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We spent spring break 2019 in the Four Corners Area (aka the area between the states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona).The Four Corners area is known to have many dwelling ruins of America's past, ranging from pithouses from 1500 years ago to cliff dwellings of some 800 years ago.

Cliff Palace - a cliff village high in the rocky alcoves of Mesa Verde National Park, CO

We started our journey by flying into Albuquerque Sunport (ABQ) and renting a high-clearance car for the week. Unfortunately it was a 2WD, but that did not dampen our trip at all. Our first stop was to be Chaco Historical Park, about 3 - 3.5 hours drive north of ABQ. Unfortunately rain was in the forecast that day. I had read that the unpaved roads to Chaco was IMpassable when wet, even for a 4WD. When dry, a 2WD could make the trip. Hesitantly, we passed on this opportunity and spent the afternoon in old Town Albuquerque, which is quite charming in itself.

New Mexico

Chaco Culture National Historic Park was an important ceremonial, economic and administrative gathering place for Native Americans of the San Juan Basin from 850-1250 AD. It has ruins of many great houses and stone buildings of multiple storeys containing hundreds of rooms. Starting in the 1100s, Chaco started to lose prominence as a center as people started moving north to places like Aztec and Mesa Verde. Chaco is definitely on my list next time we go to that area.

Website: Chaco Cultural National Historic Park

Aztec Ruins National monument, New Mexico
Overlooking the ruins of a Mesa-top community in Aztec Ruins National Monument, Aztec, NM

On our way back to the airport, we stopped by Aztec Ruins National Monument. These ruins are not actually Aztec but ancestral Puebloans. It consisted of a great kiva (reconstructed) and ruins of a mesa top 400-room dwelling. Aztec started to gain prominence in the 1100s, overlapping 100 years with the decline of Chaco. The half mile self-guided trail led us into and through the small rooms of the great building. In its day, about 900 years ago, this great building was at least 2 floors high. The great kiva, though reconstructed, was a sight to see.

Walking through the small rooms of Aztec Ruins National Monument, Aztec, NM

Practical Information (as of April 2019):

Features: Wander through a 900-year-old Native American community

Fee: Free, free parking

Hike: Pick up trail guide at Visitor Center, free for loaner copy

Directions: 725 Ruins Road, Aztec, NM 87410

Hours: varies according to season, check website

Website: https://www.nps.gov/azru/index.htm

Bisti Badlands, New Mexico

Having seen so many pictures of Bisti Badlands in NW New Mexico, I felt a great desire to see it with my own two eyes. Before we go further, I will disclose that there were no actual trails in these Badlands, nor does GPS provide easy to follow instructions to get there. In my experience, those are usually the most fulfilling trips. 8) Perhaps I appreciate it more after putting work into it. If you're ok with somewhat vague instructions and navigating from multiple paper maps, then this is the place for you.

Hoodoos in Bisti Badlands, NM

Bisti is known for white hoodoos with a flat “hat” on top, fossilized dinosaur bones and petrified logs. The hoodoos were fairly easy to find. They were to the right and left. We tended to end in dead ends when we followed a narrow canyon between hoodoos, and had to make our way back to the wash to continue further.

Petrified logs were a nice find. From the south parking lot, we followed the fence line until it took a sharp turn to the left. Then we followed the wash, probably about 2 miles one-way from the parking lot, past the red mounds. The petrified logs were to the right of of the wash, just past the “dinosaur egg” rocks. (I guess I didn't explain to them beforehand that they weren't actually dinosaur eggs, so there was a lot of disappointment when the truth came out. Now I'm on the hook to find some real fossilized dinosaur eggs for them to see. Luckily, there are some in Alberta, Canada - stay tuned.) We first came upon the petrified logs in pieces. It looked like someone had smashed one into a thousand pieces. It is truly sad that anyone would do that.

With our hearts broken from the destruction, we walked on and eventually found a long, mostly-intact petrified log resting on its side on a shortened hoodoo. Keep your eyes peeled, because all around that area were petrified logs, mostly in smaller 2-3 foot portions. Some had petrified orange moss and petrified webbing within the log that looked like home to an ancient bug. The appearance was of a tree log, but touching it revealed a very hard texture, most similar to a rock. Even the moss was incredibly hard to the touch. Petrified orange moss, I suppose.

Petrified log in Bisti Badlands, NM"

The fossilized bones were hardest to find. This area is known to have hidden dinosaur bones from many ages ago. After guessing at many many different rocks to be bone, we finally came across one large bone, which we were pretty sure was actual bone (in our Untrained opinion.) 8) I read somewhere (I know, great reference) that rocks tend to be smooth. But bone has texture, line-like matrix or foam-like texture to indicate fossilized bone marrow. Oh how I wish I had a degree in geology/paleontology. Anyway this find made it clear to us that all other fossilized “bone” we were guessing at, were just rocks. I think this is our first unguided find of fossilized bone, assuming that it is what we think it is . We found this alleged fossilized bone to the left of the fence line, after wandering a little bit near the “Rock Garden”, probably about 2 miles from the south parking lot. There is a faded map at the trailhead, it's always a good idea to take a picture of it. You never know when you might need it.

Alleged fossilized bone in Bisti Badlands, NM

Practical Information (as of April 2019):

Features: Wander about a barren landscape to find beautiful hoodoos formed by erosion, petrified logs and more

Our hike: We wandered around the Badlands for 6 hours (including ½ hour lunch) covering about 9 miles rt though a more efficient hiker could probably get the job done in 6 miles, assuming you never veer from your intended path.

Fee: free

Directions: UNpaved packed gravel road which was very passable with our high-clearance 2WD when dry, but probably impassable when wet. From Farmington, about 45 mins drive south of Farmington on NM 371 till you get to road 7297 (near mile marker 71) signed for the Bisti Badlands. Make a left (East) turn on this gravel road. Proceed to the junction (about two miles) and make a left, then go about two more miles to the parking area on the right side of the road. There is no water or facilities at the parking area. (Want south trailhead parking)

We had planned to go to Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness but the rain the night before had turned the last part of the road filled with soft sand which we weren't comfortable driving on in our 2WD vehicle. Unfortunately, we had driven about an hour before our turn-around occurred. Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah was farther off the main highway than Bisti. We did see many wild horses roaming freely in the fields adjacent to the road.

Arizona Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona
Monument Valley

Four Corners Monument, NM / AZ/ UT / CO

Four Corners is the site where the four states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet at a single point. This point is commemorated with a plaque in the ground and inscriptions showing the four different states. Our approach was from New Mexico. This was a quick stop for pictures with the plaque. There is also a short rough trail going up a hill, called Dancing Horse Trail. From here one could see the surrounding colorful cliffs. There was also a food truck advertising Navajo tacos, though it was closed when we were there. If you are not familiar, Navajo taco is a fry bread that one can add different toppings to, from simple cinnamon/honey to meat taco toppings. Fry bread has a hold on me that I just can't explain.

Practical Information (as of April 2019):

Fee: $5/person >6 years old

Website: Four Corners Monument

Utah Valley of the Gods, Utah

The Valley of the Gods is a 17-mile unpaved road, similar to Monument Valley, that passes by many pinnacle-like rock formations. There was even one that looks like a woman soaking in a bathtub.

The road itself has many crossings across many low points, so it is definitely problematic if there is rain or if there was rain in the last few days. When we were there, some of the streams were flowing with maybe an inch of water. Hubby got out of the car each time to make sure that it was passable. I suspect that, if there was more water, we would have had to turn around. Even if dry, a high-clearance vehicle would be needed for get through the bumpy low points of the road. The road was fairly narrow in most parts, probably the width of 1.5 cars, but for two directions of traffic. So there were some nervous moments when visibility was low due to an incline in the road or a sharp curve.

