas like the old men we are.)  On the way back, we visited the salt marshes (Salins du Midi), taking a train ride through them and learning their history.
- Stayed in Aigues-Mortes on boat that night.

DAY 18.  Monday, Aug. 19:
- Biked 39 miles again through the Camargue, seeing lots of its famed white horses, a few of its black bulls, and many of its pink flamingoes as well as many fields of wine grapes and of rice.
- Stopped and lunched for a couple of hours at Saintes Maries de la Mar and visited its fortress-like church that often served as a fort against pirates.
- Moored at the village of Gallician.

DAY 19.  Tuesday, Aug. 20:
- Sailed to Saint Gilles and then cycled 13 miles to Arles, stopping along the way to view a bridge where Van Gogh painted a famed masterpiece.
- Spent part of the afternoon with Ed going to doctor for his now plum-sized cyst on his bottom (not the greatest place for biking).  (After the visit and lots of pain pills and antibiotics, Ed dropped out of the rest of the biking the next three days, remaining on the boat to heal and to read about French/Paris history.)
- Walked through the streets of Arles in the afternoon, waiting for the boat to arrive in port.  Shopped and had a beer in an outdoor cafe.

DAY 20.  Wednesday, Aug. 21:
- Eddie biked 37 miles through Provence countryside.
- Stopped first in small village of Fontvielle.
- Climbed the steep road full of magnificent white, rock outcroppings to the medieval town of Les Baux-de-Provence, mounted between calcareous spires in the Alpilles Mountains.
- Visited the immense Chateau des Baux, the remains of a large castle built right into the surrounding mountain and rocks and with acres of grounds over-looking the valleys below.  (The site of the former castle covers more than 5 times the area of the present village itself.)
- Visited the most amazing Carrieres de Lumieres, caves of massively projected paintings of Chagall, Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, etc.  An artistic 45-minute journey through the art of the 19th and 20th centuries in a mammoth cave.
- Biked also to St.-Remy, but only had 45 minutes barely to see a few streets.
- Biked past a really huge, impressive, 15th century castle in Tarascon; but did not have time to go inside unfortunately.  We also saw a church where legend says Martha, sister of Lazarus & Mary, arrived with her sister from Palestine by boat in 48 CE and miraculously tamed a sea monster (called a tarasque) that was terrorizing the town.
- Moored in Vallabregues, a small commune known for its wicker baskets and chairs.

DAY 21. Thursday, Aug. 22:
- Eddie biked 37 miles to Avignon.
- Stopped in Meynes at the Place de la Mairie for a short bit of sightseeing of the old town and for refreshments.
- Visited Pont du Gard, a masterpiece of Roman engineering. The ancient aqueduct was built in 19 BCE by Agripa, son-in-law of Augustus and was part of a 30-mile long structure.
- Moored in Villenueve les Avignon, a peaceful village on the right bank of the Rhône from Avignon with its one tower (of Philippe le Bel) left from an earlier fortification, and its castle (Fort Saint-Andre) reached on top of a hill through winding alleys.

DAY 22.  Friday, Aug. 23:
- Sailed in the early morning during breakfast to see the beautiful coast full of colorful boats and the historic Pont St- Benezet near Avignon.
- Eddie biked about 26 miles round trip to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a small village known for many venues for wine tasting, returning to Villenueve les Avignon.
- Stopped in the morning for a quick visit to Sorgues and in the village of Roquemaure in the afternoon.
- Went to a fascinating late-evening 3-D, four-walled performance of Les Luminessences d'Avignon (created by De Bruno Seillier), a 90-minute history of Avignon and of the Papal Palace. Presented inside the immense courtyard of the palace with symphonic-like scores and projections/movies in every direction and on all the many-storied-high walls.  Although in French, there was little need for translation to follow the story and to be totally enthralled.

