Our Trip to France

May, 2005


Stephanie and I took a trip to France to visit her relatives in Nice and Corsica, and to see Paris and Lourdes.  We left on Tuesday, May 10, 2005 and returned on Tuesday, May 24, 2005.


Tuesday 10 May


The morning was spent getting ready to depart.  Jefferson picked us up and we went to the airport with him.  We went earlier than we would have needed so he could pick up Cheryl and Samanda, who had just arrived there.  We met them at the arrival area, took our bags out of Jefferson’s car, put their bags into his car, and then went to check in.


Checking in without a ticket requires knowing the confirmation number.  The machine timed out before I could find the confirmation number, so we went looking for a real person to help us, and found a very helpful lady who got us ticketed all the way to Paris and checked our 2 bags.  We each had a suitcase and 2 carry-on items.  One of those was a backpack on wheels and the other was a canvas bag we got free from Twin City Federal.  The suitcases we had were also on wheels.


Note:  next time I go on a trip like that, rather than taking a bag with a shoulder strap, I think it would be better to have a small backpack.  Many people we saw had that, and it gives two hands free to hold other things.


After we checked in and went through security, we began what would be a large part of our trip:  waiting.  We waited in airports and train stations for many, many hours.


We flew from the Minneapolis/St Paul Airport (MSP) to Detroit (DET) on a relatively small airplane.  Then in Detroit we waited again, and finally boarded an Airbus A380, which was filled to the gills.  The seats were 2-4-2 with two aisles.  Stephanie sat in an aisle seat and I sat between her and a younger woman.  That flight was over 7 hours.  They began with a meal, and there was a screen on the back of the seat in front of me.  I had to hold my head way back to see the screen clearly.


I tried to watch several of the movies, but they all left me cold.  I don’t know what has happened to the selection of movies lately.  I really wanted to sleep on the flight, knowing there would be a tremendous time difference when we arrived in Paris, but I just could not sleep.  I ended up reading from Michael Masterson’s book Automatic Wealth.


Wednesday 11 May


They served a breakfast snack just prior to arrival in Paris at the Charles De Gaulle airport (CDG) where we got off the airplane and went through customs.  After finding our checked luggage, we proceeded to find the metro (subway) to go into downtown Paris.  Our objective was to find a hotel close to the Gare Lyon train station, which was where we would be leaving for our trip to Nice.


It turned out we had to change trains for the trip, and a very helpful man led us to the correct train at the place where we had to make the change.  Fortunately, Stephanie’s ability to speak French gave her the ability to communicate with people and ask for directions.  Most of the people we encountered were very friendly and helpful.



After we arrived at Gare Lyon, we walked around looking for a hotel nearby.  The first couple of hotels we found were either full or way too expensive.  We finally found Hotel Azur.  Although expensive (at 110 Euros per night) it was quaint and they had a nice room.


We had a room on the top floor, room 70.  Remember that the floors in Europe are numbered at 1 starting the first floor above ground level, which is 0.  They had a very small elevator that would hold 2 people and a reasonable amount of luggage.  The elevator went up the center of a circular staircase.


Our room was quite large, with a large bathroom.  There was a tub in the bathroom and a sprayer nozzle that appeared to be usable for taking a shower, but no shower curtain, so we ended up “showering” sitting in the tub.  The bathroom had a skylight in which they had also installed a fluorescent light.  The bedroom had a built-in closet with shelves in it.  Because of the pitch of the roof, the shelves were small on top and very deep at the bottom.


Stephanie had packed food for the trip, so we ate that food on our first day in Paris.  After washing up and changing clothes, we went out and walked around the area near the hotel.  We looked for information about  the metro and/or bus, then walked along the Seine River.  We walked to see Notre Dame.





In Paris we saw some really interesting vehicles.




Then we walked back to the hotel.



Then we had dinner at a Chinese place.


Thursday 12 May


We began with breakfast at the hotel.  They charged 8 Euros per person – no continental breakfast any more, it seems.  It was the equivalent of a continental breakfast, with coffee (I had tea), French bread and croissants.


The best description of this day was the day of the long walk.  We started out with the objective to see several museums in Paris.  We walked over to the Seine, and found the stop for the Batobus, which is a large boat and with a one-day ticket you can get on and off as you wish.  We bought two one-day tickets and got on the boat.  We got off at the stop near the Louvre Museum.  Then we walked around and finally found the place where we could purchase 1-day passes to museums.  Those passes allow you to visit as many museums as you want.



We spent two or three hours wandering around in the Louvre, but I don’t think we covered much at all.



