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Day and Night in Lyon, France

5/26/17- Lyon is the third largest city in France but it doesn’t feel like a big city. It has a historic and classical feel while maintaining the charm of a small town. There are many things to see and do here– unfortunately, we only grazed the surface.

 

(NOTE: More content will be added at a future date as I continue to reorganize entries on my blog.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Date: May 26, 2017, Friday (Day 14)

Playbill Travel’s “Broadway On the Rhone”

Travel 2017: A Special Concert in Viviers: Day Twelve

We woke up this morning to another beautiful sunrise. This time, docked at Viviers in southern Ardèche, we had the beautiful Viviers Suspension Bridge in full view from our balcony. We’ve had the most wonderful weather in southern France!

 

Viviers Suspension Bridge.

 

We decided ahead of time to join our friends for a morning walking tour of Vivier.

Our small group entered town, enjoying a relaxing walk under the canopy of ancient Plane trees before reaching the town’s center. We then slowly made our way to the upper town, as our guide gave us some history and noted points of interest along the way.

The small commune of Viviers, dates back to the 5th century. Today, it has less than 4,000 residents. It is a medieval town that has largely escaped the ravages of time. Scenes from the 2000 movie, Chocolat (Johnny Depp), were filmed here.

 

Strolling to town under a canopy of Plane Trees.

 

The Quiet Streets of Viviers.

 

A Famous Viviers Butcher Shop.

 

Sausages, anyone?

 

One of the buildings tied to an interesting piece of local history is the Maison des Chevaliers, or the House of the Knights. The age of the actual structure of the building is unknown but the fascade was constructed between 1545 and 1560. Several houses were combined to create what was to become the House of Knights for Noel Albert.

Albert, a rich merchant– had converted to Protestantism, opposed the king– and as a result, was tried and beheaded in 1568. As bailiff of the bishop of Viviers, he was believed to have been skimming money from the taxes he collected as well.

 

On the left, Maison des Chevaliers, the House of the Knights.

 

Marianne- Goddess of Liberty.

 

Beautiful Centuries-Old Buildings.

 

Roses climb many of the buildings’ fascades in Viviers.

 

Morning Sunlight Seemed to Stream Through Every Possible Nook and Cranny as we approach the entrance to Viviers Cathedral.

 

Saint-Michel Tower (11th century) of the St. Vincent Cathedral.

 

Entering a covered passageway in Viviers.

 

The Sampzon House (16th Century) Viviers, France.

 

Saint Vincent Cathedral.

 

Beautiful scenic spots everywhere.

 

Looking out over Viviers and the countryside.

 

The Fortress Walls of Viviers from the Upper Town.

 

Medieval St. Vincent Cathedral.

 

Gargoyles of St. Vincent.

 

Viviers Rooftops from Belvédère de Châteauvieux.

 

Viviers From Belvédère de Châteauvieux.

 

Château de l’Ourse in Belvédère de Châteauvieux Square.

 

We visited the shop of Jean Luc Allonneau, Atelier 3 Ceramiques where he has been handcrafting functional ceramic pieces since 1981. After a tour of his workshop, he gave us a brief demonstration at the potters’ wheel.

Independent craftsmen like this are finding it more and more difficult to stay open and competitive with the accessibility of mass produced goods– priced much lower but of inferior material and design.

Jean Luc still hand selects his materials and completes each piece entirely on his own. The process for each, takes more than a month to complete with drying, firing and glazing to be done. He produces pots and dinnerware collections in addition to some pieces created from handmade molds.

 

Atelier 3 Ceramiques Handcrafted Pottery Shop.

 

Inside Atelier 3 Ceramiques pottery.

 

Jean Luc Allonneau at work.

 

On the street in Viviers. The 11th Century Clock Tower on the right.

 

Viviers is the  birthplace of the Society of Lime and Cement Lafarge. Naturally occurring hydraulic limestone is mined here. The lime is burned to create a product that is used in mortar for construction.

I was particularly interested in this because the brick in our own 1889 house– is held together with a lime-mortar that has to be specially mixed for tuck-pointing (repair).  It is seldom used today in new construction– now, mostly Portland Cement. The advantages of lime include a slow drying process and a much stronger, resilient, finished product.

 

Mining Lime Lafarge.

 

On our way back to the ship, we stopped for a photo op with our friends before returning to the ship for a late lunch. We had a few hours before we would walk back into town for a special concert Playbill had arranged for us.

 

Group Photo Op with Friends.

 

Viviers Cathedral aka St. Vincent Cathedral. Earlier in the day, we didn’t have a chance to go inside the cathedral but we saw the exterior from virtually every angle. I suppose, aside from the fact that we saw the performers entering to rehearse, when we passed in the morning– the main reason was: we’d return for our special concert in the afternoon.

St. Vincent Cathedral, built in the 11th century, is the smallest, if not the oldest, medieval cathedral in France that is still active today.

During the French Wars of Religion between the Catholics and the Protestants in the 16th century, the vaulted ceiling was destroyed. It was not  rebuilt until the 18th century.

At the front of the church, in the semicircular apse, hang all but one of their highly prized tapestries. Two were stolen from the church in the 1970’s and one was later recovered (found in Italy). The famous 18th century royal tapestries were manufactured by Gobelins in Paris, representing scenes from the Bible. You can see the empty frame of the stolen tapestry, which depicted The Last Supper, in the picture below.

