Sometimes people say to others after visiting a new vacation site, "We are glad we went there, but we've seen enough and won't go again." Others can't get enough and want to revisit at some future date. The second of these two options is what Lawrence and Jo Weeks of Bazetta chose in October.
Fifteen years ago, the couple went to Paris and then to Provence in the south of France. This recent trip was the time to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. They were looking for a relaxed time essentially to be alone together. They chose to revisit France with the same trip (more or less) by train and car they enjoyed years ago.
France is one of the larger countries in Europe, about the size of Texas, less the size of Vermont. Its population is about two and a half times that of Texas. The country has many associations for Americans - its breathtaking, centuries-old Gothic and Romanesque churches and chateaus, its military support of fledgling America's success at Yorktown, its ongoing battle for freedom of expression, world famous Impressionist painters, the gift of the Statue of Liberty in 1886, the hallowed grounds of Chateau-Thierry and the Normandy Beaches, the character of the people, food, cheese, wine and a year or two of French grammar and conversational vocabulary for some of us in high school.
All of France is too much for any one trip. The Weeks chose what they wanted most - some time in Paris - most of the time in the southern smaller cities and rural areas where they could have greater freedom of movement in a more casual surrounding.
The couple arrived in Paris by way of Pittsburgh on Delta Airlines. "There was no hassle with customs," Larry said, "our first night was near the Arc de Triumph; the food was fabulous!" Jo observed the women's dress along the Champs Elysees and parts of the left bank was chic. Larry had acquired Euros in advance, because, "We knew merchants wouldn't always take credit cards."
They went to the Musee d'Orsay (built as a railroad station in 1900, becoming a huge museum in 1986) to see the Van Gaugh exhibit. They then went to the Louvre (built as a fortress in the late 12th century, becoming a museum in 1793) and "walked right in." They had easy access perhaps because nearly the "whole work force of the city was on strike. We got out of the city before the worst of it," Larry said. "Only taxis were authorized to run." One of the strike issues was settled by moving retirement age from 60 to 62, Larry heard.
After two days in Paris, they took the TGV train to Avignon. It took two hours and 36 minutes to travel 463 miles (almost twice the distance between Cleveland and Cincinnati) at speeds up to 200 miles per hour (now that's high speed!) Avignon is a city of nearly 100,000 located on the Rhone River. The ancient city was walled to protect the Popes who lived there during the 14th century. "The city was unchanged from 15 years ago (the streets are narrow and many one way). The urban sprawl around Avignon, however, was noticeable," Larry observed. They stayed in the area four days. "We got lost a lot of the time, but we didn't mind because we had no place we had to be," Larry said with a smile.
"It was great fun to stay at a B&B in farm country, everything was clean and pristine," both Jo and Larry reported. "We went to market day in a neighboring town to be among the people and see the variety of produce. The people were wonderful." They took a double-decker train north an hour to Lyon and rented another car.
The trip was a romantic experience. The local wine was equal to expensive ones in the U.S. The waitresses spoke English. They saw new windmill farms, solar panels on homes. Nearly every vehicle runs on diesel (more fuel per barrel of crude oil than gasoline). Nuclear plants generate about 80 percent of the country's other power. "The French economy seems strong, even though the government is almost socialistic." Larry concluded.