In September 2023 Jennifer Machlin and Marv Porten finally made it back to Paris - the trip Covid stole. There was an amazing silver lining from the delay: 2022 saw the long-awaited opening of the completely remodeled Richelieu branch of the Bibliotheque Nationale. Its brand-new upstairs museum (the Galerie Mazarin) rotates prized items from the library’s huge antiquities collection, with rare manuscripts, works of art, & archaeological finds. Original manuscripts we enjoyed included Beethoven’s 9th Symphony & Emile Zola’s La Bete Humaine.
Overall, Jennifer felt that the displays topped the antiquities she and Marv had seen at, e.g., the Louvre, Beinecke Rare Book Room (Yale), V&A in London, & the Met in NYC. Plus, the Galerie is still undiscovered: no tourist mobs!
Also new to Jennifer & Marv: the Musee Montmartre, a peaceful oasis surrounded by its beautiful Renoir Gardens. The museum’s paintings, posters, & cabaret history rooms evoke the area’s charm & unique character.
Another relatively undiscovered museum, though hardly new, is the Marmatton. Its Impressionist collection (e.g., Monet, Berthe Morisot, Sisley, Pisarro) rivals the d’Orsay (always jam-packed because of its Van Gogh works). The Marmatton is far from the center city, on the western side, adjacent to the Bois de Boulogne, a location that’s pretty much ignored by tourists.
Paris Prices: Our airbnb was also outside the center city in the 15th arrondissement, a beautiful, quiet neighborhood with beyond fabulous boulangeries/patisseries, produce markets, & cheese shops. Compared to San Francisco, prices were incredibly low; produce that costs around $6/pound in SF was about $1/kilo; cheeses that are at least $20/lb. in SF were about $7/kilo in Paris (not to mention many cheeses one can’t even get in the States). Same with restaurants; meals that would have been easily $80 in SF (if one could even find dishes with ingredients that good!) were about half that in Paris.
By Sallie Abbas
Yes, the Hôtel de Glace is truly made of ice and snow. The walls and roof are mostly snow and the furniture (tables, benches, beds) are carved ice. Of course, it’s rebuilt each winter. A friend and I sampled the 2023 model on our initial night at “Carnaval”.
A deluxe Ice Hotel double room, not the one we stayed in.
Guests receive a sub-zero sleeping bag and advice about what to wear for their stay, also reservations at a ice-free hotel, in case they get cold feet (ha ha!) at the beginning of the night upon viewing their ice bed or even in the middle of the night. Anyway, it is accessible for changing clothes or access to a hot shower. That is included in the price. The temperature in the hotel was a comfortable 25° F or -4° C. A charming chapel also made of snow and ice, separate from the hotel, had a spectacular altar light-creation and fur throws on the bench seats. The hotel bar (beautifully crafted of ice) served drinks in glasses made of cubes of ice with a cylindrical hole drilled down the center. My drink was a chartreuse liqueur and spruce beer with a little grenadine syrup topped with a tiny spruce twig with needles on it.
The remaining nights we stayed in Québec city.
That week we explored ways to play in the snow and ice. We went tubing --sliding at great speed, spraying snow as we went! We played instruments made of ice (marimba-like) and mini-hokey (like mini-golf), and watched people scale ice mountains.
My friend and I had a great dog sledding excursion. I had been dog sledding in Maine, but this time I was the main musher!
We kept the sled upright as we rounded bends in the trail, which was better than some of the other folks.
I rode on the back runners, in charge of the brake as needed, and calling out commands to my friend to “Lean to the left” or “Lean right”!
We also found time to visit the museum of the Wendake native first people and to dine splendidly and reasonably. In the old part of the city, many stores had ice sculptures out in front, so walking a street resembled walking through a frozen art gallery. On our final night we watched the big parade. Of course, there were colorful lights and lots of floats, the final one featuring the carnival’s mascot, the huge snowman Bonhomme Carnaval.
Cross another thing off my bucket list! It was so memorable!
I was curious to take a Rick Steves tour, so when Gail Buerger Kerr said she was taking one through the Loire Valley of France, I decided to book that one, starting in Chartres.
The two of us added four days up front in Paris, allowing us to go to Monet’s home in Giverny, spend good time at the d’Orsay Museum, the Orangerie, the Marmottan, walk around the reconstruction site of Notre Dame Cathedral.
