Friday, June 11, 2010

Castle Country

So we’ve seen the Romans, checked out medieval villages, hung out in cafes frequented by artists of the “Belle Epoque”, and roamed the fields of two world wars.  All that was left was the Garden of France.  The land of aristocratic wealth and splendour.

Loire Valley:  home of over 300 Chateaux that seem to rise from the land with such grace and awe that once again I was back in a fairytale. 

The Engineer and I both felt that covering only a few Chateau was best; as just like medieval towns and castles, they stop losing their wonder when you see too many. 

Wow.  How spoiled are we?  Ugh.  Another castle.  Blah blah blah. (especially that as I re-write this I am back in the land of Starbucks where my current view is an greasy haired man scratching himself and talking on his bluetooth whilst sipping on a non-fat extra-hot latte and a bank.)

My pick was Chateau Chenonceau.  It was apparently also the pick of half the poulation of France. And, of course, it was covered in scaffolding.  Clearly, avoid timing your travels to Europe if I am going in the same year.

It was still pretty amazing.   I mean it’s a castle bridge thing.

  We made the mistake of getting the audio tour.  Why why why do we think this is going to be good?  It never is. 

Albeit, Mr. Audio Man had some interesting points.  In the kitchen he asked us to use our imagination and visualize the room busting with people.  The Engineer and I looked at each other at the same time – this needed no imagination, the place was swarming.  Granted five hundred years ago the servants would not have been  bum-bags bearing with cameras slung around their neck.

Sightseeing would be so much better without tourists.

The off to Chinon and our bed and breakfast. 

Chinon itself is, like everything else in France, pretty and perfect.  A town atop a hill (what else is new?) with a  castle that was the home of Henry Plantagenet.  It’s white with blue roofs, bright cobble-stoned streets, and wooden medieval buildings that squish together looking all higgledy piggeldy.

We were finally hit with not so pleasant weather and our hot air balloon attempt was thwarted again!  BOO!  What to do?


The Engineer and I shared one last meal together.  I, of course, had to drag him around to several restaurants to find the perfect one.  Unfortunately the perfect one was full so he got to choose. Luckily they had delicious rose, but not so delicious Coq au Vin.  I was happy to realize I had not made Coq au Vin/Ick wrong, I just really don’t like the way it tastes.  Take that Martha Stewart!

And that was it.  That was our Jellymoon over.  No more long drives on French freeways, or gin rummy tournaments sitting outside and drinking wine, no more night-time hikes trying to find trains, or building fires, or eating gelato three times a day.  No more bad audio tours. 

I drove him to the airport the next day.  It was so sad.  But luckily for me I had my bed and breakfast to go home to!

And of course, a few more chateaux.  I mean, when in castle country right?

First off I had to go to my Chateau du Rivau – the whole reason I was here in the first place.    This was definitely a fairytale castle – it had a peacock and a Rapunzel braid.   I pulled the 'bride' card and got to in for free!  MUHAHHA!  I was actually quite into the idea of hosting a wedding here - especially when I walked under the trellises admiring the roses and I could hear lovely music being piped in through the leaves.  Seriously.

Unfortunately, the wedding man told me I was not popular enough for a wedding at this Chateau.  That's right.  When I told him I might have 30 guests he sniffed and said I could not have such a small wedding here.  Well.  Excuse me.

On my way to one chateau #2, Langeais, I had to turn down a country road that led to a perfect forest.  As I checked my rear-view mirror my breath was taken away.  There, in my mirror, was the castle quipped ‘Sleeping Beauty’ castle.  Chateau Usse.

Okay, this is not exactly as I saw it but isn't this a pretty picture?

That's more like it.

Well dear God.  There is a freaking castle in my mirror!  I didn’t have enough time to go inside (and like I said, they are all pretty much the same once you go inside) but I did have time to stop the car, get out and admire the fact I was in France, surrounded by castles and this was the best thing ever.  Sadly I had no one to share it with.  Except for the passing bikers whom I waved to energetically and informed them that there was a castle.

I was drawn to Chateau Langeais due to the fact they were having a special display about medieval food.  Well, I love food and I love history so it was a perfect combination!  Unfortunately, I didn't count on all the information being in French.

This castle is really amazing - even with the French signs that after some bad translating I deduced that medieval French people ate birds.  Not only do they have the rooms made up to look as they might have, but they even have a 'wax wedding ceremony' of the famous King and Queen who lived here.  Of course, I forget their names and am too lazy to look it up.  This would have been more enjoyable had the figures not been so creepy.

I mean look at them!  ACK!  I would not want to be here at night when the old waxy men come to life and wander the castle looking for medieval ghosts to scare.

Enough of the castles, it was time for the other thing this valley is famous for:  WINE!

I stopped at one winery, Bernard Baudry.  I was supposed to stop at more, but I sort of got stuck.  I was also supposed to ask for a tour of the wine caves but I chickened out with, well, you know, my lack of French speaking abilities.  I walked into a room, where three barrels were placed upside down.  One was surrounded by five men with moustaches.  They all turned around, red wine in hand, and said ‘Bonjour’.  Five times. I said ‘Bonjour’ back (five times).  Then we all stood blinking at each other until I said in English that I didn’t know what to do. 

One of the men laughed and raced to find his English-speaking son.  Matthew came to my rescue and insisted I try some wine.  He joined in with me (I love this part) and we talked over 6 glasses of wine (granted little ones and he spit out his wine).  At one point, three older French ladies joined us.  He asked if they wanted to try the rose.  Typically French, they all refused (apparently the French are not as big on this rose craze as us North American plebs).  But, in my broken French, I told them how good it was and convinced them to try it!  Hooray! They indulged me but I think they still prefer red.  Whatever, more for me.  And they sell it in New York!  DOUBLE HOORAY!

After a day of castle hopping and wine-tasting (with ten bottles of wine tucked into my suitcase!), I had dinner at La Closerie with a wonderful group of people (I will fill you in on them in the next entry).

I went to bed that night, stuffing my suitcase with wine, foie gras, jam, and no new dresses thinking back on the past four weeks.  The next day would take me to Paris and back into the 'real' world.  The Engineer and I had got lost in the Italian and French countryside, revelling in small villages, rolling hills and nights so dark that we could actually see stars and country so still we could hear nightingales.  We had slept in rooms older than our home country!

We had been so lucky to stay in homes that felt like home, and met truly wonderful people. I was happy to be heading home to see the boys but I was also terribly depressed.  I mean with the honeymoon over, what else is there to look forward to?

Oh right.  The wedding.

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