Villefranche is a beautiful gateway port to the French Riviera. Most ships will dock at Nice or Monaco, but smaller ships will drop anchor and provide tenders to shore. The best part — no crowds! Once on shore, there is a tourist office and old port area with shops and restaurants. Just a little ways up the hill towards the Citadelle de Ville is a bus top that can take you to Nice or Monaco.
I decided to wander around the Citadelle and was rewarded with breathe-taking views and some amazing artwork. The Duke of Savoie, Philibert, built the Citadel in 1557 after the Turkish fleet’s attack of the port in 1543. The official name is the Citadelle de St-Elme. Now it serves as the town hall, a congress centre, a police station, a summer outdoor theater, and it houses four art museums.
My favourite museum is dedicated to the sculptures of Antoniucci Volti. The museum is housed in cave-like room carved from the walls of the fortress and in an open, sunny patio.
My visit ended, as usual, with a nice espresso and some shopping.
I was looking forward to seeing Rouen, France.I was not sure why or what to expect, but this is truly a charming place to visit with some wonderful architecture. This is also famous for its connection to Joan de Arc. I was so engrossed in the architecture, that I walked into a cement pylon and fell — but my camera (and I) were fine and I got the picture!
Cemeteries can be interesting places to find some fascinating artwork as well as quiet places to walk in otherwise busy cities. Here are some of my favourite ones.
Père Lachaise Cemetery is Paris is well-known and has some very interesting statuary and “residents”.
La Recoleta Cemetery is the large cemetery in Buenos Aries with many famous Argentinians buried there, including Eva Perón.
I stumbled upon a massive cemetery in Sao Paolo, Brazil. I thought it had interesting art, then I came to the edge of the cemetery and saw there was so much more. This is the largest cemetery I’ve every seen.
We got of Le Harvre, France at 7 AM and I had arranged a tour for my mom to the various Normandy sites. I thought she would enjoy it because she had mentioned an interest in Normandy many years ago. So, it was an early morning to get her hooked up with the rest of the tour. There were eight of them in the group, so they were able to go to some sites that larger buses cannot get to, such as the cliffs the servicemen climbed and the little church where the paratroop’s chute got caught on the steeple. She also got to see some of the preparations that are taking place for the 70th anniversary of D Day. The weather varied from sunny and nice to rainy and even some hail!
I got to sleep in – after taking care of things for mom. Then, I started some of my packing before heading to lunch then to a bus that would take me to Rouen. The drive from Le Havre to Rouen was nice. We crossed the Seine a couple of times before finally arriving at Rouen.
Our tour guide gave us quite a walking tour of Rouen and its various churches, the cathedral and charming streets.
It was while walking and taking pictures of these charming streets that I had a bit of a run-in with a concrete barrier. I lost and ended up on my bum in the middle of the cobbled street! I’m okay, not even a bruise! I think I may have bounced.
We continued to walk to the site where St. Joan of Arc was burned. There is now a modern church near this that has the most interesting roof and houses 16th century stained glass windows that were installed here because their original churches had been destroyed.
After our tour, we had some time to explore on our own. Of course, this meant finding a nice café for a coffee. The one I choose just happened to be playing hockey updates and had very friendly waiters. I was almost finished when the sky opened up and it started to rain. I pulled up the hood to my jacket and finished my coffee in the rain, then I ducked under the awning to watch more of the hockey scores and talk to other patrons who were keeping out of the rain.
Back on the ship, mom was waiting for me so we could go to dinner together. Afterwards, we just spent some time in our stateroom, packing up the last of our things and preparing to end this portion of our journey.
Day 19: My trip to Versailles or I have to visit one more palace before leaving Europe
So far in my trip to Europe, I’ve visited palaces in Stockholm, St. Petersburg, Pushkin, and Copenhagen. While visiting the palaces in Russia, the tour guide commented many times about the influence of Versailles. So, I felt I had to see the “original” or the inspiration of so many other buildings.
Getting to Versailles is very easy. The RER C line has a direct route – you just need to remember to get on the train that lists Versailles Rive Gauche as the last stop. At least, that is how it was supposed to work, however, for some reason, the train stopped before Versailles and we had to change to another one. But, that posed to not be a big problem, just a little confusing. At the last stop, it is very easy to find your way to Versailles – just follow everyone else! Versailles gets nearly 10 million visitors a year, so the lines are long, even with a Museum Pass. It is easier to already have a pass or a ticket because that does save at least one line.
I don’t think I was prepared for the size of Versailles. I thought the Russian palaces, like Peterhof or Catherine’s Palace, were large – but standing in front of Versailles, they now seemed more “liveable!” (if that makes sense). Versailles is grandiose – shining and golden and just “over the top.” No, I was NOT prepared!
