Wednesday, June 25, 2014

An E.R. in France

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 19, 2014

Ugh! All was not well when I awakened on Saturday morning. The souvenir from my Tours "trip" was still with me in the form of a very swollen and painful pied. Craig's flight was due into Paris and then he would have a train ride ahead of him, so I thought we had time to visit the emergency room before he arrived. Mathieu and Darcy drove me to the hospital and helped to explain to the staff what had happened to me the previous day. Mathieu remained in the waiting room when Darcy had to leave for the train station while my foot was being examined. I emerged from the hospital a couple of hours later, after five x-rays, with my foot heavily wrapped and my knees bandaged, holding a list of three prescriptions which Mathieu kindly picked up for me. I later found that the entire ER experience had only set me back about $60. Yet another reason to love France!

The doctor had informed me that the fall had bent the toes on my left foot completely backward, resulting in a painful injury often referred to as "turf toe", since it is common among football players. He said that I must keep the foot wrapped for ten days and that I should be able to walk on it if I wore a larger shoe. And it was okay, albeit very painful.

It was good to see my travel-weary husband after Mathieu and I returned from the hospital. Craig had been able to maneuver well in Paris and had managed to board the 11:00 train, as I had done. The birthday gift I had laughingly presented to him in March was apparently not needed. It was a cute idea, and he loved it anyway. I had given him a t-shirt with several handy French phrases printed on it. It said such things as "un taxi s'il vous plaît" and "Gare d'Austerlitz". On the back was printed a message that anyone finding this lost tourist, please return him to his daughter at such-and-such address. 

Craig's travel shirt, with all the important phrases.

Can you spot the cat graffiti? 

The four of us enjoyed a drink and a chat before setting out for the nearby Jackotel. Our room was ready, and it was large and pleasant. There was a pretty view of the front courtyard and the ancient church across the street. The hotel is just a few minutes walk from Darcy and Mathieu's apartment. 

The view from our window
 at Jackotel in Orleans, France.

We left the Jackotel shortly after checking in. It was such a beautiful day that we all wanted to be outside in the sunshine. Craig and I were both a bit concerned over our ability to walk long distances on this vacation. My foot would take some time to heal, and poor Craig was already fighting a bad knee. He had actually acquired a brace, so I knew that knee was really bothering him. We were both determined not to let our "disabilities" spoil any of the fun. A slower pace and frequent rests would help.

We decided to drive over to Auchan for some groceries. I was relieved to find that there was a scooter available for me to use while in the store. I managed to find some shoes that were larger than my usual size. They slipped on over my bandaged foot with ease. We ran into Arno while shopping, and arranged to meet him for drinks at his home the next day. 

The four of us went for a short walk after returning from Auchan. Craig was impressed with the recent improvements in the neighborhood where Darcy lives. It was a pleasant stroll, and we ended back at the apartment. Darcy had planned for us to all dine at home, since Craig was a bit tired from his travels. She made a wonderful meal of grilled salmon, brown rice, and roasted broccoli that we all enjoyed, plus another yummy dessert fondue which was a pleasant ending to evening.

Darcy fed us well. 
That salmon was delicious!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Making Memories in Tours

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 18, 2014

After lunch, we continued our exploration of Tours. We wanted to visit the cathedral that we had passed by earlier in the day. Mathieu, who had been to Tours only once before and had never visited the cathedral, led us straight to it. He had an uncanny sense of direction and was easily able to locate any site we wanted to visit, which earned him the nickname of "MapMan". 

Saint Gatien Cathedral in Tours, France.

Saint Gatien Cathedral was built between 1170 and 1547. It is a magnificent structure and is definitely worth a visit. The exquisite stained-glass windows are breathtaking to behold. You can also view the tomb of the children of Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany, who died as infants.

The Cathedral of Saint Gatien. Looking toward the pipe organ 
and one of the beautiful stained glass windows.

As we continued our walking tour, we stopped to gaze at the ancient Tour de Charlemagne not pictured), which is almost all that remains of the 4th-century Romanesque Basilica of Saint Martin. Each year, in November, a feast is held in honor of St. Martin.

We dined at this wonderful restaurant in Tours, Leonard da Vinci.

