Saturday, March 24, 2012

 The Seine: Paris to Normandy with Pre & Post Trip extensions

Map of Trip


To see an index of all of our trips, go to jackthetravelingman-index.blogspot.com.



Introduction

This is a very long blog, all in 1 post. If it appears to end abruptly, it is probably because the maximum page size limit has been hit. To see more, click on the "Read more"  at the bottom of the page. To save space, there will be links to YouTube, Picasaweb, GoogleMaps, and various content links, including many to Wikipedia. If you have any problems with this blog please Email me at jackthetravelingman@gmail.com, as I am relatively new to blogger and probably did something wrong. There are about 150 out of about 1700 photos in the body of this blog, but I have organized all of the photos by day in Picasaweb albums, with a link to them at the end of each day. These photos are unedited and uncaptioned, but, as I get bored, I may go through them, culling out redundant or poor shots and captioning some of them.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Boston MA

We are departing Boston for Paris today on the Grand Circle Travel (GCT) trip, The Seine: Paris to Normandy, taking the pre-trip extension Paris, France and the post-trip extension Brittany & Mont St. Michel, France . The entire trip is 19 days, including travel days. We will return home on April 12, 2012.

I will be trying to keep this blog up to date on the trip, but that depends on my time, internet availability and available bandwidth, particularly for photos and videos. I will be providing links to attractions, frequently from wikipedia, as it usually provides the most information, without becoming an advertisement, as much as possible, and Google Maps of attractions, where they would enhance the reading. I will also be adding GPS locations, suitable for use in Google Earth for docking locations and possibly other locations where appropriate. As this is to enhance our memories of this trip, I may include subjects not necessarily of interest to all readers, but will keep such subjects as optional and unobtrusive as possible. 

If people have questions about anything in this blog, as indicated by comments, I will try to add the answers to the content of the blog, where appropriate, or answer them via Email, phone, Skype, chat or whatever.

I have a new camera, a Canon PowerShot SX40 HS, which has some interesting video, low light, panoramic, etc. features that I will be endeavoring to take advantage of. Depending on how well or poorly these integrate with the blogger, I will be providing a link or links to Picasaweb albums and YouTube.

Above all, I want this exercise to enhance my/our enjoyment of the trip, not to detract from it, so I may not complete the blog while on the trip, but will continue to work on it after returning.

We're all packed and waiting for our ride to the airport and can't wait to get going. We have heard by Vmail and Email from Audrey, our program director for the pre-trip and main trip, and from Jean-Pierre, our program director for the post-trip, by Email. The weather forecast is perfect for the first 9 days. 

Monday, March 26, 2012



We had a fairly comfortable on-time flight to Paris from Boston on Air France.

Landing in CDG, we had to park on the tarmac and be bused to immigration. Being at the back of the plane, we were on the last bus, which was slow coming, but, when we got to immigration, there was absolutely no waiting. There were 4 immigration desks  with officers at them an only one was busy. Similarly, when we got to the carousel, our bags came right out. There was no real customs processing, so there was no delay. Upon exiting the arrivals hall, our bus driver was waiting. He went to gather more customers and I went to find an ATM. By the time I found the nearest ATM and finding it out of service, he was ready to go. Other than the wait for the bus and the out of order ATM, CDG was a very pleasant surprise. There were elevators, as an alternative to stairs and escalators, but they were quite small and slow. If there were many people with wheelchairs and strollers, it could be a significant wait.


Hotel Room
Bathroom
Sacre Coeur (6 Miles away)
Being a Monday morning rush hour the drive to the hotel took about an hour. The hotel is the Marriott Rive Gauche, in the 14th Arrondisement, see MAP, at the intersection of Bd. Saint-Jacques and Rue Dareau. The hotel is in a nice neighborhood, but there are no major attractions, except for the Catacombs in the area. Our program director Audrey was there waiting for us. (This was about 10:30). Our rooms were ready and she gave us our keys, at a little after 11:00, we went out  on a an orientation walk  for about 2 hours. There were about 20 of us at this point. She showed us the location of ATMs, markets, Metro & bus stops, free wi-fi locations and her restaurant recommendations. We were then free to do our own thing, take a nap, or whatever until 6:00PM at which time all 29 of us gathered for an orientation of what was happening and to take care of various  logistical issues, including 2 one day Metro/bus tickets each, which we had not expected. We were then free for the evening. After the orientation walk, we chose to hit an ATM about a block from the hotel,  to get some cash, and a supermarket just a lttle futher, where Ann bought fresh fruits and cheese for her own meals,  After we took a nap,  and the evening orientation session, Ann stayed in the room and ate, and I went aound the corner to a fast food place where I got a very good  sandwich with grilled chicken lettuce, tomato  and onions on a very good roll, served with french fries and a Sprite for 6 Euros, about $8. We probably spent the least of  anybody on dinner that night . The television choices in the room, in English were all news  stations, such as CNN, BBC, CNBC, etc.  so they weren’t very entertaining,  although, I would have  loved to have this  coverage in Africa during the 2008 stock market  meltdown. So we  went  to bed early and slept well. The room had the largest hotel room safe that I had ever encountered. It held 2 laptops, our backup cameras, passports, money, etc. Also, very unusual for a European hotel, an ice dispenser on each floor, by the elevators.

