Our Journey Through France
This vast, small world.
After a good night’s sleep, and another hearty breakfast we headed to Blois. This town is right on the Loire River and has its own chateau. However, we decided to visit only one more chateau, which was Villandry, which we were told had magnificent gardens.
We walked the town, with its numerous cobble stoned streets, old churches and ancient buildings with their rusty balconies surrounded by geraniums, and pastel colored shutters. As this was Sunday, many people were out and about, eating breakfast, visiting the boulangeries, chacuteries and flower and gift shops. There was a classic car event in the town, but instead of the cars being parked and people walking around admiring them, these were speeding through the town, sounding their horns, as if in a formula one rally! All the drivers and their passengers were dressed in the period of there car, so lots of lovely 1950s dresses and hats were on display. As we walked the narrow streets, we saw many small boutiques and specialty stores, which were closed, much to Marcel’s delight. I was struck by the umbrella shop. This shop made and designed umbrellas – how unique. I realized how underappreciated an umbrella really is, and I thought how lovely it would be to go in and have an umbrella made especially to suit you. There was also a wedding event going on, with stalls showing off their patisserie skills, bouquet arrangements and hair styles, all perfect for a wedding.
After a coffee and a rest, we left Blois and headed towards Villandry. Once again, we were hungry and found a lovely brasserie for yet another great meal and glass of wine. We headed to the chateau, which was quite small, still had a current owner, and more like our British stately homes. However, the gardens were astounding! Nine gardens in all, all beautifully landscaped and useful. There were water gardens, vegetable gardens, flower gardens and even a children’s garden, a walk through a forest and a maze garden, perfectly manicured. Aware that we still had to find a place to stay, we decided to leave and head towards Chinon where we would find lodgings.
We headed slightly south and came into Chinon – another beautiful town on the river Vienne. We googled some hotels and found one right on the river. After entering the foyer, ringing the bell and waiting for at least 10 minutes, we decided they must be having their siesta time and left. To our advantage, we found another hotel a little further back in the town, which looked like a very old house. We pulled into the Hotel Diderot courtyard and entered the foyer. Fortunately, they had one room left and the pleasant young girl, who spoke English showed us the room which was up a rather creaky staircase, along a very narrow hallway and at the end of the building. The last resort… it was clean, and comfortable so we agreed, and went exploring. We found the town center, found a few possible dinner places, and planned a walk the next day further up the town to see the wonderful scenery. After a rest and another lovely meal, we were glad to get to bed for a peaceful sleep.
Breakfast the next morning was served in a large parlor like room. It was full of cyclists, who were downing the coffee and orange juice, along with the bread and pastries to sustain them on their first leg of their day’s cycle. The owner of the hotel greeted us and speaking English she started to ask about our trip and where we were from. We learned that she was from the USA, from Satellite Beach in Florida, where Marcel used to live during the weeks he worked in Melbourne. She was excited to talk to someone who knew the place and she and Marcel talked about restaurants and areas that they both recognized. She had left some years before and bought the hotel, and she also made jams, about 2000 jars a year. We had a choice of about 15 of them for breakfast and bought a couple of pots to have when we reached our new temporary home.
As we were enjoying the breakfast another gentleman arrived. He was English and as he and his wife started their breakfasts and the cyclists departed for their day’s adventure, he also asked us about our trip. Again, such coincidences, we learned that he was a techie guy, had lived in the USA, Boston, Seattle, Cincinatti and was currently living in the UK. He and his wife returned to the same hotel every decade of their wedding anniversary; this was their 30th. So romantic…. He was envious of our trip, as his plan was to live in France for 6 months of the year, once he had retired, which was to be soon, or as he explained not soon enough. It’s amazing the people you meet on a journey and how, somehow, we all find a connection, whether it’s a place, a job, a food or an experience we share. We finished breakfast and wished them as safe trip; they were off to Villandry that day.
I was reminded of some other people we had met on our journey. There was the Oxford professor and his wife, at Newark airport, who were on their way to Bordeaux for a river cruise. He was a typical professor, white crazy hair, stubbly white chin, a bag of books and full of advice about reading matter, especially a French detective series which we shall look up, and of course wine, which we shall also try. We started talking about books and as well as loving Ian McEwan, one of my favorite authors, he too was reading the Three Musketeers. As we are staying just a few miles from Aignan, and the village just two miles north of us - Lupiac - has a great statue of the Cavalier himself, I have this on my reading list, again. It seems fitting that I should read something that is set in the place we are staying. I wonder if he is enjoying his river cruise, and his book?
On the plane from Iceland to Paris, I sat next to a lady from Sacramento who was travelling to Spain to walk the ‘El Camino Santiago’ a pilgrimage from the Spanish east coast to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain, where it is said that the remains of the apostle St James are buried. I was surprised that she was doing this alone, although she said many people would be doing the trail so she wouldn’t exactly be alone. Nevertheless, quite a feat, as I estimated her to be in her early 70s, and with just a backpack, which her slight frame didn’t look capable of carrying, and two hiking sticks, she was set to go. She had some issues with her cell phone, which Marcel promptly fixed for her and on landing at Charles De Gaulle we wished her well and said goodbye. Since we’ve been here, and can see the Pyrenees from our house, with it snowy peaks, I have wondered how she has fared and if she made it to the Cathedral. I hope so.
We hiked up to the top of the town, overlooking the southern Loire valley – the weather was improving at this point and we could see for miles across the countryside, filled with fields and forests, stretching out into the distance. A big wide world ahead of us, so off we set, via a wine cave!
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