It was only a short stay in the Loire Valley, but enough of a taste test for me to want to come back again in the future. As we were only there for the one night, we just took a back pack each for the journey, and I did not run.
At Tours Centre Gare, we had the typical French breakfast fare on the go: an espresso (hot chocolate for me) and a croissant. It really is the perfect simple breakfast. When I lived in Belgium I recall how even the smallest cafe would make their own croissants, even if they were a hole in the wall next to the train station. Walking home from the station at night the trays of rolled and shaped croissant dough could be seen sitting in the windows of the closed stores, proving overnight so that they could be cooked fresh in the morning. A plain croissant eaten for breakfast always brings back this memory, so the rich buttery flavour is infused with dark windows and small crescents of dough slowly fermenting with promise.
The kindness and warmth of strangers can never be over rated. In Tours we were fortunate enough to experience this. The premier reason we went to Tours for a short overnighter was so we could see a stage of the Tour de France come in. The secondary reason was so we could get to Chambord with less fuss in time to see the equestrian spectacular. Tours is a city larger than I had thought. It has the same population as Canberra – approx 300,000. So it is a little spread out. We walked from our hotel to the area where the stage of the Tour de France would be finishing. Mum stayed at the point where the riders had 1km to go while I jostled with the masses at the finish line. We agreed that I would come back to mum’s viewing point after I had seen enough. Watching the caravan and then the riders come in was incredible. I was standing right on the barriers, so had an uninterrupted view of the sprint. It also meant I had a great place to catch some of the give always being thrown into the energetic crowd by the caravan of sponsors. I managed to score a couple of odds and ends as souvenirs through the caravan. When the lead riders came up the last 500m, the crowd were at fever pitch and the riders responded as they threw everything they had into getting over the line first. It didn’t really matter who won the stage, as the finish was fantastic.
While mum was watching the Tour from her less crowded vantage point she met a local lady, Marie, who turned out to have a daughter living in Wagga Wagga (of all places). This did not surprise me as I expected mum would speak to everyone around her including the gendarmes. Marie very kindly invited us to come over to her home and meet her husband to enjoy a drink later that night. We accepted, and after mum and I had consumed an early dinner, Marie and Thierry were at our hotel to collect us. However instead of taking us to their place they gave us a guided tour of the highlights of the city, which was spectacular. So much medieval architecture in the old part of town. Really amazing. What surprised me more was that the old medieval homes were lived in by students as the rooms were so small. After driving and walking around a bit we took a seat in a square in the old town and enjoyed a drink together and some dessert that mum and I had organised. Another amazing coincidence was that Thierry was a manager of a company who was building the tram network in Tours, and had an office in Melbourne. Small world. We spoke for many hours in french and english and it was quite late when we got back to our hotel feeling very welcomed by people who clearly love their town.
The next day we went to Chateau Chambord, which was ‘in the middle of nowhere’ according to the Tours office of tourism. I don’t think they have lived in the Australian outback, so our understanding of the middle of nowhere differed somewhat. To get to Chambord we needed to take the train to Blois and were advised to take a taxi. I ignored the advice and checked out bus lines when we arrived, delightfully discovering a navette service that does a circuit of the chateaus in the area to a measly 6 euro each return. Yes please! As long as it got us to Chambord comfortably before the start of the equestrian show, I was happy. Chambord is an extraordinary Chateau. It is situated on over 5000 hectares of hunting land, and the chateau has 426 rooms, 77 staircases and an extraordinary 282 fireplaces. Leonardo Da Vinci was involved in the design of some of the chateau, so there are some quite innovative features that are not typical of architecture of the time.
The equestrian show was fantastic. It was a bit of an ordeal to book the tickets for it initially from Australia before we left, as it is not possible to book them online, so I had emailed requesting the tickets. However I was told that as it was entirely in French, it was not for foreigners! Red rag to a bull. I curtly replied (in French) that I spoke French, thank you, having lived in Belgium for some time, and could they please organise for the tickets. I was immediately called by the booking office and we did the transaction over the phone. Yes, the show was in French, but it was a visual event. You did not need to speak French to enjoy it, so mum loved it.
Next stop: Paris again!