Day 8 of the French Campaign saw us leave Paris and explore the land beyond the city borders; specifically, the Loire Valley.
The Loire river (riviere, if French), rises in the south and flows through Orleans; the real, old one, not the new one in America. You know, the one where the famous Maid came from. The Joan who didn’t know how to spell and thus spelled it Jean. That one. Once it arrives, the Loire curls left as you look at the map and heads out through Nantes and out into the Bay of Biscay around St Nazaire.
The central Loire Valley is now a UNESCO Heritage Site. It has one major feature, wine. And chateaus… two major features. And fruit orchards. Three. Three main features. <cue Spanish Inquisition…>
This had been planned in advance, as you rightly guessed, and thus the next step in the process consisted of picking up the car we had booked. And so we sallied forth from our hotel to the car rental agency down at Porte D’Orleans.
Porte D’Orleans is one of the 17 gates that used to exist in the Thiers wall. This protective barricade was built in the 19th century to keep out the unwanted, the unwelcome and those who would plunder the city. It was demolished after WWI and the area was then built up. Today it is a busy crossing with a parkway running through it. This is yet another example of walls that don’t work. <Comment: Political. Highly. Topical. Very. Rhetorical. Quite.>
This is the entry point used by the 2nd French Armored Division led by General Leclerc as it slid in to liberate Paris just 16 years and 2 days before I came into this world. Great things happen in August they say, but I digress, you say. And you’re probably right to so say.
In a moment born of many years of experience with me, The Beloved Bangalan had insisted that I book a rental car with GPS before we boarded the plane in Toronto. In a moment born of many years of experience with her, I had done so. The size of car and type had been left to my discretion and I, thus, had booked a VW Golf or similar. Paperwork was fast and the young man behind the counter was very efficient.
“So it does have a GPS, right?”
“Oh. Did you book a GPS? Let me check. Yes.”
He opened a cupboard, pulled out a bag and handed it over. He drove out a blue Renault 308 with a stick shift, installed the GPS and said “Bye.”
So off we went. First, back to the hotel to check out and pick up our bags and load the car. Then down south on the A10. Through Orleans, where the … we already did that bit, didn’t we? For some reason the A10 morphed into the E5 and E60 and then we turned left and headed down D31, across Charge, which wasn’t really electrifying, but quite sedate and serene. Left again on the D81, and left, one more time on the D40. Finally, 2 hours and a bit later, we noticed that we had arrived in a parking lot.
The Chateau de Chenonceau
We had picked this over the other famous chateau. We were sold on the idea that the usual tourist haunts would be, uh, touristy and so we ditched the Chateau de Chambord, considered by many guidebooks to be the most magnificent of all the chateaux in the Loire Valley.
As we walked down the broad, tree-lined carriageway, gravel beneath our feet, we could see the chateau looming high over the river. On the left was a maze. Low hedges snaked around the park and Boo took time to wander the maze. Because the hedges are so low, the maze isn’t very challenging. Not like another maze I would see a few years later, a famous maze, a literary maze. Ahem!
On either side, parks with well-tended gardens bathed in the sunshine. I love French gardens. The symmetry, the geometry, the neat and organized layouts appeal to me. I guess the Virgo bits of my brain cells sit back in satiated satisfaction with a sigh. The Chateau itself sits bestride the river, which leads to an interesting bit of history. I will get to that a little later when I have a photograph to show you.
The thing to remember about the Chateau is that “The river runs through it.” More properly, it runs under it. Which means that much of it is built around the river or along the bank. It also mens that provisions were quite easily brought into the kitchen via a floating device, viz a boat. Quite simply a chain and pulley system could lower and raise a basket out of the kitchen right to the floati… uh… boat. Quite an ingenious method.
A word about the kitchen. Quite simply, I want one just like it. I mean, just look at it. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Isn’t it amazing? A room for dry goods, a room for prepping, a room for the meats, and that stove!! Those polished and gleaming brass pots! That fireplace large enough to roast a pig! Woohah!
One of the best old kitchens I have seen in my life.
Well, here it is. The long passage that runs through the Chateau. It runs right across the river and effectively acts as a covered bridge. Now back in the days of The Occupation, which lasted from 1940 to 1944, there was a “free” part of France. This was know as Vichy France. The river, which we saw above, acted as the boundary between Occupied France and Vichy France. This meant that the passage acted as a gateway to freedom. Quite a few managed to walk through to the other side. Interesting? I thought it was.
We strolled around for a bit and then got back into the car and drove off through the side streets, eschewing the highway, intent on exploring of what the Loire Valley had to offer. We drove through Blois but did not stop to see the chateau. I’m told Blois is the capital of the Loire-et-Cher department of central France, which is seemingly named after the duo before it changed its name and rolled out the hit “I got you, Babe”. I may be wrong, of course. That is a distinct possibility.
I drove that car as far as we could. Abandoned it out west. Or rather, (I got carried away, there, didn’t I?), I finally tired of the winding side roads that slunk through little villages that slept in the late evening warmth and struck out back onto the highway into Paris. This time to the suburb of Neuilly-Plaisance, where our new lodgings awaited us at a friend’s place.
This ended our first day of the second leg of our French vacation, and the first day of our road trip into the scenic beauty of the Loire Valley.
8 days gone and I hadn’t yet had the occasion to say “Ooh, la la”, yet.
Well, one has to have the right situation or circumstance before one can say that, otherwise you just sound silly.
I also hadn’t said “Tiens!”.
With an exclamation mark.
But that’s another story.