Friday, January 24, 2014


Thursday, January 23, 2014

So now we are back to the present. 

I have finished adding the entries from my travel journals, documenting the memories of my trips to France. I will go forward from here, and plan to pepper these new posts with some of my favorite pictures from previous trips. 

As Darcy says,
 "Because stairs always lead to adventure." Blois, France

Craig and I are anticipating our next adventure in France. We have plans to visit the beautiful town of Annecy, which is close to the Swiss border. Darcy will join us there, and perhaps Mathieu as well, if time permits. Naturally, we will spend some time in Switzerland, a place that we have all wanted to visit.

 A beautiful street in Blois, France.

RECIPE: Here is a delightful French yogurt cake recipe from Kristin Espinasse, who writes a wonderful blog "French Word A Day". (I highly recommend that you subscribe.) I make this cake often, sometimes using lemon yogurt and adding a bit of lemon zest. I love to top it with fresh blueberries and a dollop of whipped cream to which more lemon zest has been added.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Must we go?

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Saturday, May 4, 2013

All too soon, it was time for us to leave France and return to Kansas. We had awakened at 7:00 and dressed quickly, so that the three of us would have time for pastries and coffee before the taxi arrived at 8:30. We picked up our breakfast of eclairs and then grabbed coffee and hot chocolate at a cafe near the patisserie. We carried our treats back to our hotel room and had a good laugh when Darcy showed us her cup of thick, rich, chocolate with the spoon standing straight up in it! It didn't take long for us to finish packing the last few items. It was such a sad moment when the taxi arrived and we had to say goodbye to our daughter, who was leaving on the Metro to catch a train back to Orléans. Our time together had passed all too quickly, and being the sentimental mother that I am, I cried all the way to the airport.

Now, that's some thick, rich chocolat chaud!

Early morning in a cafe on Rue Cler.

The flight home was smooth and uneventful. The layover in Chicago was long enough for us to have lunch and kick back, though it was very hard to relax after the way we had been treated at customs. We were very upset that our seven dry sausages had been confiscated. It was the type of sausage that requires no refrigeration and will keep for six months even after it has been sliced. The officer treated me as if I were a criminal, speaking very harshly and ripping open the bag of sausage with his knife, even though I told him the package was open on one end. I always check the customs website before each trip out of the country, but had apparently overlooked the section regarding meats. It was a very sour note on which to end our vacation. However, we have many happy memories of our trip that will stay with us forever. We are already looking forward to next year! 

Savoring Paris

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Friday, May 3, 2013

Craig and I awoke early and lingered over our coffee and pastries, reluctant to begin packing. Darcy and Mathieu arrived to help us with the luggage and as we were stowing the last few items, Darcy kindly washed the dishes. We left our little home-away-from-home and as we were walking out, Pascal and Nathalie arrived with a parting gift of a bottle of local wine. We chatted for a bit about our adventures and our love for the area, and then we snapped a few photos of each other before leaving. Mathieu had to go on to work, so we said goodbye to him at the car and then continued on toward the tram with our suitcases in tow. The tram wasn't crowded at that hour, and we made it to the train station easily.

The train to Paris was a "milk run", so we stopped at every village along the way. We didn't mind, as we were not in a hurry. When we finally arrived at Gare d'Austerlitz, we had no trouble getting a taxi for the ride to the hotel. We were staying once again at the Grand Hotel Leveque on the charming pedestrian street of Rue Cler. The drive through the streets of Paris was very nice. I never tire of looking at the beautiful architecture. Trees were beginning to leaf out and flowers were blooming everywhere. April in Paris. A dream-come-true.

You can just make out the Eiffel Tower, upper right, 
behind these lovely buildings.

Our chambre on the 4th floor was ready, but it took two trips in the tiny lift to get all of our bags up there. The room had been recently redecorated and was quite attractive; it had a clean, modern bathroom. We opened the windows to enjoy the sights and sounds of Rue Cler before setting out to explore. There was a bakery on the corner which had a great selection of quiche, sandwiches and other savory items, so we sat down and ordered a quick lunch. I really enjoyed the tomato and onion tart I had chosen.

The view from our room at the Grand Hotel Leveque.