Rocky monuments in Valley of the Gods, Utah

There was no hiking trail per se, but one can stop and hike anywhere one's heart desires. We saw many campers along the way. We had wanted to stay for the sunset, but the kids were not so inclined. One day, we will stay for all the sunsets our hearts desire. Though, we might miss the noise in the backseat then. Maybe. We spent almost 2 hours here, including a short 1 mile “hike” to a local butte.

Practical Information (as of April 2019):

Features: Drive by many pinnacle-like rock formations on a 17-mile UNpaved road

Fee: Free

Website: Valley of the Gods

Picture of map?:*******” Goosenecks State Park, Utah

Just 30 minutes north of Monument Valley is a state park called Goosenecks State Park. There were no hikes that we saw. The state park ended just a short jaunt away from the entrance station. The highlight here is of the “gooseneck” formation formed by the flowing San Juan below. It reminded me of pictures of Horseshoe Bend.

Rocky monuments in Valley of the Gods, Utah

Practical Information (as of April 2019):

Fee: $5/car/day

Website: Goosenecks State Park

House on Fire Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Utah

House on Fire Ruins got its name from the way the “roof” rock of the “house” looks like it is on fire during the late morning hour. It is located in Mule Canyon in the Cedar Mesa plateau in the southeastern corner of Utah. It used to be part of Bears Ears National Monument.

The hike in was very pleasant along a creek and many trees with budding green leaves. It was a smallish canyon, so we had two walls of rock on either side of us. There were many stream crossings which we easily made across without getting our feet wet. We sometimes lost our trail to the wash, but easily found it again not too far downstream I kept my eyes peeled for more ruins along the way, but none came into sight.

Our hike was about 1.5 miles each way. We arrived around 10:15 a.m., stayed about 15 minutes and left as the next group arrived. As we left, we noticed a handful of groups arriving for the fire hour.

Practical Information (as of April 2019):

Our hike: 3 miles rt from parking lot into canyon, many stream crossings with no wet feet

Directions: From Blanding, head south of 191, then west on UT 95 for a little over 19 miles. Immediately after you pass mile post 102, there will be a dirt on your right. Take it. (If you pass a brown sign that says “Mule Canyon Indian Ruins” you’ve gone too far. Turn around and take the first dirt road you come to on your left.) Once on the dirt road, look for a board on your left (with permit fee information) and an unpaved parking area on your right immediately after the board. After parking, walk a short way down the unpaved road to the first canyon. There is an information board visible from this road on the left, to mark the start of the trail. Sign in at the guest register.

Fees: $2/person/day or $5/person/7days, National parks pass NOT accepted. Leave your permit on your dash. Permit valid for the duration paid at any Cedar Mesa trailhead (including Kane Gulch)

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah:

Natural Bridges National Monument is about an hour from Blanding, UT and consists of 2 bridges and 1 arch. I learned during this trip that the differentiating factor between a bridge and an arch is whether the stream that carved the bridge/arch still flows under it.

Our hike consisted of about 8.5 miles rt, starting at the rim, hiking down to Sipapu Bridge to Kachina Bridge and back to Sipapu Bridge and back up to the rim. There were 3 ladders to climb down to Sipapu Bridge, the tallest being about 14ft. For me, going down is harder than up. Having to turn around at the top makes me nervous but we all made it down, then up, without incident. A longer hike is available, at about 12 miles rt (per NPS signs, probably more like 14.5 miles rt) which covers the two bridges (Sipapu and Kachina) and Owachomo Bridge (really an arch since the stream flowing underneath it has dried up).

The natural bridges were majestic! Looking over the rim, it became obvious how big the natural bridges were, even if the they were somewhat camouflaged by color. Going underneath the bridges gave us an idea of small we really were! The hike led us on sandy washes between gigantic walls of rock of varying colors and over the streams several times. I was glad it hadn't rained since flash flooding might be a concern. We only hiked between 2 bridges this time since we were running out of time but did stop at the third natural bridge, Owachomo Bridge, to view it from the overlook.

All bridges had overlooks from the Loop Drive, if that is all you are looking for. All bridges had a quick hike down to go to the base of the bridge and back up. Sipapu Bridge has 3 ladders, the main reason I chose to hike it - keeping my boys entertained during hikes is a major consideration. I get less resistance from the boys in challenging hikes than easy, flat hikes. As someone who is fearful of heights, the ladders were pretty manageable.

Practical Information (as of April 2019):

Features: Walk down 3 ladders to the base of a majestic natural bridge (Sipapu Bridge) past a ruin, into a canyon lined by gigantic walls of rocks, cross the stream that carved the bridges many times to a second bridge (Kachina Bridge)

Directions: 45 minutes drive from Blanding, UT. From Blanding, drive south on US 191 to UT 95. Turn west at UT 95 (right) and drive 35 miles west to UT 275. The entrance to Natural Bridges is at the end of UT 275.

Fee: $20 per private vehicle, Free with National Parks Pass

Website: Natural Bridges National Monument

Colorado Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, Colorado:

Just a short skip away from Mesa Verde, Canyon of the Ancients has many different dwelling ruins from 800-1500 years ago. We only had time to visit two. One ruin was a short walk from the Visitor Center in Cortez.

The second set of ruins were found along Sand Canyon Trail. Sand Canyon Trail is a 13-14 mile out-and-back trail that connects a lower trailhead to the once cliff-side village of 225-500 people Sand Canyon Pueblo near the mesa top, complete with a wall on its topside. It was a 420-room village occupied in the mid 1200s. Unfortunately, after the Pueblo was studied by archaeologists, it was reburied to better preserve it. The information boards tell us in its heyday, these cliff dwellings would have been double the size of Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde. The walls were not tall, so it's purpose was probably more for water diversion than defensive. There were a network of connecting kivas and towers along the wall. There were 100 kivas and 14 towers in this community. With a lot of imagination, we are told to notice the D-shaped buildings used for public events. Oh what an amazing sight it would have been had it not all been reburied.

For more information of the findings at Sand Canyon Pueblo, click here

Sand Canyon Pueblo may be reached by car (County Road N) if one would prefer to avoid walking the 14 mile uphill hike on mostly sandy trail. We started our hike at the Lower Trailhead on County Road G. Parking is limited, so arrive early. We got the last spot when we arrived at noon, having been intrigued by the museum in Cortez for longer than we anticipated. Our hike gained 2200 ft in elevation, but 1800 ft of that elevation was gained in one direction (going towards the Pueblo), the remaining 400 ft elev gain on our way back to the trailhead. There was a steep section of switchbacks that gained more than 700 ft in ½ mile, (our threshold for difficulty is 500 ft elevation gain in ½ mile. Less steep than that seems easy but more than 500 ft in ½ mile feels challenging).

Luckily, all of the one or two house ruins in alcoves occurred along the first 3-4 miles of trail from lower trailhead. There were about 5 or 6 such ruins high in alcoves that were viewable from the trail. Along the way, there were also multi coloured rock formations. Some resembled large chimneys (even with ruins in it), others large teapots in the cliffs. Having started our hike at noon, ours was a hot hike with minimal shade and no water along the trail. Bring hats, water and wear sunscreen. Watch for weather forecast for rain and inquire at the Visitor Center for trail safety. As with any hike in the desert, flash flooding can be an issue if there is rain in any surrounding area.

If you're looking to reduce hike distance/elevation, you could walk 3-4 miles one way (6-8 miles rt) from the Lower Trailhead, to see the half-dozen cliff dwelling ruins and rock formations. Then drive to Sand Canyon Pueblo (on County Road N) to see the remains of the 420-room Pueblo.

Practical Information (as of April 2019):

Features: one of the prettiest hikes we've done this trip, combining history (cliff dwelling ruins) with nature (red/white rock formations of giant chimneys, teapots etc)

Our hike: 14 mile rt, 2200 ft elev gain hot hike on a sandy trail, 700 ft elevation gain in ½ mile switchbacks when closing in on Sand Canyon Pueblo near Mesa top. To reduce hike distance/elevation, one can do 3-4 miles one-way(6-8 miles rt) to see the cliff dwelling ruins and rock formations in the canyon and drive up to Sand Canyon Pueblo on County Road N.

