Day 15 of Romance Holiday

Yes, you guessed it, 15 out of 15. Though when it did rain today it did not affect us. It is definitely the best weather we have had in Paris today. And for those of you who didn’t know, it is Bastille Day in France. We thought we would chance it and head for the Musee d’Orsay and hoped that the crowds would not be there as well. When we left the hotel we wondered where everyone was. The road in front of our hotel was blocked off totally even to pedestrians. It was fantastic. We walked to the museum and the roads around there were also closed off and used for parking for the buses carrying the people involved in the parade. We didn’t get to the see the parade but we did see the troops in their full uniforms heading back to their respective buses. Helen commented “Nothing like a Frenchman in a uniform” and then added “Nothing like a Frenchman out of a uniform as well”! Fortunately she is married to a man so much better looking than any Frenchman that I have no need to worry.

The Musee d’Orsay was empty. No line of people to go through security. No line of people to buy tickets. A limited number of people inside. Definitely the best time to visit the museum. We went to the top floor to look at the Impressionists.  Michael, Stephen and Lara breezed through the whole floor in about the time it took Helen, Chloe and I to do the first room. Some people have no culture. Sorry Bryan & Sharon, I did try but to no avail. Bad influence of my son I think. There were some fantastic paintings again. I definitely love Monet paintings. Anyone wanting to give me a gift, give me a Monet. Some of the pointillism art was also absolutely brilliant.  I particularly liked Maximillien Luce’s works in this regard. You’re not allowed to take photos inside the museum but I only saw that after taking the photo. It is situated in a old train station and is a beautiful building without all the art which makes it even more impressive. I am not much of a statue person but one of Rodin’s of a man was extremely good. The other artist that I was really impressed with (pun for Rick) was Degas. The attention to detail in his artwork was incredible.

After the museum we decided to walk to Pont de Neuf and catch a boat ride down the Seine. We just missed the 12pm one and so had to wait for the 12:45pm. During this time it rained but we were sitting under the covering so it made no difference to us. The trip gave a slightly different view of Paris but in my view wasn’t particularly exciting and not something I would do again actually. I did finally manage to get a photo of Lara though.

We had our usual chilled afternoon. Stephen and the girls went our souvenir shopping. I made sure he looked after Chloe. If you have seen the movie ‘Taken’ and have a daughter then you will know why I was particularly concerned about Chloe. We then had our final dinner in Paris in an Italian restaurant. Yes, we do understand the irony. We had tried to go to this restaurant 2 nights previously and couldn’t get in because they were full.  And it was very conveniently situated near the hotel and we were hungry. As usual, my choice was excellent and Chloe also seemed happy. The rest of them had some complaint though about their pizza’s or pastas. Usual story. I should do the ordering for everyone.

As it is Bastille Day, there are always fireworks around the Eiffel Tower. They start at around 11pm (otherwise it isn’t dark enough yet) and last for around 30 minutes. We are a reasonable distance from the Eiffel Tower but we walked up to the Louvre/Tuilleries Garden and watched from there. They were quite spectacular. There were numerous people all with the same idea as us (as you can sort of see). They start by turning the Eiffel Tower lights off totally and then eventually they come on and twinkle (as you see them in the photo). The fireworks theme was ‘Disco’ and we did see earlier a giant disco ball hanging from the Eiffel Tower (you can see it in the photo from the boat actually). Helen remarked (after watching the fireworks for about 20 minutes) that if the theme was ‘Disco’ then all other fireworks she has seen must also have had a ‘Disco’ theme.

This was our last night in Paris and France. I do have some ‘thoughts/remarks’ about Paris and France but I think I will send those as a special blog tomorrow sometime. Vive la France!

Day 14 of Romance Holiday

14 days, 14 days of rain. Not kidding. Got caught twice today in the rain. Both times decided to take the Metro back rather. Fortunately the one Metro stop is right opposite the hotel so that makes life very simply once you have figured out how the Metro works.

This morning we (aka Helen) decided to go shopping. I considered staying behind from the start but thought that would be anti-social so I went along for the start. We went to a local mall – Forum des Halles. Weirdest mall I have ever been too. All underground and like a maze. Most importantly, we found the Gap store and even I managed to buy some clothes. That was the extent of my shopping desires quenched and so the boys and I headed back via the electronics store (always time to play around with the latest technology products). We caught the Metro back to the hotel (to avoid the heavy rain) though it was about the most complicated travel thing I have ever done.  The rest of the shoppers got back about 2 hours later.

