Loving our 19th Century Gitê (Airbnb)

We made a steady start as it was so comfortable in our little 19th century Gité. Even made time for a cooked breakfast of sausages eggs and a number of cups of tea. We decide about 11am after finishing a couple loads of washing we should make a move. Leaving the gité with wet washing hanging from every hook or curtain rod and looking more like a laundry we set off for Amboise to visit the old town and our first Château.

The Château d Amboise was right in the centre of town overlooking the river. Leonardo d Vinci is buried in the chapel although I think he was moved here at some point in time. I need to read up on this. The views over the river were spectacular as are all the views in France. 

After a perfect cappuccino (water for me) out of a machine, we hit the road to Boise and visit the Château Chambord.

Breathtaking views in every direction

 If I thought the last one was spectacular well this one was magnificent (someone tell Sharpy I put down payment on it). The Château Chambord is set on huge grounds outside of Boise and the gardens were perfect. The symmetry and simplicity suited me just fine. Oh yes, we climbed the 300 plus stairs to the balcony we DID NOT continue up the several more flights to the tower.

The tapestries, paintings and the rooms that contained them were enormous. Sparsely furnished and would have been very cold in winter hence the fireplaces in each room that an average family could take shelter in. The amount of wood to keep every room warm would have been a small forest every year. After a bite of lunch at the cafe in grounds, we headed back to Amboise via the supermarket to collect a few supplies.

Lamb chops for dinner tomorrow night €8 or A$13 for 6 chops A$2:15 per chop. It was fresh baguettes with ham and tomato for dinner tonight. Tomorrow we are off to another Château this could even be better than the first two. Not sure how to describe if it is. After Château we will explore the old town of Amboise. 

Note to self must come back and explore this area more

Heading to Amboise in the Loire Valley

After another steady start we had breakfast, packed up and locked the door on our little airBnB. This little place was perfect for our needs and provided us with a very affordable option for accommodation while visiting the ST Mont Michel area. It was about 20 minute drive from the Mont area but it served it’s purpose perfectly.

Today was a driving day, we were stuck to the back roads so we could see some of the smaller villages and more of the countryside. Lunch and a grocery stop was in Angers . On looking back we should have explored this city a little more, we missed so much without knowing what was really there. Lesson learned google all towns along route (this is what I do when i am the navigator, this time I was the driver) so if a pit stop is required we then know if there are sights worth seeing. It is so easy to just see a small part of a town without knowing the amazing things that are so close.

We arrived about mid afternoon at our next airbnb, an amazingly little Gité (cottage) on a small farm just outside Amboise. Seb, Fredricka and family were very welcoming and lived in the main how at the rear of the property. The children loved practicing their english with mum and took every opportunity to do so, which she enjoyed. The family had very busy live Seb is an architect that works from home and Fredricka traveled a lot as marketing director of a large company. they supplemented their income by letting out the Gité. Located only a few miles from main part of Aboise it was a perfect location to explore all the chateaüs in the area. We settled in to home cooked meal of lamb loin chops and veggies and caught up on phone calls and emails etc.

A sneak peak of the amazing sights over next few days

We were happy to be spending three nights in this perfect little place which allows us to wash and take things a little slower. Although I really focussed on making this trip s slower pace with so much too see at every turn it is hard to build in enough time in to planning. I am determined next time in Europe I get this right. I am thinking 3 days in all areas while visiting the countryside. Allows for small day trips via car or train from a central point. It seems that when driving from place to place we miss too much stuff. Need to be able to absorb each region allowing time to see some of the most lesser known sights and restaurants etc

Mont Saint Michel and a glimpse of the Normandy Region

One of the most breath-taking places in the world

After getting some work done- horse reports, invoices sent, spreadsheets updated and bills paid along with all other little jobs that I just do as part of my everyday. We were ready to hit the road to Normandy just to have a look we wouldn’t have time to explore the area but thought we could drive around. We headed for Bayeux and then onto Omaha Beach again all the while in the back roads through quaint little villages and beautiful scenery.