We finally decided we had seen enough, and started walking through Jardin des Tuileries, where we found an outdoor place to eat.  We purchased sandwiches and sat eating them.



Then we walked down Avenue des Champs Elysees and visited the Arc de Triomphe.




After that, we walked to the Tour Eiffel where we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower.



We walked down from level 2.  Then we walked back to the Seine, bought a sandwich and took the Batobus (boat) to Musee D'Orsay and spent some time in the museum there.  Finally, we took the Batobus (boat) to Quai Saint Bernard and walked to our hotel. 



It was a beautiful, sunny day, for the most part, although windy and very cool.  I was glad to have the nylon jacket along to wear, mostly as a windbreaker.


We got back to the hotel after 10:00 PM.


Friday 13 May


We had breakfast again at the hotel.  I discovered that they had free internet access, so I got on to check my emails.  After that, we walked over to the Gare Lyon to see where we would have to go to catch the train.  We went back to the hotel and packed our things, checked out, and went over to the Gare Lyon train station to catch the TGV (very fast train) to Nice.


We waited there for the train to leave, and finally it was time to board.



Five hours later we were in Nice.  During the train ride I read a lot more of Automatic Wealth.  We decided we really liked riding on the TGV.  The seats are very comfortable with electric recline controls and there is a lot of room.


We got off the train and discovered the train station was overrun with people.  We walked around looking for Michel, then walked outside and still did not find him.  I stayed with the bags while Stephanie went inside to look again for Michel.  Meanwhile, he came and recognized me – we had sent a picture via email.  He watched the luggage while I went inside to get Stephanie.


Michel has a really nice white BMW with a turbo diesel engine.  We got the luggage in the car and proceeded to go along the beach road in Nice to his apartment.


Michel made us a very nice leg of lamb dinner in his apartment.  We certainly ate well.  While we were in Nice, most of our touring was in Michel’s car.  We went out and had ice cream in downtown Nice.


Saturday 14 May


We had breakfast in Michel’s apartment, Stephanie washed some things, and then we went out to the open market, like a farmer’s market.



We were there just a short time when it started to rain.  We tried to dodge the raindrops, then went back to Michel’s car and got a large umbrella.  We walked around some more, but soon the shops closed up and then we left.


We went back to Michel’s apartment and I got on the internet to check email.  Someone had opened Outlook on my computer at home so all my emails were gone.  When the rain stopped, we went out and tried to visit a Russian Orthodox church, but they were closed.


We had dinner with Jean Louis Le Van Suu, his wife Helen and their children Julien and Anne and





Michel’s sister and her husband and two daughters at a very pleasant restaurant on the beach.  I had a pizza with “fruits of the sea” (various seafood including squid, etc.).  Stephanie and I shared our meals and we had a really enjoyable time.  Her cousins were not really fluent in English, and I don’t speak any French so we did have some difficulty communicating but nevertheless it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.


Sunday 15 May


After breakfast, Michel took us to the 10:00 Mass at the church.  It was Pentecost, so Stephanie really wanted to go to church.  Michel dropped us off and went back home.  He gave us a set of keys so we could walk home ourselves and let ourselves in.


The service was not that different from a service at Corpus Christi just that it was in French, not English.


After church, we walked up the hill to Michel’s apartment and had some lunch.  Following that, we went to a monastery and walked around there.  Being Pentecost, it was a 3-day weekend for most in France, and there was a park near the monastery where a very large number of people were enjoying the beautiful day.



We walked around the monastery, as much as we could.  It is situated up above the city, so there is a fantastic view of Nice and the Mediterranean.  There is a beautiful garden with many roses and other plants in bloom.


Then we walked to the park and looked around there.  It reminded me a lot of Como Park, with rides, concession stands, and many places where people came and spread out a blanket and sat and ate and just had some time out-of-doors.



We left there and then drove to Monaco.  Monaco was preparing for an auto race.



We found a place to park Michel’s car, and walked up a very steep hill to see the castle and the place where Prince Ranier and Princess Grace had lived.  We found the cathedral and their graves inside.



There were a lot of people there.



We drove back to Michel’s apartment in Nice and had another very enjoyable dinner Michel prepared.


Monday 16 May


After breakfast, we packed our things and Michel took us to the airport.  The airplane was a fairly small turboprop.  We managed to get on with our luggage and flew to Ajaccio on Corsica.  We got our checked luggage and then went to find a bus to the train station.  The bus was there, but not ready to leave.  We waited for the bus, then got on and he drove to the train station, where we got off.



