Paris to Barcelona

 

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Gare de Lyon

The train from Paris to Barcelona was very pleasant and peaked my interest in exploring many of the rural areas that we whizzed by. We arrived travel weary to our AirBnB and were greeted by our host Lydia, a transplant to Barcelona from the Netherlands. The apartment is immaculately clean and thoughtfully appointed. More importantly, it has AC, which is very helpful for feeling “fresh” as the French like to say; and we don’t have to choose between cool or quiet.
First full day in Barcelona, we hit the ground running. After cobbling together a breakfast of odd leftovers from Paris, we headed off to visit the first of the three Gaudi buildings on our agenda for the day. Casa Battlo was interesting but claustrophobically crowded. Next up, La Pedrera which was a quite peaceful contrast in both the architecture/design and in how the place is run. The audio tour included with admission was quite good and I recommend it. Lucked out on a fantastic pizza place for lunch. You pay for the pizza by the kilo and the staff was very friendly. Fueled up and ready to go, our last stop on our Gaudi tour for the day awaited. La Sagrada Familia,UNESCO world heritage site, and perhaps Barcelona’s most famous tourist attraction does not disappoint. I loved how all three sites incorporated great displays of Gaudi’s mimicry of nature.

Day two in Barcelona. Leftover veggie paella for breakfast and a nine a.m. entry to the last stop in our Gaudi tour of Barcelona, Park Guell. My favorite parts of the park were the “Hypostyle Room” and the small museum in Gaudi’s old home. The Hypostyle room is an outdoor, covered space that was built partially to function as a market space. I would have loved to see that in action. In the museum, educational materials furthered the impression that Gaudi was a deeply spiritual, beautiful and Zen being. How fortunate to see the bedroom of this architectural genius. For anyone interested in geometry, or modernism, I highly recommend a pilgrimage to see his work.

Now it was time to hit the beach. Noah and I hopped aboard a city bus and got a nice above ground (we have mostly been taking the Metro) tour of Barcelona. The beach was hot, sunny, busy and fun. Even though there were hawkers selling, “Cerveza, agua frio, beer, beer,” cups of cold sangria, massages and tapestries, none were aggressive and I actually needed a cold water. Noah and I crowded on my one sarong and took turns swimming in the buoyant Atlantic. Topless sunbathing for women of all ages, shapes and sizes is de rigeur in Barcelona, very liberating.

Tonight is our last night to enjoy cava sangrias, tapas and our little taste of Barcelona. We found a really good Asian tapas restaurant called “The Last Monkey” in our neighborhood. It has been a good trip and tomorrow the three of us fly back through Paris and on to visit my family for a few days in NY.

On the cab ride to the airport our driver said that tourism is the primary industry in Barcelona and because of this, priority is placed on cleanliness and security. I agree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day three of enjoying Paris by avoiding it.

 

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Saturday was our last day in Paris. Adam and Noah were at Word Camp Europe and I decided to take the train to visit our old farm intern Leonie in Dieppe on the Normandy coast. Smooth travels, a couple more beautiful train stations added to my list and I was able to spend the day relaxing with Leonie and her boyfriend.

Stepping from the train station into the fresh air, the sound of gulls announced my arrival at the sea. Leonie was an intern at the farm in 2008, I had not seen her since then until last weekend at Valentin’s in Bouchemain. Radek, Leonie’s boyfriend from Germany was visiting, and the three of us enjoyed a leisurely day together.

I returned to the apartment at 10 PM content and tired, having successfully enjoyed a very full day away from Paris and the construction outside our window. (They are building a canal beach, much like the one we visited in Copenhagen. It will be open in July and August and looks like it will be very nice.)

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Day two of enjoying Paris by avoiding it.

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Big day of adventure for me. Took the metro to Bois de Vincennes, on the southeast edge of Paris,  then rented a local bike share, Velib bike and rode around the forest. My first challenge was renting the bike. Second challenge, trying to find the deepest part of the “woods” with a diminishing phone battery, poor sense of direction and not get lost. Made it back out from the center of the woods, headed to Lake Daumesnil, returned my bike and relaxed on the shore. Back into the forest this time on foot. No map, further diminished phone battery but not wanting to walk on the perimeter by the road, I headed back toward the metro station. Passing school groups on pony rides, a myriad of joggers, and homeless encampments I managed to find my way back to the entrance of the botanical garden. A side excursion into the garden for a bite to eat and a quick walk through. The plant displays were fairly disappointing, but I consoled myself by spending time in the medicinal herb garden. Hello old friends.

 

How to be in Paris when cities are not really your thing.