Fees: $3/adult or free with Annual National Parks Pass

Website: Canyon of the Ancients

Directions: Lower trailhead is on County Road G, a road going west from US 160 when going south from Cortez. Sand Canyon Pueblo Ruins parking lot is on County Road N.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde has over 600 ancient (800 year old) cliff dwelling villages built into rock alcoves high up in the cliff face of Mesa canyons. One canyon has 7-8 cliff villages and a community center built into alcoves, connected by toehold trails and footpaths. Alcove villages have kivas,..

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Budget Travel With Kids by Budgettravel - 10M ago

Sometimes called the hexagon due to its somewhat hexagonal shape, France is the largest country in Western Europe and one of the most visited.  French is the second most common language in Western Europe.  France has been inhabited by human-like species for hundreds of thousands of years.  Neanderthal habitation has been found as far back as 200,000 years ago. About 40,000 years ago, a species of human beings called Cro-Magnon started living in the area. Later in 3rd century BC, France became part of a settlement of the Celtic people. In the 1st century BC, the Romans led by Julius Caesar, conquered this area and called it Gaul.  In the 5th century AD, France was again conquered, this time by a Germanic tribe called the Franks, who eventually gave France it's present day name.

After a work exchange opportunity to Ireland fell through, I couldn't wait to take my family to the first country I visited as an adult. France has a variety of experiences to offer. From medieval walled cities, to 5000 year old rock alignments, to 15,000 year old cave paintings, art museums, pink flamingos to hikes in the mountains, in gorges and to the sea, France called out to me. It was also a perfect way to remember a language we learned in high school more than twenty years ago which I hadn't practised in twenty years. We stayed in the Loire Valley, Brittany (Dinan and Vannes), Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nimes, Provence, the Alps, Dijon and finally Paris. In some places the lodging host spoke some English, though not many, so my minimal French language skills came in handy.  

Here are some of the things we learned while in France, and some time/money saving measures we found useful.

Here is a list of the places we explored while in France:

 

Northern France :

 Paris (Louvre, Orsay, Obelisk, Arene de Lutece, Eiffel, Notre Dame, Latin Quarter etc)
Brittany (Dinan, Vannes, Ancient Carnac rock alignments)  and Mont Saint Michel
Loire Valley (Chateau de Chenonceaux, Ile de Nantes)
 Giverny (Monet's home and garden)

 

Eastern France :

     

Parc de la Vanoise (French Alps) 

 

Annecy and Dijon

 

 

 

 

Southern France:

Bordeaux and the Dordogne Caves (Ancient Cave Art, Cave Dwellings and Natural Cave Columns)
Toulouse, Pyrenees (Cirque de Gavarnie) and Camargue (Flamingos and Bullgames)
 Nimes and Pont du Gard (Roman ruins in France) 
Gorge de Tarn and Viaduc de Millau
 Les Calanques
Lavender Fields of Valensole and Gorge du Verdon

 

Warning:  All listed adventures come with inherent risks. The information provided is based on personal experience which may or may not be typical. The safety of these adventures are dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to: terrain, weather, wildlife, hiker skill level, human error, preparation and other foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. As such, we do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided.  We will not be held responsible for any harm, injury, and/or loss that may result. Your personal preparation and judgement on the safety of each adventure is required at all times. Please use your own discretion and always be safe. 

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Budget Travel With Kids by Budgettravel - 10M ago
Annecy 

Known as "Little Venice of the Alps", those turquoise waters has been luring me in since I saw a picture a few years ago. Annecy has many waterways, turquoise in color in both the lake and the main canal. There were many shops lining the canals, many with colorful flowering pots upfront.  There is a beach on the west side of the Lake Annecy. We noticed there were a few other beaches along the westside as we drove along towards Albertville. We spotted some white swans swimming in the lake. It looked like there was a pedal boat rental area too.

Mesmerized by the blue waters of Annecy, France

 

Annecy, at the northern shores of Lac d'Annecy, has been inhabited since 3100 BC.  At the time, a Gallic tribe called it home.  In the 1st century BC, the Romans conquered Annecy.  Since then, it had been ruled over by many different Lords.  The Palais de L'ile, a boat shaped stone structure in the middle of the River Thiou, is a former residence of the Lords of Annecy in the 12th century.  It was then repurposed to be an administrative center of the Lords of Geneva, then used as a prison until 1865. Today it is a museum.

Palais De L'Ile

 

Dijon

We stopped in Dijon for two nights on our way to Paris. Having sampled some extra-fort mustard in and around France (some of the strongest mustards I have ever had), I was excited to see the city where Dijon mustard was born. The mustards available were plentiful in variety, offering cassis (black currant local to the area) as a flavor to black pepper mustard.  Dijon mustard was born in 1856, when Jean Naigeon of Dijon substituted acidic grape juice for vinegar.  

Place de Liberation, Dijon, France

Old Town, Dijon, France

 

We were also excited about the free museums in Dijon.  We did a walkabout in the city to visit the Place de Liberation, Musee Des Beaux Artes, Musee de la vie Buorgogne, Musee d’Artes Sacree, St. Benignon Cathedral, Musee d’Archaeologie and Les Halles (the marketplace designed by Gustave Eiffel). The museums were okay, but not overly impressive. To be fair, the Musee des Beaux Artes was partially closed due to renovations during our visit.

Les Halles, Dijon, France (designed by Gustave Eiffel)

 

We drove along the Route de Grand Crus on our way to Dijon, seeing vineyards as far as our eyes can see. I suppose people wine taste in this region, but with 3 kids in tow, that wasn't in our plans.  All in all, Dijon was a good stop for a day or two. We tried some burgundy raisins (really juicy and flavorful), Cassis liqueur (currant liqueur) and a beautiful dessert called tropezone (sp?), a circular pie-sized sweet bread sandwiching a thick layer of rich cream.  We also tried a condiment sauce called Sauce Bourguignonne which is made with red wine, onions and some herbs; I improvised and used it as a part of a braising sauce with stew beef, and got many compliments from the eaters in my family.

A castle not too far from the Grand Crus, near Dijon, France

 

Warning:  All listed adventures come with inherent risks. The information provided is based on personal experience which may or may not be typical. The safety of these adventures are dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to: terrain, weather, wildlife, hiker skill level, human error, preparation and other foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. As such, we do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided.  We will not be held responsible for any harm, injury, and/or loss that may result. Your personal preparation and judgement on the safety of each adventure is required at all times. Please use your own discretion and always be safe. 

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Budget Travel With Kids by Budgettravel - 10M ago

Chateau de Chenonceau looks different from all the others. A castle that spans the width of the River Cher, it became a must-see for me after learning that it belonged to the mistress of King Henri, Diane de Portier. I was a fan of the TV show, Reign, which was part non-fiction, based on the royal family of King Henri in the 1500’s. His favorite mistress (and he had many), Diane de Portier, has been a source of intrigue for many because she was both married to another man and twenty years his senior. Though many years older, she looked amazingly youthful, thanks to her regimen of mercury and swimming in the cold River Cher. After Henri’s death, his queen, Catherine de Medici, took back this much coveted property from Diane, calling it her own, and was eventually passed down to her son's dowager queen to spend her mourning years in.

Chateau de Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France

Inside the gallery that crosses the river at Chateau de Chenonceau

 

We went early (at opening time) to avoid crowds (of tour groups). This chateaux had big and beautiful grounds. At the end of Diane de Portier’s Garden, we got a full view of the castle in background as it crossed the river. Catherine de Medici’s Garden has a nice view too. I enjoyed visiting the kitchen the best, the boys the labyrinth. Go to the galleries which span the width of the river. Diane's bedroom was surprisingly simple and close to the front door.

Enjoying the gardens at the Chateau de Chenonceau

 

We stayed in a gite 15 minutes away just outside the town of Luzille. It was a beautiful stone house, with wooden spiraling staircase to the attic, large fireplace, and exposed beams. 