To see all of  today's  pictures, go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/111547917541648033721/Seine2012326

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Paris FR


This morning, we had included breakfast (available 6:30-11:00) in the hotel. They had 2 breakfast rooms, one for convention/business types and one for tourists. In the tourist room Americans were far outnumbered by Japanese and Arabs/Moslems. This is not a complaint in any way, but merely an observation. Hot food consisted on scrambled eggs, which were cooked to my taste, bacon, which was very tasty, but fattier that I like, stewed tomatoes that were very good, boiled rice and chicken soup. They had a very good assortment of breads, as well as fruits, cheese, cold cuts , fruit salad, yogurt, cereals etc., and a couple of different fruit juices  and very good  coffee. There was adequate staff for clearing tables and resupplying the food.

Monument in Bastille Square
Most of us met with at Audrey’s hospitality desk at 9:00 for a  walking tour of the Marais district. Using  public transportation, with one of the transportation tickets that Audrey had given us last night, ue took  the Metro from about a block from the hotel to the Bastille station, a trip that required one change. In this way Audrey acquainted us with getting around on the Paris transportation system.  She had also given us detailed bus  and Metro maps. The district was once home to royalty, been the Jewish section and currently is a favorite gays and lesbians. There are some magnificent homes and museums in the district.

Entrance to Place des Vosges
Through the Palace of Louis XIII
Fountain in Place des Vosges
Notre Dame from the Batobus Stop
On the Left Bank
 We visited the Place des Vosges, which is now a very nice park, walked through old neighborhoods, and ended up at Notre Dame Cathedral on the Ile de la Cite, see MAP, with Notre Dame on the lower left and the Place des Vosges on the upper right, all the while getting a history lesson on France in general and Paris in particular. The weather was absolutely perfect with temperature rising into the 70s without  a cloud in the sky.

Batobus that We Missed
Ann and I decided to take the Batobus hop-on-hop-off boat  from Notre Dame for a round trip of the route from there. The tickets cost 15 Euros for 1 day, 18 Euros for 2, and 21 Euros for 5 days. Obviously the 5 day is the best buy, but we were only going to use it for 2. The boat has limited commentary, but it it is a great was to see the city reasonably from the river. After competing  one loop of the itinerary, we decided to call it a day, and took a bus back to the hotel.

We got great veiws the Louvre, the Musee D'Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, etc.





To see all of  today's  pictures, go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/111547917541648033721/Seine2112327

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Paris FR

Looking East down the Champs Elysee in the Morning
from atop the Arc de Triomphe
Breakfast same as yesterday. Per our choice, the day was totally on our own. The optional tour of Montmartre was cancelled, due to lack of interest, but Audrey said she would lead an informal tour by Metro. We had been to Montmartre before and chose not to go. Instead, we took the Metro from our closest stop Glaciere to Etoille, The Arc de Triomphe.
This was a straight run with no changes, a very easy trek. We came up from the Metro on Champs Elysee, right across the Etoille roundabout, see MAP, sat and took a few pictures, then went via the underground over to the center of the roundabout, where the Arc de Triomphe is, Admission tickets are 9 Euros per person, which you have to pay if you want to go to the top. You  can go up to the base for free. There is also a lift for those mobility impaired to take you almost to the to top, but there are still stairs to be negotiated to actually get outside. Despite being another absolutely  beautiful day, there was not much of a crowd up there. We probably spent an hour enjoying the view and taking pictures, including a panoramic one of 6 shots taken to down the Champs Elysee, into the sun. The camera did a great job, but I have to do a better job of composing such shots.

We then strolled down the Champs Elysee, people watching and taking occasional picture, enjoying the day. We walked as far as Av Winston Churchill, see MAP, and then walked  down there between the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais, two magnificent buildings,to the Alexandre III bridge over the Seine,one of  the most beautiful bridges on Paris. With many statues. We walked to the other side of the river where the road leads to Les Invalides, where Napoleon is buried.

We then returned  to the right bank, where we again took the Batobus, this time Port Champs Elysee stop, around to the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) stop, see MAP. This is a magnificent building in its  own right. The Hotel de Ville  is on the Rue de Rivoli, in the Marais district,which is  now a very fashionable  part of town. We wanted  to see if a hotel that we had stayed at about 15 years ago, the Hotel Paris Rivoli, see MAP, was still there.
 It was a friendly small hotel, with small rooms and a smaller elevator, (You could send one person up with the luggage, while the other takes the stairs)which is currently  being renovated. Ann went in and looked around and asked the rates. They were 120 Euros per night for a 3 Star hotel that was very conveniently located in a nice part of town, a very short walk from Notre Dame and the Louvre and a short walk from the Pompidou Center. The 69 bus, which is a great tourist bus stops across the street and there is a Metro station right at the Holel de Ville. There was also a small open air market less than a block away, where I grabbed a baggette with ham and cheese on good French bread for 4 Euros.. This would be a great alternative for a place to stay, if you wanted to get a little extra time before and/or after a cruise, as long as you were not looking for fancy accommodations, and wanted to save some money, in this generally expensive city.. We would strongly consider staying there again on our next trip to Paris.

We then went over to Notre Dame Cathedral, toured through it, and took quite a few pictures, mostly of the stained glass. Afterwards, like yesterday we walked over to the Palace of Justice and took the bus back to the hotel. Paris is actually quite easy to get around by public transportation.




Tomorrow, after breakfast, we check out and board to ship, staring the next stage of the trip.

