Mike Strachan’s e-mail journal — Entry #10, from France
Received 4 May 2008
I am going to Tours primarily to see some of the chateaux of the Loire valley. In Rennes, my train leaves at 11:05 AM so I have a leisurely breakfast in the cafe — self-serve with potato pancakes, ham, apple sauce, croissants, orange juice, and herbal tea, all for €8. Off for a walk to buy batteries for the camera (I've gone through three pairs so far), and to buy another journal notebook as the one I have will be full in a week or so. I don't see any "1 €" stores, but I find a small mall called 3 Soleils which has a photo shop. The smallest blank page notebook I can find is €12.20, and a 4-pack of piles (batteries) is €2.90, total almost $25 Canadian. Things are quite quiet, little traffic, so it's obvious the holiday has started.
At the gare, things are a bit confusing, as there are two TGV trains on the same track at the same time. A TV monitor overhead indicates which one is mine. The paint is quite worn off the nose of the engine and off the vent louvers on the side of the engine. The train is quite full, and there are lots of people with cell phones, iPods, or Blackberries. Out we go and are soon up to full speed. The sky is mostly cloudy with blue patches — perfect for aerial dogfights in WW2 with lots of clouds to duck into. We go through gares so fast that I can't read the signs.
We change trains at Le Mans, a large town, but I see no auto race course. We arrive on track one, and the passengers for Tours cluster around a monitor to which track our train will be on. It's seven! So we all grab our bags, carry them down a flight of steps, go to seven, up the flight of stairs to the train which is a local TER (regional express train). It's a short trip, about an hour, and bumpy so my journal entries are scribbled.
At the gare I discover that the car rental place is at the other gare on the other side of town. Outside to the taxi rank which has about five other people in it and no taxis. After a few minutes I ask one of the people in the line if it's very far to walk, and she tells me just to go back into the station and catch another train for the five-minute trip across town. I find the SNCF office and explain to the manager, and he asks me to come with him out onto platform D. There he has a quick conversation with the conductor, who puts me straight on the train with no questions asked, and tells me it's the next station.
Once there I find the National office outside the gare. I make the arrangements, and of course discover that my hotel is near the first train station. The check in is quick at IBIS, and so I'm quickly back in the car and in two tries I'm crawling out of town with everyone else.
On the way to Chenonceaux the roads wind through pleasant countyside, and there are occasional cloudbursts. When it rains here, it pours. One of the chateaux is one I have always wanted to see (see photo at the right — it's featured on a French stamp, as are a couple of others). It's on the fast-flowing Cher River with large flower gardens and various outbuildings. I take the audio tour and it is very informative, particularly about Diane of Poitiers (mistress of Henry II) and Catherine de Medici, Henry's wife. The stained glass in the windows was damaged during WW2 by German artillery in an attempt to stifle smuggling. It turns out the north end of the chateau was in occupied territory and the south end was in Vichy France.
On the road to Amboise the countryside is beautiful — very verdant, with nice vistas. Amboise is on the Loire river, very broad and shallow here, and I get a photo or two of the chateau (see photo below) which is really a fortified castle. I can imagine why the aristocracy of France had their country houses in the Loire valley. A tourist map indicates there are dozens of them.
Then quickly down the road in the setting sun to drop the car and get a cab to the hotel. The cab driver and I have a nice conversation in French — no problem. He says he used to drive tour buses, so he is used to tourists and speaks French a little slower than usual for them. Good thing!
At the hotel I have a hot meal before bed. Shops close from 12 to 14h here for lunch (a hot meal), people have a small meal or a snack later in the afternoon, then a hot meal in the evening — the hotel restaurant opens at 5 PM and closes at 10 PM.
Tomorrow I'm off to Rouen via Paris.