Goodness, it has been rather a long time since I have added a post – there has been so much to do and many things preventing time on the computer – work and family mostly, but such is life. I have missed posting material, but today I came across a podcast which made me realise it was time to return – plus it was so pertinent to my last post in 2014 that I had to share it. My previous post was on Monet’s magnificent garden at Giverny – so hard to describe, so easy to fall in love with – but today this great podcast by my old favourite Rick Steves helped to elucidate my feelings on how the Garden impacted me. He was in discussion with Elizabeth Murray, a gardener, writer and photographer, who had worked voluntarily in the garden for a year. The way she describes how the light and seasons change a person’s experience of the gardens is surely apt, and her conversation with a listener (Kristin), who had visited the gardens at the same time of year that we did, was amazing – she described so well what we had seen, confirming that each season is different but somehow obviously the same, year after year. Listening to Elizabeth Murray speaking about her own experience was fascinating and she has written a beautiful book called Monet’s Passion, which has excellent reviews, so it is looking like a must read for me and others fascinated by this iconic place…..
Well, it is May 1st today, so it ain’t long now folks – Paris is beckoning and what a fantastic thought! In preparation I am compiling a final ‘must do’ list and already I can see we are going to run out of time. I have started assembling my list by reviewing my own posts and the numerous notes I have taken from some of my favourite books and blogs like these:
Vicki Archer’s French Essence and her book, My French Life ; Theadora Brack’s blog, People, Places and Bling, Janelle McCulloch’s sumptuous book on Paris which is conveniently divided into arrondissements, Eurocheapo blog, and of course Rick Steve’s book, France 2014. Janelle McCulloch’s website is a treat – check out this post for example, and her aforementioned Paris book is a visual feast.
It is obvious we will have to prioritise since we can only cram so much into four days. We want to explore Montmartre, and the Marais district, ascend The Eiffel Tour, visit The Louvre, walk in Hemingway’s footsteps, stroll in Ile Saint Louis, cruise the Seine, take in Versailles …. see what I mean? One place I will make a beeline for is Jardin du Luxembourg – I can always remember seeing a photo of my daughter in the Park with her friends, and wondered how we had managed to miss it on our first visit. Theadora makes me want to visit too – if you read this post, you will see why.
So, what is top of my ‘to do’ list? It has to be Montmartre, and it tops the list of my French tutor’s (Marie) recommendations too. Marie was astonished that I not seen the movie Amelie but there is method in my madness, as I was saving the best till last!Montmartre looks so enticing in the film, and of course there is added bonus of watching the beautiful Audrey Tatou …
Well, back to collating my list now …… so many wonderful places, so little time…. and less time for blogging before we leave, but I shall be blogging up a storm once we leave London and hit French shores on May 16 – why not come along for the ride?
Well, as our trip edges ever closer, the Internet continues to provide brilliant guides, tips, etc on how best to engage with The City of Light.
For your edification and mine, here are some that I suspect will be very useful from Eurocheapo:
Paris- 8 travel myths debunked– Bryan Pirolli again provides some great information here.
Visiting the Louvre – it will be my first time visiting the Louvre this trip and I think these tips will be very useful.
A cheapo day in the Marais – this is on my list for this trip (Mr Pirolli again), and Theadora Brack has information dotted throughout various posts on her unique blog. If you like great writing and evocative photography, check it out here.
Visiting the Eiffel Tower – our last visit was stymied by a broken lift, long queues and a booking for a Seine cruise so we had to abandon our plan to go up the Tower. This visit I intend to get there!
Well, a girl can’t go to Paris and not do a bit of shopping, even if it is window shopping… so, check out Paris on consignment – I thought it was an interesting take on shopping in Paris and Lizzie Porter provides useful tips here: Paris : best fashion boutiques
I have found some really interesting material on the travel pages of newspapers and here a few that have taken my fancy:
I can’t write about Paris without mentioning the fantastic resources available on Rick Steves’ revamped website.