We began our stroll once again, enjoying the hustle and bustle of Paris as we walked the few blocks to the Eiffel Tower. A strange sight greeted us as we approached the lofty structure. There were several huge girders standing straight up beneath the tower and reaching to the first level. Signage indicated that these steel posts were temporary, as solar panels were being installed on the tower. It was a relief to know that they would be soon be disassembled, because they certainly detracted from the beauty of the iconic Tour Eiffel.

Ah, Paris! I wish I could put you in my pocket!

There were the usual long lines of tourists waiting for access to the elevators and the stairs, but we passed them by and wandered to the banks of the Seine where we crossed the bridge to the Trocadero. From there, we had expansive views of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine. For once, we were not accosted by con artists and beggars. In fact, we saw very few street people anywhere. We did buy a handful of keychains from a young man who was apparently unlicensed, because he seemed very nervous, and bolted when a security guard appeared.

The view from Trocadero.

We continued along the banks of the Seine, crossing another bridge and hoping to find the famous bookstalls. We had visited them on a previous occasion and enjoyed browsing there. However, we soon discovered that the walk would have been longer than our tired feet could manage, so we turned once again toward Rue Cler. We popped into a few souvenir shops along the way, and also visited a couple of small grocery markets. I wanted to find some duck mousse and some pork rillettes to take back to the U.S. Before long, we were back at the hotel. We rested for a bit, and then Darcy and I set out together. We enjoyed looking around in the markets and stores. We also scoped out the area for possible restaurants for our evening meal. Prices are very high on Rue Cler, so we explored a few of the side streets and found a couple of promising places.

A lovely flower stall on Rue Cler.

When Craig was ready to go out again, we chose to dine at a charming brasserrie called "Au Gros Calliou". As it was still a bit early for dinner, the restaurant was not crowded. We had a very nice waitress who brought us menus printed in English, though we all decided to order from the little blackboard menu with the specials chalked upon it. For starters, Darcy ordered the caprese salad, while Craig and I both chose onion soup. It was scrumptious! Our main course arrived - we had all chosen steak: rib-eye for Craig and Darcy, and flank steak with sauteed shallots for me. The steaks were accompanied by a basket of bread, salad with a vinaigrette, and the best fries I have ever tasted in my life. I don't usually finish all of my fries, but they were so good I could not leave them alone. The herbed mayo to dip them in was an added treat. Then came the dessert: mousse au chocolat for Darcy, and the creme brulee for Craig and myself. Even though we were stuffed, we somehow managed to spoon up every rich, creamy bite.

We strolled leisurely back to the hotel, where we rested a bit before setting out once again for the Eiffel Tower. We arrived just as the sun was sinking, and settled ourselves on the cool grass. We had found a little fence on which to lean against as we watched the Eiffel Tower begin to glow. There were quite a few people who had spread blankets on the grass and were enjoying a picnic or just a glass of wine. Several men were walking about in the twilight, selling wine for 4 Euros a bottle, but we declined. The three of us lingered, taking in the sights, until we began to feel chilled. With one last, lingering look at the Eiffel Tower, we turned and made our way back to the hotel.

The Eiffel Tower at twilight.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Day Trippin'

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Thursday, May 2, 2013

We were up early again to catch another train. This time, our day trip would take us past Blois to Amboise, where we would visit Château du Clos Lucé. Leonardo da Vinci resided at Clos Lucé during the last few years of his remarkable life. Darcy had visited before and knew this would be something that both Craig and I would enjoy. The weather was cool and overcast as we arrived, but we had hopes of sunny weather later in the day.

The village of Amboise is absolutely beautiful. We admired the lovely architecture as we ambled along in search of a patisserie for a belated breakfast. We soon found a charming little shop near the river that offered lots of pastries and many different kinds of baguettes and rustic breads. Some of the loaves had been baked with a large hole on one end, and they were hanging from wooden pegs at the counter. I wish I had thought to take a picture. 

After our delightful breakfast, we set off across the bridge spanning the Loire, heading toward Clos Lucé. The view of Château Royal d'Amboise was wonderful, even in the grey light of morning. It looked like a mighty stronghold, towering above the village and the river. We had decided to forgo a visit to the castle in order to spend more time at the residence of Leonardo da Vinci. As we walked the cobblestone streets of the town, we passed many charming shops and enticing restaurants. It was a pleasant stroll along pathways lined with trees and flowers in bloom.

Amboise Castle in on a grey morning in May.

