If you’re following along, by now you know of our grumpiness about France. But, there is a lot to see and do so we had to put the grumps aside and get out! Our less-than-stellar-lodging inspired us to leave the house a lot, so we had even further incentive.
We were glad we had 3 weeks in France, because there’s a lot to do! And we really only stayed in the central / western region. Having that much time allowed us to take the outings at a sane pace, which helped everyone digest all the new stuff we were seeing. I won’t play tour guide in this blog post, I figured you can use the internet to research anything else you want to know about places we went. But I will flood you with family selfies that we took everywhere. By the end of this post you’ll be thinking we are a bunch of narcissists, but I find that when looking back on pictures, it’s much more interesting when there are people in them. Besides, it’s my blog so I can put all the pictures of the family I want in here! That’s what you get for reading a blog that does not have advertising. No ads, but tons of family selfies. Samesame.
Here’s some stuff we did while staying at Le Cottage.
Chartres and Le Mans
We took some days to explore nearby towns. Our strategy was to show up in a town, find the center, usually where the train station and/or church is, and walk around. There’s almost always an old part, with some part of a wall and narrow, cobblestone walking streets. They were so pretty!
We enjoyed the massive church in Chartres, and the pretty walking areas and good retail, both mom-and-pop and modern, new stores. It seemed like a pretty modern city with some lovely historic parts.
We checked out Le Mans and learned all about the 24-hour car race the town is known for, taking place every year since 1923, except for a few gaps due to wars. We missed this year’s race by 1 week but that’s OK, we aren’t big race fans. But we enjoyed checking out the museum and the cars.
On a different date we went to Chartres, which is where we went on Day 2 to find groceries. We knew we had to come back for a longer visit because from a 30 miles radius you could see the enormous church towering above the city. You couldn’t even see the town, just the church. So we headed towards it, found parking underground (there is almost always parking underground near churches) and walked around. We were so lucky to get great weather almost every day we were in France.
Of course we went to Paris! We went to Paris multiple times! The first few times we parked at Versailles and took the train in. But it was $40 USD for the 4 of us to park, and then travel to and from by train. It was about $34 USD – and a whole lot more comfortable, and faster – for us to drive all the way into Paris and park at the Louvre.
On our last day of Paris a very young and clearly inexperienced boy tried to pick pocket Haley’s backpack. He did a horrible job and she detected him right away (we were the only ones in the metro hallway at that moment and she heard her backpack zipper). But that goes with the territory in any big city and we were not surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised. Crime notwithstanding, wandering Paris streets was fun and there was never any shortage of quaint areas to see.
We did a lot of walking in Paris. A LOT. We could have taken the metro but when it’s a nice day outside and there are big, wide sidewalks with a lot of interesting things to see, it’s hard to have the motivation. Going to the hot, dirty underground where it felt like even more walking through the long and pickpocket-y metro hallways was not our first choice. So we stayed above ground for the most part.
We noticed that a lot of Parisans (and tourists) are on big adult-sized electric scooters. Not motorcycle-type scooters but the kind you stand on and sometimes push with one leg. Zoe was begging to rent them and you can manage it all via an app on your Smartphone, renting any that you see just sitting on the sidewalk. We attempted to do that until 1. all the ones we tried to rent had dead batteries and 2. we learned that you had to be 18 and older to drive – or even ride on- one. As our stay in France continued we decided to disregard that policy but by then we couldn’t find any. We promised Zoe that in some future city we would illegally rent scooters. #freetheshermans
This was my third time to the Louvre and I was kind of in a “let’s check this box and get the hell out of here” mood but I tried to stay positive for the sake of the kids. We found Mona and Dan and I stood at the back while the girls inched forward in the crowd to get a few pictures. Check and check! We saw the big collection of mummies and the Sphinx, and we enjoyed some of the Roman sculptures. Dan was the most enthusiastic when I found a hidden Starbucks INSIDE the Louvre on my way to the bathroom. You’d never know it was there because the French seem to REALLY hate commercial signs. And especially in their precious Louvre, I guess.
Fontainebleau was about an hour’s drive from our house, which we didn’t mind at all. We like our chocolate milk truck and our GPS – we’ve named her Dolores – always takes us some crazy route that involves small towns, one way streets and fields. And she always takes us a different route home. Half the experience is just getting there.
Fontainebleau was a lot like Versailles and we remarked on why there were two palaces so close to each other. Of course “close” for a car is not “close” for 15th century horse-drawn carriages. Besides, this was a different palace, a little less fancy than Versailles. It’s in a really cute town, of course. Although by the time we were done exploring the palace everything was closed up because it was a Sunday. So we could only get a quick snack at a cafe and then mosey home. #europe
We went to see the palace of Versailles, which was owned and built by a ton of different guys from French history, all of whom seemed to want to outdo the last guy. The palace itself was lovely, with ornate gold furnishings and wall decorations – they did not have the simplistic style choices, that’s for sure.
We really enjoyed the gardens at Versailles, mostly because we could explore them via golf cart. We let the girls drive when we were in a secluded area so I’m pretty sure that’s all they will remember about Verailles. It almost – but not quite – makes up for the illegal scooter renting that we didn’t do on the streets of Paris.
Monet’s Garden at Giverny
We can’t come to France and not learn about Monet! So we went to Giverny to see the gardens that he built and inspired many of his paintings, including the famous Water Lillies series. The gardens were incredible! It was a gorgeous day and we absolutely loved wandering around the paths and bridges he built around the man-made ponds. This was probably our favorite place in France.
The next day we went to Musee de l’Orangerie and saw some of the Water Lillies paintings. They were displayed in a special room designed by Monet to showcase the work in the way he intended. Two oval rooms have 8 panels of this series of paintings, in an elliptical shape with just the right lighting. I really enjoyed this museum, it was much more straightforward and digestible than the Louvre. I discovered a few other impressionist painters that I liked as well. It was the perfect amount of seeing something familiar but also learning something new.
We went to a few movies, which was a great surprise to find some in English. We had some days at home, during which I worked on a jigsaw puzzle delivered lighting-fast by Amazon, we watched The War documentary and we are working our way through Friends. We made lots of homemade-but-quick dinners and Zoe played with the dog. We were in France for a mini heat wave that seemed to grip vast portions of Europe, in a region that is known for their distaste for A/C. We weathered it pretty well with a few fans and a few strategic outings to air conditioned stores (IKEA!). Le Cottage was situated well to keep cool so we had no complaints. That’s a first.
But we are not done with France. I saved one long, exploratory, educational day to tell you about in more detail – it was that cool. Stay tuned for your World War 2 educational blog post, coming up next!