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France, Sept 2016

I'm starting my trip next week. I thought it might be good to start with the plan then follow up post-trip with reality. This is my first trip to France, not because I didn't want to see France but because I won't cross a border to say I've been somewhere, instead I'll wait until I can spend some time. I've decided the best way to get an overview of France is to make four trips, essentially northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast. I'll start with a loop around the northwest, 18 nights with two days lost to travel. The plan is to spend quite a bit of time in Paris, see Normandie, Brittany and Loire in that order.

If you've seen previous trip reports, I tend to make smaller topic specific posts rather than one long post - here goes:

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Flight:

I bought my ticket in the Spring. I'd been looking and spotted a WOW air flight that includes one short layover in Iceland for $500. These days all airlines are charging for things that used to come standard. My ticket started at $500 but I added $9 x 4 to choose seats for each leg. I decided it was worth money to sit near the front of the plane (to get off quickly). The carry on allowance are tiny (and got smaller after I bought my ticket). I wasn't sure if I could meet the 12 pound limit (I do carry on only) so ended up paying extra to push the allowance over 20 pounds. I paid about $90 to add the larger carry on allowance - so the total now is $628, still a pretty good deal.

The layover in Iceland is an hour and the total flight over is 10 hours and change, not much more than any other one stop itinerary. The flight back is about 11 hours and has about an hour and a half layover in Keflavik.

I leave at 7 pm from BWI next Thursday night and arrive in Paris Friday morning.

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Friday Sept 16:

The plan is to get into town, take an Easy Bus downtown (costs 2 euro if you make a reservation). Stop to get a SIM card and carnet, check into my hostel, then use Metro/RER B to reach City University where I'm meeting a Paris Greeter for a walk around that part of town. The area wasn't on my radar for sights so I'm looking forward to seeing a slice of Parisian life that's more local.

The greeter has been very accomodating, he said we can start whenever I'm ready so I have plans to call when I'm on my way.

Staying at 8 Boulevard Jules Ferry - Hostel International

This is really more plans than I wanted to have for the day, but I want the weekend to be open for the city's Heritage Days this weekend where things are open, that normally aren't open to the public, and free.

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Saturday and Sunday, Sept 17 and 18:

These are Heritage days (Journees Patrimoine). I don't have a set schedule because I don't know how long I'll wait in line. I've got a few sights that are top of my list - the Presidential Palace, the Senate and Saint Jacques Tower - plus others as I have time. I'll skip anything I can see with a museum pass when I come back to Paris at the end of the trip.

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Food and Lodging:

This isn't a foodie tour (or luxury accomodations). I eat to have energy to keep going. I will make an effort to find a terrace seat in Paris where I can enjoy people watching and a slow meal - but that's the exception for me. Typically, I look for a street vendor/fast food for eating on the go or a grocery store/picnic for when I want to slow down. I hope to try some decent wines along the way (ciders in Brittany).

The lodging will be a combination of hostels and rooms booked through Air BnB. I'm newly divorced (more than enough about that) so have the opportunity to travel alone. I used to much prefer going solo, we'll see how it goes this trip. First stop is the HI on Jules Ferry for three nights. When I come back to Paris, I'll stay at the Mije for five nights.

I have reservations for this trip, which is unusual for me. Normally I travel with a list of potential places, then find something as I go. I prefer not being tied into an itinerary but this time reservations seemed like a good idea (probably because I'm not as comfortable speaking/hearing French).

On the road I'll stay in Etretat for one night, Dinan hostel for two nights, Lampaul Guimiliau for one night, Vannes for two nights, Chinon for one night, and Amboise for two nights before returning to Paris.

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Transportation:

I'll use public transportation in Paris (metro/RER), train to Rouen, pick up a car to drive through Normandie and Brittany, drop the car and pick up a bicycle in Chinon, drop the bike in Amboise then train to Chartres and back into Paris.

I already mention easy bus to get from CDG downtown. Their schedule doesn't show anything for October 3rd, for some reason, so I may take the RER to get back to the airport.

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Itinerary:

Full days don't bother me. I'm generally up and going early. Being out the door at 7 am each morning is no big deal. At the same time, I don't usually go out at night - so I'm done a little earlier than I would be at home, 9 or 10 at night.

I do like to limit my travel legs because I know how hard long days on the road can be. With people in tow, I didn't want their trip to seem like a forced march - so I plan to get started later and end earlier than I would if I was solo.

There are a few too long travel days in my itinerary, mostly driven by limited lodging options.

Sep 16, 17, 18: 3 nights in Paris.
Sept 19: train to Rouen for a look around the center, pick up a rental and drive to Etretat for a look at the sea and cliffs - stay in Etretat.
Sept. 20: (long day) drive to Bayeux to see the tapestry then drive to Mont Saint Michel, and get up the hill, before the Abbey closes. Afterwards I might hang around for dinner and the tide then drive to Dinan for two nights.
Sept 21: Drive to Ft. La Latte and St. Malo, see Dinan.
Sept 22. Drive to/short stops at Treguier, St. Tregonnec, Guimiliau, and Lampaul-Guimiliau to see old towns/parish closes - stay in Lampaul-Guimiliau.
Sept 23. Drive to/short stop at Locronan, then to Vannes (add a short stop in Auray if I'm early) - stay in Vannes
Sept 24. See Carnac, Auray, Vannes - stay in Vannes
Sept 25. Drive to/short stop in Rochefort-en-Terre, Fontevraud Abbey, then to Chinon - turn in car, stay in Chinon
Sept. 26. Pick up bicycle, ride to Vilandry, then Amboise, see Chateau and Close Luce today or tomorrow - stay in Amboise
Sept 27. Ride to Chenonceau and Chaumont. Turn in bike - stay in Amboise
Sept 28. Train to Chartres, see the town center, train to Paris - stay in Paris
Sept 29-Oct 2. Use museum pass/metro to see all the must sees in Paris
Oct. 3. Fly home in the afternoon.