 

 

Inside St. Vincent Cathedral, Viviers.

 

Chandelier in St. Vincent.

 

Concert at Viviers Cathedral. This was a first for Playbill Travel. Not only were we getting a concert in a beautiful venue– they were doing a second concert for the entire town, after ours. So you might say– ours was the dress rehearsal. (Wink.)

 

Left to Right, James Barbour, Liz Callaway, Rebecca Luker and Paulo Szot open “A Concert at Viviers Cathedral”.

 

The concert truly was special. Having the chance to hear some of the great music of Broadway, resonating through this beautiful cathedral was breathtaking. The performances were great and the setting gave it an added magical touch. James Barbour, Liz Callaway, Rebecca Luker, John McDaniel and Paulo Szot all received a well-deserved standing ovation. A truly memorable event.

 

James Barbour.

 

Rebecca Luker ‘s angelic voice fills the cathedral with “The Sound of Music”.

 

Paulo Szot’s inspiring and thunderous, “The Impossible Dream”, was one of the highlights .

 

Liz Callaway relives “Memory” from Cats.

 

Musical Director John McDaniel singing, “Anyone Can Whistle.

 

James Barbour and Rebecca Luker serenade one another.

 

Paulo Szot and Liz Callaway share a tender moment, singing Sondheim’s “With So Little To Be Sure Of”.

 

The Broadway on the Rhone Performance in St. Vincent Cathedral, Viviers, France.

 

We found out later, that after our concert, several of the performers thought they’d get a bite to eat in town between shows. Only one problem– everything had closed down because everyone was going to the concert! The whole town attended, including the mayor. Some said they didn’t know what to expect from the concert. Very quickly they were drawn in, thrilled when they recognized some of famous Broadway tunes. The crowd loved it and it was a huge success.

Bravo, Playbill Travel!

 

Travel Date: May 24, 2017, Wednesday (Day 12)

Travel 2017: A Perfect Day In Avignon: Day Eleven

Traveling to new places can certainly be a mixed bag of experiences. I learned a long time ago not to let expectations get in the way of the experience itself. Even if you’ve spent a lot of time researching a destination in advance, there are always surprises along the way. Something might be closed. There may be a new exhibit or a festival that suddenly draws your attention. It could be overcrowded or timing may play an important role. Weather may also be an important factor. Whatever the situation when you arrive, flexibility is the key.

During our stop in Avignon, we had six optional excursions to choose from. Four were included- a walking tour of Avignon, a walking/tram tour (for gentle walkers), the Pont du Gard Aqueduct, or kayaking on the Gardon river. Two offerings, for an additional charge, included: A cooking class with a master chef at the Hotel la Mirande, or Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine tasting.

I was interested in seeing the Aqueduct but that meant sacrificing a visit to Avignon and the Palace of the Popes. So it was hard to choose. Michael and I ended up deciding we wanted the adventure of exploring Avignon on our own. I thought to ask our Cruise Manager Tania, if there was an admission ticket to the Palace of the Popes, which there was. She had a few tickets on hand, for those not taking the tour that wanted to explore on their own. Good thing I asked!

One other thing– in each city we docked, Uniworld had maps available to take with us, whether we went with a guided group or not. Taking one today was especially beneficial.

 

The Medieval rampart surrounding Avignon.

 

We crossed the main road that runs along the Rhone river and entered the fortified walls of Avignon.

Avignon dates back to at least the 6th century BC under Greek domination. Naples and France each had their own piece of early history here. By the 1300’s, it became the residence of the Popes– seven in all would make Avignon their home before the Papacy returned to Rome as the permanent residence. In addition, multiple plagues had a big impact on the city over the centuries.  While the current city population is about 90,000, only about 12,000 live with the ancient city center that is surrounded by looming medieval ramparts.

We walked through narrow streets, into the city, finding ourselves in the Place de l’Horloge. Not only is it considered the city center, it is one of the most perfect squares (I’ve seen so far) in Europe. It was still early in the day when we arrived. The hour was reflected by the activities of the merchants and restaurateurs busily preparing to open up shop. What made it so perfect was the blend of colorful shops, historic buildings and an old world atmosphere that hadn’t been completely modernized or commercialized. It still had so much charm.

 

The streets of Avignon.

 

A restaurant along the Place de l’Horloge in Avignon.

 

Hotel de Ville, (City Hall) Avignon.

 

The clock tower of the Hotel de Ville.

 

The theatre in Place de l’Horloge, Avignon.

 

Bank of France in Avignon.

 

Just a few blocks away was the Square Below the Palace of the Popes (Place du Palais). Not quite as charming as Place de l’Horloge but still historically beautiful and well preserved. There we found an artist was setting up to sell his work. Across the square, an accordionist played his squeezebox; busking at the steps of the Palace.

 

Vendors and artists setting up in front of The Old Mint (Hotel des Monnaies) across from the Palace of the Popes. Built in 1619, it has housed the Avignon School of Music since 1860.

 

One of the buskers near the Palace of the Popes.

 

Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral.

 

Palace of the Popes.  The Palais des Papes is one of the 10 most visited monuments in France. It is the largest Gothic palace in Europe. Built in the 14th century, it was first home to Popes, then Legates,  and finally Vice-Legates up until the French Revolution. Six papal conclaves were held here.

