Paris and the South of France Tour

Day 6 Wednesday May 6, 2009
Chinon, Villandry, Azay-le-Rideau

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The actual digital photos have much better resolution than the enlarged photos.
Sue grabbed a bite before we headed out.

I felt rotten when I woke up at 6:15. I could not figure out why I felt so drained and sore. I had not exerted myself much on Tuesday. Maybe I was just in pitiful shape. Sue advised me to do some exercises to arch my back. They seemed to help loosen it up a little. She did exercises for her left knee.

This restaurant was completely inside the cliff face.

I shaved and tried to take a shower. The bathtub had the expected hand-held nozzle, but the vertical bar to which it would ordinarily be affixed was missing. This was a poor excuse for a shower, and a working shower is the sine qua non for a decent hotel room, IMHO.

I downloaded my pictures and cleaned out my camera’s memory card. My computer battery was still at 65 percent of capacity even though I had used it for the entire bus ride. We only had one working electrical converter, but with the splitter I did not anticipate much difficulty keeping the computer’s battery charged even when Sue needed to charge her new camera. My camera ran on AA batteries, and I had purchased a European charger two years ago in Eger.

Patrick explained the layout of the château and gardens at Villandry.

The breakfast at the Hotel Diderot was very good, even if it was a little lacking in some things that Americans expect. The coffee was much more to my taste than any coffee that I had sampled in Paris. There was a good assortment of breads, and I liked them all better than anything at the Parisian hotel or restaurants. The specialty of the house was jam, and they had an enormous selection. The vanilla strawberry went very fast. I was at the table right at 7 a.m., and I still did not get any. I tried the apricot jam with my yogurt, and I liked it a lot. In fact, I was able to finish my yogurt without gagging once.

I got up above everyone for this shot.

Sue came down very late, and ate a little bit of breakfast by herself.

It is an understatement to say that the gardens were meticulously laid out.

I was getting a little low on clean clothes. I had to invent an outfit using my Appalachian Trail tee shirt. I had tried to rinse out my orange polo shirt in the sink, but it was not close to dry. Sue indicated to me that I should have rolled it up in a towel after ringing it out. The towel would thereby absorb the excess moisture. I also seemed to have broken the hair dryer while trying to dry my shirt. At least, I could no longer figure out how to make it work.

This guy, however, could have used some attention.

I then discovered that the red light on the Radio Shack adapter was not glowing even though it was still plugged into the electrical outlet. I did not panic too much. I seemed to recall that this had happened on previous trips. It had just overheated, and when it had cooled off, it had been fine. We would just have to wait and see. It definitely did mean that I could not charge up the computer's battery while we were out visiting châteaux.

The most peaceful area was at the far end.

At breakfast Jim Foley gave Patti a flash drive that he had purchased for her. This was a puzzling development. No one ever needed to purchase anything for Patti. She has always been self-sufficient in such matters. In our foursome she has always been the one best prepared for every contingency. Two years ago when I sprained my ankle in Croatia, she let me use an ace bandage that she brought on the trip.

Jim also showed us a write-up that he had printed from the Internet. It was ebullient in its praise for L'Oceanic, a restaurant in Chinon that specialized in fish. I remembered that I had done quite a bit of research in anticipation of our two trips to Italy. This time I had had neither the time nor the inclination.

A canal ran down the middle.

I informed Donna that Matt had been eliminated from American Idol. I also promised to find out who had been voted off on Dancing With the Stars. OMG, it was Li’l Kim! Everyone assumed that it would be the cowboy.

Patrick advised us not to bother visiting the château.

We met downstairs at 8:30 to drive to two chateaux, Villandry and Azay-le-Rideau. The schedule had us back early in the afternoon, so we should be able to do laundry. Patrick had told us on the bus about a laundromat in Chinon.

I was surprised that the territory between Chinon and Villandry seemed to be mostly forest.

At one point the bus passed a truck, and immediately another truck blew past us going in the opposite direction. I thought at first that we had narrowly cheated death, but in fact Olivier had used the passing lane, and it was not close at all.

Tom and Patti in the middle of the maze.

Villandry was once a medieval fortress. It had been torn down in the 1500's to make room for the château. In 1906 it was redone in a big way. Patrick said that the interior was not very interesting, but the gardens were nothing short of spectacular. The upkeep required the attention of nine gardeners. The plantings were done in intricate patterns. The vegetable portion included only vegetables available in the sixteenth century. I walked up to the far garden, which was mostly grass. It was very relaxing, but I could not get into it very much. I walked through the maze, the flower garden, and the vegetable garden. Then I visited the store. I was bored, so I returned to the bus early and dozed.