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2574 posts

I'm exhausted just reading your itinerary. I've spent time in France and really soaking up the atmosphere and sights is what makes it so magical for me. Looks like everything will get a glancing blow. But, if that is your style of travel, have fun!

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5262 posts

Too fast for me too, but you're an experienced traveler, young enough to bike, and obviously you've thought this out. Seems like a well planned trip. I hope it goes well -- something inevitably will not go as planned, but you're flexible and resourceful. Look forward to reading more about it when you return.

I didn't know Icelandair flew out of BWI -- that's an easier airport than Dulles, though perhaps not as easy to reach from your home.

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Yes, I put this down because I think it will be interesting to see what the final product looks like when I'm done. I know things can and do go wrong. It's fun to figure it out and recover. Normally, I have an itinerary but little/no reservations which allows me to adjust on the fly, leave early, stay longer, skip a sight or reroute based on local happenings.

The idea will always be evaluating what I have time and energy for and what might better be left undone this trip. I think a lot of travel issues are solved knowing what interests you, and what doesn't - then knowing the options.

In Normandie, I'll completely skip WWII sights because I don't find them very interesting. For other people, that's their main reason to visit. There are only a few sights in the area that I consider must sees. The worst part is there's a little drive between them which burns up time and will make for a long day. I wouldn't mind seeing Honfleur but I feel I can skip it and see less touristed port towns in Brittany.

It's somewhat the same for Loire. Opulence does nothing for me. I'm interested in Fontevraud's connection to Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine. I want to see Chinon Fortress because it still looks like the defensive structure it was built to be. Once you get into the opulent era, I lose interest. For me, riding 50 km a day on a bike isn't even serious riding, about two hours at parking lot speeds, less if I go 20-25 mph. It gives me plenty of time to enjoy the area and stop where I want.

More blasphemy, I'll almost certainly skip Versailles. Maybe next time? By the time I'm back in Paris, I'll have seen plenty of chateaux for one trip, I'm planning four (although just the gardens at Villandry) plus Clos Luce in Loire. I also really like Monet but I'll see his work in Paris and skip Giverny (again a top sight for many people).

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So what worries me?

  1. Day one in Paris. I was planning to do essentially nothing scheduled other than getting into town and taking a walk. If I felt up to it, I'd get a Velib bike and participate in a ride that starts at city hall (Hotel de Ville) about 5:30. I may still do that when I'm back in Paris. I wanted to do a tour with Paris Greeters on either the 17th or 18th during Heritage Days. Their rules don't allow them to go in buildings (maybe it's considered competing with professional tour guides?), so I'm getting together the first night. That means I get into town, get downtown, find a SIM card and carnet, check into my hostel, and get out to meet my guide. Busy day. Fortunately, the start time is flexible. I hope I sleep on the plane or I'm going to need an energy drink.

  2. Etretat to Mont St Michel. There are two fairly long drives, construction delays could be a killer. I'm not as worried about getting to Dinan. If worse comes to worse, I'll call them and let them know I won't be there until the next morning (I'll only forfeit a 25 euro bed at a hostel).

  3. Weather in Loire. If it rains, I may have to keep the car and forfeit my deposit on the bike.

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Navigation/Communication:

I have been taking a GPS with me to Europe for something like ten years. The last couple of trips I bought a cheap local phone for calls (primarily for lodging). This year I'm going with my unlocked phone from home, equipped with CoPilot and Western European maps (already loaded). It seems to work well enough here to justify jettisoning the additional weight/bulk of a dedicated GPS. The phone will also function to have all my reservations and itinerary information on hand, as well as phone, emails, posting photos, etc.

The biggest risk is having the phone pick pocketed or stolen at a hostel. I'll have to keep an eye on it because I'm relying on it for a lot.

I'll still pack a fairly tiny camera. I'll use the phone sometimes but they aren't quite there for all photo ops yet (low light, zoom, effects, etc.)

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Packing:

The happiest I ever traveled was in Germany after a NATO exchange with the German Air Force. I left my uniforms at the airport and took off with only a daypack and "a change and a half" of clothes - essentially one extra pant, two extra shirts, a couple pairs each of underwear and socks.

I did a dry run and my day pack (yes, day pack) with all the clothes I plan to pack weighed 6 lbs. That didn't include shaving kit, phone, camera, charger, and odds and ends - much of which will be carried not packed - will likely end up being another six.

I'm not taking any travel guide this time. I've read half a dozen. Instead, I'll save photos/pdfs of relevant information to my phone. I'll put them in the order of my trip and dispose of them as I go. I'll stop at TI's and get local maps and info, but dispose of those too when I move on.