We stopped at Patisserie in Percy and purchased baguette for home and a couple filled baguettes for our lunch. This place smelt amazing and I could have taken everything home. It is the real France. We made it to Bayeux and I found Macdonald’s to pick up coffees to go with our baguettes. The baguettes were out of this world so yummy and I could have eaten another one. It didn’t realise until I was writing this post that Bayeux is the home of the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England. It is also known as the first major town secured by the Allies during Operation Overlord

Back on the road to drive across to coast to Omaha Beach. Omaha, commonly known as Omaha Beach, was the code name for one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944. There are many places to visit but we just chose this one so we have look before heading back in time to visit Mont Saint Michel in the afternoon.

The day was a little cold at the beginning but the closer we got back to the Mont the clearer the skies for and warmer it was. By the time we arrived back at the Mont parking area, the skies were blue and it wasn’t cold at all. After parking the car we made our way onto the shuttle bus to take the 15 minutes to ride out to the mont. It was a pretty steady pace navigating through the horse-drawn vehicular, walkers and cyclists, although the main crowds have left for the day there were still plenty of people around. 

What can I say this place is one of the most mind-blowing places I have ever visited that includes Iguazu and Niagara Falls both natural wonders but this being man-made all with limited access due to tides. (Today there is a raised bridge to allow access at all times) was even more impressive. The sheer height of the structure makes you wonder how they ever built it. We spent a little time exploring it is very steep to walk around but we did what we could. It was great to be there with no crowds. I believe in the season it can be very very crowded especially in the middle of the day. 

We decided it was time to head for home we paid the 6€ (49.50aud) for a ride back in the horse-drawn vehicle it was starting to cool off but it was almost 6:30pm. Back at the car, we headed for home via the supermarket in Pontorson to pick up BBQ chook and some bread for dinner. After a welcome cuppa and sandwich, we fell into bed after a good day of exploring.

Tomorrow we set off to Amboise in the Loire Valley for a 3-day stay and looking at a Château or two or five

Château d’Amboise In the Loire Valley

The road trip around France begins…

After restful night and dining in the room on Subway rolls (located near the hotel). The day dawned it was car pick up day and our first Air BnB stay in Aucey-la-Plaine a small village about a 15-minute drive from Mont Saint Michel. A 20-minute taxi ride to collect the hire car. The airport is the only hire car location open on a Sunday it is also easier to start driving from somewhere on outskirts to allow time to adjust the car and being on the wrong side of the road. I have now driven a few thousand kilometres on the opposite side of the road in the USA and France previously so it comes pretty easily these days.   It didn’t take long and the only couple missed turns getting used to navigation system commands. GPS systems are not as exact as google maps which warns you ahead and then says turn here at the street name when you at the exact spot. The GPS says in 400-metre turn right and if there are two streets really close together never sure without looking at the screen if the first or second street. Or at least mine does it is a couple year old now so probably outdated. 

It wasn’t long before we were on our way to Aucey-la-Plaine, we avoided the highways so took our time to travel the 64 km to locate our 1st Air BnB. Once located we headed off to explore the area a bit and find something for lunch and some supplies for dinner before checking in. The nearest larger place was Pontorson which is about 10 minutes from Aucey-la-Plaine they had a market day on and after a quick look we had lunch and went for a drive out past the Mont Saint Michel. The first glimpse is ‘wow’ it just so large and stands out from everything. Just like the pictures, it is impressive from all angles. We decided to visit tomorrow afternoon and hoped the weather would be nice as our first day in the area. 

Check-in at our first Air BnB was uneventful and was self-check-in using the details provided by the host, we settle down for the night in our very suitable little cottage.

Tips:
Pick up rental cars from airports, often easier to navigate away from town until you are used to driving on the left-hand side of the road. Getting out of city areas can be a bit tricky when adjusting to the car and finding your way.

