Wednesday, July 8, 2009



Alli at Chenonceau

On the last Sunflower journey, my youngest granddaughter, Alli, and I went to France. We called our trip The Last Sunflower Journey: Oh la la. The journey started in Paris, France’s “City of Light.” The Eiffel Tower alone suggests how fitting that nickname is. When viewed from the Seine at night, the whole tower actually twinkles because of the lights mounted along its entire 1063-foot height.

Eiffel Tower at night

Probably the most photographed sight in Paris, it proved to be a bit of a challenge for Alli and me. Naturally, we had to see the view of Paris from the top.

View from the top of the Eiffel Tower

After riding a very rickety elevator to the top, we decided we would rather walk down than ride. This turned out to be a huge mistake. We didn’t know it before we started our hike down, but the tower boasts 1665 steps. We walked down and down, around and around, from level to level until we were in a near-zombie-like state. We were dizzy and shaky by the time we reached the bottom.

Down the thousands of steps

Down, down

Finally, we got to the bottom

One of the most impressive destinations we visited outside of Paris was the city of Carcassonne. In an area first settled by the ancient Celts, the Romans laid the foundations for the fortified city that stands there today. The Romans’ successors expanded the fortifications during the medieval period. After a period during which the walled portion of the city was allowed to deteriorate, restoration was begun in the mid-19th century. That effort has preserved a place that makes you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. Undoubtedly, that is part of the reason that “Robin Hood” was filmed there. It is an eerie place where the wind blows continuously, wafting sand into the air nearly all the time.


When we first arrived in Carcassonne, Alli and I prepared to head for dinner at our hotel restaurant. There, we would have a magnificent view of the ancient castle city. While I took a quick shower, Alli dressed for dinner. When I came back into the room, I was surprised to find her lying on her bed, crying. She was homesick. I guess this surprised me because we had been on the go constantly, and I didn’t think she had had time to miss her family. I should have been a little suspicious when I saw her kiss the photo of her dog that morning. The next day, she seemed to be on the mend, and I thought all was well. To my great disappointment, though, she seemed to be having a recurrence of the preceding night’s upset right before dinner. I found her lying on the bed, her shoulders heaving up and down with inconsolable tears and sobs. Fortunately, she was playing a joke this time and she really fooled me! Alli takes acting classes. She is a very good actress – and I was glad to find that she was actually beginning to get over her homesickness.

Alli is over being homesick

We also visited the city of Lourdes, renowned for its shrine and its holy water. At the Grotto of St. Bernadette (as serene a place as I have ever been) we sampled some of this natural (supernatural?) elixir. We brought a small amount back home with us, and it ended up having a use I had not foreseen while at Lourdes. For several years, I have been making and selling my own skin creams that I call Goddess Magic Creams. Someone suggested that I add a bit of the water to the formula, and I did so. Whether it makes a difference or not is hard to tell. But people enjoy hearing the story, and the cream sells extremely well.

Grotto of St. Bernadette

Entrance to the grotto of St. Bernadette

Dordonne cave dwellings

La Cave troglodyte restaurant in the Dordonne region

Another fascinating stop on our trip was dinner at a restaurant called La Cave, a troglodyte restaurant in the Loire Valley. If the word “troglodyte” makes you think “caveman,” you’re right. But these troglodytes were nothing like the prehistoric kind. La Cave, like many residences in the area, was built mostly inside a massive cave. It was rustic and elegant and the food was delicious. There was even a magnificent baby grand piano. No prehistoric troglodyte ever lived this well! These cave dwellings can be found in several places in France as well as in Spain. We were told that they are very much in demand in France, and seldom stay on the real estate market for long when they are sold. And why not. Like most caves, the inside temperature stays around 55 degrees F plus or minus a few degrees. There is little need for heat, no air conditioning bill and almost no upkeep.

Inside the Louvre-so much for culture

Back in Paris for the last leg of the trip, we toured the Louvre Museum and then, that evening, went to the Moulin Rouge. Surprisingly, the latter ended up being the highlight of our journey. Dancers appeared and scenery changed at an increasingly frenetic pace until the entire stage was turned into a giant aquarium. One woman jumped into the tank and swam with five pythons! It was an experience that neither Alli nor I will ever forget.

Alli and caneman at Avignon

We did it all!

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