FC: Diane & Scott's | European Vacations | 2006-2008
1: Paris 2006
2: Maureen, Vikki and I enjoyed a work/pleasure week of fashion, shopping, eating and art. We stayed at Hotel de l'Abbaye and attended Fashion's Premiere Vision along with shopping a plethora of boutiques and visiting the Musee d'Orsay.. | Paris
3: Secluded on a cobblestone side street in the Latin Quarter, Le Coup Chou provided us with an "Old Paris" traditional French dinner in a medieval setting of stone walls, brick floors, exposed wood beams and warm cozy fire. The owners dog, sensing we were without our husbands joined us as our fourth. After a delightful dinner we asked our taxi driver to tour Paris' main sites so Vikki could witness the nighttime beauty of the city. Our driver delightfully assumed the role of tour guide and even stopped on the Champs Elysees in traffic so Vikki could jump out of the cab and take a photo of the Arc of Triumph.
4: Hotel de l'Abbaye
6: Paris 2007 | Maureen and my encore visit to Paris was a great combination of sharing our favorite foods and activities as well as exploring new places. For the first time, instead of taking a cab from the airport, we met at Charles de Gaulle and took the RER suburban city train to the Luxembourg station. It was easier than I thought and we quickly began our week in Paris. On the way to our hotel we walked through the Luxembourg Gardens with its graveled paths, vibrant flowers, expansive lawns and famous fountains and sculptures. We were hungry after our overnight flights and enjoyed our first lunch there in the small Cafe Restaurant under the trees ... luggage and all. Following lunch we continued to Hotel de l'Abbey and discovered at check-in there was a problem with our reservation and we had to relocate mid-stay for one night to the Odeon Hotel. Shopping stores for trends and samples has been an important part of our careers in fashion. So for what was to be our last "official" work-related trip to Paris, we hit the stores with a passion. Of course, we always seem to find a few personal purchases for ourselves while working diligently on the job. This time we both purchased table linens and a beautiful floral Gien serving platter. I was also able to buy a few fashionable items to wear on my upcoming cruise that summer. Our meals were delightful. Most mornings we visited nearby Deux Magots for a breakfast of pain au chocolate and hot chocolate. For dinner we returned to our favorite French Bistro, Ma Bourgogne and savored their roast chicken. The owner was extremely attentive to us, and as he departed Diane received a surprising kiss on the lips! For Maureen's 60th birthday celebration, we selected another favorite restaurant, Le Coupe Chou.
7: As Monet enthusiasts, we decided it was time to visit the off-the-beaten path museum, Musee Marmottan- Monet. The museum hosts the largest collection of Monet in the world with over 300 of his works thanks to the bequeath of Claude's son Michel and a family friend.. We enjoyed not only the vast Monet collection that includes Monet's late life water lilies and Impression Sunrise, 1872 the painting credited with beginning the Impressionist Movement but also the other art. | Musee Marmottan-Monet | It was a high caloric intake vacation for the girls as we had at least one dessert a day. For the first time we visited the well known Angelina's for lunch and their famed hot chocolate and sweets. During the week we also indulged in yummy chocolate crepes and my favorite dessert, profiteroles. Anxious to experience new districts and better familiarize ourselves with areas where we have not spent much time together, we began by visiting the Latin Quarter. This area has been the heart of student Paris for over 800 years. France's oldest university La Sorbonne as well as many small restaurants are located here. We enjoyed several delightful meals but one of the trip's highlights was listening to a young singer on the sidewalk. Her voice was so beautiful it brought tears to our eyes. Later in the trip we visited the historic district of Marais. Originally known as the aristocrat district, its little streets, cafes and trendy shops are now heavily patronized by hipsters. On our final day we ventured to the 16th district to visit Musee Marmottan-Monet. Dominated with ornate 19th century buildings and Paris' second largest public park, Bois de Bougogne, this area is known as one of the favorite places of residence for France's high society. On our last day in Paris, I was starting to loose my energy and wondered if I was getting sick. That night I accompanied Maureen to a restaurant close to our hotel. Toward the end of the evening it was apparent I was catching the flu, so Maureen utilized her French speaking skills to talk to the local pharmacist and secure medicine to get me through the flight home. Fortunately Maureen was able to escape without catching the flu. Hopefully the poor guy seated next to me on my 12 hour return flight was equally as lucky.