Allow plenty of time before your train leaves to familiarise yourself station and platform your train will leave and where to stand on the platform for your carriage (usually marked on overhead boards on the platform)

Check if you need to validate your ticket (yellow machine or by completing trip details (Before you board) on train pass. Usually, tickets with allocated seats/reservations do not require validation

Accommodations:
Rennes Mercure (short taxi ride from the station) Close to a few food options
Air BnB Aucey-la-Plaine
Easy to access using self-check-in/out instructions provided. Good communication with the host via email and text. Well-appointed and perfect for our needs …Steep stairs to bathroom and bedrooms

Map and Travel:

Paris in Earnest

After a leisurely breakfast in the hotel, we wandered over to catch the Open Bus Tours at stop 17 on the blue line. Which was only across the way from the hotel. Along with the subway which we will put to good use later in the trip. 

With the sun doing it’s best to peek through we set off to explore Paris. It was a little chilly when bus moving but otherwise the weather is fine and definitely not too cold. 

After couple hours on the blue line going around all the main sites we headed back to the room (stop 17) right near the hotel for a lunch of ham, tomato and cheese we purchased yesterday with a welcome cup tea me and coffee for mum. 

We added another layer and headed back out to do the red loop on the bus which takes in Moulin Rouge, Sacrae Cur Gard De Nord (main station, and where Eurostar leaves for London) again we stayed on board and listened to the commentary. Arrived back at the room again at 3:30pm decided too early for dinner so decided on a rest before dinner. Both slept again until too late for dinner so it was a non event but we were not hungry and had plenty of fruit etc. 

Paris and cruising the Siene

Next day dawned as check out day and we were due to catch a train to Rennes where we will pick up a car for the next week. After checking out and a very leisurely breakfast we set off to do a cruise on the Siene and visit Notre Dame. The cruise was great glad we started early on Paris terms as it got very busy later in the day. We did the full loop and gain a different perspective of many of the major sites from the river such as Louvre, Notre Dame and Eiffel Tower.

We left the boat at Notre Dame stop and wandered around the grounds. Decided against lining up in a very long line to go inside opted for a steak lunch instead of in a little place where we had eaten on a previous trip to Paris. It was good and the staff very friendly and helpful. After lunch it time to find the bus again and complete the green line and return to the hotel for the bags.

Our train was scheduled for 16:52 and we got a taxi to Montpasse station in plenty of time to allow for working out what we needed to do. Just as well, the whole place under renovation so took a bit to sort out where we needed to be. When the platform was announced we walked the length of the train (I swear we walked halfway to Rennes to find our carriage and seats.) managed to get the bags stored away and collapsed in the seat to enjoy/sleep 1h 30m trip. 

Looking forward to hitting the road and slowing down the pace for next week. Stayed the Mercure hotel near the station in Rennes. 

France it is then…

Didn’t make the hotel for the wifi for Japhite’s race but certainly had the taxi driver giving me peculiar looks when I started to cheer her on as she finished second which was fantastic. I didn’t mention I had my earpiece in so all of a sudden he had a mad woman urging on something or someone called Japhite without being able to hear the race lol. 

Our bags deposited at the hotel for out again for an activity to get us through to check in time. Walked to the Galleria Lafayette for coffee before visiting a supermarket for the makings of rolls and some fruit and cheese as we decided once we hit the room we didn’t want to leave again until tomorrow.

A rest before we truely begin our France trip 2018..

We slept most of the afternoon and night. I got some work done and watched the replay of the race again. We ate our sandwiches and we were all the better for the long rest. 

Another day another Château and what a Château is was…

Not as big in sheer size as yesterday’s but made up for that in class. The Château de Chenonceau is a French château spanning the River Cher, near the small village of Chenonceaux in the Indre-et-Loire département of the Loire Valley in France. It is one of the best-known châteaux of the Loire valley. The estate of Chenonceau is first mentioned in writing in the 11th century.

Visit the website for more information

If you could only see one Château this should be the one says she who has only seen three out of the hundreds in France.