Practical Information (as of June 2018):

Fees: 14EU adults, 11EU kids 7 and over, Free for under 7 year olds.

Website:  Chateau de Chenonceau

 

Les Machines, Ile de Nante, France

Les Machines is a workshop that builds robotic structures (usually animals) based on Leonardo da Vinci's drawings.  During our visit, we rode a giant robotic elephant for 30 minutes. Within the elephants belly, we got to watch how the gears moved. Le Grande Elephant, as it is called, sprayed water as it went along to clear it's pathway, much to the delight of the visiting school groups. This was one of the highlights of our trip for the boys.

Avoiding the sprays of Le Grande Elephant

Enjoying the view from the top level of the Grande Elephant

 

Other attractions: Carousel ride, view of Gallery of other machines, each requiring a separate ticket. Tickets to each of these allows you a view of the workshop (atelier) and the prototype beach of the Heron’s Tree due to be ready in 2021.

 

Fee: Family pass (2 adults, 3 kids): 31.80EU for a ride in Le Grande Elephant

Website: Les Machines, Ile de Nante

 

Warning:  All listed adventures come with inherent risks. The information provided is based on personal experience which may or may not be typical. The safety of these adventures are dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to: terrain, weather, wildlife, hiker skill level, human error, preparation and other foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. As such, we do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided.  We will not be held responsible for any harm, injury, and/or loss that may result. Your personal preparation and judgement on the safety of each adventure is required at all times. Please use your own discretion and always be safe.

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Dinan, my favorite of the three walled cities we visited in Bretagne, is a walled city that people actually live in.  It's city walls date back to the 13th century and has survived many attacks since then. Many of its half-timbered homes also date back to to the 13th and 14th centuries. Dinan also has a fortified chateau. More on all that Dinan has to offer in the website at the end of this section.

Walking Dinan's cobblestone street

 

There are many walks in Dinan; a walk on the rampart wall (dating back to the 13h century), a walk along the river Rance under an arched viaduct, and an in-town walk along beautiful narrow cobblestone streets lined with colorful half-timbered houses. I had a list of different walks I wanted to do while in Dinan, but once there, we gave in to curiousity and wandered where our hearts desired while stopping in at boulangeries that had long line ups.   We did walk the rampart on Chemin du Ronde, up Rue de Petite Fort and did a short walk along the shores of the River Rance.

View of the Port from Dinan's rampart

 

We stayed in one of the half-timbered houses, with narrow, spiraling wood stairs.  The apartment was completely renovated with a washer and a small kitchen. The half timbered houses are larger on top than on bottom, mostly to reduce the owners’ tax obligation, since taxes were paid on the plot of land on the ground. We spent a few hours wandering the rampart, city streets and along the river walk while trying out the local specialties of the region: crepes and kouign amann (a flaky syrupy buttery pastry).  Other local delights we tried: chestnut and rhubarb spreads, fromage blanc for breakfast and a few other creamy fromages on our baguettes for lunch. I wouldn't call myself a cheese lover, but I have had some of the best cheeses I've ever had.

In front of one of Dinan's old city Gates

 

We found free parking on the Rue de Quai (a little ways away from the small old bridge, though it was a steep, but short uphill walk (15-20 minutes) into centre historique via Rue de Petite Fort. If you don't mind paying to be in the centre historique, there is an underground parking lot under the Bibliotheque Municipale which was fairly easily accessible from the paved road (D795) entering the city.  If you are walking in the cobblestone streets of Dinan, try your best to stay on the sidewalks so you don't get in the way of fearless drivers. If you are driving, watch out for awe-struck, oblivious tourists walking the streets. 

Website:  Dinan

 

Plougrescant

I have to admit, I saw a picture of a house built between two giant granite rocks (called Castel de Meur) and I had to see it in person. We took the trail about 1.5 miles each way, starting just west of the Castel, and heading east. Our trail went along the coast for a short time, but then took us along the road soon after. The parts by the coast were pretty with wildflowers blooming during our visit in mid June, but all in all, I wouldn't necessarily make a trip just for it if I wasn't already in the area if I were to do it again.

Castel de Meur, house built between rocks on the Cote Rose, Plougrescant, France

The Great Cairn of Barnenez

Overlooking the Bay de Morlaix in Northwestern France, the Great Cairn of Barnenez is a neolithic funerary monument built without mortar.  At 6,000 years old (around 4500 BC), these structures predate the Egyptian pyramids. They are actually two stone cairns built a few centuries apart.  There are 11 passageways which houses the remains of different families.  Most of the passageways are closed to the public. These Cairns were discovered when the rocks were quarried in the 1950s.  It was an interesting structure to visit, though only a limited amount is known about it. 

In front of 6,000 year old Great Cairn of Barnenez

Website:  The Great Cairn of Barnenez

Fee: 6 EU per adult, purchase on-site

  Mont Saint Michel

Located off the coast of Normandy in the English Channel, Mont Saint Michel is an island only when the tides are high.  Mont St Michel started as a monastery for hermit monks in the sixth century. Monks would cross the Bay of St Michel, risking their life to the highest tidal currents in Europe in search of spiritual enlightenment. Since then it has served many different purposes: a fort, a prison, a town and now a tourist attraction. Today, only 30 people live on the Mont full time.  You may walk on the causeway (bridge) or take the shuttle bus across to Mont Saint Michel which is about a 1 mile each way. I was hoping to walk on water on the bridge over the mudflats, but the tides did not cooperate.  I have read several warnings against walking on the mudflats since it acts like quick sand. At the top of the Mont, a 1000 year old Abbey awaits.  It is a steep climb to the Abbey, about 20 minutes from the left entrance gate.

Approaching Mont Saint Michel

A view from within Mont Saint Michel, overlooking a cemetery, town and the mudflats

 

We walked on the ramparts, taking in a view of the mudflats from rampart and looking at stores which were on different levels connected by stairs. Within the walls, there was a cemetery, a church (aside from Abbey), restaurants and even a vegetable garden.

A view from the rampart at Mont St Michel, France

Having read that it is best to avoid the Mont between 10am to 4pm due to crowds, we arrived around 6pm, For us, it was a quiet city though many stores were closed. There were still a few souvenir shops open, along with some restaurants. We went just a bit too late for the Abbey which closed at 7pm. We had fun just exploring the nooks and crannies of Mont Saint Michel. We spent about 2 hours exploring, probably could have spent more time there if we had it.

Practical Information (as of June 2018):

Parking fees:  Price changes to 4.30 EU at 7pm. First 30 mins free. Less than 2 hours 6.30EU, Up to 24 hrs 11.70EU.  Parking price includes free shuttle. 

Entrance Fee: Free to the city, fee for the abbey

Website for Abbey: Mont St Michel Abbey

  Menhirs de Carnac

Brittany is littered with many Stonehenge-like rock alignments.  One such alignment is the Carnac Alignment, known as the Menhirs de Carnac.  The Carnac menhirs is made up of several different menhir (menhir meaning long stone in Breton language) complexes making up the 4km of rock alignment. The theory is that these menhirs represented burials of Neolithic people's 6000 years ago, though no human remains were found. We walked along the pedestrian trails running along the menhirs about 1 mile each way. There is more trail to walk if you are inclined to explore further.

There is a visitor center building across the street from the menhirs with some information on the menhirs in French and a rather large gift shop. Not much more information is known.

Fee: free

Walking along the rock alignments in Carnac, the Carnac Menhirs

 

Carnac Beach

After the menhirs, we headed out to the beach, a15 minutes drive away to touch the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. We were lucky to have gone on a low tide cycle, the water was calm, clear and perfect wading depth.

Touching the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, at Carnac Beach

Vannes, France

Vannes was our third walled city in as many days. Vannes was like Dinan with bigger streets and a smaller number of timbered homes. The rampart was being repaired in parts so we only got to walk on short segments of it. There is a beautifully landscaped garden just outside the town wall. There are many other things to see in Vannes, but the day was wearing us down and we decided to call it a day.

