May 3, 2007
|From the tourist bureau:
Located in the heart of the Val de Loire area and of the Regional Natural Park Loire - Anjou - Touraine, the Chinon area lies between two rivers, the royal Loire and the majestic Vienne.
The surrounding countryside, particularly the lower valley of the Vienne and the area between the Vienne and the Loire, known as the Véron, delight visitors with its lovely scenery and many interesting architectural features. Not to be forgotten of course is the local beverage, Chinon's noble wine, already celebrated in the writings of François Rabelais, one of Chinon's most famous sons.
Chinon has a connection with Joan of Arc and we drank in all the information about her visit. We climbed to the top of the castle for a view over the town. Chinon is also an historical centre for the times when the English owned land in France. Kings and Queens of England are buried in a monastery nearby.
We walked along both sides of the river, out into the country.
In Chinon, I had one successful interaction, using my very small knowledge of French. We went to the chemist to purchase some alcohol-based hand cleaning fluid, which we used every day before and after meals, etc. The Pharmacist claimed to have no knowledge of English, so I took a deep breath and plunged in headlong. He and his assistant stood stock still as I mangled his language. Because we came away with the product we needed, I considered this a plus in my very limited skills. Interestingly, we did not like it as well as the product we had brought from home.
Without a car, we decided Chinon was impossible. There was no bus service as such, at least not on the weekend. In addition, the rain was dispiriting, negating the possibility of outdoor activities. The cost of train fares and the time to the nearest locus, Tours, was prohibitive in our short time-frame, so we decided to leave Chinon early. It is a lovely town. The houses are picturesque and the lifestyle easy. There is a small supermarket in the town square, which provided everything, even shoelaces for my sturdy Rivers boots. The home was well appointed and central. We finally had our Irish stew, home cooked with ingredients from the supermarket. However, we needed to be mobile, so once again we decided to cut our losses.
The next morning, we woke in Chinon at five, up at six, on the train to Tours and found our hotel. As we left the massive train station, we looked at the taxi line, and were considering hauling our heavy cases into a taxi's boot, when we looked up and saw our hotel sign flashing in front of our eyes. Feeling sheepish, we trundled into the lobby. We deposited our luggage in their storage room, and were at the tourist bureau by 9 am.
We had decided to take a day visiting some of the attractions with a touring company, Quatre, Quatre. It was a good decision. We were in a busload of Americans and spoke English all day, managing to understand each other's dialects.
Like pieces on a chessboard, we were moved around the castles of the Loire with military precision. First Villandry, Azay Les Rideau, lunch at Tours,
Chenonceau and Amboise with the Clos Luce. The latter is where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life, providing personal counsel to the 25 year old king. We also saw the little chapel where Leonardo is buried. It was quite beautiful.
We shared our lunch in Tours with a delightful young lady, Robin. She was about Tashie's age and had been to visit her grandfather in South Africa and was leaving France the following day to return to Washington. She was fun to be with, interested in all things about her, including learning something of Australian life. Everyone we meet is interested to hear of our Long Service Leave, and annual holiday leave. In the US it is normal to have only two, maybe three, weeks' paid leave each year, and they are discouraged from taking that all at once. Long Service Leave is not taken.
The gardens at Villandry provided a contrast with those at Azay in that the former were of a Renaissance design and the latter an "English" design. Each was a delight. Villandry is run by a staff of forty people, and the vegetables from the formal gardens are distributed amongst them. We saw lettuce of several varieties, cabbage and cauliflower, and many other vegetables growing in symmetrical rows at precise distances apart and forming definitive patterns. The long lush lawns of Amboise called to Tashie to roll in their depths. Fortunately, she restrained herself.
One couple on our trip was delightfully eccentric.
Her hair on top of her head was cut very short and coloured in black, grey and white shades, looking like a small furry animal. From both sides of her head, she wore long orange plaits. She was very slim and wore rolled up jeans, t-shirt and vest. Coloured braces completed her outfit.
His hair was greeny-blue, he was short and thin, with three quarter length jeans and orange striped socks. He also wore braces. They carried a monkey sewn from woollen jumper fragments, that they said were from garments from the Sixties, including a piece of cashmere. His name was Winston.
They were a delightful spot of whimsy in a very serious world. We met them again the following day on the train station, fully loaded with back packs and day bags. They had already spent five weeks walking in the South West. We exchanged cards, and Tashie gave them a gift of koala bears, which they immediately clipped to one of their many straps. We were intrigued that the koalas had a reputation with them for being mean and vicious. We did our best to allay their fears, and they seemed happy to accept that the toy ones, at least, would do them no bodily harm.
The other Americans on board were remarkable only in that they were doing France for a week. They were struggling with jetlag, but were gracious and courteous to all. Their talk was of the debate between Mme Royal and M Sarkozy, televised on Wednesday night. The media is saturated with the elections, climate change also figuring, due to the forum currently being held, and always, always, Iraq and the implications thereof.
Mine host was Phillipe. Born in Paris, he had spent most of his life around Tours. His current job often involved driving into North West France, on trips lasting as long as a week or so. The vehicle was a 9 seater diesel four wheel drive. He said his year consisted of three months intensive driving, another six months of fairly busy work at the beginning and ending of summer, then three months during which he did not work at all. His children had grown and gone to live in Paris. He and his wife visited family and friends at some point in his break during the winter months.
He gave us background information as we drove between the sights. He showed us the traditional boats tied up on the Cher River. He told us the new crops alongside our roadway were wheat. The fields of new wheat interspersed with poppies and other flowers indicated those of farmers who grow organic foods and do not use fertilizers.
After a hard day's work looking at beautiful architecture and furnishings of royal apartments, we retired to a tiny wine bar called "Plou" where Elton John provided the ambience for a tasting of Vins de Loire. We took away a bottle of Brut to toast our last night in Paris, the next day. We were dropped at our hotel by seven o'clock. Dinner was onion soup and steak and chips for me and soup and pasta for Tashie washed down by a pichet of house wine.