It wasn't long before we reached Clos Lucé. The line for entry was not a long one, and soon we were touring the buildings in awe of the man who had dwelt there, and at the beauty of the grounds. The house itself was well furnished and seemed almost homey. The areas in which da Vinci's fascinating inventions are displayed were well-lit and provided information in several languages. It literally gave me goosebumps to see the incredible works this man had created. He invented and/or perfected many of the items we still use today. 

Clos Lucé, the last home of Leonardo da Vinci.

Yes, even the lowly pipe wrench was created by da Vinci.

The expansive grounds are beautifully landscaped and feature many interactive displays with life-sized inventions that are actually operational. The tank, pumps, cannon, flying machine, and everything else was fascinating. There is a lovely stream flowing quietly through the property and there are many groves of moss-covered trees lending shade to scene. The sun had finally made an appearance as we wandered toward the dovecote. The stone structure was a large one which had housed over a thousand doves in their nesting cubbies. A large half-timbered building nearby was once the priory, but had been turned into a restaurant where the staff all wear medieval costume. 

Darcy and I give the flying machine a whirl.

The Priory, which is now a restaurant at Clos Lucé.

We wandered the grounds and toured the buildings for hours. This is a place I could definitely return to. It is simply fascinating. We made our way down to town by a different route, which afforded us some wonderful views of the ancient village below. By the time we had descended, we were more than ready for lunch. We found a table outside at one of the restaurants which faces Amboise Castle and were treated to a stunning view as we dined. We all chose the plat du jour, which happened to be lasagna.  But first, we began with a starter. I selected a salad of shredded carrot topped with a delicious orange vinaigrette. Craig and Darcy asked for the pate, which was served with tiny dill pickles and crusty bread. Our lasagna arrived shortly, and it was fabulous!  

Amboise Castle, a lovely view to accompany lunch.

After that delicious lunch, we wandered the streets for a while, poking around in the shops and finding some nice souvenirs before heading back toward the train station. Once there, we discovered that we had just over an hour to wait before the next train. We walked across the street to a bakery where we indulged in pastries and coffee. Back at the station, we spoke briefly with a very nice couple from Canada who have one daughter living in Lyon, France and another residing in Miami, Florida! And we thought our kids were scattered! 

The weather had turned out to be beautifully sunny and warm. We decided to go for ice cream after returning to Orléans, at one of Darcy's favorite places. I could not believe the variety! Beer ice cream, fois gras ice cream - you name it, they probably made it! I chose something a bit tame - a scoop of lemon and one of dark chocolate. Both flavors were decadent! Craig felt like going back to the apartment for a rest, so Darcy and I continued on together, talking about our day as we explored some more shops. I found a couple of lovely scarves and other small items. 

That evening, instead of a meal at a restaurant, we chose to go to a bar that is frequented by Darcy and Mathieu. We ordered a "planche" to go along with our drinks.  A large plank of wood soon arrived at our table, with our "snack" laid out upon it. The food was beautifully arranged and consisted of no less than five different cheeses, ham, dry sausage, blood sausage, apple and orange slices, raisins, pickled onions, dill pickles, pate, and a basket of toast on the side! Wow! It was quite enough for the four of us, though we barely touched the blood sausage. We had such fun, sitting outside in the warm evening air, talking and laughing as we enjoyed our snack. To go with it, Darcy had suggested that I try the Kriek, a cherry beer. It had just the right amount of sweetness and really hit the spot. It's things like this - just a fun, casual meal with our loved ones - that I remember the most.

A planche, which we enjoyed at a bar in Orléans.

Rain on Our Parade

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Craig and I awoke to a lovely, sunny morning and after a quick cup of coffee, walked the few blocks to our "local" bakery. It had just reopened after having been closed for vacation. We selected some yummy-looking pastries and took them back to our little apartment where we enjoyed them with more of that fragrant, mellow coffee. Darcy and Mathieu arrived just then, so Mathieu and I walked back to the bakery for more pastries while Craig started another pot of coffee. At the bakery, a long line had formed all the way out the door to the edge of the sidewalk. There was a man sitting in front, selling sprigs of lily-of-the-valley, which is a tradition on May 1. Mathieu bought one for me, wrapped with pretty ribbons. There was a beautiful long-haired dog (a Briard) waiting patiently for his owner, a young woman who was standing in line directly behind us. A man came out of the bakery, carrying a bag from which several baguettes were protruding. When he bent down to examine the flowers, the big dog very slowly leaned toward the bread and was just about to take a bite when his owner noticed him. She chastised the dog, who lay down on the sidewalk looking somewhat dejected. When it was finally our turn at the bakery counter, we purchased a bag of chouquettes, an amande (a flaky crust which was filled with blackberry jam, topped with a thin, glazed crust and a cherry) and a lovely fruit tart. The tart was filled with beautifully arranged fruit which was coated with a shiny glaze. All of the items in the pastry case were so pretty - I wanted to taste every one! 