View of the Rampart gardens from the Ramparts, Vannes, France

 

 Warning:  All listed adventures come with inherent risks. The information provided is based on personal experience which may or may not be typical. The safety of these adventures are dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to: terrain, weather, wildlife, hiker skill level, human error, preparation and other foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. As such, we do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided.  We will not be held responsible for any harm, injury, and/or loss that may result. Your personal preparation and judgement on the safety of each adventure is required at all times. Please use your own discretion and always be safe. 

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After Dijon, we drove 4 hours to Giverny, to a house where a Monsieur Claude Monet spent a few decades of his life living.  Mr. Monet lived his life in a somewhat rural town with a beautiful lily pond across the street. We had lunch on a bench where his wife and (step) daughters sat to knit, walked into the tunnel to cross under the (now busy) country road to visit the now famous lily pond, and enjoyed a quick (and crowded) tour of his house.  The garden was beautiful, with lavender and many other colorful flowers.

The garden in front of Monet's house

From the bridge by Monet's lilly pond, Giverny, France

Between the rows of lavender in Monet's Garden, Giverny, France

 

We arrived on a Saturday at noon. The parking lot was busy but after the mile or so walk from the parking lot to the entrance, we got through the line to purchase tickets pretty easily (about 20 minutes or so).  At the time, I thought it was a long line and busy inside, but when we left about 1.5 hours later, the line was easily four times the size of our line going in. We purchased tickets online. I found out that there is a separate line for those with pre-purchased tickets, though I gave up on finding it upon realizing that our line was moving along.  Monet's Garden is about1.5 hours drive from Paris.

Practical Information (as of July 2018):

Fee: Adults 10.20 EU, Kids 7.20 EU, online ticket reservation fee 1.45EU per order

Parking: Free

Address: 84 Rue Claude Monet, 27620 Giverny, France

Website:  Monet's Garden

 

Warning:  All listed adventures come with inherent risks. The information provided is based on personal experience which may or may not be typical. The safety of these adventures are dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to: terrain, weather, wildlife, hiker skill level, human error, preparation and other foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. As such, we do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided.  We will not be held responsible for any harm, injury, and/or loss that may result. Your personal preparation and judgement on the safety of each adventure is required at all times. Please use your own discretion and always be safe.

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Budget Travel With Kids by Budgettravel - 10M ago

Paris began as a fortified Celtic (also known as Gallic) settlement on the Ile de la Cite in the 3rd century BC.  It was called Parisii, after the name of the Celtic tribe known as the Parisii. In 52 BC, the Romans conquered it to build a city called Lutetia, which had a population of less than 10,000 people.  The Lutecians left an arena and Roman baths for us to visit today.  Paris' name today was adopted in the 5th century AD, after the first Celtic peoples who lived there, the Parisii.

The Louvre is a major museum in France, and the world.  It has many wings and many exhibits. There is a huge Egyptian exhibit, some Syrian and some Greek exhibits. There are some sculptures and lots of paintings. The exhibit downstairs features the Medieval wall of the fortress that the Louvre started life as, in the 1200s. After that, it was expanded and continued life as a royal palace until 1678 when the king moved his court to Versailles. In the 1793, it was turned into a famous museum that we know of today.

By the pyramid in front of Le Louvre, Paris, France

 

We got reserved time stamped tickets for 9:30am, got in line at the Pyramid entrance at 8:53am, got through the doors when they opened at 9am, and got pictures of Mona Lisa by 9:15am. The Mona Lisa, was a smallish frame in a large room, which filled up about quarter full 15 minutes after museum opening. We waited our turn to take her picture, then moved along. Mona Lisa (Lady Lisa in Italian), was a rich Italian merchant's wife, whose painting was commissioned by her husband Francesco del Gicondo to be painted by Leonardo da Vinci.  This painting was also known as La Gioconda.

As close as we could get to Mona Lisa, Louvre, Paris

 

The line to get into the Louvre was much bigger for those withOut tickets, and that line was not moving when the Louvre opened at 9am. There is a much shorter line in the middle for the disabled, those with baby strollers and the heavily pregnant. Have your tickets printed and available to show in line as there is a ticket checker that firmly requests seeing your ticket in your hand in order for you to stay in the ticket-holders line. Hold on to to your tickets once you get in, because you'll need to present it at every wing entrance.

The room containing the French crown jewels, Louvre, Paris

 

We could have spent many more hours at the Louvre but left after 2.5 hours as the boys were getting grumpy.  On our way out to escape the crowds, we escaped into the mall entrance, only to find a very very long line for the security to enter the Louvre. The line was so long in fact that it snaked from the entrance of the museum all the way to the entrance of the mall (at the escalator) going out to the street level.

We were really glad we had tickets and had already enjoyed the museum. The crowd inside the museum was busy, but Not shoulder to shoulder that early July Monday morning. Look out for Arago Medallions on the pavement near the Louvre pyramid and a couple within the Louvre itself.  Arago medallions mark the Paris Meridian Line, once a marker for the prime meridian or “zero” degree longitude. Unfortunately it lost out to the Greenwich Meridian line in 1884 to be the prime meridian line to be recognized by the International Meridian Conference. There are 135 Arago medallions throughout Paris, running north to south from the hills of Montmartre to Gentilly, if you are looking to do a scavenger hunt. Unfortunately we did not come across any, but did go by Boulevard Arago and saw a medallion marking it's GPS position.

Practical Information (as of July 2018):

Louvre address: Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France

Fee: Adults 17 EU, kids under 18 free (though if you purchase online, you may get free tickets for them)

Website: Louvre (Online pre-purchased reservations are highly recommended to avoid lines)

 

Jardin de Tuileries is located between the Louvre and the Obelisk.  It was created in the 1660’s by the gardener of King Louis XIV. It was previously a royal garden commissioned by Catherine de Medici, the widow of  King Henri II. Prior to that, it was occupied by tile factories, hence its name Jardin de Tuileries. It was opened to be the public in the 1700s.  Today Jardin de Tuileries has a pedestrian walkway with green gardens on both sides of a very wide (and dusty) walkway. There were many chairs and a few fountains along the way. The walk was not terribly remarkable, just a walk, somewhat ugly one thanks to the construction for the preparation of the Tour du France the next week. We walked through this garden to get to the Obelisk. This garden, like many French gardens make good alternatives to walking on the city street.

At the end of Jardin de Tuileries with the Obelisk in the background, Paris

 

The Obelisk, called the Luxor Obelisk, is a 3000 year old, 23m (about 70 ft) high monument originating from the Luxor Temple in Egypt, where it's twin obelisk still stands today. Weighing in at 227 tonnes, these two obelisks are believed to be the largest in the world created by Ramses II. It was gifted to France in the 1800s by the ruler of Ottoman Egypt of the time. The golden pyramid atop it's summit was a 1998 replacement of it's stolen original pyramidal cap (believed to have been stolen in 6th century BC).

View of Arc de Triomphe from Champ d'Elysees, Paris

 

Arc de Triomphe was a sight to see at the end of Champs d’Elysees. Grand and imposing, it definitely had its share of fanfare. It is the biggest triumphal arch in world (165 ft x 130ft) with 12 converging roads. It was built in 1806 by Napoleon I to honor the French Army of the time. We did not climb to the top but opted instead to go to the Eiffel Tower.

 

Eiffel Tower

Though it started as a attraction for an expo over 100 years ago, the Eiffel Tower has become somewhat of a symbol of France and Paris in the time since. Named after Gustave Eiffel whose company designed the tower, it is another grand and imposing monument that takes your breath away by sheer size. It is currently the tallest building in the European Union.