8: Keith and Barb Hoffmann hosted an incredible Rome and Mediterranean Cruise vacation for eighteen of their closest friends and families to celebrate Keith's 60th birthday. Since Brad and I had extra time off from work, we decided to spend a few extra days in Rome before the rest of our group joined us. As we arrived, the Cirritos were just finishing their trip to Italy so we met them in our hotel The Rose Garden Palace across the street from the US Embassy for a great day of sightseeing, eating and shopping. | Rome 2007
9: The ride to Orvieto was slightly more than an hour. The train was comfortable and clean and we relaxed as we rode through the countryside. Upon arriving, we took the funicular up to the walled city. It continued to rain as we walked the narrow streets. We admired the panoramic views from the outlying walls and savored the charm of the medieval old town. After a relaxing casual lunch we viewed the beautiful duomo, visited shops and of course stopped for a mid day gelato snack. | On our second day in Rome we awoke to rain. We met Maureen and Joe for breakfast in the hotel's charming glass enclosed garden room and Brad and I decided to take the train to Orvieto, a small hilltop town outside Rome. Scott and I had visited the town with the Cirritos on an earlier trip but many years had passed and I barely remembered the old walled city perched on a large butte of volcanic tuff. | Orvieto
10: On our third day in Rome we walked to Trastevere (whose name translates as across the Tiber). We crossed the Tiber River and started our exploration at the Ponte Sisto Bridge. We soon saw a totally different portion of Rome. Trastevere had the feel of a medieval neighborhood with its narrow angled streets of cobblestone and crumbling buildings. At the heart of Trastevere is Piazza di Santa Maria and the popular octagonal fountain. Adjacent to the Piazza was our favorite building the Santa Maria Church built around 350 AD. Beautiful mosaics adorned the front of the church. As we finished our walking tour we saw another favorite, "Taechiesa Di San Francisco a Ripa; a baroque style church attached to a Franciscan monastery that contains a statue by Bernini depicting Ludovica Albertoni. It was Bernini's last known sculpture. | Trastevere
11: Our next stop was The Gallery at Villa Borghese. It had been closed for 10 years for renovations, re-opening in 1997. The first floor of the gallery was spectacular. The mosaic floors of the gallery were an art, as were the interior walls. The gallery had many masterpieces including Bernini's Apollo and Daphne, Titian's Sacred and Profane Love, Raphael's Deposition and Caravaggio's Jerome. We especially enjoyed the sculptures. Bernini's David with a Sling Shot was our favorite. Afterwards, we walked the gardens of Villa Borghese. | That evening we headed to Piazza de Navona to meet everyone at Tre Scalini for dinner. We sat outside on the patio, drank many bottles of wine and listened to the local musicians. Dinner at Tre Scalini was enjoyable and the chocolate dessert truly decadent. Scott arrived that night and the young adults joined him for a drink at a local bar. | Villa Borghese
12: Our fourth day in Rome included a private tour. The Vatican was the first site. We walked through a large portion of the museum as our tour guide shared her vast knowledge. The Raphael Rooms in the apartments of Pope Julius II were especially enjoyable. The second room called the Stanza della Segnatura contained Rafael's majestic "School of Athens" depicting philosophers from the ages like Aristotle, Plato and Socrates. It was fascinating that many figures were portraits of some of the greatest artists of the Renaissance including Raphael himself. During our previous visit, the Sistine Chapel was being cleaned and scaffolding and tarps covered much of its beauty. Now, with cleaning complete we were able to appreciate it's splendor. | Vatican City
13: We marveled at the size of St. Peter's Basilica and all the artistic treasures it held. Michelangelo's Pieta and famed dome were magnificent.
14: During the afternoon we toured Rome via our tour bus and visited the Colosseum; the most famous monument to have survived from the classical world, built over two thousand years ago. It was disappointing to see how previous generations had stripped magnificent ruins of their marble and metal.
16: Next we visited the Roman Forum where the ruins of several oldest and most important structures of Ancient Rome reside. For centuries this area was the center of Roman public life.
17: Our last stop of the tour was San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains Church). A small basilica in Rome founded in 5th century and home to Michelangelo's sculpture of Moses and of course St.Peter's chains. | San Pietro in Vincoli
19: Following dinner, Brad suggested we see Rome at night. The girls all threw a coin into Trevi fountain and after a gelato we walked to the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona. Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers in the Piazza was covered with scaffolding diluting its beauty. But then we made an encore visit to Tre Scalini and indulged in one more chocolate dessert. We finished the night with a taxi ride viewing the Colosseum under lights.
20: As we boarded the bus and left Rome, I was amazed at how much more I enjoyed Rome than my first visit. Rome was so much cleaner, and the absence of police armed with machine guns in the airport and streets on this visit was definitely less intimidating. But like my second trip to Paris, I think the more exposure you have to Europe the more you appreciate the history, architecture, art and the total experience. Check-in for the Celebrity Cruise at the Civitavecchia Port was uneventful. We boarded the ship, explored all the decks, unpacked and went through the buffet for a mid-day lunch, as our dinner seating was not until 8:45pm. Our room, which we shared with Brad was on the concierge floor. | Mediterranean Cruise 2007
21: Before going to dinner we went to the Hoffmann's suite for a surprise birthday party for Keith. After our dinner we all ventured to the Oasis Lounge where the piano player / singer crooned "oldies but goodies".
