PARIS, FRANCE

LAST STOP OF EUROPEAN TOUR PARIS

Man, where do we even begin.  Paris was the most awestruck, the most wide-eyed, and the happiest. We spent the day wandering among some of the main attractions, stopping for café lattes and macaroons, shopping in the boutique stores and generally loving every corner of this gorgeous city. In pop culture, Paris is heavily romanticized as one incredibly beautiful city. In reality, it is exactly that. Even better.




Several of the city’s most recognizable sites flank the river, so our first stop after arriving was along the promenade water front for a tour in a glass covered tour-boat-come-water-taxi that stops at the Musée d’Orsay, Notre Dame, Hotel de Ville, the Louvre, Champs-Elysées, and the Eiffel Tower. Some of us stayed behind and explored under the Eiffel Tower.

That afternoon while everyone relaxed back at the hotel we headed back up to the main street and took a bus ride just north of the Eiffel Tower to the end of the famous Champs-Elysées shopping street and the the Arc de Triomphe.




You can walk up to the top for an alternative view of Paris, but we had a Cabaret Dinner Show at Lido De Paris, which was the site of one of the first Dinner Cabaret Shows invented here. And it was within these walls, where it was born, that it is done with the most style. 

When in Paris, be won over by the charm of the French-style shows and savour the treats for which there gastronomy has become internationally famous. Late trip back to the hotel with a drive around the Arc dc Triomphe we hit the hay because the next day was going to be huge.



The next day we all jumped in the bus and our first stop was one of the most iconic buildings in Paris and the setting of Victor Hugo’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ this stunning cathedral is not to be missed. The original Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, which had stood on this site, was nearly as old as Paris itself. Unfortunately this cathedral did not survive all the wars it faced, and was rebuilt in the 12th century as the Notre-Dame. Make sure that you walk all the way around the outside, and don’t miss the stunning rose windows on the inside.



Since its appearance in ‘Sex and the City’ (the scene of Carrie and Big’s kiss), visitors began attaching love locks, padlocks with sweethearts’ names on them, to its panels in 2008, the Pont des Arts has become a veritable tourist attraction. Peruse the padlocks and their messages we added our own that night, and toss the key into the Seine to guarantee our romantic flame burns for an eternity.



We then strolled up Rue Bonaparte and made a pit-stop at Ladurée along the way. World famous for its mouth-watering macarons, Ladurée’s patisserie selection is a true feast for the eyes (and mouth!). Kim had a field day.



Most of the time it was shopping time for Kim. Champs-Elysees (it is quite expensive and there are mainly chain stores), the most beautiful avenue in the world is still worth a visit. The buildings are beautiful and the little alleyways on both sides are full of bistros, bars and clubs to explore. Fans of the Tour de France may also know this place as the final stage of the race course.


We discovered why Paris is known as the City of Lights when we headed back to Eiffel Tower late afternoon then onto the Louvre Museum and met some friendly local photographers. After admiring the Louvre and its spectacular glass pyramid bathed in a golden glow sunset, we set off toward the River Seine. We crossed one of the river’s historic bridges and soaked up the romantic atmosphere along the UNESCO World Heritage-listed riverbanks. 




Continued on to the charming neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, famous for its vibrant café culture and as a gathering spot for Parisian intellectuals and artists throughout the centuries. After checking out some street life we headed back to the fountain and Eiffel Tower for some more photos and time-lapse movies. We lasted all night and watched the sun rise the next day. We ended lasting 24 hours awake and jumped in a cab back to the hotel to pack and jump in the bus back to London, catching up on a sleep all the way back.


Best thing I can pass on:

The best way to see Paris: ON FOOT. Paris is a very walkable city because it isn’t that big and there’s a lot of interesting things to see. Roadside cafes lace almost every corner, historic monuments adorn its roundabouts, and the smell of freshly baked bread coming from local boulangeries fill the air. Walking is really the way to go.  Many tourist attractions can be visited in a day just by walking. For example, the Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Place de la Concorde, Jardin de Tuileries, and the Louvre are situated next to each other. You can spend one full day checking all these out. (Actually, you can spend one full day inside the Louvre and it still won’t be enough.) However, if you’re too exhausted to walk, the best alternative is the subway or the METRO. One thing we totally loved about Paris was its expansive 300-station train system that connects much of the city. It’s cheap and efficient, and it’s seldom crowded because there’s always a train every five minutes or so.

