This morning we woke up in our flat in Paris. After just a few hours of sleep I reluctantly rolled out of bed and made my way to the shower. For once I didn't have much to say. Michael tried to make conversation but I think I merely communicated in a series of grunts, groans and side eye looks. Yea...apparently The REAL Housewife of Snohomish County was a *little* cranky this morning. But I hopped into the shower, got dressed and packed for our trip to the Loire River Valley.
|Waiting for the Metro.|
|Okay...ummm...I think it's *that* one! ;-)|
|Had my train ticket and my croissant. I'm ready for the trip.|
Michael has been to the Loire before, on his first trip to Paris when he was in college. This was my first experience. We made our way from our flat to the Metro, and then on to the high speed rail. It was a quick hour and a half trip from Paris to Tours, where we were going to pick up our rental car. Right now, the sun doesn't start to make an appearance until around 8 AM...so as we were flying through the countryside I couldn't see much except the moon. It was what I call a harvest moon. Normally you see it like this in the early evening...it's when the moon is enormous and it's almost as if its too heavy to make its way up into the sky so it sits low on the horizon. And the color of it is similar to one of the yolks from our fresh eggs. I stared out the window at the moon, thinking of some friends back on the other side of the pond. Karry Ann told me before I left that when she looked up at the moon she'd think of me, and that I'd possibly be looking up at it too. Well we both were. :)
The closer we got to Tours, the more the sun started to make it's way above the horizon. It lit up the French countryside that was dotted with old stone farm houses, small towns with cathedral spires jutting up into the air, and also showed the fog that was slowly rising from the lower areas. Everything was quiet, and still waking up. I imagine that the only sound was that of the train cutting it's way across the landscape.
When our train pulled into Tours, we made our way to the car rental place, but they weren't going to be open for about another half hour, so we walked around outside the station for a few minutes and then went back in to hang out. I think one of the things I've loved most about this trip is the people watching. Everywhere I look there are always young couples that are sitting on benches embracing each other, stealing kisses...romantic, right? ;-) Yea, after a while it gets old...I feel like a curmudgeony old woman who is like..."Oh yea...why don't you get married to them and see how long this cutesie, pukey stuff lasts!" LOL I think I need more sleep!
When the rental place finally opened, we made our way in and got the information for the car and headed out to the parking lot to find it. The key for the car is the shape of a credit card, but the thickness of like four or five of them and it goes in a slot just below the stick shift to start it! After we found that, we fired it up...and then tried to get the GPS to work. Once we got that all figured out and the address programed in it was time to back up and get out of there. Only there was one...little...problem. How the hell do you put this thing in reverse? It wasn't the normal gears of the US cars I've driven. We pulled out the manual, which was all in French, and had no luck figuring it out. I contemplated walking into the office building in front of the car and asking them, but LUCKILY something in me said...pull up this little "sleeve" thing beneath the head of the stick shift. And VOILA! It released the stick so it could move further to the left to go into reverse! Holy cow...that was about 20 minutes of our lives...forever lost.
As we pulled out of the parking lot and onto the roads one thing really hit me...I have no flipping clue what any of the French street signs mean! What's the speed limit? Why does it say 70 with a red circle around it and then a little further down the road the 70 has a big black circle around it with a slash going through it. What's this thing that looks like a snake? Does that mean "s" curve? And why in God's name are there Right and Left turn arrows coming out of the center dashed lines?! Yea, this was what was going through my mind while trying to look at the GPS, maneuver all the round-a-bouts and try to not get run over by the other drivers. All the while Michael is going....you're doing good...can you imagine if I actually tried to get us to buy a paper map instead of spending the money on the GPS? To which I replied..."I would have rolled you out of the car about 3 km ago!" ;-) We had a good laugh and then it was time to hit another round-a-bout! Both hands on the wheel!
We made our way up the Loire River Valley to the first castle/chateau that we wanted to see. And that happened to be Le Château de Chambord. Michael had been to this one before, but was excited to go back and actually do the audio tour. Again...audio tours...a GREAT IDEA! As we got closer to Chambord, I could see it starting to rise in the distance. I honestly had no idea what to expect because I didn't look any of these up before we left. So driving up to it was my first glimpse!
We pulled into the parking spot and made our way up to the château. Of course I had to take some pictures. ;) Who could resist. And I've said it a million times, but pictures do not do any of these things justice. It's so hard to gauge the size of these structures without standing beneath their towering walls. We made our way inside, purchased two tickets and two audio tours. When we got to the door the ticket taker saw that the cashier charged us for 2 enfant audio tours. Well she marched us back over and they began to talk about how we owed them more money. Michael stepped in telling them they charged us the correct amount, and that we didn't owe any more. It just printed the wrong ticket. I stepped back and looked at the floor as Michael got a little agitated...and finally got his way. By the way, he was right. But from that point on I decided that whenever he does something that embarrasses me on this trip I'll say in my best French accent, "Rude American!" and walk away. Good plan, right? I thought so too.
