It has been exactly 30 years since Mike and I toured the Loire valley on vacation in a rented camper. Having our own “small house”, car, ebikes and TIME is great. This lovely town is Blois, where we have been camping for the last 10 days and we will be here for a while yet. It is a great town and with our car and ebikes we can visit a good portion of the Loire Valley from here. We are about 4 km or 2 ½ mi from the centre of town. We ride along this bike path often. In addition to being a good jumping off spot, Blois has a lot to see in town including magic houses, weird staircases, historic centre, Royal Château, Cathedrals, light & sound shows and more.
The tourism office has put together four audio tours using the IZI app that we really like. They all fan out from the same starting point in Blois. There are 4 different brass plates embedded in the roads and sidewalks along the route to guide you on the four tours. Instead of doing them all at once, Mike and I rode into town and we would do one small audio tour and something else (tour the château, the magic house etc.). That worked out really well.
When we first arrived in Blois we were driving down the road when we saw something at the end of the street. We couldn’t figure out what we were looking at. It turned out that this was a stairway built in the 19th century. Since 2013 the risers for the 120 steps have been “dressed” in giant artwork each year. One year was Mickey Mouse, and there was Mona Lisa and once a large one of Illusions that might have been tricky to walk down. Last year was some well-known Monsters. I am not sure what this year represents. I think the previous years were actually more colourful. You can have a look here at some of the previous years artwork, including a short video of them painting the Mona Lisa on the risers.
Given that the audio tours were created by the tourism office, we were a little surprised that the people working there had never heard of this smart phone audio tour. They wanted to sell you a hard copy map with the four routes laid out.
The audio tour mentions a previous bridge that was destroyed in 1716 when huge blocks of ice came down river and crashed into it. That bridge had mills, private homes, a chapel and even a butcher’s shop built right on it. How different than today. In Canada we are lucky if we have flowers on a bridge.
While walking around the town we watched a car backing extremely slowly down a very, very narrow lane. I thought that he as trying to exit the lane until we saw the staircase that was at the bottom. It turned out that he lived at the bottom of this tiny lane and he parked in front of his house. He still had both side-view mirrors but was missing one of the shrouds. I think I would have been missing all the doors!
I love seeing the stained glass or painted windows in the churches. In one church in Blois these windows were replaced and redesigned in the 20th century and didn’t look anything like the remaining originals which is too bad.
This picture above is of the château and town called Blois. For some unknown reason I think it looks almost more like a painting than a photograph.
A lot of the châteaux try and do some different things to encourage visitors. Chaumont was using the château rooms as a backdrop for a contemporary art exhibit. A lot of the art had to do with nature and greenery. Many of the rooms had a single piece of “artwork” in them. I am afraid that I didn’t appreciate the chapel being filled with tree branches as an art display. The art in most of the rooms was just weird.
On July 7 French children get out of school and I am not looking forward to the larger crowds. Most of the rates at the campsites we use go up considerably at that point.
Mike and I visited Amboise a few times as we cycled to and from the city. When we toured the château we were given a tablet that knew what floor and what room we were in and gave us highlights about that room. In some rooms they would have a virtual image of the room in the 1500s that you could navigate through and learn more about that period. We quite liked using the tablets. Mike’s issue was that there was so much information he was never sure what he had missed.
Indoors there was a large hallway winding upwards in a tower. Apparently it was wide enough for horses and some carriages. People would use the indoor hall to ride from the lower level of the town to the château level.
In one restaurant we met two American girls on vacation from university. They said that in some of the countries they had been in, Americans were not very well received. They looked up Canada on the internet to find out what our capital was, what universities that we have that they could lay claim to, and proceeded to introduce themselves as Canadians. They wanted to be ready in case they were quizzed. We have heard about this a lot, but this was the first time anyone actually had the nerve to tell us that they really did pretend to be Canadian. One of the girls was from New York and the other was from Virginia. Almost the first words out of the Virginian’s mouth was: “Where ‘y’all’ from?” There is no way that you can sound like that and successfully pretend you’re Canadian, at least not to anybody who knows about North America. Mike and I got quite the laugh out of it.
I must tell you something else a little strange. I am absolutely NOT a wine drinker. I do like some liqueurs, just not wine. I occasionally have sips of my husband’s or sister’s drinks and then return to my coffee. I am a senior citizen and I just ordered my first glass of wine in a restaurant for me to drink – ever! The wine is a similar price to my cappuccinos and sometimes less. I figured that I couldn’t like the wine any less than the awful cappuccinos that they serve in France. I will admit that I have been telling Mike for weeks that since we were in France and since the coffee was so bad I was going to practice drinking wine. So far I have only ordered one glass but who knows, maybe I will come home a wine drinker after all these years.
I mentioned in a previous article that the Château de Chambord was probably the most famous of the châteaux on the Loire Valley. That may be true but I think that the picture I see the most often is of the Château de Chenonceau because of its situation. It is built right over the Cher River. Interestingly, in this area, the Cher River was the demarcation line, splitting France in half during WW2. Anyone found crossing the river could be shot and killed. One side was the Nazis and the other was the “Free” zone, which wasn’t really free but provided relative safety for some. Chenonceau provided access in both directions for refugees, and members of the French resistance when possible.
The demarcation line was dissolved in 1943 when the entire French territory was occupied by the German army, and in July 1944, the US Army attempted (and luckily failed) to bomb Chenonceau as part of a global strategy to destroy bridges in order to disorganize the Nazis’ movements.
Mike and I wandered through a maze built on the grounds of the château. My eyes were at almost the same level as the tops of the hedges so I could see the raised statue in the centre but it didn’t help much getting there. People shorter than me (there are some), wouldn’t even had known where the centre was. And then there was my 6 foot tall (1.8 m) husband. He just walked right through the maze because he could see every turn and every dead end. Life isn’t fair.
There is a British couple camping near us who came to visit one evening. Mike and I used to really enjoy having people over from different countries. That has largely ceased due to covid-19 and the lack of travel outside your own country. This couple actually now lives in Normandy and gave us a lot of tips about what to see when we get there this year. They are of a similar age, well-travelled and very nice to talk with, all which made for an enjoyable evening. We learned more about France’s national health plan. We were also told that at some time during the pandemic in France, you couldn’t go further than 10 km from your home unless it was for something like groceries. We always enjoy learning various non-tourist related facts about the countries we visit.
As some of you know, Mike and I play cards a few times a week with friends back home over the internet. That helps a lot keeping in touch and being able to chat with someone slowly, over a period of a few hours, while enjoying a card game. After all, we do occasionally like to talk to someone other than just each other.
Tours is a large city of 360,000 people just less than an hour from our campsite. We biked and toured around Tours. If you are English speaking, Tours is an awful name for a city. Try looking up things like “audio tours in Tours, France” and you get audio tours across the entire country. The word Tours gives Google and many of our apps a major problem.
It isn’t just the châteaux that are lovely. The picture above is the Town Hall in Tours and it is a beautiful building.
Last week the temperature dropped down to the low 20s (70°F). It was wonderful. We even wore light jackets one day when we were cycling. This week the temperature is back around 28°C. The big concern is that late next week they are expecting another heat wave to arrive where the temperature is predicted to be in the high 30s or 100°F. The campground we are in has great electricity and we can run both our air conditioners at once. We still have a few things to see in this area. I am not sure if I want to stay here for another two or three weeks just so that we can run the air conditioners. On the other hand, if the temperature actually gets that high I know that I will wish we were here. We will see what we end up doing, who knows?