We went into the train station, but since it wasn’t even close to the time for the train to leave, we couldn’t purchase our tickets yet.  We spent our time in the waiting room with our luggage.  Then we decided to go next door and have something to eat at the restaurant there.


Finally, it was time.  The arriving train came in and we got our tickets.  The train was just two cars.  We got on the front one and got our luggage situated.  The train stopped many times along the way.  The engine was in our car – it was interesting to hear it accelerate, then the car would begin to speed up, then the engine would idle down and we would go rollicking along the tracks.


We saw a lot on our trip from Ajaccio to Bastia.  The five hours went by very quickly.  Corsica is a mountain in the middle of the Mediterranean, and we saw sights that reminded us of Norway.  I think it is a lot like Hawaii, too.


We arrived at the stop closest to the Bastia airport, where we were to pick up the rental car.  We took a cab from the train station to the airport.  Stephanie feels he ripped us off – the cab fare was almost as much as the five-hour train ride.


We picked up our car at the Avis rental office, and then drove from Bastia to Travo.  I had computed that the price of gas was around $5 per gallon, and it amazed me how the people drove even at that price of fuel.  We got to Travo safely, and found the road to the Le Van Suu home.  Just as we came down the road, she stepped out of the gate.  I stopped the car and Stephanie jumped out and ran to give her aunt a big hug.


That was the first time they had seen each other in 45 years.


Immediately, she took us across the road to meet her daughter.




It is really nice that mother and daughter can live so close together.  Her daughter raises chickens and ducks.



Then we had dinner with Stephanie’s aunt.  She lives in a nice home in a very rural area.  There are two camping trailers parked next to the house.  She also has a pond with lily pads and frogs, many flowers and flowering shrubs.


We had a delicious dinner.


Tuesday 17 May


In the morning, Stephanie washed clothes.  I hung them outside, but about noon it started raining so I had to move them.  I put some inside and the rest were out under the porch covering.


Stephanie and her aunt did a lot of visiting while they prepared food.  They sat at the table and made egg rolls, which her aunt then cooked and they put them in a large bowl.



At dinnertime, we met another cousin Jean-Baptiste and his wife Paula.  It was enjoyable to sit around the table and listen to all of them visiting.  Then I went across the street and got on the internet to check my email.  After that, I repacked my suitcases and found the European adapter.  I spent some time to copy 2 CD's for Stephanie.  My plan is to make CD’s when we get home.  This is music from Corsica.


Wednesday 18 May


This day was sunny and nice.  There were times the clouds appeared to be gathering, but it stayed nice all day.  Just as we were preparing to leave, I discovered the car had a flat tire.  I changed the tire, and Stephanie called Avis to see what we should do.  We took the tire to the service station where they repaired it.  In the meantime, we went to the cemetery where Stephanie’s uncle is buried.  They do not have below ground burials here, only above ground.



After going to the cemetery, Stephanie’s aunt showed us the place where Michel is going to build a new house.  It is a very nice place at the end of a cul-de-sac.  It will be a nice place for her to live and for him.


Then we went to a small shop and Stephanie bought some food.  Then we went back to the service station and picked up the repaired tire.  It cost about 9 Euros to have it repaired.


I copied another CD for Stephanie.



We went on a long walk, saw the small church in the town, and generally enjoyed seeing the sights of Travo.



Michel called his mother to see if Jean Louis had called.  He wanted to arrange that Jean Louis would pick us up at the airport, take us to his (Michel’s) apartment, and then pick us up at the apartment and take us to the train station.


Thursday 19 May


We got up early, packed our things, said our goodbyes, and drove north to Bastia to return the rental car.  We arrived there a little after 10:00, returned the car, and then went to the airport to await the flight to Nice.  So we had a long wait in the airport.  We couldn’t check in until less than an hour prior to departure, so we had to keep all of our luggage with us.


Finally, the time came to board the airplane.  This time we sat farther back, and I had purposely packed the carry-on bag with less in it so I could get it in the overhead bin.  The flight from Bastia to Nice was less than an hour and uneventful.  It was a beautiful day, and Stephanie could see a number of boats and ships as we flew over the Mediterranean.


We arrived in Nice, collected our luggage, and met Jean Louis, who took us to Michel’s apartment.  We opened the window covering and spent some time just relaxing.  Then Jean Louis came and picked us up and took us to the rail station.


We checked our reservations and got on the train, which left about 11:00 at night.  We were in upper bunks in a sleeping compartment.  Another young man had been in one of the lower bunks, but he requested to be transferred to a different compartment.


The train rocked and rolled along through the night on our way to Lourdes.