Paris fascinates me – I have been there only once, for a few days in 2007, when we stopped off on our way to cycle in Provence, and it captivated me – utterly and completely. Since that first visit, I have longed to return and finally my dream will come true in May. I have been consumed over the last few years with reading about Paris – fiction, non-fiction, newspaper and magazine articles, Facebook sites and blogs. It occurred to me that there will be others who feel the same as me, so I thought I would share some recent finds that might be useful for first time visitors, and those with unfinished business like me. Some of my finds contain useful snippets of information and others are more in-depth, so I keep a travel journal beside me when I read, recording useful information as I go. Others are books I simply read for pleasure, absorbing as much of a feel for Paris as I can. Finally, there are those things I come across by serendipity…
- Appearing recently in a local Sunday paper, is this article written by expat New Zealander Margot Burton. She provides hints on what to do and see in Paris.
- Some great suggestions appear in one of my favourite blogs, Eurocheapo – Paris here we come : 14 reasons to go in 2014. Bryan Pirolli’s blog posts on this site are always excellent and his personal blog is worth a visit too – it is well-written and informative – check out his Parisian favourites, for instance. Also see the Paris essentials list on Eurocheapo.
- Theadora Brack’s recent post on visiting Clignancourt (a huge Parisian flea market know as Les Puces) is a great read. I have seen Parisian flea markets referred to often in all my reading, so I feel I need to see one for myself. Theadora’s blog is informative, eloquent, quirky and fun, with some great photography. View it for information on shopping, museums, monuments and much more. You can find more about Les Puces here.
- Timeout Paris is another great site and even better there are free apps available.
- Tripomatic trip planner – if you are staying four days like us, have a look at this suggested itinerary or plan your own.
- The Paris Pass, while it is a commercial site, has useful suggestions on what to do in Paris, depending on how many days you have to spend there.
- Check out some video material recently made available on Rick Steves’ new-look website – these are episodes from his TV programmes – Paris: Regal and Intimate and Paris: Embracing Life and Art. Bearing in mind these programmes are made for the American market, they are informative, and provide tips which may appeal to many English-speaking travellers.
- Search “Paris” on the Conde Nast Traveler website– there is a wealth of stuff to explore there.
- Explore some Facebook pages featuring Paris – there are numerous ones to choose from so you should find one or two to suit your interests. I like David Lebovitz – he is informative, provides good links and features food! His blog also features many tips for visitors to Paris.
- Books featuring Paris – I particularly enjoy those written by expats as their thoughts and experience resonate, and offer an insight into the Parisian way of life from a non-Parisian point of view. Some of my favourites include: Almost French by Sarah Turnbull, The Most Beautiful Walk in the World, by John Baxter, and chapters on Paris in Peta Mathias’ French Toast, and Vicki Archer’s My French Life. Currently, I am reading Edward Rutherfurd’s Paris – it is a mission as it weaves centuries of Parisian history with fiction, and it is daunting because of its length, but nonetheless, it is gripping and I will persevere.
The above are just a few examples of some really useful information you can find if you have access to the Internet and/or a good bookshop or library. I can while away hours reading material I find, and frequently do. But soon I hope to while away an hour or two here again – in Les Tuileries…..
With Christmas well and truly over, we recently had the luxury of spending a few days at home with our Kiwi travelling companions, Roger and Frances. On their previous visit from LA in August, we sat down over a good old Kiwi-style lunch ( Annabel Langbein’s bacon and egg pie and Jo Seagar’s lemonade scones), and set about trying to create our itinerary – four weeks on the road in France, beginning with another cool ride on the Eurostar to Paris, where will start the trip with a much-anticipated four day stay.
However, deciding where to go after Paris was the challenge – should we scoot across to Honfleur, St Malo, or Mont-St Michel (after visiting Monet’s Gardens at Giverny), or should we head straight on down to the Loire? From the Loire, should we continue on down to the Dordogne or across to Burgundy? Perhaps we could go from the Loire to Languedoc and then down to Provence and the Riviera? So much to see, so little time … but this is where both contacts and research are worth their weight in gold. When our friends returned to Los Angeles in August, the itinerary was still up in the air, and we all vowed to put together some ideas on how the trip should play out.
In the ensuing months I sought advice from Michele at Eurovillas and Tours, with whom we booked the Tuscan villa in beautiful Radicondoli (in 2012). She is an absolute mine of information providing ideas on where to begin, where to stop, where not stop, and offering advice which helped to shape an itinerary which flows…simple things, like keeping one night stop-overs to a minimum and pointing out the value of taking a Eurolease car rather than a rental (this is a great idea by the way, and one we embraced, and latterly have booked).