Every day I go down to the lobby to work as the Wifi connection is much quicker and it allows me to do some things I cannot do from the room internet (like access internet banking). Each day since we have been here when I am down there in the afternoon, a lady comes with her iPad and gives piano instructions to students via Skype. No, I am not kidding. And she doesn’t use earphones either. We get to hear the beginners and the advanced students. And each time she starts by apologizing for the poor connection in ‘her house’. Honesty and integrity in piano teachers seems to be lacking. Stephen has threatened to walk past and drop earphones (we got some from the bus trip we did) on the table but he hasn’t done it yet. I went for the surveillance approach and subtly took her photo and then thought that wouldn’t be sufficient so I went ahead and took a movie clip of her. Now I just need to figure out how to get it uploaded so you can watch it! I have inserted it into the post but it just appears as ‘piano’ at the moment so hopefully you can click on it and see it! piano

We felt we had to at least try two of the recommendations given to us today and so we (meaning Helen and I) decided to go and visit the Musee de l’Orangerie this afternoon.  It is a 5 minutes walk from the hotel and it was recommended by one of our blog readers husband’s. It contains paintings from the Impressionist era. What I realized is that I much prefer Impressionist artwork than renaissance.  The top floor has Monet’s water lilies paintings which were amazing. I cannot describe them. I would never do them justice. The bottom floor contains Paul Guillaume’s private collection which was donated by his widow. He must have been seriously wealthy even from a young age because he was collecting Picasso works from the age of 23. There are hundreds of paintings by Picasso, Renoir, Soutine, Modigliani, Matisse, Cezanne and Gauguin to mention a few. As we didn’t have the kids with us we took audio guides and so today I really did learn something about art. (@Yvonne – thank Paul!) (@Helen – if you want to buy my a present go for Picasso or Renoir.) That was what I consider ‘proper’ art and we weren’t amidst thousands of tourists viewing it either.

This evening we decided to go to dinner at Restaurant Chartier which was another recommendation (and I was told to say by the family’s favourite English teacher – Michael wants to know if he gets extra marks for that; Stephen was concerned whether the ‘other’ English teacher would read it too). It was about a 20 minute walk to the restaurant. Fortunately not raining yet. The ladies at the rear thought I had gotten lost (total lack of faith). Straight to the restaurant with no problems whatsoever. We got a table as we were still quite early. It was a sizeable Brasserie type place. It is meant to be the oldest Brasserie in Paris. Who knows if it is or isn’t – doesn’t matter – it was great. Only French menu’s (photocopied and some badly at that). We mostly (except Chloe) went for the Duck Confit. Waiter only spoke French and mainly to Helen (she obviously looks French). Didn’t matter – we managed to order drinks and dinner without a problem. He wrote the order on the table (paper covering over the table). Drinks came in a minute, food about 5 minutes later (not kidding). Limited menu, big restaurant, so no doubt partially prepared already but it was great. The duck was very good, the wine (Bordeaux) was also.  So good Stephen finished off the bottle. When we asked for the ‘l’Addition’ (bill) the waiter simply wrote down the amounts next to what we ordered, tallied it up and circled the total. Total bill about 2/3rds of any other dinner bill we have paid in Paris. If in Paris you have to be crazy not to come to this place. It was a great experience. And when we left there was a waiting line already into the street. Clearly the place to go. We would definitely go back there again if we had the chance.

By the time we came out it was also raining again and none of us fancied a 20 minute walk in the rain. So being seasoned Metro users we bought some tickets, found the right line and jumped on. Having a station right across from the hotel is turning out to be useful. Even with the extra cost of the Metro tickets we did not get anywhere close to the usual dinner bill tonight (and fortunately I got the bank to fix my card so I have money again – thanks to all of you who showed concern!).

Day 13 of Romance Holiday

13 days, and yes, you have it, 13 days of rain. This afternoon I made the fatal mistake of remarking to Helen that the rain in Paris had not affected us as we had been in the hotel every time it rained. Not so this evening though. I don’t think I have ever been overseas and had 13 days of straight rain. Must be global warming or as one of my Facebook friends said ‘Global cooling’. Anyway, it ain’t going to dampen our spirits.

