I decided to buy cheap plane tickets from Porto to Paris on RyanAir (like, super cheap: a total of $35 for both of us). What a deal!! I couldn’t believe our good fortune! Oh, wishful thinking…
As we were preparing to leave our Airbnb in Porto, our host mentioned to Scott that the “Paris airport” into which RyanAir flies is actually ~170 kilometers outside of Paris. (Why in the world would the stupid airport claim to be landing “in Paris”!? Grrr…) After learning this little tidbit, I Googled and found that there was a bus-and-train combo you can take from the Ryanair air strip to the center of Paris; when I discovered this, my frustration was mostly mitigated because, as an added bonus, we would get to see the countryside along the way.
Again, unfortunately, my excitement was squashed after we landed (not in Paris) and learned that both bus and train workers were on strike in France… and that their strike would be ongoing for about two out of every four or five days for the next three months.
Thus, instead of going to Paris, we were forced to pay 50 euro for a 20-minute shuttle to the nearest town, Chalon-de-Champagne. There we stayed for precisely one night; the next morning, we rented a car, forfeited $175 for our Paris hotel (at this point we were pissed and decided it was better to just skip Paris), and went straight to Versailles.
With all of these extra costs — all incurred before we had really done anything at all in France — we found ourselves already straining our allotted budget for the country. Bullshit, I tell you!
But on to the good stuff!
Nevertheless, the Palace of Versailles was wonderful… really beautiful, in an over-the-top, ostentatious fashion, but nonetheless beautiful. Versailles itself was also filled with sunshine, just like Louis XIV, the Sun King, I suppose. The other “homes” on the property were also lovely: one was where Marie Antoinette stayed, the “Petit Trianon”; and the other, the “Grand Trianon,” was where Louis took his lover(s) when he wanted to be away from court.
After Versailles, Scott bravely drove our cute little mint-green Fiat to the Loire Valley, home to many magnificent chateaus. (And as my stepdaughter Aidan recently told me, “chateaux just means castles, Connie.”) In the Loire Valley, we stayed in a tiny village called Rochecorbon, which is close to Vouvray, the area that produces wine of the same name.
It was in charming Rochecorbon that we rented the coolest place we’ve ever stayed in together: a “troglodyte.”
If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a small cave dwelling in a mountain or cliffside. Several hundred years ago, the mountainous escarpment at Rochecorbon was quarried for its white stone, which was then used in the construction of the chateaus (ok, Aidan, ok — castles) :). The remaining empty caves that pockmarked the cliff face were then used for various purposes, some for storing wine or other goods, and some turned into homes. It was so cool!! (I mean figuratively. But also literally, it was quite cool in the troglodyte.)
While in this area, we also went to Château de Chenonceau.
Oh! My! God!
This castle is gorgeous. It was constructed over the course of several hundred years by several different women. Yes, you read that right, women! These ladies were mistresses of kings, wives of important men, and noblewomen in their own right, all of whom knew what they wanted and then got. it. done. As a result, Chenonceau was truly magnificent. (Scott said several times that he liked it far more than the gaudy palace at Versailles.) You should go if you get the chance.
After Rochecorbon, we went to Bordeaux. Scott worked a lot while we were there, so I did quite a bit of sightseeing on my own. The city was lovely, despite the rain.
Together we went to a few wineries in nearby Saint-Émilion, a beautiful little medieval town that is one of the smaller constituent parts of the Bordeaux wine region. It was a beautiful place, with many old buildings including the “King’s Tower” in the middle of town, still used annually to host local wine council celebrations and ceremonies. (Wine ceremonies?! you ask. Yeah, we want to know too, and we want in.)
In fact, the entire town is officially an historic site. However, overall we didn’t love the St.-Emilion wines we tried, finding it too thin and almost bitter. We prefer the big, bold, flavorful reds, generally. (Go figure, right? Ginger power!)
Marseille, our next destination, was a bit of a blur, to be honest. We really disliked the place where we stayed, which turned out to be just a small room in a family’s apartment. They were nice people, but the whole arrangement was totally awkward, and worse, the place not really in a very nice part of town.
To top it all off, it rained constantly the entire time we were there, so we didn’t want to be outside. Frankly, we couldn’t wait to leave, so we departed a day earlier than planned (which we still paid for) and headed to Nice, where we stayed just one night (which was also, yet again, an extra, unplanned expense).
From there, we took a bus to Genoa, Italy, and then a train to La Spezia, where we’d be staying while we explored our goal: the stunningly beautiful area called Cinque Terre (which will be the topic of our next blog post).
In all, we were about $40/day over-budget for France. This means we have to make up for the overages throughout the coming days, weeks, and possibly months. France is $$$$. We enjoyed much of it, but don’t go unless you’re prepared to spend like a rock star.
Connie & Scott