 

Palace of the Popes in Avignon, France.

 

The majority of the palace was constructed in less than 20 years.

Over 20 rooms can be explored during your visit.  Most of the ornate embellishments that were the finishing touches of later Popes, are now gone. One of the most interesting areas of the palace are the Popes’ private chambers– with original frescoes painted by the Italian artist Matteo Giovannetti. (No photography allowed.)

The palace was first opened to the public in the early 1900s. Today, exhibitions and performances are held here year-round. It is interesting that the palace has not been turned into a museum house in the way that many historic places have been. Here, the focus is on the magnificence of the building and architecture itself.

 

Sunlight bursting through a door of the medieval Palace of the Popes.

 

Incredible detailed art on the arched ceilings, entering the Palace.

 

Silhouettes of an art exhibition, inside the courtyard of the Palace of the Popes.

 

Interior courtyard view of the Palace of the Popes.

 

Sacristie Nord in the Palace of the Popes.

 

The Grand Chapelle.

 

The incredible brickwork in the Grand Chapelle of the Palace of the Popes.

 

Looking out of ornate Gothic windows of the Palais des Papes.

 

Walking the rooftop terraces of the Palace.

 

The Spires of the Palace of the Popes from the roof.

 

Looking down on the Honor Courtyard, used today for performances and home of the Avignon Theater Festival.

 

Avignon from the roof of the Palace of the Popes.

 

The gilded statue of the Virgin Mary tops the Avignon Cathedral, also known as Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral.

 

 

Looking out towards Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral (from the Palace) containing the mausoleum of Pope John XXII.

 

The bell tower above the Palace of the Popes.

 

One of the elaborate entrances to the Palace.

 

Exterior of the Palace of the Popes.

 

From the Palace, we wandered through the streets of Avignon, passing many shops and small theatres on our way to the Rocher des Doms Garden overlook. We strayed from the main path, discovering some unique passages and paused a moment to watch a sculptor at work.

 

Off the beaten path in Avignon.

 

A Sculptor at work.

 

Finding our own way to the top of the hill.

 

Many steps twist and turn to the top of the overlook.

 

After winding our way around, climbing many steps, we found ourselves at the top of the Rocher des Doms Garden Overlook. The gardens and panoramic views were nothing short of spectacular. It was just incredible up there. I couldn’t help but wonder if our cruise mates were going to miss out on all this beauty, or be rushed through, to stay on schedule. We had all the time in the world.

 

Fortress and Bishop’s Palace in Avignon.

 

Incredible view of the Rhone river.

 

Looking over Avignon from the hill.

 

I think we found the best view of the famous bridge- Pont d’Avignon or Pont Saint-Bénézet. Originally completed in 1185, it crossed the Rhone, only to be destroyed 40 years later by Louis VIII when taking over Avignon. It was rebuilt with 22 arches but river flooding repeatedly damaged the bridge. The surviving sections of the bridge are believed to have been constructed around 1345, with the Chapel of Saint Nicholas at the middle of the four remaining arches. The bridge is considered an important representation of the city, as well as the inspiration for the song, Sur le pont d’Avignon.

 

The famous Pont d’Avignon– Pont Saint Benezet Chapelle St Nicolas.

 

We took a break, grabbing a drink from a small cafe on the hill, and continued to enjoy our beautiful surroundings. We had perfect weather. It was hard to leave this place but we needed to start making our way back down the hill.

 

Ducks playfully enjoying the garden fountain and pond.

 

Along the garden path.

 

Beautiful Avignon.

 

We reached the bottom of the hill, once again passing the palace and finding ourselves back at Place de l’Horloge. It was a little busier now, the carousel was in motion and tourists were beginning to fill the streets and shops.

 

Back at Place de l’Horloge, Avignon.

 

The carousel, Place de l’Horloge, Avignon.

 

We’d only covered about a third of Avignon but felt like the experience had been totally fulfilling. It was still early afternoon and we could have spent more time but I was anxious to get back to the ship.

 

Lighting Paulo. I ended up volunteering (getting volunteered) to try and help improve the lighting for tonight’s concert. After the daily briefing in the Van Gogh lounge, while everyone else headed to the Cezanne Dining Room for dinner, I stayed and helped the staff transform the lounge into a makeshift theater.

On all the previous Playbill cruises the ships had actual theaters (or performance spaces) with a stage. Being a much small ship, specifically designed for river travel, the S.S. Catherine had only the large Van Gogh Lounge (with no stage) that could accommodate all the guests at one time.

I’m not sure I was able to improve the lighting that much– but at least music director, John McDaniel would be lit. (The night before, he was totally in the dark.) The ship staff seemed grateful for the assistance and asked if I’d hang around for sound check.

 

A Private Moment. There really wasn’t time to go join our group in the dining room– so I went to our regular spot, which coincidentally was just off the lounge– on the front-lower deck of the ship. I got out there just in time to watch as our ship passed through one of the river locks– the first one I got to observe from start to finish. It’s fascinating how it works, moving from different water levels– and the fact that these locks help prevent most of the flooding that could occur along the river is pretty incredible.

 

Going through one of the locks between Avignon and Viviers.