That evening, we dined early at the restaurant Leonard da Vinci, which is located just off la Place Plumereau. The restaurant was absolutely charming. I'm glad we arrived early, because that enabled me to photograph the interior without intruding upon other patrons. Our meal was superb from start to finish. We began with a starter of olives marinated in balsamic vinegar and oil, and had a delicious rustic bread to accompany it. We then enjoyed the main course of pasta seasoned with truffle oil and topped with seared foie gras, thinly-sliced Italian ham, and fresh Parmesan. It was exquisite! The foie gras literally melted on the tongue and was rich and satisfying. Our desserts were delightful as well. Darcy and I shared the chocolate and caramel lava cake, while Mathieu enjoyed the profiteroles. We lingered as long as possible in the quaint dining room, but soon had to be on our way if we were going to catch the train for our return to Orléans.

The interior of the restaurant Leonard da Vinci in Tours is both rustic and elegant.

Tagliatelles Leonard de Vinci, 
one of the specialty dishes at the restaurant.

As we were hurrying toward the train station and were walking briskly through one of the busiest intersections in Tours, I suddenly tripped and fell hard on the stones surrounding the tramway. I was surprised to find myself on the ground; it had happened so quickly! Mathieu and Darcy rushed to help me to my feet and picked up my scattered packages. I was quite embarrassed, and even though I was in a lot of pain, I just wanted to get out of there. Three police officers approached and asked if I was okay. I tried to assure them that I would be fine, though it took some convincing. 

The large and efficient train station in Tours, France.

As we continued our walk to the station at a much slower pace, I began to wonder if I was really okay. My left foot and both knees were hurting terribly, and my hands were scraped. I continued to follow Darcy and Mathieu, certain that I would feel much better once I was seated on the train. Returning to Orléans, no one was more disappointed than I to discover that the tram was closed for some overnight construction! The 25-minute walk to the apartment was excruciating. Darcy carefully guided me along in the darker areas, so that I would not trip a second time. We were all glad to be home, and I was soon snuggled into my comfy bed, telling myself that all would be well in the morning.      

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tours (France) Continued

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 18, 2014

Before continuing with "A Tour of Tours", I must take a moment to mention a couple of my favorite blogs. Lynn McBride, over at Southern Fried French, is an expat hailing from South Carolina who writes charmingly of her life in southern Burgundy. Her wonderful blog is filled with recipes, anecdotes and some fabulous photography. I recently purchased her book "How to Learn a New Language with a Used Brain" and have hopes of learning French. At the age of 62, my brain is certainly "used"! But I must persevere -  after all, I may have French grand-babies one day!   I also recommend that you take a look at French Word a Day, by Kristin Espinasse, an expat from Arizona who now resides in Provence. She, too, writes of her life in France and is also a published author. With the help of her husband and children, Kristin introduces French words and phrases that tie into the theme of each post. She offers stories, recipes and lovely photography along with a few life lessons as well. And now, back to April 18 in Tours...

Darcy and Mathieu on an "invisible" bench.
I couldn't help snapping a photo of them on this broken bench!

We met Darcy's colleague and friend, Erica, at la Place Plumereau at the appointed time. Erica has not lived in Tours for very long and is still becoming acquainted with the city. We began walking toward the university, which is situated along the Loire. There is a lovely pathway beside the river. We followed her as she walked briskly into the library and continued onto an elevator which whisked us upstairs to the roof. We were treated to a sweeping view over the rooftops of Tours. From that vantage point, we could see for miles.

The rooftops of Tours, France.

 A closer view. I love the ivy-covered house!

We continued exploring, with Erica narrating our walk, and eventually found ourselves at Les Halles, a large, covered marketplace. We were all eager to go inside and have a look, as even Erica had not visited it before. It reminded me of Halles Chatelet in Orléans, though larger and with a much wider variety of shops. There were several enticing shops offering carry-out, and of course, patisseries, boulangeries, fromageries, and so on. I wanted to purchase some of the famous Tours rillettes, and soon had a jar of the tasty terrine wrapped in paper and tucked into a little bag.

All I need now is a glass of wine and a crusty baguette!