To see all of  today's  pictures, go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/111547917541648033721/Seine2012328

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Paris FR

Same boring breakfast, but we had to have our bags out by 9:30 and be on the bus to the ship by 10:30. We left exactly on time. It took about an hour to get to the ship because of traffic. On the bus Audrey gave us red dots to put on our badges, to designate us as the red group, which would be led by her, with a few people added that were not on the pre-trip. There were to be 3 groups, each with less than 40 people. The  yellow group, led by Jean-Pierre, consisted of those taking the post-trip, except for those already in the red group. For the post trip, everyone would be with Jean-Pierre. The blue group consisted of everyone else, led by Jean-Yves. This setup made for an orderly distribution of the people between program directors, buses and local guides, keeping no group from getting too large or too small. It also kept travelers together that had the same itinerary. The workload for common activities such as port talks , was spread among the 3 leaders. If there were optional activities, one of the program directors would always stay with those not going and his or her people would be divided between the other 2 program directors. All this is pretty standard for Grand Circle small ship cruises The ship, is the MS Bizet. It is docked just off of the Port de Javal Bas, just opposite the Andre Citroen Park. The docking location is GPS(N48 50 34, E2 16 20.9), see MAP, arrow on lower left; Eiffel Tower is on the upper right. It or another cruise ship is tied up there on the map. It is not a cruise ship terminal, as such, but many of the Seine cruise ships tie up here. It is next to a concrete plant, but the area is quite safe. There was a Viking cruise ship tied up outboard of us when we arrived. Unfortunately we are tied up with our bow pointed down river, with our port side cabin and balcony (Cabin 326) facing the cement plant and a working barge. From the sun deck, you can see the Eiffel Tower, about 1.5 miles away, along the river. At about 12:30, Audrey took those of us from the pre-trip and many of the earlier people just arriving from the US for an orientation walk of the neighborhood, showing us the closest bus stop,  Metro stop and 2 closest RER (commuter rail) stops, as well as ATMs stores, etc. It is actually in a nice area. After returning I got the access code for the wi-fi on the ship, which was supposed to work in the lobbby, lounge and library. Our cabin is about as far away as you can get on the ship, and it works great there. At 2:00 we had a buffet lunch in the dining room.  Ann and I then walked to the Javel RER station, connecting to the Metro to go to the Musee Rodin, see MAP.



 The museum itself was closed for renovations, but the grounds were open, for a 1 Euro admission, with many of his sculptures exhibited there. As this was another perfect day, weatherwise, this was far better than being stuck inside a museum. We then walked to the Invalides station to catch the RER back to the ship. At 6:00 we had a welcome cocktail and meet the crew session as well as an orientation as to what would happen over the next couple of days.

An excellent dinner was served at 7:00, and I am now  trying to catch up with this blog.

To see all of  today's  pictures, go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/111547917541648033721/Seine2012329


Friday, March 30, 2012

Paris, FR
Actual Photograph of the Louvre Courtyard out a Window in the Museum

This is another excellent day, both in weather and activities. It was cloudless in the low 70s.

Excellent breakfast with omelet station, etc. Right after breakfast, we had our mandatory emergency drill, with everybody assembling on the sun deck. In most places on the river, you can't really sink to that level, and that is where the canisters containing the life rafts are stored.

Buses picked us up at the ship for an included guided tour of Paris. It was pretty much of a whirlwind tour and only included 1 stop where we could get off and take pictures, at the Champs de Mars, by the Eiffel Tower, see MAP
After the Eifell Tower, we drove by Les Invalides, across the Pont Alexandre III and up Av. Winston Churchill to the Champs Elysee, where we turned and went up and circled the Arc de Triomphe, coming back down Av. Keiber to the Trocadero, thence driving along the Seine to the Place de la Concorde, see MAP
We then went by the main entrance to the Louvre, see MAP, I'm not sure exactly which streets we took to do this. We then crossed the Seine and returned to the ship. For the most part, for us, this was a rehash of where we had already been, but it helped us put all of the locations together, and to understand that the major attractions in Paris are contained in a relatively small area. For those that did not spend any time here before the cruise, at least they could now say that they had seen Paris.



Today's Lunch & Dinner Menus



At 2:30PM, we were picked up at the ship by bus and local guides and taken to the Louvre. Parking was in a massive underground garage for buses. It reminded me of the Vatican garage. We had been given “Whispers” (radio receivers) so that we could hear our guide. They were not that effective in the Louvre. It was very noisy, but hearing and keeping with the guide would have been impossible without them. The crowds were huge and not very disciplined. From the garage we entered into the very modern I. M. Pei designed area under the largest glass pyramid. The guide then took is to the oldest parts of the museum first, the foundations of the original fortress. Not many people went into this area, and it was quite interesting, showing the builders marks on the stones, which was how they go paid, so much per block. 

The first major piece we saw was Dianna the Huntress, although cordoned of, it sits right in the middle of the floor. It is in amazing condition. Then we worked our way over to see Venus De Milo

It had suffered more damage from time, but was still magnificent. The lighting made it a little difficult to get good pictures, as the light was coming in strongly from the right side, shadowing the left, and shoot from the left was shooting right into the sun. We then went through rooms, where the room itself was as impressive as the art work contained in it. The next major work was the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

 This was not entirely intact, but is a very  important piece of art history. Then to the most significant work in the Louvre, Leonardo da Vinci's, Mona Lisa.










The room was an absolute mob scene. Without a superzoom, and Ann's head as a monopod I would have had a great deal of problems getting a shot of her.



Dinner was a dinner cruise with an excellent meal and a great look at Paris lit up. Some fantastic pictures and a movie of the Eiffel Tower sparkling. We went upriver for several miles before turning around to come back through the city in the dark. Our ship, the Bizet, was the only overnight cruise ship that we saw doing this. I'm not sure how many can, due to their height, and the bridge clearance. Our pilot house can be lowered almost to the top deck and all of the railings and the canopy can be lowered. Unfortunately you can not be on the top deck during this cruise or you may meet the guillotine. After turning around, we waited just off of a botanical garden, just above Notre Dame, to time the cruise just right.