Friday 20 May


I awoke about 5:00AM and went into the WC on the train to shave and wash up with The Cloth.  Then I put on clean clothes in the compartment.  We arrived in Lourdes about 7:00AM.  We got off the train and went across the street to a hotel where they had a restaurant and had some breakfast.  There wasn’t a lot of traffic around the train station.  We asked about where the shrine was and we got a map indicating it was a reasonable distance to walk.


It was a beautiful, sunny, moderate temperature day.



We walked down the cobblestone street through the town and past a lot of shops with many items for tourists.  We finally reached the shrine where I found a stone bench in the shade and I parked myself with the luggage.  I told Stephanie she could go and visit the shrine and do whatever she wanted to do.  I sat and observed.  I really did not feel I could sit and read because I wanted to be aware of everything going on around me.



That is definitely a big, big business.  There were thousands of tourists arriving almost constantly.  One man told me they could accommodate 12,000 people.  People would come in groups, line up and have their pictures taken in front of the church, and then go to various places.



Stephanie went up to the church on top of the shrine, then down to the grotto to collect some of the blessed water.  She attended a part of a service and was able to find things to bring home to various members of her family.



We had originally planned to leave on Saturday, but since Stephanie had completed everything she wanted to do we decided to try to change our reservation and get back to Paris so we could see Versailles on Sunday, since it would be closed on Monday.  They would not change our reservation for the Couchette, so we elected to take the overnight train sitting up.


Again, more waiting.  We waited in the train station until the train left at about 11:00 PM.  The train came in, we got on, and then there was a child across the aisle from us who had a loud voice and her mother had a bad cough.  Fortunately, I was able to sleep.


Saturday 21 May


I awoke very early because I was very cold.  It had been pleasantly moderately warm in Lourdes, but when we got to Paris it was cold.  When we arrived in Paris at Gare Austerlitz, we collected our luggage and got off the train and walked around to try to find a hotel.  We found one a few blocks away where the rate was 80 Euros per night, but breakfast was 10 Euros and Internet access was not free.  Check in time was after 10:00AM.  They allowed us to store our luggage at the hotel.


We went around the corner to a small bakery where they had breakfast and ate.  Then we walked around a bit to familiarize ourselves with the area.  We went back to the hotel where I did my morning journaling and we checked in to room 504 just after 10:00AM.


We both showered and changed clothes and then we washed our underwear and hung it out to dry on the balcony and our socks in the closet.  There was a sign on the front of the balcony and I hung the cord below it so the sun dried the clothes and they weren’t visible.  While they were drying, we went out for a walk to buy some food and bottled water.  We saw model sailboats at the Jardins de Luxembourg.



Sunday 22 May


We got up early, had breakfast at the hotel for 10 Euros each (the sidewalk café was not open on Sunday) and then set out to go to Chateau de Versailles.  We went to Gare Austerlitz where we got round-trip tickets and instructions where to change trains.


We waited for the train with a number of other people who were going to Versailles.  There was an announcement (in French) I couldn’t understand, but Stephanie told me the train track had been changed, so we and the others went to a different platform.  Finally, the train came and we got on.  There was a very pleasant helpful man who was there also, Martin de Boudard Hugues, who was a godsend.  He guided us almost the entire way to Versailles.


We had to change trains twice.  The first time was no real problem, just get off one and get on another, the second was an experience.  To get on a train one needed to run a ticket through a machine.  The person who sold us the round-trip tickets gave us two sets of tickets each, two for outbound and two for homebound.  When we made the first change, the first ticket worked fine.  Making the second change, the first ticket no longer worked, so Martin went through the machine with me on my second ticket.


Finally, we got to Versailles.  It was a long walk from the train to the palace.  The weather was pleasant but windy and cool.  When we got there, Stephanie went to try to find where to get tickets.  Finally, she came back with the tickets.



We began the tour with a walk around the gardens outside.  We found an outdoor restaurant where we bought a sandwich and split it between us.  Stephanie had brought water so we had that.  I wore my sweatshirt under the vest because it was not a warm day, but I did wear one of Stephanie’s hats to protect my forehead from the sun.



After walking around the gardens for a while, we decided to tour inside the palace.  The tickets Stephanie had purchased included an audio tour, which was a small device with headphones.  Each room was numbered, and you could enter the number on the device and a voice would tell about the room and the art in the room.  That was an extremely interesting way to see the palace – I could hear, and we could move at our own pace.  There were three of the audio tours of various parts of the palace.



At the end, we came to a gift shop where I purchased three DVD’s, one of the Louvre, one of Versailles, and one of Paris.


