France, 2018

Our driving trip through northern France

After a typical breakfast (but no sweet cakes) we got the car turned around and through the narrow space. It was very tight, as our rental car is much bigger than most on the road (we brought a lot of clothes for the cruise). We drove to Carnac to see the stones (menhirs are the standing stones) that archeologists think mark the oldest site of civilization in Europe. We rode around in a “petit” train for about an hour, seeing beaches and the harbor as well as the stones that number about 3,000. It was quite cool today so the warm car felt good as we left Carnac. It was our last stop in Brittany and we were soon in the Loire Valley region. The drive took us about 5 hours as there was a lane closure where we barely moved for a half hour or more. Barbara was reading some of Earl’s "Letters to Butch" on her kindle out loud. Can’t really explain it, but visiting Omaha Beach and the museums seems to have given us a heightened understanding of what it must have been like for him and the soldiers in his outfit fighting fascism so long ago. Here is a excerpt from a letter he wrote to Mildred on August 18, 1944:

"As I write, the sun is just sinking behind the tall pines. It’s golden light is beautiful. It makes one stop for a moment and reflect on the beauties of life, which are easily forgotten these days.

We didn’t stop any last night and I am tired. It looks as though we’ll get to sleep tonight and then move on again in the morning. All of us are tired as dogs. We move, set up camp, feed the officers, break camp, move again, but the morale is exceptionally good. The Germans are running fast. We are taking lots of prisoners. The Luftwaffe is conspicuous by its absence. I haven’t seen a German plane in over a month. Gee Honey it seems to me that it can’t last much longer. It’s kinda hard to realize that after such a long time I may be seeing you soon. Oh My Angel how I do love you.

We are bivouacked tonight in a pine forest. The ground is covered with moss. We are moving so fast, we don’t stop to dig fox holes any more. We just sleep under the stars (that is, when we get a chance to sleep). Tonight we have piled the moss high for a bed. It’s the softest bed I have had since I left England. Just before we go to bed we all have a couple of drinks. It would take the “Wrath of the Gods” to wake us. The other night we were awakened in just that manner. It has been so hot, and no rain. Then the heavens caught up with us. We had a thunderstorm and the rain came down in torrents. Even that didn’t wake us up until our blankets were thoroughly soaked.”  (He wouldn’t go home to stay for another ten months, but he did go home on leave in February 1945 and married his sweetheart).

In one letter he wrote about Calvados—he describes it as liquid dynamite (we have most of ours left). We arrived at the Closerie of Saint Jacques in Loches around 6:30, and it was the easiest hotel to find so far. Jerome welcomed us at the locked gate. He took us on a short tour of the rooms, which are pretty amazing. The house was built in the 17th century and converted to a B & B a couple centuries later. It is just outside the walled Royal City.  We are in the Cordeliers Suite and the colors are rich reds and purples. The drapes have tie backs and pool on the floor (Earl would have loved these drapes). The bathroom even has a drape by the shower! We have a large bedroom with a fireplace, a bath and a boudoir (dressing room). The lights are mostly fringed shades with very small bulbs, so it’s pretty dark, as it probably was in those days with candles. We never looked so good in the evening. The lights in the bathroom are so dim it’s a challenge to put on makeup or fix your hair. Jerome is the consummate host—he asked us if we wanted him to make a dinner reservation for us and he made one for 7:30, which is the earliest reservation you can get. We busied ourselves for an hour and then asked him for directions to the restaurant.  He said he would take us there—he and his dog walked us and on the way Jerome pointed out the gates into the old walled city (there are 3 gates). The menu at the tiny restaurant was very limited but we both enjoyed the goat cheese baked in a crust served with a small salad. We ordered an entree of tuna, and it was delicious and served with some cooked vegetables (onions?) that were very mild. The beef entree was simple, pot-roast style beef served with carrots and broth. Dessert was nice, too. Barbara had almond cake with cream and Jay had ice cream with fresh strawberries. When we sat down at the table in front of the cafe we didn’t realize we were right next to the posted menus. People walked up to read it and one couple (Aussies) asked if it tasted as good as it looked. They would have eaten there but the cafe was full. We were tired after the drive today and went to bed early.

Not that Carnac!