After the lock, we were back in open water. Mostly natural, undeveloped land drifted by– with the occasional building or the remains of some ancient building coming and going from view. The sun was still quite hot as it was slowly starting it’s late afternoon descent from the sky. It was peaceful, quiet, and really a beautiful moment. How lucky I was to be experiencing it!

Late afternoon passing hilltop ruins on the Rhone River.

 

Paulo Szot In Concert. What a voice! Strong, rich, resonant– a joy to listen to. Paulo treated us to a wide variety of songs that included selections from his Tony Award-winning performance in South Pacific to Sondheim. I think the audience favorite had to be his rendition of Stars from Les Miserables; performed in many different languages and ending in English.

 

Paulo Szot.

 

Paulo Szot is one of the most acclaimed and versatile baritones in the world, having garnered international acclaim as both an opera singer and actor. Born in Sao Paulo to Polish immigrants, Szot has appeared in leading roles with many major opera companies throughout the world including the Metropolitan Opera, Paris Opera, La Scala, Dutch National Opera, San Francisco Opera, Rome Opera and Opera Australia. In 2008, he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Emile De Becque in the Broadway revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center Theater, for which he also won the Drama Desk, Outer Critic’s Circle and Theater World Awards. Szot was the first Brazilian actor to receive such honors. In the recent 2016-2017 season, Szot appeared as Don Alfonso in a new production of Cosi fan tutte at Opera National de Paris and presneted a solo recital at Teatro Royal de Madrid as a salute to Frank Sinatra’s recordings of Antonio Jobim’s bossa novas. He also originated the roles of Alexander Hamilton, Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney in the world premiere of Mohammed Fairouz’s The New Prince at the Dutch National Opera. — Playbill

 

Paulo Szot, Broadway on the Rhone, May 2017.

 

Paulo Szot performing for the Playbill audience.

 

The wonderful Paulo Szot in Concert.

 

Music Director John McDaniel accompanying Paulo Szot in Concert.

 

Going Through the Locks. After the concert, the gang gathered on the deck and we were treated to quite a show. We went through probably the most unique of the locks on our trip– passing under, and then watching the massive gate drop behind us closing our ship in the lock, creating what felt like a medieval dungeon. It was dark and eerie, the ship’s floodlights reflecting off the dark, glistening walls as the water level changed before releasing us back out into the river.

 

Entering one of the more incredible locks we’d pass through on the Rhone river.

 

The S.S. Catherine, Inside the Lock.

 

Leaving the Lock on the Rhone River.

 

It had been quite a day! I always tell people that doing the Playbill cruises is like getting two vacations in one. You enjoy traveling to, and exploring, fascinating destinations– and then you have the wonderful Broadway concert experience on board. Today was the perfect example of the best of both worlds.

 

Travel Date: May 23, 2017, Tuesday (Day 11)

Travel 2017: Strolling Through Paris: Day Eight

One day.

If you had only one day to explore one of the world’s most famous cities– how would you approach it? Would you try to see all the important landmarks? Take a tour? Explore on you own?

There’s obviously no real right or wrong way to do it. You just have to go with your gut instincts.

Today was our one full day to discover Paris. Actually, we only had eight hours before a champagne river cruise on the Seine– the kick off for our Playbill Broadway cruise which officially launches tomorrow from Avignon. We had dinner reservations booked immediately following, so we had to make the most of the day.

I had ideas of where I wanted to go– but was determined I wasn’t going to get bogged down (and in a rush) with a packed itinerary. I just wanted to experience Paris and with few strings– let it happen organically.

At breakfast, we FINALLY got to see our friends, George and Mary. They are the easiest couple to travel with– and so much fun!

Michael was feeling a little under the weather, so when Mary and George said they’d accompany me on the first leg of the journey– he chose to stay at the hotel and rest.

So we headed out, uphill, in the direction of four places I’d included on the master list of places I’d like to see.

 

Holy Trinity Church in the 9th Arrondissement.

 

Montmartre. Montmarte was the trendy neighborhood of days gone by. Writers and artists such as Hemmingway, Piccaso, and Van Gogh once spent their days here. Though considered touristy today, I found the area quite charming and peaceful. Corner parks, tree-lined streets, cafes, street vendors– all culminate in a rather exciting, yet tranquil experience. I wanted to see the iconic windmill of Moulin Rouge, the I Love You Wall, and Sacre Coeur— in addition to just soaking in the atmosphere of Montmartre.

 

The world famous, Moulin Rouge.

 

Moulin Rouge in Montmartre.

 

One of the many charming, city squares in Montmartre.

 

The I Love You Wall is the new Love Locks (more on this later) of Paris. Le mur des je t’aime is where love comes together in every language. Artist Frédéric Baron with the help of  Claire Kito (oriental calligrapher) created the 612 tile mural described as “a link, a place of reconciliation, a mirror which reflects an image of love and peace.”

The phrase “I love you” is written 311 times in 250 languages with splashes of red representing parts of a broken heart.

You can visit the wall (free) at Butte Montmartre, Place des Abbesses, in the Square Jehan Rictus, Paris.

 

Full view of the I Love You Wall by Frédéric Baron.

 

I Love You Wall- Frédéric Baron. In Square Jehan Rickes, Paris.

 

Me at the wall.

