May 11 - May 18:  Bonjour from Loire Valley and Paris

We had a nice two night stay in Amboise, where Leonardo da Vinci lived out his last three years in a nice home adjoining Francois I’s large chateau. Francois I was a big fan, and Italy was having its troubles, so da Vinci was happy to go. He brought his Mona Lisa with him. Robert and I visited da Vinci’s house and extensive gardens. There were many models of his machines to view and use.

We went to three huge, gorgeous chateaus. Chenonceau is quite impressive, with a long drive, lots of forests and gardens, and a chateau built beside and over the Cher River. It is 16th century, and all the rooms have walls covered with 16th century Flemish Tapestries. Chambord is a huge chateau that has 362 chimneys for its 400 rooms. It was used as a hunting Lodge for Francois I, so they needed lots of fireplaces for the winter hunting season. It is the largest walled park in Europe. We rented bikes for an hour and rode around the park. Very fun day. The last chateau was Cheverny, which we only drove by. Descendants of the same family who built it still live there today.

Paris is awesome. We were very fortunate to have a fabulous 3 bedroom apartment on rue de Bac (Left Bank) with a view of the Louvre, and just around the corner from the Orsay Museum. It belongs to Thierry and Marie-France Manoncourt, and their daughter, Blondine de Brier lives with her family in the apartment below. It was nice to have space and be in the heart of things.

Our first day was a big one. We went to the Louvre, which is enormous, and saw the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Borghese Gladiator, Winged Victory, David “Coronation of Napoleon”, Ingres, Delacrois, LaTour, etc. . . . Then we walked through the Jardin de Tuileries, saw the Place de la Concorde, where the guillotine was located during the Revolution, and walked the long walk down the Champs-Elysees to Napoleon’s L’Arc de Triomphe. We stopped for some escargots along the way. They were great. Lots of garlic. We then went to the Eiffel Tower and went to the top. The view and weather were great. We took a tour on the Batobus, which makes stops along the Seine, and saw many bridges, sights, and Notre Dame from the river.

The next day we took a train to a village near Versailles to have lunch with another daughter of Thierry and Marie-France. We met Claire and Charles de Maupeou and their fun family. The boys had a great time playing with their 4 children whose ages ranged from 7 to 12. They took us to Versailles, which was unbelievably impressive. I thought the chateaus in the Loire Valley were big.... Versailles is just as impressive, in a different way, as Vatican City. Versailles has especially beautiful and extensive gardens, grounds, and fountains. We were lucky the fountains were running and accompanied by classical music. We toured inside and out. We saw the room where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were captured by the revolutionaries, later to be beheaded in Place de la Concorde. Most of the Hall of Mirrors was being refurbished, unfortunately. We saw the hamlet Marie Antoinette had built for a getaway from the chateau. A great day.

The next day we toured Museo d’Orsay to see Ingres, Millet, Manet, Renoir, Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Rousseau, Gaughain, Seurat, and Toulouse-Lautrec! Very nice museum. Not so overwhelming as the Louvre. We toured the Catacombs, which are completely fascinating in a sick sort of way. Six million people’s femurs, tibias, and skulls piled in neat walls on both sides and extending forever, it seems. In 1785 the churches were ordered to empty all the city’s cemeteries to make room. It took decades. We had a wonderful dinner with Jean-Robert and Francoise Villepigue, their daughter Sophie and her husband, and Dominique and his wife, who are cousins of J-R. Rob did some more genealogy work with J-R. The wild boar dinner and chocolaty pastry were great.

The next day we had a lovely lunch with Marie-France and Thierry, and Claire and Charles. M-F and Thierry were on their way back from Prague, and had stayed the night in the apartment, and Charles was in Paris on business. After lunch, we visited Notre Dame and climbed to the top to see the gargoyles. Lots of fun. We also saw Sainte-Chapelle, a gorgeous Gothic chapel with outstanding stained glass windows. Dinner was a real splurge, and well worth it. We went to Bel Canto, which had excellent food and excellent entertainment. The local opera students are employed to sing at the tables every 15 minutes or so, with piano accompaniment. It was thrilling to hear opera that close. They sang from many different operas, sometimes alone, sometimes as a duet. It was neat.

Our last day was spent at Cite des sciences and de l’industrie. The boys loved it. We spent the whole afternoon there. It is a huge museum and has all hands-on exhibits. They especially liked cite des infants, mathematics, light games, and images. Our last dinner was in a very Parisian neighborhood, and was very good. I had escargots again. Have to get off the train in London, now. We went through the Chunnel....

Hope all is well, Pat