Well, I am finally on the mend after my bout with Angevinia, as Sherill, one of our tour group, named the ailment that struck so many of us down upon our return home. So I feel up to starting my tour reports—sadly, after the fact. But even if my netbook had let me log onto the internet as often as I’d wished, I wouldn’t have been able to manage daily bulletins—too much fun, friends, and wonderful French wine. My intentions were good; I just wasn’t being very realistic.

I thought I’d do a day at a time. Most of us arrived in Paris on Sunday, June 4th,

though a few lucky souls got there earlier and Paula, one of our four Australians, was able to spend time in England and Wales beforehand. Once we checked into our hotel on the Left Bank, jet-lagged but excited, some of us went out for lunch, where we discussed—quelle surprise—books, with great enthusiasm. Several of us then wandered over to one of Paris’s best-known English language bookshops, Shakespeare and Company. The original Shakespeare and Company was a famous hangout in the 1920s for the “Lost Generation,” writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and James Joyce. It was closed during the Nazi occupation of Paris, but later reopened at its current location, very close to the Seine and Notre Dame. The last time I was there, there was a very sleek and elegant black cat napping in the window, but he wasn’t around on this visit.

We had a very interesting and eclectic group—four from Australia, one of whom is now living in Viet Nam, one from Canada, one from England, and the rest from the US, with a large number of states represented—California, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, Oklahoma, Nevada, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, New York, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Ages ranged from Anna at 14 to those of a “certain age” like me, and it was skewed toward the female side, though the three men aboard were not complaining about that! We had a fascinating mix of professions, too—a doctor, two psychotherapists, a diver at Disneyworld, a librarian, a lawyer, several students, two midwives, two accountants, a pharmacist, an optometrist, and a cellist, just to name some of them off the top of my head. We had three mother-daughter combinations, which pleased me and made me a little sad that I’d never been able to take a trip like this with my own mother. And we had one family, Lisa and her two daughters and her sister Kathy. Lisa’s daughter Julia is the one who videotaped the tour for us, and did an outstanding job, always very unobtrusive, almost invisible at times. Best of all, we were a very congenial group, bonding easily and getting along very well; I am sure that a number of friendships were forged in those ten days. I know I feel as if I made 36 new friends

That evening, we had our first official tour dinner, which was the only real misstep of the tour, for it was at a restaurant that was small and cramped and very, very noisy. I remember thinking that we’d need to shout to be heard—and then the musicians arrived. Imagine being trapped in an elevator with an exuberant accordion player and you get an idea of the acoustics. So we were soon being serenaded by such French classics as “I can’t get no satisfaction,” which a group of German tourists seemed to enjoy more than we did. John, our retired English doctor, who would later prove to be my guardian angel on the tour, performed an act of great chivalry and changed seats with Paula, who was seated in the line of fire, right next to the accordion player. I would rate that with Sir Walter Raleigh’s sacrifice of his cloak to keep Gloriana’s feet dry.

As I said, not an auspicious start to the tour. But when I talked to J.D., our tour guide, he explained that we were supposed to eat in a private room upstairs; the restaurant’s air conditioning had stopped working, though, and they’d had to put us downstairs. So it was not the fault of our tour planners, had to be written off as one of those inevitable minor mishaps that occur whenever people travel. I’m sure medieval pilgrims often found themselves staying at inns with leaky roofs or mice that wanted to get too up close and personal. All in all, I was quite impressed with the itinerary set out by Academic Travel and would highly recommend them in the future. We were very well looked after by J.D. and by Janus, our bus driver; wait till you read about our experience on a narrow bridge on the way to Fontevrault! Tomorrow I will start the tour in earnest, with our first day in Paris.

PS  The photo is one of John’s–the Ile de la Cite, which was the beating heart of Paris in the MA.

June 24, 2011


  1. Brenna Says:

    *sigh*. Mom just left this morning after spending yesterday afternoon and evening regaling me with all of your adventures. Still very jealous, but know at least I have visuals of some of the places in France I have read about!