We had hoped that Erica could join us for lunch, but she had a previous engagement. As we walked with her toward the tram stop, we learned that the Tram de Tours had only been in operation  for about six months. Unfortunately, it wasn't convenient for us at that time, because we had decided to turn back the way we had come in order to find a place for our midday meal. We had a difficult time deciding; there so many cafes, restaurants and brasseries from which to choose! Finding ourselves back at Place Plumereau, we were approached by the proprietor of a British-style pub who was so friendly and persuasive that we couldn't resist. We elected to dine inside for a change, and were charmed by the interior. The pub was much larger than it appeared from the street, and we were soon seated at a roomy booth toward the back. The old stone walls were warm and inviting; the leaded glass windows provided us with a view of a side street bustling with tourists. Mathieu and I both chose the croque, which was served with a side salad, while Darcy opted for a planche, which was really something! She had not expected so much food, but did her best to finish it. 

A traditional croque Monsieur.

 The planche looked like a tasty choice.

TRAVEL TIP: Before your trip, use Google street view to "walk" around the neighborhoods of potential places to stay. You will be able to see if there are restaurants, a pharmacy, a bakery, and attractions within walking distance. Cyber-walk to the nearest metro stop or taxi stand. You won't feel disoriented when you actually arrive.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Tour of Tours

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 18, 2014

No time for pastries! Darcy, Mathieu, and I woke at a reasonable hour, but decided on toast and coffee for a light breakfast before we caught the train to Tours. I had been looking forward to this little day trip for quite some time. Tours is the second largest city in the Centre region of France, and has a beautiful "old town" with a maze of cobblestone streets lined with lovely buildings. The train ride was just over an hour from Orléans, and we arrived on a slightly overcast morning.  

Our first order of business was to locate a patisserie (you didn't think I'd miss my morning pastry, did you?) which had been recommended to us. It was said to have the largest pastries at the most reasonable prices. Mathieu, though he didn't know where the place was located, managed to lead us straight there. The pastries were almost comically large! Darcy and I decided to share a strawberry and cream filled delight, while Mathieu chose a religeuse, which is a double cream puff said to resemble a nun. We carried our pastries to the popular Place Plumereau, where we found a sidewalk cafe to savor a hot beverage along with our tasty treats.

                            Cafe creme and a pastry at a cafe in la Place Plumereau.                              

I like the apartment at the top right of this photo, 
with the large balcony and trailing wisteria vines.

La Place Plumereau is a bustling, beautiful square in the heart of old Tours, though it was only beginning to wake up when we were having breakfast. There you will find many bars, cafes, and restaurants. It was wonderful to sit in the picturesque place, enjoying the view with Darcyi and Mathieu. The architecture surrounding us was fabulous. Even the noise of the recycling trucks picking up the previous nights empty wine bottles did not deter us from enjoying the scene.

One of the beautiful half-timbered houses on la Place Plumereau, Tours.

We were fascinated with the houses surrounding the square, many of which were built during the 15th and 16th centuries! I have always loved the look of the half-timbered houses like the one pictured above, but found myself intrigued by the slate-clad homes as well. At first glance, it looked as if those homes were shingled (see photo below).The slate tiling helps to make the structures fire-resistant.

A slate-tiled home in old Tours.

Some of the homes on la Place Plumereau displayed intricate carvings, like the one pictured below. I'm sure the occupants must be used to the hundreds of tourists snapping photos all day.

A medieval carving on a slate-tiled home in Tours, France.

We wandered around after breakfast, taking in the sights. The cobblestone streets are lined with many shops and restaurants and we checked out a few places for souvenirs along the way. Our meandering took us to the courtyard of the Museum of Fine Arts where we gazed upon an amazing cedar of Lebanon which was planted there in 1804. The massive tree is a sight to behold. If trees could talk, what stories we would hear!

The cedar of Lebanon in the courtyard 
of the Musée des beaux-arts, Tours, France.

While in the courtyard of the museum, Darcy spotted an old "friend". She had met the tabby cat on a previous visit to Tours. At that time, he had been curled on the steps of the museum with his back to the milling tourists. She had cautiously approached him, camera in hand, and softly cooed, "It's okay old fellow, I won't hurt you. I just want to take your picture", when he turned and gave her a ferocious glare. She got a great photo, but wondered just who should be afraid of whom? The cat must have been in a mellow frame of mind when I drew near and took a photo; he looked almost bored. 

This fine fellow must the guardian of the tree.

Travel Tip: Comfortable shoes are a must for tourists, which goes without saying, but taking frequent breaks at cafes and parks is another great way to avoid foot fatigue. Plan your day to allow for these interludes. You won't feel quite so harried and exhausted at the end of the day.