 

Near that square is Eglise Saint John de Montmartre. So many churches in Europe (unlike the U.S.) are open for prayer and visitation, all day, 7 days a week. We couldn’t resist stopping and admiring its architecture.

 

Eglise Saint John de Montmartre.

 

Inside Saint John de Montmartre Church.

 

Stain glass windows in Eglise Saint John de Montmartre.

 

 

“The Three Little Pig”- a street view in Montmartre.

 

As we strolled through the streets, I thought we might view the Basilica of Sacre Coeur. We were already too close to it to find an unobstructed view. We came across a steep staircase– and with only a little convincing, George and Mary agreed to make the climb. This led to two more steep climbs that took us directly to the base of Sacre Coeur. There is an incredible overlook here with an expansive park below.

 

The Basilica of the Sacret Heart of Paris, most commonly known as Sacre Coeur.

 

One of several talented buskers in front of Sacre Coeur, providing entertainment for visitors.

 

In front of Sacre Coeur is this beautiful park and overlook with gorgeous views of Paris.

 

The overlook was the most crowded spot we visited in Montmartre, but that wasn’t a drawback– there was a carnival like atmosphere in the air.

George and Mary had been there before but it had been 30 years ago. Both agreed that it was worth the climb to experience it again. I was just happy to be there with them. Michael would have loved this spot too– but not the climb!

 

Mary and George at Sacre Coeur.

 

We then began the steep descent, heading back in the direction of our hotel, taking different streets, continuing to explore as we went. It was the perfect way to spent part of a day in Paris.

 

There were three sets of steep stairs we had to travel to get to and from Sacre Coeur.

 

One of many cozy little cafes frequented by locals.

 

A fresh fruit market in Montmartre.

 

Notre Dame de Lorette is a neoclassical church. Built beginning in 1823.

 

Académie Nationale de Musique.

 

Another view of the beautiful architecture of the Académie Nationale de Musique.

 

Returning from our beautiful morning stroll, approaching our hotel, Hotel Scribe.

 

When we got back to the hotel, I only had time to freshen up, get Michael and then we headed back out in the direction of the River Seine and the Île de la Cité. One of two remaining natural islands within the city of Paris.

 

 

A Paris cozy park.

 

Many news, art and souvenir vendors line sidewalks overlooking the the River Seine.

 

The Louvre.

 

We passed the Louvre and reached Île de la Cité and spent some time at Notre Dame de Paris. Featuring French Gothic architecture, it was completed by 1345, survived damage during the French Revolution, and received its first major restoration in 1845.

It’s a beautiful cathedral. Even though there are usually long lines of visitors waiting to get in, they move very quickly. Visiting is free, although there is a charge if you want to climb the narrow stairs to the bell tower. (Which we didn’t do.)

My one regret– in our effort to keep moving, was that I forgot to find Paris Point Zero. It is the marker that supposedly designates the exact center of Paris and France. It is the point from which all distances in France (from Paris) are measured.

 

 

Notre Dame Cathedral.

 

The iconic window of Notre Dame.

 

Inside the the glorious cathedral.

 

Sanctuary lamps inside Notre Dame.

 

 

Looking up at just a small sample of the many beautiful stained glass windows in Notre Dame.

 

From there, we walked along the River Seine until we reached the Square du Vert-Galant and Pont Neuf bridge. The square is a park honoring Henry IV of France. The Pont Neuf bridge is the oldest surviving bridge across the Seine.

 

Statue of King Henry IV located behind the Place Dauphine.

 

River Seine from Pont Neuf.

 

You may have heard of Love Locks on the Pont des Arts bridge. The affixing the locks to the bridge was used to symbolize love. In just five years the bridge was covered in locks. Officials feared for the weight and damage they were causing the bridge.  They were removed– an estimated million padlocks, in 2015. Well, they are reappearing on other bridges, including Pont Neuf.

 

Love Locks on the Pont Neuf overlooking the Seine.

 

Thousands of locks of love can still be found on bridges in Paris.

 

Reaching the bridge quicker than we expected, we had some time before the rest of the group would arrive for the Playbill Champagne River Cruise. We walked around the point of the island and enjoyed the views from Pont Neuf– just soaking up the atmosphere.

We met our friends at the boat launch and prepared for a lovely cruise on the river. The private event was organized by Playbill Travel.

Janet and Ken arrived, having been delayed a day by a flight cancellation, and we were all thrilled to be reunited.

 

Beautiful afternoon for a boat ride on the River Seine.

 

Institut de France and the Pont des Arts Bridge.

 

Palais de Justice from the River Seine.

 

Michael and I as we pass the Eiffel Tower on the River Seine.

 

Our very dear friend Janet, happy to start her birthday celebration.

 

Musée d’Orsay.

 

The incredible view of the backside of Notre Dame Cathedral.

 

After we got off the boat, we had a little time before our dinner reservations to wander Pont Neuf. We also had a birthday surprise for Janet. There was a quaint little vintage jewelry store (Jeanne Danjou et Rousselet) on the island where we had a gift– wrapped and waiting for her. Janet loved the surprise.

We had found the store online (back at home) and picked out a vintage necklace, as a gift from all of us– that they graciously agreed to hold for us to pick up in person. Michael and Mary went in the store with Janet while George, Ken and I watched from outside the shop window. They even resized it for her on the spot.