Today we decided to go to Versailles. The concierge said the best thing was to pre-purchase our tickets from the Tourism shop and so Michael and I did that this morning. The lady was helpful but not friendly until she asked where we were from and I replied “South Africa”.  Then she was incredibly friendly and helpful and said what a lovely country we live in. I agreed. She even offered to sell me the train tickets which saved us from having to do that at the station which I have had experience in previously and my memory is still scarred.

We walked to the train station (we have done a LOT of walking in Paris) and managed to find the right train to Versailles. The tourism lady said we should simply follow the crowds when we got off and she was right. We arrived at the palace at 11:30 and got into the palace at 11:50. The queue (even for ticket holders) took that long to get through security. Now at this point I need to correct yesterday’s blog. I had a decimal in the number of visitors annually to Paris. The annual number of visitors is 27 million. 2 million of them are in Paris at any one time and 25 million of them are at Versailles. It was ridiculously overcrowded. Once inside you could not move and had to just go with the flow of people. Did I say it was ridiculous?! The picture is of the Hall of Mirrors. I took it not because I was staggered at the Hall but rather to illustrate the number of people. And this was the least congested room. Helen shouted back at one stage “Give me the plains of Africa any day over this”. We all agree. Africa is in our blood. Thousands of tourists are not. At the first opportunity to exit we headed for the exit and skipped the balance of the inside of the palace.

The gardens at Versailles are beautiful though. We did walk around them for a short while but they were even spoiled by the multitudes of people. Helen and I had the privilege of coming to Versailles during a conference and only the conference attendees and their spouses were there (1500 of us). In comparison to today it seemed like we had the place to ourselves then. And they put on a special fireworks display for us in the evening over the gardens. So we really had seen Versailles in its glory and not trampled by thousands (no, make that millions) of tourists. By lunch time we were on the train back to Paris and leaving the 25 million tourists behind.

We took the afternoon off to recover from ‘Tourist Shock’. It is a disease closely related to ‘Trench Foot’ which Helen and Michael are now both concerned about. Helen and I went for a quick coffee (Starbucks style) this afternoon and then Helen felt the draw of a shop nearby so she headed off and I went back to the hotel. About an hour and half later she emerged from the shop and it was raining hard. By the time she got back her shoes were soaked through. To ensure she didn’t wet another pair she went out in them again this evening but now she reckons she had joined Michael in getting ‘Trench foot’ (or is that ‘feet’). Either way, it was wet walking around trying to find a restaurant. We did consider recommendations made by  our generous readers but in the rain your recommendations were too far away from the hotel. We ended up more local. We will try to take up the recommendations though if the weather allows us too.

And on that note, thanks for all the comments. We do read them even though we don’t always reply. I am still waiting for an explanation of that piece of art. Where are all the art experts when you need them? Besides the rain and the tourists, the biggest problem we have is that my UK account which I transferred money into for the holiday is no longer working (can’t pay with the Visa or draw cash from it anymore). @Bryan – can you wire over some more money so that we can feed your daughter?

Day 12 of Romance Holiday

12 days, 12 days of rain. We woke up this morning and it was grey and England looking outside (dreary that is). But by the time we went for breakfast the sun was out and it was looking like a nice day. So back to Plan A which was to take the open top bus tour around Paris today. We eventually found the collection stop and made it onto a bus. It gave a good overview of Paris with sparse English commentary – most the “commentary” was just music as we spent a lot of time stuck in traffic especially driving up and down the ChampsÉlysées. When the sun was out it was bearable on the top but when it went behind the clouds it was freezing cold especially with the wind-chill factor.  We did get to see all the major sights of Paris in one go though including some really good views of the Eiffel Tower. 

The incredible thing about the Eiffel Tower is that they were going to tear it down. However, the height made it excellent to have a telegraph aerial on top of it and then the radio was invented and there was no better place to put the aerial for that and now it has a TV aerial on top of it. However, I suspect the tourism value alone is worth keeping it for Paris now. Imagine Paris without the Eiffel Tower – it would be like Cape Town without Table Mountain; Pretoria without the Voortrekker Monument or London without Big Ben.

