Friday, May 25, 2012

Randonnée with the French

After almost two months of very miserable weather we finally have sunshine, wonderful, bright hot sunshine.  Hence Wednesday afternoon, after realising the house is colder than outside (due to JL switching off the central heating that morning), my mom and I went for a walk.  On the way back we bumped into a friend of mine who invited us to join a group from Metz arriving the next morning for a walk through the vineyards and the forest.  The group are people in their sixties and Céline was confident it will be fine for my mom.
Yesterday morning arrived and sure, even warmer than the day before.  With a bottle of water in the backpack and money for in case we left to Champagne Rousseaux, the meeting place for the group.  We had to wait a while for the group to arrive as they were delayed by thick fog on the road.  When they got off the bus they looked like quite a 'op en wakker' group of people, geared with hiking boots and walking sticks.  I had my doubt whether our tekkies would be fine and wondering where did I put my walking stick...We are joining a group of pro's here!
We already had breakfast and didn't want more coffee or cake (on a table that comprised a wine barrel with a top), even though the friendly group of people offered us some. My mom, who started with French classes a few months ago, was a bit nervous about all the French, but tried to catch some words here and there.

Finally, we got going, the first part of the route through the vineyards.
It was very humid after all the rain, so quite hazy
The champagne farmers are quite busy in the vineyards this time of the year.  You see cars and the little trucks dotted in the vineyards as you drive around in the area (or walk like we did yesterday).
Some tracks in the vineyards are a cul-de-sac. Like this one...Hence after up hill, in vain, we had to go down again.... (the first of many ups and downs for the day, even though the others were not the result of a cul-de-sac but because of our location in the Montagne de Reims!)
 I was admiring the old omie (in the brown shirt) who, at 82 years old, walked courageously through the vineyards at his steady pace.
On our way to our neighbour village, Verzy
The walk delivered some surprises as I discovered that Veuve Cliquot's house has a beautiful garden that one does not see from the road.
Walking along their wall at the back of their property before we got a peep through a gate
After a short walk through Verzy we were in the forest, following steep muddy paths
The uphill becoming a bit too much for my mom (and a few other ladies)
Fortunately the part in the Faux Verzy (see the tree in the background then you know what is a faux) was flat.  We were laughing afterwards as the one guy was very enthusiastic when he heard we are South Africans and asked my mom in a very broken English where does she lives in SA.  And told us he went to SA and Namibia two years ago. And drank wonderful wine.  The type that we don't have in France.  'Pinotage?' I've asked him.  With enthusiasm he confirmed that is the wine.  He was talking 'dat die spoeg spat', waving his hand in front of my mother, who was walking in the middle, describing his wonderful trip while we were fearing that he will hit her in the face.  He rejoined me with a friend later on, talking about Italy, as it turned out that they are busy learning Italian.  My mom walked ahead of us, perhaps afraid of being slapped in the face, and was approached by another French who really wanted to talk to her.  He was so disappointed that he cannot speak English or German (as if she can speak German!) and she cannot speak French!
The bus took us from the Faux to a restaurant in Verzy.  However, they were full and couldn't accommodate me and my mom as well, so we bought pastries and Orangina at the boulanger who was still open, to our relieve (here everything normally closes between 12 and 2!).  The sweltering heat as we start climbing the steep streets of Verzy towards the garden with its picnic benches made me doubt if we'll make it to Verzenay.  Fortunately the young man who occupied the only picnic table in the shade realised he needs to make place for us to have our snack.  The shade and the sugar gave us the required energy to continue our road, on a very muddy road in the forest to Verzenay.
It was the first time that I saw water flowing at this spot!
We were relieved when reaching Verzenay, completely exhausted after a walk of about 7 km, very up hill and down hill and in humid heat!


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chenonceau - the ladies' château

I had to insert this aerial photo from their website, as it gives a good idea of the layout of this feminine château, one of the most visited in the Loire and recognisable due to its location across the river Cher.  The garden on the top is the one of Diane, the one at the bottom the one of Catherine.  The tower building was the donjon.  You enter from the ticket office from the left, passing through a tree lined avenue, then entering through two sphinx before entering the open space in the center of the photo.

