Monday, July 29, 2019 4 comments

Bonjour France!

Arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport

Decisions, decisions.

Our 30th wedding anniversary is coming up in November so we thought a special trip might be a fun way to celebrate. But where in the world to go?

We loved our holiday in Ireland in 1999 and have always wanted to go back. So, knowing the British Open would be played in Portrush this summer, I purchased tickets for the final round almost a year in advance. Clever girl!

Then I discovered there wasn’t anything – not even a tent – available within two hours of the golf course. Apparently as soon as the venue was announced ages ago, everything including broom closets had been snapped up.

So back to the drawing board. 

SS Catherine (Courtesy

After chatting with our local AAA travel guru Matt in Hendersonville, we decided on a Uniworld Rhone river cruise that included Burgundy and Provence. We booked the 8-day trip on the SS Catherine sailing from Lyon to Avignon, and added two days in Paris to kick it all off.

The Arc was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806

48 hours in the City of Light isn’t much, especially when the first day is clouded by jet lag. But we soldiered on because our old friend Tim (Chris' former Royal Navy buddy now living in France) had arranged an afternoon tour of the city. The guys were quite taken with the car, an old Citroen 2CV. 

Tim, our driver Pierre and Chris

Our guide was knowledgeable but whizzed past things before I had a chance to say “stop!” (There was a shop downtown that sold nothing but rubber ducks that sounded very fun. But by the time I expressed interest, we were on the other side of the city.)

Never mind. I had better luck the next day when Tim suggested a visit to Montmartre. We started at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris (often known simply as Sacre-Coeur). It sits atop a hill that is the highest point in the city. The amazing panoramic views have made it second most visited destination after the Eiffel Tower. 

View from the Basilicia

The church is known for its pristine appearance because of the white stone chosen to build it. The stones come from Chateau-Landon, which is known for its high content of calcite. The same stones were used to build the Arc de Triomphe and the Alexandre III bridge. When it rains, the calcite releases a “bleacher” that keeps the appearance of the chalky white.

While the guys stopped for a beer in one of the scenic cafes, I wandered down to the foot of Montmartre hill where the original Moulin Rouge was built in 1885. Sadly it burned down in 1915.

Along the way I passed an exhibit about the works van Gogh created while living in the area, including his scenes of windmills and garden allotments. From 1872 to 1914, many artists of note lived and worked in Montmartre including Renoir, Picasso,  Matisse, Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec.
A Garden in Montmartre by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Montmartre was also where I first saw and became fascinated with “love locks." According to my research, the ritual appeared in Paris over a decade ago after originating in Asia. Parisians and foreign visitors wrote their names with a love message and the date on a padlock. They attached the lock to a fence or some other structure, then threw the key into the Seine, supposedly sealing their love forever.

Beginning in 2015, railings loaded with love locks were removed throughout the city. It was believed the weight of the locks was causing structures to suffer damage or even crumble. In fact, one bridge was reportedly covered in locks weighing a total of 45 tons. More 700,000 keys may be at the bottom of the Seine. 

The tower's original red color was applied in the workshop before parts were assembled.

Speaking of the Seine, the three of us ended the day with a boat tour on the storied river. I didn’t see any keys, but did spy more locks. 

Notre Dame under construction

The Grand Palais

On the journey we were treated to gorgeous unobstructed views of Paris landmarks including the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral and of course, the Eiffel Tower. It was a beautiful end to a brief but spectacular glimpse of one of the world’s most spectacular cities.

Next time! All Aboard. Join us on the Rhone for chateaus, croissants, roses, wine and more wine! Tres bon!