It is my sincere and somewhat extravagant wish (We did, after all, just come back from France!) that this review will give you some of the same pleasure(s) we experienced on the magnificent miles of France. If you can, put on some beautiful French or French-inspired music and let it envelop you as you read this.
First, a little about us:
- Until this trip, my husband and I had been to Paris five times but never further outside except for day bus trips to Versailles and the beaches of Normandy. Then we watched the Tour de France and we, along with everyone else in the world, were WOWed by the beauty of France.
- Last year, we went to Scotland, our first trip with Road Scholar. We were SOLD on Road Scholar from the first phone call until the last group picture. Not only did our trip wildly exceed our expectations—we put the bar way too low!—many of our fellow “road scholars” had taken multiple Road Scholar trips. One couple alone counted 40 RS world-wide adventures between them! What endorsements!
- We were hooked. So when I read the description of “Barging the Seine: From Paris to Barbizon” and learned that this was an opportunity to learn more about the Impressionists and the roots of Impressionism, my only question was, “When can we go?”
Well, we’re back and—no surprise--even more pleased than we expected to be. Here’s how Road Scholar did it:
The barge (la péniche), named Fleur(flower)was, in effect our hotel.
As we traveled from place to place there was no need for unpacking or lugging luggage. The Fleur and her utterly delightful, capable crew took us (and our companions-- delightful, fascinating, fun road scholars-- to waiting motor coaches along the way which took us to captivating places—some we never heard of!
Road Scholar managed to strike just the right balance between must-see destinations and quirky/intriguing “fabulous finds.” Moreover, knowledgeable local experts gave outstanding presentations (in clear, excellent English) at each.
Also, two Road Scholar “group leaders” (one seasoned pro and a very knowledgeable “trainee,”) were with us every step of the way—on and off the barge. We got the “visiting dignitary” treatment.
Also, in response to requests from former Road Scholar participants, 10 hours of cruising time was added so we had a chance to enjoy more of the sensational experience of gliding down the Seine and even going through locks in the canals.
Now for some highlights of our trip:
Montargis: The first of many charming French villages and the first place where Fleur was docked. We had flex time to explore the charming village, get settled in our cabins and enjoy our Welcome Dinner, the first of many delicious, gourmet-quality meals.
Our first excursion was a trip to the Maritime Museum in Briare and then a field trip to one of the longest aqueducts in the world the designed by Gustave Eiffel, designer of the Eiffel Tower.
The history of this “bridge” (really an aqueduct) is remarkable. This particular part of the river becomes very treacherous during storms. So the French built this “bridge over troubled waters” for safety and consistent navigability. During WW2, they astutely observed that the Germans would use this bridge, so they tore it down. The Germans, astutely observed that it would be very helpful, so they rebuilt it!
The bridge that stands today is as beautiful as it is practical. Note the lovely Parisian streetlights along the way and the same sculpture on both ends as the Alexandre III Bridge.
History buffs, put on your reading glasses and click this link: 1940-45 : Destruction et reconstruction website. The Evanston Public Library research staff helped me dig up fascinating stuff!
Among the many stops that followed:
Lecture/tour of Antoine Bourdelle’s Museum Garden. A student of Rodin, his work is marked by high energy, power.
Later that week, on our foray into the Fontainebleau Forest, we viewed the varied works of the many artists who were drawn to its beauty. One beauty who was drawn to it, Catherine Deneuve, posed for this stunning sculpture of Marianne, who according to Wikipedia is “…a national emblem of the French Republic, an allegory of liberty and reason, and a portrayal of the Goddess of Liberty.”
The next day, we were awed by Fontainebleau Palace, Napoleon’s residence. He didn’t like Versailles. Imagine surpassing Louis XIV’s opulence and splendor! It’s hard for me to even conceive, but Napoleon may have done it!
Our trip was enhanced by lovely, unpredictable moments that would never have been possible if we had made our own arrangements: trips to the ateliers of local, working artists, visits to contemporary-but-off beat artists, a trip to a town hall, “Mairie” (each section of Paris has its own), to see its collection of fine art.
The Maire of Bourron-Marlotte—somewhat embarrassed because he wasn’t wearing a tie!—even agreed let me take his picture with our tour guide, Sophie and Helen, one of our RS traveling companions. What a gracious gesture!
Add to this the joys of cruising down the Seine and enjoying its natural beauty…
And the pleasure of the company of about a dozen travelling companions and our excellent, fun crew!
Our destination, Barbizon did not disappoint. The home of Impressionism is, well, a homey place. Auberge Ganne, the country inn where the artists lived, drew on the walls and tablecloths and shared their radical artistic philosophy is now open to the public. An excellent video history to delineate the transition from the Barbizon School to the beginning of Impressionism communicates the passion, courage, and vision those artists had! How did they know they were right?
Bravo, ROAD SCHOLAR! Once again, you have organized an outstanding vacation! I’m already wondering where we’ll go next…
Find more information about ROAD SCHOLAR on the Road Scholar website