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On Mother’s Day, 2003, my husband surprised me with two airplane tickets to Paris, France. The plan was for a romantic getaway, and I was ecstatic at the prospect. One week was all we had in order to ready ourselves for the departure, and excitement reigned supreme.
Once we arrived in France, we had to use the time wisely. Our aim was to experience the sights and sounds of the city as well as the peace and solitude of the countryside, but this was a tall order when you consider that one week was all the time we had.
On the first couple of days in Paris, we embarked on numerous walking tours in order to take in all of the major sites: Tour Eiffel, Basilica Sacre Coeur, Musee du Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, Eglise de la Madeleine and many others too numerous to mention. I was hopeless at navigating Le Metro, but my husband handily guided us through the labyrinth of routes that made up the subway system. The Arc de Triomphe came into view just as we ascended the stairs from the subway, and my breath was taken away. I literally had tears in my eyes so moved was I by the site of this beautiful monument.
One evening, our destination was the Moulin Rouge to witness the famous cabaret. What an outstanding show! The spectacle was tasteful and yet outlandish, and fairly represented, I am sure, the shows from a bygone era.
Being a country girl, I was eager to depart the city, and so in our rental car, we struck out towards Versailles. This amazing palace was absolutely gigantic! It is hard to imagine anyone living in such grandeur. Being a beautiful, sunny day, my husband and I rented bicycles in order to explore the acres of gardens, statues, and the tiny village that Marie Antoinette once enjoyed on the palace property. The buildings in this village were like something out of a fairy tale – each one unique, adorable, perfectly maintained and winsome.
Once back at the palace, a tour of the palatial rooms revealed ostentatious furnishings and décor which left us in awe, while the amazing Hall of Mirrors inspired us to perform a waltz whilst other tourists looked on! We were rewarded with applause for our impromptu display!
Giverny was our next planned destination, and seeing as we were travelling without prior reservations, we never knew from one day to the next where we would lay our heads at night. A quaint little inn located close to Monet’s Gardens gave us the edge as we wanted to be at the gardens early the following morning. Prior to entering the gardens, however, we took time to amble along the streets and alleyways of Giverny only to discover climbing roses clambering over every stone wall, along aging wrought iron fences and up the sides of charming stone cottages. Purple irises were abundantly in bloom, gracing the edge of most narrow streets.
Monet’s Gardens certainly did not disappoint us. With streams of early morning light gently bathing the riotous combination of flowers in bloom, the rush was on to capture the beauty on film before too many tourists cluttered the scene. Phlox, poppies, irises, daisies, allium and roses of every sort graced the grounds no matter which way I turned my head. Being avid gardeners, both of us drank in the sweetly scented air while slowly sauntering along the pathways throughout the gardens and alongside the famous pond.
Too soon, it was time to depart, and shortly thereafter, we were forced to reckon with our now grumbling stomachs . Local shops can be found randomly located along the roadways, so we took advantage of one of these Boulangerie to buy a freshly baked baguette. Along with some local cheese and delicious pates, fruit and a bottle of wine, this constituted our impromptu roadside picnic. I had even packed a tablecloth and napkins from home for the occasion
The pastoral beauty of the surrounding landscape delighted us as we continued on our way in the Loire Valley. One of my objectives before leaving Canada was that I wanted to spend a night in a castle. When, by happenstance, we came upon a little tourist information booth out in the middle of nowhere, it so happened that it was staffed by an English-speaking young woman. We learned afterwards that these booths usually have a sign indicating either English or French, so we were lucky in this case.
After a few phone calls, a reservation had been made for us at a castle some distance away. A while later, our accommodation for the night revealed itself at the end of a very long lane, situated at the top of a low hill. It looked magnificent! Chateau Bourdaisiere was our home for the next day and a half, and we felt like the king and queen. No other patrons were booked in, so the hostess generously gave us a free upgrade to a suite on the third floor.
I was in heaven when, having thrown the enormous windows wide, I could look out upon a perfectly manicured garden and private woodlot. Screens are not employed on the windows in France, and so one could lean out of the window freely – just like Rapunzel. Being free to explore the endless hallways and rooms of this grand castle, my husband and I felt as if we owned the place. Early the next morning, with sunbeams bouncing off the ancient stone walls, a family of deer could be seen grazing in the shadow of a silhouetted archway. How perfect was that!
My husband and I took our time, savoring this location, as we meandered the walking trails about the property and into the woods, but then it was time to head back to the city. Numerous stops were made along the way, visiting ancient fortifications, the unique chateau de Chenonceau, and just generally marveling at the way the local people have fashioned their homes and in some case businesses into the sides of limestone cliffs. Our most notable dinner was taken in a cave as the dining rooms were literally sculpted out of the stone.
Back to the hubbub of Paris! Our last day was again spent on foot. Our visit was rounded out with a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral and a boat tour on the Seine River. Glimmering lights transformed this city of love into something magical at night. It was with a heavy heart that we said goodbye to Paris, but we plan to return some day!
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