Not exactly beach weather

The Carnac Stones

The Carnac Stones

The Carnac Stones

Our suite at La Closerie of Saint Jacque, Loches

Our suite at La Closerie of Saint Jacque, Loches

Our suite at La Closerie of Saint Jacque, Loches

Saturday, May 12, 2018 — Loches/Chateau Villandry

We didn’t go down to breakfast until 9:30. Jerome and his partner served us and fussed over how we liked our coffee (many Americans think French coffee is too strong, Jerome said, so he brought hot water just in case). The coffee was wonderful, not too strong. We had juice, mixed fruits, homemade custards, bread and homemade jams and delicious apple cake. We headed off to see the Royal City of Loches, just behind the house inside the wall. It’s raining for the first time since we got off the ship on April 30th. It was market day, so we checked out the booths where they sold sausage, cheese, wine, pastry, fruits, vegetables and some dry goods. We made our way up the hill to the Royal City and bought tickets to view the dungeon (keep), which is the only building you can go inside. The city of Loches was significant in French history. The keep was built in the 10th century and the site grew as a military fortress. Richard the Lionhearted defeated Phillip Augustus and claimed the city in 1205, but the French reclaimed it a year later and it stayed in French hands. Joan of Arc was here in 1429 and convinced Charles VII to go to Reims to be crowned king of France. We left Loches and drove to Villandry to see the chateau and gardens. The chateau had many elegant rooms and the art gallery had some interesting art, although we didn’t recognize the artists. Chateau Villandry has a moat and swans in the pool. It’s too early for the flowers to be blooming—the best pictures of the garden were taken from the chateau. After we finished touring the gardens we were cold and hungry, as it had been raining all day. We had a light meal late in the afternoon by the chateau and drove back to Loches. We turned up the radiators and stayed in for the evening, organizing pictures and writing the blog, which included part of a letter Earl wrote to Mildred in August, 1944. After we were done we drank a toast (Calvados) to Earl.

Market day

Market day

Royal City

View from Royal City

Royal City

Royal City dungeon

Entrance to our B & B, La Closerie of Saint Jacque

Chateau de Villandry

Chateau de Villandry kitchen

Chateau de Villandry bedroom

View of gardens from chateau

Chateau de Villandry children’s bedroom

Model of Chateau de Villandry with puppet theater in the back

Chateau de Villandry gardens

Chateau de Villandry gardens

Sunday, May 13th, 2018 — Clos Lucé/Chartres

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers we know! We got started a little earlier today and had a breakfast very similar to the one yesterday. Jerome had been to the market and cooked some rhubarb he bought. We weren’t too crazy about it, but liked the homemade yogurt and today's cake. A couple from Paris was also having breakfast. Jerome talked to them (he may have said “look at those dopes next to you”-- we will never know). Today is cool but sunny, a welcome relief after yesterday’s steady rain. We went back up to the Royal City to see if we had missed anything in the rain yesterday. We found the church where Charles VII’s "official first" mistress Agnes Sorel’s tomb is located. She died at about age 25 from a "strange flux of the stomach." Back at the B & B, Jerome offered to escort us to St Antoine’s church nearby where about 20 years ago two paintings thought to be painted by Caravaggio were found. There was no cost to see the paintings in the gallery. The adjoining church is small and simple. We made a stop at an ATM then returned to the B & B. Jerome gave us both a hug and we were off to drive to Amboise to visit Clos Lucé, the chateau where Leonardo da Vinci lived the last 3 years of his life and died on May 2, 1519 at 67 years of age. King Francois I invited da Vinci to live here and named him “First painter, architect and engineer.” What an amazing place!  The tour started in the living quarters on the 1st floor.  The rooms were very large and impressive. More impressive, though, were the rooms downstairs. Models of de Vinci’s inventions, including a tank, paddle boat, swing bridge, and flying machine were there. He was centuries ahead of his time in engineering, as well as being a gifted artist. Also on this level were his workshop and a very small chapel. We stopped for a quick lunch (chocolate crepes, yum) before walking through the garden. It was a beautiful and serene place. We left Amboise and sat almost still in traffic for about a half hour. We drove through the centre of Orléans where the French army defeated the English led by Joan of Arc. We didn’t park and explore Orléans as we intended as we didn’t know how long the drive to Chartres would take. We got a couple good pictures from the car. Orléans looks like a nice city.  On our drive to Chartres there were a couple big snafus. We tried to pay a toll at a booth and it wouldn’t accept our ticket. We backed out and tried another lane with the same result. Finally Jay was able to get the car out of the way and tell a toll worker in the area our troubles. He processed our ticket manually and we were on our way. We got to Chartres and the road we were on was detoured (a deviation). The navigation was useless, as it kept trying to take us back via the same route. As in Rouen, we could see the cathedral and knew we were close but just couldn’t get there. Jay finally found street parking and we walked to the hotel a few blocks away. The sympathetic young gal at reception told us they’d had a big festival over the weekend and were removing the barriers as we were driving in. We rode up in a tiny elevator to our tiny room with a tiny bathroom and shower. The best thing is the location—our view is of the Chartres Cathedral where a lovely light show happens every night. The gal in reception was also our waitress in the hotel’s restaurant. We again had some wine and a delicious meal. 