22: Messina | Our first stop on the cruise was Messiina, Italy. Messina is situated on the southern tip of Sicily reaching into the Ionian Sea, off the southwest coast of mainland Italy and is the third largest city in Sicily, with a population of 300,000. It was founded in the classical age by Greek settlers and developed primarily between the 15-17th centuries. A 1908 earthquake destroyed most of the city and it was rebuilt in 1911. After exiting the boat we walked to the Cathedral, an 11th century structure beautifully reconstructed after the 1908 earthquake. Housed in the Bell Tower of the Cathedral was a charming astronomical clock that is thought to be the largest of its kind in the world. At mid-day the clock activates and figurines and evangelical scenes move through a 15-minute cycle. Fortunately for us we arrived right before noon to watch the clock perform its daily ritual. First a lion roared and wagged its tail. Then a bird crowed and flapped its wings. Followed by a person ringing the bell, a rotating angel and clergy and finally a temple rising from the sand. | Messina
24: Our next day of the cruise was a full day at sea. Surprisingly, we awoke at 9 am. Hazy sun with a cool breeze, perfect for a lazy day. Burgers and fries along with reading a book by the pool... It does not get anymore relaxing! Dinner dress was formal and the guys all wore white dinner jackets and the girls all wore black. After dinner we saw the "Broadway Show" in the Celebrity Theater.
28: The three of us were looking forward to Mykonos, our first Greek island visit of the cruise. After disembarking the tender boat we walked through the small maze-like streets of the village of Hora. Hora was charming with white cubic houses and blue wooden doors and windows, brightly colored balconies and fuchsia colored bougainvilleas. Our walk led us to the area called "Little Venice" appropriately named for its high Venetian houses with multicolored porches and wooden balconies, built in the water with the waves breaking under them. We rented ATV's and began our tour of several of the famous golden sandy beaches of Mykonos. Our first stop was a lesser-known beach, and our favorite as the road leading to it and the adjacent resort was too narrow for tour buses and crowds. From there we followed the map to the second, more popular beach where we grabbed a snack and drink for lunch and enjoyed the ambiance. After lunch we drove the narrow roads enjoying the fabulous views and luxurious home. We ended our ride viewing the windmills and enjoying the view over Little Venice.
30: Turkey | A cloudy sky promised rain so we began our day at Ephesus, the showplace of Aegean archeology. Ephesus is the most ancient city in the world, founded in 3000 BC and houses one of the best collections of remains dating from Roman and early Christian times. It was the second largest city of the Roman Empire and has a special place in the history of Christianity as a city where St. Paul once preached. At Ephesus, we began our visit at the Hadrian Temple built in the 2nd century AD. Next we visited the Terrace Houses that were under excavation. We were in disbelief of what we saw; finely decorated mosaic floors and frescoes, marble columns, remnants of elaborate working bathrooms serviced with running water and larger pipes for sewage. Also evident was a heating system serviced by terracotta pipes. The group of residences had belonged to wealthy citizens in the 1st through 7th centuries. We then went to the Celsian Library. The library where the precious paper scrolls were kept was built in the 2nd Century AD by Julius in his father's honor after his father Celsus' death. The two-story building was remarkably preserved including a finely crafted facade. The Theater of Ephesus built at the outset by the Greeks but finished by the Romans in the 2nd Century AD was our next stop. The theater held up to 25,000 spectators and was also the place that St. Paul preached. I especially enjoyed The Ephesus Theater as it helped me better visualize how the Roman Coliseum looked before being pilfered for it's metal and marble. Our next stop was the Ephesus Museum, considered to be one of the most important museums in Turkey, exhibiting many relics found in and around the community. After the museum, we stopped under a covered patio for freshly squeezed orange juice then boarded the bus for our visit to House of Virgin Mary.
31: In Kusadasi we saw a presentation on the art of making Turkish rugs. Although somewhat commercial, it was informative and enjoyable. Each family purchased a rug. Our rug was a beautiful small silk rug.
34: The House of Virgin Mary is said to be where the Virgin Mary lived the last years of her life. Tradition states that Virgin Mary accompanied by St. John came to Ephesus at the end of her life. The building was rediscovered in the late 19th century based on a vision of a German nun. In 1967 Pope Paul VI visited the site and claimed the site authentic. For lunch we drove through the hills to the historical Turkish village of Sirince and ate under an outside patio at the Artemis Restaurant overlooking the beautiful hills of the countryside. Our authentic Turkish lunch was wonderful, consisting of salad, grilled vegetables and skewers of lamb, sausage and meat.
35: House of Virgin Mary
36: The Roberston's and us decided to explore Santorini together on ATV's, so we headed into town to rent ATV's. Complete with helmets we started our journey to the northwest tip of the island, Amoundi Bay a beach area a short distance from Oia. The drive was beautiful along the paved roads. At one time during our drive the island narrowed to the point where you saw water on both sides of the road. Once we reached our destination we could not believe the beauty of the red and black lava stone and the striking contrast of the stone with the vibrant blue water. We hiked along the water taking photos and then stopped at a small seaside cafe for a snack. After our lunch we headed to nearby Oia, a small historic village known for its picturesque architecture and houses that have been delved into the porous volcanic rock. We were amazed at the breathtaking views from the hilltop town. We could not wait to venture down each street always wondering what breathtaking view awaited us. We were disappointed we could not witness the beautiful sunsets that Oia is known for, but unfortunately our ship was departing prior to sunset. From Oia we continued our drive along the opposite side of the island that which was not nearly as breathtaking, but still beautiful. Brad proved to be an excellent navigator and safely returned us to the rental store.