The clothes list (off the top of my head):
Wear..............................................Pack
1 pants..........................................1 pants, 1 warm up (pants are adidas golf pants, light, quick drying, look like dress pants)
1 t-shirt and 1 button up...........up to 2 more t-shirts and button ups. (shirts are various brands non-cotton travel/athletic)
belt
underwear...................................2 or 3 more pair (handwash daily) (underarmour boxerjocks w/fly are my favorite for travel)
socks............................................2 or 3 extra pair (non cotton crew sock)
shoes............................................1 pair flip flops
1 sweater......................................1 more warm layering item (maybe a packable down vest?)
1 rain shell
Phone, camera..........................shave items, hand laundry, light medical/sewing kit (REI has dry sheets of laundry/body wash)
watch w/compass.....................chargers, sunglasses
passport, IDP

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Soaking up ambiance is a good point. I have a lot of respect for people who can slow down and smell the flowers. It's just never been me. I'll make an effort to slow down a little in Paris and appreciate things. Maybe after retirement? Right now, it's still a matter of getting the most out of each vacation day.

In many ways, I see travel as a race against time. More to see than I possibly have enough years for. I've seen almost all I want of Asia but still haven't even started on Africa or South America (I've only been south as far as Belize to date). I've pretty much written off Antarctica. I'd love to get a job with DOD or NATO in Europe, for a few years, so I can travel on weekends.

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15035 posts

Oh dear, opulence is what you're in for at the Senate and the Presidential Palace. You may want to skip one of them and go to some of the smaller places, where the lines will be shorter (if any). Some of the embassies will be open to the public and have special exhibits, and all the government offices will be open - perhaps they will also have special exhibits. Discuss your plans with your greeter!!

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Yes, I know Chani.

I really liked the open treasures day in Koln where you could see the original statues from the Dom up close. After the war, they saved the survivors in a vault, everything outside today is a reproduction.

I didn't see any options along those lines in Paris. Maybe Tower Saint Jacques (which is supposed to have been built, as I understand, around an even older tower). If you can suggest any, I'd really appreciate it.

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One change already. I am now able to get a room in Cancale, I couldn't earlier, so that will replace the first night in Dinan. Upside, shorter day on the 20th. Downside, two more one-nighters on my schedule. The deciding factor is Cancale being more convenient to Mt. Saint Michel - which is a must see and not something I want to cut short.

Other than where I'll sleep that night, it doesn't change what I intend to see.

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I wish I could help. I loved the opulence and grandeur - including a lot of "museum pieces" - paintings, tapestries, sculptures, furniture, vases, ceiling frescoes. I remember there was a list of all the places that were open in the form a newspaper (like a Sunday supplement, I guess) that you could pick up for free around town, especially at the TI's. Of course it was all in French. I do remember being solicited by government office workers (like the waiters at the tourist restaurants) because no one was coming in to see the special exhibitions they'd probably worked hard at putting together. Did I tell you I went into the Russian embassy? A beautiful mansion, though from a quick google surf, it looks like they've moved to a modern building since my visit. Anyway, they had a special exhibit about the Romanovs. You might try the tripadvisor Paris forum. I've gotten lots of help and info from them over the years.

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Thanks Chani,

I was able to find a website that has a list of places that are open, including some embassies, and hours they'll be open to the public on Saturday or Sunday. Unfortunately the sight doesn't say anything else about what to expect at each sight.

I prefer pre 15th century, 16th at the latest, but I'll be happy to drop in anywhere there isn't a line.

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I do want to go to the Presidential Palace. I met the Air Force kid this summer who, along with his friends, stopped the terrorist on the train into Paris (real heroes). He showed me his pictures from inside the Palace. He and his friends were given a suite to get ready to receive their medals from Mr. Hollande. In one photo, they're in bathrobes drinking champagne. Three guys in their early 20's - nice way to visit Paris. It will be kind of neat to see the place in person.

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I packed last night and weighed it, 14.4 lbs. My clothes (might not have included sweaters) were only six pounds. Shows how quickly the "odds and ends" can add up.

My bigger concern is the width of my daypack when packed. It's well under the height and base limits, but it doesn't have compression straps and pushes the 10 inch wide limit when I have it on my back. I can compress it under 10 inches easily when I set it down.

It has multiple compartments so I can't put straps inside and I'm not sure I want any outside.

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Just got back. Where do I start?

Maybe actual itinerary?

Day one:

Flew into CDG. I flew on WOW air and had no complaints with the flight. They charge for literally everything, but on the way I like to sleep and had picked a seat behind the exit row (with no seat in front of it). I had all the legroom in the world for $10. The full service airlines charge more than that to reserve a seat. The one stop flight (stop in Keflavic, Iceland) took about 10 1/2 hours which is really no more than other one stop flights. Everything ran smoothly (not the same for the flight home but we'll talk about that later).

I had a 2 euro ticket on a noon Easy Bus to downtown from the airport. I went to where they were supposed to be at the designated time and saw no sign of an Easy Bus. I went to an information desk. They said they run every 45 minutes or so. IMO not worth waiting around to see when the next one shows up (especially since they say if you don't catch your bus, your ticket doesn't guarantee you a ticket on the next). The bus takes longer than the train anyway - so RER B for 10 euro it was, no reservation needed.

I did a Paris Greeters walk and had to meet him all the way up at City University, but wanted to check in first and drop my bag. It all worked out and I managed to arrive on schedule, 1530, meet my guide and have an architecture focused tour in the Montparnasse area.