DAY 23.  Saturday, Aug. 24:
- Departed boat.  Took a high-speed train from Avignon and arrived in Paris at Gare Lyon in two and half hours.
- Checked into our apartment in the Marais, the lively and beautiful gay and Jewish neighborhood of Paris in the 3rd & 4th Arrondissements. A family member recommended using ParisMarais.Com, a travel guide dedicated to the "Art of Living" in the Marais, Paris’ historical center. ParisMarais.Com site provided information and reservation services to selected luxury boutique hotels, guesthouses and guest rooms.
- Did an initial walk-around in the Marais, visiting the National Archives courtyard and the incredible, 19th-century Hotel d'Ville (city hall of Paris), grandly rebuilt after being destroyed in the 1871 Paris Commune uprising.  Its walls are covered in scores of statues of famous Parisians, each done by famous French sculptors.
- Visited the Pompidou Center.  Built in 1977 and described at the time as "the wart on the face of Paris" with its bright-colored, tubular construction and huge size.   It is now a thriving, colorful magnet for all kinds of entertainment and events.
- Began our daily, late-afternoon pattern of spending an hour-to-hour-and-a-half having a beer at Open, a gay cafe on rue de Archives.

DAY 24.  Sunday, August 25
- Visited first the Musée Carnavalet-Histoirie de Paris (History of Paris Museum) inside a Renaissance palace built in 1544 and also inside the adjoining Hotel le Peletier de St-Fargeau (with its Louis XIV furniture and decorative art).
- Toured the Musée d'Art et Historie de Judaism (Jewish History and Art Museum) in the former 1600's Hotel De St-Aignan.  Paris's Jewish history (the good and the bad) is detailed along with an exceptional collection of Judaica art of all types.  The exhibit about the notorious Dreyfus case is particularly exceptional.
- Went to the National Museum of Modern Art (Musée National d'Art Moderne), and its vast collection of 20th and 21st works including those of Calder and Dali.

DAY 25.  Monday, August 26
- Spent the entire day (7 hours) in the Musée du Louvre (the world's largest palace and museum) amidst the works of David, Delacroix, GIllicants, Reubens, Robert, Igres, etc. as well as the extensive collections of ancient art and sculpture.  Reveled in the Napoleon III apartments.
- We also began what became usually a twice-daily walking miles along the quais of the Seine to take in the sights of the boats, the many bridges, and the stalls of the 'les bouquinistes'. These booksellers sell all kind of old books, drawings and prints.

DAY 26:  Tuesday, August 27
- Walked from the Place de la Republique along various magnificent boulevards and past several Arcs d’Triomphe from various kings' victories.
- Toured the Opera Garnier, the opulent opera house built under Napoleon III in 1875.  Jaw-dropping staircases, ceilings and grand halls, topped off by the domed auditorium with its immense crystal chandelier and a ceiling by Marc Chagall depicting famous ballets.  Today, home to the famous Paris Opera Ballet.
- Visited briefly the massive La Madeleine, a Parthenon-like church built in 1842 to honor Napoleon's armies.
- Visited Musée d'Orsay, recently reopened in the neoclassical Gare d'Orsay (a massive, glass-ceiling, former train station).  Devoted to the watershed French art years of 1848-1914 with 80 galleries of so many monumental art pieces that it is impossible not to be over-whelmed.  Manets, Renoirs, Monets, Matisses, Corots, Millets, Gauguins by the dozens it seems.
- Explored the Tour (Tower) St-Jacques, the only part remaining of a 16th-century church.
- Briefly visited the gothic Church of St. Merri, built between 1500 and 1550.

DAY 27:  Wednesday, August 28
- Walked through the Jardin des Tuilieries, Created by Catherine de Medicis in 1564 as the gardens of the royal Tuileries Palace, the gardens became public park after the 1789 Revolution (and the destruction of the palace itself).  Full of flowers, statuary, fountains, and people.
- Visited Musée de L'Orangerie, a small gem in the Tuileries with massive murals by Monet as well as a donated private collection that includes more than 20 Renoirs, 11 Matisse, works by Rosseau, Picasso, Modigliani, Cezanne, etc.
- Visited Petit Palais, built for the 1900 Universal Exposition (like its larger Grande Palais neighbor, now used as an exhibition and concert center).  This fine-arts museum of Paris of eclectic art from ancient times to WWI is an exceptionally beautiful building, full of light, airiness, vaulted and painted ceilings, long halls, and masters of the arts (Ingres, Delacroix, Monet, Manet, Courbet, Sisley, etc.).  One of our very favorites of the entire trip!!
- Made our first visit to Notre-Dame.  Took pictures all around the 800-year-old center and symbol of Paris and made the obligatory visit inside to see the magnificent rose windows.
- Received a nighttime driving tour of Paris by our apartment owner and host, Pascal.