Our restaurant was just around the corner, on a square where a number of people were playing Boules (Bocce in Italy).  We arrived promptly at 7 pm at the charming and historic, Restaurant Paul for dinner. The food and the service was great– a perfect birthday celebration for Janet.

 

Our wonderful dinner location- the historic Restaurant Paul.

 

After dinner, we caught the sun setting on the Seine. A stunning combination of color and light playing off the water and bridges as day turned to night.

 

Sunset in Paris over the River Seine and the Pont Neuf Bridge.

 

We got back to the hotel and packed so we’d be ready for our early morning transport to the train to Avignon.

I added at least another 9 miles walking today. A pretty fulfilling experience. My own unique introduction to Paris, the City of Lights.

 

Travel Date: May 20, 2017 Saturday (Day 8)

Travel 2017: More Images of Versailles

Here are some additional photographs from our day in Versailles:

The statue of Louis XIV outside of Versailles.

 

Outside the gates of Versailles.

 

Louis XIV emblem ‘the Sun God’ on the gates of Versailles.

 

Inside the chapel of Versailles.

 

Walking through one of the corridors of Versailles.

 

Versailles exhibits magnificent architecture.

 

I loved this detailed window latch, looking out at the gardens of Versailles.

 

Beautiful detailed moldings in the Palace of Versailles.

 

Absolute elegance.

 

The finest museum-quality decor in every room.

 

The Louis XIV Bed Chamber.

 

Finest design.

 

The entrance to the Hall of Mirrors.

 

Spectacular finishings in the Hall of Mirrors.

 

Busts of War Heroes in the Battles Gallery.

 

Ceilings in the Battles Gallery of Versailles.

 

The Orangerie welcomes guests of the Palace to the gardens of Versailles.

 

Statues are found at every turn as you wallk through the gardens of Versailles.

 

Approaching the Grand Trianon.

 

Travel Date: May 19, 2017 (Day 7)

Travel 2017: Getting Lost in Versailles- Figuratively and Literally: Day Seven

We were really looking forward to visiting Versailles. We got our tickets in advance and had made plans with our friends, Laura and Cass to spend at least half the day there. Most days the gardens of Versailles are free– except when they have the Musical Fountains Show or Musical Gardens  as it is called. Today was one of those days.

Our tickets included the Palace, Grand Trianon, Petite Trianon and Marie Antoinette Estate, in addition to the the special garden show. There are a variety of ticketing options, including special tours (only a few are in English) of portions of the Palace that general ticket holders don’t get to see. We did not add any additional tours and I can assure you that there is plenty to overwhelm your senses without them.

The grounds of Versailles covers over two thousand acres of which 213 acres are formal gardens. What you see when you visit, particularly in the Palace itself, is pretty astounding. Especially when you consider it began as a hunting lodge! Louis XIV,  also known as the Sun King, had an unwavering determination and vision to create what Versailles was to become. He chose the sun as his emblem because of its association to Apollo– and it was the symbol of peace and art.

The Château de Versailles and the gardens were designated as one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1979.

 

Our first view of Versailles.

 

Putting this post together was a little difficult with so much to cover: which photographs to use, how much history/facts to include, and of course, the experience itself. (I’ll be posting more photos of Versailles in a separate blog post, immediately following this one.)

If you are interested in the history of Versailles and Louis XIV, and I promise you, it is really fascinating — I encourage you to explore the subjects online. I’ll try and keep my inclusions here- brief; and focus more on our experience.

 

The morning sun brings out the brilliance in the exterior of the Palace of Versailles.

 

The four of us took a taxi to Versailles, arriving about a half hour before the Palace opened. This gave us plenty of time for pictures of the magnificent exterior.  Then, while Michael and Laura waited in line, Cass and I took turns running back to take a few pictures in the gardens (The Orangerie) before it had a chance to get crowded.

 

Inside the massive courtyard at the Palace of Versailles.

 

The Palace. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the beauty and grandeur of the Palace. Versailles, rightfully, is on most top ten lists of the most beautiful palaces in the world.

The effort made to maintain and restore the Palace is some of the best I’ve seen in our travels. In so many places we’ve visited, you find faux finishing used to repair, restore or represent what had been there originally.  I didn’t notice any of that here.

Every room is dripping in its uniquely-styled opulence. Ceiling mural, elaborate moldings, wall and ceiling medallions, gold leaf everywhere– it doesn’t stop. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

 

Inside the interior apartments of Versailles.

 

One of the many magnificent rooms and ceilings in the royal apartments of Versailles.

 

The Louis XIV Bedroom at Versailles.

 

The Hall of Mirrors.

 

A marble staircase at Versailles.

 

The Battles Gallery at Versailles.

 

The palace is absolutely stunning! I stepped outside to wait for the others to finish in the Battles Gallery and saw the crowds of people lining up to enter. It made me really glad we arrived early.

While waiting, I noticed the military presence outside the Palace. Actually, it was the most visible of our entire trip.

When the others came outside, we decided to head out to the gardens. Cass suggested we establish a time and meeting place in case we split up but the consensus was it wasn’t necessary at this point.

 

The incredible sculpted gardens of Versailles. The Orangerie.

 

The Gardens. There are more than 50 fountains and water features in Versailles. My biggest disappointment was the fountains aren’t continuously working. Being that is was a Musical Fountains Show or Musical Gardens day, I expected to see more flowing water. We never did see any of the larger, world-renowned fountains working.

