Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | October 25, 2019

EU Go, Girl! Adventures in Europe #2

Well yesterday was a long day – a good day, but definitely long. Perhaps because, as usual, I was worried about missing my tour, so woke up far earlier than needed. I packed my camera bag, doubled checked that I had everything I needed, then left my hotel by 6:30 in the morning (fifteen minutes earlier than needed and then some!) to catch the Metro to the Catacombs.

There, I met up with the tour group, the bus already there to let me know I was for sure in the right place. Then I had another half hour to wait before the meet time and guides were there. Have I mentioned I’m paranoid about missing the tours when travelling?

Chateau de Chambord

The absolutely stunning Chateau de Chambord.

The excursion was a day trip to the Loire Valley, the heart of France. It has 1000 “chateaux” (castles); apparently the nobles retreated there frequently because the Loire River was too shallow for large boats full of soldiers to come through and easily invade, unlike in Paris proper. To qualify as a “chateaux”, the edifice must have a wall surrounding, include a chapel, and have a vineyard. It is a bit of a ways out of Paris, but well worth the drive on either end to see even just one castl

The tour I chose visited three chateaux, and we started with Chambord. It was, quite frankly, enormous. With so much to explore in the Loire Valley, I saw as much as I could in the allotted time. The castle inspired the Beast’s castle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.  It’s probably a good thing it didn’t have the library from that movie, or I might never have left. It was very interesting though, from the double-helix staircase that is mind-boggling in it’s engineering (and possibly owed to Da Vinci) to the carved stone walls. For all its beauty, however, this chateaux has stood mostly empty, occupied only forty of its five hundred years. It turns out that the King’s grand plans for the place didn’t quite take into account heating, and the shallow fireplaces couldn’t keep the place inhabitable.

A man opens a bottle of wine with a small sword.

Sparkling wine by the sword!

Next, our tour took us to Nitry. We didn’t tour the chateaux inside, as this one is inhabited, and by four generations of family. Instead, we were treated to lunch and wine tasting from the vineyard, hosted by the resident Count. That’s right, a real-life Count.

The wine was very good, as was the lunch, which consisted of roasted potatoes, chicken, and tomatoes, yummy salad, and bread and cheese. For dessert, an apple tart and sparkling wine, which the Count opened with a little sword. It was awesome.

We then got to take our wine with us on a little tour of the grounds, and the pigeon coop, with little holes for the pigeons back in the day, each hole representing a parcel of land owned by the family. The estate is quite big, and there were thousands of little holes!

A man on a swinging ladder in a stone building.

The Count of Nitry showing us the pigeon coup.

I didn’t purchase the wine even though it was very good and inexpensive (I could have walked away with a bottle of the sparkling for 6 euros!) as my hotel room isn’t really set up for having glasses to consume it, or a corkscrew for that matter, and hauling it on a two week tour seems impractical. Perhaps I’ll just have to come back another time and find a way to make it work!

I would like to take the time to note the great tour guides, as well, on this trip. Bella and Brad of City Wonders Tours were very knowledgable, and also very personable. They both worked well together, playing off each other in the long times on the bus, and had a lot of fun details. I definitely recommend taking a tour with this company, and in their company!

The last castle was Chenonceau, also known as the ladies’ castle. All it’s most well-known and prominent owners were women. I’d learned about it in a history class about 14 years ago, and had dreamed about going one day. Well, one day was yesterday, and my heart is so happy.

A castle built over a river, seen through the window.

The Chateaux de Chenonceaux also acts as a bridge over the river, and survived the French Revolution!

The castle is a bridge over the river, and it was so cool to see in person what I’d learned about in class all those years ago, from the room of the inconsolable widow Louise of Loraine, who painted the walls black and wore mourning white after the death of her husband until she herself died, to the ill-thought combination of crests of Catherine de Medici had made of hers and her husband’s in the room of previous owner and his long-time mistress, Diane de Poitiers. Why ill-thought? The double C over top the H of Henri made for looped Ds, and certainly could not have been what Catherine intended when trying to lay claim to what once belonged to her rival!

A crest of two intertwined Cs overlaid by an H, resembling two Ds.

In which Catherine De Medici accidentally immortalizes her love triangle instead of obliterating it.

I would have loved to spend more time there, and certain think I would like to go back one day, just to spend time exploring the grounds and rooms I didn’t get a chance to see. The group did get to see the the wine cave (and have another tasting!) but I only saw a bit of Catherine de Medici’s garden and none of Diane de Poitiers, nor did I have the chance to swing through the Queen’s apothecary. A day trip to a single castle alone is probably best if you want to go about things at a more leisure pace, for certain!

Selfie

Achieving my dream of 14 years!

After that, it was about another 3 hours and change to get back to Paris, some time spent napping on the bus ride back, I will admit. It was nearly nine before I made it back to the hotel, so I dropped my things off and then made my way to the bistro around the corner (Au Petit Village) where I had a nice light dinner of a tomato and mozzarella salad, plus some wine.

Today has been a bit of a slower day, in part because my pace has caught up with me or the jet lag wasn’t as stemmed off as I thought. I slept in a little, then puttered a bit before making my way to a place called Petit Jules for breakfast. I had a coffee and fresh squeeze orange juice, a savoury “galette” with ham, egg, and Emmental that was simply phenomenal, followed by a crepe with homemade caramel. After that it was back to the hotel because I had something very exciting to do – laundry!  I have no idea what down time is going to look like over the next two weeks since I leave on a coach tour tomorrow, and I thought better safe than sorry! I managed to figure out the machines easily enough,  and it took less than two hours for everything to be washed and dried.

A small hotel room.

In case you were wondering about my room – not much more than a place to lay my head, but what else is needed? Paris is outside!

I thought about going to a museum and then the Jardins des Tulieries again, or to another free place to walk around, but decided to explore the streets nearby instead. I walked along Les Gobelins, in and around different offshoots, exploring for a few hours before taking my tired feet to a cafe for another coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice.

It will be a quiet night for me, since there will be no sleeping in tomorrow.  I’m going to have to get up a bit early to have time to shower and pack the last of my things for the next segment of my adventure – two weeks touring nine countries! I’ve staked out a bakery to grab some coffee and a pastry tomorrow before I check out, and I’ll be wheeling my suitcase down the street to the meeting point before 8:30 a.m. then heading onward to Luxembourg. I’m very excited – a new place to explore, followed by many more!

 


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