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It’s a luxury to have a long lead time to plan our summer trip to France, but it also allows for me to get somewhat obsessive. When researching a country, I like to read about the history, read other blogs/travel sites, talk to people who have visited there and, for the first time, I’ve added Periscope to my information search tools. From now until the end of June, I will be a Francophile.

The essentials for my planning purposes are:
1) Map of France ~ I highly recommend getting a map of the location you’ll be visiting and a marker so you can circle all the interesting places you’ll want to see. My map already has my top “must visit” locations circled: Paris, Versailles (I’ve been but my husband and daughter have not), Mormant, Le Mont-St Michel, Rochefort, Les Cabannes and Beaune. I’ve also added Andorra. We’ll be so close when we’re in Les Cabannes, it would be a shame not to explore the sixth smallest country in Europe.

2) Skyscanner for the cheapest airfare
I check Skyscanner first for the lowest priced flights. Their site allows you to look at an entire month for the cheapest day to fly. Once I’ve narrowed it down to which carrier is the best price, I go to the airlines website to check on flight schedules and then book it.

3) Tripadvisor for hotel information
Tripadvisor is my first stop for hotels, Bed & Breakfasts and Vacation Apartments. I appreciate the personal reviews and read them within context. A few years ago, while researching places to stay in Inverness (Scotland), a B&B received a low score but it was due to the establishment not allowing children under age 5 to stay. The person giving the review never stayed there but gave it a “1.” I actually liked the policy since B&Bs are too small/thin walled for younger children. We ended up staying there and really enjoyed ourselves all thanks to a bad review.

4) Lonely Planet:France Guidebook (lots of useful info even if out of date)
We keep all our outdated Lonely Planet books because there is timeless information in them. Lots of background information, the history of the area, and safety tips which are always helpful. Our library carries the most current issues of most travel guidebooks but my old Lonely Planets can be highlighted and scribbled in.

5) Reading blogs is one of my favorite ways to get a locals perspective of a city or town. For France, I’ve been catching up with Les Photos de Suzanne & Pierre  ~ expats who wrote updates while living in Paris for two + years (it’s in French and English). If you have any suggestions on other ones, please let me know.

6) Periscope ~ I find Periscope to be fascinating but scary as well. It has the potential to get sketchy quickly. It’s a live streaming app that allows you to interact with the person scoping. So far, I’m only following a few “travel” periscopers and one friend. For my trip planning, I’ve found an amazing tour guide named Claire who uses Periscope. She’s been a wealth of information and makes me want to stay the whole time in Paris. Click here for more information about Claire and her tours. Once our dates are confirmed, I’m hoping to book an actual live tour with her. She’s lived in Paris for twenty years and speaks French and English fluently. Her love for Paris is very apparent and I really like her positive attitude.

Planning trips are a lot of fun and I’m thankful my fellow travelers (husband and daughter) trust me to make the right decisions for an intriguing adventure. I get very few complaints. Every once in awhile, they’ll go rogue and decide to do something completely and utterly touristy.

Please leave me a comment with any advice you might have for me ~ especially about a town or area we shouldn’t miss while on our explorations of France. We’ll be traveling the northwestern, west and southwest areas of France.

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Flowers and well wishes from around the world at the French Embassy in Washington DC

Flowers and well wishes from around the world at the French Embassy in Washington DC

I’m well aware of the horrific terrorist attacks around the world including Kenya, Nigeria, Beirut, Bangladesh (bloggers being murdered for not being Muslim enough) and many more. If I wrote about every attack around the world, Displaced Beachbums would cease to be about travel. But Paris and all of France has a special place in my heart.

As an American, the French are our oldest ally ~ beginning with Lafayette and the help of the French during our revolution. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit many times and also know someone who lives in central Paris. It’s personal to me. The French inspire me with their love of life, the physical beauty of their country, their history, their delicious wine, desserts and even their “confident” attitude.

My biggest fear is we will let Daesh (and other fanatics) change the way we live. When I say I’m “Praying for Paris”, I’m praying not only for those affected by the recent attack, but for the defeat of the darkness which has been allowed to permeate around the world.

