French Vacation France April 2019

France April 2019

In April 2019, Marguerite embarked on another European adventure with her friends Nedra Mathis and Mac (Nedra's brother) & Marcy Johnson. Because all of us have traveled a great deal, we were looking for an "off the beaten path" trip that would go to places we had not been. We found that type of trip with the Grand Circle Cruise Line "La Rochelle to Bordeaux, France" with a pre-trip to Brittany. The trip started with Marguerite flying from San Diego to Atlanta and meeting Nedra in the Atlanta Airport. We traveled together on Air France to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, then transferred to a smaller plane to Brest and met Mac and Marcy on the same plane. Eight other travelers and our wonderful tour leader, Laura Pagano, met us in Brest and we began our adventure.

When Marguerite got home from France she went to Dallas the very next day to make costumers for her Granddaughter, Grace. In return Gracie used and App on MJ's iPad to announce Marguerite's trip to France. Very cute!

Note!!! If you are listening to Fleetwood Mac while viewing this page this is good. If you want to listen to Gracie's video without background music you can use Microsoft EDGE browser and turn off the page audio (upper left) or you can click here to go to page without background music and listen to the Gracie Videos in their pure form and then return back to this page.

Gracie French Part 1 Movie

Gracie French Part 2 Movie

Pretrip to Brittany

Brittany is known for its authentic field, winding coastal roads, and rugged terrain. Not often visited by Americans, the region provides an unadulterated snapshot of rural life in France. Its ancient Celtic roots, combined with the vast landscapes that inspired world-renowned French painters, make Brittany a historical treasure trove.

We arrived in the afternoon and stayed in a local hotel (with a very modern but tiny room) in Quimper. Nedra and I took a brief walk around the neighborhood and enjoyed the lovely garden at the St Corentin Cathedral. The next day we took a guided tour that went inside the Cathedral with lovely stained glass windows. We then did a walk through the town and had lunch at a local market.

In the afternoon we visited a very interesting museum that was having an exhibit of costumes developed by an outstanding French designer. This black costume is beautiful but would be a challenge to wear!!

Also, there was an exhibit of furniture that included a "box bed" or cabinet bed from the 1700s that was used as a sleeping compartment in Northern France where it gets quite cold. Marguerite was given a tiny replica of a "box bed" when she was 3 years old. Her mother got it at an antique shop somewhere and thought it might be a salesman's sample. Gar's bronze shoe from when he was about 2 years old gives you perspective on the size of the little cabinet bed.

One day we visited a small town of Locronan, considered to be one of the most beautiful villages in France. We visited a small cathedral there.

We enjoyed lots of wonderful food including a seafood dinner at a local restaurant in Quimper. It was a first time for eating snails cooked in the shells and a very peculiar shrimp-like creature called a langoustine. Nedra and Marguerite both got "seafood platters" to try several different items; Mac and Marcy went for fish!

On one day in Quimper, our tour leader Laura arranged for a small bus to take us out into the countryside. One place we visited was pont-Aven, known as the "village of artists." . We saw several pieces by Paul Gaugin in a small church in the village . At lunchtime We visited a market to pick up food for a picnic by the sea. In the afternoon visited one of France's largest fishing ports to see how ships were unloaded at the port.

We also visited one of the most popular geographical attractions in Brittany -- the mystical Carnac stones. The vast field of over a hundred neo-lithic monuments, originally built to mark burial grounds, are part of the ancient history of Brittany. The photo is of our group of travelers. It was quite cold and we were happy to have our "puffy coats".

Nantes, France

The Loire, Bordeaux, and Carcossonne offer the best of France. Lands of valleys, vinyards, and magnificent chateaux. We began this part of the trip in Nantes, Brittany's capital city. Ten more travelers joined us at the hotel and then we went to a local creperie for a wonderful dinner of crepes and hard cider. We also took a walking tour of the city which was founded by the Celts around 70 BC.

Nantes also has a wonderful indoor shopping arcade built into the 1800s with a large vaulted ceiling and statue-lined walkways. We just walked through and didn't stop to shop.

We also found a wonderful park with exquisite gardens and many blooming camellias that were very special for Nedra. She and her late husband, Clayton Mathis, were expert camellia growers and Clayton was an internationally respected Camellia grower and judge.

One day we also saw some of the "yellow jacket or yellow vest" protesters marching through the streets. The demonstrations were generally peaceful but one of our travelers was too close to a teargas explosion and suffered three days of no voice and burning eyes. That was also the day that Marguerite decided to do laundry at a local laundromat that was much farther from the hotel than the map showed! That resulted in an all-time high step count and over 8 miles!! The Home Hosted Visit was also in Nantes and we visited in the home of a lovely woman from Africa who treated us to refreshments and told us about how it was to immigrate to France. She was delightful and Marcy provided rudimentary translation for us.

Another very interesting experience in Nantes was the Machines of the Isle of Nantes. This whimsical world is inspired by the wildly imaginative works of writer Jules Verne -- born in Nantes in 1828 and known as the Father of Science Fiction. The park is an artistic wonderland of massive puppet and automaton machines. The largest is the Grand Elephant that can easily carry 50 people on its back and a whimsical multi-story carousel that people can ride!

