Day 100: Chateau Chambord and Amboise, Loire Valley, France

Day 100: October 30th

Day 100! We made it this far… And without any big mishaps along the way!:) We still have a week to go before we get home. We’re happy to have achieved this milestone on our trip. Can’t believe we’ve been traveling this long…feels like we only left home last month.

Today we were driving back east towards the Loire Valley. We need to be in Lille on Saturday in time to catch our Eurostar to London. Instead of doing the drive on one entire day, we decided to see the Loire Valley. I wish we had more time in the region but for now, we only had a day.

We stopped in the town of Amboise for lunch. This is the town where Leonardo Da Vinci spent the last few years of his life under the patronage of King Francois I. He is also buried here. The town is a very pretty little town on the banks of the Loire river.

Post lunch, we drove to the nearby Chateau de Chambord, the largest in the Loire Valley region. The Chateau was originally built for King Francois I as a hunting lodge in the 16th century. Since construction was interrupted so many times, he actually never got to see the chateau completed before he died. There is a very cool double helix inspired staircase right in the centre. Two sets of stairs intertwined that never meet except at the landings of the three floors. Bill and I walked up simultaneously on each of the stairs. Though I could see him climbing, our paths never crossed. Very cool!

The Chateau is surrounded by a forest and beautiful lawns that still have a lot of large game…though hunting isn’t allowed there anymore. It’s been developed for walking and biking now. It was a very beautiful afternoon followed by an equally beautiful sunset as we drove towards Blois for the night.

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Driving through Amboise

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Loire river close to Amboise

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Loire River

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Loire River

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Chateau de Chambord

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Chateau de Chambord

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Chateau de Chambord

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Chateau de Chambord

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Chateau de Chambord

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Chateau de Chambord

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Blois sunset over the Loire river

Day 99: Mont St.Michel and St.Malo, Normandy and Brittany, France

Day 99: October 29th

Mont Saint-Michel is an island off the coast Normandy, France. The island has been fortified for almost a thousand years now and since the eighth century AD has been the seat of the monastery from which it draws its name. The monastery also referred to as the abbey these days is perched right on top of the Mont and still functions today.

The most interesting thing about the island is the tides that surround it. At high tide, the island is completely surrounded by the ocean. At low tide, the water recedes an astounding 18km in some areas leaving the island accessible. In the old days, there was no bridge so people had to cross over depending on the tides. There is now a pedestrian bridge that allows tourists to cross over. When we were there, it was low tide and you couldn’t really see the ocean even in the distance. By the time we left, the tide had started coming in and we could see the open water in the distance. Very cool!

Tourists are prohibited from walking around the island during low tide except with a guide because the tide rolls in so quickly and in the past people have gotten stuck and had to be rescued. Really very interesting! I had never even heard of the island until we started planning this trip. The island is actually one of France’s most visited tourist attractions.

Later that day, we crossed over into Brittany and drove to the town on St.Malo. Brittany is known for its rugged coastline and certainly didn’t disappoint on that front. St.Malo’s most famous attraction is its old town called the Intramuros. We didn’t get to witness the tides here but I read that the receding of the tide at St.Malo is also pretty spectacular.

We had a nice local dinner in Intramuros and called it a night. Tomorrow we have another long day ahead..we’re driving into the beautiful Loire Valley region away from the ocean.

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On our way

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Approaching Mont St.Michel

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Mont St.Michel

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Narrow streets on the Mont

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Land all around at low tide

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Low tide

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Walking up to the abbey

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The rain and the tide coming in

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The Cathedral in the abbey

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The Cloisters

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The Cloisters

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View from the cloisters

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Abbey walls

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Saw this on our way to St.Malo… Sailing on land? Sure looks like fun!

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Somewhere on the border between Brittany and Normandy

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Brittany Coastline

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St.Malo beach

Day 98: D-day Beaches and Bayeux, Normandy, France

Day 98: October 28th

We decided to visit the American Cemetery in Normandy this morning. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is a World War II cemetery and memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, that honors American soldiers who died in Europe during World War II. A lot of the graves here were of soldiers who probably died not too far away in the D-day landings which took place on the morning of June 6th, 1944. The cemetery itself sits on a bluff that overlooks Omaha beach..one of the five beaches involved in the landings. Since Omaha beach was where the Germans had the best defense, this is where the fiercest fighting also took place. You can read more about the Normandy Invasions here. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normandy_landings )

It’s really hard to imagine the horrors of the war today as the beaches are so beautiful and peaceful. The entire cemetery and memorial is a beautiful place…a fitting tribute and final resting place of more than 9000 Americans who died during the war.