The vegetable garden.

When I left Sue by the wall overlooking the gardens, she was filming her finger puppets.

Reasonable gardeners at work.

Patrick said that they used “reasonable” methods for controlling weeds and pests. I did not see a single weed or insect. I did spot two guys spraying the ground along the path about a foot from any plants. I got the distinct feeling that “reasonable” meant “do not use any more poison than you have to, but if I see any damage or anything that looks like a weed, you will be out of a job.”

It may have been my imagination, but the driving in France did not seem quite as helter-skelter as in Italy. There seemed to be fewer cars (outside of Paris), and the people were not quite so hell-bent to reach their destinations in record time. French drivers also seemed to pay attention to crosswalks and traffic signs and signals. In my experience Italians tended to treat all of these things as purely advisory.

Walking to Azay-le-Rideau.

The countryside in the Loire valley seemed pretty flat. I could not remember any flat landscape in Italy except the area west of Venice. Maybe Rick Steves's tours just avoided the flat parts of Italy.
Patrick sprang for audio guides that told the château’s story in great detail.

The château at Azay-le-Rideau was pretty impressive, but it was also somewhat confusing. The audio guides that they provided had numerical codes that matched up with the rooms and various areas around the chateau. However, the rooms also had numbers that differed from the numbers on the audio guide.

Va Bene Bunny and Jana May evidently had become rabbit and wife. Patti brought Jana some flowers for her wedding dress. Sue was designated the official photographer for not only the wedding but the honeymoon, which they would be spending in the south of France. I was a little put out that I was not even invited to the nuptials. Don't give me that “small private affair” stuff either.

The best views were on the other side of the château.

One of the few shots of the interior that I would let anyone see.

That salamander over the hearth was the badge of King Francis I.

Patrick had left us on our own to explore the château and to get lunch somewhere in Azay-le-Rideau. After we checked out the château, we four New Englanders walked into town knowing that we would be pressed for time. I was hungry for pizza. We passed a placed with the improbable name of L'I Fratelli (“I” means “the” in Italian, and “L'” means “the” in French) and instead stopped at Le Chalet, which was in the next building. Lee joined us at our tables near the street. I chose the sunny chair. Everyone else preferred shade. Both Lee and I had Pizza Reine, which was topped with ham and mushrooms. Tom had Pizza Churico. Sue ordered some soup; Patti had cheese crepes, which were a little burnt, with a salad. I ordered a Guinness Stout. The rest of the group split a bottle of red wine.

We chose Le Chalet over L’IFratelli.

The pizza was passable, which was as good as one could expect in central France in a tourist zone.
Lee and Sue had to wait for the food.

We finished lunch at 1:25, paid the check, and had to rush to the bus. We were the last ones to arrive, but if we held everyone up, it was only for a minute or two.

The drive back to the hotel went through similarly wooded areas. When we returned to the hotel, I discovered that the hair dryer was OK, and the surge suppressor was also working. Things seemed to be looking up.

Patti was not thrilled with her crepes and greens.

Lee and I had the Pizza Reine.

We thought that Sue’s soup would never come

I immediately took a nap. I woke up at about four o'clock. There was just enough time to do laundry, but I could summon no energy. I examined the map of Chinon. The launderette was on the other side of town. I checked out Sarlat, the next stop, in the France guidebook. The launderette was much closer; in fact it appeared to be right across the street from our hotel. This was just the excuse that I had been seeking to justify my laziness. I washed out in the sink enough clothes to get me through a couple of days and then did a little half-hearted work on the journal. Mostly I just transcribed onto the computer what I had written in my spiral notebook.

I am pretty sure that this was the Coffins’ little house.

This is a “before” photo of the wine tasting.

I downloaded all my pnotos and erased all of the ones on my camera’s memory card. Someone had asked me how long the process took, so I timed it. Downloading required about 1.3 seconds per photo. I then backed up the files from the PC onto the flash drive that I carried on my key ring.

I somehow lost five or so minutes in inter-dimensional travel and was almost the last person at the wine-tasting. After I sat down, Sue asked me to make a list for her of everyone's names, and I did.

Patrick shared the pouring duties ...

The hotel provided us with three whites and two reds,[1] all native to the Chinon area. Laurent said that 70 percent of the wine in the region was red (although 70 was not one of the choices on the quiz, that is what I wrote down at the time that he said it).

... with Laurent.