37: Santorini | Santorini is almost exclusively hilltop homes and towns. Most are traditional white with brightly colored shutters and trim but a few other colors of paint were visible, versus Mykonos that was all white. The dramatic rock hills with snowy colored houses are a fabulous site. According to tradition, the island has one church for each family with each church named after a saint who protects that family. On the name day of the saint, the family will give a special reception for everyone who is there. Once on the landing area of Skala we had three choices of getting to the top of the hill and the capital city of Fira. We could climb 30 minutes of stairs, take a donkey ride up the stairs, or opt for the pansy way out and ride the cable car. There was never any doubt in my mind. The views from the cable car were great.
40: Our cruise ship docked at the Commercial Port of Rhodes and we walked the short distance to the Old Town. As we entered the town surrounded by medieval fortress walls we were greeted by the typical souvenir shops. However, the merchandise was of significantly lesser quality than the other islands we visited. We walked several streets and quickly decided that we should explore the rest of the island in hopes of finding something more interesting. We decided to venture to Lindos a famous village of 1000 people originally built around the 11th Century BC. The 47 km drive to Lindos was on a major road with limited interesting views. The terrain was barren except for olive and citrus trees. | As we approached Lindos we found the ancient town that crept from the sea to its ancient Acropolis located on the hilltop. The village still had many houses recently restored from the 16th -18th centuries. As we climbed the steep hills to the Acropolis we admired the pebble mosaic courtyards and doorways and the vines and flowers that overhung the town's narrow streets. Once we reached The Acropolis we did enjoy spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding area. We viewed the ruins and visited the nearby beach before returning to the ship to prepare for our formal attire evening festivities. Our day in Rhodes had been enjoyable, but Rhodes lacked the charm and beauty of Santorini and Mykonos.
47: Athens | Athens was a large city with a mass of relatively low plain buildings and very congested with traffic. On our bus tour, we viewed several important city buildings before stopping at Panathinion Stadium which was constructed in 1896 for the first modern Olympiad. This stadium stands on the site of the Ancient Stadium laid out under Lycurgus in the 4th century BC. The marble stadium was impressive but I was surprised with the small 200-meter track. We then continued on our tour viewing the Olympieion, the 6th Century BC temple of Olympian Zeus, one of the largest Corinthian style temples in Greek history and Hadrian's Arch built in 2nd century AD that divided the Greek City from Hadrian's new Roman city. Also on the tour was the Royal Palace built for Otto I of Bavaria and the present day Parliament. After our visit to the Acropolis we walked to Plaka the older area of Athens located on the northern slope of the Acropolis. We walked the narrow cobblestone streets and stopped at a Greek Tavern "Giouvetsakia" where we had Greek salads, appetizers, pitas with various Greek meats and several Greek beers.
48: There are four buildings on the Acropolis: Propylaea (monument at entrance), The Temple of Athena Nike (commemorating the victories of the Greeks over the Persians), The Erechtheion (site selected by Athena for the olive tree to grow) and the Parthenon Temple (built of of white marble and dedicated to the goddess Athena). Our tour guide mentioned that the quarry utilized for the marble of the Acropolis is in the foothills of Athens and is now only utilized to restore the buildings on the Acropolis. The Acropolis with all its buildings was impressive although scaffolding covered many of the buildings.
50: Amalfi Coast
51: It had been 17 years since Scott and I visited the Amalfi Coast. We both had great memories of the area and were looking forward to our repeat visit. Our driver Alfonso met us as we exited the ship in Naples and drove us to our first stop of the day, Positano.
52: In Positano we wandered down the walkway toward the beach. I stopped by the beautiful Santa Maria Assunta Church that dates back to the 1200's. On our last trip the duomo was covered with scaffolding, now the duomo was beautiful and the white interior of the church with gold leaf trim and crystal chandeliers stunning. As I was viewing the church and shops, Brad and Scott went inside Le Sirenuse, the hotel we stayed on our first trip. | Positano
55: After leaving Positano, we went to a small shop that manufacturers inlaid wood products. We were given an introduction to the inlaid wood process and purchased gifts. Then we drove along the Amalfi Coast. The drive was even more beautiful than we remembered. We continued along the coast to the town of Amalfi. When we exited the bus we walked through an arch and found a spectacular stripped marble church, Duomo Sat' Andrea. We walked through many shops and then ventured to the pier and admired the multi colored umbrella--clad beach with locals and tourists.
