Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Gorges du Tarn

I'd been looking forward to this.
But first we had to get there.

We broke up our trip from Burgundy to the Gorges du Tarn in Auvergne in the city of Clermont-Ferrand, which turned out to be a charming city with a fountain around every corner.

It was a rainy day so we spent it at Vulcania--part volcano museum, part indoor theme park.

My kids have long loved National Geographic's Volcano which tells of the exploits of French volcanologists Maurice and Katia Krafft.
We were very sad to find out that they had died (at Unzen in 1991) in a pyroclastic flow before we ever heard of them.  The museum is set among the dormant Chaine des Puys.

The following day we stopped by L'Aventure Michelin.

I love the history of innovation.  Getting a look at the evolution of the tire was fascinating.

I fell victim to the propaganda and now have a soft spot for Bibendum a.k.a. The Michelin Man.
Look how he gently cradles Greta.

An old ad:
Parisians!  A scandal!  Pigs ride on tires, and you ride 
on solid wheels. 
Reclaim equality of treatment!

It was a short but sweet visit and then we got on the road south to Ste. Enimie and Les Gorges du Tarn.

Our first glimpse of Ste. Enemie.  The road was very narrow and we came upon a car and a truck that couldn't pass each other.  We had to back up.  And then we had to wait a very long time as the nervous car driver backed his car up, nearly scraping the cliff wall on the left side of the road (away from the side with the drop).
We climbed the hill to the cave where Ste. Enimie spent some of her last days.  No pics, as they are on my phone.

The next day we kayaked.

A home tucked in a cave.

Chateau la Caze


The river was stunning and it had its little thrills, but for excitement it had nothing on the ride back to Ste. Enimie in the bus.  Picture a narrow twisty road clinging to the side of a gorge and plunging through rough hewn tunnels. Now picture a big bus with a trailer flying along at top speed.  Now picture this bus (with a trailer) impatiently passing a car on a blind curve.   But hey, the driver honked the horn in case there was anyone coming the other way.

I very nearly kissed the ground in the parking lot.

You can see our hotel L'Auberge du Moulin from the riverside parking lot.  We crossed our fingers and just turned up in town looking for a room. In the rain.

We had dinner again at the hotel.  The people here are very kind.  Someone even said that my French was good!  

And it is the result of my very good French that Clementine had lamb thymus for dinner.

Actually I ordered that for her last night, but, good luck, she liked it and she wanted it again tonight.  However, through a mysterious miscommunication, unrelated to my excellent French, she ended up with some other lamb part instead tonight.  I now understand that ris (sweetbreads) is not riz (rice) but I am not at all sure what happened in the ordering tonight.  At least I remembered that I wanted my steak rare (saignant) and not blood-covered (sanglant).  This time.

Today we head north.

En Pays Charolais

After a week in London and a week in Paris the girls were ready for some nature and downtime.  Fortunately, our next stop was a weekend with friends at their family farmhouse in Burgundy.

Here's Greta getting both on these boulders at Fontainebleau.  We stopped at this magical spot for a picnic on our way.

This rest stop (complete with playground and squat toilet) will go down in history as the place where Greta, holding her ipod, asked our friend Antoine if he knew the Wi-Fi code.
Actually, it was a very clean and pretty high tech squat toilet, with blinking lights and a very strong flush, but it did not have Wi-Fi.

A Roman aqueduct bridge.

We've arrived.

Oh yes, we have.

Claudio showed the girls how to have fun with sticky weeds.

These are the big, mean and tasty local cows, the Charolais breed.

Greta is guest posting here.

These are the goats we got our cheese from.
I am trying to get Antoine to shoo away the flies.

One goat had a really big, bloated udder.  A lot of milk was in it.

Myriam and Lea and I are petting two goats.

Clem is holding a little duckling.  Behind her is the farmer who made the goat cheese.

Evelyn is holding a baby turkey.