After just one email outlining our possible routes, Michele had provided informative brochures describing tried and true places – endorsed in the main from her personal experience. I discovered beautiful little Provencal towns, I had never heard of – Eygalieres, and Callas for example, which offer the most beautiful accommodation for a relaxing week in the June sun. I was able to forward all the information and accommodation brochures to LA for approval and before we knew it, everything was booked!
By the time Roger and Frances returned to visit a couple of weeks ago, our itinerary just needed some fine tuning – where should we stay in London for instance, what London show we should see, and on what days should we do the celebrated tourists sites once in Paris etc? ( Versailles for instance is closed on Mondays).
Our final itinerary is based, for the most part, on the first half of a 3 weeks road trip outlined by Rick Steves and Steve Smith in France 2012, and we will be staying in accommodation recommended by Eurovillas, all of which we have found to be very well reviewed on Trip Advisor. To ensure we would have current information, I pre-ordered the 2014 edition of Rick Steves’ book, and as luck would have it, I received it on Friday, just in time to share it this morning with Roger and Frances. They are on their way back to LA, but we managed a final trip review over a leisurely morning tea on the deck, this time with delicious Ministry of Food cheese scones and Annabel Langbein’s divine Choconut slice. Not only that, Roger bought us a gift – a stunning photographic publication called Destination Paris.. just to whet our appetites even more – in fact, I am about to dip into now….
Note: Rick Steves’ website has recently been revamped and is even more informative now than previously. Take a look the all-new site here with the fantastic addition of “Watch, Read, Listen” where you can view free, full-length TV shows, on demand. It is a fantastic resource!
Sadly, I have to report that I did not win the week in Le Petit Bijou, St Remy de Provence, which was generously given away by Vicki Archer to celebrate five years of blogging. I was pretty keen to win it as I have wanted to visit St Remy since reading Vicki’s book French Essence. Gladly however, I can also report that I think I shall get to see it anyway…. oh yes people, planning for the trip to France is hurtling along like the TGV to Avignon:
There is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment and sense of anticipation when you have finished planning your travel itinerary, and have made your firm bookings. I spent much of my spare time in the evenings over the last ten days or so, poring over maps of France, looking at websites, Trip Advisor reviews, and sent endless emails to our very patient and knowledgeable agent at Eurovillas and Tours (EVT), and to our travelling companions who are based in LA.
I have burned the midnight oil, reading, comparing, calculating costs etc., and finally managed to put together, in consultation with our LA friends, what we think will be a wonderful trip, beginning in Paris next year. However, apart from my own research, EVT have been invaluable. Being able to speak to the agent and ask advice about details such as proximity to towns, parking etc, has helped to crystalize the route we should take, the accommodation we should chose etc., simply because she has done it all herself. She is passionate about the destinations offered and regularly travels to meet with owners and operators of the properties promoted, ensuring that the information provided is current and relevant.
We found this combined approach to planning worked brilliantly on our trip to Italy and France last year – i.e. personal research combined with first hand knowledge gleaned from our trusted travel company, Rick Steves, and experienced friends, in tandem with reviews on Trip Advisor. Ultimately though, the best part about having finished planning on paper, was being able to hand over the full itinerary to EVT, who then do really the hard work, contacting owners, confirming availability and a host of other details – all we have to do is say book it and pay!
It is pure relief, combined with elation, at having it sorted and knowing that the best is to yet to come. During the planning phase, I realised that that there are so many wonderful boutique hotels, guesthouses, B & B’s etc, run by people who obviously care about giving their guests the best experience they possibly can. And what a wonderful array of places we have to stay – from a cool hotel on the Left Bank in Paris, to a Manor house in the Loire, a chateau-style place in Beynac in the Dordogne, an enticing boutique-style B & B in Pezenas in the Languedoc, and finally, an hotel with amazing views in Nice. The piece de resistance will be an 11 day stay at beautiful villa in Callas, Provence, So there you are – sorted! and I am already daydreaming about our forthcoming “Tour de France”.