But, I also love a challenge! So, along with the rest of the crowds, I followed the line as it wove interesting patterns before the main gates until I finally passed through security and into the main palace rooms. And yes, the opulence just continued on a massive scale as I walked through room upon room draped in silks and art and …
Then I looked out a window and saw the gardens – and I had to go outside. The gardens are also on a grand scale and match the palace. I was also in for a treat, as they were doing a special “musical fountain” where there were different fountain displays matched to music.
So, map in hand, I started my investigation of the gardens.
The gardens also have one of the largest collections of outdoor sculptures – so there were many things to distract me! I made my way down to towards the “canal”, then started to weave through the hedges that stretched upwards and created secret bowers and more fountains and statues. It was easy to get lost – even with a map.
Then, of course, I dropped my map as I was taking pictures of one of the “dancing fountains.” But I got to enjoy a really cool show to amazing music!
Slowly, I found my way out of the tall hedges and headed down to the area known as “little Venice” and the Neptune fountain. I got there just in time to see another musical fountain display – so my timing was great, but I was also starting to feel the sun – even with the tall hedges, there did not seem to be much shade in this garden. In fact, I found that I missed the fun that was part of the gardens at Peterhof with its hidden groves and trick fountains. There was a sense of “fun!” The Versailles gardens seemed to be more about how to impress or even overpower. I did not feel comfortable. Maybe I should have gotten one of the golf carts you can rent to drive around the space (yes, it is large enough for golf carts to get you from one end to another).
I slowly made my way back through the garden to the palace, very tired and ready for my trip back to Paris.
Once back in Paris, I decided to see the city from a different angle – from the Seine. I hopped on one of the Batteaux Parisiens. It was nice to be back on the water and see Paris from this vantage point.
A nice salad and another walk through the Latin Quarter filled the rest of my last day in Paris. I ended it at the café near my hotel on Rue Cler. It was nice to go someplace familiar and to have them recognize me. My last dinner was duck confit, wine and ended with a nice cup of espresso. As I walked through the city, I started to feel a bit of melancholy. My trip was coming to an end and there was still so much I wanted to see and do (and I had no plans for any future trips).
I love museums, and I’ve spent hours in some of the best. However, the sheer size of the Louvre has daunted me since my first trip to Paris. I knew, though, that this time I needed to experience the Louvre in all its glory.
I decided to get an early start this time, though, after seeing the lines yesterday. I also had a Museum Pass. This got me into a shorter line and, once the doors opened I did not have to buy a ticket and could go directly to the galleries. I headed to see a couple of the “highlights” before it got too crazy – the Winged Nike and the Mona Lisa.
I then just wandered through the Masters galleries until my curiosity concerning finding a painting by Caravaggio gave me a mission. Yes, there it was , La Mort de Vierge. Next to it, however, was another Caravaggio – a portrait of his patron, the Alof de Wignacourt, the Grand Master of the Order of the Knights of St. John in Malta. For me, this was an incredible treat. The Grand Master was shown wearing one of his special suits of armour – one that I saw in the Armoury in Valetta, Malta! I thought that was just a very cool coincidence!
I next went to the Roman and Greek sections of the museum. There was one statue that carved from a very special piece of marble that had blue veins running through it. I thought it familiar and discovered it was from Turkey, near Ephesus. When I was in Ephesus, I remember the blue marble, so another interesting coincidence from past travels! I also saw the Venus de Milo. I thought it was interesting that everyone was crowded around this statue that was not in the best shape when, there was, I thought, an equally beautiful statue of Venus – with arms – but no one seemed to notice.
I also saw several school groups and I thought how cool it would be to have the Louvre as your school outing! Several groups were carried notebooks and could be seen taking notes or drawing pictures of the famous works of art.
Finally, I had enough of being indoors and decided to take a walk through the Tuileries Gardens towards the Place de Concorde.
Tired feet finally sent me to a bus to see other areas of Paris.
Rested from my bus trip, I headed to Notre Dame, then spent more time wandering around the Latin Quarter.
My plan was to get up early and head to the Louvre. I knew lines would get long, but it would be free. But, I have to say my bed in the Hotel du Champs de Mars was just too comfortable. I woke up late, then wanted breakfast and coffee, so when I got to the Louvre, the lines were insane!
So, I had to come up with plan B. I headed back to the area around Invalides to find the Rodin Museum. (Some may ask why I didn’t head to the Orsay – but I’d been there and thought I should see something new – even though I love the Orsay!) Also, I love Rodin’s work. When I lived near Stanford University, I used to spend time walking through the Rodin Sculpture Garden. So, that is how I found myself at the Musée Rodin.
The first building in the complex housed a number of statues in marble – along with “draft” versions of the statues. It was really cool to see how the piece went from a concept to a large sculpture. This building opened up into a large garden that surrounded the main building where Rodin lived for a while with other creative people, including Isadora Duncan. The gardens were so peaceful and beautiful. I enjoyed strolling through them to see what delights awaited. It was a perfect way to spend the morning in Paris.