A bread-loving Briard.

Our neighborhood bakery in Orléans, France.

After breakfast, we decided to attend the festival, even though a chilly drizzle was beginning to fall. Just as we left the apartment, our host, Pascal, approached and handed me a little vase filled with lily-of-the-valley. He could have had no idea how much the May basket tradition meant to me, and I was very touched. At home, I have been leaving May baskets at my parent's door every year for almost forty years. In fact, because I knew I would be in France for May day, I had arranged with one of my daughters to deliver the flowers in my stead.

We had only one umbrella with us, but set out with hopes of finding some plastic rain ponchos at the festival grounds. The Joan of Arc festival was taking place on an island at a lake a couple of miles from town. By the time we found a place to park, the rain was falling in earnest. We slogged through the parking lot and across the bridge onto the island where we soon discovered there were no ponchos or umbrellas to be found. The four of us were determined to have a good time, so we continued on. Our first stop was a large food tent where we able to find seats out of the downpour. We dined on spit-roasted ostrich, which tasted a bit like beef, only sweeter. It was accompanied by baked potatoes and caramelized onions and was served with our choice of beer, mulled wine, or hard cider. I was tempted to use my baked potato as a hand warmer!

This man is basting ostrich with a bamboo brush.

We were disappointed to learn that the jousting had been canceled due to the muddy conditions. We instead spent some time visiting many of the booths which featured demonstrations of activities from medieval times. We also explored the vendor's tents, and purchased some great souvenirs. I was impressed with the items offered for sale; they had to be made in the old ways - no plastic trinkets or factory-made items here! Craig bought a beautiful handmade wooden beer mug. We picked up seven different kinds of dry sausage in flavors such as wild boar, hazelnut, and juniper berry. We also purchased cookies of several different varieties such as creme fraiche, hazelnut, and caramel. The weather was unrelenting, and we finally decided to call it quits. On our way back to the parking lot, we came upon a procession arriving from town. It was a parade of knights, pages, the band, and Joan of Arc on her white horse. They had marched in the rain all the way from the center of town, and yet were all still smiling and quite enthusiastic in spite of the downpour. In France, they say "Il pleut des cordes" which means, "It is raining ropes." 

A very damp procession at the Joan of Arc festival in Orléans, France

Back at Darcy and Mathieu's place, we warmed up over huge mugs of hot tea and shared all of the different cookies we had purchased at the festival. They were delicious! Finally warm and dry, we walked over to the Rue de Borgogne for dinner. The rain had ceased and the sky was clear. Les Pissenlits par la Racine (The Dandelion Root) is a restaurant serving French food. We had mostly been dining at ethnic restaurants, so this was a nice change. Craig and I both chose the filet of pork with a honey cream sauce. It was served atop a mound of crisply fried potatoes in a huge dish and was wonderful! Darcy had a rich dish of ham, potatoes, and onions in a creamy sauce with lots of cheese. Tartiflette, perhaps? Mathieu ordered the salmon tartare, which was served with basil sorbet, tomato sorbet, and Bearnaise sauce. There were several delightful-sounding desserts on the menu, but none of us felt we had room for dessert after the large portions we had consumed. When that memorable meal ended, Craig and I decided to forgo the tram, and instead enjoyed a beautiful walk home across the Loire.

Rue de Borgogne after the rain.

