My sister believes that had I been born 25 years later, I probably would have been prescribed Ritalin. I suppose that’s why I’ve never been characterized as a “Slow Traveler.”
In our ardent attempt to “stop and smell the vineyards” on our Autumn 2016 journey to Burgundy, Provence, Languedoc and Paris, Tracy and I did our level best to relax. Really, we did! I even set the alarm as late as almost 9 a.m. one morning.
On our three week expedition, we spent one day (well, make that really just barely a night…thanks CDG & EuropCar) in Auxerre, three nights in Beaune, three nights in Bonnieux, two nights in Uzés, five nights in Pézenas and ended with four nights in Paris.
We enjoyed the best restaurants we’ve encountered on any previous trip. The towns we visited and the scenery that surrounded us could not have been more charming.
Yet, after our three-week adventure, we both realized one truth; Tracy married a crazy person who really doesn’t know how to relax. I’d rather stop, quickly smell the vineyard, drink some wine and move on to the next place. Fortunately, I married someone with a similar travel philosophy, although I believe she would like it a little less frenetic than I do.
As you’ll see, there were lots of things to love about our recent trip. It’s not that I was disappointed; to the contrary, we experienced a wonderful 18 days. However, this kind of traveling has certainly made me rethink our future trips. I’ll explain further as we go, but until then I hope you enjoy:
The Roads Less Traveled: Traversing France With Mai Tai Tom & Tracy
Day One: Galley Mates, Of All De Gaulle, Blue Queue, “Please Steal This Car”, Red Buttons, Femme Fatale, Death Shower, 58-Minute Auxerre Tour, Ghost Town & Dinner Redemption
There is a running joke among my friends about my need to arrive early at the airport before a flight (I can be a bit anal about that). On this Sunday morning, we set a dubious record. For our 3:30 flight, we were dropped off at LAX a little after 11 am, however, for the record, that’s only because our friend Susan (who so nicely offered us a ride) had an early appointment.
We boarded the Air France A-380 with 514 of our closest friends and soon (except for the hour sitting on the tarmac) we were on our way. One of the many nice flight crew members assured us they would “make up that time,” and we’d arrive on time (about 11:10 am Paris time)…which we did.
For a little extra comfort, I had paid an extra $75 each for extra leg room. I did not know, however, that I had placed us next to the galley, so what we made up in leg room, we lost in peace and quiet. However, I was quite enthralled by the in-flight trash compactor. Hey, it’s a long flight, and the movies sucked.
The best deal about our seats was the fact, upon exiting, we were one of the first ones off the plane, which, as it turned out, was quite fortuitous. Had we been in the back of the plane, odds are we would still be in line at CDG.
I had our first day meticulously planned out. On our last two flights into CDG, it had only taken a matter of minutes to navigate through Passport Control at Charles de Gaulle. Our friends, who we would meet in Beaune, said they had a short line two days previously.
Then we’d grab our luggage, pick up the car, drive a couple of hours to Auxerre, freshen up and take a walking tour through town, which looked kind of fun.
As we approached Passport Control we encountered a line from here to eternity, but Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr were nowhere in sight.
You know what they say about molasses, well this line made molasses flow fast. A voice kept coming over the speaker saying that “because of heightened security you might be here until 2017” (not the exact words). Well, as we got closer (and believe me it took a long time), it had nothing to do with security, but the fact that there were only three Passport Booths (out of a lot) open. To our surprise, those of us in the “Not EU” line took it like troopers. No ugly Americans on this day.
However, at one point, there was a commotion in the EU line when someone rushed the line and sprinted through security. A chase ensued. At this point, any diversion was welcome. The line behind us now stretched to Giverny.
Shortly thereafter, from the supposed “swift” Premium line, a well dressed Frenchman (I assumed he was French because he was yelling…loudly…in French) went off on a scintillating tirade. Screaming ensued from the agents, and a good time was had by all. Finally, nearly two hours later, we passed through Passport Control with no heightened security to be found.
It was a little after 1:30 by the time we reached EuropCar. Lunch and a walking tour of Auxerre was now in the rear view mirrow…if only we had a car with a rear view mirror. We had been talked into upgrading to an automatic because it had GPS (I’m a sucker on no sleep, but later in the trip I was happy with both). However, we had to wait another half hour for the car. Luckily, I was in “EuropeTom” mode (calm) and not “CollegeTom” mode (easily angered) and we were on our way.
Before leaving, Tracy took a picture of the sticker on our car…”EuropCar, #1 Rated On Trip Advisor.” It might as well have said, “Please Steal The Luggage In The Trunk Of These Unsuspecting Tourists!”
After encountering brutal traffic near Paris, it wasn’t too long until the road cleared, and we could see the forest through the trees. We passed the exits to Fontainebleau and Vaux-le-Vicomte (châteaux foreshadowing alert)…
….and we were winging our way to Auxerre. Then up ahead, I spied the dreaded toll booth. Lack of sleep and stupidity from the driver never make for a good combination. It was at this point I had a terrible Italy Flashback.
