20.11.2012 - 20.11.2012 12 °C
We are so grateful for all the comments and notes we are receiving. We also appreciate advice on what could be done to improve the blog. Peter suggested we put our byline at the top of each blog rather than the end, to make it clear who is writing the post. I guess this way people can figure out whether they are getting the straight goods (i.e. Hannah and Abby reporting) or a sanitized parenta version (we wouldn't do that).
We left our little chalet in Les Brulins to travel the Loire Valley, a UNESCO heritage site that contains dozens of chateaux dating anywhere from the 1200s to the 1800s. They are mini Fontainbleaus and some of them not so mini. We first headed to Tours to come alongside the Loire river. Everytime we plot a route on our Kangoo's GPS we are asked if we want to avoid tolls. Up to today we always avoided tolls because the difference in driving time was so little. Not taking a toll road to Tours would have added over an hour to our drive to Tours alone so we thought we would brave a toll road. The highway has a maximum speed of 130 km/h and the roadway is three lanes each way and everything is first class including regular rest stops with facilities fit to the max (one rest stop had outdoor urinals which was a bit of a stretch what with the cold but it was all clean and automated complete with sink and hand dryer). There are alerts for construction that show up on your GPS and announcements everytime you have incurred another toll although no indication is given of how much. We were beginning to adjust our estimate of the toll for our two hour commute ever upward. When we reached the end of our section we found the pricetag did not disappoint at a steep 17.50 Euros (about $23 Canadian). We usually will be taking the country routes but it was good to experiment.
Let me give you a few more facts to help you get an idea of what driving in Europe is like. It cost 70 Euros to fill the tank in our Kangoo (just add 1/3 to get Canadian prices) with diesel at the price of 1.47 Euros per litre. We got a diesel with a standard transmission because they are the cheapest to drive. So far we have driven 600 km on our first fill up and have more than a third of a tank left. We will see over the next few days how far we can squeeze a tank. So we may end up driving for the same price as our Toyoto Sienna from home.
Our Kangoo is a Renault and it appears to be the workhorse of midsize vehicles in France. The model that has no windows in the back is the preferred delivery and small trades vehicle. They are not uncommon as family vehicles as well but sedans of any make are far more common. We know with our four backpacks, small daypacks and a few grocery and picnic supplies the Kangoo was a great choice, everything fits and stays hidden from view (save for the food). These new diesels are not much different in noise than a gas vehicle but the car is not that well insulated against road noise but still quite comfortable. We like the built in GPS with British voice and fairly accurate directions, however it does mess up occasionally on rotaries (keep left on the rotary and take third exit and keep left and take second exit). The vehicle is unique in its high headroom. There is a storage shelf over the driver and front passenger and plenty of headroom (only two cupholders-one in front and one in back, not like North American vehicles which are designed for drinking and driving-our Sienna has 9).
Enough of the car talk. In Tours we stopped at the tourist information to see how best to tackle the chateaux. Since we had just seen Fontainbleau we did not want to exhaust the kids on more of the same. Fortunately, today was our first day of full glorious sunshine. Chateau Villandry was suggested as ideal for its gardens. We had a quick picnic in a Tours park before driving off to Villandry. For a treat we bought a chocolate frosted meringue about the size of Abby's head. That was enough sugar to last for the rest of the week
Villandry is a chateau built in the late 1500s by France's finance minister. He knocked down a 12th century fortress but kept the keep and the foundations to build a beautiful home. By the late 1800s, the chateau had fallen into decay and was eventually bought around 1900 by a Spanish academic who made it his life's work to restore the buildings and recreate the garden in the style of the renaissance. The gardens were his particular emphasis. We spent a very pleasant couple of hours wandering the gardens. The vegetable gardens turned out to be the most colourful this time of year but the fall colours of the trees surrounding the entire estate made for a spectacular scene
We stopped briefly in the small town of Azay-le-Rideau to visit a chateau that Hannah had done a report on when she took French 10. The town was a wonderful sleepy village that seemed to have closed down for the winter. The kids found it a great place to experiment with a bit of photography.
We were ready to get some groceries and then head off to our new accomodation near Saumur. We found a huge mall in Saumur complete with a supermarket that would put even our largest supermarket in Victoria to shame. The wine department was bigger than any liquor store and the yoghurt section took up three aisles; as well, there was an aisle totally devoted to pudding. A unique feature of the fruit and veg section was the requirement to weigh your veggies and get a print out to stick on your bag (we discovered this at the checkout). The grocery checkout looked more like an office reception area with all the cashiers in blazers sitting in highbacked office chairs in front of their tills
It was getting close to dark when we arrived in St-Clement-Les-Levees, a tiny village where our house awaited. Our GPS coordinates brought us to a house built right into the levee which is topped by small road. In the fading light the house looked delapidated and abandoned. There was a slight gasp from Abby when she saw it. When we got by the albino guard cat standing at the gate and got inside we were pleased with what we discovered. The houst must be at least 500 years old and has all sorts of unique nooks and crannies. The passage way to the upstairs is more like a stone staircase you would see ascending a castle tower. The two bedrooms are massive and well appointed. The place is heated with radiators on a timer. The owner had advertised the place accidentally with heat included in the price. He honoured the ad and has not charged the 20 Euros a night for heat. The heating is on a timer with 5 to 7 hours in the evening and a few hours in the morning. It is a bit cool but we have a space heater that is keeping us comfortable for the most part. The owner, who we have not met, but who has communicated frequently via email and notes seems very nice. There was a bottle of champagne waiting for us when we arrived. The dishes and cooking utensils reflect the tastes of a chef.
We are enjoying the wifi connection and the Sky cable package that is giving us some British TV so we can get caught up with the world (and old reruns of Batman).