Gabi's Parents & Co.

France - Paris, Versailles, Rouen, Honfluer, Mt. Saint Michel, Giverny, and Reims

On our trip to France, we chose to rent a cottage in the Normandy Region for the entire week, as our goal was to unpack once! The first day we decided to go to Paris. We thought it would take us about an hour and a half so we got up early and left the cottage around 7:30. Well, who knew it would be stop and go traffic once we were south of Rouen. There was a huge accident and then just normal traffic into Paris on a Monday morning...it took us three hours! Once we arrived in Paris, Gabi had a very eye opening experience. She found herself circling the Arc de Triomphe in the biggest, busiest, and most crowded traffic circle she had ever seen. Most of you know what traffic circles are like. Imagine one with about 10 lanes and cars merging in and out with total disregard for other drivers. Gabi's navigator, Gus, told her to merge to the right A.S.A.P and park the car. It was pretty scary for someone that has been driving in rural Tennessee traffic for the last three years! Paris was wonderful and again we wished we had more time. Since we arrived later than expected, the first thing we did was eat lunch - that is after we figured out the subway (Metro) system. Then we were off to the French Gothic Cathedrals: Notre Dame and La Sainte Chapelle, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and of course dinner on the Champs D'Elysse.

Notre Dame Cathedral and La Sainte Chapelle both sit on Ile de la Cite and are surrounded by the Seine River. The building of Notre Dame began in 1163 during the reign of Louis VII and was completed in 1250. The cathedral is a perfect example of Gothic style architecture with its gorgeous rose windows, ornately crafted spires, flying buttresses and Gargoyles. The ultimate aspiration of the Gothic architect was a cathedral that could support walls almost entirely made of stained glass. This goal was achieved in La Sainte Chapelle. The architects managed to reduce its supporting elements to not much more than thin, vertical bars called mullions. The empty space was then filled with massive stained glass windows that illustrate numerous books of the bible. La Sainte Chapelle was built by Louis IX in the 1240's to house relics from the Holy Land, the Crown of Thorns and part of the True Cross. The holy relics were purchased from the Emperor of Constantinople, Baudouin II, a French nobleman who was in need of some ready cash. La Sainte Chapelle replaced the Royal Chapel of St. Nicholas as the place of worship for the royal family and the location of the holy relics. Ownership of the precious relics affirmed the French royalty's authority over the feudal lords by contributing to the notion that the French kings were a continuation of the Hebrew kings and therefore God's chosen rulers.

Next we were off to find the Louvre. For such a big place it was kind of hard to find. I think we went in the back way! Well, what can you say about the Louvre? A person could spend days, weeks even months and still not see it all. We saw the Mona Lisa and Venus De Milo and after that we just wandered around for about an hour when we decided our feet hurt and needed a cup coffee. After our refreshments, we headed toward the Eiffel Tower. Since we were traveling during the off-season, the lines weren't too long, at least on the way up but coming back down was a different story. I can't imagine the lines during peak season! Anyway, the view from the top is unbelievable. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures from the top because the battery in my camera died! Next time... We ended the day with dinner on the Champs D'Elysee. The food was good but expensive - typical. We made our way back to the car about 10:00 pm and can you believe there was still a traffic jam on the blasted traffic circle. We made it safely around and headed back to our cottage taking us only an hour and a half!

The second day we explored Versailles. Louis XIII originally used the "small chateau" as a hunting lodge in the 1630's. Louis XIV (the Sun King) was primarily responsible for the creation of the grand chateau seen today. In 1682, Versailles was permanently named the official royal residence and seat of government. Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI all lived there (Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette until 1793 when they were beheaded during the French Revolution). We took a tour of the private apartments of the Louis' and were able to view original pieces that have either been bought back from private individuals or museums or have been donated to the French government. During the revolution, anything of value was sold to finance the war. No ruler has since lived at Versailles and the chateau has been transformed into a "museum dedicated to the glories of France".

As it happens, we traveled through Rouen almost every day in the earlier part of the week and our curiosity was peaked because of its location along the Seine River and its beautiful cathedral overlooking the river. It is also the city where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake on May 30th 1430. On our way back from Versailles, we stopped in Rouen, found the church dedicated to Joan of Arc, and enjoyed another wonderful but expensive French dinner in the old city.

The above adventures were all pre-Mike, as he had to work! On Wednesday evening we were to pick Mike up at the train station in LeHavre so we spent the day in Honfleur, which is only about thirty minutes from LeHavre. Honfleur is a sailing and fishing port that is especially dear to painters and other artists. Great scenery: the Old Dock and Sainte Catherine's Church. Sainte Catherine's is the largest wooden church in France and one of the most unique churches I've ever seen. I would recommend spending a few hours taking in the sights of Honfleur. To get back to our cottage we had to cross over the Seine River via the Le Pont de Normandie Bridge. And I just have to add this link: Pont de Normandie Bridge. This bridge is unbelievable and I don't usually get excited about bridges!

Our first day with Mike involved getting up really early and driving to Mont St. Michel. Mont St. Michel is perched on a rocky island in the midst of vast sandbanks exposed to powerful tides between Normandy and Brittany. It is considered a "Wonder of the West", a Gothic style Benedictine abbey dedicated to the archangel St Michael with a village that grew up in the shadow of its great walls. Built between the 11th and 16th centuries, the abbey is a technical and artistic tour de force, having had to adapt to the problems posed by this unique natural site. It is about one kilometer in diameter and about 80 meters high, jutting defiantly above the ocean. At low tide, however, it is separated from the mainland by approximately one kilometer of sand. Before a causeway was built in 1879, the only approach to the Mont was by foot over a land bridge. Furthermore, the forces of those terrible tides shift the sands about unpredictably, leading to unchartable quicksand fields.

The next day we visited the American D-Day beaches. We have a separate page dedicated to these sites.

On our last day in Normandy we loaded up the car and headed south of Rouen to Giverny and Reims. Giverny was the home of Impressionist, Claude Monet from 1883 to 1926. We visited his house, gardens and the famous Water Lilly ponds. The town is quaint and it's not difficult to see where he got his inspiration! The interior of his house is unusual and every wall is filled with his collection of Japanese engravings. Next, we stopped in Reims to see the cathedral, another fine example of the early Gothic style. Building of the cathedral begun in the 1200s and was completed in 1430. Most of the French kings have been coronated in the cathedral in tribute to Clovis, the Frankish king, who was baptized here. The cathedral was heavily damaged in WWI and its stained glass windows have been painstakingly restored.

The family at the Arc de Triomphe (after we finally parked the car):

Notre Dame Cathedral:

Waiting for the Metro:

Standing in line at The Louvre:

The Eiffel Tower from the ground up:

Walking towards Versailles:

One of the private rooms of King Louis XVI:

Walking around Rouen where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake:

A.C. posing with a statue of Joan of Arc:

Honfleur, France:

Approaching Mont St. Michel:

Inside of Mont St. Michel:

Looking down at low tide from the cathedral(Mt. St. Michel):

A courtyard overlooking the ocean (Mt. St. Michel):

Claude Monet's house and gardens in Giverny, France:

Gus in front of Monet's house:

The Cathedral in Reims, France:

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