I stayed at the Auberge Juenesse Jules Ferry. It wasn't horrible but it wasn't particularly nice either. Later I stayed at the MIJE Fourcey, I'd recommend that head and shoulders above Jules Ferry even though it costs nearly 10 euro more a night. One thing I noticed is the rooms (everywhere this trip) didn't have lockers. I've stayed in many hostels in Germany and Austria (and Italy) and couldn't recall not having a dedicated locker (which needed a lock). These were more like hotel safes. You still need a lock but can only store your valuables and not an entire carry on.

I had the best galette in the 6th for 3,50 and never matched it the rest of the trip (quality or price).

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Day Two and Three:

Stayed at Jules Ferry.

This weekend was Journees du Patrimoine (pardon my French if it's not exactly correct) or Heritage Days.

On Saturday I got up early and went to Luxembourg Palace where the Senate meets. I probably got in line before 8:30 and didn't have much of a line in front of me and was able to tour the Senate at a liesurely pace without too many crowds. Afterwards I was waved into a tour of the Court of Commerce on the Isle de la Cite and also toured the crypt in front of Notre Dame. The line for both the cathedral and towers were too much (found out later the regular line moves fast).

On Sunday I fooled around and didn't get to the Elysee Palace (President's Palace) until about 9:45. Because of that faux pas, I waited six hours in line but ultimately toured the building. Showing up an hour or so earlier would have paid big dividends.

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Day Four:

Got up and caught an 853 train to Rouen. Arrived about 10 and checked in with Hertz. I told her I wanted to tour for a few hours. Turns out they are closed for lunch from noon to 1400, so I told her I'd be back after 1400.

Rouen has a nice medieval core and was worth a look around. I used a guided walk from Michelin Green Guide. Note: this was a photo that was stored in my phone. I took a photo of guide pages for everywhere I planned to stop, then deleted the photo after I was done. I can now compare my photos to the guided walk in my Green Guide, left at home, to add captions.

I got back to Hertz about 15 minutes late and got my car. A FIAT 500 manual transmission gas. Cute car but I wasn't overjoyed with the gas mileage (I've had diesels that got double what this did). Also what car has blue tooth capability and no cruise control? The lack of cruise control was sorely missed over the next week.

For navigation I used Co Pilot Western Europe on my Samsung S7 unlocked phone. I picked up a local SIM card in Paris for 30 and added another 30 in 2 GB data and call time - 60 euro total. I was careful with my data, using wifi and turning off mobile data, until the last two days and ran out on the last day of my trip. I liked the car navigation, it had speed limits everywhere (better than my copilot USA) and beeped alerts whenever you were 15 over (which happens when the speed goes down and you didn't see a sign). As far as I know I never got lost. I turned off mobile data while I was using it and didn't have any problems actively navigating with the built in GPS features. I did have some issues searching for some locations but that may have been operator error. I found myself turning data on, using Google maps, writing down the physical address of what I was searching for, turning data off, plugging the address into copilot, then navigating fine from there. I much prefer copilots navigation to Google maps, even though it's possible to use Google.

I drove from Rouen to Hoqueville Normandie, which is close to the cliffs of Fecamp and Etretat. I stayed at an AirBnB. Nice room, nice price, nice host - great first experience with AirBnB. I filmed the cliffs from afternoon to sunset then went back and had a nice conversation with my host until bedtime. I told the host my itinerary and she said, "I'll be in Paris then too." So I suggested we get together for dinner, which - through messaging over the next ten days - turned into meeting for a drink at 1700, dinner at 19, jazz concert at 21, and salsa dancing at 23.

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Day Five:

This was planned to be a big driving day but it worked out fine. Started by driving to Bayeux to see the tapestry (technically an embroidery) and a look around the center/lunch. I had no problem eating breakfast at the AirBnB (she doesn't advertise it and doesn't always provide it, but it was free and the eggs were from her chickens so as fresh as can be) and getting to Bayeux right about opening time.

After that I drove to Mont St. Michel, climbed the ramparts, toured the abbey, then worked my way back down. I left around 5 pm and went to my hostel in Cancale. I decided rather than go back to Mont Saint Michel to try to see the tide at night, I'd get oysters and watch the tide in the little inlet by me. The oysters really do live up to their billing. I think they were the best I've ever had. I also had some great mussels, and more oysters, in Dinan and a couple of other Breton port towns (Auray and Vannes).

The day was near my self imposed maximum for travel time (Etretat to Bayeux, Bayeux to Mont St. Michel, MSM to Cancale) but I made every stop, never felt hurried and ended at a normal hour (still light and a little early for dinner).

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15035 posts

Welcome home. I've enjoyed reading this and I'm looking forward to the next installment!

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Day Six:

Sorry to leave you waiting. I'm getting back to work and trying to catch up with everything.

Got up early, ate breakfast at the hostel (decent breakfast), and started toward St. Malo at about 8:30. Not much more than a 30 minute drive to St. Malo so explored, including rolling up my pant legs and wading at the beach, until after lunch time. I liked but didn't love St. Malo. The beach is sand, as opposed to pebbles, so I can see why it's a summer resort. I walked the Michelin Green Guide suggested route then walked the ramparts around the town, stopped for a galette, then headed for Ft. la Latte. The Fort is about an hour drive. The fort, like most, was built in various construction phases over the years. It's a good visit. I'd recommend it as a stop along the Cote d'Armor. After that headed to the next point, Cap Frehel, for a look at the light house and cliffs. The cliffs and currents are pretty spectacular. Finally, headed to Dinan for the night. I stayed at the HI hostel there, which was about a fifteen minute walk to the port for dinner (oysters, mussels and a beer). Even in late September, things are starting to close in Brittany. Fewer places are serving dinner, especially on "off" nights (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and sometimes even Wednesday and Thursday). The balance is nothing is crowded. The weather was perfect, nice sunny days with a little breeze and chilly nights.