Here I took pictures in very low light conditions of the many students in the garden. Some of them taking Amusement in "mooning" us. 

After dark the Eiffel Tower is beautifully illuminated. and lights sparkle on it for about five minutes on each hour. The ship was just passing the tower on the hour at 10:00. We sat out on our balcony on the port side to enjoy the show. If you do not have a port side balcony, you can enjoy the show from the panoramic windows in the lounge. We do not know what the view was like on the starboard side, as we didn't want to miss any of our show. This illuminated tower should not be missed. 


This video was taken hand held by my new Canon, from our balcony on the ship. I'm really getting to like this camera.

La Tour Eiffel & Little Liberty











I am very happy with the performance of my new camera as I got many very good photos and the video in the dark, without adding any light source.

To see all of  today's  pictures, go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/111547917541648033721/Seine2012330

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Paris/Versailles - Conflans St Honorine

At a little after 8, we departed for the optional tour of Palace of Versailles. Two busloads out of the three took this tour. When we got to Versailles, see MAP, we were among the first buses there. We had brought our receivers and headsets from the ship. Three local guides picked us up, one for each of the color coded groups. One of them went to get the tickets, while Jean-Pierre brought us around to the garden entrance. We were to be assigned a precise entry time to the palace. This is done for all group tours to regulate flow.  We were assigned 9:50, and we all had to be there and ready to enter at once. 


Our guide met us and we entered the gardens, which were a separate ticket. As it was early in the season, the gardens were not in full bloom, but you could see and appreciate the beauty and symmetry, and the vastness of the gardens.


At the appointed time we all met at group group entrance gate and filed into the palace, on the right front corner to file counterclockwise through the palace, which is the way historical visitors to the palace would enter. Each of the entry rooms were dedicated to a sign of the zodiac and the decorations of the room we more impressive than the paintings hung in them. We progressed through the rooms to the rear of the palace, where the Hall of Mirrors is. This is where the Treaty of Versailles was signed, ending WWI and many say, starting WWII.

As you can see, the crowds were thinning out by this time.




From were we entered the kings quarters with a waiting room for those awaiting an audience and the kings quarters themselves.




Next were the queens quarters, where Queen Marie Antoinette allegedly made the inflammatory remark "Let them eat cake" when the starving peasants stormed the palace. The royal family escaped this time, but eventually met the guillotine.


Now we were in for a treat that had not been expected prior to arrival. On the first weekend day of April they start a Fountains and Music show for the season, on weekends only. They had decided to start today, a day earlier than normal. Our tickets included this show back in the gardens. In my opinnion, it is not as impressive as the fountains in the Garden of Peterhof in St. Petersburg, but it is impressive just the same.













Sailed at 1:00PM and docked in Conflans St Honorine for the night, at about 6:00. The docking location is GPS(N48 59 26.4, E2 05 34.3), see MAP, right in the center of town.

At the port talk, we were told that a videographer for Grand Circle would be joining us for Giverney, making a video to be used on the Grand Circle web site, promoting the trip. We were all asked to sign releases, so that he could freely video.

To see all of  today's  pictures, go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/111547917541648033721/Seine2012331

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Conflans - Vernon

In the morning, we took a bus trip to Auvers-sur-Oise, see MAP, where Vincent Van Gogh spent his last years and is buried. We had a local guide who took us to a few of the sites where he had painted, and the town had signs with prints of the painting, allowing you to see the painting and the subject at once. We also saw his home, from the outside, and his grave.


In many locations in town, there were signs with Van Gogh paintings in the location where they were painted. Here are a few examples.



The Town Hall in Auvers as a print and in real life.


The Church in Auvers in real life and in print.










Village Steps and Street in Auvers in real life and on sign.



We also visited the graves on Vincent and Theo Van Gogh







During lunch, we sailed for Vernon. We stopped along the way to view Rommel's HQ at the time of the D-Day invasion, GPS(N49 4 44.8,E1 37 53.3) at LaRoche-Guyon, see MAP. We did not dock, just stopped in the middle of the river to hear about it and to take pictures.

Docked in Vernon, see MAP, at about 7:00PM, at GPS(N49 5 42.6, E1 29 23.6), see MAP.

At the port talk, we were introduced to Wendy Perrin of Conde Nast Traveller, a leading travel magazine, who would be on board for the next 4 days, doing and article on river cruising on the Seine. She fit right in with the other travelers.

To see all of  today's  pictures, go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/111547917541648033721/Seine201241


Monday, April 2, 2012

Vernon/Giverney





We had a wonderful visit to Giverney, see MAP, a short pleasant ride from the ship. We were the first buses there for the day to visit the home and gardens of Claude Monet. The bus parking is on the right side of the road, with an underpass to get to the town and Monet's house on the left. We had to wait a little while for the ticket booth to open, but it was worth it to beat the crowds. Unfortunately pictures were not allowed in the house. The house was full of Monet prints, particularly in Monet's studio. There were also a great many Japanese prints. The kitchen was amazing with a huge selection of copper cookware,

We were fortunate, as this was only the second day that the house and gardens were open for the year. The gardens were not in full bloom, but they were beautiful just the same. They were not as large as expected.



There was a very large gift shop with many prints and other items for sale. Ann bought some Monet note cards there and didn't realize until later that they were printed by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. She enjoyed browsing, if not buying much in the shop.

The Japanese Garden was back through another underpass, on the same side of the road as the bus parking, but only accessible via the main garden. Even though the water lilies were not in bloom, the gardens were beautiful and serene. We spent quite a bit of time there.


We had intended to get to the church and Monet's grave, but we ran out of time. This is the closest we got, with a telephoto.