A delightful dish of Pork with Honey Cream

RECIPE: Pork with Honey Cream. I liked this dish so well that I re-created it at home. You will find the recipe on our food blog entry here: The Eating Habit

Friday, January 17, 2014

Castles Large and Small

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Tuesday, April 29, 2013

Craig and I got up earlier than usual so that we could meet Darcy at the train station for a day trip to Blois. Though the morning was overcast and chilly, the trip through the French countryside was still beautiful. By the time we reached Blois, the weather had become drizzly, but since we had remembered to bring umbrellas, we weren't really inconvenienced. Our first stop in the lovely town was a patisserie, of course. We carried our bag of goodies over to a nearby cafe, where we asked if we could consume them there, along with the coffee we would purchase. Soon, we were seated at a table in the cozy back room where we enjoyed our mid-morning snack. I tried a new pastry - a Paris Brest - and was not disappointed. It is made of choux pastry, split and filled with a rich toasted almond cream and topped with powdered sugar and more toasted almonds. I have a new favorite! The shape of the Paris Brest is said to resemble the wheel of a bike. The pastry was created in 1891 to commemorate a famous bicycle race between Paris and Brest.

Paris Brest and café crème. Worth the trip.

We toured Chateau Royal de Blois after finishing our snack. It was fairly small, as castles go. It has been home to 10 kings and 15 queens. The furnishings were quite lovely, and we enjoyed reading about the history of the chateau. We then made our way down to the bus stop for the shuttle to the Chateau de Chambord. The long drive along the Loire was very picturesque, even though the day was still overcast and rainy. As the bus pulled up to the entrance, we noticed a group of people on horseback and felt a bit sorry for them riding out in the rain. There are wonderful riding trails on the 13,000 acres surrounding the castle, through beautiful old forests.

Here's your ride. 

A royal bedchamber in Blois Chateau.

Just inside the entrance to the castle grounds there were many outbuildings and tents set up where vendors were selling souvenirs, wine, cheese, and other items. There were also several restaurants there, and we thought it would be a good idea to have a bite before touring the huge castle. We dined leisurely on gallettes, quiche Lorraine, and herb-roasted chicken before finally making our way into the magnificent chateau. Chambord is huge and very ornate. It is said there are 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 84 staircases. There are very few furnishings inside. The massive structure is extremely expensive to restore and maintain; it is an ongoing work. What we saw was really quite amazing.

The double-helix staircase, which is rumored to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci, is an architectural wonder! Also wondrous is the roofline of the huge castle. It was commissioned by Francois I to resemble the skyline of Constantinople. It is certainly very unique and interesting. The chateau was originally a hunting lodge, and there is a trophy gallery where many sets of antlers hang on the cold, stone walls. Outside, you will find a moat and acres of beautifully manicured and landscaped lawns surrounded by thick forest. Boats and bicycles are available for rent, though on this day it was too cold to even consider such a thing.

Chambord Castle. And to think it was once a hunting lodge!

A section of the double-helix staircase at Chambord.

Several hours later, we were chilled through. We sighed with relief after boarding the warm bus for the ride back to Blois. We had intended to wander around the town for a while, but the damp chill discouraged us. We headed toward the train station, stopping first at a patisserie where we warmed up over coffee and pastries, laughing as Craig practiced his French. He is of German heritage, and when he speaks French, it comes out with a German accent!

Upon returning to Orléans, we rested for a bit and then, with Mathieu, we all went to a bar where we met Fanny and her five-year-old daughter, Jade. Craig and I were delighted to meet these friends of Darcy and Mathieu whom we had heard so much about. We had brought along some bottles of bubble solution for Jade, and she was soon happily blowing bubbles in the bar. We invited Fanny and Jade to join us for dinner, but the invitation was politely declined, as they were leaving for a vacation in the Alscace, where Fanny has family.

Darcy had wanted to introduce me and her dad to her favorite pizza restaurant, but they were closed for some reason, so we walked a bit further to an old favorite, Volpone. We had our meal outside, where the tables were surrounded by heavy sheets of plastic. Space heaters were scattered about the enclosure, emitting a comforting warmth. The pizza was as wonderful as I remembered, especially with the pepper-infused oil to drizzle on top.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Joan of Arc Was Here

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Monday, April 28, 2013

We slept in that morning, and after waking up over several cups of strong, fragrant coffee, we set out to meet Darcy and Mathieu. Even that small thing was a pleasure - walking the few blocks to catch the tram, enjoying the beauty of the morning and the lovely architecture of the old buildings surrounding us. It was a glorious, sunny day and we all welcomed the warmth. We strolled around town, heading toward the Cathedral of St Croix. We stopped at a little bakery along the way, where we bought some sandwiches for an early lunch. We ate them in the open air, sitting beside the fountain across from the magnificent cathedral. After lunch, we had time for a short tour of the structure before we were to meet with Darcy's students.The cathedral was breathtakingly beautiful both inside and out. The high, vaulted ceilings and the intricate stained glass windows were incredible!