We were told different fountains come on briefly, at different times, throughout the day. You either had to wait by a fountain, or hope to pass one that was working. Since they charge more money for this, I would have thought there would be a schedule and/or a map assisting you in enjoying them. This wasn’t the case. There are maps of Versailles but no indication when the individual fountains would be running.

 

The enormous Bassin de Latone- the Latona Fountain.

 

As we wound our way through the garden maze, we heard music ahead. Tucked in a secluded section, we found a modern water show in progress. This was nice, but I would have rather seen the many older fountains working.

 

One of the water features in the gardens of Versailles.

 

The views of the garden are breathtaking. There is something new to see around every turn– statues, alcoves, private garden enclaves– they never end. There are large map boards strategically placed throughout, to help you find your way around.

After  some wandering, we made our way to the Grand Canal and the Apollo Fountain.

Walking from the Palace to the Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon and Marie Antoinette Estate covers about two miles- one way. There is a tram (for a fee) that can transport you as well. We didn’t discover the tram until we were halfway through the gardens, along the canal– and decided we’d walk the rest of the way to the Grand Trianon– knowing we’d probably take the tram back to the palace after we’d seen the other features of Versailles.

 

Bassin d’Apollon – the Apollo Fountain.

 

Grand Trianon. We reached the Grand Trianon, divided in two sections by a peristyle (breezeway). Louis XIV had this built as a retreat. His getaway from the nearby palace.

 

Garden side of the Grand Trianon.

 

In the Grand Trianon, the Salon des Glaces.

 

Inside one of the many rooms in the Grand Trianon. The Salon de Famille de Louis-Philippe.

 

The peristyle (breezeway) that divides the two parts of the Grand Trianon.

 

Getting Lost. Taking my last picture, I exited the final room of the Grand Trianon, to look for Michael who had been ahead of me. Cass and Laura were just a room or two behind us in the chateau. I got outside– no Michael. I went back in, getting stopped by a guard– and was told I had to wait there. I saw Cass and Laura coming though – but no Michael.

We got outside and just waited.  Where was he?

WWMD? What would Michael DO?

Not disappear. But he had.

To make a long story short(er)… we waited… worried… went ahead… backtracked– about three hours went by before we found his whereabouts. We wouldn’t see him again until we got back to the hotel.

Going on through the park, we passed several small buildings and more sculpted gardens before reaching the Petit Trianon.

 

The French Pavilion built in 1750.

 

The Petit Trianon completed in 1768.

 

The Salon de Compagnie in the Petit Trianon.

 

A guide pointed us in the direction of the Marie Antoinette Estate, more like its own little village. He neglected to tell us that the main house was under renovation. It was completely covered up, in fact.

We looked at a few of the small cottages and then decided to backtrack, hoping to find Michael along the way.

 

One of the many cottages on the Marie Antoinette Estate.

 

At the Marie Antoinette Estate.

 

When we got back to the Grand Trianon, we discovered the tram stop and decided to take it back to the Palace. Just as we got on, there was a brief downpour– with some hail. Luckily, it had stopped by the time we reached the main entrance. Laura had cell service, so we called the hotel and left messages, hoping to find Michael, or at least to let him know we were on the way back.

Just as we were getting in a taxi, Michael responded. He had just gotten back to the hotel. (It turns out he had been waiting by an exit at the Grand Trianon that we didn’t even know existed. Then he went on his own adventure, searching for us as we were searching for him.) He was safe, we were safe. A sigh of relief.

On the way back to the hotel, we had some terrific views of the Eiffel Tower. If we’d been any closer, it would have been hard to get all of it in a picture.

 

The Eiffel Tower.

 

Back at the hotel, Laura and Cass went up to their room and Michael came down and met me out front. We recounted our search efforts, vowed to never let that happen again– and then Michael informed me that the day’s drama wasn’t over yet.

Our friend Janet had emailed Michael to let us know that her flight from the U.S. had been cancelled. She and her son, Ken wouldn’t be arriving until the next day. We’d already prepaid for dinner and a show so we had to find someone to take their place.

We found our friends, Marilyn and Rita, who had experienced their own misadventure that day– and were thrilled to join us.

Paradis Latin. All of us met in the lobby (including Laura and Cass) and then got a car to Paradis Latin. Like Moulin Rouge, this was one of several venues catering primarily to tourists. We all had a really nice time. Dinner was very good and the show was pretty much what we expected. Topless showgirls and shirtless men, a comedian, an aerialist– song and dance — including the Can-Can. An enjoyable evening, though by our standards, a bit overpriced.

 

Paradis Latin.

 

Michael and I at the Paradis Latin.

 

We’d had quite a day and walked over ten miles! In spite of the drama, it had been a pretty fulfilling adventure.

AND— we had another great travel story to tell. Let’s just hope it’s the last one of its kind.

 

Travel Date: May 19, 2017 (Day 7)

Travel 2017: Back ‘Home’ in London: Day One

According to schedule, we landed at Heathrow at 8:30 am and breezed through Customs/Immigration. We had arranged a car service to meet us and whisk us off to our London home away from home, the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. We loved it so much last September, we didn’t even have to think twice about staying here again. The added bonus (this trip) was that they have VIP service to walk you through customs and get you boarded on the EuroStar train we were taking to Paris at the end of our stay.