I spent some time wandering around Vernon, particularly the church taking pictures.


In the afternoon we had a home hosted visit with local familys. Our host was Francoise, whose husband was working. She had a son and grandchildren living in Seattle WA. She lived in a 200 year old home, by the train station, with a wine cellar for their home bottled wine. Her English was quite good, but Wendy Perrin, who was in our group, and who's French was better than any of ours had to help out with translations a couple of times.

To see all of  today's  pictures, go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/111547917541648033721/Seine201243

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Vernon - Les Andelys


During breakfast, we sailed for Les Andelys, We had a 9:00 talk on the fortress of King Richard the Lion Hearted, the Chateau Gaillard which was in Les Andelys, and the affects that the crusades had on France in general and Normandy in particular, from food and spices to architecture and politics. It was a very foggy morning, but when we arrived at 10:00 the fog was lifting, revealing a beautiful small French town, It almost looked like it was medieval times, except for the cars. Instead of walking up to the fortress, I stayed in town, taking pictures, which will be added later. I don't know what other ships stop here, but it should not be missed.

There was some massive restoration work going on in the church, but I was able to go in and walk around, They were apparently bracing one of the stone arches with massive timbers.

On the left is the postal delivery vehicle with a very interesting "kickstand" mechanism, and on the right is a map of the region













At 11:00 We had an talk and tasting by Audrey on French foods.

After another very good lunch. There was a water color class in the lounge, at 2:00, limited to 20 people, which Ann took part in. We sailed for Rouen at 3:45. Docked in Rouen at about 8:15, GPS(N49 26 31.5, E1 4 35.0), along Promenade Normandie-Niemen near Av Pasteur, see MAP.

To see all of  today's  pictures, go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/111547917541648033721/Seine201243

Wendesday, April 4, 2012

Rouen

Our docking location, was not right down town, so a bus shuttled us into the center of town for about a 3 hour walking tour, after breakfast. I had no real idea what to really expect of of Rouen. We were met by an outstanding local guide, Sandrin, who was cheerful and friendly and even sang for us with a beautiful voice. She took us first for a quick look at the Rouen Cathedral of Notre Dame, see MAP. It is a magnificent structure, which we were going to return to later in the tour, As we had 3 tour groups, they wanted to plan the tours to avoid overcrowding any locations.



 She then took us into any area of 13th and 14th century building, explaining the architecture and life in those days. As these older buildings were taxed based 

on square footage, many of them built out wider as they went up, ending up very close to each other, promoting the spread of fire, and also protecting the lower floor structure from rain.



              
             We then went into Notre Dame, which is the most massive cathedral that I have ever been in, and I have been in St. Peters, Notre Dame in Paris, Cologne, St. Paticks, in New York, and others.













 It was a beautiful building. There was very beautiful stained glass and many tombs in the cathedral.



The walk then took us by the town clock, which is a bigger attraction to the French tourists than Notre Dame, with no minute hind, because the hour was sufficient , in those days, and an inset window indicating the day of week.

 Finally, we visited the site where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, The is a modern church right there, built with stained glass windows saved from an old church that was destroyed in WWII. Unfortunately the church would not open until 2:00.

We went back to the ship for lunch. There was a choice in the afternoon of an optional tour of Wandrille Abbey, a provided shuttle bus to downtown for more site seeing or the third choice of staying on the ship, which Ann and I took. Ann wanted to rest, and I wanted to catch up on this blog.

To see all of  today's  pictures, go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/111547917541648033721/Seine201244

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Caudebec-en-Caux

 At about 3:00, we set sail from Rouen for Caudebec-en-Caux, a small town of about 2500 that was largely destroyed in the war and largely rebuilt post-war, with only a few of the old style homes left. We docked at GPS(N49 31 26.8, E0 43 27.5), see MAP



We took about a 2 hour stroll around the town, including a old church that largely survived the war, with magnificent stained glass, which was removed before the bombings and replaced, as a part of the repairs.



 We finished with a visit to the local school, where the young children sang songs for us, and us them, and we gave them candy for Easter. We returned to the ship form lunch.


In the afternoon we took and optional tour to the B & B Distilery and to Etretat to view the cliffs that Monet painted. The Distillary was a glorified brewery tour, but the building was magnificent.


Etretat is a beach resort town, with great views. It was not crowded, as it was a cool and cloudy day.

When we returned to the ship at 6:15, we immediately sailed for Honfleur, and docked in the harbor at about 9:30.   This was a tricky maneuver, given that the ship is twice as long as the size of the lock into the harbor, so that it had to enter with the harbor level even with the ocean, and both gates open, and they had to turn a 330 ft. ship around in this narrow harbor. The tides here are about 30 ft., so that they need to protect the harbor with locks. Dock location GPS(N49 25 7.0, E0 14 19.7), see MAP.

To see all of  today's  pictures, go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/111547917541648033721/Seine452012


Friday, April 6, 2012

Honfleur

We had a very busy day today, leaving at 8:00 for a tour of the Normandy D-Day Invasion sites. We first stopped at the Memorial for Peace in Caen, to pick up our local guide. We will be returning here on Sunday. There are very few major roads in this part of Normandy, with many narrow roads, neat small villages and many, many farms.

 Then went to see the Longues-sur-Mer Battery. This is several German gun implacements in the condition they were left in following D-Day. We got to walk around and actually enter the emplacements. 