I decided my next stop would be the Latin Quarter – specifically the Fountain of St. Michael which was my favorite site from my last trip to Paris. Next to this statue is a nice little café that gives great views of people travelling across the Seine. It being lunch time, I stopped for a bit to eat and just relax.
Next, I headed across the bridge to Ille de la Cité and one of my favourite places: Ste. Chapelle. The line to get in was very short and soon I was climbing the narrow staircase to the main chapel. The light was perfect with the sun shining through the massive stained-glass windows. I always feel a sense of awe when I stand in this chapel.
Next, I just decided to see what else I could find on the island. I headed along the Conciergerie to Place Dauphine to Place du Pont Neuf. I continued to walk along the Seine until finally I decided I needed a break and hopped on a bus to see more parts of Paris.
Would you believe it – it was cold, foggy and damp as we docked in Amsterdam. I could get the impression that the sun never shines here! The ship’s foghorn blared all night long. When it stopped between 2 & 3 AM, I realized the ship was already docked in Amsterdam. We weren’t scheduled to be here until 6 AM. The Master of the Constellation, Captain Tassos, did a remarkable job getting us around the Baltic, usually arriving early. After a night surrounded by fog on our cruise back into Amsterdam, it was now time for me to bid farewell to my home for the past 12 days, the Celebrity Constellation. I loved the ship, the crew, and the experiences.
At breakfast, I ran into several of the friends I’d met during this sailing experience. Then, too soon, it was time to head through the main lobby, use my Sea Pass one last time, and head into the cruise terminal in Amsterdam. My bag was easy to find – and now I was off to catch a train to Paris.
It was an easy walk from ship to Amsterdam Centraal Station. Even dragging my suitcase, it only took me about 20 minutes. Once in the station, I was able to find an ATM machine and the platform for my train. I was very early, as it was before 9 AM and my train did not leave until 11:19. While I was waiting, I met a couple from Waterloo, ON. They had been on a barge-biking tour of The Netherlands and were on their way to Brussels to meet family.
Check out the Thalys website for information on the train to Paris. I setup an alert to let me know when I could reserve a ticket for the day I wanted – it allowed me to get a discount ticket for 35 Euros!
For some reason, the ticket I printed off did not contain all the information I needed to board, mainly the coach and seat number. I was directed to the Station Master who was able to check the barcode and give me the information I needed. Getting on the train was a bit tricky as there was a big gap and three steps to get from the platform to the train.While there was plenty of room for my suitcase, it did get very tight as more people piled into the car with enormous bags! It was pretty crazy – how can you get around Paris with bags that my bag would fit in – twice. Luckily, I was able to find a place for my luggage and I was the only person in my row, so I had a comfy seat with a table and a window. The train seemed to fly across the Dutch country side.
The train ride to Paris is about 3 hours and goes through Belgium. I wish I could say I saw Belgium – but really, there was not a lot to see from the train. Soon, we were entering Gare Nord, the final stop in Paris. I got a shuttle from the station to my hotel in the Arrondissement 7 – Hotel du Champs de Mars. This is a beautiful hotel on a pedestrian street that is just a couple doors down from Rue Cler which is a pedestrian street filled with different shops and cafes. My room was on the 5th floor – and fortunately there was a small elevator, otherwise, I would have to climb the every-spiraling staircase. My room overlooked a private courtyard, so was very secluded and quiet.
After dropping off my luggage, it was time for me to get to know my neighborhood, the 7th Arrondissement.
My first stop was just outside my door – Rue Cler. This is the heart of the neighborhood with cafes, and shops for all sorts of specialties. This is where people come to but their bread, fresh fruit and veggies, cheese and wine, meat and fish. You can sit at one of the cafes and watch both locals and tourists. There was even a chocolate shop directly across from my hotel! I loved it all!
My hotel was centrally located with several major sites to see: Les Invalides, the Eiffel Tower, Ecole Militaire, Assemblée Nationale, and Musée d’Orsay, what a a perfect location! I thought I’d head first towards Les Invalides, just because I did not go there on my last visit to Paris. Also, it looked like rain, so I did not want to stray too far just yet. So, an easy stroll took me to this vast park and massive building that houses the Musée de Armee and the Tomb of Napolean.
After a few raindrops, the sun came out and I headed in the opposite way past my hotel to the Champs de Mars and the symbol of Paris, the Eiffel Tower. So far, I had a leisurely and calm walk – then I approached the tower and the crowds of people in lines that snaked in many directions. It was confusing to see where any of the lines actually ended and it felt like the entire world was represented in this space. I decided to forgo the crowds – I have pictures of being on the tower in 2001 with the lights sparkling. This trip was about doing different things and just soaking in the energy and the magic of Paris. I enjoyed the park, people watching and taking pictures.
Heading back to Rue Cler, I spent the rest of my evening at one of the corner cafes, enjoying a nice dinner, wine and espresso.