Recently I’ve been attempting to reorganize the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the last ten years. In light of what’s happening in Paris, I made a quick visit to the French Embassy in DC yesterday and then decided I would concentrate on my France photos. Below are a few photos of my visits to Paris:

Looking up to the Eiffel Tower

Looking up to the Eiffel Tower

Obelisk of Luxor, Paris, France

Obelisk of Luxor, Paris, France

Enjoying a smoke break in Paris

Enjoying a smoke break in Paris

Beautiful relief on the Arc de Triomphe, Paris France

Beautiful relief on the Arc de Triomphe, Paris France

Looking out to the Seine from the Eiffel Tower

Looking out to the Seine from the Eiffel Tower

Another view from the Eiffel Tower

Another view from the Eiffel Tower

Paris has so many gorgeous statues ~ an outdoor museum

Paris has so many gorgeous statues ~ an outdoor museum

Music Academy in Paris, France

Music Academy in Paris, France

An Angel overlooking Paris

An Angel overlooking Paris

A favorite pastime in Paris ~ lingering over coffee, tea and pastries at an open air cafe.

A favorite pastime in Paris ~ lingering over coffee, tea and pastries at an open air cafe.

American Soldier Statue in Paris

American Soldier Statue in Paris

Place de la Concorde, Paris, France

Place de la Concorde, Paris, France

and then here’s a real throwback to 2004…

My husband and daughter at the end of the 2004 Paris Marathon

My husband and daughter at the end of the 2004 Paris Marathon

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I can’t stay awake for 38+ hours straight let alone run 100 miles through the mountains of France, Switzerland and Italy, but my Kiwi friend Jean did it for FUN! I’m awe-struck!! Gotta love technology ~ we were able to track her through a live-feed as she tackled the Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc. After the run, she sent a recap and it’s obvious, at this level of competition, mental fortitude is so much more important than the physical aspect. She’s not on social media which is not surprising since she spends her time with her husband, two boys, controlling aircraft (she’s an air traffic controller) and running?! but I’m hoping to talk her into guest blogging her experience one day soon.

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Until then, I’m going to brag on her just a little: she ran the race in 38:30:27, came in 2nd in her age group (49-58 years old) and was ranked 28 in the Overall Women’s category. Anytime I want to quit a workout, I think “well, if Jean can run 100 miles then…”

I’ve been searching and finally found the perfect “congratulations on finishing another 100 mile race” gift. It’s a t-shirt with the saying Strong is the new Skinny. I found it at Bear Strength which is a UK based cross-fit attire company but the clothes are for all types of workouts. Since Jean is the strongest woman I know, it couldn’t be a better choice (hope she likes it as much as I do). I’m going to order one for me once I finish my next race as a congratulations to myself!

My fingers are crossed that Jean’s next 100-mile trail run is here in the states so I can be in the support van (where I hope napping is allowed)!

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It’s not quite Friday but I dug out this “Flashback Friday” from a few years ago. The recent snowfall in Virginia made me remember a magical snowy day in France many years ago…

Beaune and the Hotel Le Cep definitely rank as one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever spent Thanksgiving:

Beaune, Thanksgiving dinner

As we drove from Germany towards the Burgundy region in France,  it started to snow and by the time we arrived in Beaune, it was blanketed with a fresh dusting of snow ~ it looked magical. We splurged and stayed at the Hotel Le Cep which the Lonely Planet guidebook referred to asQuite simply, this is one of France’s very finest hotels.”  How could we pass up staying there after that kind of recommendation!?! We weren’t disappointed ~ the hotel was fabulous and the staff wonderful.

Originally, we were suppose to visit in early November but the riots were happening all over France and we didn’t want to take a chance since we were traveling with our young daughter. When I called to reschedule our reservations, the hotel was so accommodating and understanding about why we were changing our dates. Upon our arrival, we found they had upgraded us to one of their largest suites. It’s a great joy for me when I find I’ve been upgraded at a hotel.

Beaune, Logan at Hostel Dieu

Beaune, hostel-dien

One of the most interesting sights in Beaune is the Gothic Hotel-Dieu which was founded in 1443 and was considered a “celebrity rated” charity hospital. For its time, I’m sure it was state of the art but those blood letting instruments and the closeness of the hospital beds made me a little queasy.  There was also an 18th century pharmacy with flasks once filled with things such as vomit-nut powder.

