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Introduction. We had decided back in 1999 that we wanted to cruise the rivers through the wine country of central and southern France, but at the last minute we opted for a more ambitious tour. Pretty much the same thing happened every year since. So this year we were determined to do it. We booked Grand Circle Travel (GCT)'s 14-day Rhone River, Paris & the Cote d'Azur tour and added the 3-night Chateaux Region of the Loire Valley pre-tour package.

We originally were to leave home on 15 August, but GCT contacted us and asked if we would switch to a 26 September departure. They offered us a cabin upgrade as an incentive (to an upper deck cabin with a balcony). We were happy to accept.

This would be our fourth visit to France. The first two (1961, 1986) had been spent mostly in the Paris area. The third (1999) had included the Cote d'Azur and Corsica as well as Paris. So most of the upcoming trip would be in areas of France that we had not seen before.

Sunday, 26 September. This was Jane's birthday. We left our home in Massanutten at 11:15 and drove to Culpeper for a very nice birthday lunch with our son, Randall, and his family. Afterwards he drove us to Washington D.C.'s Dulles Airport through heavy traffic. We got there at 3:00 and our Air France flight was in the air at 5:30. After dinner around 7:00, we tried to get some rest.

Monday, 27 September. We arrived at Paris' Charles De Gaulle Airport at 6:15 a.m. (just after midnight EDT). A GCT representative met us and led us to the waiting van. Laurent Pesneaud, our outstanding tour director for the entire trip, welcomed us when we arrived at the airport Sofitel Hotel. We were in our room by 7:15. Having this very nice hotel room for a few hours while we waited for other members of the group to arrive was really great, one of the nice touches that GCT uses to make the trip as comfortable as possible. It gave us a chance to clean up and rest so we could recover somewhat from the trip over and the time change.

An incision on my back from recent skin surgery had opened up on the plane, and Laurent arranged for an airport doctor to come by our room to look at it. She recommended that I go to the hospital once we got to Blois. Later we ordered a light lunch from room service.

Blois & its cathedral

The bus for Blois left at 2:00 p.m. There were 27 of us taking the "pre-trip" chateaux tour in the Loire Valley. At a rest stop en route, I got some Euros from an ATM. There had been no chance to do so at the airport. At 4:30 we arrived at the Hotel Mercure in Blois, right along the Loire River and close to the center of the old town. Laurent took the group on an orientation walk at 6:00. Immediately afterwards, he took Jane and me by taxi to the local hospital where they treated my wound. That took about two hours altogether. Because of the hour (9:00 p.m.), not to mention our fatigue from the flight, we just had a light dinner at the hotel.


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