Today was a day trip to Bern before leaving for France. Looks like I need to use up my Swiss Franks and convert back to Euros. Unusually hot weather saw most locals float down the river to cool down. Many used waterproof bags that they stuffed their clothes in then used as a flotation device down stream. It was a great time out to observe the locals and chill my feet in the river. Bern is Switzerland’s capital with attitude and a funky vibe. It was full of markets, buskers underpinned with a relaxed tone. This is quite a contrast from the structured and formal manner in other Swiss areas. The gothic style town was built in the 13th century and initially was a walled town with an interesting history with Bears. Sadly there is a fenced area by the river where a handful of remaining bears are enclosed. Nevertheless it seems to attract a lot of onlookers. The Bern show projected at the information centre described it’s history but was also more of an advertisement for the city. I enjoyed a relaxed stroll along the two rivers that the terraced town is edged between along with the botanic gardens. A group walking tour showed us the sight of Zytglogge (clock tower), Zahringer Fountain and Einstein’s House where the theory of relativity was discovered. I had no idea the impact he had on WWII And that he even had an offer of Presidency of Israel. The stormy weather into France was short lived but I loved the spectacular lines of vineyards and sunflowers. To unwind from the trip we ventured to a nearby square where we sampled French wine and listened to a Jazz trio.
A jaw dropping bike ride along the vineyards took us past three sweet villages where we had a tasty duck for lunch. After our bikes were securely returned to the hire shop we cooled off in the cellar where we sampled 15 wines, mostly reds at Marche Aux Vins (www.marcheauxvins.com) Many did not have they strong bite and full body that I am use to from Aussie reds. I loved the experience of the little cradle used for drinking from to the stacked barrels and aroma. Needless to say it was a good group bonding and a happy ride from Bearen back to Dijon. I managed to catch the second half of the football final although judging by the amount of places displaying the match the French weren’t that fussed.
Some of our group picked up a map from the information centre for a Owl Trail. A very well set up walking orientation that directs tourists to various sights. I enjoyed that the route was marked by brass arrows rather than having to plaster my face to a map. Being in Dijon the mustard sampling was compulsory. There were many flavours. I preferred the basil one but couldn’t go past buying the blackcurrant variety because of it’s outstanding pink colour. Being a Monday in France meant I could do little more than window shopping for the perfect dress.
Now arriving in Reams (Champagne) we participated in Champagne tasting. The activity was probably wasted on my inexperienced palate. It was a very commercial and precise tour. I can not get over the incredible quantity of bottles they had- literately 8km. Until recently it use to be a family run business.
Emotion struck me as we entered a quite unimposing garden that symbolised the WWII Memorial. Important to note that significance wine had for the Germans and cellars embarked on a route even deeper down in the cellars to avoid selling the drink at a fixed price. Although the food (especially pastries and cheese) has been exceptional the service is generally lacklustre even with my very best attempt at French language. Reims has a gorgeous Notre Dame Church which we were lucky to hear the organ play in.
The eve of Bastille Day. We caught a free bus from the town to where the event was arranged. There was a colourful display of fireworks and a water display with a visual display projected into it. Our ears were also entertained with Scottish bagpipes and Irish jigs and dancers. Numerous carnival rides kept the kids smiling, or screaming! The strangest thing was with such a popular event you would expect a few toilet facilities however we were informed by the policeman to “piss on the gutter.” That’s right not one toilet was available.
Aboard the 29th train, first class, to Paris an emotion that is difficult to describe without exaggerating excitement and sadness as this is the final stop. Our orientation walk around Paris was cut short at the Notre Dame. The unpredictable weather closed in and poured down with vengeance. With a fresh chane of clothes and easing showers we made our way to the Eiffel Tower. Yes it was spectacular. Then a walk along the river and metro lead us to Montmartre for a picnic dinner overlooking Paris. Ohhh the tomatoes have such an intense flavour. I love the Montmartre area, it has character and a youthful vibe with everyone eating out or simply taking in the views on the steps. On top lies Basillique de Sacre-Coeur which is one of my favourite churches. It has a bright modern appearance that really shows off the mosaic of Jesus on the domed ceiling. We then headed to Trocadéro to over look the Eiffel tower for Bastille Day fireworks. They latest a full 30mins with great variety. It was a shame it could not have included the tower more as it was only lit for a couple on minutes. I was astonished to discover the nearest transport for us to return to the hotel was over an hour walk then a very cramped metro ride. It seems like the equivalent of NZ’s population was out and celebrating Bastille Day in the one area. What a night to be out!
A gruelling early start for Kate (friend from the group) and I as we made our way to Monet’s Garden. The confusion about transport and transfers time put me in a grumpy mood. We were fortunate to find a group of French speaking American’s that lead us in the correct direction and even helped us purchase tickets. However stepping into Giverny produced a wave of relaxation as I looked through the quaint cobble-stone village with a lovely sense of community and well maintained sections. Monet’s Gardens has every reason to inspire art, in my case photography. The lovely bridge overhanging plenty of water lilies could soothe any weary travellers sole. The actual garden was an enlarged cottage style assortment. I was lucky to see it all in full bloom. Monet’s house is well preserved and lovely to wonder through. We returned to the hotel with 15mins to prepared for our final night out. The meal we consumed was at an exclusive restaurant with great service and plenty of specialties including tongue, snails and caviar. It’s almost enough to turn me vegetarian, I stuck to cod, goats cheese, prunes and pears. Our final stop was the Montparnasse Tower which gave us 360 views of Paris. The bright lights of a city are always sparkly but with the Eiffel Tower in the backdrop the night was magic
After goodbyes to the tour group, I will miss everyone, I headed to the Louvre. With only two hours and several floors I hastily looked through Mona Lisa, French painting and Italian sculptures. Like most of art I have seen there was a lot of renaissance style. I made my way to reputably the best ice-cream shop via a pretty boulevard and gardens where unattached chairs where left for people to sit on but never seem to be stolen. The size of Arc de Triomphe is impressive. My general impression of Paris is although it has grand building and some every pretty sights it really is just a big city with crowds, pollution and beggars. Boy was I pleased to see Annie at the airport and to be driven home to a bath and bed. I was even thankful of the cooler temperatures. However I will breathe a sigh of relief when my baggage is returned. I hope the Champagne is worth checking it in rather than carry-on. The strange thing is when talking to people I expect to be using a different language now. I am also grateful to get rid of my backpack and maps.
Apologises for the lengthy detail however everything is so noteworthy and photographic. I’m sure the next few entries will be more subdued