I got up and went for a four mile run north from the Dorado Inn along Highway 147. After a quick breakfast, Drew, Jack and I went out on the lake with Jill Wallen in their boat with Carol Wallen and her friend Sara. Drew wakeboarded and Jack went on the kneeboard.
We spent a long time parked on the lake with Hunter's boat just drifting. Everyone went swimming and went back and forth between the boats. I have always enjoyed these types of times.
Back at the cabins, we had a quick lunch and headed up to play golf. We took four foursomes to Plumas Pines. I ended up in a group with John and Jill Wallen and Jack. I had a 57 on the front nine and then a 50 on the back nine. I actually had three pars.
Jack was essentially playing best ball. He would hit this ball and then most of the time we would pick it up and he would hit from my shoot. Jack got stronger as the day wore on. Several of his shots were better than mine!
By the time, we got back to the cabin it was almost 7:00 p.m. Although it took some time, Hunter and I successfully rallied everyone to go for chinese food in Chester. We took 22 people to dinner at the Happy Garden Restaurant. The one sour note is that it appears that the nearby Ranch House is closed. We have gone there for almost 20 years to play pool and shuffleboard. It was almost 10:00 p.m. by the time we got home from dinner.
Sunday was a lazy morning. I got up early and went for a four mile run north of the resort. No one was moving very fast. Several different groups spent the morning visiting, drinking coffee, kibitzing and making breakfast.
Finally in the late morning, several of the boats started out on the lake. Unfortunately, by then, the lake was getting choppy. Jack, Drew and I ended up going out on the lake with Hunter, Loren and her friend Loren.
We cruised up the lake to check out the area where the Hamburger Hut used to be. From there, we headed to Big Cove to scout out other places to buy gas on the lake. After a long stop to swim in the lake and cool off (We had trouble getting Hunter's boat restarted!), we headed south along the east side of the peninsula.
We headed around the point and to the west side of the lake to a cove where Hunter thought it would be calmer. Jack made several attempts to get up on two skis.
We headed back down the western shore past Plumas Pines looking for Carol's, a grill just off the lake in Prattville. We stopped there and walked up to the restaurant. The grill had shut down at 2:00 p.m., but they were still serving dell sandwiches.
After having lunch, we headed back to the Dorado Inn. In total, we spent more than four hours on the lake. It has been a number of years since I cruised that much around the lake.
The owners of the Dorado Inn have a social hour on Sunday nights. Afterwards, the Bob Wallen's made dinner for the group.
I ended the night playing blackjack with Jack and working to get him to bed before 10 p.m.
Coming off the two week trip to France and a week back at work, I agonized over what to do about the annual trip to Lake Almanor. This year will mark the 19th straight year that we have gone to the Dorado Inn at Lake Almanor.
I thought about going for only part of the week, but got some very negative feedback from Jack. Given that the Dorado Inn now has wireless internet access, I figured I would go for the week and do some conference calls and keep up on e-mail.
Morgan is Boston for the summer and Sharon had a work commitment on Monday and Tuesday; we expect to see her in the middle of the week.
Drew was finishing up working as staff at the Sugarloaf Fine Art Camp. He did not get done with the program until after 1:00 p.m. By the time, he got to Elk Grove, it was after 4:30 p.m. Drew, Jack and I finally rolled about 5:00 p.m. It was an uneventful trip to Chester. We made a quick stop in Chico for some food and were to the Dorado Inn by 8:00 p.m. We unpacked the truck and relaxed.
It felt odd to get to the lake that late. There have been years in the past where we were rolling before 7 a.m. and up to the lake by 10 a.m.
The rest of the group had gone for pizza in Westwood and did not get back until after 9:00 p.m.
I finished the evening sitting at the picnic tables playing chess and then cribbage with Jack. Catching up with Hunter and the Wallens, we listened to Drew playing the guitar. At that point, I wondered why I ever thought about not coming to the lake.
Sharon and I tend to be very agressive about covering lots of ground when we travel. Two years ago, We covered 1,500 miles in fifteen days exploring Florida. On the France trip, I esimate that we covered more than 1,600 miles in 14 days. We traveled about 750 miles by train and almost 850 miles by car. Admittedly, this included two big travel days: Reims to Chamonix and then Chamonix to Sancerre.
In spite of the effort to get to Chamonix, we felt that it was definitely worth the trouble. From my perspective, the French Alps were unlike anything I have ever seen. Standing on the floor of the narrow valley and looking up at peaks on either side that rose more than 10,000 above you with a couple of big glaciers was amazing. It rivaled the experience of the Eiffel Tower, the Lourve and the other major tourist destinations.
