We recently took a trip to France, starting in Paris for three days and then on to the Perrigord/Dordogne region in Southwestern France for a photography workshop for a week. What a lovely country and what lovely people!
We began our trip in Paris, staying in the 5th Arrondissement, an absolutely wonderful neighborhood. I was hoping to get a taste of Parisian life rather than a tourist's life, and this neighborhood gave us just that. There were markets where folks bought their daily groceries, a church with a park where families brought their children, and lovely shops from shoe shops to a pharmacy. We had our breakfast every morning at Café Saint Medard, and occasionally had a drink there after dinner, enjoying sitting outside and watching life go by. We spent our first day relaxing, trying to recover from our 10-hour flight and time change, and exploring the neighborhood where we were staying.
Our first outing we took the Metro, which is very easy to use once you figure it out, and very inexpensive - 1,60 Euro one way (about $1.80). We first used it to see the Louvre, which was high on our list of "must see" sites. The Louvre is massive, once a palace and now a museum. We only saw a fraction of the art housed there. The main attractions were quite crowded, such as the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, but other rooms weren't and were more enjoyable for me. I most enjoyed the Greek and Roman sculptures, most in marble. The detail of these statues is just amazing! We spent about 3 hours at the Louvre and then called it a day, and hope to go back some day to see more of it's massive art collection.
Our second day we again took the Metro to the same area, but this time to see Musee D'Orsay, another very fine but smaller museum across the Seine from the Louvre, housing modern art. I love Impressionism so found this more enjoyable, and it wasn't as crowded as the Louvre. I love Monet and Degas, and this museum has so many paintings by these masters! "The Little Dancer" sculpture is housed here, as well as many of his paintings. I was in heaven! There was room after room of paintings by Claude Monet, many of which I had never seen. Of course there was other art as well, but I particularly liked these artists.
The next morning we took a walk just a few blocks from our hotel to see the National History Museum, which was closed but has beautiful grounds. There is a lovely garden with a long pathway all around the gardens where people enjoy the flowers, walk, jog or play with the kids. We're hoping on our next trip to actually go inside to see their collection.
Then we boarded the high speed train to travel to Angouleme in Southwestern France, where we were picked up by our host for our week-long photography workshop led by Bob and Paula Evans of Scenic Light Photography. Our host is an American who owns a Chateau near Grand Brassac, and for many years has hosted artist and writing workshops. It's a beautiful place with many rooms and beautiful grounds, and is steeped in history. The site was originally a Roman encampment, and the chateau was built in the 1200's! Our host has restored much of the castle and improved and modernized it, but has decorated with period furniture and art that maintains it's grand history.
From this base we took day trips to various villages and sites in the area, many along the Dronne River which is quite lovely. All of the villages were old, quiet and quite scenic, some catering to tourists and others just going on with their daily lives. One of our drivers explained that many of the old dwellings in these villages are used as vacation homes by the French, or by people from Great Britain who have moved to France, or vacation here. Other villages seemed quite active with businesses, schools and such. We often had lunch in one of these villages while out shooting, and the food was always excellent. Everywhere we went we met friendly, gracious, interesting people.
One of my favorite outings was the Grotte de Villars, Dordogne, a cave discovered in 1953, with cave paintings dating back to 17,000 b.c., and claw marks of bears petrified in the clay and covered with calcite. This is the most beautiful cave I've ever seen with it's pure white calcite stalactites an stalagmites. A little girl in our tour told her mom, "This is where fairies live." Some of the stalactites had formed "drapery" formations, looking like folds of drapes hanging from the ceiling. I wish I had photos to offer but we were asked not to take photographs while inside the cave. If you ever visit this region I would highly recommend a tour of this cave.
Once our workshop ended, Greg and I rented a car and stayed 3 days in Brantome, France, which was a small town not far from the Chateau. It's very scenic, with the Dronne River running through it and around it. There is also a very interesting monastery there, originally carved from the limestone hillside by monks in the year 1000. A church was built around the original monastery and is still standing. While there we took a boat ride on the Dronne River and learned more of the history of Brantome, and took day trips to other towns to see other sites. Brantome is lovely, and is called the Venice of France. And once again, the people were friendly and gracious.
After our stay in Brantome we took the train back to Paris to fly home. We thoroughly enjoyed our 2-week trip and could have easily stayed two more weeks. There is obviously so much of France that we didn't see and we hope to return some day. If I didn't love where I live, I could easily see myself living in France, or at least spending a lot more time there. Daily life seems more at ease and a slower pace. People there seem happy and content, and more at ease with just being and don't seem as focused on doing and acquiring. In all of our travels we didn't see malls or billboards - not much advertising, even in Paris. These are my impressions without having actually lived there, and I hope to spend more time there one day to get to better know the area and the people.
I hope this information inspires you to visit France one day, and maybe we'll see you there!
To see more photos from this trip, please see my pages under "Gallery."