Well after we straightened that all our we made our way into the courtyard of the castle. This is truly a magnificent work of art. We walked around following the audio guide as it led us through the King's Royal Quarters, the chapel, the Queen's Quarters, the royal apartments for guests and the magnificent staircase that started in the middle of the ground floor of the keep and stretched all the way up past the terraces. Honestly it was breath-taking!
The audio tour helped us step back in time to see what it was like to walk through those great halls and what it must have been like to be a visitor trying to get an audience with the King. It also gave us a great feel for how cold it gets inside these castles/châteaus! They had a few fires going in a few of the fireplaces, but that didn't do much for the warmth of the rest of the place.
|The road in front of Chambord...|
|I think this château looks good on me!|
|I couldn't resist.|
|Okay...I can't resist these things no matter where they are! Come on!|
|The is the staircase. It is amazing! It is TWO staircases that swirl up the center.|
During part of the tour, we made our way into a room that looked as if it had been roped off, but there were people inside. Michael and I walked in and looked around, I took some pictures. It wasn't long before we were the only ones in the room, and someone comes in yelling at us in French. Apparently...we were NOT suppose to be in there. There was a group of Asian tourists who were just ahead of us for most of our time there, I think they took down the rope and opened the door and went in. They didn't get caught, but we received a good stern talking to. The guy seemed pretty serious (I had no idea what he was saying), so we just left and didn't make eye contact. Whoops!
|I was looking at this picture when I got yelled at. LOL|
As we made our way up each floor in the castle it was amazing to see all the rooms, hallways and staircases. When we were in the King's Royal Quarters, there was a staircase that went down from one of the galleries. It was apparently built to go right to the moat. King Francois I decided that he was going to reroute a portion of the Loire River so he could be boated directly to his door whenever he traveled there. Or in case of an attack or an emergency he could be slipped out the back. Well needless to say, they never rerouted the river, so this staircase just went to the moat and was never used.
|This is the staircase that leads down to the moat.|
There is so much I could say about this beautiful place, but I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. I'll try to caption as many of them as I possibly can. I hope you enjoy the tour of my summer estate! ;-)
|Looking from the bottom up the center of the grand staircase.|
|I love that most of the doors need two keys to open them.|
|Looking out over Le Cosson.|
|This staircase is so breathtaking!|
|Peek a boo! You can see people walking on the opposite staircase through all the windows!|
|The view from the terraces to the south.|
|One of the rain spouts.|
|This is the very top of the inside column of the grand staircase.|
|The bridge of Le Cosson|
After we finished touring Chambord, we decided to make our way back down to Blois for lunch. I have to say that I'm completely head over heels in love with the towns in the French countryside. They are so cute and charming! The buildings are made of stone and have been standing for hundreds of years. As we made our way back to Blois we turned the GPS back on and decided to use the voice command feature. We chose Timmy who was apparently British. Timmy was an ass. There, I said it. Man that makes me feel better. Timmy was annoying, rude and led me in the wrong direction. We were trying to make our way to a restaurant that Michael had looked up on Yelp...so like true tourists...we trusted Timmy. Well, Timmy told me to turn right and then follow a road up and make a left and there would be the restaurant. Well...because of Timmy...I may or may not have driven down a pedestrian walkway through the middle of an open air market...and driven the wrong way down a one way street. The entire time I was telling Timmy to shut the hell up because he kept telling me to turn around. Michael was sitting next to me laughing while I was have a shouting match with Timmy. Needless to say I got back onto the main road, told Timmy to go to hell and found parking further down the road. Stupid Timmy.
We made our way through the side streets in Blois and came upon this cathedral that Michael saw from the main road. It is so amazing to be walking through these narrow cobblestone streets then coming into an open plaza with a cathedral rising in front of you. We stepped inside the cathedral and I snapped a few pictures before heading on our way. We managed to find the restaurant, we went in and the guy behind the bar gave us a mean look, said something in French and motioned for us to turn around. We think that they close after the normal lunch time before they do dinner service. So we continued on and walked down the pedestrian pathway that I drove down just a few minutes before.