On the other side of the coin, we spent too long in the Loire Valley. Two days would have been enough to accomplish what we wanted to do.
I also wish that we had spent more time in Paris. While we had a chance to explore the Rue Cler and Montmartre neighborhoods a little, I would have liked to have had a some more time for some of the walking tours in the guidebooks.
The major tactical error that I made on the France trip was not being better prepared to deal with the language. Before the trip, Sharon had some French language lessons on CD that she and Jack started looking at. I got frustrated with lessons because the pronunciation rules seemed random and they were covering words that I did not think were important. My intention was to put together a sheet of words and phrases to carry in my pocket, but just ran out of the time.
I knew we were in trouble from the minute I started dealing with the cab driver at the airport on the way into Paris. While people spoke English at the hotels and most of the major tourist attractions, there were dozens of times on the trip that someone would rattle something at us in French and Sharon and I would look at each other and both shrug. My language skills did not improve over the two weeks.
One related story, from my upbringing on the farm and two years in high school, I have a small working Spanish vocabulary. Driving Sharon to distraction, I was constantly saying "si" instead of "oui" during the trip. On the last Friday, while I was trying to get the car parked in the parking garage, I said si instead of oui to the attendant. The attendant immediately asked me if I spoke Spanish. I said that I spoke a little Spanish and he and I were able to have some type of conversation. He immediately became our best friend and got us going on foot in the right direction towards Sacré Cœur. The exchange made me realize how different the experience is when you can communicate even a little. I am going to try to figure out a better strategy for future trips.
I have heard people talk about how the French are rude. This was not my experience during the two weeks that we just spent in France. In spite of the fact that my language skills are nonexistent, I found French people to be very patient and helpful.
Only once during the whole trip did someone treat us rudely. While we were champagne testing outside Reims, we stopped at a cafe in Verzenay. When we finally got the waitress to come to the table, it was clear that she wanted nothing to do with us. She was not willing to spend any time helping us work through the process of ordering something to eat. Other than that one experience, people were hospitable and gracious both in the big cities like Paris and in very small out of the way places.
The three things listed in the top ten that we did not see were the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Musee de Cluny and the Musee Picasso. The Pompidou is a modern art museum, while the de Cluny is a medival art museum.
The book also had a number of other must-dos for Paris. One of things that we did on this list was a Bateau-Mouche Cruise on the Seine. We went on the cruise just after sunset and we all felt that this was one of the high points of our time in Paris.
Up at 6:15 a.m., we caught a 7:15 a.m. cab to the Charles de Gaulle Airport. Everything went smoothly and by 10:30 a.m. we were in the air heading back to San Francisco.
Eleven hours later and a nine hour time change, we were back in San Francisco at 12:30 p.m. By the time we got through the passport check, our bags were waiting. We were home by 3:45 p.m.
At 9:15 p.m. Saturday night, my travel alarm went off. It was the alarm I had set to wake us up in Paris on Saturday morning. At that point, I realized I had been moving for 24 hours with only a short nap on the plane and I crashed.
We made a decision that we wanted to try and create a full day back in Paris on Friday. We sat the alarm for 6:00 a.m. It took us until a little after 7:00 a.m. to get packed up and loaded in the car. We set the GPS in the rental car for Basilica of the Sacré Cœur in Paris. With a stop for breakfast, we were there by 9:30 a.m. This was one of those times where the GPS was invaluable; we drove through Paris and to a spot about two blocks from where we wanted to be. The GPS even highlighted a parking garage (which I missed the first time and had to go back around to). We had an interesting exchange with the parking garage attendant which I will include later in a separate post about our experiences with the language.
We toured Sacré Cœur. This church is located on the highest point in Paris and has some spectacular views of the city. Afterwards we wandered through the Montmartre neighborhood surrounding the church and had lunch.
We returned the rental car to the train station and took a cab to the hotel. We are staying at the Hotel de La Bourdonnais our last night in France.
We then headed back to the Museum d'Orsay. We felt like we ran out of time there last week and decided to make a quick stop there in the afternoon.
From the Museum d'Orsay, we walked to the Museum National de l'Orangerie. This has some impressive Monet's Water Lilies as well as a large collection of art gallery of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.
We headed back to the hotel to clean-up. For dinner, we met Sharon's friend Angela at Mollard's. Angela, her husband and young son have just moved to Paris in the last month. Mollard's is a restaurant that Brun's mother and her husband frequent when they are in Paris.
We had breakfast on the back terrace of the hotel. Afterwards, Sharon and Jack played tennis for an hour.