Beaune, Wine Caves

Beaune in the caves

After touring the hospital, we made our way to the Marché aux Vins wine cellars and went underground to the dusty wine-bottle lined caves. We had a personal tour guide and, after a history lesson on the winery and about the region, we were given a flat, metal, shiny cup to taste the wines we encountered as we self-toured the caves. Marché aux Vins, established in 1239, is one of the larger wine cellars in Beaune and the caves are lined with thousands of wine  bottles.  As we navigated through the cave, we stopped at each of the 13 candle-lit wine barrels to taste the wine which was a open bottle ~ we could’ve drank the entire bottle if we wanted.  I love the whole French attitude towards wine, food and living life in beauty.

Beaune logan on carousel
Enjoying the carousel

Beaune Saturday market
Saturday Market

Beaune walking around
Walking around Beaune

Beaune, Logan guidebook
Our guide

Beaune Fireplace

Enjoying the cozy, warm fireplace which was so welcomed after our cold walks around town.

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Gold Entrance Gate, Palace of Versailles, France

Gold Entrance Gate, Palace of Versailles, France

Versailles Gardens

My first recollection of the Palace of Versailles was in Junior High history class when we studied World War One. The signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended WWI, took place at the palace on 28th June 1919. Since then, I’ve read about and seen numerous documentaries about the French Revolution and, of course, the famous (or is it infamous) Marie Antoinette.

Versailles was the focal point of France’s Royal court from 1682 until 1789. It’s easy to envision it as a Royal Playground ~ Opulence is how most people describe it. It’s that and then some. It was built by Louis XIV because he wanted to remove himself and his courtiers from the intrigues of politics in Paris. It housed over 6,000 courtiers and, from what I’ve read, the gossip, jealousies and back stabbing would make a viper pit more enjoyable. By removing the nobles from Paris, it made Versailles very insular. That’s why I’m fascinated by General Lafayette who plays a part in the history of the palace of Versailles.

Marquis de Lafayette (Gilbert du Motier) went to Versailles at the age of 17. Even though he had a huge fortune and ties by his marriage to a powerful family close to Louis XVI, his independent spirit led him to a military career rather than a highly sought after court position.  He was impassioned with the American Revolution and secretly organized a voyage to the New World against the king’s wishes. Quite a bold move for such a young man. By the age of 20, Lafayette was a Major-General in the American army and a close friend of George Washington’s. I’ve read that George Washington treated him like a son. Lafayette helped the Colonial Army win several battles, including the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 ~ losing this battle led England to grant independence to the Americans. After his experience in the Americas, Lafayette returned to Versailles and was welcomed by the King and Queen. But the ideas of liberty he learned while in the US were not forgotten and in June 1789, he drafted the first Declaration of the Rights of Man, a document closely based on the Declaration of Independence. On 14 July, 1789, the storming of the Bastille occurred and he was appointed (again against the Kings wishes) as Commander of the French National Guard. He was responsible for keeping order in Paris and so he played a large role in the French Revolution’s early days. Although he was part of the revolution, he did save Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette when people of Paris overran the château and killed the bodyguards defending the queen’s apartment. Although he saved them that day, he couldn’t keep them from being executed by guillotine in 1793. He was viewed as straddling the fence by both sides and fled France. In 2002, Lafayette was posthumously made an honorary citizen of the United States.

But let’s get back to the gorgeous Palace:

Versailles Hall of Mirrors (2)

Versailles Hall of mirrors

The Hall of Mirrors is a 235-foot ballroom lined with 17 floor to ceiling mirrors. The cost of these mirrors were staggering and, like the building of the rest of the Palace, the expenses drained the Royal coffers and sadly that meant not much left for the running of the country. It’s a very impressive room with chandeliers, statues, ceiling frescos and windows which open up to the gardens.

Chapel at Palace of Versailles, France

Chapel at Palace of Versailles, France

Louis XVI (age 16) and Marie Antoinette (age 15) were married in the beautiful White and Gold Royal Chapel in 1770. We weren’t allowed into the chapel which was OK by me since there were so many people visiting the Palace. It was nice to see the Chapel without anyone in it.

There were large paintings throughout such as this one :

Coronation Painting at the Palace of Versailles

Coronation Painting at the Palace of Versailles

One of the ceiling paintings at Palace of Versailles

One of the ceiling paintings at Palace of Versailles

I was especially enthralled with the frescos on the ceiling ~ so much so I got a neck ache from looking up for so long. They are stunning!