56: Alfonso arranged for lunch at San Giovanni, a local restaurant in the small village of Ponone de Scala outside Ravello. We sat at an outside patio and once again soaked in the fabulous hillside views with terraced gardens and in the distance views of the water. The meal for twenty euro each was incredible; Antipasta, pizza, three types of homemade pasta (Rissoto with lemon, gnocchi with red sauce and linguine in cream sauce), pitchers of local red and white wine, followed by homemade desserts including a cannoli with lemon filling. We finished the meal with a shot of limoncello. After lunch we visited the town of Ravello. Ravello was equally charming with brightly colored flower pots and fabulous views of the hillside. At Ravello a wine shop owner greeted us where many participated in wine and limoncello tasting. Many ordered wine to be sent back to the USA. After the tasting we went to Ceramiche d' Arte Pascal, a ceramic shop that Maureen told me about to order more of our Italian animal dinnerware . Everyone bought something including Brad who ordered animal plates and mugs. For the last time we boarded the bus for our journey back to the ship. Everyone had a great time and was sad for our day on the Amalfi Coast to end. | Ravello
58: Arrivederci Cruise
59: Our two week vacation with our friends and families had been an amazing and special trip. We laughed, we ate, we danced and we shopped and for two weeks visited some wonderful places. Thanks Keith and Barb.
60: For the past 25 years, Scott and I have explored, shopped and eaten our way through France and Italy with Maureen and Joe. But surprisingly, more than five years had elapsed since our last trip to Europe together. Scott and I missed our four-some trips and we were looking forward to a new adventure; to an area of France and Spain we have never visited. | We awoke to cloudy skies and rain. Without any change of clothes, we redressed in the travel clothes we had been wearing and met Maureen and Joe to explore Bordeaux and treat our stomachs to their first meal. Hot chocolate / coffee and croissants sounded like a perfect way to begin our day, so we searched for an outdoor covered cafe that would allow us to absorb the local ambiance. Following breakfast, we briefly explored the city as a light rain fell, before driving to our first destination, St. Emilion. | Southwest France | We arrived in Bordeaux as scheduled at 10:30pm; unfortunately our luggage did not. After completing all the necessary forms for missing baggage, Air France provided us with a small toiletries kit; a t-shirt for sleeping and phone numbers to call and sent us on our way. We took a cab to Hotel Continental in Bordeaux. Our hotel was sparse but adequate and since we did not have luggage to unpack, we quickly fell asleep.
61: Bordeaux | and Spain 2008 | Situated on the Garonne River, Bordeaux is the heart of France's wine-producing area. The city of 220,000 inhabitants and 50,000 students offers a mixture of 18th and 19th century buildings complemented with modern urban enhancements. I especially enjoyed watching their new tram system as the cars weaved through the tree covered city streets. | Bordeaux
62: St. Emilion | St. Emilion is a charming walled town that stands on a limestone escarpment above the vineyards for which it is known. We climbed the steep cobblestone walkways with our umbrellas once again sheltering us from the rain as we looked at menus and tried to decide where to eat lunch. Finally, we settled on a brasserie, Amelia Canta. We sat inside but viewed the incredible limestone as we enjoyed a good lunch. I had a beef dish and creme caramel for dessert. We meandered through the streets and enjoyed the views of the vineyards below. Unlike Paris and Provence, the shops throughout the region were very limited in their wares. Their focus was items indigenous to the area; wine, canned confit, foie gras, walnuts and truffles; none of which I was interested in purchasing. The good thing was that I was not tempted use my American Express Card.
64: Le Moulin du Roc | From St. Emilion we drove to the small town of Brantome for a quick view and then on to Le Moulin du Roc where we were staying in nearby Champagnac-de-Belair. Built in 1670 on the Dronne River, Le Moulin du Roc is a beautifully appointed Relais & Chateaux property with lush grounds and hospitable staff. As promised by Air France, our luggage greeted us at the door, and we were anxious to see our rooms, put on clean clothes and explore the lovely acreage. Our room was beautifully decorated with antiques and a four-poster bed. The walls were rock and the ceilings pitched and beamed which Scott knocked his head on several times. The windows overlooked the flowing creek, mill and lush grounds. Mike and Joe's room was equally charming with a lovely terrace.
66: Perigord | In the morning we returned to Brantome for our vacation breakfast de jour; croissants and hot chocolate. From Brantome we drove along the Dronne River to another medieval town of the Perigord, Bourdeilles. We enjoyed our short visit of the beautifully maintained village and especially the enjoyed the picturesque old bridge. Then it was onward to Perigueux and their lively Saturday outdoor market. Perigueux is a place where real people live and work, not simply a tourist destination. The old streets were wonderful with distinguished medieval and Renaissance buildings. We enjoyed walking the outdoor markets' rows of food which Scott and Joe especially enjoyed sampling. Although the skies threatened rain, we ate lunch under a large tree in a charming square.