A view inside the Cathedral of St Croix in Orleans.

One of the many beautiful stained glass windows.

After the tour, Mathieu had to go on to work. The remaining three of us hopped onto the tram for a ride over to the University of Orléans where we had an enjoyable time visiting with several of Darcy's students. One of them generously bought coffee for everyone, and another had brought along a paper bag filled with fresh, warm chouquettes, which are little puffs of pastry sparkling with pearl sugar. It was fun chatting with the students as they practiced their English, and I enjoyed learning something about them and the regions or countries from which they had come.

On our way back to the center of town, we stopped at a small market adjacent to the University. Nearby, we saw a sculpture that looked very familiar. It was a smaller version of Blackbear Bosun's "Keeper of the Plains", which stands tall above the river in Wichita, Kansas. This miniature version was a gift from Wichita, which is a sister city to Orléans. 

The Keeper of the Plains, a gift from Wichita.

Here is the original Keeper of the Plains.

Later, we bought a few pastries and took them down to the banks of the Loire, where we sat contentedly in the sun, enjoying our snack. The speculoos eclair I had chosen was delightful. Craig was happy with an apple tart, and Darcy ate a delicious-looking cherry tart. 

A tasty snack to enjoy by the Loire.

A boat on the Loire in Orléans, France.

We had our evening meal at the Grec Gourmand, where we had dined on previous occasions. The kebab sandwich and fries were tasty and filling. We had a bit of time to kill before the beginning of the Fêtes de Jeanne d'Arc, so we played a game of Phase 10 back at Darcy and Mathieu's apartment, where Mathieu rejoined us. As we were playing, we began to notice many people making their way down to the banks of the Loire. Most of them were wearing medieval costume. Many band members also passed by, and we were soon following them down to the river. It was not quite dark when we reached the water's edge, and we were able to find a good vantage point from which to view the opening ceremony of the festival. There were many soldiers holding torches, and mock battles were taking place along the walk, but soon all eyes turned toward the water, as Joan of Arc came sailing across. She disembarked and mounted a beautiful white horse to begin the long procession to the Cathedral. We were swept up in the crowd, and walked along for most of the way, hearing the speeches, but not understanding more than a word or two. As we continued down the Rue de Borgogne, it was fun to see many people almost hanging out of their apartment windows to witness the spectacle below. At one window, I counted at least eight people laughing and jostling for a view. It was a fun evening for all of us.

Waiting for Joan of Arc. 

RECIPE: Honey Peppers
This is a tasty side dish introduced to me by Mathieu. It's simple and delicious! Just seed one or two red bell peppers and cut into strips. Saute the strips over medium heat in a mixture of equal parts olive oil and honey until the desired tenderness is achieved. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Serve hot.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Meanwhile, in France...

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Sunday, April 27, 2013

Just another beautiful day in France! Craig and I awoke to some very welcome sunlight streaming through the shades. It was so pleasant to be able to brew a pot of coffee in our little kitchen and enjoy the strong, fragrant beverage while listening to some soft music. 

This tiny kitchen was very well-equipped.

This was our view outside Halles Chatelet 
as we enjoyed our eclairs.

We made our way across the river to Halles Chatelet, where we purchased a couple of delightful caramel eclairs and then sat outside in the sun while we enjoyed them. Mathieu and Darcy came into view not long after we had finished. We all had plans to meet some friends of theirs for a picnic, but due to an illness, the plans had to be changed. The four of us decided to visit Parc Floral, the botanical gardens in Orléans. We rode the tram out to Parc Floral de la Source. Darcy had packed a picnic lunch, and we were going to eat right away, but some clouds had moved in and it began to sprinkle. We instead visited the Butterfly House. 

It was lovely and warm inside the butterfly house. There were many beautiful and unusual butterflies fluttering about. The plants in there were lush and gorgeous. Mathieu pointed out some interesting species of butterflies, and showed us some of the features of the place. He had worked there for a while and knew the ropes. When at last we emerged into the park again, the rain had stopped. We located a picnic table near a tiny chapel on the grounds and unpacked the lunch Darcy had prepared. The ham and cheese sandwiches on crusty baguettes were delicious, as was the rich, hot chocolate. We were intrigued by the chips - goat cheese bugles, roast chicken and thyme, and Bolognese! 