All the whites in the Chinon region were made from the same grape, Chenin Blanc. We drank the first wine unaccompanied by any food. The second wine was tasted with goat cheese. Laurent insisted that we take two swallows of the wine before we ate any cheese. The first gulp was to clean out the taste of the first wine. The second was to establish the taste of the second wine in the mouth. I thought that the wine and cheese made a good combination.

The third white wine was very sweet. Laurent said that this was accomplished by harvesting the grapes late. The normal harvest was in October.

Laurent emphasized the five things that one should look for on the label of a wine bottle, but, as became obvious a few minutes later, I did not pay too much attention. The few times that I had bought wine in the past, the main thing that I looked for was the price. I did note that there were sixty-five different “appellations” of Chinon wine.

After three or four glasses, the expressions changed a little.

The first red wine was accompanied by rillette, a pork spread, on pieces of bread. I had quite a bit of both the wine and the food. These grapes were grown by the river.

A different spread was brought for the second red. I think that it was rillon, or something like that. The grapes for this wine had been grown farther away in rockier soil. The red wines of Chinon can contain up to 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. The rest is the prominent local varietal, Cabernet Franc.

Another “after” photo.

We took a quiz. Four people – Roscoe, Kathy, Mike B., and Paul – had good scores. Jacqueline drew Roscoe's entry as the winner. He got a bottle of wine. Kathy got a jar of jam.

I almost certainly had the lowest score. Laurent announced that I was the only person who answered “No” to the question of whether Chinon had the best wines. I can’t help it. I blame all those nuns who taught me at Queen of the Holy Rosary School. Did you expect me to lie? I was an altar boy, an eagle scout, an inductee into the Order of the Arrow, and a captain of the safety patrol.

Here are the correct (to the best of my knowledge) answers to the quiz questions:

The château from across the river.

Patti, Tom, and Sue went out for supper. The incidental food that I consumed at the wine tasting sated me. I walked across the bridge over the River Vienne to take panoramic photos. Unfortunately a large crane (machine, not bird) frustrated my artistic inclinations.

The weather was nice. The high had been in the sixties. Even in the evening it had been comfortable. There was no threat of rain.

On the way back I stopped and examined the statue of Rabelais near the river. All that I knew about him was a vague recollection that he had been mentioned in a Bob Dylan song. I resolved to look on the Internet to learn about his relationship with Chinon.

The bridge over the River Vienne.

A palm tree up here? Chinon is farther north than Duluth, MN.

I noticed a small palm tree in the little park by the river. I was surprised that palm trees would grow in this climate.

I stopped near the square that contained the statue of Joan of Arc. A monument there was devoted to Chinon's dead in the two world wars. The centerpiece was a small obelisk that appeared to have a chicken affixed to its top. It occurred to me that chickens adorn very few war memorials in the States.

Looking down the river.

When I got to the room I took a bath and washed my hair with the hand-held shower. It was easier than trying to take a shower. It occurred to me that with their tonsures the monks might have had less use for real showers than more hirsute bathers.

A cock was perched atop the memorial.

I worked on the computerized version of the journal a little. I discovered on the Internet that François Rabelais was born and raised in a village near Chinon. His fifteenth-century novel Gargantua was set in that village. That explained the Pizza Gargantua advertised at Le Tennessee. I was very surprised to learn that Rabelais had been a priest. The Church placed both Gargantua and Pantagruel on the Index, but Rabelais was never punished.

Joan of Arc on her charger.

Sue came home a little before ten. She rigged up the television set in the room so that she could show me her movies. The show included everything that she shot on the day that she went off on her own in Paris. She showed some impressive footage (digitage?) of the Hôtel des Saints-Pères in which Edna St. Vincent Millay had lived when she was in Paris. Sue, bad knee and all, also actually walked all the way to the Louvre.

Sue also said that she, Patti, and Tom had gone to a pub for supper while I was across the river. I did not get the impression that she appreciated the food and the atmosphere much.

We had still heard nothing from Patrick about interviewing and introducing buddies, two activities that had been my favorite aspects of previous tours. I was beginning to doubt whether we were going to do them at all.

I collapsed of exhaustion about 10 p.m. This time I employed my ear plugs, my eye mask, and two pillows.

[1]  The five wines were (1) Schistes de Loires “P.DELAUNAY”; (2) Chinon Blanc 2008 “P.FERRAND”; (3) Anjou Coteaux la Loire 2007 “P.DELAUNAY”; (4)Chinon Rouge 2007 “O.HURTAULT”; (5) Chinon Rouge 2001 “P et B COUILY”.