The plan for the day was to head for Chambord. This is the largest French Chateau; it has 440 rooms and 365 fireplaces. Chambord is surrounded by Europe's largest enclosed forest park. Given that the audio hours were more than one and a half hours long, we decided against it. We plotted our own path using the map. The scale of the place is impressive, but we did not enjoy this site as much as we did Chenonceau. Chenonceau seemed more consistent, while Chambord seems more like a thrown together museum and less like somewhere that people lived. We had a late light lunch in the village.
When we got back to Château de Noizay, we headed down to the pool. While we were sitting there, a couple comes down with two young kids. The husband seemed very familar; Sharon and I were trying to puzzle out how we knew him. Sharon finally realized that it was Joshua Malina who played the character Will Bailey on West Wing. While we were sitting there trying to decide if we should say something to him, he commented on the book that Sharon was reading. This gave us an opportunity to confirm who he was. We ended up to talking them for a little while. In a stranger twist, his wife is from Clarksburg and went to Delta High School. She knows a number of my relatives.
We had dinner in the restaurant at the Chateau. While this had the potential to be the second best meal that we had on the trip, the room was so hot and stuffy that all I remember about the evening was sitting there and sweating.
Over dinner, we agreed that we probably only needed one and a half days in the Loire Valley, rather than three. We felt like we wanted more time in Paris and less in this region. As a result, we decide to get up early on Friday and head back to Paris.
I set the alarm for 7:30 a.m., but both Sharon and I were awake earlier. Sharon went out for a 20 minute run around the grounds of the chateau.
We had breakfast at the hotel. The rest of the rooms were filled with Americans who were on a multi-day horse ride across the Loire Valley. We did not see them the previous night, but they were all at breakfast.
We packed up, loaded the car and set the GPS for Chenonceau. When we were traveling across Florida in 2004, we used a book called a 1,000 places to see before you die. It recommended Chenonceau and Chambord as places to go in the Loire Valley. Chenonceau is the third most visited chateau in France (after Versailles and Fontainebleau). After a couple of days wandering the back roads, it was a little bit of shock to be back in the crowds.
The guidebook recommended getting the audio tour. We spent about an hour wandering through the chateau following the audio tour. All of us felt that it was time well spent and we felt like the audio tour added to the experience. Afterwards, we spent some time wandering the gardens (Jack loved the maze) and shopping in the gift shop.
We ended up getting lunch at the on-site sit down restaurant. This turned out to be one of the better meals that we had on the trip. Sharon spent some time dissecting one of the courses and making notes. She is starting to do some planning for a couple of fall dinner parties based on a french meal.
Back in the car, we set the GPS for Château de Noizay. Sharon and I were both a little dissappointed in this hotel. From the web site, we thought that it was going to be more like the accomodations in Reims. Unfortunately, it was a little below that level. You have to remember that these chateaus are 500 year old buildings. While there were some neat things about the place, the buildings definitely show their age. The grounds were also very dry and did not seem to very well kept up.
On a positive note, the place had a pool. With France in the middle of a heat wave, it felt great to take a dip in the pool after a long day.
We had driven through Ambroise on the way to the chateau and decided to go back there for dinner. We wandered through the town and found a great table on the sidewalk across from the ramparts of the castle. It was a great view. During dinner, it started to rain pretty hard. We were under the awning on the sidewalk and enjoyed our salads and the best pizza we had on the trip.
Monday and Tuesday were planned as one night stops. We got up and had breakfast in the hotel. We sat along the terrace and enjoyed a great view. Along the way, we have come to realize that no matter where you go, the breakfast is roughly the same. The typical breakfast is a basket of rolls, some coffee and some fruit. You can get an American breakfast with some eggs and bacon in some places. The hotels seem to offer a better variety of fruit. As result, we tended to have breakfast at the hotel more often than not.
We started off and found a Casino Market (toothpaste, water and playing cards) and an ATM in the larger town below Sancerre. We have been carrying only a moderate amount of cash and stopping every day or so to get more cash from ATMs.
The guidebook had a wine and cheese tour in the region surrounding Sancerre. We set the GPS for the first little town on the tour and started off. Our experience was similar to last week while we were Champagne testing. Although there were not as many wineries in this area as near Reims, every little town had signs for a couple of wineries. Trying to figure out where the tasting rooms were and whether they were open was an interesting game. We ended up tasting at two different wineries: one in Sancerre and another in Bue. We brought one bottle of wine at the second winery. I am probably going to try and carry it and the bottle of champagne from last week all the way home.
We tried to stop at the largest cheese factory in Chavignol, but it was closed. A lot of the wineries and cheese places close from roughly 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. We did not do a very good job of planning our day around this schedule.
