Five nights: Friday, June 29 to Wednesday, July 4
Before this trip, we had visited Europe twice previously: our honeymoon in 2001 (Italy, Paris, London) and a vacation in 2009 (The Netherlands, Belgium). One goal of this trip has been to see entirely new cities. That’s exactly what we’re doing, but with two exceptions: Amsterdam and Paris.
Paris is a great city. It’s visually stunning with its grand boulevards, monumental architecture and sheer scale. It’s culturally pleasant with great food, friendly people and world-class museums. Overall, we enjoy Paris and for this visit we spent most of our time simply getting out and about in the city.
That said, we did make time to hit a a few museums. While intrigued by the quirky Le Musée des Égouts de Paris and Musée de la Contrefaçon, we ended up using our museum time to visit The Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and the Pompidou Center. Strangely, we saw none of these during our original visit.
Speaking of our original visit, we took a spin past our old hotel and surrounding neighborhood. It was interesting to see how much we recognized from 11 years ago, including a fancy chocolate shop on the corner. Most bizarrely, it still has a chocolate model of a Dremel tool in its display, just like it did in 2001! I wonder if it’s the same one…
First day in Paris
Jeff suggests the sewer tour
Way to treat a girl
It is bright and sunny at the Eiffel tower
The Jardin des Tuileries smells lovely
And I didn't spot a single rat in the Musée d'Orsay
Hiked to Sacre Coeur
Saw the church and sweeping view
Ran from all the crowds
View of Sacré Coeur basilica
A small sample of the vast number of people visiting Sacré Coeur that day
Browsing through the shops –
Of all the goods in Paris
Pastries are the best
Pastries are an art form in Paris
Home of mustard and good wine
So very tasty!
Local store's mustard display
Wine provided by our apartment
Three nights: Tuesday, June 26 to Friday, June 29
Working our way west from Switzerland, we decided to stop for three nights in the capitol of Burgundy, Dijon. Our apartment was well located just off the main plaza in front of the Ducal Palace. We did o walking tour (heavy on the architecture, though a good way to get acquainted with the city), plus spent some time following a self-guided tour along the “Owl Route”. The tour was named after a carving of an owl found on a church, which apparently grants you wishes if you rub it with your left hand. A quick empirical test seemed to dispel these claims. Overall though, the city was quaint and had some interesting historical buildings and was a good place to stay for three nights.
It was good to be back in France from a culinary perspective. Our very first (and affordable, compared to Switzerland) lunch started off with appetizers of salmon terrine and escargots. Even our supermarket-based meals were outstanding (pork rillette, local mustard, oozy reblochon cheese).
Given that we were in the heart of Burgundy, we decided to take a wine tasting tour to the nearby city of Beaune. It was a small tour: just us, a couple of older Swiss ladies and the guide. It was interesting to get a little more context about the Burgundy region and its wines. One of the highlights was a stop at the vineyard famous for the world’s most expensive wines – something like €5000 per bottle – and you’re required to purchase a bottle as part of a case containing 11 other wines. The tour was interesting and we tried some good wines, though I’ll be happy to stick with tasty Northwest-style ales.
Three nights: Saturday, April 21 to Tuesday, April 24
Three nights was probably too little time for Nice. Or more specifically, we could have spent lot more time exploring the Côte d’Azur as there are a lot of small, scenic towns scattered along the coast. Once things warm up a bit more (70s instead of 60s), we may very likely pass through here again on our trip.
We really only spent one full day in Nice itself. Between that and the day we arrived, we explored the port and old town areas. The highlight was taking a spin through the Cours Saleya Flower Market. We again picked up various items for a snacks dinner, but we also got an opportunity to try out some local specialities for lunch:
- Socca – this was basically a big, thin pancake made from chickpea flour, drizzled with olive oil and dusted with pepper. Tasty!
- Pissaladière – a pizza-like dish, with a topping of onions, olives and anchovies. Tasty!
- Tourte de Blettes – a sweet pastry filled with egg custard and swiss chard, dusted with powdered sugar. Tasty!
In general, it seems that the Niçoise cuisine reflected a strong Italian influence, which makes sense as Nice was under Italian control until 1860.
The other full day started off with a visit to the Chagall museum in Nice. Afterwards, we hit the train station and headed five minutes up the coast to the scenic cove village of Villefranche-sur-Mer. This was just one of many such villages along the coast – I think we’ll need to spend a few days in one just to chillax! We then took another quick hop to Monaco, just for the sake of saying we were in Monaco. As it turns out, there wasn’t really a lot to see, other than the Grand Prix viewing stands being erected (and lots of yachts).
After we returned to Nice, we decided to try and find an English bookstore we’d heard about, the Cat’s Whiskers. We ended up methodically combing a four-block area looking for it before we found out from a helpful stranger that it had since closed down. We ended up heading back to the apartment. On our way we ran into the only person in the city we knew, our AirBnB host. Bizarre!
Socca and pissaladière
Fresh from the market
Pissaladière in front and Socca behind
Also from the market, a piece of tourte de blettes, a sweet tart filled with swiss chard
Train along the coast
Beach towns and race cars
Harbor in Villefranche-sur-Mer
Monaco setting up for the Grand Prix
Four nights: Tuesday, April 17 to Saturday, April 21
We really enjoyed Avignon. We were staying in an apartment in the old city center and enjoyed wandering around and discovering interesting sights. This was pretty easy to due since the entire area within the old city walls is about the same size as Green Lake.
This was our first stop in France and I was looking forward to the French food. I wasn’t to be disappointed. The restaurants we ate at were great (steak tartare, duck confit, wonderfully creamy sauces, etc.) plus we also hit the Les Halles market one day for some wonderful bread, cheeses, pork terrine and amazingly fresh fruit.
We paid the obligatory visit to Le Pont d’Avignon, but declined the €11.00 ticket to actually walk around on it. Instead, we came across an entrance into one of the city wall towers (Torre de Chiens) that took us up to a wonderful garden behind the Palace of the Popes. We had great views of the Rhone river and surrounding countryside and were able to relax in the park for a while.
Since Avignon was pretty small, we took a couple of day trips. The first was via train to the city of Arles, which had some extensive Roman ruins (and more tasty French cafes). The other day trip was via bus to Le Pont du Gard, a very impressive Roman bridge that was part of the Nimes aqueduct. Between these two sites and Avignon’s historic center, we were able to hit three UNESCO World Heritage sites at once.
Overall, Avignon was great. We’re looking forward to our next French stop (Nice) and then onwards into Italy.
Eleven euros –
Fee for le Pont d’Avignon
I will dance elsewhere
Près du Pont...
Les Halles marketplace
Pâté, fromage, bread and fruit.
Make a fine dinner
Outside the market
The result of visiting the market
A Roman province –
Hence the current name “Provence”.
So many ruins!
Roman Amphitheater in Arles (90 AD)
Roman theater in Arles (late 1st century BC)
Pont du Gard, part of a Roman aqueduct (19 BC)