Check out our video here:

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ORLEANS, FRANCE




On the move again and heading along the Loire, passing the castles of Amboise and Chaumont. We then stopped into Orleans before reaching Paris.

Orleans is an interesting and important town on the Loire River, and the main city in both the Loiret department and also the Centre (Loire valley) region. Situated south of Paris and east of Le Mans, it is a large town with more than 300 000 inhabitants.

Despite its central location in France a significant part of the historical centre of Orleans avoided damage during the Second World War, and the town has an extensive historic centre with many fine buildings to admire.

Because Orléans does not form part of the ‘major sights’ of the Loire Valley to the west or of Burgundy to the east it is perhaps less visited than it would otherwise be: that is unfortunate because it is a very attractive city with lots to see and so
including an extensive historic centre and many buildings of interest and several important musesums and garden.

The city is stunning, and has a historical background to match up to its amount of awesome. Known for a famous battle, won by hero Joan of Arc, We loved being able to walk the streets and just simply marinate in the culture and beauty.

It is quite easy to get your bearings in the centre of Orleans. The principal region of interest to visitors is around the cathedral and along Rue Jeanne d’Arc, the region of the town between here and the Loire river and the Pont Georges V bridge about 500 metres to the south, and also north of Rue Jeanne d’Arc to the Place du Martroi, Rue d’Escures and the Hotel Groslot.

We started exploring in Place du Martroi, which is a large open square surrounded by numerous imposing buildings and a very pleasant introduction to the city. In the centre of the square there is a large 19th century statue of Joan of Arc. The streets near here contain many of the larger shops such as FNAC which are found in most important French cities.

From here we followed Rue d’ Escures towards the east. One of the most splendid houses in Orleans, and open to the public, is the Hotel Groslot in Place de l’Etape, a very ornate and distinguished 19th century red brick building with a fine interior of the period.

We turned south towards the cathedral along the Place de l’Etape where we reached the Orléans Tourist Office and the open area in front of the cathedral. Be sure to visit the tourist office because there are many other interesting sites of note including several churches and other historically important buildings that you are lilely to overlook without a guide map. We didn’t have that much time to really explore.

The Cathedral Sainte-Croix is the most important historic monument in the city, a 17th centre gothic style cathedral with very old origins that has a great deal of impressive stonework ornamentation, in particular the façade which also features three large round windows and two square towers. The stained glass windows inside the cathedral were added in the year 2000. Near the cathedral you can also see a part of the walls that surrounded the original roman town.



After exploring the cathedral, we walked straight along the Rue Jeanne d’Arc, the broad avenue to the front of the cathedral created at the beginning of the 19th century, at least as far as Place Charles de Gaulle. This is not the most beautiful square in the town but it is here that you can see the historic ‘house of Joan of Arc’. 

The Place de la Republique is another pleasant square along this road.
We kept turning to look behind us as we walked west along Rue Jeanne d’Arc because the view of the cathedral from here is very beautiful.



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BORDEAUX – POITIERS, FRANCE

BORDEAUX

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It was a change of scenery as we traveled into France across Gascony for
an orientation of Bordeaux, the wine capital of France. We then traveled

farther north by way of the Cognac area to Poitiers, of Black Prince 

fame.
There is no touristic season in Bordeaux. Only December is lighter with tourists. So what attracts the mass of tourists there around the year; maybe you think it’s the good weather?  It’s all about wine, admit it. Well, that’s what we knew before we visited it too, so no shame in saying it out loud. Bordeaux is most famous for its wine, and for good reason.  Before I get to amazingly descriptive details about the wine experience, let me tell you, there are plenty of other things to see and do there.