A Week on the M/S Chanson

It was time to get to the ship that we boarded in Bordeaux. En route, we stopped in the seafaring city of La Rochelle on the Bay of Biscay. This ancient seaport dates back to the time of the Romans who produced salt and wine here. The city was immortalized by the novel The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, who was inspired by the 1627 Siege of La Rochelle. A dark cloud fell over La Rochelle in 1941 when the Germans established a U-boat bunker at the city's main port. Fortunately, La Rochelle largely escaped damage.

We boarded the M/S Chanson in the afternoon and Nedra and Marguerite were sharing Cabin 42 on the lower deck. There were 69 passengers and 31 crew including three tour directors. Laura (in photo on the left) is from a small town near Nice. The other two tour directors are also French. We were in the "Blue Group" and did things together with our group. The other two groups were also independent.

The route for the trip is to sail about 110 miles on two rivers, the Garonne and the Dordogne. Our river trip started in Bordeaux, a flat city built on the banks of the Garonne River. Bordeaux is often referred to as "Little Paris" and the rivalry between the two cities is quite heated sometimes!

Our first stop the next day was through the Gironde estuary to the city of Bourg. This is a fairy tale village in France's Aquitaine region. We visited a fortress, the Citadel of Bourg, that had several depth charges in a storage area under the walls.

Following the walking tour, we visited a family owned and operated self-sustaining farm. Our farm had a variety of vegetables and a large collection of sheep!

The next day we arrived in the city of Blaye which is situated on the Gironde Estuary, the longest in Europe. Its strong tides provided a wealth of diverse fish and tidal swings up to 18 feet each way!

Blaye also has a large citadel/fortress that we visited. In 1685, Louis XIV appointed a famous engineer to upgrade the fortress in order to protect the city of Bordeaux, 30 miles south of Blaye. The top of the fortified walls provided a panoramic view of the surrounding town.

In the afternoon we set sail for Pauillac, renowned for its fine wines. After dinner onboard, we took a brief stroll around the small town.

The next morning we participated in our first winery visit where we learned about how the grapes are harvested to turn them into wine. We tasted the wine and enjoyed learning from the proprietor of this women-owned winery.

One of the most interesting part of our cruise was a visit to the "barrel cooper" in his workshop. This is a small business where wine barrels are made for the wine trade. Here, expert coopers spend three years making each barrel for the region's wines, as well as wineries around the world. We got an up close look at the meticulous barrel crafting process.

The next day we docked in Libourne, a charming town on the banks of the Dordogne River. During a walking tour we visited a local patisserie to learn about how pastries are made.

Following lunch on the ship we visited the delightful medieval village of Saint Emilion. Lots of grapes for Merlot are grown in this area. St Emilion was very important during WWII when it served as a storage facility for over 540,000 square feet of stained glass stored in special crates and transported to hideouts.

On Saturday, April 20, we toured the City of Bordeaux declared a World Heritage Site in 2007. Bordeaux is a major wine producing area of France with over 900 million bottles of wine produced from approximately 250,000 acres of vineyards. The area is home to a population of about a million people.

Our morning was spent at the most marvelous open market with the most beautiful seafood, vegetables, fruits, cheeses, and breads imaginable. No wonder France is the culinary capitol of the world! The vibrant colors of tomatoes, eggplants, shrimp, and other delicious items were breathtaking.

After feasting our eyes on the beautiful food we continued with a walking tour of Bordeaux and tried out the local tram.

It was also Easter Sunday and we had special food and lots and lots of chocolate! That evening we were entertained with "The Gatsby Show" by two performers who sang and danced and invited Marguerite up for a spin with feathered fans! A good time was had by all!!!

On Monday morning, April 22, we disembarked the ship and headed for Toulouse, a cultural hub of France and headquarters of the plane maker Airbus. We got settled into the hotel and had early dinner.

The next day was a very special one as we spent the entire day at the walled city of Carcassonne, a fortified hilltop citadel whose medieval beauty is said to have inspired Walt Disney to design his castle-like theme parks. Carcassonne is divided into the medieval Cite, the largest fortified town still in existence in Europe, and the Ville Basse, or New Town, which was created in the 13th century.

We had lunch in the New Town and returned to our hotel, worn out but delighted to have seen such an outstanding example of a medieval walled city.

The final day of the trip was spent exploring Toulouse on our own. We ate again at the Creperie and got packed to return home.

When we returned to the hotel after a wonderful day of exploring Nedra and Marguerite learned that their flight from Paris to Atlanta was canceled! They had put Nedra on the flight from Toulouse to Charles de Gaulle in Paris and then on an Air France flight to JFK from Orly Airport in Paris -- a 45 minute bus ride (with luggage) across Paris. That would NOT work!! Our wonderful tour leader Laura straightened it out so that she could fly from Toulouse to Orly and then to JFK in New York and then on to Jacksonville.

Marguerite had problems too. The flight from Toulouse to Paris that was to connect with a flight to LAX was 2 hours late so connection was missed. When she got to Charles de Gaulle in Paris, Air France rerouted her to Detroit and then into San Diego. Unfortunately all of this moving around meant that Marguerite and Nedra could not return to the USA together.

Marguerite, Nedra, Mac & Marcy, and our new friend, Wendy Kagan, all eventually got home OK and started planning our next trip to Spain in February of 2020!!

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