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Adam is off to the WordPress Community Summit,  Noah, Izi and I off to climb the tower at Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. A leisurely day idling around the neighborhood of Montmartre, then back to our apartment for some exploring the canal for me and resting for Izi and Noah.

Our friend Oz hosted us for supper at his home in Pantin, a suberb of Paris. Delicious homemade natural leaven pizza was on the menu and Izi and Stella, Oz’s daughter, were able to play and communicate in Hebrew, their common language. We strolled leisurely back to our apartment along the canal where there was currently an light art installation, very tranquil and pretty. Families gathered picnicking and singing on the lawn of La Villette along the canal close to midnight.

On Tuesday, I had a day to rest. Izi made it safely to the airport and Adam and Noah are at Word Camp Europe for the day. I chose an outing to nearby Park de Buttes Chaumont. A short walk from the apartment and I am in this old quarry turned park with a lake and waterfalls. This

The park is small and though it has its share of people picnicking it is much less crowded than other parks we have visited. My first successful attempt at enjoying Paris by avoiding it!

Angers Castle to Paris

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Our train from Angers to Paris did not leave until noon, which left us plenty of time to visit the Chateau Angers which houses the oldest tapestry of its size (100 meters). The Apocalypse Tapestry fills a huge room and is a complex, detailed story of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation. The castle was a manageable size for me, and I especially appreciated the medicinal and culinary gardens. A delayed train to Paris left us with time to eat our picnic lunch and enjoy some people watching at the train station.

In Paris we found our AirBnB along the Bassin de la Villette without difficulty. A fabulous dinner at a neighborhood Lebanese restaurant capped our long day. On Tuesday Adam began his immersion in the Word Press conferences that were the impetus for this trip to France. Not feeling well, Izi stayed home and rested while Noah and I went to the Musee D’Orsay. The last and only other time I was in Paris, 12 years ago in November, there were no crowds in the museums. What a difference to come in June. We managed to enjoy the artwork despite the crowds and returned to the apartment tired and ready to host our old friend Yael for a visit.

Yael was married to one of Adam’s closest friends from when he lived in Israel. Adam and Oz have remained in touch since high school and our family has come to know theirs over the years.  We enjoyed each other’s company, catching up since we last saw each other in Colorado ten years ago.

Angers

 

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At the home of Valentin and his girlfriend Sabrina in Bouchemain we were treated to a four hour delicious homemade supper served French style that ended at midnight. In the morning Adam and Izi hoed some beans in the garden, then we all had a light breakfast in time for lunch preparations to begin. The old stone farmhouse that Valentin and Sabrina live in has an unused granary with an external stairway, a non-working external stone oven and stone animal enclosures and barns. Hedges of roses, peonies, irises and many other perennials still remain and flourish.

Lunch was another fantastic, healthy multi-course affair. We finished, said our sad goodbyes to Leonie and headed to the Loire River for a walk. The Loire Valley is another area that is popular for long distance biking. Our host Valentin has gone many times on multi-day journeys on this bike route. Never one to pass up a dip in a river, we swam for a bit in the Loire before returning to Valentin’s home. Valentin had an early departure to the Ivory Coast for work, so he drove us to a hotel in Angers for the evening.

Arcachon Bay

 

We fortified ourselves with breakfast at the Hotel Dauphin in Arcachon and took the ferry across the bay to Cap Ferret, a beautiful, sandy spit on the Atlantic Ocean. We biked on dedicated bike paths through a managed forest and stopped for a midday break to swim in the ocean — my idea of heaven. Back on the bikes we rode around to the town of Andernos Les Bains where we stayed at a lovely hotel, Villa Terang. There we had the yummiest white wine from the Loire Valley and were treated to a pouring rainstorm overnight.

Day two on the bikes we rode from Andernos Les Bains to Gujan Mestras. Our AirBnB host was not home yet, so we idled away in the shade in a park. After depositing our saddlebags and Izi and Noah at the AirBnB, Adam and I rode back to La Teich, an ornithological reserve. Unfortunately, since it was two hours before the reserve was closing, they would not rent us binoculars. We hurried along the tranquil trails, looked through bird blinds and climbed some observation towers. Which all added up to an impressive number of steps and mileage for the day.

Day three on the bikes we left Gujan Mestras for Arcachon. Some crazy street riding off of dedicated bike paths left me wishing I had rented a helmet, but alas I survived to tell the story. Along the bike path, I spied a baguette vending machine! We returned the bikes, had a leisurely lunch at a boulangerie near the train station and boarded our train to Tours. From Tours we boarded a second train to Angers where our friend and old farm intern Valentin picked us up and drove us to his country home in Bouchemaine. Awaiting our arrival was another friend and old farm intern Leonie who had driven from Dieppe to come see us.