  2. Joan Szechtman Says:

    I hope that video makes it to YouTube! :)

  3. Christine Schroeder Says:

    I absolutely love the Ile de la Cite. So many people seem utterly unaware of the archeological ruins underneath the Notre Dame and I though they were one of the coolest things I saw the whole time I was in Paris.

  4. Christy K Robinson Says:

    Imagine being trapped in an elevator with an exuberant accordion player and you get an idea of the acoustics. So we were soon being serenaded by such French classics as “I can’t get no satisfaction.”


  5. Sandy Says:

    What a hillarious restaurant scene! Can’t wait for more. John’s photos are wonderful.

  6. Elizabeth Chadwick Says:

    Wonderful first report Sharon - and I guess that even the restaurant moment will develop a cachet of its own as a memory. I’ve been loving the photos that have been coming through from John.

  7. Cris Reay Connor Says:

    Loved the chat already, engrossed enough tohave missed Andy Murray on the centre court go 5 - 4 up !! Impressive - the blog of course

  8. Patrice Batyski Says:

    Sharon: We were twins separated at birth. When I was in Paris I haunted Shakespeare and Company. Sometimes the hiccups in plans are the best.

  9. Sherill Roberts Says:

    Thanks for the great report, Sharon. I enjoyed reliving the trip, and look forward to Day 1.

  10. Susanne Says:

    How good to get this report, Sharon. The memories are the best from a great tour. Wish I could have been there. Maybe next time.

  11. Ril Says:

    Five years ago I was in a small town public library and told the librarian I was looking for something different…maybe historical fiction…did she have any recommendations? I didn’t get the librarian’s name, but my life would be incredibly enriched by the name she did give me…Sharon Kay Penman. From the love of my life LLewelyn to Facebook fan club…and now a trip (retold) to Paris, I thank you Sharon, for your amazing abilities.

  12. Thomas Greene Says:

    Ok, let’s get the show on the road. I’m ready for the next installment. I think I perceived where the illness came from when you mentioned the wine, hee hee.

  13. Lisa Adair Says:

    Thanks, Sharon! I love reading your account of our trip! Day 1 was so busy from morning to night and I can’t wait to read your rendering of it!

  14. Mary Glassman Says:

    A wonderful summary of the first day. You almost make the resturant sound poetic instead of a cross between a gypsy encampment and a 60’s kareoke night. The seeds of Angivinia were sewn by that acordion player, or possibly the German tourists?? At least we were spared the mice!

  15. skpenman Says:

    LOL, Mary–that is a wonderful comparison. And that is such a lovely compliment, Ril; you made my day! Facebook is such a marvelous way for friendships to be forged. I’m embarrassed to think that my publisher had to push me onto it. I still haven’t twittered, though. Actually, Thomas, I think the wine insulated us from the germs until we got home; otherwise we’d have been flying a Red Cross banner over our bus.

  16. Joan Szechtman Says:

    SKP wrote: “…I think the wine insulated us from the germs until we got home; otherwise we’d have been flying a Red Cross banner over our bus.”

    :) Yes. One of the things that struck me when I first began researching medieval lives was how much alcohol was consumed by everyone, from small ale in the morning on through the day and into the night. It’s a wonder the people then were able to accomplish anything, let alone govern, go to war, play, write, invent, etc.

    Since coffee is thought to have Arabian origins and was consumed by the Arabians as much as ale and wine was consumed by the English, I’m quite surprised that it didn’t reach England until the end of the 16th-century (the first English coffee house appeared around 1608). One would have thought that would have been brought back by the crusaders too.

  17. skpenman Says:

    Here is today’s Facebook note.

