Week 4: Part 2: Day 25 – Day 28
6th January, 2017 – 9th January, 2017
After the delights of Troyes. We left for Paris landing at the Gare de l’Est. We ate a generous cheap meal at a kebab shop across the road from the train station. Be assured that kebab shops are the cheapest place for a hearty meal or a decent coffee, all over Europe. We were impressed by the friendliness, service, huge portions and warm atmosphere of these eateries and knew it wouldn’t be long before a return visit…
Despite the grey, drizzly weather we felt compelled to make a small detour. Fully laden with our luggage, we headed to the Trocadero to show Pamela her first, fabled view of the Eiffel Tower before heading out to hilly Garches, to be welcomed by our couchsurfing host Nathalie and her family of boys.
Seeing the Seine
Today was a day trip into the delights of Paris with Prunella as guide and Pamela as first-time tourist. Of course our team of boys gave us a different perspective with delighted distractions that only children can incorporate.
We did the essential Paris walk starting at the Concorde metro station walking through the largest square in the city, the Place de la Concorde, with it’s fascinating Egyptian obelisk. This 3,300 year old obelisk once graced the entrance of the Luxor temple and it’s stunning hieroglyphics praise the Pharaoh Rameses II.
We had a basic picnic lunch in Jardin des Tuileries, overlooking its octagonal lake, and viewed the famous Louvre including silly tourist pictures of us touching it’s glistening glass point, before deviating to the free entry, Carrousel du Louvre – an underground shopping mall featuring an inverted glass pyramid which featured in the Da Vinci Code. Here we caught a few lifts that led nowhere then had to retrace our steps.
Then a lovely walk along the Seine, across the oldest bridge in Paris – Pont Neuf with it’s many stone faces – to Notre Dame Cathedral. As it was post Christmas the cathedral still held a series of delightful nativity dioramas, as is traditional in many of churches in France. They are usually set up on the first Sunday of advent and remain until February.
Of course there was the compulsory long play at the small park behind the cathedral as well as free use of the public toilets and water fountain – a top tip for Paris. Hence onwards across the Pont d’ Arcole to be mesmerised by a man creating giant bubbles in front of the magnificent city hall before heading home via the metro.
Visiting Rellies and Friends
The morning started with a look at the famous Christmas window displays of the Printemps Haussmann and Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann. The children were delighted by the sparkling lights, music and characters in these fantastic animated displays and we reflected on the thousands of French children that must gather to admire them every year.
The Printemps windows contain the dreams of two fictional children, Jules and Violette, as they slumber on the night before Christmas and their adventures inside the store. the Galeries Lafayette windows reveal fantastic origami scenes that tell the story of a family of polar bears from the North Pole. Due to their ice floes melting, they decide to leave the North Pole for Paris. I am sure if we lived in Paris we would be here every year…
We then had a satisfying lunch rendezvous with family in the 10th Arrondissement at a classic local bar. We were delighted to dine with Graham’s uncle John (who had flown over from England), his step-grandmother Claude and her sister Yvonne (both Parisians). Excellent food, great company. Afterwards John accompanied us as we took in the view at Monmatre (Sacré-Cœur Basilica) and the surrounding area. We loved exploring it’s hilly laneways together.
Not to forget the magnificent view…
Later we crossed Paris for a delightful dinner with our friend Richard and family near Port de Saint-Cloud. Before our very weary crew headed home.
A fantastic full day of travelling the Paris metro…
Heading to the French countryside
On day 27, the Sabretoothed chickens again hit the road for a quiet rendezvous in the French countryside. This time we were couchsurfing with Elodie and family who lived in a real medieval farmhouse near Chatellerault. We were excited to meet them and their two young children.
Unfortunately things got off to a rocky start: we couldn’t get hold of our host. We asked around town – even the local tourist office tried to help us. As a last attempt, we finally messaged some of her Facebook friends using the free train station wifi. With evening approaching and a tired family we decided to make plans to leave. We booked a gite in nearby Poitiers, bought train tickets and were minutes from departure – then we got the phone call from our host Elodie. Our Facebook tactic had worked!
Luckily our train tickets were fully refundable and we could cancel the gite. Soon we piled into the car, in two seperate groups and transported to their small property just outside the sweet tiny village of Senile. We instantly connected with this lovely, warm family who generously gave us a little gite of our own, and their kind hospitality. We were home again.
Today we just enjoyed spending time with our host family and their friends.We feasted, had robust conversations, played with the children, looked at local war artefacts, encountered wild bats whilst crawling into caves, enjoyed exploring the fields and lush forests.
Musée des Blindés
During the stay in Senille, Graham took the opportunity to cross an item off the military history buff’s bucket list – the Musée des Blindés (Museum of Armoured Vehicles) at Saumur, in the Loire Valley. This museum is one of the world’s largest museums of it’s kind, hosting a huge selection of more than 800 rare vehicles from the various conflicts which have been encountered in France’s long and often bloody fights for home soil and empire. Such is the size of the collection, a mere 200(!) are on public display.
Hosted in the vast industrial halls of a converted tobacco factory, the museum’s collection includes vehicles from the very earliest days of armoured combat in the First World War, on through the advanced yet poorly used designs deployed by France in their doomed battle in 1940, and some of the vehicles left behind by the crumbling Third Reich in the bitter fighting for Northwest Europe in 1944-1945.
Also present are tanks from the USSR in both the Second World War and the Warsaw Pact, NATO vehicles, and some behemoths from the era when France was rebuilding after the war, and retreating from its colonial Empire.
There are also displays on some of the personalities of the French Armoured Corps as it evolved from the increasingly obsolescent Cavalry Corps, and history displays which include a somewhat typically blinkered French bias on the events of the liberation of France…
Despite this, the Museé is a very complete picture of the development of these fearsome weapons, and is highly recommended.
Saumur itself is an interesting town, spectacularly located in the famous Loire Valley, where the river stretches wide and lazily makes its way to the Atlantic coast. An enjoyable and informative day trip.