Dining room, La Closerie Saint Jacque

Library, La Closerie Saint Jacque

Caravaggio painting (Doubting Thomas), Saint-Antoine church

Agnes Sorel’s tomb

Château du Clos Lucé

da Vinci's bedroom

da Vinci's workshop and laboratory

da Vinci's workshop and laboratory

da Vinci's workshop and laboratory

da Vinci's workshop and laboratory

Great Hall

Kitchen

The Tank

Chocolate crepes for lunch

da Vinci's gardens

Swing bridge

da Vinci’s flying machine

Joan of Arc statue in Orléans

Orléans Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral

Chartres en lumières

Monday, May 14, 2018 — Chartres

We slept in a bit and had breakfast in the hotel around 9:30. It was cool and rainy, so we decided to wait and see if the weather improved. It was also nice to have some downtime from all the sightseeing. We’re getting a little road weary and decided we didn’t have to do a lot today. A little after noon we headed over to the Notre Dame Cathedral of Chartres in our rain gear. The church has some beautiful stained glass inside (lots of blues) and was stunning. We then headed to the Tourist Office to get a map. The lady gave us one and helped us locate some points of interest. We walked down some very steep hills to get to the river and saw some of the Historic Preservation Area. We looked for a restaurant to find a snack or light meal and couldn’t find anything! We went back to the hotel area and picked up our car from its place on the street. We had some trouble finding La Maison Picassiette but it was worth the time. In 1930 a man named Raymond Isadore started building a house for himself and his wife. He collected bits of glass and broken pottery and in 1938 he decided to decorate his house in mosaic. He did the walls first, but then started to use mosaic on the floors, ceilings and furniture. He even covered his garden in mosaic. He finished his project in 1962 and died two years later at the age of 64. His home was designated a monument by the city of Chartres in 1983. It is a most unusual and beautiful creation. We were hungry and saw a McDonald’s sign, so decided to check it out. Lo and behold, it was in a huge shopping area with a big parking lot and a Target-like store. There was a Croissanteria nearby, so we had a pastry and some coffee. Then we went to the Carrefour store and got some essentials—Kleenex (the last few hotels haven’t had any), cough drops, popcorn, peanuts and Grand Marnier. There was also a pharmacy in the complex and we got some pain reliever, as we’re almost out of Tylenol.  We went back to the hotel and parked the car in one of the hotel’s reserved spaces in a nearby parking garage. It was a tight fit, but not as bad as some garages where we’ve parked. At least we could both open our doors easily. Back at the hotel we worked on photos and the blog. For dinner we walked to a nearby Italian restaurant for dinner and had a salad, pizza and beer. The pizzas in France have had some ingredients that we’ve not seen before—cream, honey, raw ham and raw beef. We weren’t brave enough to try them. The tables at cafes and restaurants are so small they hardly hold the food you’ve ordered. This is our last night in France and we’re off to Luxembourg tomorrow.

Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral

Chartres

Chartres

Escargot on the loose

La Maison Picassiette

La Maison Picassiette

La Maison Picassiette

La Maison Picassiette

La Maison Picassiette

This is the end of the Loire Valley portion of the blog. The next section will be about our travels in Luxembourg. Click on the “Luxembourg” tab at the top of the page or click here .

© Jay 2020