We explored the area on foot to soak up the atmosphere, admire the façades of the old buildings and enjoy some good shopping, and dining too. The Allées de Tourny leads down to the Place de la Comedie and the Grand Théâtre, home to the the Opéra National de Bordeaux, as well as the Ballet National de Bordeaux. With its magnificent neo-classical façade, designed by 18th century architect Victor Louis, the structure consists mainly of wood, which provides for perfect acoustics, and has a circular cupola with a wonderful ceiling painted by Claude Robin in the 18th century. We then took a short walk from the Place de la Comedie, towards the Garonne River, which brought us to the Place de la Bourse. Very much one of the highlights of any visit to Bordeaux is the riverfront, which was revitalized as recently as the 1990s, as part of the urban development scheme, instigated by mayor, Alain Juppé. It has now been transformed from a’ no-go’ area of derelict warehouses, to offering pedestrian friendly, tree-lined promenades, with the old warehouses converted into shops and restaurants.


Bordeaux is an elegant city, reputed for its stylishness. It features large department stores, luxury brands, leading nationwide ready-to-wear shops, Parisian couturiers, jewellers, craftsmen, perfume shops, leather goods shops, specialised boutiques of all kinds,  which made Kim’s highlight. We then took a simple walk across the Triangle (formed by Cours de l’Intendance, Cours Clemenceau, and the Allées de Tourny), down the famous rue Sainte-Catherine, or through Old Bordeaux that revealed the incredible range of goods of all types on offer. The hustle and bustle shows that Bordeaux is a very prosperous, alive, and switched-on city.


After spending hour in the shops we continued to some other highlights:
Place de la Bourse (Miroir d’Eau) – Personally we loved this place. We thought it is just a fountain but they made a great attraction which looks absolutely stunning!
Place de la Victorie (Victory Square) – is one of the busiest areas with bars, restaurants, cafes, a chic tramway, and beautiful architecture. There’s always a crowd in the Victory square, and events, parties and concerts are often organized there.
Musée d’Aquitaine – It’s the museum to see in Bordeaux. It features historical collections from within the region (all the way since prehistory) but also from faraway lands since the age of great discoveries.
Tour Pey-Berland  the monument is the best spot to see the panoramic view of the city. It’s also lovely to look at from down below.

POITIERS 




There isn’t a lot to do at Poitiers, but it is a pleasant small city, and visitors will find relaxed atmosphere, especially compared to Paris. We arrived to the city centre late afternoon. It has a small square in front of the City Hall and is surrounded by cafes, where you can sit down with a glass of wine or coffee or get something to eat. It gets packed on weekends, especially during summer. Other parts of the town may give you an impression of a ghost town, especially during lunchtime, when the shops are closed, which is the time we arrived. We dropped our bags and quickly enjoyed the change in the weather and walked around admiring the quietness. We didn’t take too many photos because we did a lot of walking early at Bordeaux. Later that night we ventured out for a couple of night shots.


The Baptistry of St. John is one of the oldest Christian buildings in Europe, dating back to 4th century. Inside, you can see the baptismal pool on the floor, the St. Pierre Cathedral has organ performances and the Church of Notre Dame Virgin Mary is the Patron Saint of France, so every city of town will have a church named Notre Dame (Our Lady). Poitiers’ Notre Dame has light shows some evenings after dark. Really didn’t get a chance to look around Poitiers

Highlights here:
https://youtu.be/FRDw26itBtA

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FRENCH RIVIERA-AVIGNON-CARCASSONNE

AVIGNON

I do believe that Avignon was one of my favorites in a large town in Provence. And if you arrive there on a warm spring day with the roofs of the medieval buildings outlined against the wonderful blue Provence sky, I think you’ll understand why.

Avignon is the capital of the Vaucluse Department and has enough to see and do to warrant a two or three day visit. Unfortunately we only had 3 hours to explore as much as we could. If you had the time there’s the 14th century Palais des Papes, basically the palace of the French pope, in the days when there were two Popes in Europe. And of course there’s the famous Pont d’Avignon (Pont de St Bénézet) which stretches into the river Rhône and the historic ramparts that surround the city.


Or just explore the old part of the city: discover typical streets like the rue des Teinturiers with its paddle wheels on the Sorgue canal which flows through the city, and numerous little streets and squares paved with cobblestones – all named after the ancient professions of the Middle Ages.

Take in the beautiful façades of the private mansions built in the 18th and 19th centuries. If you’re in to religious buildings, there are several small chapels to be visited as well as the cathedral. You should definitely visit Avignon’s covered food market. Open in the mornings, from Tuesday to Sunday, the market has around 40 stall holders, true ambassadors of local produce: fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices, olive oil and other culinary specialities of Provence.

Unfortunately Kim caught the dreaded Bus Flu (from a traveler who was pretty much sick the whole time), and she didn’t have the energy to explore too much of Avignon.


For a town the size of Avignon, it is remarkable how many great shops you will find here.  We ignored Rue de la République, Avignon’s high street with the usual fast fashion chain stores, and focused on Rue Joseph Vernet, Rue de la Petite Fusterie and the streets around them instead. Here, Kim found the French brands that she loved. She was on the lookout for Sessún, Petit Bateau, Sandro, Comptoir des Cotonniers, American Vintage and Repetto. I let Kim have a little shop while I bolted through the winding streets of Avignon’s city center towards the Papal Palace. There’s no way you can miss this architectural marvel. The Papal Palace towers over much of Avignons old town and looks like a real-life version of a Game of Thrones set. You can enter the building and take a tour of the palace, but the 20 rooms that are accessible to the public are empty (most of the furniture got lost during the French Revolution). There are some intricate frescoes to see inside, so if that’s your thing, purchase a ticket and walk right in. The Pont Saint-Bénézet lies in ruins now, leading only halfway over the river Rhine. It once connected Avignon (and a watchtower of the Papal Palace) to the Île de la Barthelasse, an island that was a popular destination for the city folks to unwind. The famous bridge used to be the largest of its kind in Europe, spanning 900 meters. Some quick photos I bolted back down to catch up with Kim again.



We then took stroll through the Square Agricol Perdiguier park beside the tourist office which lead us to Place des Corps Saints, a small square with cafés shaded by plane trees. We had lunch at Ginette et Marcel, which specialises in tartines: slabs of toasted country bread covered in anything from cold meats and cornichons to warm goat’s cheese and honey. We then headed out a little early and took the opportunity to take a couple of photos.

CARCASSONNE

First of all, I’ll concede that the city walls and towers are, without a doubt, magnificent. Carcassonne is well worth a one-hour stroll to appreciate some of the most remarkably intact old fortifications you’ll ever see. Unfortunately, Carcassonne is a few hours away from anything else that’s really worthwhile, so most visitors get stranded here with more time than they need.


The city of Carcassonne can be divided into into 2 parts: La Bastide Saint Louis, the “newer” part of the city which was built on the left side of the river Aude by the “Black Prince” in 1355, and La Cite Medievale, or the older Medieval City



We arrived late in the afternoon and headed out to the smaller but more famous sibling, the ‘La Cité’ citadel, Carcassonne’s (lower) town, which dates back to the Middle Ages. Known as the ‘Bastide Saint Louis’, it features typically French bars, shops, cafés and restaurants, as well as all the standard services and amenities you’d expect, and as such it’s the perfect antidote to the tourist attraction that towers above it. We strolled through its streets and checked out an handful of charming boutiques, several great places to eat and a couple of unusually stylish overnight options. While not exactly a shopaholic’s paradise, Carcassonne’s lower town has some eye-catching boutiques that are a good source for take-home treats and self-indulgent souvenir purchases. They are all concentrated in the grid-system of streets leading off from the Place Carnot and can be whizzed round in an hour or so if you’re pushed for time. We slowly walked back to the hotel for dinner, then wandered out to take a couple of night shots.


The next morning we were up just before sunrise to walk the upper town, which is surrounded by a double wall, the area in-between is known as the lices or “lists” where medieval knights once did their thing. Whilst the outer wall is the work of Louis IX, parts of the inner wall date back to Roman times. The citadel includes the Château Comtal,  the central castle of the upper town dating from the twelfth century with an amazing 31 towers. It was early and we were the only ones up exploring the castle. We then headed back done to Pont Vieux and the banks of the Aude which was a wonderful place for a picnic once you’ve done the upper town. The bridge dates from the fourteenth century and boasts a Gothic chapel at its western end dating from 1538 to catch up with everyone for breakfast.
Check out our tour video here:

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