Avignon and Monaco

We spent about three hours in Avignon, a quaint, walled city that was home to the popes in the 1300s. It was not the finest moment for the Catholic Church as the Popes at that time were notoriously corrupt. We had a wonderful lunch at a café situated in a garden on top of a hill overlooking the Rhône River and the surrounding countryside. You could see for 20 miles in almost every direction.

We then traveled to Monaco and for some reason I couldn't get the voice of Robin Leach and scenes from his lifestyles of the rich and famous out of my head. In all seriousness, Monaco is an impressive place, with opulence and wealth on display at every turn.

I have a new appreciation for the drivers in the Monaco Grand Prix. The streets are narrow very difficult to maneuver. Our bus driver did an impressive 0 to 20 miles an hour in 30 seconds in an attempt to catch the Lamborghini that pulled up beside us.

One impressive building was the aquarium that was built in the early 1900s. For many years Jaques Cousteau was the director. The Beatles visited the site in the 1960s and Cousteau invited them to go for a ride in his submarine. The Beatles declined but it inspired two songs – The yellow submarine and the octopuses garden.

We had a lovely dinner and outdoor café next to the cathedral and ended the night bar hopping in Nice which has quite an amazing vibe.

Hospice De Beaune and Lyon

Au Revoir, Paris. We started our day early, leaving at 7:30 am .  We beat most of the morning rush and traveled south toward France's 3rd largest city – Lyon, founded by the Romans in 43BC.

Our first stop was in the village of Beaune for a tour of the Hotel-Dieu or Hospice de Beaune, an early hospital and a place I had been looking forward to visiting . The hospital was built in 1443 by Nichols Rolin, chancellor of Duke of Burgundy who used his personal fortunate to build and endow this hospital as a palace for the poor. He spared no expense and filled the building with fantastic art, including the amazing The Polyptych of the last Judgement. The hospital cared for patients until the 1970s when a more modern building was built.

After Beaune, we got back on the bus for the trip to Lyon and a visit to the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is an amazing section of about ten blocks which is largely as it was during the Renaissance when Lyon was a wealthy commercial center famous for silk weaving and silk painting.

We ended the day with a festive dinner with two other couples and lots of Beaujolais wine.  As the local saying goes, Lyon has three rivers – the Rhone, the Saone and the Beaujalais.  We are learning the French take their wine very seriously. We arrived back at our hotel at about 9:30pm – really tired from all the activity of the past four days.

Photos from Hospice du Beaune and Lyon.

Exploring Versailles and St. Germain-des-Pres

I started the day off with a run to the Eiffel Tower, which was a really cool way to begin our first full day  in France.  After that, we were off to Vesailles – a short train ride away.  The palace and gardens are massive and it’s not hard to understand how the construction almost bankrupted the Sun King.  Diane has been watching the Netflix series Versailles prior to our trip, which she recommends for its insi gets into palace intrigues and excesses.

My favorite part of the tour was a visit to the Galerie des Batailes, an addition made in 1837 by Louis Phillipe  celebrating France’s military triumphs in 33 massive paintings.  The Galerie was built following the fall of the Ancient Regeime and the trials of the early Republic and Nepolian. It’s purpose was to evoke France’s martial history and help pave the way for a new regime: an English-style parliamentary monarchary intent on keeping the peace and maintaining Europe’s balance of power. Sound familiar?  Here is a link to the paintings. http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/estate/palace/battles-gallery. I was unexpedly moved by the inclusion of a painting on the Battle of Yorktown, highlighting the critical role France played in the American Revolution.

I got a kick out of visiting the King’s bedchamber – where his rising and retiring for the day were marked with special ceremonies attended by 100 or so key governmental officials.   Just plain weird but what else were you to do in the era before TV and the Internet. Here is a link to learn more about a day in the life of Louis XIV and the cult of personality that surrounded the Royals. http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/day-life-louis-xiv.  Diane laughed when I suggested she watch me shave.

We returned to Paris and had fun exploring the hip and fun neighborhood of St. Germain -des- Pres.  The streets were packed  and was so much fun to take it all in, including some great jazz.


The Unexpected Phone Call

We made it to Paris and had a great first day taking in the sights.  As we were heading out for a romantic stroll along the Seine followed by  a fashionably late dinner, the phone rang.   Never a good omen.

Diane’s sister Scherlyn said it was urgent that we contact Diane’s great Aunt Loretta regarding  our son Kyle.  Evidently, Kyle – age 19 – was in a jail cell in Florida facing drug charges.  This got our attention! Especially since Kyle  had been at work in New Jersey when we left.  When we finally reached Loretta – who had no idea we were in Paris – she told us she had  had several calls with Kyle and the attorney who was representing him. Evidently, Kyle had made a spur of the moment decision to fly to Florida after we left to attend the funeral of a friend  who had been killed in a car accident.  On the way to the funeral from the airport, the driver of the Uber car was stopped for a minor traffic violation.  The driver had a suspended license  and a criminal record which triggered a police search of the car .  The police found a large amount of cocaine.  Kyle was now in jail. The attorney was asking Loretta to wire $4,000 immediately to help him make bail and pay the attorney.  Otherwise, Kyle might be forced to spend the next six weeks in jail before a hearing could be scheduled. Loretta said Kyle begged her not to call us. He said he would pay her back when he returned to New Jersey and sorted all this out.

So now we were really worried.  This did not seem possible. And to be honest, we had one of those parental WTF moments and a collective ” Really!  This can’t be happening. Come on universe. We finally take a bucket list trip, fly to Europe and don’t even get one dinner under our belt before facing crisis that could end the trip or at the least distract us for days until Kyle was safe.”

Many phone calls followed and as some of you are starting to suspect, Loretta was being scammed by some very unscrupulous people who prey on older people.  She had been prepared to do anything she could to help Kyle and for that were grateful.  And thankfully, Kyle was safe at work at his summer job at Juniper Hill, where he is  helping award-winning chef Josh De Chellis prepare some really excellent food.  So if you want see Kyle, have dinner at Juniper Hill this weekend.

Gee, we can’t wait to see what day 2 brings.

France 2017

Were excited to begin our Big Trip: two weeks in France – without kids – just the two of us off on a  grown up adventure.  We leave today, July 20th. Happy Birthday, Mom!

Diane spent a year as an exchange student in Belgium, but I have never been to Europe – so this is a real bucket list trip.  So exciting to visit places I have read so much about over the years.  Diane is excited too – and looking forward to French wines and chocolate croissants – yum!

We will post reflections and pictures from our trip as it unfolds, so feel free to follow us on this blog. This is our first time blogging, so bear with us as we learn how to use all these tools.  A shout out to my brother-in-law Mark Grewell, who gave me a few pointers.



All Advenures Begin with Planning

Diane and I want to give a special shout out to Rosalia Cellini at AAA and the folks at Trafalger Tours.  They made planning for this trip really easy. We also want to thank our friend Stasia, for her encouragement and advice and all the wonderful books she shared with us. And a special hello to our tour director Giovanna ( J0)  at Twitter: @Trafalagartalk; FB: Facebook.com/trafalgarTravel; Twitter” @giotrafalgar.

Pat and Diane's Travelogue