We still wanted to buy some local cheese. A little later in the middle of nowhere, we stopped at a small farm that indicated that it was selling cheese and bought three different kinds of cheese from an older woman. Given that neither Sharon or I speak any France, this was a very interesting experience. Sharon initially thought that you would be able to taste the cheese first, but it was only for sale.
At this point, we set the GPS for the hotel and started west. Passing through one of the little towns on the way, Sharon and Jack saw the Tour de France on television in a little bar. We turned around and parked the car. In spite of the fact that the barman spoke English and we spoke no French, we successfully ordered something to eat, a beer and some wine. The guy was actually very patient with us which probably had something to do with the fact that the place was essentially empty and we were paying customers.
We rolled up to the hotel--Chateau de la Verrerie--about 3:00 p.m. This chateau was built in the 15th and 16th century. After checking in, we took a guided tour of the castle: part of the castle includes about 12 guest rooms, another section is where the current owners live and part of the castle is used for organized tours. The tour included the library, the dining room and a very cool chapel.
After the tour, we took a rowboat out on the lake and then hiked around the lake on a trail. Getting cleaned up, we went to the study to have a drink. When we checked in, they had put the cheese that Sharon had bought in a refrigerator in the game room. Sharon sent me to get the cheese, but it was gone. This kicked off a flurry of activity. It turned out that one of the maids had thrown the cheese away. At the this point, the owner of the chateau wandered into the study/bar. He sent someone to the adjoining restaurant to get some cheese to replace what had gotten thrown away.
Talking to the owner briefly was interesting. It made me realize that the chateau was essentially a giant 600 year old bed and breakfast.
In a random note, I read a book earlier this year about Nell Gywn who was a mistress to Charles II in the late 1600s. Charles II gave this chateau to Louise de Penancoët de Keroualle, a rival to Nell Gywn and another major character in the book.
Much to Sharon's disappointment the restaurant on the property was closed on Tuesday nights. The staff made a restaurant reservation for us in the nearby town of Aubigny-sur-nere. We had a nice dinner at the La Chaumiere and then wandered a little up and down the main street.
Up at 6:15 a.m., we checked out of the hotel and took a cab to the train station. We caught a 7:39 a.m. train from Chamonix to St. Gervais. We boarded an 8:30 a.m. train back to Lyon. This train made about a dozen stops and took more than 3 hours and 15 minutes.
In Lyon, we picked up a rental car from Hertz. The car that we had reserved did not have a GPS; neither of us wanted to spend the next four days wandering across France without a GPS. With a little whining and the added cost of an arm and leg, they were willing to upgrade me to a Volvo XC70 with a GPS.
This was the one night on the trip that we did not have a hotel reservation. In the past, Sharon and I have left a couple of nights open when we travel and ended up some great places. Sharon’s brother Tom and his wife Becky had been to Sancerre years ago and have raved about it. With this in mind, we set the GPS for Sancerre and started north.
The route that the GPS plotted took us southwest before we turned north. Sharon had a heated extended debate with the GPS about which route we should be taking and was not satisfied until we turned North.
We spent a couple of hours following the Loire River north through the edge of the Burgundy region of France. I was not overly impressed with the countryside. If you ignored the buildings, you could have been driving in the foothills of California.
We got to Sancerre in the late afternoon. Sancerre is perched on a domed hill; it has narrow streets with interesting 15th and 16th century houses.
At this point, we made a tactical error. We had set the GPS for the only hotel in the guidebook in Sancerre, Le Panoramic Hotel. It had a great view of the surrounding area but was more modern. We had been traveling all day and were ready to stop. We ended up settling for this hotel, rather than looking around. Although the staff tried hard, the view was speculator and it had a pool, the room was very small and Motel 6ish. Sharon was not pleased.
We got a drink at the bar, splashed around in the pool and enjoyed the view. Afterwards, we got cleaned up and wandered through the town. I enjoyed wandering through the narrow streets and old buildings. I had originally wanted to stay in one of the towns along the way and this stop helped satisfy that desire.
We ended up in the town square. There were four or five different kinds of restaurants spread around the square. With some debate, we choose Auberge Joseph Mellot. We had a set dinner with some regional wine pairings. I had a pastry stuffed with lamb and vegetables and Sharon had some beef. The French have a cheese serving after the main course and before desert. We had a couple of very good goat cheeses, including one that was very light and creamy.
Europeans eat so late and we have gotten into the same mode on this trip. By the time we got back to the room and to bed, it was almost 11:30 p.m.