On its right (not visible on the aerial photo) are buildings which hosts a self service restaurant and behind it a more upmarket restaurant (with good food and reasonable prices, but you'll be lucky to find a table!).
The restaurant:

One of the most interesting facts of this château is that during WWII the one side of the river was occupied by the Germans, the other side was free, part of France not occupied by Germany.  Fascinating that one could be so close to freedom, yet so far!
The first castle was built in the 13th century, as a fortified mill.  The Cher was an important source for transporting building material, salt, wine and other goods.  During the 100 year war the castle was occupied by the English and was destroyed when the French retook it whereafter it was rebuilt. 
After financial difficulty of the owners, the castle became the property of Thomas Bohier, secretary of king Charles VIII and also serving in the administration of king Louis XII and François I.  His wife, Catherine Briçonnet, also from a rich family, liked to entertain the royalty at Chenonceau, including François I.  Thomas and his wife undertook a lot of work at Chenonceau.  They have destroyed the ancient castle, keeping only the donjon, and building a new castle and the walls along the river you can still see today.


It was mainly Catherine who oversaw the work while her husband was absent for long periods for work.  Thomas died in 1824 and Catherine two years alter.  Due to financial difficulty they had by the time of their death, François I confiscated the castle in 1835, paying an amount to the couple's son.

King Henri II offered the castle to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers.  After his death in 1559 his wife, Catherine de Médicis claimed the castle from Diane, offering her the castle in Chaumont-sur-Loire in exchange (a pretty castle between Blois and Amboise).
Both these ladies made changes to the castle. Diane had a bridge constructed across the Cher and a beautiful garden. 

Catherine installed two galleries over the bridge and her own garden, in a different style than that of Diane.


In 1733 a rich farmer, Claude Dupin, bought the castle.  His second wife, Louise Dupin, was responsible for the difference in spelling of the town, Chenonceaux, and the castle, Chenonceau.  They entertained famous people like Voltaire and Rousseau in the castle.  During the French Revolution she saved the castle buy camouflaging the little chapel as a storeroom for wood.  The original windows were destroyed during WWII when a bomb dropped not far from Chenonceau.
During WWI the castle served as a military hospital, treating more than 2 000 wounded soldiers.
For me it is one of the prettiest castles and the rooms give you a good idea of what it looked like during its former glory of entertaining royalty. 
 The kitchen offers insight in preparing meals for those big fêtes.

A final word of advice - unless if you are fit and used to cycle for a distance, rather go by car to Chenonceau than by bicycle (like we did in 2009 from Amboise to Chenonceau...). Although it is a pretty (hilly) road as you cycle through the wood and small villages, passing rustic farms.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Tours and its historical centre

For us a convenient stopover on our way to Fouras when leaving in the evening.  Although we always stay over in a hotel not far from the highway, hence my first opportunity to visit the town was with my mother during our trip to the Loire last year.
A Gallic-Roman city of origin, it was called Caesarodunum (the hill of Ceasar).  You can still see some ruins from that era on the square below:

From the 4th century the pilgrims passing ensured the prosperity of the town.  Then the kings of France visited Tours often during the 15th & 16th-c.  King Louis XI made Tours the capital of France and established the first silk industry here, where the industry soon flourished, with 800 masters and 6000 craftsmen working in the trade.  During Henri IV's reign Paris became the capital of France. 
The town suffered considerable damage during the bombing by the Prussians in 1870 and during WWII.  By 1960 the middle class abandoned the historic centre which became a slum.  Thanks to the longest reigning mayor of Tours (1958-1996), Jean Royer, the city was regenerated and today you can enjoy the pedestrainized medieval heart of city with its half-timbered façades.
It was early - before the crowds arrive and we could have coffee in a pretty café.  The door had a beautiful decorative feature:
An old church nowadays serving as an Irish pub...: