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France 1998



Saturday, March 21, 1998

Arrive in Paris, but we don’t believe it.  Our entire time in Paris is spent underground on the subway and train system.  We get a TGV (very fast speed) train to Rennes, transfer to another train to Dol de Bretagne.  We spend a lovely 3 hours in Dol, a village the size of Salisbury, NB.  There is a local cycling race that speeds by us several times as we sit in the Horse Race Betting Bar sipping our beer waiting for our final train to take us to Dinan.  We arrived in Dinan at 6pm, local time – about 24 hours after leaving Halifax.  We got to the house we were renting and basically collapsed.

Sunday, March 22, 1998

Spent the day tooling around Dinan.  Of course, since it was Sunday, most shops were closed, but we did find some fruits & veggies & bread at a corner store.  We took in some sights Dinan has to offer – a couple of churches, an English Garden, the clock tower, and all the quaint little cobblestone streets.



Monday, March 23, 1998

Again, spent the day in Dinan – Found a real grocery store.  Did you know that you can’t buy plain tortilla chips and salsa here?  Cannibals!!!  Saw a few more sights, including outside the walled city.  Many NICE homes.  The gardens are in bloom and the trees have leaves on them already.

Tuesday, March 24, 1998

Up to catch a 6am train to Paris!!  We make this Versailles day, and eat lunch at McDonald’s (we will soon find out that McD’s is the one place we can count on in this country).  We spend most of the afternoon in Versailles, take the King’s apartment tour.  We misunderstand the tour guide (speaking very odd English) as explaining that there is a painting of the Holocaust on the ceiling of the chapel – really it is the Holy Ghost (Father, Son, and Holocaust)!  Phew!!  We head back to Paris and go Diana gawking – the Pont d’Alma.  Then we truck back to the train station and head back to Dinan, where we arrive at 11pm.  Yawn!!

Wednesday, March 25, 1998

Off to St. Malo to pick up the rental car. We ignore the town and head directly to Mont St. Michel.  This is an absolutely incredible sight.  It used to be a large rock off the coast.  At high tide, it was cut off from the mainland due to the tides rushing in – as quickly as the Bay of Fundy tides.  They built an abbey on this rock and the community grew around it in a corkscrew fashion.  The only part of the Mont that is resting on the original rock is the abbey (where the monks and nuns hang out).  The rest of the island is supported by columns.  Very impressive sight.  After climbing this place, you’ll never complain about St. Joseph’s Oratory’s steps again!!

Thursday, March 26, 1998

We decide to head off to Dieppe, through Normandy, today.  It is very wet, to say the least.  It takes turns raining cats and then raining dogs.  We occasionally run into the odd raining horse!!!  But, off to Dieppe we go.  It’s not as amazing as I expected – just a beach with very high cliffs (like at my parents’ cottage x 2-3 times as high).  There are a few war memorials mentioning Canada, and if you mention you are from Canada they treat you with great respect (throughout the country).  About 5km away from Dieppe is Pourville, a beach community that Monet painted a series in.  I have a print of this area, so it was quite neat seeing the location from the same perspective as my favorite painter.  Then we headed back home – this time on the pay highway, which is worth it.  Dieppe is a 5 hour trip from Dinan (Don’t recommend making it a 1 day return trip – definitely overnight!!). 

This is the day that we realize McDonald’s will be our beacon away from home.  We are unable to completely understand the road signs.  Often there are signs directing you to various cities and then a generic “Autres directions.”  It takes us a while to understand that we should go with Other Directions when we are unsure.  However, it takes us a few days on the road before it sinks in.  Another favorite “Toutes Directions,”  the road to everywhere!!  McD’s serves excellent coffee for a reasonable price ($1.50+/-), has clean bathrooms, and staff that is willing to help those who attempt to speak French.  This is not always the case – staff at garages (i.e. gas station) basically spit at us when Heather mispronounces “Rouen.”  The comment we keep to ourselves is – OK, say “HEATHER”!!!

Friday, March 27, 1998

After yesterday, we are ready for a local day.  The highlight of the day would be my driving lesson.  Since we rented a standard transmission car, Heather has been doing the driving to this point.  Now it’s my turn to take the wheel.  We start off on a back road near Dinan.  I enjoy standard driving intensely – I thrive on it.  I would rather have ants eat my flesh than eve purchase one of my own.  Ramsay can probably comment on this, as he was the lucky one to give me my first standard lesson.  By the end of the day, I do drive in town and pull into a supermarket parking lot.  Heather runs in to buy her $2 wine (which would be $10-15 wine at home), while I try to collect myself from the nerve-wracking day of driving.

Saturday, March 28, 1998

We take a little trip up the Emerald Coast of Brittany.  It’s absolutely quaint.  Many little coastal villages.  We also found Fort la Latte, which is frequently used as a film set.  There was a movie being filmed while we were there.  I see a windmill – excited!!