OK, it's Susan again. This weekend with friends was a little corner of heaven. We walked, we biked, we talked, we cooked, we drank, we played games, we ate really good goat cheese at 5 different stages of aging, we talked some more.  The only thing wrong with this weekend was that it went by so fast.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

Last Days in Paris

We bought a Paris Museum Pass and had two days to see all the museums we wanted to see.
The Louvre was first on the list.

Our metro station Arts et Metiers.  
It is decorated like a copper Jules Verne submarine.

Evelyn always knows when our stop is coming up.

At the Louvre.  The Museum Pass lets you skip the line to get in.  Great thing.
Venus de Milo.
It was so crowded.  People were bumping into me constantly.  I know how Venus lost her arms.  Even if you hid in a corner someone would find a way to bump into you.

I was glad to see my old friend Hadrian again.

The Louvre Palace became a museum during the Revolution.

La Joconde aka The Mona Lisa.  You can hardly see her in the background.  I enjoyed the spectacle of all the people in the press with their cameras over their heads taking pictures of something they can't see.
But after being buffeted in that room we had to get out.

Jardin des Tuileries.

We crossed the Seine.

To the Musee d'Orsay.
Much more pleasant to be in.

Monet, Manet, Degas, Caillebotte...
Clementine: "There's only so may naked people you can stand to see."

This was after too many.
The cafe fixed us up--and then it was back to the Louvre.

As our guidebook promised it had emptied out in the evening.
Medusa's head.

Hannibal desecrating the symbols of Rome.
Stepping on the eagle.

The rock that Hammurabi's code is written on.

Assyrian temple statues.

At least they're called epingles in French and often if you switch an initial e in French for an s you'll get something close to the English word.  Like etage to stage or etrange to strange.  So we called them spingles.  

Oldest objet in the museum.  9000 years old.  We appear to it as fleeting shadows.

Some really big Egyptian feet.  
When the kids get tired at a museum I give them a task--find St. Sebastian, or find Adam's skull at the foot of a cross, or, in this case, find a bee hieroglyph.

Clem found St. Sebastian and Adam's skull within minutes.  And the bee in seconds.

Greta found this bee.

Evelyn found this one.

Outside everyone decided to wade in the fountain.
Actually they are walking between two pools.

We had dinner at Au Bascou a few steps from our apartment.  Evelyn must have been inspired by the art.

The next day we set off for the Catacombes de Paris.  Six million of Paris's dead were moved to this ossuary, formerly stone quarries, when the cemetaries were overflowing in the late 18th century.

We had tried on a previous day to go, but were too late.  This morning there were 230 people (or so Mike estimated) in front of us.  

We enjoyed a long chat with Mira and Yonatan in line.

Finally it was our turn.  You go down a long spiral staircase, much farther down than you think you'll go.

First you walk through long quarry tunnels where some quarrymen used their free time well.

At last you reach this sign: Stop: This is the Empire of the Dead.

Stacked skulls and femurs stretch out on both sides.
All the other bones must be deeper in.  
When you look at a wall of femurs and think two per person....
...well, I guess that is what makes it possible to fit 6 million skeletons in here.
There are many cheerful quotations.

"Ils furent ce que nous sommes
Poussière, jouet du vent ;
Fragiles comme des hommes.
Faible comme le néant!"

"They were what we are
Dust, a plaything of the wind
Fragile as men
Feeble as nothing."

Evelyn got to use her Latin.

After we emerged it began to rain.  We walked through Montparnasse Cemetary in search of a creperie.  It really began to pour.  The one we were looking for was closed.  A sudden downpour and wind.  Greta was  crying.  We found a creperie--one we had tried to eat at before, but the wait was too long.

Everyone was restored, and when we came out, the sun was shining. 
We took a ride on Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf.  We've seen Paris from its highest point and lowest points.

Paris's smallest house, tucked between two bigger houses.

Happy again.

The next day we packed up and headed for Burgundy with our friends.
More on that later.