In 2001, while driving into Florence, I was supposed to insert a ticket and pay at a toll booth in order to receive another ticket. Neither Tracy nor Kim nor Mary (who were traveling with us) remembered ever getting a ticket. As I fumbled to find the elusive piece of paper, a very perturbed voice in Italian was (I’m sure) prompting me what to do. Meanwhile, 20 cars lined up behind us. Finally, after a few times in Italian and sensing my futility, the voice came back on and said (in perfect and terse English), “Take the ticket and go away!”
Well, as I approached the French tollbooth, panic ensued and instead of hitting the black button to get the ticket, I pressed the Red button and a voice came on offering assistance. I hoped it wasn’t the same guy from Italy. In any case, for the rest of the trip, whenever we hit a toll booth (not literally), Tracy would calmly tell me which button to push.
Exiting at our designated off ramp, our British Lady (aka GPS) immediately forced us (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) make an illegal U-turn that nearly turned into a multiple fatality accident (those lorries are big). Unscathed and undaunted, we drove (carefully) through a lovely alley of trees into Auxerre (capital of the Yonne department) and located the parking lot for our hotel, Hôtel Normandie. By now, I was the capital of the Yawn department.
The hotel is nice enough, with a breakfast room and 24-hour reception area. Although a little worn (it seemed they are in the process of renovating the rooms), it was sufficient for a one-night stay. I had made 8 p.m. dinner reservations, but instead of resting until then (who are you kidding), there were a couple of sights I wanted to knock out that were fortunately located nearby. Yes, I know, “Poor Tracy.”
I was first to hit the shower (almost literally), and suddenly I found myself in my own version of “Holiday On Ice.” In all my years of hotel showers, I have never encountered one quite this slippery. As Tracy searched the Auxerre phone book for potential Orthopedic surgeons, I carefully showered, attempting not to break a hip. Fortunately Tracy came to my aid to extricate me from this potential death trap.
Instead of the walk I had intended for us to take (the Cadet Roussel route lets you enjoy some of the town’s monuments on a self-guided tour), we rushed over to the nearby Abbey of Saint-Germain d’Auxerre, and its 12th century Romanesque bell tower. We were only able to spend a short time at the abbey since it would be closing in about 15 minutes.
In the ancient cloisters, these chairs seemed a bit out of place. “You didn’t tell me to pack swim trunks,” I told Tracy.
This monument honors the Duke Of Berry, a descendant of Louis XVIII and potential heir to the throne, who was assassinated in 1820. For the Duke of Berry, it turned out to be the last straw.
We did get to spend a few seconds in the 17th-century church before closing time. While I was taking a photo, I heard a door closing, so I thought I better hightail it out of there as it did not look like a good place to spend the night (especially since the abbey was closed the following day).
The stained glass windows of this church, which date from the 13th to the 16th centuries are worth the visit.
This particular window depicts the “Maid of Orleans,” Jeanne d’Arc. She visited Auxerre on a couple of occasions. Hopefully she had a better shower.
…before exiting to check out a little (very little) of Auxerre. As we strolled through the streets of Auxerre, Tracy and I had the same thought; we were virtually the only people walking around. It was a little Twilight Zone-ish as we walked down the deserted streets.
We never did find out if Marilyn Chambers was actually “behind the green door.”
In a while, we were back to the hotel, ending our 58-minute tour of Auxerre, which exceeded by 11 minutes our brisk 2005 walk through Perugia, Italy. A five minute power-nap ensued.
Looking at the town map provided by the hotel, we surmised it was about a 20-minute walk to our restaurant, La P’tite Beursaude (55 Rue Joubert). Hoping to dissuade Tracy from filing divorce papers on our first night, I summoned a taxi to take us to dinner. By now, we were running on fumes, but we quickly were rejuvenated by this fantastic little restaurant.
We both opted for the €28 formula dinner. As we tried to decipher the French menu, our hostess (who I believe is also the owner) helped describe the dishes. I started off with a terrific pork cheek salad.
…mashed, baked and pommes frites, which came in a cute, little basket that we will attempt to buy here in the states.
Tracy decided on the salad, Magret de Canard, jus au cassis, and ended with a trio of glacé. Tracy also had a glass of white wine, while I (gasp) passed (don’t worry, I made up for it later in the trip).
My lack of sleep cost us one UNESCO site the next morning, but luckily we would have another chance to stamp our UNESCO card on the drive to Beaune.
Next – Day Two: No Way Vezelay, Where’s Orson Welles, Please Don’t Pee In Our Photo, The Chateau Less Visited, Gosh I Didn’t See That Sign, Do You Know The Way To Fontenay, Dear Abbaye, Sure Now I Hit The Red Button, I Got A Beaune To Pick, B&B Heaven, An exCEPtional Hotel Bar, Meeting Friends, Dinner In The Golden Arches and Nightcaps With Paco