From there we went to Arromanches, which is where the allies built one of two temporary port facilities, called "mulberries" during the days following the invasion. There were many remnants of the port  structure remaining in the water and visible. This was a place for a lunch break, with simple picnic lunches brought from the ship. There was also a museum dedicated to the invasion in town, which we visited the Arromaches D-Day Museum. This museum is small but packed with information on the temporary port. Ann and I were lucky when we went in, because there was a Canadian school group get a presentation with a model of the beach on the construction of the mulberry. This was followed by English language slide show, then a video with English language headsets. In about 30 minutes, we saw all of this, and then wandered around this small town looking at relics of this operation, So far, this had been a cool, cloudy, blustery day, with temperatures about 50F. We never did eat our picnic. The way the were feeding us on the ship, we could afford to miss a meal (or two).

We then went to the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, see MAP. overlooking the landing beaches. Almost on queue the sun came out. It was a beautiful cemetary and very simple but well maintained. A ceremony had been arranged for us, as visiting Americans. 


From here we went to Omaha Beach itself, see MAP, where two memorials are erected at the beach. This is now a beautiful recreational beach, with fine sand and very high tidal movements. 


Our final stop of the day was at Pointe du Hoc, see MAP,where so many American rangers were killed climbing a 100 foot cliff in the teeth of German gunfire. The hill had many gun emplacements and was still pock marked with craters from Allied bombs and ships' guns.

To see all of  today's  pictures, go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/111547917541648033721/Seine201246


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Honfleur


This morning we took a two hour walking tour of this beautiful coastal town, guided by Audrey.







It historically a fishing village, with still some fishing industry, but it has become more of a tourist town. 
It is one of the most beautiful harbors that I have ever seen, which is something to say, because I live near Gloucester, Rockport and Marblehead MA. We also lucked out, being here on Saturday, a street market day.The streets were full of vendors, selling fresh produce, fish, cheeses, etc, and everything else that you might want to buy. People were also buying seafood right off tables set up next to the boats on the pier. We went into one exhibition hall and a church, both with uniques seafaring architecture and craftsmanship. We took the afternoon off. Ann rested and I worked on the blog.

To see all of  today's  pictures, go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/111547917541648033721/Seine201247

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Honfleur - St-Malo

Today is the day that we have to say goodbye to Audrey and the Bizet. We have joined with a smaller group and Jean-Pierre for our extension to St.-Malo, but first everyone went to the Peace Museum in Caen, It was a 1 hour drive and we had about 2.5 hour visit there. First there was a video showing actual film clips from both sides during D-Day, then we went through a series of pictures and film clips of the years from the end of WWI through the end of WWII, including a film clip on the battle of Britain. Much of what was shown here was unknown to us, both because we were born after the war ended, and, given that the museum is on the site of the German headquarters in France, it is told largely from a French perspective, although there is a major section dealing with the treatment of the Jews and the concentration camps.

We then boarded our bus and headed for St-Malo, see MAP, about 2 hours from Caen. We checked into our hotel, Grand Hotel de Courtoisville in St-Malo. It is a lovely small hotel in a residential neighborhood, see MAP, about a mile from the walled city.


There are plenty of restaurants, shops and a supermarket in very easy walking distance. It also has free high speed wi-fi.


We took about 15 minutes to get into our rooms and were off on the bus to the old walled town of St.-Malo. We had to hustle because our bus clogged up the streets of this neighborhood. Our driver, Gabriel, from the Czech Republic is a magician, who could maneuver this huge bus, about 60 seats, 14.2 meters long and 2 weeks old, though the tightest streets, without the slightest signs of stress. His favorite expression is "No Problem". It had been raining off and on , mostly on, since we left Caen, but Jean-Pierre decided to take a chance and do a 1.5 hour walking tour of the ramparts and the town. 

We have never seen anything quite like this town, with its massive granite walls and cobblestone streets, which were teeming with people on this Easter Sunday. 

True to Jean-Pierre's luck, the sun came out as we walked the ramparts. Lunch was to have been on our own today, at the Peace Memorial, but we ran out of time. Dinner was slso on our own. I found a pizza place a very short walk from the hotel and had a very thin crust pizza, with tomatoes, mozzerella, ham and mushrooms. It was very good.

To see all of  today's  pictures, go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/111547917541648033721/Seine201248

Monday, April 9, 2012

St-Malo

This morning, after breakfast, our bus picked us up for a tour with a local guide, Benedicte, for a another tour of this magical city. We started with a merchants house where she explained the mercantile life that made St,-Malo  a trading power in the 16th century. Starting inside was fortunate, as this day was cool and rainy, in the low to mid 50s with a light rain most of the day. We walked through the town, which was nor fairly empty of tourists as the weekend was over, viewing important section of the town, We then went into the cathedral, which was quite dark but had beautiful stained glass windows.



This church and most of the town suffered severe damage during WWII from allied bombs, as it was a German stronghold.  We then went out onto the wall, before going down into the lower street to a creperie for lunch, with two type sof crepes, a ham and cheese one for the main dish, and a sweet one for desert. It was quite filling and delicious.

Our driver picked up us outside the walls for an afternoon optional visit to Dinan, see MAP. We stopped along the way to see the Rance Tidal Power Station, on the Rance River in Dinard, one of the largest in the world. In the Dinan, we had ABC (Another Bloody Church). 
This was not a catherdral, but still was impressive, although it had never really been completed. We also walked in the rain looking at other centuries old buildings. On the way back to hotel, we had a brief stop in a very small picturesque fishing village, Saint Suliac, see MAP, with our huge bus, seeing many people out windsurfing on this miserable day. I didn't even bother getting off the bus at this stop.