They told us on the tour that 2.8 million people visit Paris each year. Helen leaned over and said “And 2 million of them are here today”. They have 1850 hotels in Paris and I bet they are all full or close to full at the moment. Who said anything about a recession in Europe? Having said that, most of the people in Paris, I don’t think, are from Paris. You hear more English being spoken on the streets than you do French. After the bus trip we set off looking for a sandwich (which we failed at bitterly and ended up eating hamburgers). The streets are teaming with people. But the worst part are the American & Asian tour groups who just stand on the pavement in a group talking. Parisian pavements aren’t large and you don’t want to step out into the road (Helen did it once and I almost had to fetch her from the hospital) to pass or get around people. Do people not realise that if 50 of you stand in a group on the pavement other people can’t get around you?! They need to introduce a course at schools – “manners while traveling” or maybe even better “common sense of traveling”.

The plan was also to go to the Louvre today. Walking to the bus stop we saw hardly anyone around so we thought maybe we should go rather in the morning. But when we walked past the Louvre the line was ridiculously long already and we went back to Plan A which was to go this afternoon (or early evening to be more precise). That gave everyone time to have some R&R this afternoon. And it seems that 5 people took that up by examining the insides of their eyelids. I (on the other hand) did the usual thing I do – some work and caught up on correspondence et al.

We headed to the Louvre at about 6pm after obtaining ‘Fast Track’ tickets (just like Disneyworld Paul) from the Concierge and we went in through the entrance in the underground Mall.  There was no queue at all – not even on the standard line. How ridiculous people are to queue (probably most of the morning) when you can just get right in later in the day. We decided to head directly for the most famous of all items in the Louvre – the Mona Lisa. In the process we passed sculptures which were 1000s of years old, other famous paintings but what’s the point when you’re heading to see the Mona Lisa.

We then started ambling through the other Renaissance works. What struck me was (a) they liked painting Biblical scenes (though in their own way – one painting showed David beating up Goliath) and (b) nudity was a must somewhere in the painting even if painting a Biblical scene.  Some of the sculptures in the African section I had to simply shield from the eyes of Chloe and Lara. Sorry Bryan and Sharon – I didn’t think a stroll around the Louvre would be so explicit.

At one point Lara looked really disturbed and so we all huddled around to hear what her problem was. It turned out she had just spotted a celebrity from one of Sharon’s recent ‘Hello’ magazines and couldn’t remember her name. I suggested taking a photo but was shot down (not sure why I thought it a good idea). The rest of the evening was then trying to figure out who she was and eventually the mystery was solved after Helen found her on the internet. Jeri Ryan was her name. Google her if you want to know what she looks like. She was there with her husband and children. I am reliably told that she acts in “Body of Proof” currently and before that in Shark, Boston Public and even Star Wars. I would have posted a photo if I had been allowed to take one by the family.

We did spend about an hour and a half wandering around the Louvre making distasteful comments about the art. Helen pointed out a Roman statue (the guy had his hand in the air holding something) and said “Look – he’s battling to get a cellphone signal”. Now that is the problem with our family – absolutely no idea of art whatsoever. But we went to the Louvre nonetheless as it is important to improve your knowledge and widen your thought. Not sure it worked though today. We got to one section and it contained pencil sketches. Some of them were so bad we wondered how on earth they made it into the Louvre to be on display. The picture on the right is one such example. It isn’t out of focus. That is what it looked like. There is a prize for anyone who can tell us (a) what it is and (b) why anyone sane would believe this should be hung in the Louvre.

It was quite late by the time we exited the Louvre and so we headed for dinner immediately which we enjoyed at a French Bistro. Nothing special. Drinks 50% of the bill as usual. That is partly because we have discovered that in France it is legal for children to drink alcohol so long as they are with their parents. But in fact the cooldrinks are the same price as the beers and cidres (not a spelling mistake or typo) and usually smaller in quantity. And then for desert we headed for HäagenDazs for desert. However, when I saw the price I limited everyone to one scoop only. They must import it from the USA and fly it in daily at that price! But it was a good way to end the day. Right now though I REALLY want coffee and Starbucks is closed and the hotel wants to charge €8 for a coffee. They must be kidding. My withdrawal symptoms will have to wait until the morning for their fix.

Day 11 of Romance Holiday

Just to keep up our perfect record it rained today for about 1 minute. Things seem to be improving slightly weather wise as we are down to 1 minute of rain from 24 hours when we were in Cornwall. It was overcast most of the day but generally quite pleasant weather.