A beautiful resident of the Butterfly House at Parc Floral.

After lunch, we began to explore the park. It was absolutely wonderful, and I can't even begin to properly describe it! Even though it was a bit early in the season for the blooming plants, there was so much to see. Trees trimmed into fanciful shapes dotted the landscape, along with naturally growing species of every kind. There were several sculptures, a cute train to ride on, and even a charming watermill on a stream. Everywhere you turn, you will discover something unique and beautiful.

So picturesque!

There is even a little zoo, and a charming playground for the children. The place is enormous, and we did so much walking - but it was worth it. We especially enjoyed La Source, the mysterious spring that is indeed the source of the Loiret. It is a very large spring, though it flows quietly in its secluded grove. We explored Parc Floral for hours. It is such a delightful place. I highly recommend it if you are ever in the area.

La Source, the beautiful spring in Parc Floral.

That evening, we visited Aurelie and Tonio, friends of Darcy and Mathieu who live in a beautiful stone house that is at least 350 years old! I loved the beamed ceilings and the warm stone walls. Aurelie and Tonio are a charming couple who both speak a bit of English. We enjoyed the apero that was prepared for us, and nibbled on several different types of cheese along with olives, sausage,  pâte, duck mousse (a favorite of mine), crusty bread, and tiny pickles. There was a selection of beer and wine as well. We enjoyed the meal, talking and laughing. Later, we played a noisy game of Pit, which was fun. I was glad the building had such thick stone walls so we would not be disturbing anyone! 

I Could Get Used to This!

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Saturday, April 26, 2013

Whew! Getting there wasn't easy, but we finally arrived in Orléans Friday afternoon. Our flight out of Wichita was repeatedly delayed (four hours!), which caused us to miss our connection in Chicago. We were put onto a flight to London, and because we sat on the tarmac for an hour, we nearly missed our connection at Heathrow. We had to make a mad dash to the British Airways terminal, where we boarded a flight at the last minute and then, at last - we were in Paris! Of course, we still had the long taxi ride to the train station, and then the hour-long train ride to Orléans. After almost 24 hours of travel, Craig and I were very glad to see Darcy and Mathieu! After an early dinner at an Indian restaurant, we were welcomed to the little apartment we had rented just across the Loire in Orléans.

Darcy and I on a bridge spanning the Loire at Orléans.

It had been two years since our last visit. Things were wonderfully familiar to us. It felt as if we were coming home. Speaking of home - the cozy apartment we rented through HomeAway was perfect! It had everything we could possibly need. The living/kitchen area had lots of storage and the tiny kitchen was well equipped. There was a large bathroom with a fantastic shower. The roomy bedroom contained a dresser, an armoire, and a desk, in addition to the very comfortable bed. Our hosts, Pascal and Nathalie, were warm and friendly, and provided us with instructions on how to operate the washer and dryer (how convenient!) and the other appliances. In the kitchen, we found coffee, sugar, tea, hot chocolate, and some candy. Darcy had brought us a carton of cream and a couple of her homemade muffins, so we were all set for the morning.

Our cozy bedroom at the apartment we found on HomeAway.

We met up with Darcy and Mathieu first thing in the morning and had breakfast at Paul, near the market where we needed to do a bit of shopping. By the time we had finished our shopping and put our purchases away in our temporary home, it was midday. We walked around a bit, until we spotted a brasserie, and there we had lunch. The croque monsieur I ordered was very good (it's a French version of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich) and Mathieu seemed to enjoy his croque madame, which was like my sandwich, but with the addition of an egg over the top. Craig ate a delicious ham and cheese omelet with fries, and Darcy ordered the plat du jour, which turned out to be golden-brown roast chicken, fries, and a salad. 

After lunch, we caught a bus into Olivet, where we located the Promenade des Moulins, which is a trail along the Loiret (a river which feeds into the Loire) that still has many old watermills alongside. Most of them seemed to be inhabited and looked as if they were well cared for. The riverbanks are thick with trees. There are many old, beautiful homes along the river, though they are mostly hidden in the foliage. Many of the homes had elaborate boathouses as well. At one point along the trail, we came upon a breathtakingly beautiful meadow. The sloping ground was thickly carpeted with grass and tiny wildflowers. It resembled a fairyland. 