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Day Seven:

Got up early, ate breakfast at the hostel, then went to the center. Found parking and did the Michelin Green Guide walk, pretty much the same as Rick's guided walk. This was Thursday morning and there was a market going in the main square. I'd call it a combination farmer's market/swap meet. Glad to see a morning market but shopping really isn't my thing, so walked through fairly quickly and continued a look at the town.

I like Dinan. It has a nice river, a good medieval core and lots of postcard views. I was worried it would be touristy but it's not bad at all late in September.

After Dinan, I drove to Treguier, St. Theggonec, Guimiliau, and stayed the night at an AirBnB in Lampaul-Guimiliau. The goal here was to see the architecture in this part of Brittainy, particularly the parish closes that are unique to this area. I liked the small towns. English isn't spoken much here but the people go out of their way to help so my limited French was fine. I'm not quite to the end of the world but the region is called finisterra. I really liked this part of my trip.

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Day Eight:

This morning I drove south. The first stop is Locronan, a beautiful old town that's been used as a backdrop for movies. This is another town I'd highly recommend. Along that line, I think a highlight would be to visit a "pardon" in one of these
Brittain towns. They're are scheduled throughout the summer. I believe there were still some when I was there but my visit didn't coincide with any. A pardon is a great chance to see the local culture through their history, costumes and customs. They are a big deal in Brittainy. If you're visiting between May and September, check out the schedule and plan to see a pardon as part of your trip.

After Locronan, I headed back toward the east. I stopped in Port Auray for a look around and lunch, then drove to Vannes for a two night stay. My AirBnB in Vannes was ideal. It was a private area, off the main house, and about a ten to fifteen minute walk to the port area and center. I wandered the center then got dinnner by the port. I enjoyed Vannes quite a bit, there is a lot to see here. It has more medieval center than anything since Rouen, ramparts, port, and is close to the major megalith alignments in Carnac. My host and I discussed some of the prehistoric sights in the area and he told me I could get to a cairn, I was interested in, by ferry from a nearby town - an unexpected bonus.

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Day Nine:

Prehistory day. I started early and went to Carnac to see the alignments. They are in rows that stretch for miles. I wandered the area and took pictures from lots of angles. Near the end is a tower that may be the best view point.

I also searched out a few of the Dolmen in the area. One was intact, the other two had mostly collapsed ceilings. This is all prehistory, so any theories on how or why they got here remain simply theories. After this I went to Larmor-Baden to catch a ferry to an island that has a large cairn, Gavrinis, I believe only discovered in the 1980's. It's nearly the size of Newgrange (in Ireland) and has incredible carvings on the rocks used to build it. Again, all prehistory, why and how are a mystery.

The tour here and all signage are only in French, no English is offered. A woman I met on the ferry spoke English really well, she had lived in the US for a while as a child, so she volunteered to translate for an Australian couple and myself as best she could. I was really glad to see this sight. I had heard of it but didn't expect to see it because it was on an island. The groups they take are limited, I showed up around lunch time but had to reserve a late afternoon visit. If you want to go, it's probably best to reserve ahead.

http://www.brittanytourism.com/to-see-to-do/other-activities/cairn-de-gavrinis

The currents in this area are pretty amazing. You can see them rushing through the string of islands in the bay, almost like white water rapids. Some boats were playing with them by intentionally letting the current speed them along. If you're going against the current, you have to do your best to find something away from the current without running into rocks (or underwater megaliths) along the shore.

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Day Ten:

Faced with a fairly long day and feeling like I'd done a pretty good job on Brittainy. I decide to skip Rochefort en Terre. I got up and headed straight to Fontevraud Abbey. This abbey holds the remains of Eleanor of Aquitaine (though her tomb says Alienor), her husband Henry II, son Richard the Lionheart (or part of him, he's burried in three places - heart, entrails and corpse), and daughter Isabelle of England (married to Prince John).

From there I went to Chinon and saw more Richard the Lionheart history at the Fortress there. Chinon is a decent town, with plenty of old sights, and the Fortress is a good historical sight. My impression at the time was, compared to Brittainy, everything seemed depressed, run down, not as beautiful as Brittainy. In retrospect, it's a nice area and I'm glad I visited.

I checked into my AirBnB, which was conveniently located in Chinon. I enjoyed the host and his three daughters. They spoke limited English but were really accomodating and nice (It turned out they were Breton).

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Day Eleven,

A fairly tricky day I'd been worried about. I needed to transition from my car to a bike and wasn't sure how to do it. I almost kept the car because my drive between Vannes and Chinon had been rain the whole way. By the time I reached Fontevraud, however, the weather was behind me and it was beautiful for the entire time I was in the Loire.

In the morning I drove 300 meters to where I needed to pick up my bike, put it in the back of the car (back seats folded down), and drove to the rental return place - which was on the way out of town toward my next destination. It went smoothly and I strapped my bag on the rack and started riding. After a few stops to adjust the bag and the height of my seat, I was moving along pretty well.