Eiffel Tower from below, Paris, France

 

The Eiffel Tower consists of 3 floors; the first and second floors can be accessed by stairs or a lift, the third only by lift. We took the stairs to the second floor. Ticket purchase for the stairs are at the South tower. Though most reviews I read indicated no lines, we did wait in line for 30 to 45 minutes on a July summer Sunday evening about 6pm. The lines for the elevator were a lot longer. Online reservations are possible for lift tickets. The views from the second floor were nice and gave us a good perspective of the layout of Parisian streets. It was a hot July day, but the winds on the first, then second floors made it comfortably cool.

Website: Eiffel Tower

 

Notre Dame

First completed in the 1200's, Notre Dame is a 800 year old Roman Catholic cathedral located on the Ile de la cite, where Paris origins began before the time of the Romans. Two temples/places of worship were erected here before Notre Dame started it's construction which lasted a hundred years.  There was a very very long line to get in, but I found an entrance adjacent to the very long line with no one in line.  I took that line to be the prayer line, and went in to attend mass.  We took some pictures of the stained glass window of Notre Dame, famous as the setting of the Hunchback of Notre Dame from the 1800's.

Inside the entrance of Notre Dame, Paris, France

 

Latin Quarter

The Latin Quarter dates back before the Roman era when it was settled by a village of Celts.  In 52 BC, the Romans conquered it, building the city of Lutetia. There are Roman ruins in the Latin Quarter such as the Roman arena and Roman baths.  In 1250's, Robert de Sorbon built a theology college called La Sorbonne.  La Sorbonne is one of the oldest universities in Paris.and the world. Latin Quarter got its name by the Latin spoken by the many students of the Sorbonne and other colleges that was built in the area. Latin was the only language of instruction in universities until the 17th century. Today, it is still a place that students spend their time in.  It was in the Latin Quarter that we got some Bretagne cookies for friends back home, some macarons, and some kebabs. 

Arene de Lutece, a ruin of an ancient Roman arena found behind apartment buildings

near Latin Quarter, Paris

 

Arene de Lutece is a ruin of a Roman arena located in the Latin Quarter built in the first century AD. It is designated as a neighborhood square now, and found behind an apartment building. Parts of the arena were lost to the construction of the apartment building that currently stands adjacent to it. Arene de Lutece (originally called Lutetia) can hold up to 10,000 people when hosting gladiatorial combats, nautical shows and dramas of the Roman era. Today, the stadium seating is visible as is the center stage.  Subsequent to its use as an arena, its rocks were taken away to reinforce the city wall.  It was used as a cemetery at one point, then filled in completely. There was a time that the area was called Les Arenes, but no one knew where the arena was. It was only discovered when the construction of Rue Monge was underway in the 1860s. Construction crews discovered it's remains behind the buildings that line Rue Monge.

Practical Information (as of July 2018):

Fee: free

Address: 10, rue des Arènes, Paris, France

 

River Seine

The River Seine is the third largest river in France and it flows right through Paris.  It is the river that the Ile de la Cite sits on.  The River Seine flows over 700 km, starting in the Burgundy region, making its way north through Paris, then Rouen, and eventually the English Channel.  There is evidence of Neanderthal habitation as long as 300,000 years ago along the banks of the River Seine. We walked along the River Seine at street level a few times on our walk to Le Louvre, the Orsay and Notre Dame. There is a walkway at river level and sign indicating that cruises start at 14 EU for an hour boat ride. I’ve read that there is sand brought in to the shores of the Seine to make it a “beach”(plage) during summer months. I saw a sign for it but we didn't explore further.

The River Seine, Paris

Jardin de Luxemburg

Named after its original owner, the Duke of Luxemberg, the Jardin de Luxemburg is a beautifully landscaped garden in front of Palais du Luxemburg. There is an octagonal pond where little boys (and girls) sailed their rented toy boats. We walked through Jardin de Luxemburg to get to our destination for a peaceful walk away from city streets. There were many people resting on the grass in these gardens (and most gardens we were in), with bottles of alcoholic beverages closeby. Parisian streets in general seems to come alive at about 8-9pm, more alive than it is at 9am.

Jardin de Luxemberg, with Palais de Luxemberg in the background, Paris, France

 

Musee d’Orsay

Musee d'Orsay is housed in a former train station which was beautifully restored for the museum today. There were many sculptures and art including Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Renoir and a Picasso. The fifth floor has a cafe in the shadow of a clock with a large window overlooking the city with prices of entrees under 20 EU for lunch, though the menu is limited.

A sculpture in Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France

 

Entry into the Orsay was fairly quick at Entrance C (line with those with pre-purchased tickets) on a Sunday morning at 10am. We purchased our tickets online; it was date stamped, but not time stamped. Kids under 18 get in for free as in all if not most French museums. We spent about 2.5 hours there before boys got restless.  Only bags under 60 x 40cm will be allowed in the museum, all others must be left in the cloakroom, subject to space.

Practical Information (as of July 2018):

Fees: Day entry: 12 EU per adult (+1.50 EU online reservation fee), kids under 18 y.o. free; Night Entry (after 6pm): 9 EU per adult (+1.50 EU online fee)

Hours: Tues-Sun 9:30am-6pm, except Thurs open until 9pm, closed on Mondays

Address: 1 rue de la Légion d'Honneur 75007 Paris France

Website:  Musee d'Orsay

 

 

Getting in and out of Paris

We got in and out of Paris by RER, Paris interurban train system. We purchased tickets at ticket booth at 12.50 EU from Airport CDG to Gentilly where our apartment was, 8.25 EU for kids 4-9 years old, each way. I'm not sure if I would recommend Gentilly as a place to stay, it looks like an-up-and-coming neighbourhood whose residents look OK, but the graffiti on walls and trash on the streets make you think otherwise. It was a 3-4 mile hike into the Gare du Nord area or a fairly inexpensive less than 2EU per trip per person/15 min ride into town, I'm told. We walked in, opting to feel the beat of Paris on foot, and we did. From the tree lined boulevards, to the grey sidewalks and impatient drivers, to the jardins, our legs walked us 12 miles each day we were in Paris. I reminded the kids that elevation change was minimal. A taxi ride was about 90 EU one way from the airport to Gentilly. The RER train ride was supposed to be 50 minutes long but with a few delays along the way, it took about 1.25-1.5 hours, each time we took the train.

When heading back to the airport, passport control took about an hour to get through for anyone carrying a passport not belonging to France or one of its neighbouring countries. At the front of the line, the French police stamped our passports and waived us through. Security checks before heading to the gate took about 15 minutes.  

We spent 2 full days in Paris.  I opted to only spend 2 days in Paris, since Paris is very accessible as a stopover (or otherwise) whereas the other regions in France requires more time to access.  Since we rented a car during this trip, we chose to spend more time in the rest of France.  Here are some places that are definitely on my list for our next trip to the City of Love.

Other Places to visit in Paris:

Versailles - Palace of residence for the French royalty, we did not visit due to lack of time and similarity to a palace we saw in Munich, Germany

Cluny Museum - ruins of Roman baths, closed for renovations during our visit

Catacombes - Bones of dead people scare me, but seems interesting if you don't have that issue.

French National Library - holds everthing that has been published in France, said to house Greek manuscripts, closed on the Sunday of our visit

Grand Mosque of France - one of the largest mosques in France, we did not visit due to grumpy kids at the end of the day

Currie Museum - the laboratories researching radium run by the Curries, closed during our visit

 

Warning:  All listed adventures come with inherent risks. The information provided is based on personal experience which may or may not be typical. The safety of these adventures are dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to: terrain, weather, wildlife, hiker skill level, human error, preparation and other foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. As such, we do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided.  We will not be held responsible for any harm, injury, and/or loss that may result. Your personal preparation and judgement on the safety of each adventure is required at all times. Please use your own discretion and always be safe.

