Monday: Paris

We went to Museum L’Orangerie this morning and viewed the eight Water Lillies murals by Claude Monet. I never realized these paintings were so huge, and so dark. It was nice to spend time looking at those and some other exhibits at the art museum.

We had lunch in a pub in the Tuileries/museum area, then walked over to Notre Dame, where a tragic fire in April destroyed part of the roof and the spire, among other serious damage. There is a fence around the cathedral because construction and restoration is going on, and there is scaffolding all over the building.

From there we went to the iconic Shakespeare & Company – an English language bookstore in a charming shop with many small rooms. It was not crowded but I can imagine it can be claustrophobic with many people browsing.

From there we walked across the bridge to the Ile Saint-Louis, an island with a population of about 4,000. It has a nice city center. We stopped for coffee and then began our walk back. Public transportation is still very much on strike so the car traffic is a mess.

photos: the Seine today; Notre Dame; traffic standstill in Paris

Tuesday: Vichy

We had a relaxing Tuesday in Vichy. After a couple of raisin pastries and coffee at a patisserie in the city, we were off to the Hall des Sources. This 1903 building is where the medicinal Vichy water is sourced. The water is said to cure all kinds of ailments and to be good for overall health. There are a few different thermal springs in the city and sourced in the building, but only one of them is accessible to the public. The others are only available with a doctor’s note.

We tried the water. First you have to buy a cup from a machine. It is sort of funny to insert €.25, press a button, and have an empty cup drop out, but that is what happens.

The water is from an ancient-looking faucet and tasted slightly salty, not refreshing. I had read that people fill up bottles there, and they must be forcing themselves to drink the water because really, it was not good.

Next we checked out the old opera house. The building is beautiful and used for all types of performances now. There is nothing scheduled until a dance troupe this weekend.

We had lunch and walked around the park, then went back to where we are staying so that I could attempt to consolidate some of our luggage.

photos: on the doors of the opera house; the Hall des Sources; holiday stars in the park

Wednesday, March 25 p.m. : on to Barcelona

We left Laguardia at about 10:30 this morning. It was snowing pretty hard about an hour before that, and it turned to rain as we were packing up. We have a six-hour drive to Barcelona and hotel reservations for tomorrow so we will drive for a while today to make a dent in that. We need to return the rental car tomorrow before 3pm, and that probably won’t be a problem. (We finally figured out that a warning light that was going on intermittently meant that the road was wet. It had been cause for concern.)

We drove out of the rain and of course the more south we went the warmer it got. We stopped for gas about an hour into our drive. I got out of the car and the wind was so strong it lurched the car door open when I pushed it. It easily would have blown away a small child. We noticed that there are wind-breaking trees in that section of the highway, and the doors there are all sliding, pocket doors. It must be extremely windy all the time. I wouldn’t be able to stand it.

We drove to about an hour outside of Barcelona, to the city of Lleida. It seemed a good place to stop because it was written in LARGE letters on the map. It is a busy little city and we drove all around it looking for a place to stay. We found a “hotel and spa” that looked fine, but was it very strange once we got inside. It reminded me a bit of the bar in Lisbon: there, with random collections of CDs, toys, and other sort of random things. These were all around the lounge and made it (at least to me) uninhabitable.

But the room is very nice and it seems a comfortable place to spend the night. I tried to check out the spa part of the hotel, but it is in a separate area and I couldn’t find it (the sign outside an elevator said it was on the 5th floor, but the elevator only went to the fourth (?) The pool is temporarily closed. Still,it seems fine.

We went into the city at 6:30 to find a restaurant (first, a place to park – sheesh they were scarce. We parked at the soccer stadium) and were happy to find a terrific-sounding place for dinner, Xalet Suis. We learned that it, and the other ones here, don’t open until 9. That’s typical of all of Spain, but we’ve been going to places that open earlier, probably to accommodate Americans.

So we walked around, had some coffee, checked out the city, and went back for a delicious late dinner. We were the only ones in the old, very good restaurant for most of the evening. We enjoyed the whole dinner and this little, busy city.

Tomorrow we will check out Barcelona. (See photos in post that follows)