We left Fontainebleau this morning and decided to go to Versailles on the way into Paris. It seemed like a good plan at the time but by the time we got to Versailles the millions of tourists to France had already beaten us there. The good thing was that the GPS directed us right to the front gates of the palace and I wondered why no one else was parking there. In fact, why did nobody drive up to the gates like we did? When we figured out that wasn’t the access to the parking area and sat in the queue for the parking for about 10 minutes we decided to ditch the plan and head into Paris.

My prayer was that the GPS would do nothing funny in directing us to the hotel. It had earlier in the day directed me off the motorway and through a picnic area (not kidding). Our faith is limited in the GPS. Driving in the French countryside on good quality motorways (their road system in the country is excellent) and an altogether different experience driving in Paris. Especially when you come off the motorway and straight past the famous Arc De Trimophe and around the famous traffic circle at the start of the Champs-Élysées. No lanes, cars and (more importantly) buses driving in every direction and the GPS tells you to the take the 5th exit (there are about 20 exits). I know the suspense is killing you but if you remember point 1 from 2 days ago, I am an excellent driver, unflappable under pressure. When in Paris, do as the Parisans. Change lanes frequently, ignore the guy behind you hooting and try not to turn left into the oncoming traffic (only did that once and the kids were already out of the car Sharon).

The GPS did lead us directly to the hotel but of course no parking in front of the hotel at all. Round the block and we luckily found a spot we could dump the luggage and kids out (they are trained at it now having done is a few times) and off Helen and I set to find the Hertz Car Rental return which was apparently very close by (in the same road as the hotel). After having driven past the place twice that the GPS directed us to we realised that it wasn’t there. We pretty much drove around for 20 minutes until I suggested phoning them. Helen did that and got a French pre-recorded message. Helpful! Then I had the brighter idea of calling Stephen and getting him to ask at the hotel. And they told us where to go. Of course it was the place Helen told me to go about 15 minutes earlier but who knew she would get so lucky. Seriously, the Hertz drop off was inside the Parkade – no signposts though until you enter the Parkade. COULD THEY NOT PUT UP ONE SIGN AT LEAST ON THE OUTSIDE?? And it was the weirdest drop-off ever. No office. Just drop the keys and contract in a box and off you go.

The hotel was close by and only about a minute walk. We are staying at the Saint James & Albany Hotel ( If you never click any other link, click this one. It really does look as good as the internet pictures. It is right across the road from the Tuileries’ Garden. You could not get a better location. Across the road and you’re at the Louvre, across the bridge and you’re at Musee d’Orsay. They allocated us rooms next to each other 218, 219 & 223. French have a strange idea of ‘next too’ – 220, 221 and 222 are between 219. As it turned out Helen and I opted for 223 and then I realised the aircon was not working and they installed a portable aircon which just blew the air around (we call them fans in SA). My staff say I am fussy and quick to complain. They may be right but given what I am paying per night I expect the aircon to be working. So I headed straight down and complained. And guess what – they upgraded Helen and I to a Junior Suite on the 6th floor. It is worth complaining.

  After settling in we headed off to find lunch and after that was secured 5 people went off shopping and I headed to the Apple store (to get an adaptor so I could connect to the internet in the room – the expensive hotel doesn’t have Wifi!). I love Apple more and more each day. Brilliant experience. Got the advice immediately and they guy who helped me also then turned to be the check out point and he didn’t bother to print my receipt – he just emailed it to. I am going back tomorrow to see what else I can buy from them (Bose headphones were half the price of what I can get them for in London even). The other bunch went clothes shopping. And I got constant updates about how cheap everything was (sales all over at the moment). And yes, Michael did buy himself a pair of green pants.

At dinner time we walked/wandered down the Seine on the left bank in the St Germaine area. Then we walked up to Notre Dame and found a bistro near Notre Dame and enjoyed dinner. Over dinner I asked Lara what she thought of Paris and she said ‘Beautiful but really busy’. And that it is. There are people everywhere. Even now at 12:05am I can hear people outside making a huge noise. I can only imagine what it will be like on Saturday – it is Bastille Day for those of you who didn’t know. But despite the millions of people, Paris is charming, lovely, clean and romantic. We’re here for the next 5 nights so you’re going to hear a lot more about Paris.