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Gorge du Tarn

Our plan was to walk from the small town of St Eminie to St Chely du Tarn along the Gorge du Tarn. It took us awhile to find the trailhead, then followed the wrong trail which led us up the mountain to a non-descript logging road. But we did see the sign for a Sentiere (trail) to go to St Chely du Tarn from St Eminie. Coming from the East on bis D907, it was after the bridge that crosses the River Tarn in town (where the shops are), to the left after a small square (I mean small, a bench and a tree beside large recycling bins). It was going up a small paved road between houses, with a sign readable only when you're coming from the opposite direction. There was parking just before the sign after the bridge. Tired and hot, having gone on a 5 mile trail up a mountain which ended at an unremarkable logging road, we didn't check out the accuracy of St Eminie to St Chely sign, which indicated a distance of 4.5 km one way. Another sign indicated Castelbouc in the opposite direction in 6km.

At the Gorge du Tarn at St. Eminie, under the bridge that leads to the trailhead to go

to St.Chely du Tarn

Viaduc de Millau

Viaduc de Millau is a cable bridge structure that spans the Tarn Valley. At 343m (19m higher than the Eiffel Tower), it is the currently (2018) highest bridge in the world. A toll charge of about 10EU (for a private passenger car in summer 2018) is required to cross the Viaduc de Millau. 

Highest bridge in the world, Viaduc de Millau, France

 

Warning:  All listed adventures come with inherent risks. The information provided is based on personal experience which may or may not be typical. The safety of these adventures are dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to: terrain, weather, wildlife, hiker skill level, human error, preparation and other foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. As such, we do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided.  We will not be held responsible for any harm, injury, and/or loss that may result. Your personal preparation and judgement on the safety of each adventure is required at all times. Please use your own discretion and always be safe.

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Quirks and Perks of France:

 

Boulangeries aka bakeries are found at almost every street corner in the city.  In the smaller towns, there is usually at least one boulangerie that serves the needs of the townspeople.  Boulangeries offer fresh baguettes, croissants and a multitude of pastries.  

Wine and Soft Cheeses - Sometimes when we purchase inexpensive wines at home, we paid for it with a headache the next morning.  I am glad to report that we had no such troubles with the inexpensive wines we sampled in every region that we visited.  Soft cheeses were also plentiful and inexpensive.  I particularly loved the mild soft cheeses with a thin rind to spread on my baguette for lunch. Camembert was my favorite.

Monet's lily pond, Giverny, France

 

Combined Appliances:   We came across a few appliances in the airbnb's that we were staying at, that were combined. My husband has been wishing for a combined washer/dryer for probably 10 years now.  In France, we saw a couple of combined washer/dryer; unfortunately only one of them workedW. In France (and in Europe from our experience), washers take a lot longer to wash than back home, about 2 hours, so having a combined dryer makes it so we don't have to wait around for it to finish washing in order to switch to the dryer.  Also, it saves space.  Another combined appliance we encountered was the combined microwave/oven. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it work when needed.  But such a great idea for space saving.

 

Cars come in gas (known as petrol or l’essence in France) or diesel (known as gazole etc or diesel). Be sure to check at rental counter. Cars are smaller than in USA. We really liked it, as long as it had enough seatbelts for the 5 of us. Trunk space was tight but sufficient for our 5 medium backpack carry-on luggages. Fuel consumption was better. Smaller cars mean easier to make turns on narrow roads and easier to park. Most cars come in manual transmission.  Refuelling at fuel stations along the autoroutes were usually more expensive (10-15 Euro cents/liter more) but autoroute fuel stations were usually open on Sundays.

Pont du Gard, near Nimes, France

 

Roundabouts (aka traffic circles) made me appreciate traffic lights. In our experience, roundabouts can occur anywhere from 10 yards apart to a couple miles apart. On a road from Pech Merle near Cahors, there were 3 roundabouts practically on top of each other, so much so that, in order to yield to traffic in the third circle, one’s car dangled within the 2nd circle. There are additional roundabout complexities: when going into a circle, watch for cars in circle, watch for cars changing lanes in front of you to get out of circle, in addition to pedestrian and bike traffic who seems to have complete right of way . In contrast to the traffic light, where you stop when it's red, go when green, and pedestrians follow their lights which is correctly synced by a master planner. We found ourselves drained mentally after long drives in town or in the country. We gladly paid the tolls ( called “peage”) for a faster, less draining ride on roads with no stone houses jumping in front of us every so often. Of course that is just our humble perspective, as North American drivers who have been spoiled by wide toll-free roads in our home country, albeit not always smooth roads. Also watch out for the roundabout with traffic lights that also come equipped with yield signs.

Lac Peclet Polset, French Alps

Toll (Peage) roads - many people will say take your time and explore the country roads. We found the country roads less welcoming due to the many traffic circles and narrow roads (some fitting 1 to 1.5 car widths on a two direction road.) We gladly paid the toll road prices to save some time and sanity. Our most expensive day was 29.60EU from Nantes to Bordeaux which took us on the autoroute for about 3 hours. Most days cost an average of 10-20 EU (total for the trip 270 EU on tolls having driven 6600 km or 4125 miles in our 3-week exploring tour). When at rhe toll booth, if paying by cash, go into lane marked with green down arrow, which accepts all forms of payment. Take ticket at entry into toll roadway, insert ticket on exit which tells you how much to pay. A couple times, we went through a toll station that charged us a flat rate at entry. Toll roads are indicated by blue signs. If you lose your toll ticket, press the help button. They'll ask you where you're coming from. We were charged 21EU for a lost ticket one day on our forth toll entry of the day.

Mont Saint Michel, Normandy, France

 

Roadways - There are different categories of roads. “A” roads (example A51 - Autoroute 51) are like the freeways that we know in North America. Wide, multi-laned, as straight as the topography will allow and most are toll roads. “D” roads (example D42) - usually two lanes to carry two directions of traffic except when it goes up mountains or within old town centers. Then it can reduce to one lane, but are two way traffic roads. Sometimes in the town, there is a sidewalk. When two big cars approach, one will wait the other out when possible, or both will jump onto a sidewalk. When a big bus is approaching, it is usually the smaller car that jumps out of the way. It gets a bit scary when a stone house or two or three line the road edges with no sidewalk. Or there is no shoulder on a mountain road and one faces a big bus head on, and the bus continues to approach expecting that you would just somehow get out of the way. But don't let this discourage you. Our rental car allowed us to go to many places otherwise difficult, if not impossible, to reach by public transport. But both my husband, the driver and I, the navigator were glad to return the car. In general, if you have a choice, don't drive into historic centers. Park outside and walk in. “N” road ex N620 - are somewhere in between “D” roads and “A” roads. In our experience, N roads usually gave each direction of traffic their own lane. FYI: The lines separating the different directions of traffic are white (not yellow). Any road that doesn't have A, N or D designation can be anything from a one lane wide (but 2 directions) gravel road to a narrow winding cobblestone street .

 

Window screens are non-existent, so flies and mosquitoes have free range. On the up side, no dust accumulation on window screens.

 

Sunday closures - Just takes some planning ahead for food. Many grocery stores are open Sunday mornings. The toughest part was fueling stations being unmanned, but we managed to find a highway fuelling station that is manned 24 hours a day.

 

Siestas and seasonal closures in the Alps - Not an issue in bigger cities and towns. We ran into it in a small town in Provence (Beaumont-de-Pertuis) and in the French Alps (Meribel). Closures vary from 1pm to 3pm, or 12pm - 4pm, most close by 7:30-8pm, if they open at all. We came across many shops and restaurants in Meribel which were closed for the season. Even grocery stores adhere to siesta hours. If coming in summer to the French Alps, most grocery stores are not very well stocked (I'm guessing it's low season?) and prices are high (1.5-2 times the prices of towns away from the mountain). If I were to do it over, I would stock up before getting into the mountains.

Chateau de Chenonceau

 

Adapters:  We used plug adapters we used in Germany and it worked great. If possible get adapters that allow you to plug in two devices into the same adapter. Electrical outlets in France tend to come in groups of one and they aren't as plentiful as I would like.