I was using Co-Pilot western Europe as my GPS app and did fine in the car, even when there was no phone signal. Unfortunately, it's horrible as a GPS in bike mode. It wanted me to take turns or go down roads that didn't exist. It was beyond frustrating and really more bizarre. The Loire has bike trails that are perfect for riding. Co-Pilot seemed to have no idea they existed. In bike mode, the best it did was put me in on highways that weren't A roads. The worst it did was take me to dead ends. Of all that, the worst was today when co-pilot took me down a dirt road and left me dead-ended in a forest. Faced with miles of backtracking, I decided to hike, bike and bag on my shoulder, to try to connect with a road. I crossed a stream and rail tracks, up and down some hills but found a way out without going backwards. I'd say I lost at least an hour following Co-Pilot. After that I started to see signs to Villandry, my first destination, so I followed the signs instead of Co-Pilot.

Villandry has nice gardens and it was a good place for a stop. Because I had lost time, however, I only had a short stop for a sandwich and soda after touring the gardens rather than a more relaxed lunch I was hoping for.

After Villandry, I knew from pre-planning how to get to the bike route. I took that into Tours where the route became confused. I pulled out Co-Pilot again and was back in crazy mode. It would have me cross a river only to cross back, took me down dead ends and high traffic highways. After an hour of seemingly going everywhere but where I wanted to go, I stumbled across the bike route (not where my GPS wanted me to go) and continued into Amboise. I finally got to my AirBnB place but not without losing more time and riding more miles than necessary. I was early for dinner but late for any touring in Amboise when I arrived. I had dinner in a nice place next to the Chateau, reasonably priced, good food and good service. I will say, I mastered the art of eating dinner by myself without rushing (two or three hours). The trick for me is to find a place with good people watching.

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Day Twelve,

This was Chateaux day. I decided not to try for too much. I rode to Chenonceau (20 something km) using signs I had seen when I was coming into town the day before. This was my favorite of the chateaux in the area, not that I came close to seeing them all. I liked the building, gardens and furnishings. Afterward, I stopped for lunch along the way back to Amboise.

I then went to Clos Luce, Leonardo's place. I toured the home but only took a quick stroll around the gardens. There are surprisingly big gardens here. A person could probably enjoy an afternoon just exploring the gardens. I turned my bike in back in Amboise afterward, not much after 1400.

I went to Amboise next and toured the Chateau. I had determined in the morning I would only try for Chaumont sur Loire if I had time. I decided I didn't. Seeing the three chateaux was more than enough for the day. Apart from spending less time in Clos Luce gardens than I could have, the day didn't feel rushed.

I ate dinner on the same street. Amboise seems to be a good base for touring the Chateaux. It's central to a number of castles and has places to stay, eat and shop.

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Weds Sept 28,

The biggest disappointment of the trip was today. I had intended to go to Chartres to see the cathedral and old center on the way back into Paris. Connecting to Chartres, however, wasn't at all easy from Amboise. I explored options and could only find options that included both train and bus and took more than three hours through either Tours or Orleans. Chartres may be a better day trip from Paris than intermediate stop from the Loire.

Several French people had mentioned Bla Bla car as a way to get there. It's like prearranged hitch-hiking. People look for riders to share the expenses of driving. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the app on my phone so wasn't able to try it. It might be a natural because Chartres isn't out of the way much by car, but very difficult by train (or bus) from Amboise.

I ended up taking a direct train to Paris and starting my sight seeing on a four day Museum Pass (Weds, Thurs, Fri, Sat). Today Cluny, Arenes de Lutece, Pantheon, and Invalides. Climbed the steps of the Pantheon for the view. Also went to Printemps and had a beer on the roof. Biggest surprise? They have a LOT of Armor at the Army museum.

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Thurs. Sept 29,

Up early to start at the Louvre. I left my hostel, the MIJE, at 8 and was there at 810 - faster than expected. I had 50 minutes to wait but was first in my line (there are several lines depending on whether you have a ticket, museum pass or need to purchase a ticket). I hadn't expected to make a bee line to the Mona Lisa but, having my pass and no bag, I was inside quite a while before anyone else and decided to go there first. A couple from Canada (first in the line for E-tickets) caught up with me and we had five or more minutes before anyone else caught up. I took photos of them with the Mona Lisa and they took pictures of me - it makes a nice Facebook profile photo. All of my friends who have been there, with crowds, were jealous. I pretty much stuck to the Rick Steves tour here. Greek and Roman sculpture, Italian and French paintings.

After the Louvre, I headed through the Tuileries to the Orangerie, primarily to see the water lillies. This was Fashion Week in Paris so there were lots of ridiculously high heels and paparazi hanging around tents near the Orangerie. There might have been some recognizable people there but I'm not up on it enough to know.

After the Orangerie, I crossed the Seine and visited the Orsay - again using the Rick Steves audio guide. Most of the paintings he highlights weren't displayed but the paintings that were there were wonderful.

I like art from medieval to impressionism. After that, I can skip it - so I didn't see any modern art (except the outside of Pompidou Center and various installations around the city).

I needed to get ready for my date (the woman from Normandie) tonight so headed back to the MIJE to get cleaned up. Then met her in front of Notre Dame at 1700. We went for a glass of wine, then dinner, then a jazz concert, then salsa dancing. I was hoping for a nice local experience. She had lived in Paris for awhile so couldn't ask for much more.