It was a long day with a lot of walking.  We decided to return to Paris, and walked back to the train station.  When we tried to use the tickets we had purchased to get on the train, they didn’t work.  The security people helped us and explained that they were the wrong type of ticket.  We had to pay extra to get a return ticket to Paris.  We managed to get back to our hotel but we were very tired.



However, we were not so tired that we weren’t hungry.  I asked the person at the front desk about a good restaurant and we went around the corner and down the street to a small restaurant where we had a nice dinner to celebrate our trip to France and our 8th anniversary.


Needless to say, we slept well.


Monday 23 May


The reason we wanted to go to Versailles on Sunday is that museums (including Versailles) are closed on Mondays.  We got up and had breakfast at the bakery around the corner.  Then we walked up the street to Place d’Italie where there is a shopping mall.  Stephanie wanted to do some shopping.  We walked all over the mall and she went in the grocery store there, but we didn’t buy anything.  Then we walked back to the hotel and Stephanie went in a different grocery store and bought some food.


After eating some lunch, we decided to go for a walk down by the Seine.  We walked along the Seine and found ourselves near Notre Dame de Paris, so we decided to go in since it was free on Mondays.


We walked around in the church, looking at the beautiful artwork and enjoying the sights, when suddenly someone began playing Cesar Franck on the organ.  I sat down and closed my eyes and just listened to the beautiful music.  It was a real treat.


They have a place in the church where they sell CD’s and I purchased 2 CD’s, one of music of Cesar Franck and one of Charles-Marie Widor, played on the organ in Notre Dame.


We walked further along and got as far as the Louvre, but then decided to start heading back.  We walked through some streets lined with stores, and back to the Seine.  There, we bought some tickets and took a narrated boat tour along the Seine.


After the boat tour, we walked along the Seine back towards Gare Austerlitz and then to our hotel.  Being hungry by that time, we went out to find a restaurant.  We found a small Chinese restaurant and went in there for dinner.  The leftovers we had put in a container.


That was our last evening in Paris.


Tuesday 24 May


I got up about 6:00AM, which was 11:00PM on Monday at home.  I shaved showered and dressed and then finished my packing.  Stephanie got up and showered and dressed and packed and then we went to breakfast in the hotel.


After breakfast, we finished the packing, I checked my email for the last time, we checked out of the hotel, and walked over to Gare Austerlitz.  We bought tickets to take us to the airport, CDG Terminal 2, and got on the subway.  We had to change once, and then we got to the airport.


At the airport, we went the wrong way and couldn’t find the Northwest Airlines counter, but eventually we found it and we checked our bags and got boarding passes.  We must have had our passports and boarding passes checked at least six times.


We waited in the boarding area and then got on the airplane, again an Airbus A380.  We sat down in our assigned seats.  Just before takeoff, a lady sitting behind us asked if she could sit next to her husband.  The person sitting next to her husband didn’t want to switch, so we switched with her and the lady next to her, so Stephanie ended up in a window seat.


After the almost 8 hour flight we arrived in Detroit, waited there for a while and got on our flight to the Twin Cities, and then Laura and Kevin came to get us and took us home.




I am writing this on Friday, May 27, 2005 and even now I know there are several details I have forgotten.  I drove Mother up to the Brook Park cemetery yesterday and tried to tell her about the trip, and that experience made me realize I needed to get these memories written down right away.  I do have the advantage of my daily journal in which I tried to capture what we did and some of the feelings I had at the time.


We had a wonderful trip, mostly because of the wonderful family Stephanie has.  Michel was a fantastic host.  Mrs. Le Van Suu made us both feel so welcome.  We had pleasant experiences almost the whole time we were there.  When we needed help, strangers were not reluctant to help us.


We got to see a lot.  We did a fantastic amount of walking.  Paris is a wonderful city for walking around because there are so many things to see and they are all fairly close together.


We had been warned about pickpockets and thieves, but we had no bad experiences.  The worst thing that happened was the flat tire on the car, and the car came with the neatest kit for changing the tire that I have ever experienced.  It is in a hard plastic case that fits inside the spare tire.  Everything is in one place and it has a handle you just lift it out and place it next to the tire.  The instruction book (in French) had enough pictures so even I could figure it out and get the tire changed.


For me, the most fun was the train ride from Ajaccio to Bastia.  The most memorable event was the organ music in Notre Dame.  The most poignant was seeing Stephanie together with her aunt and seeing them visiting and working together.  I have extremely fond memories of Michel and our dinner out.  I really hope we can visit with Jean Louis and his family again, and all of the Le Van Suu family.