Car adapters - We used the same adapter that plugs into the cigarette lighter in our car at home and it worked fine with no problems. It was useful to recharge phones on long trips. Our adapter had two charging ports on it, which worked very well, because we always had at least two devices to charge. Our rental car had one port to charge cell phones.

Cirque de Gavarnie, French Pyrenees

 

Credit Cards: As of 2018, our American credit cards are chip-and-signature cards.  Cards in Europe (and most of the world) are chip-and-PIN cards.  In most places that are manned (or womanned), there should be no problem.  You can insert your card in its card device (or hand over the card to the cashier), and the signature slip automatically prints for you to sign.  In unpersonned kiosks, such as an automatic fuel station, kiosk may or may not accept your credit-and-signature cards.  Unfortunately, the credit card is the only method of payment it will accept.  We were concerned when traveling long distances on Sundays since we did not want to run out of fuel. We were lucky to find a couple of stations that accepted our chip-and-signature cards along the way.  We had luck with Total Access fuel stations, AVIA, and Intermarche stations. We also had good luck with credit cards at toll booths run by Vinci and Area though we did use the all payments line in case the credit card did not work.  Carrefour fuel stations did not accept our credit cards.  

 

Data - We purchased (from three.co.UK) at home before arriving and placed the SIM card into the phone when landed. It cost $30 for 12 GB. Very useful for us since we stayed in Airbnbs which required communication with the host before arrival. It was also helpful to double check our offline GPS (HERE app, available free, download needed regional maps before leaving home and maps will be available offline on the road)

Lavender Fields near Valensole, France

Courteous People - Most places we visited, we were greeted with a Bonjour or Bonsoir whether on the trail or in the towns, with the exception with a big city or two. In all shops, boulangeries, souvenir shops, cafes, museums, we were greeted upon entry. So get comfortable with saying bonjour. And no matter how annoyed one gets waiting at the cashier's to check out ones groceries, one always says Merci and Aurevoir when one leaves. Unfortunately, that level of courtesy is not always evident when driving.

 

Despite the sometimes uncomfortable situations abroad, I always appreciate the experience of being surrounded by another culture, landscape and people.  As a silver lining, those very uncomfortable moments make me realize the joys and comforts of home that I had taken foregranted.  Now that I have been home for almost 2 months, I am missing the perks of being in France.  Like the endless baguettes, croissants and soft cheeses.

 

Warning:  All listed adventures come with inherent risks. The information provided is based on personal experience which may or may not be typical. The safety of these adventures are dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to: terrain, weather, wildlife, hiker skill level, human error, preparation and other foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. As such, we do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided.  We will not be held responsible for any harm, injury, and/or loss that may result. Your personal preparation and judgement on the safety of each adventure is required at all times. Please use your own discretion and always be safe. 

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Lavender Fields of Valensole

We stayed in an Airbnb in a small cobblestone village on a hill called Beaumont-de-Pertuis as a base to explore the lavender fields and Gorge du Verdon. Beaumont-de-Pertuis is a quiet town of young families and beautiful views of surrounding vineyards where the grocery store and boulangerie took a 4-hour siesta break and were closed by 7pm. We had hoped to encounter some lavender fields around this little town, but when that didn't pan out, we ventured towards Valensole.

Exploring in Beaumont-de-Pertuis, France


The road to Valensole from Manosque had fields of lavender closer to Valensole. We stopped at a spot that had quite few tourist buses thinking that this was the best spot for walking through lavender fields. What were we thinking. The fields were big enough so that we could venture a little away from the the crowds. Little did we know, this was the spot where many pictures of lavender fields were taken with two lone trees in the horizon. The good thing about being in a tourist spot, is that there are stalls of souvenirs for purchase. We got our hands on some lavender soap for 3EU, which was surprisingly mild to the nostrils.

Rows of lavender, near Valensole, France

 

After the fields, we ventured to the town of Valensole then out into the adjacent fields where more lavender rows adorned the roads to the left and right but with less crowds.

 

Gorge du Verdon

 

View of Gorge du Verdon from one of the tunnels

 

Gorge du Verdon is a gorge filled with blue green waters flowing into the dammed St. Croix lake below. Lac Saint Croix has beaches and pedal boat rentals if you are so inclined. Our hike was 13 miles return, sometimes on rocky slippery terrain. We hiked on Sentier de Blanc Martel, starting at Point Sublime and hiking towards Chalet de Maline. Coming from Point Sublime, after the road portion, our hike started out under shade, thanks to some tall vegetation. The entire hike had peek-a-boo views of the blue-green waters in the gorge below. There were at least 3 tunnel portions, most with ankle deep water puddles, some intermittent, some continuous. Most had rocks that could be used to rock hop to avoid the water. We managed to soak our shoes despite our best efforts to rock hop through sometimes continuous puddles. There was at least one long tunnel portion that felt like it went on for 1 km (we couldn't verify with our devices as it wasn't recording in the tunnel). Having said all that, definitely bring flashlights or headlights. At least one light source per person would be ideal but we managed with 2 flashlights in our family of 5.

One of the tunnels along Sentier Blanc Martel, Gorge du Verdon, France

Along the trail at Gorge du Verdon, France


Outside the tunnels, there were portions where handrails were provided to help maneuver the bare rock. From afar, it didn't always look necessary, but as soon as we got on the rock we realized that the rock was slippery. The handrails were a welcome guide. We ended our hike at Brech Imbrecht, going up the 240 or so metal stairs. We decided to end our hike after lunch just after the stairs and headed back towards Point Sublime.

View from the metal stairs at Brech Imbrecht, Gorge du Verdon

We did stop by the gorge waters to cool down on our way back. Just touching the water with our hands cooled us down sufficiently to continue on. Many parts of the gorge had rough waters, so play at your own risk. The hike itself was pretty hot and humid, alternating between shade and no shade.

Cooling down at the Verdon, France

 

The small parking lot at Point Sublime filled up by 8:30 am on the July Sunday that we visited; luckily we arrived at 8:15 am and had no trouble. We followed Sentier de Blanc Martel signs which took us for a very short time on the street.  We noticed on our walk that there was limited on-street parking near Couloir Samson if you're looking to reduce distance. Be careful not to miss the trail down, just before Couloir Samson (coming from Point Sublime); we went towards the river where the trail was closed off (though my husband did not believe that it was closed). He explored further though we highly do Not recommend it; the trail looked narrow and slippery from where I stood and hubby tells me that it ended at a gushing river with a falls not far below. I should also warn you that you will come upon warning signs indicating that it is very dangerous to hike along the Gorge due to changes in water levels without warning.  Hike at your own discretion.

Many hikers park at Point Sublime, take the narvette (shuttle) over to Chateau Maline, then walk towards Point Sublime for a 9-10 mile one-way hike. I had read that the narvette was usually very full and was standing room only. I was not ready to fight the crowds with 3 kids. The other option is to reserve a taxi for the ride to Chateau Maline. I inquired about it and was told the ride would cost 50 EU for the one-way ride. Not wanting to reserve ahead nor risk standing room only transportation, we decided on walking 6-7 miles one way then heading back.

Practical Information (as of June 2018):

Our hike: from Point Sublime to Brech Imbrecht up stairs, 13 miles rt, 2600 ft elev gain. Two to three tunnels, one very long (maybe 1km?), Very dark (absolutely need flashlight), wet, ankle deep water with some smallish rocks to hop on, 240 dizzying metal stairs at Brech Imbrecht.

Features: Peek-a-boo views of blue-green water rushing in the gorge, trail crosses many shaded areas by trees and rock overhangs, tunnel hiking

Fee: free

 

Warning:  All listed adventures come with inherent risks. The information provided is based on personal experience which may or may not be typical. The safety of these adventures are dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to: terrain, weather, wildlife, hiker skill level, human error, preparation and other foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. As such, we do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided.  We will not be held responsible for any harm, injury, and/or loss that may result. Your personal preparation and judgement on the safety of each adventure is required at all times. Please use your own discretion and always be safe.

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