68: Vieux Logis | From Perigueux we drove to our last stop of the day, Tremolat and arrived at Vieux Logis just before the rain. The Relais Chateaux estate was as exquisite as Maureen had remembered on their previous trip. Our large rustic style rooms were decorated in a Provencal-style and opened to the property's beautiful gardens. I was tired and took a nap while the others explored the gardens. That evening we decided to eat dinner at "Le Bistrot d' en Face", the Chateaux owned Bistro down the road rather than their more formal in-house restaurant (and former tobacco drying barn) . Everyone's meals were incredible, our table in the secluded corner provided an intimate setting for our foursome to savor our meal and surroundings.
70: Joe had purchased pastries in the town for Maureen and I, so we were able to enjoy breakfast in our room. From Tremolat we drove to another small market in St. Cyrien. The market had a wide variety of food, clothes and textiles, but we did not make any purchases. Next we drove to the picturesque cliff town La Roque-Gageac, situated above the Dordogne River featuring rare troglodytic forts built into the cliff face. We enjoyed views from Chateau de Beynac, a medieval fortress with rare original 12th century parts that have been restored from the 13th through 17th centuries. Surrounded by poppies on the hillside we took one of our few group photos. | Chateau de Beynac
71: La Roque-Gageac
72: Our tummies needed nourishment so we drove to Domme looking for a restaurant Maureen had researched. We parked near a town map but had difficulty locating the street of the restaurant, so we decided to just explore and find it since it was such a small village. After an hour of searching, I went in a shop and directed up the hill. But when we arrived at the restaurant, the menu was too fancy, especially for my taste, so we ate outside at another restaurant, La Poiu Riere. After lunch we looked at the village map again and then discovered why we could not find the street of the original restaurant. We were looking at a street map of ancient Domme! | Dordogne & Limeuil
73: BREATHTAKING CHURCHES | Domme
74: Sarlat | Getting to Sarlat in our Passat station wagon was easy, finding our hotel was not. The old City of Sarlat closes their streets on the weekends to autos, and our hotel and instructions were inside the Old City. Fortunately, we saw a directional sign for our hotel, so we unloaded our luggage to transverse down the hill on foot to our hotel, La Villa des Consuls. The hotel was an old structure centrally located with large rooms recently refurbished in a modern Scandinavian decor. Not exactly my preference in furnishings, but very clean and comfortable, and David the owner was very friendly and helpful. Once unpacked, we explored the medieval town. Sarlat is the capital of the Perigord Noir and an exceptionally preserved city that originated in the 8th century. The Old City offered a combination of shops, restaurants and historic buildings. We preceded dinner with champagne on Maureen and Joe's terrace that overlooked Rue de La Republique. The recommended restaurants were closed on Sundays and our first dinner at Les Chevaliers was only fair. On our second day, we drove a small winding road to Les Eyzies a nearby village bound on one side by the Vezere River and the other side by a limestone cliff with small buildings and caves built into the cliff face. We found a local food and textile market and bought a Provencal tablecloth and napkins for Scott's mom before heading back to Lascaux 2 for our noon tour of the cave.
77: I had never visited a pre-historic cave and was looking forward to visiting Lascaux. Although the original cave (Lascaux1) was closed in 1968 due to the damage being created by the visitors, the replica of the cave, Lascaux 2 was regarded as a brilliant reproduction. As our tour began we learned about the ten-year process of replicating Lascaux and that it had been reproduced as precisely as possible, including the temperature. We viewed a diagram of the layout and learned of the tools and pigments used in Lascaux 17,000 years ago. When we entered the cave chambers we were awed by the paintings. The Hall of the Bull at 5.5 m in length is the largest known prehistoric painting. Our tour guide was incredibly informative and his humor enchanting. What a remarkable history lesson! When the tour concluded our stomachs were yearning for more French food. We stopped at a small town on the way and had a surprisingly good meal. | Lascaux
79: After lunch, we drove to Rocamadour, one of the most unusual settings in Europe. The medieval cite clings to the rocks above the Alzou River gorge. Rocamadour is France's second most popular tourist site (after Mont St.-Michel). At the top of the hill is the Romanesque-Gothic Basilique St - Sauveur built in the 11th-13th centuries. Although the town's shops were quite touristy, Maureen and I were able to find vintage French poster reproductions for my kitchen. What a great reminder of our trip to Southwestern France together.Following our tour of Rocamadour, we drove back to Sarlat where we at dinner in the Old City on the outside patio at Restaurant du Commerce. Our food was better than the previous night, but still was not up to our previous meals. | Rocamadour
80: Lot Region | We began the day in Sarlat with a breakfast of orange juice and croissants (one of my few breakfasts without hot chocolate) on the Cirrito terrace. The skies were bright and clear for our trip down to the Lot Region. Our first stop was Cahors a small town with a blend of the historic past and 21st century. Our entrance to the small 12th century town of Cahors was on the beautiful tree-lined Boulevard Gambetta flanked with charming 19th century buildings. After driving down the boulevard we walked along the river to Pont Valentre the most famous medieval fortified bridge in France that bridges the Lot River. We then headed to the old portion of the city for a satisfying lunch in a charming old building at Restaurant Auberge du Viex. Following lunch, we viewed the domed Cathedral St. Etienne built and modified from the 13th-18th centuries and then ventured back to our Passat for our journey to Grotte de Pech-Merle. Grotte de Peche-Merle is a cave discovered in 1922 that dates from 20,000 to 15,000 BC The natural formations include the usual stalagmites and stalactites, but also upright calcite discs and white 'cave pearls'. But even more remarkable, are the marks left by man. The majority of the nearly 80 representations are of animals, the most beautiful frieze being the famous "dappled horses" one of several using or inspired by the natural contours of the rock. We toured the damp limestone cave with a guide shining her flashlight to identify the pints of interest. As we made our way through the somewhat eerie caves I felt at times that I was walking through a movie set, what I saw seemed too sensational to be real!