And here are some of the reasons we want to go back – and maybe even see some of these Provencal places again, while looking forward to exploring so many more places for the first time:
For the next few months, I am a full-time Nanny for my youngest grandson and it certainly is a more physical use of my time compared with my usual full-time job as a librarian in an academic library, where I sit in front of a screen for most of the day! I am loving my new temporary role, but am finding it hard to put aside time to create new posts. However, I have been able to take a few moments to re-think my approach to our forthcoming trip to France in 2014. I have stumbled upon a plethora of pretty and stylish B & B’s throughout France, where bikes are supplied to guests (or can be hired nearby), so that we could explore the countryside at our leisure. It dawned on me that this might be a lovely way to get in a little bit of cycling, rather than doing it through an established company.
Having taken it upon ourselves to organise the cycling aspect of our trip, I would still highly recommend companies like A Walker’s World – the guided and self-guided tours they offer are extensive and well organised- you can see this from my previous posts where I have described the Provence trip we did a few years ago. Their advisors are excellent and I am sure they will be able to suggest, and probably book, beautiful places for us to stay- but where, that is the question?
Jill Grant (from A Walker’s World), has encouraged me to explore further afield than the the South of France, which is my region of choice. At her suggestion, I have recently been exploring attractions and places to stay in the Loire, Burgundy and the Dordogne via the Internet, and the idea of exploring more of France than we initially planned is appealing. La Maison Chaudenay for instance, looks pretty irresistible and comes highly recommended by friends of our travelling companions. So, after discussing this revamp our trip with them, we are hatching a new plan…
But how do you plan such a trip? When we planned our France/Italy trip last year, we all found The Internet to be an amazing tool for research and planning – there are some incredibly talented writers posting really helpful hints on their blogs (see my blogroll), and combined with recommendations from friends, Trip Advisor, and using well trusted guide books like those written by Rick Steves and Steve Smith, it is possible to plan fantastic trips for yourself.
It also helps to look at brochures like these on A Walker’s World website – they surely whet the appetite and give a good base from which to start planning. Personally, I have found it helpful to immerse myself in books written by those who have done similar trips, or who live in France. My French Life by Vicki Archer is my favourite of those who base themselves in France, but at the moment I am enjoying a lovely read about a bike trip following in the footsteps of Marie Antoinette – The Valley of Heaven and Hell : Cycling in the Shadow of Marie Anointette by Susie Kelly. It is written with great good humour, and provides well-researched historical background, plus it is full of useful comments about independent cycling in Paris and beyond.
What I have found useful in planning such a trip, is to keep a journal and annotate it with pertinent information as I find it – hints taken from books like Vicki’s and Susie’s, which you won’t find in mainstream guide books. Watch this space to see where our re-vamped trip will take us and maybe come along for the ride….
- Road trip in France (bubbleandchic.me)
Courtesy of an enforced break due to a stomach flu, I have been able to catch up on some travel research for our forthcoming 2014 trip to France. Readers will know that I am a great fan of the Rick Steves guide books, the books on France being co-authored by Steve Smith. I subscribe to the Rick Steves channel on You Tube and it is an excellent resource. Today I have done an armchair tour of France with Steve Smith as my guide and it is excellent. For those of you contemplating a trip to France, viewing of this clip may well useful.
Five tours are described – Paris in Seven Days, Paris and the Heart of France, French Riviera in Seven Days, Loire to the South of France, and the Wine Regions of Eastern France (you can find out more about them here). While I am more likely to be an independent traveller rather than a member of a tour group, the clip has some very valuable hints such as the best times to visit attractions, how to avoid the tourist throngs, making the most of cities at night, and much more. The tour also opened my eyes to parts of France which I had not really contemplated visiting such as the Loire and Burgundy districts which I may now consider. Jill Grant from A Walker’s World here in New Zealand, has previously provided me with information on some of the Cycling Europe bike tours in these districts and they certainly are enticing.
Watching the part of the video devoted to the Paris tour, makes me realise how much we missed on our first visit -The Marais district, Montmartre, and Versailles to name but few, and also how much more we could have seen in Nice. I am sure I will be watching it again and again, but in the meantime I need to research further and can use this armchair tour and some excellent blogs as my guide – you can see some of my favourite travel blogs in my blogroll, including Eurocheapo which always has good advice, one of the most recent being this persuasive article about staying on the Ile Saint-Louis in Paris – sounds good to me!
If we thought Vaison-la-Romaine would be hard to top, it was because we had not yet seen L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue – it is simply beautiful. We cycled through the Centre-Ville on the way to our hotel, which was on the outskirts of the town, and the promise of the what we had seen made us very keen to check in and return. Our hotel, Domaine de la Petite Isle, was not so typically Provencal, but was excellent, apart from being further out than we would have liked.