We pre-checked in and dropped our bags, then had a quick knosh in the Chambers Club before hitting the street for the day. (We knew ahead of time our room wouldn’t be ready.) With tickets to two shows, we figured we wouldn’t actually get into our room until late that night.

 

Looking out through the magnificent windows of St. Pancras.

 

We’d made a short list of things we wanted to see in London this trip. Since we were just here last September, we’d gotten the touristy- thing out of the way and felt no rush to cram in a bunch of sites. Plus, with our heavy show schedule, we figured we’d just try and do one thing a day and keep things simple and relaxed.

We didn’t get to spend any time in Trafalgar Square last trip, so that’s where we headed first. The large public area, formerly known as Charing Cross, was named after the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar and is anchored by the prominent Nelson’s Column surrounded by statues and fountains.

 

Trafalgar Square, bustling with activity even with the threat of rain.

 

The National Gallery is located on the square, but being a Saturday, the lines were quite long so we didn’t try to go in.

There were plenty of artists and street performers entertaining the large crowds of people enjoying the weekend. The wind started to pick up and dark clouds started rolling in suggesting we might be in for a downpour.

 

The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

 

A view of London (Big Ben in the background) from Trafalgar Square.

 

After a bit of people watching, we headed to the far end of the square, towards St. Martin in-the-Fields church and the National Portrait Gallery around the corner.

After watching The Crown recently, I found out the sketches for Graham Sutherland’s commissioned painting of Winston Churchill were on display at the National Portrait Gallery. (Churchill hated the painting, that was commissioned as gift to him– and his wife had the painting destroyed.) What I neglected to find out was the room in which they are displayed is closed for renovation. Maybe on a future visit.

 

The National Portrait Gallery.

 

After exploring the neighborhood a bit more, we returned to Trafalgar Square to relax, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city until we needed to head to our matinee show.

Half a Sixpence. Our first show was a matinee performance of the musical, Half A Sixpence. The romantic comedy was originally produced in 1963 (in London) starring Tommy Steele and moved to Broadway (with Steele) in 1965. I saw the 1967 film version many years ago and remembered it as being a lot of fun.

We weren’t disappointed. We both enjoyed this “poor man- inherits fortune- loses fortune- gets the girl” story, thanks to the energetic and extremely talented cast. Charlie Stemp would have made Tommy Steele proud. It was a great start to our London theatre experience.

Half A Sixpence at the Noel Coward Theatre.

 

The threat of rain gone, the dark clouds had been replaced with sun and beautiful blue skies. We ventured over near Buckingham Palace and revisited the Wellington Arch. It was nice to be able to take our time enjoying the nice spring weather, leisurely, making our way to the theatre nearby.

 

The Wellington Arch.

 

We had plenty of time for dinner after picking up our show tickets, so we chose to eat at The Other Naughty Piglet. The restaurant boasts a seasonal menu of small plate offerings. Let me just say– the food here is art. The ham croquettes were to die for! For a place that appears so casual and unpretentious– the food is a culinary masterpiece. I’m no foodie and I seldom write much about our meals. This should be an indication of how impressed I was.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theatre, The Other Palace. (Until recently, known as the St. James Theatre.)

Whisper House. Our evening performance was Duncan Sheik’s Whisper House at The Other Palace Theatre. Built where the Westminster Theatre stood until fire consumed it in 2002, it was  named the St. James Theatre when is opened in 2012.

Andrew Lloyd Webber acquired it in 2016 and it was renamed The Other Palace. There are two smaller theatres in the complex (a 312 seat main stage and 12o seat studio space) which is now dedicated to developing new works.

When I saw Whisper House would be playing, I had to see it. I’m a huge fan of Sheik and his musical, Spring Awakening. I’d say Whisper House is more a play with music than a true musical. It’s basically a ghost story that takes place in a haunted lighthouse during World War II. The show was originally workshopped in San Diego in 2010 and it was co-written by Kyle Jarrow.

 

The set of Duncan Sheik’s Whisper House, The Other Palace Theatre, London 2017.

 

It seemed promising at the beginning. Visually, the show was gorgeous. The opening number “It’s Better To Be Dead” is both haunting and glorious. Much of the music is really good– but at as the show progressed, it (the show) seemed to be troubled on a number of levels. The cast seemed to struggle with the material and the stage chemistry between the actors/characters wasn’t always evident. Initially, it appeared that only the ghost characters would be singing the musical numbers as a commentary– but then later it seemed to hinder the show’s progression.

Director Adam Lenson fails to make this production his own. During one song, for no apparent reason, the cast began to physically express themselves (individually) in a way that directly mimicked Spring Awakening. So much for originality. I also felt that overall, the intensity was lacking, causing the show to drag. I didn’t hate it– with work I think there’s some real promise in this piece.

It had been a long day.

We headed back to the hotel to complete check in, unpack and get some sleep. Our heads hadn’t hit pillows since Thursday night (in the U.S.) and I’m surprised we weren’t even more exhausted.

It had been a great first day of vacation. We’d walked over seven miles today, even with taking the Tube. We were ready for some solid rest.

 

Travel Date:  5/13/17 Saturday (Day One)