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RS Loire Valley to the South of France-Part 1

I’ve been wanting to do this for awhile, and finally trying to get it done. I’m going to break it down into smaller groups of days and post as I complete a day or two. This was our 4th European adventure but first Rick Steves Tour and was a 30th anniversary trip for my wife and I. We ‘discovered’ Rick 6 years ago after we had booked a Mediterranean Cruise for our first trip to Europe. I was in the bookstore looking in the travel section and noticed his book about Rome which was where we stayed for 5 days post-cruise. I’d kind of heard of Rick before from his TV show, but I’d really only thought of him as that nerdy travel guy with the TV show. I had no idea that he had travel books or even offered tours. Now, his books are my go-to for European travel; they fit my personality for detail so well. We knew it was only a matter of time before we took one of his tours….

Day 1 Meet the Group at Chartres.
We’d spent Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning in Paris before heading out via train for Chartres. The train station in Paris-Gare Montparnasse is pretty intimidating for a first time Paris visitor. Luckily my wife and I are both the “if you’re not 10 minutes early, then you're 10 minutes late” type of people. In this case we got there about an hour early and spent about half an hour searching for the proper ticket machine to buy tickets and another 10 trying to find our train. We also had a heck of a time trying to find someone that spoke English. Most employees were friendly and tried, but we went through about 3 before we found someone that could help in English. But we made our train, got to Chartres, easily found our hotel and met our group that evening. Our guide was Virginie More, you’ll find her photo in the back of Rick’s France books as a Contributing Editor. Virginie is outstanding, it leaves me to wonder if she is the best of the best of the RS guides or if they’re all that good. We were the only Canadians on the tour along with 26 Americans. I’d say the demographics were mainly retirees, then 3 couples our age (mid 50’s, but don’t tell my wife I gave away her age) and then 3 or 4 single women from mid-40’s to early 60’s (I’m guessing) and 1 single guy that was my age.

Day 2 Posted in the 'comments section...

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Day 2 Chartres-Walking Tour, Cathedral and Stained-Glass Museum.
Chartres is a very pretty town, Virginie took us on a walking tour that ended with the tour of the Cathedral and a tour by scholar Malcolm Miller who is now in his 80’s and spent his life studying the cathedral. If I read straight from the guidebook, the church dates to the 12th century-built 1190-1220 with the stained glass being the most complete group surviving anywhere from the Middle Ages. I wish I could show photos on this forum because what interested me most was the ‘sponsorship’ of the windows. Malcolm showed us panes in the bottom corners of the windows-in this case the pane explained that this window was brought to you by the Shoemakers of Chartres, circa 1190.
Next on the tour was the Stained-Glass Museum or properly called International Stained Glass Centre. It showed how the glass was made, how it is being restored and it also has an institute that makes contemporary stained glass for modern churches. I thought that part was fascinating. While looking at the Contemporary Religious Art in the modern stained glass and I overheard a comment about it being ‘terrible’ that religion is being portrayed in a modern and informal way. It got me wondering if people had that same opinion during the Renaissance and that some people were disgusted with the religious painting of sacred historical figures.
Our day ended with the light show on the cathedral. https://www.chartresenlumieres.com/en/ It is spectacular. The show was created because the town was frustrated that only day-trippers were coming to Chartres by train from Paris and they weren’t’ spending any money or staying overnight (sound familiar to the complaints of cruise ship port towns?) So, the town and its merchants collaborated and came up with the Light show to entice people to stay overnight. Creative thinking to a an ‘undertourism’ problem.
Days 3-13 to come on a new post as I write them.

Posted by
4453 posts

Alan, thanks for posting. I can't wait to follow you on this tour. We considered taking it this year, but opted for Eastern France instead. We'll probably take this one in 2021. We hope.

While looking at the Contemporary Religious Art in the modern stained glass and I overheard a comment about it being ‘terrible’ that religion is being portrayed in a modern and informal way. It got me wondering if people had that same opinion during the Renaissance and that some people were disgusted with the religious painting of sacred historical figures.