We had a hop-on, hop-off pass for the Batobus, a passenger boat that goes up and down the Seine, and one stop was to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. We walked through the Tuileries Garden and treated ourselves to the well-known Mont Blanc dessert at Café Angelina. We patronized several outdoor cafes, and we could observe Parisians, many with their dogs or on motorized scooters.
Joining up with the tour group, we had an informed tour by Malcolm Miller who has written a book about the cathedral. I was mightily impressed by the music-and-light show at night with an amazing projected display on the façade, and of course the glorious stained-glass windows. The floor has a large labyrinth and I based the one in own yard in NC on that design.
Then on to the chateaux of Amboise & Chenonceau. It was at Amboise that Leonardo da Vinci spent his last four years, as guest of the king of France. There are interesting displays of his drawings and constructions in his workshop and studio.
The next visits were to Villandry with it immense gorgeous gardens, then to Azay le Rideau, and to Rigny-Ussé, known as the inspiration for the author of Sleeping Beauty.
A sobering tour of the village of Oradour-sur-Glanewhere during WW II in Nazi-occupied France, 643 peaceful civilians, including women and children, were massacredby a German soldiers. The stark remains of the village, including rusting bicycles and sewing machines express the sentiment on the placard, “Souviens toi” [“Remember”]
The Mayor of Montemart (small medieval village) proudly gave us a tour of her patrimonial town.
Following a stay in Sarlat-la-Caneda, where we enjoyed market day and an exquisite French dinner, including a starter of foie-gras, we were asked to test for Covid, since one of the people on the tour had tested positive. We did, and several of us also tested positive. It is the policy of the tour company that we must leave the tour. ☹
RS Tours was very prompt to refund the money for the remainder of the trip which we missed. Having to make other arrangements, Gail & I made a long train ride to Bordeaux, and on to Marseilles and to Nice, where we enjoyed some relaxing time on the Mediterranean coast. We took a quick bus ride to Monaco as well. We had extra time in Nice before catching the scheduled flight back to the States.
It was nice to make use of my French – to understand and be understood!
SALLIE WRIGHT ABBAS
In July, 2022 my husband and I finally got to go on the MHC Alumnae Association trip that we had signed up for in 2020: “Circumnavigation of Iceland.” We took the 3-day pre-tour land trip with excursions from and around Reyjavik and then boarded the small charter ship. Le Bellot, with 110 passengers for 7 days circumnavigating the country, stopping each day in one or two ports for great views and mostly hiking tours. We were the only ones from MHC on the trip, but many told us they or family members went to MHC.
It was a wonderful trip despite my light-weight ankle support waterproof hiking boots (especially bought for the trip) catching on the grommets in the Iceland airport, causing me to fall and bruise my ribs. Because we came a day early in case we missed plane connections, I had a day to rest and ice before the tour began.
First stop on the pre-tour the next day was a soak in The Blue Lagoon, a lake-sized hot springs just outside Reykjavik. It was created by mistake with outflow waters from the adjacent thermal power plant. The water was full of silica which sealed the porous lava allowing the water to collect. Very soothing to my sore ribs! Ahhh. Two accidents collide: my ribs and the lagoon. With Tylenol and Arnica I was able to enjoy the land tours.
Highlights included walking the rift between the American and Asian tectonic plates, stepping inside the arctic circle, learning about the land formation under the ice due to volcanic activity, and seeing the most recent lava flow. We were intrigued by the Herring Museum in a very small town that had boomed to 20,000 people in the early 20th century, 1903-1968. Women would come from all over Iceland in the summer to de-gut the herring and earn good wages. They could go home and be independent. Because of that, Icelandic women got the vote in 1917 before we did! The town overfished the herring and the town population shrank. They and all of Iceland have responsibly fished ever since.
A wonderful event happened unexpectedly on the last day of the cruise because we couldn't get into port due to rough seas. We were supposed to go to a lagoon with floating icebergs and boat among them, as well as walk among icebergs on a black sand beach. Instead, the captain sailed the ship slowly for a view of the lagoon and beach and then stayed with a moving (in both senses) view of the glacier for hours, something we wouldn’t have seen if we had visited the lagoon. The glacier was huge, magnificent, otherworldly. At dinner we still had that view. The sun came out and reflected a path to our ship. I was mesmerized all day. I felt connected to the universe, like I did when we saw a total solar eclipse at sea. I felt opened, felt transformed internally. What a gift out of our disappointment. There’s always something!
When we looked on the map of Iceland to see where we had been, we discovered our amazing view was of only a tiny fingertip of the largest glacier in Iceland covering about 1/3 of the country!
Meg Harlor (Mickey Herz at MHC)