82: Saint-Cirq Lapopie & Hotel de La Pelissaria | From Grotte de Peche-Merle we drove a short distance to Saint-Cirq Lapopie originally founded in the 12th century. We entered the village through a narrow medieval arch and at the foot of the village that cascades down the hillside high above the River Lot was our Hotel de La Pelissaria, our lodging for the night. Our rooms were very rustic (perhaps a bit too rustic) but very charming and with a great view of the Lot River. As always, we were ready to explore the village on the high cliff. However, after walking an almost insurmountably steep incline to view the village and the restaurant menu, I vowed I was not walking up the cliff again for dinner. Adjacent to the restaurant was an outside cafe with beautiful flowers so we stopped for some liquid refreshment, and to provide Maureen and I a chance to catch our breath before descending Mt. Everest. The boys accommodated our reluctance to climb the cliff for dinner by driving us up the steep incline in our car. Dinner that night at Le Gourmet Quercynois was one of the best on the trip. Everyone except Maureen ordered duck cassoulet (as her goal was to have confit de canard every day). Everyonel agreed it was the best cassoulet we had ever had.
85: At 8am Joe knocked on our door to let us know they were ready but we did not hear him as I was in the shower and Scott was "rocking out" to his IPOD with earplugs muffling the sound. Today was one of our longer driving days, and once again we were hoping to get an early start. We planned on stopping as usual at a small cafe for breakfast on our way to Toulouse but the remote area outside Saint-Cirq Lapopie did not have any cafes. We settled on a croissants-to-go type establishment that was adequate. However, at that point food was the least of our worries. The low-fuel light in our car was lit and we needed gas soon and there were no stations in sight. We entered the toll road and as the miles elapsed without a station we had visions of Joe jogging the toll road for a can of gas. Fortunately, we made it to a station and paid $150 to "fill-her-up". We arrived late morning at Toulouse, capital of the Midi-Pyrenees. Toulouse is France's fourth largest city, is home to the second largest university in France and the hub of France's aeronautical (Air Bus) and space industries. Toulouse has a different appearance than most cities in France. Structurally the brick buildings looked more like Tuscany than France with Northern African influences and the population had a large representation of Muslims and Africans. Since we were limited in time, focused our attention on the old portion of the city. The hub of Toulouse is the huge Place du Capitole. Its surrounding square is a vast semi-pedestrian area that today was hosting a not too impressive market. The other impressive structure in Toulouse was a beautiful church and the largest Romanesque church in Europe; Basilica of St-Seminand. Following our sightseeing we looked for a restaurant where we could sit outside, enjoy the beautiful weather and partake in the ambiance of the city. Bistro Romain, a cafe in Wilson Place fit the description perfectly and we enjoyed a pleasant lunch viewing a small park, beautiful fountain,carousel and greenery. From Toulouse we drove west to the ocean and Saint Jean de Luz.
86: Saint Jean de Luz is a charming old fishing village / seaside resort in the western Pyrenees. It's narrow streets lined with 17th-19th century houses, fishing boats and a pretty beach in an oval bay make in an enchanting town. Hotel La Marisa was superb and our beautifully decorated room was one block from the water and one block from the shops and restaurants. Our first evening we enjoyed dining outside at Le Portua. Maureen and I shared profiteroles for dessert. We walked back to our hotel after dinner via the seaside boardwalk at 9:45 PM as the sun was setting. It was could not have been more perfect. After our day in Spain, we had a fabulous dinner at Le Kai Ku about one block from our hotel. The food was one the trips' best!. The following morning we walked back to our small breakfast cafe, Le Bistrot Luzien where we feasted on croissants, espresso and hot chocolate. The sun was shining so we decided to explore Biarritz, the Atlantic coast's answer to Nice. The small town of 30,000 swells to 110,000 during the summer, evidenced by the Miami-beach style high rises that frequent much of its shoreline. We drove north of town to Pointe St. Martin and enjoyed the beautiful coastal views before driving back to the center of town for more exploration and lunch. The resort town was immaculate with a plethora of flowers, especially hydrangeas in a wide variety of colors including red. We walked the promenade above the beach enjoying picturesque views. We ate lunch at Pizzeria Le Capri Biarritz in a seaside square. For dessert, Maureen and I treated ourselves to the best profiteroles I have ever had. The chocolate was so rich, as it should be as chocolate originated in the Basque Country during the reign of Louis XIV. Later that day we visited the Jean-Vier store (table and bath linens inspired by the Basque Region.) After dropping our packages in our rooms we decided there was time to purchase another item of the region, espadrilles. I bought two pair and Maureen bought four pair. Dinner that evening was at Restaurant La Diva.