I hope that comment wasn't from one of your tour mates. And I hope Virginie or someone else gave a gentle talk on religious art, like all art, being a reflection of its time and the culture.

Keep the reports coming!

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1676 posts

I hope that comment wasn't from one of your tour mates.

No, not one of my tour mates. Just a couple that was there the same time as our group and wasn't interested to see religion in a modern sense.

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1172 posts

Thank you Allan for your trip report. The Loire Valley tour is on my to do list for 2021. Waiting to hear more....

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4453 posts

horsewoofie, that's when we're hoping to go. Don't know what time of year, though. We're supposed to go to Germany with some friends. We figure we'll spin off from them after a week or two, and head to France.

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3642 posts

Allan, thanks for sharing, and I'm looking forward to the rest of your trip report! I stayed overnight in Chartres the end of August, and their light show was one of my favorites from all of the towns I saw. I didn't get a chance to see the museum because I spent four hours in the cathedral and then was ready to relax in the town. A reason to go back, plus I would love to see the cathedral again in a few years.

For others who will be taking this same route, you can purchase your train tickets on-line at home at www.sncf.com to avoid needing to find ticket machines and wait in line at the train station. Usually buying them ahead of time will save you some money, too.

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4532 posts

Why, Allan, I thought everybody knew that religion was invented (discovered?) in the Middle Ages, Jesus was a white man, and any religious art since about 1400 is really pagan! ;-)

And I'm awed to learn that Malcolm Miller is still going at it. He gave us a tour in 2003 and he looked ancient then -- probably was about the age I am now! Thanks for sharing your trip with us.

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219 posts

After taking the Eastern France tour this year, your trip is of great interest to me. Thank you and looking forward to reading about the rest of the tour!

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5948 posts

I don’t know if it makes anyone feel better or worse, but this Paris resident finds Montparnasse train station still somewhat intimidating.

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1676 posts

And I'm awed to learn that Malcolm Miller is still going at it. He gave us a tour in 2003 and he looked ancient then

Age is catching up to him, but his wit is still intact. I still snicker at some of his comments; we were outside and he was showing us some carvings, which showed one group of people being herded off to Heaven, and another group being herded off to Hell. With a straight face he said that in true Catholic fashion, the people going to Heaven look just as miserable as the group going to Hell.

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The Loire Valley tour is on my to do list for 2021. Waiting to hear
more....

I can't recommend this tour enough. I keep going back to the reviews of people who traveled after me because I love reading about their thoughts on the best parts of the trip.

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1676 posts

but this Paris resident finds Montparnasse train station still
somewhat intimidating.

Boy am I glad it was more than just us. Silly me for thinking that any ticket kiosk could be used for any train/destination.

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1676 posts

After taking the Eastern France tour this year, your trip is of great
interest to me.

All 4 of the RS France tours have something of interest to me and now we have to decide where in France we will go next, if we'll do it by RS or alone, and when. The prehistoric caves and Carcassonne are the reason we did this one first as both were bucket list items. The Canadian sites at Normandy and Vimy
( WWI) are of great interest to me, however the RS tours focus on the American involvement, which makes me think we may do those alone.

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Allan, I am delighted to read your reviews! I am booked for May 2020 for this tour (after a 7 day Paris RS tour). Giving your opinions -- priceless! Thank you.

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1676 posts

Joan, I'm excited for you. I still follow up on the reviews of this tour from people that took it after me just to see what they liked. Everyone loved it but everyone seems to have loved it for a different reason. I'm looking forward to your review.

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1526 posts

I was early meeting my cycling tour in Chartres in 1981 and so
i went into the cathedral. Malcolm Miller was part way thru his morning tour. I joined it. At the end he said the afternoon tour would be at x o’clock. I went to it. He asked if anyone had been to previous tours. I mentioned that morning and someone mentioned the day before. So he tailored the tour to minimize the duplication.