Later in the afternoon, we visited the Bayeux Tapestry. I have to say, after being in so many museums on this trip… This was by far the best museum experience we’ve had. There is only one exhibit at the museum, the tapestry itself. It depicts the events that led to the Norman invasion of England and culminates in the battle of Hastings. The tapestry is more than a thousand years old and is laid out on a semi circular wall. Our audio guide explained the tapestry scene by scene… As if it were a comic strip. One had to keep moving as the audio guide didn’t stop. This kept everyone else moving as well. It was great..we were done in 15 minutes. We probably spent more time queuing to get tickets than in the museum itself.:)

We also visited the Bayeux Cathedral and I have to day that the stained glass windows rivals those of Notre Dame. Beautiful!

Later in the day, while we were at a cafe, the friendly owner recommended a place in a town not too far away for dinner. So off we went on a mini-adventure to find this restaurant. Anytime you step out in a country where you don’t speak the language, it’s a mini-adventure! We’ve been lucky though…so far, most of the restaurants we’ve been to have basic English menus and at least one staff that spoke some English. We were also told that Normandy is popular with a lot of British retirees as it isn’t too far and much cheaper!:) That’s probably why we are able to get by without too much difficulty.

Tomorrow, we’re off to see the iconic Mont St.Michel.

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On our way to the American Cemetery

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View of Omaha Beach from the American Cemetery

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American Cemetery

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American Cemetery

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American Cemetery

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Omaha Beach

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American Cemetery

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Omaha Beach

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Omaha Beach

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Bayeux Cathedral

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Bayeux Cathedral

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Bayeux Cathedral

Day 97: Honfleur and Bayeux, Normandy, France

Day 97: October 27th

We picked up our rental car close to our hotel. It had rained most of the night and was still raining when we left our hotel. Walking with our heavy backpacks is hard enough..holding an umbrella too is a balancing act. It’s hard for me as my pack sticks out way above my head and gets in the way of the umbrella. It’s quite clumsy!:)

Anyway, we made it to our car without much incident and off we went. It was easy enough to navigate and soon we were on the A13 to Normandy. All roads in Normandy lead to Caen…but we decided to stop at a town called Honfleur for lunch. It is beautiful seaside town right where the Seine meets the English Channel. It has a picturesque marina with a lot of seafood restaurants (over priced, of course:)) and a charming old town with a cathedral. We had a nice time walking around but it seemed that every waiter/waitress in the town was having a bad day. 🙂 the service at the restaurants left us not feeling very welcome.

Luckily, we were soon on our way out of town to Bayeux just 20km past Caen. If most of these names sound familiar, it because they all played a very significant part in world history. More on that in tomorrow’s post.

Bayeux is also home to the famous Bayeux Tapestry made in the 11th century depicting scenes from the Norman Conquest of England culminating in the battle of Hastings. I knew the town would have a cathedral but was surprised to see one of the most magnificent cathedrals we’ve seen on the trip. It was stunning. We’ll visit it tomorrow.

We found our hotel easily and went back into town for dinner. The town that had seemed so alive…full of cafés and restaurants just a few hours earlier suddenly seemed like a ghost town. May be it was because it was a Sunday night…it had started to rain once again. I’m starting to get a hang of this weather… It rains. It stops…and then it rains again! Repeat!:)

We found just one restaurant open and it was packed of course. Once again, we had a great meal. The oysters were delicious.

Tomorrow, we are driving to the beaches where the D-Day landings took place on June 6th, 1944… The event that led to the liberation of France and subsequently the fall of Nazi Germany.

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Driving out of Paris

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Driving out of Paris

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Honfleur

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Honfleur

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Honfleur

Day 96: Paris, France

Day 96: October 26th

26th of October is a special day. Bill and I were celebrating our first anniversary… In Paris!

We had a relaxed morning… Luckily the weather had cleared up from the day before and it was a beautiful sunny day again. After lunch at an outdoor cafe (which was once again, top notch), we walked to the Musee d’Orsay. The Impressionist Painters are my favorite and I’ve heard great things about the museum in general. It is much smaller than the Louvre, therefore much more manageable and every single gallery is fantastic!

After a little coffee break at a cafe right by the river, we walked to Notre Dame… The most famous cathedral in Paris and renowned the world over for its stunning stained glass windows…which definitely lived up to my expectations. However, since our visit was around an hour before their next service, it was over crowded and the staff weren’t very helpful. By the time we stepped outside, it was pouring! This weather is crazy!:) Luckily, if living in Singapore has thought us one thing, it is to be prepared for rain…at all times! 🙂 So we had an umbrella handy and we made our way back to Montparnasse where our hotel was.