Having checked in, and explored the lovely hotel setting, we wandered back into the town – it’s a stunner – with its canals, water wheels and cafes on the water, not mention some good shopping in the quaintest of streets. I admit to being very excited when I found one of my favourite shops- L’Occitane, franchised in New Zealand, but here was the real thing! There was quite a buzz in the town too as Bastille Day was just four days away, and the decorations were going up, adding to the festive air.
Sadly we missed the famous antique market days, but I guess we can’t have everything, and it is a great excuse to go back, which we plan to do. We spent our afternoon, wandering the streets, and stopping for the odd wine or coffee, as we took in the views and people-watched. There is nothing nicer than sitting in a French sidewalk (or canal-side) cafe, and watching the world go by…. especially when the town is brimming with stylish and elegant French women. I had bought myself the obligatory white pants and muslin top at the Vaison market, but somehow I didn’t wear them as well as the stylish French!
Before I continue I should mention Rick Steves, the travel advisor I currently rely on (along with the excellent Trip Advisor website). I hadn’t discovered Rick in 2007 when we did this trip, and I relied heavily on Jill from A Walker’s World, whom I might add was every bit as good as Rick. Out of interest, I have just downloaded Rick’s book Rick Steves Provence and the French Riviera to my Ipad and it is excellent!! His advice gels remarkably with our own experience – right down to places to eat and stay, and sights to see. I will certainly be using it when we return in 2014, though there will be an updated version available by then I suspect.
At end of a long but quite relaxing day, we returned to the hotel, knowing we had much more in store in the morning, with a side trip to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and the the amazing hilltop town of Gordes. My next post will tell all, but here is just a taste of what you can see in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
Bryan Pirolli. Theodora Brack, Eiffel Tower, EuroCheapo, Eurostar, France, Italy, Jessica Spiegel, Kath & Kim, Monica Cesarato, Musée du quai Branly, Paris, Positano, Rick Steves, Travel and Tourism, Venice
It is a bit annoying to return from a fabulous trip and then discover “tips” that would have made it even more fab! I follow a couple of good travel blogs – one being Rick Steves of course, and the other is Eurocheapo. So here is a little aggregation of tips from Eurocheapo which may be of interest if you are going to Venice, Pisa or Paris. Their travel writers are extremely knowledgeable, and provide a mine of useful and current information. Bloggers Bryan Pirolli and Theadora Brack both contribute excellent material if you are going to Paris – I really enjoy Theadora’s blog and am following it in anticipation of returning to Paris sometime soon… but meanwhile here are the aforementioned tips:
- Avoiding crowds at tourist sites in Paris
- 10 ways to see more in Paris …
- Pros and Cons of visiting Paris in August
- Notre Dame Walking (and Reading) tour
And be sure not to miss the good advice in the latest posting on attractions close to major tourist sites in Paris, and Pisa , like Musee du Quai Branly near the Eiffel Tower and the Duomo beside the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I was right beside both places and the Baptistery too, but regretfully didn’t make time to see them.
Now for some tips on Venice – Monica Cesarato and Jessica Spiegel have good advice for us:
- Venice -How to avoid crowds at the city’s main attractions
- 5 sure ways to save in Venice
- Venice – 10 things to do for under 10 Euro
- Venice supermarkets etc – this is one thing I thought about after we returned home. I would love to return to Venice and take an apartment, but you would need to shop for food etc – and I can honestly say I never really noticed a supermarket! I was too busy looking at iconic sights like this:
I have the Eurocheapo Widget on my home page so that I instantly see the numerous new postings. If you are traveling to Europe anytime soon, I suggest you visit the site for yourself – the information is current and helpful even if you are are not on a restricted budget.
Incidentally, Rick Steves has a nice little posting on catching the Eurostar to Paris – one of the most exciting trips I have done – going through the Chunnel was exhilarating and scary at the same time!
A tip slightly out of left field now – if you are going to visit Positano in Italy as I hope to, it might be worth taking a look at the new Kath and Kim movie, Kath and Kimderella – the Italian scenes were shot in Positano, so it could be full of whacky tips (and nice scenery) for us would-be visitors!