I loved how it spanned the river and was not as fortresslike as the others although it was protected by a pretty significant moat. The gardens were well laid again not complex but simple plantings then repeated again and again to provide perfect symmetry and best overall effect. After an hour so going from room to room. Yes, a few more stairs to reach 1st level rooms and gallery.

From 1st level

The floral arrangements were something to behold. I really liked them all especially the table centre. I have never seen such bright pink hydrangeas.

After a wander around there garden, we had lunch in the bistro. I had the soup of the day and something I love but never have, strawberries and cream. Not just cream it was chantilly cream. It was so delicious and now I can reflect on it next time I go without dessert. We decided we had seen enough and it was time to find some fuel and cash for the next leg of the drive.

We headed back towards Amboise and I fuelled up on the way. I love that you can pay at the pump and no need to go inside. Wish this was more widespread at home. Not much chance how else are servos going to entice people into paying over odds for their snacks foods and drinks. They need those sales to offset the fact they make nothing from fuel.

We headed in the old part of Amboise to have a wander around. I purchased a cotton string bag for home. Woo hoo, I hear you say but it has a purpose and brings me joy. Home again around 4pm and looking forward to a break before we enjoyed our lamb chops and turned in for an early night. 

Tomorrow we hit the road again headed for Rocamadour. Rocamadour is a small clifftop village in south-central France.  Amboise has been a great place to stay and I would happily recommend staying in Seb and Fredricka’s gitè. 

Accommodation: Airbnb Highly recommended if you want to be a little out of town, lovely family. The children love practising their English.
Getting Around: Car is the best option, you could get the train to Loire valley from Paris but then need a car to see the area to best advantage
Time: Need a few days to really explore the area, there are so many Chateaux within a reasonable drive and need to leave time for other activities.
Favourite part of stay: Visiting Château de Chenonceau
Least Favourite part of stay: Not enough time – needed at least 4 days

All aboard and back to England

Feeling refreshed somewhat or maybe a second wind, just enough to get me on the Eurostar where I could grab a couple hours sleep, John, Michael, and Fran were in the carriage behind me so it was welcome quiet time for me and I think I was asleep before they cleared the breakfast things away. Uneventful trip arriving although train hour or so late leaving due to issues with another train we arrived at St Pancreas at a bit before 2pm. John and I were booked at the Ibis near the station as our train to Walsall was leaving 6.30am the next morning.

 

 

Michael met us at the station and we set off on our train ride with one change at Birmingham. We were in Walsall a little after 10am and after a quick cab ride to collect our final hire car for this trip.

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First stop was the Leather Museum which was interesting and John spent quite a while with the in-house saddler looking at various works in progress and techniques. Michael and I left them to it and found the coffee shop and caught up on emails and messages etc. After a lunch, at a non-descript pub in an ordinary area of Walsall, we headed to the Cedric tannery and saddlery suppliers. Michael and John spent a long time looking at different leather and checking our saddle trees. They pointed in the direction of another place where we arrive just before closing so after a chat and a quick look around they arranged to come back tomorrow, minus Michael who was needed back in London on the night train.

 

 

After delivering Michael back to the train John and I set off in search of a hotel for the IMG_7684night and found the Novotel in nearby Wolverhampton we were grateful to see our beds as soon as we had a quick steak in the hotel restaurant.

Next morning it was back to Sedgwick &Co where I spent a glorious couple hours dozing in the car and searching our a couple contacts for John while he did a complete tour of the tannery and came away with sample dye for his leather edges and contacts that will be good in the future. We hit the road again headed to Beam House Engineering hoping to make before they closed, which we did just. Michael and Colin were great and Colin showed John all over the operation and some of the old machinery they had around the place. The most important thing was Colin was able to link us up with a friend of his at the North Hampton University which runs a three-year Bachelor Course in leather tanning.

 

 

It was all arranged and Colin took lead us over (about 30 miles away) to the uni and made the introduction to another Michael. They then when through every machine and technique used to tan various leathers. John spent several hours poring over the equipment and gathering as much info from Michael as he could. The two fellows might be the best contacts of the whole trip.

