"Wine, Champagne, Culinary Delights and Great Friends"
My Trip to France: 25 March - 11 April 2000
Three friends and I decided to take this trip and see the sights as well as visit the towns and villages of our ancestors. Air France did a wonderful job of getting us to Charles De Gaulle airport. After changing some dollars to francs we hailed a taxi for our hotel in Paris. L'Hotel Sully St. Germain is in the heart of le Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter) on the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) of the Seine, about two blocks from Notre Dame Cathedral. (We all highly recommend this hotel for your next visit to Paris.) We "did" all the Paris sites in four days. On the first evening we were invited to dinner at the apartment of François and Emmanuelle Jarlot. We took the Metro to Gare de Lyon and walked to their apartment. What wonderful host and hostess to serve fresh raw oysters for the starter for dinner. Each course was a delectable treat. We returned to our hotel about one o'clock AM via the Metro.
Seeing La Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower) at night is a memorable experience, but seeing it in the rain with all the sparkling lights of the millenium is even more memorable. Eating Paris "hot dogs" as well as dining at Chez Henri and Au Pactole were great "taste-pleasures", also. Every afternoon we bought some French bread, cheese and wine for our hotel room snack. We surely didn't waste one minute in Paris --- in the rain!!!
L'hameau (the hamlet) Les Chesnets, near Bernay, Normandie, was our next stop. We took the train from Gare Lazarre in Paris to Cäen where we picked up our rental Renault mini-van. We drove to our Gîtes de France Eure (rented country home in Eure) in Les Chesnets in the rain. Madame Greboval had the fireplace ablaze to welcome us. She showed us the "ropes", gave us the keys, and we were on our own, with lots of help from my friends, Pierre and Jacqueline Selle, across the road. We visited the D-Day beaches and museums, as well as the American Cemetery there. Another day was spent at Mont. St. Michel, and another day at Fécamp, home of the Benedictine distillery. We also managed to make it to Bayeaux to see the tapestry. Some of our ancestors came from this region, so we visited several villages and towns: la Ventrouze near Randonnai, Tourouvre, Mortagne au Perche, Courgeon, Manou and Normandel.
Returning the car to Cäen was quite an adventure since the farmers' union members had the bridges in Cäen nearly impassable with their tractors and equipment. Somehow we managed to make it to the rental return and the train on time --- I spoke only English to these folks who gave up trying to tell us their plight. (French farmers are some of the best paid in the world. As you might expect, the cost of meat is très cher (very expensive).
Next stop --- the Loire Valley and the city of Saumur where our friend, Michel Lasne, was waiting for us. His home in St. Just sur Dive, our digs for the next week, was big and beautiful. (There is no central heating in French homes, just electric heaters on the walls.) After another day in the rain, we were in need of heat!!! Not much available, so we drank champagne, ate smoked chicken and salad, chatted and had many laughs.
Michel introduced us to many of his friends, all of whom served champagne and/or wine no matter what the time of day. Several times we were offered home brewed l'eau de vie. That surely took the cold out of the rainy days. What a wonderful way to meet the charming people of France!!! Michel insisted that we have lunch with him in his CAVE. Yes, he owns his own cave (about 100 meters long and about 35 meters wide) for wine storage, etc. What an experience!!! Again the wine, food and friends were tops, let alone the ambience of a real limestone cave. We even had dinner in a restaurant in a cave! We visited a champagne factory --- in a cave! The Saumur region grows tons of mushrooms in the caves, so we visited at champignonnière et musée (mushroom farm and cave.) When we finished our visits to all the caves, we decided we were the "Cave Women of 2000." Remembering that we were in France to do some genealogical research, we visited the towns and villages of our ancestors: Chenehutte, La Chaussée, Faye la Vineuse, and Cholet. We also spent a day in Angers visiting the cathedral, chateau, abbey and Apocalypse Tapestry. Our send-off from St. Just was a dinner party for 20 people at Michel's home. The wine, champagne, food, and new friends were marvelous. We ate and drank for 4 1/2 hours. Would we be able to make it to the train the next day in the rain?
We did make the 8:00 AM train to Angers where we boarded the TGV (bullet train) for Paris. What a ride at about 175 mph. Great experience. More Paris sights, dinner and one more night at L'Hotel Sully St. Germain. The taxi took us to Charles de Gaulle aéroport for the flight home on Air France. Chicago O'Hare greeted us with 36 degrees and a rainy mist. Albeit rainy, our journey was one to be remembered for years to come, especially when our French friends come to visit us in America. I hope they hurry and visit so I can practice my French. Limited though it may be, I managed to communicate with the natives reasonably well throughout the trip. À bientôt!