I set an alarm for 7:30 a.m. and with some struggle dragged myself out of bed for a run. I ran for 30 minutes along the Arve River. It is the first time I have run since last Saturday.
We had breakfast in the hotel on a deck along the river. The plan for the day was to take a hike. After some debate the previous night, we decided to hike on the Le Petite Bacon Sud Trail and hike to the La Floria Chalet. The hike was about 4.75 miles round trip with a vertical climb of almost 1,500 feet. The view from the chalet was great and the cold drinks and a tomato salad made for a great break at the halfway point. It was about a two and a half hour round trip not counting the stop at the chalet.
After hiking back down, Sharon decided to ride the Le Brevent lift. She stopped at the midpoint at Planpraz and took a few pictures and then rode the lift to the top. She commented about how baize the Europeans are about heights. Groups of the people were walking to the edge of a shear cliff without a guard rail to enjoy the view.
While Sharon was riding the lift, Jack and I rode a luge. They have two different half mile long concrete banked courses. We rode each course once and then headed back to the hotel.
We wandered the town a little and did some shopping. Jack bought a relief map of the area; it is will be interesting to see if it survives the trip home.
We had a drink on the terrace of the hotel overlooking the river and then wandered through some new parts of the town looking for some place to have dinner. We ended up at Le Monchu. We had a dish for two called Raclette for dinner. Essentially, they brought out a block of cheese and some coals. You melted the block of cheese, scrapped off the block with a knife and ate it with some meat and vegetables. Like the night before, it was more of a novelty than anything else, but Jack enjoyed the process.
During dinner, we both felt like we were ready to move on to other parts of France.
One of our guidebooks said that Aiguille du Midi “is the easily the valley’s (and arguably, Europe’s) most spectacular and popular lift.” The lift takes you to the top of a rock needle 12,600 feet above sea level and more than 9,000 feet above Chamonix and the valley floor.
We set the alarm for 6:15 a.m. Jack and I walked Sharon to the bottom of the lift. While Sharon took the lift to the top, I took Jack back to the bed. He slept two more hours and by that time Sharon was back.
We got Jack up and headed off to feed him some breakfast; Sharon had breakfast in a restaurant at the top. Afterwards we headed towards the Train du Monenvers. This cog-train climbs about 3,000 above the valley floor and takes you to an overlook for Mer de Glace, a 9 mile long glacier. From there, you take a cable car down to another platform and then a winding staircase to the glacier. They have carved an ice tunnel into the glacier at this point. We had our picture taken inside the glacier with a Saint Bernard dog.
We took the cable car back up to the overlook and had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the glacier. We took the cog-train back down the mountain and then wandered back to the hotel. In route, we checked out the local Catholic Church and stopped by the tourist information office.
The three of us spent some time in the indoor pool and jacuzzi. After getting cleaned up, we sat on the deck of the hotel overlooking the river and had a drink.
We had dinner at Le Carlina. The meal was a collection of vegetables and meat (duck, chicken and beef) that we cooked ourselves on a hot rock that they brought to the table. The meal was really not anything more than a novelty, but Jack had fun helping us cook the meat.
During dinner, we agreed that getting to Chamonix was definitely worth the effort.
We were in bed by 11:00 p.m.; the earliest that we have gotten to bed in a week.
When the schedule for the trip was finalized, I looked at this day and felt some dread. The plan called for a big jump from Reims to Chaminox in the French Alps. It was a long travel day with a number of connections.
We set the alarm for 5:30 a.m. We loaded up the rental car and headed to the train station in Reims. I dropped Sharon and Jack at the train station and then headed to a different rental car return location that was open early to drop the car. It turned out to be about a half mile walk back to the train station.
We caught the train back to the Paris; this was an easy hour and 50 minute trip in an empty first class car. In Paris, we had to switch train stations. We took a cab from Gare de Est to Gare de Lyon. At this train station we had a quick bite to eat and boarded one of the high speed TGV trains for the trip to Lyon. This leg was slightly less than two hours in a full first class car with lots of younger children roaming the aisle.
By the time we got to Lyon, it was noon and we were still faced with two more trains that were making a number of stops. We boarded a full train towards St. Gervais using second class tickets. This was scheduled to be a three hour trip ride with a number of stops.
About an hour and a half into the trip, the train sat in the station for what seemed to be a long time. They made several announcements in French that neither Sharon nor I could get wrap our brains around. After a bit, I wandered off the train and tried to talk to one of the conductors, but he spoke no English. I am going to write a separate blog entry on our experiences dealing with the language.