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Friday Sept. 30,

My plans changed because my date from last night asked if I wanted to go to Versailles today. So that's what we did. We took a train and arrived about 1000, surprisingly small crowds. The weather forcast was for rain (no rain though) so that probably kept the crowds down. We toured a relatively uncrowded palace then an even less crowded garden. Some fountains were going and I had to pay extra to see them. I think there may have been a schedule of certain fountains at certain times but the conversation, with the guy who sold us tickets, was in French and I didn't get all the details. She had to catch a train home later to meet new AirBnB guests at her home, so we only visited about four or five hours including a nice lunch near the grand canal.

Saturday Oct. 1,

Again up early (as usual) and walked to Notre Dame from my hostel (MIJE) after breakfast. I got there around nine and there was no line to get in so went right in and walked around the cathedral. Afterward, started a line to climb the towers. I waited until they opened and went with the first group. Great views from here; I wasn't expecting to see the bellfry. I'm glad I climbed the tours and also glad I came early. I'd much rather spend an hour in line when everything is closed than two hours in line when I could be doing something else.

After that I took the metro out to Chateau Vincennes. I wanted to see something that was actually a defensive castle from the old days. It was a disappointment, however, there isn't much to see and many of the buildings are currently used as office or storage space. The chappel was covered in scaffolding so only the keep was worth seeing from the outside. I wouldn't recommend it.

I took the metro back in and visited Place de Voges and Carnivalet in the afternoon. I got a quick dinner at a creperie (omelet and cidre) then walked around for Blanch Nuit. There were art installations all over Paris, from 1900 to 0700 the next morning, so wandered around to see a few of them, then took a boat from Pont Neuf and saw more from there. There was a wide variety of art. The only bad thing was the security around many of the installations that made it very difficult to come and go. Sad that we live in times where we have to worry about such things. I didn't stay out late but I did take some video of various art installations.

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Sunday Oct 2,

My last day in Paris. My AirBnB host came back into Paris and we spent the day visiting St. Denis then went to the Trocadero.

Monday Oct. 3,

Fly home day. Everything was fine until the runway closed at Keflavic. Our flight out of CDG took off two hours late and I missed my connection (along with about 65 passengers). WOW Air wasn't horrible. They had a bus waiting to take us to a hotel. Hotel rooms were booked for us when we got there. They ordered pizza and told us to return at 7pm for dinner in the hotel lobby/lounge area. The next morning they gave us breakfast, then lunch, then shuttled us back to the airport to catch flights. I was supposed to fly to BWI but was put on a Boston flight to connect to a Spirit Air flight to BWI. Getting back late created some problems getting home but I made it about midnight Eastern (had to be at work at 630 the next morning).

I probably won't fly either WOW or Icelandic until they build another runway at Keflavic, apparently the crosswind issue happens regularly and creates similar problems. Other than that, I have no problems with WOW at all. They were decent planes and flown efficiently, they responded to the delays without having to argue with them. They could have improved their communication to the delayed passengers. Most of the passengers weren't certain of what they were doing or where they needed to be, and weren't happy to get alternative flights home.

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Thank you for the detailed report. I'm going to spend my Schengen time in France next year (though without a car), so I'll be looking back at your posts for ideas about what to see.

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Thoughts on various issues:

Phone:

I spent a total of 60 euro on a SIM card and data. I purchased a Samsung S7 unlocked online about a month before the trip. My old phone didn't seem to be able to fully run the apps I was planning to use. I finally broke down and bought a new phone.

When I arrived in Paris. I went to a small shop that sold telecom items. The "SRF" (I think) SIM cost $30 and came with some time and data (that only lasted a couple of days). I added 30 euro to the plan and used it carefully - WiFi whenever I could and turned data off when I wasn't specifically using it. I only uploaded photos/videos when I was on WiFi. By doing that I was able to get through the entire trip without buying more data/phone time. The last couple of days in France, I didn't ration my usage and used up the remaining data/phone time on my card the night before I left.

Camera:

I only used my camera a little bit. I was pleased with the photos I got from my phone. Enough so that I probably won't pack a camera next time.

Battery:

When using the GPS on my bike, I used up the battery quickly (it kept constantly recalculating). I brought one small recharger that really helped (and functions as a small flashlight when needed). If you're relying on your phone as I was, I'd suggest bringing something for emergency recharging when needed.

People:

About 50 percent of the people I met were decent, not particularly nice but not at all rude. About 5 percent were somewhat rude and only a couple were really rude. About 45 percent were over-the-top nice. They went out of their way to help and/or communitcate with me when it would have been much easier not to. If I had any control over my interactions, it was only to the extent that I tried to always be polite. To begin with a greeting and use please and thank you. Sometimes I was pretty happy with my ability to interact in French, most of the time I failed miserably. I hope to get better.

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Credit/Debit cards:

My debit card consistently worked at ATM's. My credit card worked at lodging consistently. Those were probably the only consistent approvals of my cards.

My Visa credit card worked often but not always for gas (with attendants), tolls, purchases. My American Express worked one time when my Visa didn't, but rarely worked other than that (I used it primarily to rent my car). My debit card (with PIN) rarely worked to make purchases in stores as I had planned. In only one case did I have to pay cash at a toll booth because nothing I had worked. It seemed like I could always get something to work, but I also never felt confident that I could pull out a card and know it would work.