Back then he was not allowed to charge for tours and had to rely on tips. I was amazed how many people stiffed him.

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1676 posts

Back then he was not allowed to charge for tours and had to rely on
tips. I was amazed how many people stiffed him.

Canada has a tipping culture as well but after a year of participating on this forum and the RS Facebook Travelers site I have to say I'm really surprised on the American insistence on tipping. Someone even said you're supposed to tip the Beefeaters at the Tower of London. I have to wonder if the Beefeaters know that.

Anyway, our guide Virginie-who is French, says the French find tipping by Americans to be strange. She says they're happy to take your money but they don't expect it.

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Hi Joan, we are on this tour May 24, when are you going in May?

Hi Kim, We are spending several days before our tour in Belgium. We will take the fast train to Paris, then if I have cobbled it together correctly, we take a Metro from Paris Nord to the Montparnasse station, with a pretty good walk from the Metro to Montparnasse Station. Any tips on this transfer? It will be on a Sunday. We wondered about traffic on a Sunday to take a taxi instead? Not knowing
I think I would rely more on managing the public transportation transfers than relying on a long, expensive taxi ride due to traffic.

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1676 posts

Hi Carolyn;

The subway system in Paris is reasonably simple and I'd definitely take it. The train/subway stations are massive and you could be walking for awhile, but you'll figure it out. Give yourself time at Montparnasse as I've indicated in my Day 1 post because it was confusing to find the correct ticket machine to buy my ticket to Chartres and some more time to find the correct track.

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Hello Allan,
I am considering taking this tour of France in 2020. However, I am a bit disappointed that RS doesn't make arrangements for the transfer from Paris to Chartres. Does RS provide any information about how one should do this? Can you or anyone on this France forum suggest a nice (not real expensive) hotel to stay in for one or two nights upon arrival from the US before meeting up with the tour in Chartres? Thanks for any advice you can give me.

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1676 posts

Hi maccollum.m;

In Paris we stayed at https://dauphine-st-germain.com, it's about a 4 block walk to the subway that brings you in from deGaulle airport and is also the stop to take you to the train station that gets you to Chartres. Our room was small; which is no surprise in Paris, but the bathroom was huge; which was a surprise. We were extremely happy with this hotel and the helpfulness of the person at the front desk. *our room did have air conditioning which we were thankful for as The temperature was in the mid 90's the night we stayed.

3 months before your tour, you'll be able to go online to the RS site and download your hotel info for the tour and how to get from Paris to Chartres. As I indicated in my original post, get to the train station early because it's huge and somewhat confusing.

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627 posts

However, I am a bit disappointed that RS doesn't make arrangements for the transfer from Paris to Chartres. Does RS provide any information about how one should do this?

I think this is intentional, providing a screen for more independent-minded travellers. None of the RS tours arrange transportation from the major city with the airport to the starting city. On the Best of Europe tour you need to get from Amsterdam to Haarlem. For the Switzerland tour you need to get to Lucerne. For Britain you need to get to Bath from London. And so on...

RS will send info on your options for getting to the starting location from the major nearby city, and getting from (for example) the Chartres train station to the first hotel. On the website RS says "One month prior to the tour departure, you'll find the directions to your first tour hotel and a complete list of hotels where we'll be staying", but those wanting to travel with a RS tour need to arrange the transportation on their own.

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8009 posts

I agree with John. I believe it is intentional. This is a fairly easy trip to manage on a train although I realize I would not have thought so my first trip or two to Europe. I'd definitely stay in Paris as many nights as you can before the trip and then take the train to Chartres the day before the tour starts. If by the time you are ready to travel you don't feel comfortable with the instructions from the office folks here can give you step by step instructions.

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Regarding Allan's and Dick's comments on Malcom Miller: I am amazed that he is still giving his tours of the cathedral. I was in Chartres back in 1988 (yes, 1988... lol) and he was giving the tours back then! He knows all the details of the stories of the stained glass windows. I'll be taking this RS tour later this spring. Thank you Allan for all the info.

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