(More photos coming when I can figure out how to post vertical photos without them becoming horizontal!)

Day 10 of Romance Holiday

10 days down and 10 to go. Hard to believe we are 1/2 way through the holiday. And that would also make it 10 days of rain as well. Today was the best day i.t.o. weather though as it only rained for about 2-3 minutes this morning while driving (but it did still rain).

We left Amboise this morning at about 9:45am and planned to find a supermarket to buy some breakfast to avoid eating pastries for the 4th consecutive morning. I was longing for cereal and I never eat cereal even at home. We checked out and set out seeking the supermarket. What we discovered was that not only were all supermarkets closed on Sundays but also that someone came and stole all the supermarkets on Sunday night leaving none in France. We drove until about 11am along the Loire River until we eventually found a supermarket and bought what turned out to be brunch. We found a pull off place to eat alongside the Loire River though you couldn’t see the river and there was no table. We are good improvisers though (see our cheese board).

And yes that is a Brie.  That would be our second brie that we have eaten since we are here. They are ridiculously cheap (cheaper than SA) and really creamy and delicious. (And yes Bryan and Sharon – you can see Lara is wearing her own clothes for a change.)

After our brunch was consumed we headed for Chateau de Chambord. It is probably the most recognizable Chateau from France and is the largest in the Loire Valley (and Helen told me from her reading of the Frommers Guide that the Loire Valley is know for its Chateau’s). It was built in the 16th century (that is the 1500s for those of you like me that aren’t clever enough to figure that out). It was built by Francois I as a hunting lodge (supposedly) but who builds a hunting lodge like this (see pic). It was actually because he wanted to be closer to his mistress (like most Frenchmen) and for him to go somewhere outside of Paris in the summer. It is massive and has a unique feature in that it is a double staircase. It is possible to walk up (or down) and not see someone going in the opposite direction. We tried and we almost lost Lara (I did say almost Sharon). 

The Chateau has so many rooms that they cannot fill them with items from the correct period. They have two floors with the appropriate furnishings and paintings (including ones of Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI and Charles X). Then there were a whole lot of ugly paintings of the all the woman of the same period (I am amazed they managed to procreate). Either the artists were terrible or French woman have improved in looks over the centuries. Unfortunately, they don’t have sufficient items to fill the top floor so they have filled it with a modern art exhibition. Totally ridiculous. Out of place. What were they thinking?! They would have been better off leaving the top floor empty. I was of a mind to ask for our entrance fee back. Fortunately we hadn’t had to pay for anyone under 18 (and it didn’t even matter what nationality you were and I am pretty sure that it was the same for the Abbey – my guilt has been lifted).

Once we were ‘Chateau’d out’ we programmed the GPS for Fontainebleau. And immediately we ignored it as it tried to take us through all the back routes. We did the amazing thing of following signposts and knocked about 20 minutes off the projected time of arrival by doing that. I am hoping it will do a better job tomorrow of directing us into Paris as I think it could in handy then.

We came to Fontainebleau as it is the home of INSEAD. This is the business university I studied at in 2007 for a month and in fact when I started writing daily blogs of my trips away. It is therefore the birth place of today’s modern blog that you are reading right now. It has historical significance in the Temple family and therefore is a must visit when in France. We are staying right in the centre of the town at Hotel Napolean. Not surprisingly there is a painting of him in reception. I took the family down to see INSEAD. They complained all the way there (only a kilometer walk). They doubted I knew the way, they questioned whether I remembered where I was going, they asked if they should get a map (oh wait … those are all the same things …) I proved them all wrong and took them for a walk around the campus pointing out the important aspects, the canteen, recreation area, gym etc. And I showed them the hotel/residence I stayed in and even pointed out my room. They didn’t seem impressed. I will have to take them back again tomorrow morning to impress it upon them some more.

Helen and I then did the French thing and sat at a sidewalk cafe and had drinks and watched the passing people carrying their baguettes. Seriously everyone in France must carry a baguette. It is like an ID or drivers license which you must have with you at all times. Except in France it is a Baguette. You don’t want to get stopped by someone you know and they discover you don’t have a Baguette with you. That would be shameful. Helen and I felt quite naked without one. Our nervousness might have been from that or the fact that we seemed to be sitting next to the local drug pushers in town. They seemed to know everyone and kissed everyone (they were men and they kissed men) and were all carrying man bags (we reckon were the drugs were stashed). They were gone before we came back for dinner.