We found a place in one of the squares, went in, were greeted, seated and fed! The food was pretty darn good. I ended up getting the "Chef's Recommendation of the Day." And Michael got another fish dish. :) The recommendation was a braised lamb shank with roasted fingerling potatoes and a salad. It was quite delish and definitely warmed up my belly after walking around that chilly château and having that fight with Timmy. Stupid Timmy.
|Mike's lunch...pan fried mullet with a pasta tossed with a salmon and cream sauce. He liked it.|
|Mikey had to get dessert. :)|
After lunch we decided it was time to head down to where we were going to be staying for the night. Michael told me that he found this smoking deal online and that we were staying in a castle. Okay...seriously...I was expecting something similar to The Bates Motel. First of all we drove...and we drove...and we drove...and we drove. Making our way down narrow country roads, past fields of fava beans, pastures full of chickens and sheep. And stacks of hay bales lining the road. It felt so quaint.
We finally arrived in Veigne, where we were staying, headed across a narrow stone bridge that went over the railroad tracks and came to the gate of "Domaine de La Tortinière." We drove this road that wound through the forest and finally the castle came into view. Now this isn't a castle in the sense that I was thinking, it was more of a grand estate. But nonetheless it's a castle, or that's what they tell us! :) This place apparently get's four and 1/2 stars on what ever site Michael found it on. We made our way to the reception area and were greeted by the front desk staff. They checked us in and a lovely young lady was put in charge of leading us to our room and showing us around. I'm always so impressed by how well most people here speak English. My hat is off to them, even when they stumble and act shy I'm like..."Oh believe me, you are leagues ahead of me!" They usually smile and continue talking.
She led us to what I think used to be the stables on the property. We aren't staying in the main château, but we were happy because they upgraded us to a bigger room! Score. Not only did we get this for almost 50% off the normal rate of the room...we got an upgrade! She explained to us how the WiFi works, and told us to feel free to walk around the grounds and let them know if we'd be having dinner here at the restaurant or going into town. She let us know that there was a menu posted outside the main château. So after settling in, we started to walk the beautiful grounds.
|Our first view of the château driving up.|
|This is the sitting room on the lower level of our suite.|
|The door to our suite.|
|A cute reading corner on the lower level.|
|Staircase that leads to the bedroom.|
|We had our own little terrace.|
|The desk where I typed this blog. :)|
|Bathroom is on the right...the closet and toilet are on the left.|
|This was literally an RV bathroom in the closet! LOL|
|The front of the château...|
|I love these two trees dancing in the sunset.|
We made it here right about the time the sun was setting in the distance. The colors were fantastic and to view it from in between the trees just magnified it. I walked down to the front side of the château and saw two deer in the meadow below, they of course ran off not long after I walked towards them. I snapped some pictures of the château and then continued walking up the road towards the main gate. I was surprised by some local wildlife...a cat that clearly roams the property. He was quite friendly and followed me to the gate and back to the château.
We looked at the menu and decided that we would in fact stay on site for dinner. So we told the front desk then headed back to our suite so we could take a quick nap. After the nap we woke up, and made our way to dinner.
I have to say that I wasn't sure what to expect...but I was honestly blown away. We've eaten at a lot of places in Paris and other cities...and we've paid some pretty hefty tabs. But rarely does the food seem like it's on par with the pricing. Here...it was. We were taken down to the dining room and given champagne and some little nibbles. Mike was the taste tester to see if any had fish. One did, so he got them both LOL. I managed to have two of the others though. We asked for help picking out a wine and the waiter did a great job. Michael explained what he looked for in a wine and the waiter pointed to one...and let me tell you...it's the kind of wine we like. We have had a hard time finding wine we like here on this trip.
When it came time to order dinner, I ordered for the first course - Hot breaded Camembert cheese with leek, cider emulsion. For the entree - Pan-fried skirt steak of Angus, shallots and balsamic vinegar sauce. For dessert - Shortbread biscuit with creamy caramel and poached pear. Très magnifique! Just look at the pictures! The cheese dish was amazing! The steak was fried to perfection and was tender and melted in my mouth (hard to do with skirt steak). And the dessert...well need I say anything?
|The dining room.|
|A little coffee.|
I almost forgot, they started us with a small glass votive of something. The waiter brought it and said it was fish in a cream sauce. I told her I didn't eat fish and she whisked mine away and came back a minute later with a warm goat cheese and cream sauce. Both mine and Michael's, the fish, was amazing! And I couldn't believe that they actually brought me something!
We made our way through dinner, enjoying every bite. And I even ordered some coffee at the end. What? Who am I? :) Yea...it was that good of a meal.
And now here I am...sitting here telling you all about our day while Michael sleeps behind me. I think it's time to crawl into bed. We want to visit one or two more châteaus tomorrow before we head back to Paris. We'll see if we can fit them in!
|Sunset at Domaine de La Tortinière.|
Until next time...Keep Cookin'!