This is a quick overview of our trip to France. While on the trip, we decided that we would like to do a whole site dedicated just to this trip. We have a *lot* of pictures (that's what happens when everyone has a digital camera and a big memory card). There is a lot of narrative we can include since we did quite a few activities. And everyone liked the idea of doing sections on the web dedicated to the various themes on the trip, such as recipies or herbal remedies. So I will be working to set that up over the next month or two. Since I will be traveling in the US, it will take longer than usual. Plus it will also depend on how much content I get from the others on the trip and how soon I get it.
There were six of us. Sandy, Shannon and I traveled from Singapore to Paris via Amsterdam. A long trip but no problems. The other members of our group were Mary Beth and Linda, friends of ours from HP in Boise, and Joe who was a friend of Linda's. The plan was for us all to meet at the airport in Paris. From there we would take the train to Avignon in the south of France. Because of flight delays, Mary Beth made the train with less than five minutes to spare. Linda's luggage got stuck in Chicago. Her and Joe had to stay in Paris for a day to work out arrangements with the airlines. Her luggage didn't catch up with her for four days! Linda was a good sport and didn't let it effect her enjoyment of the trip. It was a real nuisance for her though.
Sandy, Shannon, Mary Beth and I had a free day in Avignon. We walked through the old town. We toured the Papal Palace, where the popes stayed for over a hundred years in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries when it was not safe for them politically at the Vatican in Rome. We also saw the Avignon Bridge over the Rhone River, which was built in the 1100's. Only a portion of the bridge is left, so you can't cross the river on it. Apparently there is a really famous French folk song about it. Linda and Joe arrived from Paris in the afternoon and Linda did some emergency shopping.
We spent the next six days hiking around Provence, a beautiful area in the southeast of France. This trip actually grew out of a trip that Sandy and I took last year to the Cinque Terre in Italy. One of the group leaders from that trip was Virginie, a French woman who lives in Provence and who leads hiking and bike tours in France and Italy. We arranged with Virginie to design a trip for a group which we organized. So we had our own custom tour done just for us and some friends.
Each day we would take a half day hike through the countryside of Provence. We walked up hills, along ridges with beautiful views and through limestone canyons. Along the way we passed through forests, lavender fields, vineyards and olive groves. We hiked through many villages that dated back to medieval times. These were usually located on hills or bluffs for defense and commanded an expansive view of the surrounding area. After our daily hike, in the afternoon we would have an activity such as a wine tasting (we did three wine tastings actually!), a tour of a lavender distillery with a "make your own perfume" workshop, a visit to a candy and ice cream factory (it was so good we made a special trip back again the next day for more) or a class where we cooked our own dinner (ok I admit that I skipped the cooking class and got a pizza on my own).
Sometimes we did have free time for shopping in the local markets and shops, exploring the towns we were based in, or just having a glass of wine or snack at one of the local open-air bars or cafes (they were everywhere). Each evening we had a dinner with great French food and wine. We were based in two different villages during the trip so we didn't have to spend a lot of our time packing up our stuff and moving it to a new hotel every day. The hotels that we stayed at were moderate but nice. We were also very lucky with the weather. Although it was raining almost everywhere in France we had sun every day. The temperature was usually in the mid seventies with low humidity. Good for hiking and a big change from what we are used to in Singapore.
We did have one unusual problem on the trip. After the first hike, Mary Beth started to develop a rash. At first it wasn't bad but it continued to get worse every day. Then it started to show up on others. Finally it was bad enough that MB needed to go to a doctor. He diagnosed it as a chemical burn from a plant secretion. This is quite unusual as there are not (supposed to be) any poisonous plants in the area (like poison ivy or poison oak in the US). By the end of the trip everyone but me ended up with The Creeping Crud.
After our week of hiking in Provence it was time to pack up all of our (very heavy!) luggage, load it on the train, and head up to Paris. We had to take two cabs from the train station to our hotel. It was supposed to be a ten minute ride but there was a big demonstration going on that tied up traffic and it took us over an hour and a half. But we made it. The rooms in our hotel were tiny but clean. The hotel had a central location close to the Eiffel tower so we could get to all of the attractions of central Paris easily by walking.
We spent three days in Paris. One day all of us went together to the Musee d'Orcy where many famous impressionist masterpieces are located. From there we took a long walking tour that went past the Louvre, through the Jardin de Tuileries, down the Avenue de Champs-Elysees to the Arch of Triumph (some of us went up to the top for the view) and ended up at the Eiffel Tower.
For the last two days we split up according to our various interests. Everyone but me went to the Louvre (I had been there before so I explored the Left Bank). Sandy, Shannon and Steve went to Montmatre to visit the church of Sacre Coeur and the artists at the Place du Tertre. We got sketches done there that are pretty cool. Mary Beth went to the Museum of Modern Art. Linda and Joe went to Versaille to tour the palace of Louis XIV. Our one bit of excitement came when Sandy dropped her wallet in a taxi coming back from Montmartre. She never got it back, but at least she noticed it immediately so she was able to cancel her credit cards. She lost about a hundred dollars in cash, but it could have been worse.
We were lucky with the weather in Paris too. It had been raining for a whole week, but two of the three days we were there were nice. Paris is my choice for the prettiest city in the world, so it is fun just to walk around. We spent a lot of our time doing just that. Then it was time to head for home (via loooooong flights again).