La France Profonde

Quite a few days worth to post here because we have been offline so long.

7th September 2012

Today is the day for chateau-ing, we are going to Chenonceaux though by the time we got up, got organised, and had breakfast, €4,90, but worth it, unlimited yoghurt, orange juice, coffee, baguette and jam, it is getting on a bit.  Then we have to get petrol and go to the supermarket for some picnic stuff.  Unfortunately French supermarkets (the big ones anyway) have lots of other stuff including SHOES!  
E sees shoes, tries on shoes several times, buys shoes, wonders whether she should buy more shoes, and we also get dome ham, cheese and baguette for lunch.
We get a good route by secondary roads through most beautiful countryside having lunch in little village reserve with a table, which is not always the case.
At the chateau, a bit of confusion, as I get sent to bury tickets, and then when we get to the turnstile, e should get in free, for needing mobility, and E for being her helper, so we go back and e agrees to wheelchair, because there’s quite walk down an avenue of plane trees.  Then the cashier gets told off for not being careful enough about disabled people, which wasn’t her fault because I didn’t mention it.   (There is quite a lot of assistance for disabled people in France)
Anyway, we are finally ready and the chateau is stunning, gleaming in the sunlight and formal gardens pretty much at their best.  The chateau is built right over the Cher river.  The original chateau was built on the north side of the river on the site of a fortified castle and mill in the 16th century.  King Henri II’s mistress Diane de Poitiers built the bridge and Catherine de Medici the two storey galleries on the bridge in 1576.
Even more interesting are the kitchens and servants quarters downstairs.  There are huge ovens and open fires where food was cooked, a butchery and buttery.  I hate to think how oppressive it must have been in mid summer.  Gelatos,  coconut, chocolate, coffee and pistachio, then time to go home.  As e is leaving for her conference in Lancaster tomorrow, we have to get up and packed early.

8th September 2012

Here’s the thing.  French food.  It’s not very good. Admittedly we probably haven’t taken a scientific sample, the first night everything was closed and we had to have the horrible crepes from the “pie cart”, the second night e fell asleep as soon as we returned home and we didn’t want to wake her, so we just had some sort of Chinese smorgasbord thing, which wasn’t bad, but pretty much like we get in NZ and our third night in Paris we did have a great meal at the Cafe Deux Dames in Place Colonel Fabien, roast duck with great salad.  In Chartres we had Turkish kebabs, which in France seem to come always with chips, not a pita bread wrap.  It was OK but a bit dry, and I guess our fault for not wanting to spend mega-euros to fuel up when we were all tired.  In Blois we ate out twice at cafes, the first was a traditional restaurant, I had entrecôte de boeuf, which was full of gristle, raw in places and overcooked  in others.  E and e didn’t fare much better, criminally overcooked green beans, and all under seasoned.  The second night we went to a Chinese restaurant we had seen the previous night, it looked good and the food looked delicious but it was a bit bland for our taste.  If you like spicy food the say “spicy” when in France, none of this medium hot stuff you say in NZ to avoid having the top of your head blown off.   Having said that, man at the Chinese restaurant was incredibly nice and helpful, because e had discovered she had to have a print out of her boarding pass for the flight to Manchester, we had been looking all around for internet cafes to do the printing   It appears the mobile phone, i-phone etc have killed them off.  Anyway we were lamenting this state of affairs and the waiter/proprieter? offered to print it for her.   That was real service.

Even if the cooking is crap, the produce here is incredible, I recommend supermarket grazing as the way to eat.

We are up reasonably early to get e on the plane at Tours, but I need petrol and again the system is incredibly stupid.  You queue to get at the pump, which is tolerable I suppose, but then there’s a long queue at a cashier.   When I got to the pump it took so long to clear I thought it had stopped working.   You have to wait for the previous car to pay before it works.  Incredible!  Lost it!  Next some lunch, so to the supermarket, where as before shoes are seen….  Time is running out, so we grab some cheese, baguette and Mexican style chicken wings and head for Tours.

Tours airport is tiny for a big city, about like Gisborne, arrivals and departures all together.   Free parking!!!  Hardly anyone around.  We wait for a while with e and people start turning up, mainly English, so we say farewell and drive off towards Fran’s.

9th September 2012

We are staying for two days with Francesca at her place in Sevres, a tiny hamlet about halfway between Poitiers and Limoges.  Peter is having to work in the UK for the moment so unfortunately will not see him, but we have spoken to him on the telephone.  We are catching up on a lot of gossip and news.  

On the way here we went through a stunning village with a ruined castle, perched on a bluff above a river, called Roc des Sorciers.  If I recall correctly the town is called Angles sur l’Anglin.  There is a beautiful river nearby, the Gartemps, which is famous for fishing.  It is generally rocky, but there are quiet stretches where you can swim.   One afternoon we take a track to Roc d’Enfer where the river goes through a narrow cutting and there are large rocks all around which provide vantage points.

Fran has taken us to some of the local spots including two chateaux, one with a splendid moat, gate house and ancient chatelaine.  All private, but we can get some good photos.   There are many chateaux of different sizes all over France and it is obvious  that it can be difficult to them in repair.

Fran has a few English friends in the area, and we have met two couples.  There seem to be a lot of English in France, but they also say that there are a lot of French in England so I suppose it cancels out.  Some of them integrate with the locals but some have been here many years and still don’t speak French.

11th September 2012

The last entry covered two days.   We are now at Colette’s (a friend of a friend we met in New Zealand).  This is also a really small hamlet, this time near the estuary of the Gironde, about an hour from Bordeaux.  The countryside is also very beautiful, with vineyards and fields of sunflowers.   They are quite brown and dry now, waiting for harvest.  When they were first flowering they must have looked stupendous.   We passed through Pons, a town associated with the pilgrimage trails that cross Europe.  By chance, I misunderstood mlle Tomtom and we ended up in a no exit street, but at the end was an ancient Hopital, Inn for travellers, which was worth the minor detour.

Colette has another friend, Monijque, from Provence staying, and she also invited her sister and brother in law, for a meal under the huge fig tree which I am eying enviously.  J’adore les figes.  I am trying to follow the French and at first I manage about 80%, but as the evening progresses, fatigue and wine kick in and it’s down to about 30%, until I just give up entirely.

12th September 2012

Colette is taking a “cure” for arthritis at a thermal centre nearby, so she is away for the morning, but we can go for a walk to a marginally larger hamlet nearby (three dogs and two cats).  We encounter four donkeys, some ducks and some huge chickens which seem to be nearly the size of turkeys.  When we return we have a long chat with Monique, Eva’s French is getting better and better and even I can get about 85%, this morning.

In the afternoon Colette takes us for a drive along the Gironde to an old port, established by Edward I, in the 13th century, then to some cave dwellings that were refuges for Hugenots, in the 16 th and 17th centuries, then for pirates and wreckers and finally for people impoverished by the Phyloxera (spelling?) plague which nearly wiped out the wine industry in the 19th century.   Finally to Royon, completely destroyed in the war, it has been rebuilt in modern style, but unfortunately the very impressive church, built of reinforced concrete, is falling apart because the steel reinforcing is rusting.

13th September 2012

Today we go to Jonzac, where Colette is going to the thermal baths, but we can access the internet at a grand community centre and swimming pool.   We are looking for places to stay in Spain and after wrestling with the French keyboard I find it is easier to use the i-pad (a great boon for travellers, but get one with its own sim card).  Afterwards we stroll down to the old town, which is just about perfect.  

Sell the house, cash up the Savings bank, we’re moving to Jonzac!

Oh well, you can dream, n’est pas?

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