There was an Italian woman yelling at the conductor who reminded me of a friend of Sharon’s and mine both in her appearance and her attitude that turned out to speak English. She explained that there was a fire on the tracks between this station and the next one. They did not know when it was going to be put out. There were no other trains leaving from this station so we were essentially stuck there. To say that the Italian woman was not pleased about the situation would be an understatement.
In a similar situation in the past, Sharon and I went into the town and rented a car. Given the amount of the luggage that we had and the fact that there were three of us, we decided to wait it out.
After sitting for more than two and a half hours, the train started off again. At some point, the trained stopped and they told everyone to get off. They loaded us on to a different train for St. Gervais. We finally got to St. Gervais at 6:30 p.m. about three hours later than we were scheduled to get there.
The next train for Chamonix was at 7:05 p.m. We finally got to your destination about 7:45 p.m. and were in the hotel room by 8:00 p.m. This was about three plus hours later than we had hoped.
Sitting in the hotel room, we could not have been more pleased. Chamonix is wedged in a narrow valley between peaks that literally tower 10,000 feet over the town; imagine sitting in the parking lot of Squaw but looking at peak that is more than twice as high on both sides of you.
We are staying at the Grand Hotel des Alpes. The hotel is in the middle of town right along the river. The second story room opens on to the river and has a view of Mt. Blanc, the highest peak. The hotel is in the central business district within easy walking distance of everything. I do not believe that we could have been more pleased with the hotel.
We explored the central business area and ended up having dinner at Restaurant La Caleche; this restaurant was listed in one of the travel guides. I had Chicken and Sharon had duck; it was the second best meal that we have had on the trip. Sharon particularly liked her salad. Jack had McDonalds! We finally crashed about 11:45 p.m. listening to the roar of the river outside our window.
Based on some of the adventures that Sharon and I have had, I believe that any day you end up were you were scheduled to be is a good day. In spite of the very long travel day—five trains and almost 14 hours hotel door to hotel door--we were excited to be in the Alps and looking forward to the next couple of days!
This was one of the best days of the trip. We had a wake-up call for 8:00 a.m. About 8:30 a.m., a maid lets herself into the room to tell us that it is time to get up!
We had breakfast on the terrace of the hotel below our room. They initially seated us off to one side. As we were sitting there, the waiters started to set-up a nice table in the sun. Sharon wondered out loud who that table was for. It turned out the table was for us. After breakfast, Sharon and Jack went and played tennis.
The plan for the day was to go champagne testing. Talking to the people at the tourist office on the previous day, we had highlighted a route from Reims to Epernay. There is essentially a trail marked as “Route de Champagne.” We had highlighted a couple of stops. We set the GPS for the first location and started off.
I was astonished by the number of wineries. Every little town seemed to have a dozen marked champagne wineries. The first stop we made was in Chamery at the Bonnet-Ponson Winery. This was a very small winery. We ended up choosing it because the sign said that there were cave tours. We ended up sitting outside in a courtyard tasting champagne and talking to the winery’s secretary who spoke good English. She gave us a tour of the caves that they have for storing their bottles and talked about the process for making champagne. The champagne was very good. We talked to her about having some shipped back to the states, but that seemed impossible so we bought one bottle. My guess is that we will end up drinking it in the next week.
The next stop was a larger winery. It remind me very much of the type of place that you would find in Napa. It had some great views of the valley and vineyards below the road. Neither Sharon nor I were particularly impressed with the wine.
One of the problems that we had was finding food. We had not packed a lunch to take with us thinking that we would find something along the way. Unfortunately, none of the little towns had any markets or cafes. We found one café at the intersection of a major road and the waitress was so rude that we got up and walked off. I will organize some observations about how we have been treated by the French at some point.
When we reached Epernay, we stopped at the first store that we found and bought some cheese, bread and meat. The store was a very odd place. It seemed to be a mini-Cosco with a limited selection of things in bulk.
The last stop of the day was one of the major champagne houses back in Reims called Piper-Heidsieck. This is a very large winery. It has a Disneyland-like ride through their chalk caves which Jack enjoyed.
I felt like the day was extremely successful. We visited a very small, a medium and a very large winery. The drive was beautiful with all of the vineyards and little towns.
Heading back to hotel, Jack and I spent 45 minutes playing soccer on the lawn.
We had dinner reservations in the restaurant at the hotel. We left Jack with a babysitter in the room and wandered down to the bar. The dinner turned out to be one of the best meals that Sharon and I have ever had. From a presentation standpoint, it was probably the top meal that we have ever had; the salad was particularly amazing. We had a nice bottle of champagne with dinner.