 

 

We left around lunchtime and headed south in the hope that we could get back to our starting point in at Devon.

John spent time on the phone trying to confirm if the guy was going to be there. In the end, it looked doubtful so we pulled the plug and headed back to Heathrow to ditch the car. Check in somewhere for the night and then leaving our bags at airport head into London for couple days and one night. We arrived back and eventually ended up at the Hilton near terminal 5 after Hilton at Terminal 4 was fully booked. It was a taxi ride away but the hotel was good although I didn’t think the restaurant was all that good for the process they charge. Should have tried the in-house Chinese restaurant never mind, next time.

After a good night, we headed back to terminal 4 to leave our suitcases at the ‘Left Luggage’ storage at terminal 4 and boarded the Airport Express ( for convenience, the tube is a cheaper option and not that hard to work out. We arrived at Paddington found the first Red Hop on Hop Off bus and set about doing the loop to see the sights (included a river cruise on the Thames from Tower Bridge to Big Ben. We ended taxi back to the financial district to our hotel. Managed to book the Apex Hotel (5*) for about $160A a night it was so nice and we decided on room service for dinner. Tonight was the night I was getting up to see Irithea run at Gosford and win her second race this preparation. So at 2am, I am in the bathroom watching while someone back home (with FB live video of tv) for me (thanks, Jeff). Sarah and kids were only ones able to make the races, so the got to be in the winning photo which was lovely.

 

Up the next morning and that was that our last day spent getting to Harrods (after failed attempt to finish loop on the red bus, cycle London was on and many roads closed and traffic horrendous) we ended up bailing and taking the tube to Harrods then to Heathrow before checking in for the flight home. Lots of sleeping on the plane for me, can’t believe we managed to fit so much in such short time. After a quick stop in Dubai and negating the strongest security yet( due incident back home where groups tried to board and bring down Etihad flight from Sydney), they went through every single carry-on bag, we had very little which saw us through quickly but some people took ages to get through. Another reason for not taking much carryon.

 

In summary words can not explain how great this trip was and I only hope it gives John the desire to travel more and take the girls back to see the places he has seen( of course not at breakneck speed like we did it) I will never forget how lucky I have been to experience this trip and it will sit very high on the best ever trip list. Phew finished this a couple weeks before the Candid trip. I have said it before and will say it again. Must write as I go it hard to catch up and remember everything. Although this exercise has been good to recall and relive the trip again…

 

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Our two days in Paris and the Tour de France 2017

Picture this – a couple of little kids from Back of Bourke as adults standing on the balcony of the US Embassy with everyone from the Cannondale Drapac Cycling looking over the Champs Elysee watching the conclusion of the 2017 Tour d France. No, I can’t believe it either – still pinching myself as to what an amazing opportunity this has been. Thank you, Michael and Fran, for firstly giving John a reason to travel (hope he has the bug now it’s a big world out there) and allowing me to tag along with John.

 

 

Now back to day one Paris after a good breakfast at the hotel, we took a taxi to the first meeting point. Twenty minutes later we were meeting up with Michel Fran and Nikki in from to of the Hermes saddlery. Breathtaking is the only word I can use to describe the whole experience. Maybe one of the most exclusive places I have ever visited, their horse gear was amazing but I would be too frightened to use on a horse my luck it would pull back or rear over on the saddle and break the tree. I will go back one day so I can just take it all in more slowly next time. It would take a small village of people to staff the place never seen so many attendances in a place of retail. Did I mention our bags were checked on the way in before they open the doors to let us in?

After Hermes, it was off to ‘the best’ cake shop in Paris with Michael taking the lead and my sweet tart was decorated with the tiniest wild strawberries I have ever seen. They were so yummy even for me who doesn’t eat much sweet food. Finished our sampling our cakes and tarts we were off again heading for the Brute Saddlery the highlight for me was the man who just doubled parked ‘the merc’ to duck in (resplendent in his joddies and boots ) to do a spot shopping on the way to ride out. Despite the honking of the horns while traffic negotiated around his car all while he made his purchases and headed off on his merry way. The arrogance of it was priceless or maybe he thought they had valet parking and didn’t wait for valet lol.