Our anniversary dinner was at a lovely neighborhood restaurant that came very highly recommended by the staff at our hotel…and rightly so! The restaurant doesn’t take any reservations and opens at 7pm. Since it was right around the corner, we were there by 7:15 and already there were barely any tables available. We were seated immediately. The service was outstanding and the only thing to top that was the food! We had a starter called ‘caviar d’aubergine’ which was amazing. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I will eat anything with ‘aubergine’ in it.:) Bill stuck to a steak for dinner and I had the fish which was served with a home made salsa that was unlike anything I’ve ever had. Dessert was some chocolate mousse and rice pudding. Both amazing! What a great find this restaurant was. We returned happy and content to our hotel.

It has been an amazing year for Bill and me and we are grateful for everything the year had to offer.

Paris has been a mixed bag…amazing food and weather with beautiful scenery although the tourist spots have been crowded. Next time, we’ll know what to stick to. Oh yeah, there will be a next time!:)

Tomorrow, we are renting a car for the rest of the week and exploring Normandy and Brittany. Can’t wait!

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Near the Grand Palais

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Pont des Arts

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Notre Dame

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The famous gargoyles of Notre Dame

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Notre Dame

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Notre Dame

Day 94 & 95: Paris, France

Day 94 and 95: October 24th and 25th

This was my first time in Paris…everyone I know that has been here has only told me the most wonderful things about the city and about how romantic it is! Let’s face it though… Paris is over priced, crowded ( near the touristy spots) and there is nothing more unromantic than standing in a queue behind a thousand people waiting to get on the Eiffel Tower or scrambling over bus loads of tourists to get a glimpse of the world’s most famous smile at the Louvre.

Inspite of this, we have had a great time in Paris. Yes, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre are indeed crowded and touristy but there is something so magnificent about the tower on a beautiful, sunny fall afternoon…and the Mona Lisa, I was certainly not disappointed!:)

And when one steps away from these sights, there are some really charming neighborhoods, cafe and restaurants which were the things that made Paris so special. I cannot say enough about the food we’ve eaten. Absolutely delicious! We ate one night at a restaurant which used to be a library years ago and we were told by our friend Ruben who took us there that the famous author and poet, Dante used to study here. Wow! At another restaurant recommended by a friend…there was only one item on the menu! All we had to tell them was how we would like our steak cooked. It was simple, but amazing.

Paris is indeed a beautiful city, but the next time we are here, I would like to spend more time away from the main sights…especially since we’ve seen them now and explore some of the lesser known sights ( but equally beautiful) that first time tourists won’t be visiting.

We still have another day here.

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My first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower

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Eiffel Tower

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Eiffel Tower

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Walking up

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View from the first level

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View from the second level

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The Arc de Triomphe from the top of the Eiffel Tower

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The Eiffel Tower

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The Eiffel Tower

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Lovely fall afternoon

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The Arc de Triomphe

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Notre Dame at night

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With Ruben

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The Louvre

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The Mona Lisa

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Rainy Paris from the Louvre

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The Louvre

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Dinner time!

Day 93: To Paris

Day 93: October 23rd

We were finally on our way to Paris! It was a long travel day…12 hours on the train but it would end with us in Paris. We were excited.

Alas, our excitement was short-lived. As it turned out, we were to change trains from the Spanish AVE to the French TGV at Figueres in Spain…when we got there, we were informed that the French train was broken and we would have to take a bus to Perpignan on the French side, an hour away. That didn’t seem too bad…right? When we got to Perpignan we were then informed that there was no train there. We were to take an overnight train to Paris…leaving in three hours.

So basically, instead of an express train to Paris..which would take five hours from Figueres and have us there by nighttime, now we had to take a ten hour train ride, in a ridiculously old sleeper train (the Russian trains were better and the Chinese trains were palatial in comparison) and forfeit a night’s accommodation in Paris! Hotels in Paris are expensive! I tried in my very limited French to explain this to the station staff in hopes of getting a refund. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be. At least their boxed meal included some good chocolate mousse.:)

So we had no choice but to wait for the 9pm overnight train. Once on the train, we realized that the train conductor had no idea that there would be a bunch of us without seat reservations on his train…contrary to what we had earlier been told.

Anyway, we were eventually allocated berths and we ended up sharing our compartment with two Indian boys from IIM Bangalore on exchange in Europe. We even knew some people in common. Small world!:)

We finally arrived in Paris the next morning…exhausted, but happy to finally be here. It’s my first time here and I’m excited!