Tomorrow is our last day on the road. As from tomorrow we are in Paris for 5 nights so watch out for the daily update from Paris – the City of Romance!

Day 9 of Romance Holiday

Someone commented that all we seem to be doing is eating and walking in the rain. That isn’t entirely true, we also have done a lot of driving in the rain. And today that held true again as we set out from Mont Saint Michel to drive to Amboise in the Loire Valley.  It is a 4 hour 15 minute drive – or at least it is the way we went. The GPS was trying to direct us (constantly) off the main roads (who knows why) but we have learnt from our previous mistakes and we ignored it and followed the road signs instead. Remarkably the road signs work quite well.

The drive was pretty uneventful except that we could not find any shops open. Who would have thought that the whole of France closes on a Sunday. Since when were they a Christian nation? No supermarkets open at all (and believe me we tried a number today). Even stores which advertised ‘Open 24 hours’ (or whatever that is in French) were closed on Sunday. That meant the only place to get food on route was at a Services which aren’t really known for their quality. We managed to buy some sandwiches which could have been flown in from Cape Town a week ago the bread was so stale.

Up until now I have not written much about French roads and driving. I have a number of thoughts on the matter:

  1. I am a really good driver even if seated on the left hand side of the car and driving on the right. So far I have not stalled the car once (even when under pressure). I have not been flustered by the constant hooting on the first day (just put that right behind me). And when the GPS leads me down ridiculously small roads I simply reverse back down the hill and back onto the proper main road rather. I have so far only been tempted once or twice to go left around a traffic circle (see point 8 below). And I only once started driving on the left hand side but quickly corrected myself when faced with a car heading in my direction. And no one has hooted at me since the day we arrived.
  2. I am really courteous. I continually go to open the door for Helen to get into the passenger side. For some reason she finds this funny. I might stop soon because she is always laughing at me when I do it.  What is it with women?
  3. 1 & 2 didn’t really relate to French roads or drivers directly but I thought they were worthy of being in 1 & 2 spots anyway.
  4. French drivers are really aggressive and will never let you in even if you beg. They look straight ahead and close any small gap between themselves and the car in front of them.
  5. Most cars have some dents or scratches in the front, back or sides. No doubt that is the only way to get into traffic. Push you way in even if it means bumping another car.
  6. French love French cars.  At least 50% of the cars on the road are Peugeot; Citroen or Renault.
  7. They have a decent speed limit on the motorways – 130 km/h. And cleverly that reduces to 110 km/h when it is raining. And everyone sticks to it. The French only use speed limits that have a odd starting number (i.e. drop the zero). 50 km/h in town; 70 km/h on a rural single lane road running through farms/villages etc. I have never seen a 60 km/h or an 80 km/h.
  8. They love traffic circles. Even more than the British. Must have been through 1000 already.Even the motorways have traffic circles.
  9. The road numbering system is a mystery. It seems most ‘A’ roads are motorways but we have driven on some that were single lane. Then you get B, C, D and N roads. These are followed by a 1, 2 or 3 digit number. But that gives you no indication of the road size at all. We have driven today on D775 which was a motorway and then on D3 which was a single lane country type road. And we have done it vice versa as well. I reckon they just arbitrarily assign letters and numbers to roads as they feel led.
  10. They are very disciplined drivers. They overtake in the left hand lane and then immediately pull back into the right lane again. Imagine if everyone did that in SA (fantasy I know).

We are now in Amboise in the Loire Valley staying at Hotel Le Vince Loire Valley (  It is an adequate hotel just outside the town centre. We are only here for 1 night.  The rooms are quite small but we all managed to fit in to watch a DVD this evening (French television isn’t my thing). We did go into the town (which is quite nice) for dinner and we walked around before and after dinner including walking along the Loire river.  The valley is very pretty. We haven’t really gotten much feel for the whole Valley and tomorrow we will drive a little more of it as we are quite close to our next stop before we hit Paris.

It is now 10:35pm and we sitting in our room with the window open. The sun has finally set but the last 6 or so hours have been rain free and it has been a really pleasant evening. We even sat outside to eat. If it stays like this then I might even be able to wear a pair of shorts tomorrow!

(Sorry about the lack of pictures today!)