One of the many old mills along the Promenade des Moulins. 

The weather had turned cool and overcast, and as we continued our walk, a slight breeze sprung up. We turned a corner and were delighted to discover a rustic little building housing a snack bar offering coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and pastries. There were bright, lime green canvas chairs scattered about, but we chose to sit at a log-hewn table with stumps for seating. We rested our feet while we enjoyed the warmth of the hot drinks. A pretty little wooden bridge spanned the river before us, and alongside was another beautiful, old stone mill. We continued our explorations, and saw a large flock of swans floating serenely on the river. Though we had not walked the entire length of the Promenade, we had to call it quits soon after stopping for refreshments, for we were to meet with Mathieu's parents that evening.

A beautiful boathouse along the Promenade des Moulins.

Muriel and Thierry met us at Darcy and Mathieu's apartment shortly after we returned to town. After hugs and kisses and an exchange of gifts, we set out for Chez Ming, a Chinese restaurant on the Rue de Borgogne recommended by Darcy and Mathieu. Miranda, the lovely owner (who is Chinese and speaks perfect English) made us all very welcome and had even prepared a special appetizer of shrimp toast, knowing it was Darcy's favorite. She was delighted, and we all enjoyed the scrumptious treat. We had a special cocktail, also. It was a blend of sake, lychee juice, and other spirits that I cannot remember. It was quite tasty. The buffet meal was excellent. Everything was freshly prepared and served in small portions so that fresh food was always on offer. It was an excellent meal and I can understand why Chez Ming is a favorite. 

When we all returned to Darcy and Mathieu's apartment, Muriel and Thierry treated us to a delicious strawberry tart and a glass of Vouvray, which is a delightful wine from the Loire valley. It was a delectable ending to a lovely day. Darcy and Mathieu drove us to the tram and we found our way home easily. I could get used to this!

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Return to Versailles.

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Sunday March 13, 2011

It has been a fun and busy day, though tinged with a bit of sadness knowing that it was our last full day in France. We began with a walk to a patisserie near the Moulin Rouge, where we all picked out some delightful treats for breakfast. We then walked across the street to a Starbucks (a rare treat for Darcy) and we sat outside enjoying our petit dejeuner and our view of the street. It was already busy with tourists and locals scurrying about. 

Not a bad view at breakfast.

A view of Boulevard de Clichy from Starbucks.

We boarded the Metro at a stop nearby, and were soon on our way to Versailles. Jennifer got a kick out her first-ever subway ride. The double-decker train we switched to at the end of the Metro line gave us some interesting views during the 45 - minute ride to Versailles. We were treated to an impromptu accordion serenade on the way, and dropped a few coins into the musician's cup in thanks. Once off the train, we simply followed the crowd to Versailles, but were dismayed at the enormously long line for admission. We turned back toward town, where we found a wonderful cafe in which we had a delicious lunch. Darcy ordered the lamb chops, Jennifer and I each had the braised chicken, while Craig enjoyed his veal which was smothered in a mushroom-cream sauce. Jennifer experienced another first - a Kir Royale, which she found to be delightful. 

The four of us enjoyed lunch at a cafe in Versailles.

Returning to the Chateau, we found the lines to be much shorter, and soon we were wandering around the opulent palace. The stunning Hall of Mirrors, the Music Hall, and the other amazing rooms we visited were a feast for the eyes.  It was very crowded, and at times we feared becoming separated in the throng. It was a relief when we finally went outside onto the grounds. By that time, we all had tired feet, so we willingly shelled out the extra cash for a tram ride around the magnificently landscaped parc and down toward Marie Antoinette's little palace. We were too tired even to peek inside. We left Versailles soon after and made it back to the center of Paris by dinnertime. We had planned to walk around a bit to scout out a good restaurant, but settled instead on the nearby Flunch. It was fun and interesting, especially for Jennifer, who had never before eaten there. 

It was hard to believe our visit had come to an end! Jennifer would stay on for a while, and accompany Darcy to Orléans, where she would enjoy her time spent in getting to know the town and reacquainting herself with Mathieu. I have no idea when my next visit will occur, but I am already thinking of the future.

There is so much to see beyond the golden gates of Versailles.

Tired tourist feet.

TRAVEL TIP: When visiting a museum or other large space, first designate an area where you can all meet if anyone becomes separated from the group.