87: St. Jean de Luz & Biarritz
88: St. Jean de Luz & Biarritz
91: Thanks to Frank Gehry's titanium Guggenheim masterpiece, Bilbao, a rusty industrial port city on the northern coast of Spain has enjoyed a transformation from a second-tier city into a tourist magnet. The city of 350,000 has enjoyed a rebirth with over 9 million visitors to the museum from it's opening in 1997 through 2006. The streets of Bilbao were congested. Neo-Baroque buildings with terra-cotta roofs surrounding the Guggenheim were intertwined with construction crews and cranes. Parking was almost impossible. The Guggenheim was built on a former shipyard on the left bank of the Nervion River that winds through Bilbao to the Bay of Biscay. Although I am not an enthusiast of most contemporary architecture, my appreciation of Gehry's Disney Concert Hall in LA had heightened my interest in seeing this earlier built museum with such similarity. As we approached the Guggenheim we were overwhelmed by Jeff Koons' "Puppy" a giant West Highland terrier covered with flowering plants that guards the entrance to the museum. Gehry's curved volumes clad in titanium and the orthogonal structures in limestone blended harmoniously. Thoroughly enjoying our short but efficient tour, we headed back to the car for our next stop, San Sebastian.
92: San Sebastian | As we entered San Sebastian, we were surprised with the size and architecture of the city. The town of 185,000 was more a city than just the summer beach resort of Spain. The mixture of new and old structures was an interesting blend of French and Moroccan. In the heart of the town we walked through the beautiful Hotel Maria Cristina looking for a restaurant before venturing to a small bar/restaurant and dining on American-type food. Following lunch we enjoyed walking around the town before heading back to France.
95: After our final breakfast in St. Jean de Luz we stopped in Dax on our way to Bordeaux so we could visit a local Saturday market. Our drive to Dax took us through the Les Landes region, the second largest region in France. The forested area was very rural with scattered population. We located the local Saturday market in Dax and hoped to find some Provencal linens and over-sized plaid baskets. But we were disappointed to discover only a very large selection of ladies housecoats so we headed on our way to Bordeaux. It was lunchtime and we were on the search for our last lunch in France. We stopped outside Bordeaux at Cafe de L' Esperance in Bouliac. Everyone ordered roasted chicken with fries and salad, simple but excellent. It poured rain while we ate on the outside-enclosed patio and some of the patrons had to move inside due to roof leaks. We visited a charming church and a modern Relais & Chateaux with unusual contemporary sculptures throughout the property before heading to Cameyrec and Chateau Lamothe Prinice Noir our lodging for the last night of our trip.
96: Chateau Lamothe Prince Noir | Chateau Lamothe was built in the 12th century and surrounded by a moat. The Bastide family had purchased and refurbished the property. Veronique, a heavier French lady greeted us and welcomed us into their home. The downstairs consisted of a large ornate dining room, sun room, kitchen, reception area and a winding staircase that led to our rooms. Scott was very glad we consolidated our luggage, as he had to carry our one bag up 3-flight of stairs. The last flight of stairs was a narrow and winding staircase. The Cirritos had a 2-room suite; The Rose Room. Their suite consisted of the traditional bedroom and a second room that was a combination bathroom / sitting room, complete with table, chandelier, state of the art high tech shower and claw-legged tub. What a combination! Our large room; The Blue Room, was not nearly as outrageous, furnished in white cotton and blue velvet French Provencal antiques with lovely shuttered windows on both sides of the room overlooking the greenery outside. We walked the property and chatted with Veronique who made dinner reservations for us that evening in St. Emilion. When we returned following dinner we all put on our PJ's and chateau-supplied terry robes and went to the Cirritos suite where we toasted our last night and great vacation together.
98: I was glad we were returning to St. Emilion for an encore visit. It was raining on our earlier trip and the rain greatly restricted the views. We arrived in St. Emilion early enough to enjoy the view and a glass of St. Emilion wine and Lillet at Bistrot Le Clocher prior to dinner. Our dinner at Logis de la Cadene was a perfect dinner finale for our trip. We ate inside the charming old building with white tablecloths and napkins. I had veal, Scott and Mike had confit de canard, and Joey had entrecote bordelaise. For dessert I shared a chocolate dessert with Mike and the others enjoyed the local wine. | St. Emilion