At the first time on the trip, we had a wake-up call. We had to pack up our bags and catch a noon train to Reims. After cleaning up the room, we wandered down to Rue Cler. This street is lined with shops, including places that sell just fish, cheese, meat or flowers. We explored the shop and then found a place to have an American breakfast. While we were eating, a truck stopped to make deliveries to the butcher shop next store. As they were unloading the truck, the butcher waved a baby pig in the face of someone who was trying to take a picture. Jack got a kick out of the pig!
Back to the hotel, we got a cab to one of the train stations. We had a very comfortable trip from Paris to Reims. The first class coach that we were in had only a couple of other people. The seats were much more comfortable than the plane ride from SFO to Paris. Although I originally intended to finish my book, I spent a lot more time watching the countryside go by. Typically, I try to compare the countryside of a new place to other places I have been, but I was not really able to make that kind of comparison as we rolled from France to Reims. The countryside is a mix of different features. There was a large amount of wheat as we left Paris. As we got closer to Reims, there were more and more vineyards.
Near the train station, we picked up a Hertz rental car for the first time: a diesel Peugeot with a GPS. We made our way to hotel and checked in. We are staying at the Hotel Les Crayeres. This is one of the nicest accommodations that we will have on the trip. It has a nice big room. It is apparent that we are the only people staying there with a child.
After lounging in the room, we headed back into town to visit the Notre-Dame de Reims. This gothic cathedral is the place that all of the Kings of France have been crowned for more than a thousand years. It was also empty compared to Notre-Dame in Paris. As result, it felt much more peaceful than the very crowded cathedral in Paris. There are some very cool stained glass windows by Marc Chagall in the back of the church.
Around the corner from the church was a tourist office. We spent some time talking to someone about our plans for Thursday. We are going to spend the day champagne tasting.
In a Wine magazine and one of the guide books, Sharon had found a restaurant in Reims. We had dinner at Brassierie Bu Boulingrin. It was the best meal that we have had so far on the trip.
After dinner, we headed back to the hotel. We walked around the grounds of the Château; my guess is that the grounds cover more than 50 acres. We stopped on the back terrace and finished the evening having dessert and watching the sunset at 10:00 p.m. at night. By the time we got back to the room and got Jack to bed, it was after 11:00 p.m.
It has not been getting dark until after 10:00 p.m. As a result, we have been eating and getting to sleep later and later every day. Unfortunately, we slept late this morning and got a late start from the hotel.
Getting a light breakfast at a bakery along the street, we walked to the Eiffel Tower. The lines were pretty long. After some discussion, Jack decided he only wanted to go to the second desk rather than the top. Although I am not much of a heights person, the views from the second deck were very cool and worth the waiting in line. We rode back down to the first deck, mailed a postcard to Sharon's mom and then walked down to the ground.
From the Eiffel Tower, we took a taxi to the Museum d'Orsay. Unfortunately, the lines were pretty long there too. We had a quick bit to eat in the Cafe on the fifth floor. The building housing the d'Orsay is impressive; it is an old train station that has been restored. The musuem houses an amazing collection of impressionism art. We felt a little rushed to get through everything that we wanted to see before closing time.
After the museum closed, we walked across the Seine into the Tulleris Gardens. Sharon was interested in going to the Museum de l'Oragerie, but it was closed on Tuesday. We may try to go there next Friday on our way back out through Paris.
We got the Metro back to the hotel and took a short nap. The plan for the evening was to take a boat cruise on the Seine. We walked back to the river and took a 9:20 p.m. cruise. Sharon wanted to wait until it was getting dark and the city was starting to light up. I enjoyed the river cruise; it was a great way to see some of the city. There were some views of a number of things, including Notre-Dame and the Eiffel Tower.
We had a very late dinner. By the time, we got a taxi and made our way back to the hotel it was after midnight.
Up a little late, we had breakfast at the hotel. Afterwards, we got Metro tickets and headed to the Louvre. The guidebook describes the Louvre as the largest museum in the Western World. The size is astonishing. You could easy spent two full days roaming the place and still probably not do everything justice. We spent half a day and tried to hit the high points including the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa.
Jumping back on the Metro, we headed towards Ile de la Cite where Norte-Dame de Paris is located. We had lunch on a side street and then headed towards the Catheral. After touring the church, we headed back to the hotel.
After we short nap, we got back on the Metro and headed to the Arc de Triumphe. We wandered around the Arc and then started walking south down the Avenue des Camps-Elysees. We had a late dinnner at a restaurant on the Camps-Elysees. We finished the evening wandering down the avenue as far as Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was late night; we were not back in the hotel unil eleven.