Versailles The Battles Gallery

The Battle Gallery was interesting but, as I looked at the names on the marble busts, it was obvious I need to study a little more about French history because a lot of the names were unfamiliar to me.

Large Fireplace at Palace of Versailles

Large Fireplace at Palace of Versailles

Versailles the Queens Bedroom

The Queen’s Bedchamber ~ not very cozy!

Statue of Artemis (Diana), Palace of Versailles

Statue of Artemis (Diana), Palace of Versailles

Versailles View of the gardens

Looking out to the Gardens ~ so beautiful.

Gardens at the Palace of Versailles

Gardens at the Palace of Versailles

Statue in the Gardens  of Versailles

Statue in the Gardens of Versailles

Versailles Gasrdens and pond

Versailles Gardens Little angels on garden urn

Loved these plant urns ~ unfortunately, they weren’t for sale in the gift shop.

It truly was sensory overload for me. I got to see a lot of the Palace and a little of the gardens but I feel I only touched the surface. We were limited on time and both of us didn’t want to miss the gardens so I felt a bit rushed the whole time I was at the Palace. I’m calling this visit a preview and will leave it on the “return visit” list. I would love to go back sometime when I can spend a day or two exploring the Palace.

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With both John and Logan on their own travel adventures, a friend and I decided to catch the Eurostar train to Paris and Versailles for a day trip. Paris is a little over two hours from London so it makes for an easy to get there day trip. I visited Paris once before in 2004 and enjoyed seeing the familiar sights again. We decided to go with a fully escorted tour thinking it would save us the trouble of having to deal with purchasing tickets for Eiffel Tower and Versailles nor deal with transportation. In hindsight, I’m not sure it was worth it since we got stuck in severe traffic jams several times throughout the day (train and metro would have been so much quicker) which cut-in to the time we had to enjoy Paris. Ah, well…live and learn.

The Eurostar left London at 7:00am and we were in Paris at 10:15am. France is one hour ahead. It was my first time on the Eurostar and I was impressed. It was clean, on time and there was a decent selection of food/drinks.

Our first stop was the Eiffel Tower:

Looking up the Eiffel Tower, Paris

Looking up the Eiffel Tower, Paris

Inside the Eiffel Tower, Paris

Inside the Eiffel Tower, Paris

The Eiffel Tower was built by French engineer Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World’s Fair (Exposition Universelle ). It was built to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the French Revolution as well as demonstrate France’s technological advances in the Industrial Age. The construction took 2 years, 2 months and 5 days and the result is a very impressive technical and architectural achievement. Although the panoramic views from the 2nd floor are wonderful, I also love looking up into the inside of the tower from the ground level.  Originally the Tower was built to last only 20 years but when the first radio transmissions were sent from the top of the tower, it became a permanent structure. Even for the people who opposed keeping it (many considered it an eyesore), the practical uses of the Tower outweighed the insult to the Frenchmen’s sense of aesthetics.  Good thing for Paris since each year, almost seven million visitors make the trek to the Eiffel Tower.

View of the Seine River, Paris, France

View of the Seine River, Paris, France

View from 2nd Floor of the Eiffel Tower

View from 2nd Floor of the Eiffel Tower

View of the gardens from the Eiffel Tower

View of the gardens from the Eiffel Tower

Another view from the second floor of the Eiffel tower

Another view from the second floor of the Eiffel tower

Statue dedicated to Gustave Eiffel, Paris

Statue dedicated to Gustave Eiffel, Paris

On my last visit to Paris, I was able to see the tower lit up at night but it stays light too late into the evening for us to see it this time.

A few sights from around Paris:

Statue in Paris

Statue in Paris

Paris, France

Paris, France

Balcony Smoke Break, Paris France

Balcony Smoke Break, Paris France

3,300 year old Obelisk of Luxor, Place du Concorde

3,300 year old Obelisk of Luxor, Place du Concorde

Music Academy in Paris

Music Academy in Paris

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Champs Elysee, Paris, France

Champs Elysee, Paris, France

After touring the Eiffel Tower and a quick bite to eat, it was time to journey to the Palace of Versailles but more about that in the next post…

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