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Report 880: Hitting the Highlights in Paris and the Loire Valley

By Barry Parks from North Carolina, Summer 1999

Trip Description: June 22 - July 13, 1999 - Paris and the Loire Valley

Destinations: Countries - France; Regions/Cities - Loire Valley, Paris

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Vacation Rentals; Art Trip; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 3-4 people; Adults and Teens

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Page 1 of 23: Introduction, Explanations, and Apologies

photo by Barry Parks

Our family at home - just not OUR home

General Eisenhower’s D-Day Invasion was a spur-of-the-moment lark compared to the plans that dropped my family of three in Paris and the Loire Valley for three weeks in 1999. I know that the soldiers had hit the beaches of Normandy with backpacks, but did they have personalized, full-color, color-coded and tabbed itineraries showing hours of operation, admission cost, thumbnail histories, and floor plans of all the attractions; a list of available ATMs in all the areas to be visited; restaurant reviews, maps, and diagrams; AND copies of pertinent documents? Perhaps Eisenhower didn't have the advantage of a year's planning time and dozens of (mostly out-of-date) travel books, magazines, and newspapers. He also didn't carry the burden of several years of architectural history lectures and slide shows calling for validation.

On the other hand, my family didn't have the full financial backing of the entire US government. The trip I planned would be one that would, by necessity, have to be considerably more frugal. To pull this off, we leaned heavily on a number of strategies. The most obvious two were in lodging and meals. The roofs over our head were at the least expensive hotel in Paris and in two one-week gite rentals while in the Loire region. Most meals, especially after we got into the houses, were self-catered.

Nancy and I had travelled together overseas once before - our second year of marriage and 11 months before Marie was born. That trip - Southern England and Northern France had planted the seeds for this trip. Even then, I had made lots of plans and created an agenda that was full. Now I was several years older, and we had a third party - Marie - to include in the plans. I had a fear, before the trip, that another handicap would be our limited ability with the local language. My wife and I had taken a conversational intro course at a local community college a few years before. These are not lessons that had stuck. I carried a basic ability to read traveler's French but had a spoken vocabulary that hardly expanded beyond "bonjour", "oui", "non", and "pardon". Except for three exchanges, our experience turned out differently. The first incident happened months before the trip. We had tried to find out if the houses we'd rented included air conditioning. My wife called overseas and was finally passed to an "English-speaking" operator in the gite organization. She asked if the properties under consideration had air conditioning. No comprehension. Other attempts followed. Finally, Nancy asked if the house had air conditioning and heat. "Heat? No. Your family will heat in the kitchen!" came the reply....

Once we finally arrived, my language concerns shifted. It turned out that my honest attempts of making first contact with a hardy "bonjour" was apparently so painful to the French ear that most who spoke no English slipped out of our "conversations" long enough to go an learn my language so that they would not have to attempt further attempts I might make. There followed only two other times when the language barrier became visible. Those incidents came after we left Paris.

The account that follows outlines the tour. Recognize that currency exchange at that time was in francs (approximately six to the dollar). Euros were not yet in use, but the Euro equivalent was often shown for practice. At that point, the projected value was approximately $.90. Readers interested in the costs will need to calculate accordingly. Other parts of this trip already seem quaint - the pre-internet research, the oft-fruitless search for a cybercafe, use of film, outrage at high cost of gasoline, etc.

The cast of characters is limited - my wife Nancy, my daughter who was 14 1/2 at the time, and myself. Nancy, at that time, was a homemaker. Her patience with my architecture-focused tours over the years, should have earned her an honorary architectural degree. Marie is a precocious kid, and is now attending Rice University in Houston where she is working on a degree in English. At that time she could hardly be found without a book in hand. Part of the battle for this trip was pulling the books down long enough for her to see what she had been reading about.

Me? When not planning or taking trips, I am an architect. My primary focus in my firm is on religious architecture. That would direct this trip to a certain extent. At least until we got there....

With all that established, let the trip (report) begin!

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