Although Sharon was a little under the weather, the 10.5 hour flight to Paris was relatively painless. Several people had warned us about how chaotic the Paris airport was, but we were off the flight through customs, got our luggage and were in a cab in no time. We landed in Paris at 11:30 a.m. and by a little after 1:00 p.m. we were crashed in the hotel room. We are staying at the Hotel le Tourville in Paris.
One of our lessons from traveling with Jack is that we can not be too aggressive out of the box. We slept for a while in the room and then headed out to explore. The Hotel National des Invalides is about one block from hotel. This site includes Napoleon's Tomb and The Army Museum. We spent some time wandering through the complex.
Afterwards we walked up a park to the Seine. We wandered back to the hotel scouting for some place to have dinner. We took another short nap in the room and then had dinner at a cafe on the street near the hotel.
Jack and I ended the night by watching France play Italy in the World Cup final on the a big screen in the hotel lobby with a large group.
Leaving Sacramento about noon, we headed to the San Francisco Airport to catch a 4:20 p.m. flight nonstop to Paris. When we were planning the trip we considered a number of different options for flights to Paris from both Sacramento and San Francisco. The cheapest option was actually a Northwest Flight from Sacramento to St. Paul, a flight from St. Paul to Detroit and then a flight from Detroit to Paris. This sounded like a really bad idea to me. The other problem with almost all of the Sacramento options was that you had to board a flight at 7:00 a.m. In contrast, the idea of getting on an afternoon Air France flight in San Francisco and getting off in Paris seemed like a much better choice.
Getting to the airport, checking in, passing through security and boarding the plane went extremely smoothly. I was little surprised by the route that we are flying. The flight plan headed over Idaho and North Dakota towards the Hudson Bay. I would have thought that we flown farther north sooner. I am going to have to look at a globe when we get back.
The Sacramento Valley Railroad, running from Sacramento to Folsom, was begun at this site on February 12, 1855. Here, at Third and R Streets, was located the Sacramento passenger terminal. The turntable and freight depot were at Third and Front Streets. Completion of the railroad was celebrated at Folsom on February 22, 1856.
There is a railroad right of way from this location over I-5 to Front Street. There are actually still a few rails in Second Street. It is hard for me to believe that they maintained this right of way in the 1960's when they built this part of I-5.
I spent the day in Santa Clara at the Cisco Executive Briefing Center. We took a large group for a briefing centered around call center technology. The agenda included: review of unified communications and IPCC; secure voice around UC and IPCC; telepresence demonstration; IPCC demo; and a technical discussion and review of Cisco end state architecture.
The telepresence demonstration was the most interesting part of the day. In The World is Flat, the author talks about using high definition video to drive video conferencing, but this is the first application of that idea that I have seen.
Using data from the the garmin, I generated two maps from Tuesday's 10k Run 4 Independence. They changed the course from last year's loop to an out and back course. I enjoyed running along Laguna Creek at the far end of the course.
When we first moved to Elk Grove six years ago, we had Frontier DSL installed. I was thrilled with the DSL performance compared to the dial-up that we had been using at the Eastview House. As the years have gone on and the area has been built out with more homes, the Frontier DSL network performance has deteriorated. Sharon got increasingly frustrated with the time that it was taking to complete some large audio downloads that she does on a regular basis.
In June, I made a decision to switch to Comcast Cable for internet access. I am very pleased with the decision. There are a number of network speed testing tools available. I used a tool available from Vonage to compare the performance of the two services. The results are shown in the following graphs.
Click on the graph to see a larger copy!
With Comcast Cable, I got a download speed of 5.77 Mbps and an upload speed of 644 kbps. With Frontier DSL, got a download speed of 1.36 Mbps and an upload speed of 117 kbps.
The real world difference between the two services is like night and day. When we tried to play video from any source (youtube, Google, CNN, ESPN..) with Frontier DSL, the video would start and stop as the playback ran faster than the download. With Comcast Cable, video from any source downloads quickly and plays smoothly. It opens up a whole new on-line world.
Over the last several months, I have read The River of Doubt. After Roosevelt's unsuccessful attempt to run for President under the banner of the Bull Moose party, he went to South America and traveled down an unexplored tributary of the Amazon. The River of Doubt chronicles this journey. I recommend the book; I even got Sharon to read it.
The types of web based applications available continues to expand. In addition to Writely, Google Spreadsheets and 30boxes, I have started to use Gliffy.com. This is a replacement for Microsoft Visio and allows you to create diagrams. My current project is a diagram of my home network.
I have experimented with a couple of project management/to-do applications but have not settled on anything in particular.