    I am going to post some photos of Paris on my Facebook page later day, and I hope to be able to put up my second tour entry
    tomorrow. And while I really try to avoid politics here, I have to say I am very happy New York approved same-sex marriage, for I don’t see this as a political issue, but one of human rights. Also, some might find it controversial that the UK has just banned wild animals in circuses, but I am delighted. At the very least, intelligent animals like elephants should not be used like that. And if animals are to be kept in zoos, we owe it to them to offer a habitat that is at least tolerable. I have never forgotten the story of a gorilla who was kept in a cage in a Texas roadside zoo for over 20 years. I am old enough to remember when all zoos were like jails, and you’d see wolves and bears pacing back and forth in small cages like prisoners on death row. While I’m on my soapbox, I don’t think we have the right to capture and exploit highly evolved creatures like dolphins, I consider it cruelty to chain a social pack animal like the dog outside all the time, and I wish animal-abuse laws were strengthened, for too often abusers get only a slap on the wrist. There was a horrific story in Florida recently about a woman and her two sons, 5 and 8, who were beating two stray kittens with a baseball bat in front of other horrified children. One kitten died, and the other was rescued by one of the children. I will be very surprised if the woman actually does jail time for this. Hopefully she will lose custody of her kids, so there might be hope for them, assuming it is not already too late. Here is the link, for those with strong stomachs. http://www.care2.com/causes/update-on-dexter-kitten-beaten-by-mother-and-kids.html

  18. Enda Junkins Says:

    Hi Sharon, Although accordion music is not my favorite and a French can can would have been more fun, that first dinner did introduce me to kir royales which I later shared with you. Here’s to the drink of France!

  19. skpenman Says:

    I wish we were together to drink it, Enda.

  20. Koby Says:

    Very interesting, Sharon. One might accuse you of subliminal messages if we all did not want to join you on the trip in the first place, and were simply unable.
    Yesterday, a horrendous man, Simon de Montfort (our Simon’s father) was finally killed, his head crushed by a stone from a mangonel, and even that was too merciful. In addition, Eleanor of Provence, Henry III’s [IV] wife and mother of Edward Longshanks, died, and Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, was executed.

  21. Malcolm Craig Says:

    No, I did not complain, nor did John or David - philogyny, you know. That first lunch set a pattern of friendship that continued throughout the tour. Who is Brenna’s Mom?

  22. cindyash Says:

    Eagerly awaiting more reports! BTW, any chance you might be doing another tour next summer?

  23. skpenman Says:

    Nancy is Brenna’s mom, Malcolm. And I agree, I think that first lunch really set the tone for the entire trip.

  24. Malcolm Craig Says:

    I am pleased that I ran across the ancient beekeepers’ equipment in the Chapelle Ste. Radegonde, in the cave above the city of Chinon. Until you told me, I had no idea that Nancy keeps bees. I hope she has had a chance to watch “Ulee’s Gold,” in which Peter Fonda played a beekeeper in Weewahitchka, Florida, and received an Academy Award nomination.

  25. missseo Says:

    Thanks and I like your words very much!

  26. Gabriele Says:

    36 participants? That’s quite a lot. Glad to hear you had a nice time.

    I had considered coming along, but I’m too much of an individualist traveler, plus I would have wanted to include the Roman stuff. I took my money to Norway instead. :D

  27. Emilie Laforge Says:

    Sharon, It is so nice to be able to relive the wonderful trip that was through your blog. I’m amazed at how well and easily everyone got along with each other right from the start. Dinner that night was definitely memorable. Not only did we have an accordion player but there was also a guitar player. Besides the deafening noise, I credit the restaurant for giving me my first taste of Brie and I have to say it was delicious. I also had the best sorbet for dessert, mmmm!
    Other memorable events from arrival day include discovering that there was a bidet (photographed but not used) in our hotel bathroom and taking the tiniest lift I have ever seen up to our rooms. It was shaped as a triangle and could supposedly take three people…skinny people if you ask me. I think 3 ladies on the tour managed to get in all at once but it must have been snug…definitely not the time for a lift to breakdown. All in all, the hotel in Paris was nice and well located (5 minutes walking distance from the Cluny Museum).

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  35. Carol W Says:

    My husband is checking with Rick Steves Travel about a tour of Europe, 21 days. But I remember hearing about your tour and have been reading about it on the blog. If you are having another tour in the regions of your books, I would absolutely love to know about it. Those books picked me right up from North Carolina and set me back in time and in another world. I am guessing that your tour would bring the books alive. Maybe I could do it on my own, some other time separate from the Steves tour. The tour he wants to take totally ignores England, and I would love to see all the castles you mentioned. Of course we enjoy Rick Steves TV shows; it’s just that your tour is specific to your books…no one else would do that, nor could do it as well as you could.

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