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2049 posts

What an amazing trip, Brad. Your report was informative, amusing and beautifully written! Glad you had such a wonderful time.

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438 posts

Sounds like you had a great trip. Fun that you were able to make a connection with your b and b host. Your itinerary ran the opposite direction of ours. We went to many of the same towns and sights. In Paris as well. I loved Normandy and Brittany. Enjoyed reading your trip prep and report. Lots of commonality as to likes and dislikes. No modern art or much opulence for us either. And I love the planning as well. I'm still in the process of posting trip reports.
As it turns out we were likely on the Notre Dame Towers with you on Saturday morning. We were number 11 and 12 in line to go up when it opened. If I'd known I'd have said hi ;D

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That's funny. I was sitting first in line, but not first out of the room where you buy your tickets. It really is a small world. :-)

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I also didn't get a chance to try Velib in Paris. When I came back into Paris a lot of time was spent with my AirBnB host (better referred to now as my long distance girlfriend). We used trains, RER and or metro to get around.

Apps:

I will say that the app "Next Stop Paris" was ideal. I could put my destination into the app and it would tell me which metro, which direction, which connection and supply real time walking maps as well as my position (a small blue dot on the map). I'd highly recommend this app if you have the device to take advantage of it.

I also used Google maps often when I had trouble searching for a place in Co-Pilot. I'd find a street adress there then plug it into Co-Pilot. I much prefer Co-Pilot for navigating it gives you speed limits and warnings when you're speed is over by 15 km (happened often coming into city limits with no speed sign). Co-Pilot maps are also similar to dedicated GPS devices so it's comfortable to use. Google maps for navigating was entertaining for how poorly it pronounces street names but the narration is really fast and somewhat hard to catch.

I didn't try uber at all in France, so can't report on whether it works. I used the trip advisor app sparingly but didn't rely on it very much.

I had plugged most of my information (reservation numbers, street addresses, open hours, etc.) into my android calendar. It was nice to have an easy day by day reference without digging through emails. By the time I had it all entered, I practically had my itinerary memorized - so rarely referred to it.

AirBnB was perfectly acceptable for me. The price to get a room in a home beat a hotel by quite a bit when a hostel wasn't available. I kept the app on my phone but never needed it because my stays all worked as planned. In many cases I had some trouble finding the homes because they don't always have the same street adress system we have. I was able to contact the owner and have them guide me, eventually I found them.

Finally I was completely happy with Mobile Passport. It's free and easy to set up. I was planning to fly to BWI but ended up flying to Boston. Fortunately Boston also has Mobile Passport capability. On the plane I took a selfie, scanned my passport (a little difficult while in the air), answered the four questions. I put my American SIM card back in my phone but left it in airplane mode until we were on the ground. When we landed, I submitted my form and received a QR code.

The hardest part was figuring out where to go. I asked and an airline employee pointed me to the Global Entry kiosks. Still not sure, I walked to the end and asked the CBP officer there, he pointed me to his window and walked to the other side - I got passed immigration faster than the people with Global Entry who were at kiosks behind me. After that I walked to baggage check and asked again. I was surprised that, again, they pointed me toward the trusted traveler side (Global Entry) and my daypack and I passed through in seconds. That doesn't mean I couldn't have been directed to secondary screening and had to take longer but the system worked great.

I did have a stop getting on the Spirit Flight, they wanted to see the gargoyle I bought for my son at Notre Dame because they weren't sure what to make of it. I had it rolled up with my dirty clothes so it wouldn't break.

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Post script: My new girlfriend had planned to come to Miami in November before I met her. Now I'm planning to fly to Miami for a weekend to meet her, then she rented an apartment for half her time in Virginia. She is talking about coming back to the US again in Feb. My next trip to France will be next May. She will travel with me and the trip will include Tours, to meet her parents, Provence, to meet her son, and sailing, if possible, to Corsica for a few days. Time to start planning.

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1002 posts

Brad, I really enjoyed reading your trip report. Sounds like a great trip, even if you hadn't found a romance! You'll have to keep us apprised on that, too! :)

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Thanks Celeste,

It was a great trip.

I used to do less driving and move mostly by train or bus. I'd plan three night stays in larger places with a lot to see.

Now, I'm making more stops in little towns, that may only be worth an hour or two to see, while driving (or biking) from one place to another. It gives me a chance to stretch my legs, breaks up the longer travel leg. While I'm stopped I look for a good place for lunch while I'm walking around, rather than waiting till I'm starving and stopping at the first place I see. The more I travel the smaller area I focus on and the more brief stops I make in that area.

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Picnics:

I'm kind of surprised I never really picniced this trip. Even when I ate lunch at Arenes de Lutece, I stopped in a bakery and picked up a sandwich and drink rather than going to a grocery and picking up pieces. Generally, sandwiches can be had almost anywhere and the price is usually very reasonable. The French eat them a lot, so picking up a sandwich isn't at all a tourist only thing. It's much easier to find a place to get a decent sandwich than it is to find a grocery that has everything you need for a picnic.

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618 posts

Very much enjoyed your trip report, thank you for posting!

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15035 posts

My "backroads" France trip was much the opposite - with lots of picnic meals. I kept hitting market day in the small towns and couldn't resist the cheeses and fresh produce. . . I rarely had a restaurant meal and sometimes ate suppers in my room to finish off all the food.