 

After leaving Michael and Fran (having walked all over Paris) John and I decided to get the shopping out of the way, John wants to go back to the first shop we saw that morning to make his purchases for the girls. What’s the rule, Grandma? If you see like then buy it now, because we won’t be coming back. We did go back and he was really happy with his purchases, the last of which he made while I sat in a cafe sipping coffee and resting up. I did a Disney store run for Sarah and purchase Pluto for Ollie to replace the one that was left at the airport in LA earlier this year. He little face lit up when it arrived home. I purchased my pandora Eiffel Tower to add to my collection and that was shopping done for me.

 

We decided after a rest to head around the square and look for some dinner which we found can’t remember what I had but it was okay from memory. After dinner we decided to cab it over and take a look at the Eiffel tower at night, this area has changed a bit now you go through security to stand underneath and purchase tickets to go up. This is a change for the better as even if you don’t plan to go up you are not badgered by the street select rattling their junk souvenirs and trying to get you to buy tacky little Eiffel towers. Allows more time to wander around and take in the enormity of the tower. We didn’t go up but decided to walk back towards the hotel before cabbing it home the last bit. We collapsed into bed ready to meet the team tomorrow for the big day.

After breakfast, we set off to meet the others at Criterion Hotel and take the bus out to the start of the final stage. The binding of the most amazing sporting day ever for me, one I will never forget. I can’t thank Michael, the Cannondale Drapac team and especially Yas for looking after us so well. On the bus we quickly introduced ourselves to everyone, people from all around the world connect with Michael and the team.

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It took about 40-50 minutes to get to the village Montgeron. Montgeron is a commune in the southeastern suburbs of Paris, France. It is located 18.5 km (11.5 mi) from the center of Paris.

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It was a sight to behold there were people, buses and cars with bikes on top everywhere. It is such amazing logistical nightmare that seems to just work day after day for 21 days every year. We got to witness all the sponsors parade where they throw samples to the crowd. I thought they were going round and round but it was just one lot but went on forever. After the sponsor parade, we headed to the team bus and met the team and watched them get ready to ride the final leg. The all have different ways preparing some listening to music come out with the crowd sign autographs other checking their bikes. Can’t believe were we so close, John and Taylor Phinney (who must be 6’4”) shared a few laughs over their difference in their heights.

 

We boarded the bus to try and get back as close to US embassy as we could before abating the bus, unfortunately, it was not close at all as Paris had been transformed after we left and all roads were closed. So it was off the bus to walk many miles from one side of the River Sene down past the Louvre and back up the other side to the embassy, we were exhausted and very thirsty by the time we got there although at on stage John ducked off and purchased welcome water for those in our walking group. For a while, it looked like we wouldn’t make it in time to see the finish but we just made in time for them to come into town and down the Champs-Élysées the first of 20 laps around the Arc De Triomphe. What a sight!!

 

Can’t even begin to describe what this was like on the balcony of the US Embassy overlooking the Champs Elyse as the riders did their stuff and finish of 21 days of racing.

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The celebration began in earnest when the Cannondale Drapac rider Rigoberto (Rigo) Urán crossed the line in 2nd place (their best ever finish top 10 was the goal. The champagne was flowing until late into the night. The team riders all arrived back to rousing reception and settled into the celebrations with much relief that it was all over for another year. It was almost 11pm when I called it a night and walked the couple black back to the hotel, leaving the door unlocked for John who rolled in couple hours later. We had to be on the train to England earliest the next morning, so made sure I was packed before collapsing into bed for our final night in Paris. Still, can’t believe how fortunate I have been to have this opportunity it will go down as the biggest world sporting event I have ever attended by far.