Sunday, March 29, 1998

Off to the Loire Valley.  We go on a tour of a wine cave, which is very neat – we see the whole process and then get free wine later.  We both bought bottles of this wine – in Canadian $ it cost us $7.50 a bottle – in Canada we would pay $40-50 a bottle.  Then we moved on to the Mushroom Museum.  This was the absolute worst thing I have ever dealt with.  There was supposed to be a tour, but it turns out that the English Tour consists of a $7 book that you read as you go through the museum, which you already paid $10 to get into.  Stay away from the mushroom museum.  I drive home and end up taking a detour through Nantes, the town Bluebeard lived in.  At a traffic circle, the car stalls (because I don’t drive a standard well) and I am ready to leave the car where it is, get out, and go away crying – thank god Heather is used to teaching people how to fly planes – she talked me through it and we were on our way, once again.

Monday, March 30, 1998

We are ready for another local day, so we walk around town.  Today, we visit the castle across the street from us.  We are in the centre of town when the Clock Tower chimes 3 o’clock.  We look at our watches and find that we only have 2:00.  We (think) ask the girls at the Tourist Bureau if the clocks turned forward this past weekend – they give us a weird look and say no.  It is not until 3 hours later that I realize that I have confused the word clock (horloge) with bell (cloche) – I asked them if the bells turned forward!!   And I wonder why we received a weird look.  After all the confusion, the clocks did go ahead on Saturday night – we have been working on the wrong clock for close to 48 hours!!

Tuesday, March 31, 1998

We head back to the Loire Valley.  This time we are on a chateau-a-thon.  Our first stop is at Montgeoffrey. It was protected during the French Revolution and many of the furnishings are original 18th century.  We have a personal tour guide take us through the house, where the family still lives today, the chapel, and the stables.  She explains that they no longer keep horses, but they do have sheep.  She also attempts to explain that they have another animal – they live in the forest, we have them in Canada, it’s like a donkey, ooo, ooo, Bumbi!!  Ah, yes, Bumbi – the forest dwelling donkey, a.k.a. DEER!!  Montgeoffrey will go down in history as Bumbi’s house.  The second chateau we went into was Usse – the castle that inspired Sleeping Beauty.  I found it quite tacky, with mannequins dressed up in wedding dresses and Sleeping Beauty/Wicked Witch attire.  Also, the tour was very rushed.

Wednesday, April 1, 1998

We return the car to St. Malo, and drive through Dinard on the way home.  Dinard is a big thallasotherapy area – they put mud and stuff on you, sort of like a spa – and is home to a lot of people with just too much money.  St. Malo is a pirate area – I guess they lived out of St. Malo when they were on dry land – and has lots of connections to the beaudoins, who are attached to the Quebecois.  It’s a nice place, but if you’ve seen one walled city, you’ve seen ‘em all.  And I’m getting really tired of the cobblestones now.  My feet hurt and I just want to go back home now.


Thursday, April 2, 1998

Do the last minute stuff in Dinan – pick up souvenirs, do a laundry, and start to pack.

Friday, April 3, 1998

Head off to Paris.  We will be staying 2 nights at Hotel Stella (STELLA!!!), a 5-storey walk-up hotel in the Latin Quarter.  Great location, but no heat (and it is still chilly at night), and no help dragging luggage up and down the stairs.  We go to the Louvre where we see the Mona Lisa (disappointing), another dead king’s apartment, and the Code of Hamarubi – anyone who took Grade 12 Law from Mr. Wallace at HTHS will remember that this is the 1st ever written law (King of Babylon engraved a stone tablet with the laws he wanted his citizens to follow, stuck it in the middle of town, and let them read the laws).  We have dinner in a Greek restaurant, that beats the hell out of Dmitri’s in Fredericton.  Then we’re off to the Eiffel Tower, after dark.  Paris truly is the City of Lights.

Saturday, April 4

We go to the Musee D’Orsay, which has a special Monet exhibit.  This was the highlight of the trip for me – Monet everywhere – prints I had seen forever and now I get to see the real thing.  After the museum, we take a Bateaux Mouches tour up and down the Seine, where they point out all the sights that we were too tired to see, or didn’t have enough time to see.  We then head to the area near the Louvre that resembles Times Square in NYC (the part that has all the tacky tourist shops – cheap t-shirts, souvenir Eiffel Towers, and the like) to pick up the required items for those nephews at home.  The last thing we did in Paris was spend 3 hours in a restaurant.  We started off ordering our food and then began talking with the couple next to us.  They asked us about our part of the Canada and how we liked France.  They told us about places we should have gone to, so they’re on a list now, in case I ever go back.

Sunday, April 5

Go to the airport so that I can be loaded onto a plane to wait 3 hours to take off (between queue delays, fuel miscalculations, and fainting passengers).  Finally we make it back to Halifax at 6pm.  Very happy to be back on Canadian soil.




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