DAY 28:  Thursday, August 29
- Walked through some more of the Marais and then a lot in the Latin Quarter and 6th Arrondissement. (Bought two pieces of original art to remember our time in France.)
- Waited two hours in line to visit the historic Catacombs (les Catacombes de Paris) which form a labyrinth under Paris and were created in the former stone quarries that could have led to Paris' demise through devastating sink holes if not corrected during the reign of Louis XVI.  Tens of thousands of bones were then transferred from Paris' cemeteries to fight the disease being caused by the mounting graves and poisoned water supply.
- Went to the Zadkine Museum (Ossip Zadkine, 1890-1967), a contemporary of Picasso who created "left-wing" cubist sculptures and then moved later in his career to appreciate more classical works.
- Toured the house of Delacroix (Musée National Eugene Delacroix) to see his art, to learn about his life, and to see his actual tools of the trade.

DAY 29: Friday, August 30
- Visited the Modern Art Museum of Paris (Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris) in the eastern wing of the magnificent Tokyo Palace (art center opening in 2002 in a building for the 1937 World's Fair).  A real gem and one of the better modern art museums we have ever attended anywhere.  Works by Chagall, Rothko, Braque, Dufy, Picasso, Utrillo, Modigliani and many others -- all arranged as an evolving history of the various movements of 20th century art.
- Walked through the New Bridges Park along the Seine, a venue resembling in many ways the High Line Park of New York City.
- Toured the Conciergerie, a 14th century castle and stronghold with its landmark two towers on the Seine.  Became the prison where those to be guillotined were housed, including one of its most famous visitors, Marie Antionette.

DAY 30: Saturday, August 31
- Spent the day in Montmartre with our new best friend Lance from Perth, Australia, including doing an extensive walking tour of the entire area and its many famous sites along the way.
- Visited inside the 1876 Roman-Byzantine style Basilica of the Sacré Cœur that can be seen above Paris' skyline.
- Visited Musée Montmartre, a house that many famous artists once lived and worked together (Duffy, van Gogh, Renior, Suzanne Valadon (dance hall girl turned famous artist), Utrillo Valadon (her son). The museum retraces their and the district's history.
- Visited the new Espace Dali, the largest collection of Dali sculpture, etchings and lithographs in France.

DAY 31: Sunday, September 1
- Visited the extensive Sunday outdoor market between the Grenelle and Duplex metro stops near the Eiffel Tower.  Everything from whole chickens and ducks to every kind of seafood imaginable to fruits and vegetables, magnificent baked goods, cheeses, prepared foods, etc.  Also, clothing, household items, plants, etc., etc.  And crowds of happy shoppers.
- Took a 2.5 hour tour of the Eiffel Tower.  Went all the way to the top. Magnificent!!
- Walked and shopped in the Jewish section of the Marais along rue des Rosiers, which is reportedly always crowded and alive on Sunday afternoons, especially this one being three days before Rosh Hashanah.

DAY 32:  Monday, September 2
- Climbed up into the towers of Notre-Dame to see the views and the incredible gargoyles.
- Toured the Hotel des Invalides/Napoleon's Tomb.  Built in 1670 by Louis XIV to house soldiers. Its gilded dome and miles of corridors were completed long after the Sun King was dead.  In the Eglise du Dome (the second tallest monument in Paris next to the Eiffel Tower) is Napoleon's Tomb as well as chapels honoring other great, French military leaders.
- Spent several hours in the adjoining Musée de l'Armee which tells the history of France and all its kings, rulers, wars, and conquests through its extensive collections of armor, weapons, paintings, guns, cannons, and the like.

Day 33: Tuesday, Sept. 3:
- Flew out of Paris from Charles DeGaulle at 1:15 p.m.  2.5-hour layover in Chicago. Arrive back home at SFO at 8:12 p.m.

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