The springtime is my time of year. As the fruit trees blossom pink and white, and the yellow green new born leaves unfurl themselves, my mood is lifted higher and higher. Everything about the season, from the busy, chatty birds, to the white puffy clouds scudding in a pastel blue sky, fills me with well-being and energy. All of a sudden everyone is on the move, we've had a very active social life in the last few weeks, meeting up again with people we haven't seen in months. And of course the garden calls out to us. An afternoon of weeding in the springtime sun is one of life's genuine pleasures. The phone has begun to ring too. People are making their plans.
One of my favorite features of the local spring landscape are the endless fields of colza (rapeseed) that delight the eye around every turn. They last a short couple of weeks, but they are definitely a springtime highlight while they last.
I take my after-lunch coffee outside on the terrace, usually sun bathing along with my lizard friend who lives beneath the roses somewhere. Everything pleases my senses this time of year.
Our good friends Cass and Billy came from California to spend some time with us. We took the opportunity for a day trip down to the Loire Valley.
Our first stop was Vendôme on the river Loir. This medium sized town is one we like very much, and this time we discovered much more of it than we had explored previously. Vendôme is an ancient settlement, first Gallic, then Roman, and later a very important Medieval center. An abbey here claimed to possess a tear that Jesus shed at the tomb of Lazarus. The center of the town is very pretty, with its grand stone buildings.
It seems to project a sense of former glory and grandeur. However, it is not altogether forsaken in present times, as a high speed train link makes it less than an hour's commute from Paris.
We had lunch and took a very pleasant stroll along the river beneath the trees.
Old stone bridges lead to some gorgeous residences which line the river.
Our next stop was Blois, which we have visited before with Cass and Billy, but this time we took a tour of the château there, which none of us had ever done before. It is a huge castle and was the main residence of several kings of France, including Louis XII and François I. It has almost 600 rooms, including 100 bedrooms.
The central courtyard reveals four wings, each completely different architecturally, which is natural as construction progressed from the thirteenth through the seventeenth centuries.
Above, the Renaissance wing. Below, the classic.
There is a lovely covered stone staircase on the outside of the Renaissance wing, designed for François I by Leonardo da Vinci. It is not as grand as the one he designed for the Château of Chambord, which is a double helix and large enough for several horses and riders to use at the same time; but quite pleasant to walk up and down.
The rooms are highly decorated with ornate wall coverings, carved wooden paneling and decorative tile floors. A bit busy for my taste.
The castle sits on the hill above the city with a lovely view over roof tops to the Loire. I don't think it has changed very much in 400 years. There is something about these slate roofs that enchants me.
After they left, Billy attended a conference in Paris, and Cass was on her own during the days, so I went in to town to keep her company. We went to see the Marc Chagall exhibit at the Musée du Luxembourg Between War and Peace. If you will be in Paris before July 21st, I highly recommend that you take it in. This is one of our favorite museums in Paris. It is small, and thus the shows are focused and easy to take in without the sense of museum fatigue that often descends in huge places like the Louvre or the Musée d'Orsay. I don't know about you, but for my money Chagall is the twentieth century's most wonderful artist. The show covered his entire career, which spanned both wars.
Chagall, of course, was born in Russia and much of his imagery harkens back to his childhood.
He lived a major portion of his adult life in France. During the Nazi occupation of Paris he was forced to flee to the United States, but returned after the war and died in the South of France in 1985. Chagall lived almost an entire century (he was 97 when he died), experiencing much of the upheavals that marked those times. Still, for me, even as he expresses the terrible horrors of war, political repression and religious persecution, there is something entirely hopeful in his work. And he certainly celebrates human love.
The Jardin du Luxembourg is right in the center of Paris, of course, and is beautiful throughout the year, but particularly so in spring. The display of tulips was extravagant.
It is the second largest park in Paris and probably the most popular. There are numerous children's play areas, tennis, chess playing, model sailboat racing, puppet shows, lots of chairs for sun bathing and miles of strolling paths. Glorious.
The flower borders are spectacular.
There is sun and shade,
and many wonderful vistas.
Cass and I trekked all over Paris, such a walkable city. We had various errands that took us from Saint-Germain-des-Prés to Notre Dame, the Marais and Ile Saint Louis. Along the way we saw this charming café, located a block south of the river, near Place St. Michel.
After a couple of hours of walking hither and yon, enjoyable though it was, we were seriously tired and the day was warm. We decided to buy a ticket for the Batobus and sail along the river while we waited for Billy who would join us for dinner. A day ticket is 15€, not inexpensive, but well worth it if you are planning to do a lot of touristing during your day in Paris. The Batobus is like a bus or the metro, but you can "hop on and hop off" all day long with your pass, and of course it's a much more pleasant way to get from one spot to the next. It is not like the huge bateaux mouches which have blaring commentary as you glide along. It is simply a nice mode of transportation, though rather slow. It makes a circle on the river between the Hôtel de Ville and the Eiffel Tower, stopping in between at Notre Dame, the Louvre, Champs-Elysées, Musée d'Orsay and the Jardin des Plantes. The entire tour takes about an hour and forty minutes. Cass and I stayed on and enjoyed Parisian sites from the middle of the river.
The Hôtel de Ville:
Sunbathing next to Notre Dame:
Enjoying life on the quai near Musée d'Orsay:
The Eiffel Tower:
Billy was waiting for us at the quai in front of the Eiffel Tower. We had made reservations at the famous restaurant La Fontaine de Mars, which is just a short walk from here. It also just happens to be right around the corner from our old Paris apartment, so I feel very nostalgic in this neighborhood. This is one of the oldest bistrots in Paris and very popular. In fact, when President Obama brought his family to Paris shortly after his first election, they chose to eat here.
This was Cass and Billy's last night in town and it seemed the perfect final note. The food was typically French, in the best sense.
Back at home, our terrace garden is coming to life, including the blooming of my favorite clematis.