To see all of  today's  pictures, go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/111547917541648033721/Seine201249


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

St-Malo/Mont Saint-Michel

This morning we went to Mont Saint-Michel, see MAP the planned highlight of the extension, after picking up Benedicte at the old walled city of St-Malo. As they are in the process of totally changing the access to the island turned isthmus, soon to be an island again, Jean-Pierre and Benedicte did not know what the access would be today 

The causeway disrupts normal river and tidal flows and therefore the sedimentation around the island. This was further complicated by the fact that today was the highest tides of the year. When we got there, most of the parking areas were under water, and the roadways were packed with pedestrians coming in from parking lots on the mainland, but Gabriel got us to within about 100 yards of the entrance to the town. The river flow was going out and the tidal flow coming in causing a tidal bore, waves and turbulence in the river. Jean-Pierre had never seen this here.
We had to enter the city through an alternate entrance, as the normal entrance was under water, with waves coming into the courtyard and the tide still rising. Benedicte told us that she would take us up to the monastery in the most gradual fashion as she could, stopping occasionally to talk to us about what we were seeing and to give us a brief rest on this climb up steep roads and stairs. She told us that at any point until we actually entered the monastery, anyone could turn back and meet the rest of the group on the bus at 1:00, at the point that it had dropped us off, but once we entered the monastery, everyone had to complete the tour. 
A few people dropped out on thee way up, but most made the complete trip and were at the bus on time. The construction and repairs/reconstruction of this massive structure took centuries, bridging architectural styles and engineering principals

To see all of  today's  pictures, go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/111547917541648033721/Seine2012410


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Chartres-Paris


Early morning wake up, with 7:00AM breakfast and 8:00AM Departure to Paris. We were scheduled for a 1:00PM tour of the Chartres Cathedral, but a funeral was scheduled and we were moved up to 12:00. The caused the only noticable glitch on the trip. We were to have radio receivers to here the local guide better, but the person in Chartres went to lunch. 
The presentation was very good, but, at times, it was difficult to hear her, especially when the started warming up the organ. She went over the history and architecture of the cathedral and described many of the artistic features of the cathedral. The timing of the visit was very good, as they are in the middle of a restoration of the church and you could see side-by-side the before and after. 
I got many great photos of the stained glass. After the tour we had free time for lunch, or whatever, and left for Paris to check into our airport hotel, the Novotel in Roissy, for our return flights tomorrow.









To see all of  today's  pictures, go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/111547917541648033721/Seine2012411


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Paris - Boston

It was time to home today, again DeGaulle was not a problem at all, except for large crowds at check-in. Jean-Pierre went with us and Carl and Nancy from Cape Cod, who were the last group leaving. We had a 4:10 flight and were to leave for the airport a noon, but we were ready early so Jean-Pierre call the van early, so that his day would be done. Grand Circle also had a woman with us to help negotiate the check-in. The flight was uneventful, and we arrive a few minutes late.

Now to catch up on this blog, incorporating photos and videos and filling in the blanks. This will probably be a work in progress for a couple of weeks, and maybe beyond that as I remember details. I looked at Wendy Perrin's page, the Perrin Post, on the Conde Nast Traveler site, this morning and she had posted photos from her time with us.


Conclusions

The Trip

Overall the trip was great, we thoroughly enjoyed it. We had expected a very slow paced trip, as we only cruise 220 miles over 10 days, at a speed of approximately 10 miles an hour, meaning that we averaged about 20 miles of cruising per day, or about 2 hours, but there was enough to see and do in each port to keep the most active busy, but even the least active could enjoy each stop. One major improvement that Grand Circle has added in the last couple of years, and is used by other travel companies is the use of Whispers, radio receivers that the travelers wear and the program director or local guide wears the transmitter. This allows some degree of separation and communication in reasonably noisy areas. The person that lags behind the group or wanders away taking pictures or whatever can still hear the guide.

The Ship

The ship was excellent, although the lobby was not as fancy as many of the other ships that we tied up next to. The cabins were quite comfortable with a bathroom that was larger than on many ocean cruises that we have taken, Then beds are the pull down type that are large enough, but can't be moved together to make a full size bed. There were no refrigerators in the cabins or bathtubs, which I doubt that any river cruise ships have, but the shower was plenty roomy. There were flat screen TVs, hair dryers and safes in the cabin. There were only 3 decks on the ship, including the sun deck. We were on the main deck, which is where the lobby, lounge and restaurant, up 3 steps, are. All main deck cabins have small balconies with 2 chairs and sliders, allowing access and plenty of light. The lower deck cabins are actually larger, because the balcony space is taken from the cabin. There are stairs to the  lower deck from the lobby as well as an elevator. The sun deck is up a flight of  stairs on each side of the ship, one of which has a chair lift for those with mobility problems. There we plenty of lounge chairs and chairs and tables on the sun deck, with a hydraulically controlled canopy that can be lowered. The railing all around the sun deck also can be lowered. The control house can also be lowered to be almost flush with the sun deck, with the captains head sticking out through the roof to stear. All of this allows the ship to get under all of the bridges up through Paris, which we saw no other ships doing, although some may have. This is definitely the lowest clearance of any overnight cruise ship that we saw. The free Wi-Fi was a wonderful addition to prior river cruises that we have taken, but it needs improvement. They only advertised that it was available in the lounge, lobby and library, but it seem to work everywhere, including back near the dining room, where our cabin was. In port it was fairly reliable, but with still some problems. Underway, it sometimes worked great, but more often it had  problems. Its' bandwidth is also not sufficient to handle data intensive applications such as downloading pictures and Skype to Skype video chatting.

The Crew

The crew was excellent and very friendly. The Captain, Assistant Captain, Chief Engineer, Engineer and 2 Seamen spoke only French, but the were still quite friendly. The rest of the crew of 31 spoke excellent English. You could feel right at home with the entire crew. They all did whatever was necessary to make your trip enjoyable.

The Food

The food was excellent, with outstanding presentation and taste. It was, after all, a French cruise. The portions were small, but rich and delicious. If you had any special dietary restrictions, they would satisfy them. If you wanted more of of anything they would provide it. Complimentary wine was served with dinner. They said it was 2 glasses, but I never saw a glass go empty, unless you wanted it to. Dinner was the only totally sit down meal, generally with 2 choices of appetizer, 2 choices of main course and 2 choices of desert, plus a coup of other courses. Lunch usually would have a couple of choices from your server as well as a large buffet including a pasta station. Breakfast usually had one special to be ordered from the waiter, as well as a large hot and cold buffet with an omelet station. If anyone was celebrating a special occasion, birthday, anniversary, etc., they made a big show of it. There is also an early bird continental breakfast in the lounge and coffee, tea and cookies all day, The restaurant manager was always around making sure everyone was happy

The Itinerary

The Itinerary was the key to this whole trip. All of the stops were unique and worth doing with some of them dedicated to art, some to the French people and some to the whole D-Day experience. The docking locations, with the exception of Paris and to a lesser extent Rouen were as good as they could be, right in the heart of these lovely towns. There was also enough time in each port to get to know it. No other ship that we saw spent as much time in these towns as we did or stopped at more towns, The pre-trip in Paris is really too short, unless you have been to Paris many times and have seen most of everything, if that is possible. The post-trip extension in Brittany is really outstanding to see these one of a kind towns like St-Malo and Mont St-Michel. If I were to do this trip again, I would probably go at least a week ahead of time and get a small reasonably priced hotel in a good part of the city, such as the Hotel Paris Rivoli, where we stayed before, and travel around on Paris' excellent transportation system. I believe that Grand Circle will now make such air arrangements for you at their very competitive rates. If you can beat their rates, you can also book your own air.

The Entertainment

There was really some for of entertainment every, night, a couple of times a singer, a karaoke night, a crew show, etc., but we did not take that part of it all the time, as we needed rest, and I wanted to work on this blog.

The Program Directors

They were all different people and personalities that worked well together, playing of each others strengths. Even though you were only assigned to one of them, all of them were available to you.


The French People

The French are far different that when I was first here 15 years ago. More speak and understand English than in the past and are willing to use it. After all, Brits are the largest body of visitors that Paris and all of France see. It always helps to make some attempt to communicate in French, such as a simple Bon Jour, Bon Soir, Merci, S'il vous plait, etc.

The French Countryside

Contrary to what we expected, the Normandy and Brittany countrysides are mostly small villages and farm country with narrow roads and very many roundabouts. It is very pleasant country to ride through. There are no signs of the terrible war that was waged here, except for memorials of the war.



My recommendation

 If you're looking to take a trip like this, carefully compare the itineraries of those that you are considering, This is the most important part of the trip. You can compare it to the real estate maxim, "location, location, location". For a river cruise, or probably any tour, it is "itinerary, itinerary, itinerary". Are there stops that you want but aren't there. and are the stops long enough for you to enjoy them. Once you find the itinerary that you want, then compare the ships and the prices. Nothing is more valuable to you as your time. It would be a shame to waste it and your hard earned money on a trip that is not what you wanted. Also, if you can afford the time, get to Paris a week or more before the cruise, so that you can get to enjoy this beautiful city. We thoroughly enjoyed this trip, as there was enough flexibility to keep the most active travelers busy, but the more sedentary could also go at their own pace. The small towns were all different and had their own flavor.

The Canon PowerShot SX40 HS Camera

Every day this camera impresses me more. None of the pictures here used a flash, a tripod, or a monopod, even though I had brought both, despite many poor lighting conditions, some of which I could barely see in,  and an extreme telephoto, up to it's maximum optical zoom of 35X. I'm not saying that all pictures were perfect, or all were published here, but I had less that 10 pictures out of over 1600 or so that I discarded so far, all for operator error. The image stabilization and low light features worked astoundingly. The one feature that I would like for traveling is a GPS encoder, so that I could tell exactly where a picture was taken from, but I would not trade the picture taking performance for GPS

Miscellaneous


Monster Outlets To Go Powerstrip - This little 4 outlet, 3 prong, powerstrip gives you  great little power center for all the chargers, etc., in the cabin or hotel room, as well as a indicator/nite light, which alerts you if it is unplugged or the outlet does not have power. You need a plug adapter to adapt it to the ships outlets, such as the VCT VP 11B - Grounded Europe Adapter - USA to Europe Heavy Duty Adaptor Plug German Schuko. Both of these are sold by Amazon and you can search for better prices. This combination does not convert 220V  to 110V, but all of our chargers  and computers would work on both 110V and 220V. If you do need a transformer for some devices, you could plug it in as well.


If you have any questions?



I would be glad to answer any questions on this trip, on this blog, by Email at jackthetravelingman@gmail.com, telephone or Gmail or Skype video chat. Talking about trips helps us to relive them. We can figure out a mutually acceptable way to set up person to person communication.

If you book a trip with Grand Circle, or their sister company, Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), for the first time, you can get a $100 per person discount by using a referral from a current customer. They will also get a credit for future travel or cash for referring you. If you have a friend or relative who has traveled with either company, get their customer number and use it when calling to book. Once booked you can not go back and get the credit. If you do not have anyone that has traveled with them, you can contact me and I will give you my number, It will benefit me as well as you, so I would be glad to do it.

If you don't want to contact me, but would like the 

referral to get the discount, our name is John and Ann

Donoghue, and our customer number 532988.


Jack


Me



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