Thursday, August 27, 2015

Our Last Day in Orléans. For Now.

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 30, 2015

It was a cool, grey morning, just perfect for sleeping late. We listened to the soft sounds of jazz as we woke up over coffee and eclairs and began to plan our day. The four of us decided to walk over to CarreFour together. We had many items to purchase for the barbecue we were planning that evening. I also picked out a few little things to take home. As we left the market, a light, chilly rain began to fall.


Mmm, coffee eclairs!

We cleaned house a bit, and also prepared some of the food for the evening meal. At lunchtime, Darcy decided to make something special. It was a fabulous cheese fondue. Darcy had brought out her rectangular slates and placed attractive little heaps of bread, apples, ham, and vegetables upon them. It was a delicious meal. The piping hot cheese dish was perfect on that rainy day.


Ready for dipping into the cheese fondue.

The fondue was a special treat.

Soon, Mathieu had to leave for work. The rest of us had planned to meet some of Darcy's students, who were joining us for coffee to practice their English. We gathered at the cathedral, and then walked across to Lutece, where we sat inside, out of the rain, and ordered coffee and hot chocolate. Only two students had showed up, but we all had a very nice time chatting. The minutes flew by, and before we knew it, two hours had passed!

It was time to prepare for the barbecue. Craig and I were looking forward to seeing Muriel and Thierry again. I sliced and lightly sugared a big bowl of fresh strawberries. Darcy prepared a broccoli-raisin salad, which is always a surprising dish to French people. They simply don't eat raw cauliflower or broccoli. Then, my daughter and I prepared the beef patties by adding crushed, fried onions and a couple of tablespoons of catsup to the meat. Because it was still raining, we knew we would have to cook the hamburgers inside. It was hard to complain about the weather. Every day had been nearly perfect until then. Into each life a little rain must fall, right? We arranged little dishes of munchies on the table for apero. We had several flavors of tiny, soft cheeses, along with dry sausage, a hard cheese flavored with toasted cumin seeds, and some chips and dip. The dip was made from a mix that Darcy had brought from America. Chip dip is another thing the French aren't really familiar with.

After Mathieu's parents arrived, Darcy took orders for cocktails. Muriel, Thierry, and I had amaretto sours, Craig tried a gin fizz, Mathieu a kir, and Daryi enjoyed a bramble. Darcy is a great bartender - the drinks were wonderful. The meal was a hit, too. The juicy burgers topped with a slice of cumin cheese, served on brioche buns were delicious, as were the Toulose sausages and the salad. Muriel and Thierry had brought a couple of bottles of Vouvray to accompany the meal, and we also enjoyed the bottle of wine I had purchased in Sancerre. For dessert, we split open some golden madeleine cakes and topped them with the sliced strawberries and whipped cream. They were wonderful! 

That was such a fun evening with which to end our visit to Orléans. The next day, we would be heading back to Paris. 


A neighborhood cat on the rooftop in Orléans.





Monday, August 17, 2015

More Time in Tours

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 29, 2015

We were having such a fun day in Tours, France! The Segway tour (the machines are called gyropodes in France) was certainly a highlight. When we had finished the tour, Darcy contacted her friend and colleague, Erica, who lives in Tours, to ask if she could join us at Place Plumereau. It was good to see Erica again, and it was so nice that Craig could at last make her acquaintance. We met at an ice cream shop and all enjoyed a dish or cone of some creamy gelato as we talked. The afternoon began to grow chilly, so we followed our gelato with coffee at the French Coffee Shop just off Place Plume. The shop was cozy and comfortable.


Darcy and Erica in Tours, France.

Remnants of the ancient St. Martin's Basilica
 in Tours, dating from the 400s.


Specialty drinks at the French Coffee Shop
 in Tours, France.

We all wandered around town together. Craig wanted to see the interior of Saint Gatien's Cathedral, so we went inside the beautiful structure. We toured it slowly and talked in whispers, not wanting to disturb the reverent silence. Soon, that silence was broken by a few tones from the beautiful pipe organ. The great instrument was being tuned! We could see a massive scaffold alongside it and rightly assumed it was there for maintenance and tuning. As we drew closer, we were treated to a lovely impromptu concert. It was an unexpected gift we all enjoyed.


St. Gatien's Cathedral in Tours, France,
built between 1170 and 1547.

The beautiful pipe organ at St. Gatien's.

Erica and I, gazing up at the cathedral in Tours.

We later made our way over to Les Halles, the large, covered market in Tours. It was fun to browse there and I purchased a jar of pork rillettes to take home. We stopped at a little cheese market, where Craig bought some "pocket cheese". That had become a family joke after one of our previous vacations in France during which Craig startled Mathieu by pulling a hunk of cheese out of his jacket pocket and munching on it as we walked around Orléans.


A cheese shop in Tours, France.

After a while, we went into a very uniquely decorated bar for drinks. Simon, who is Erica's significant other, was able to join us there. We sat in a cute little circular room and had a nice visit along with our drinks. We had hoped that Erica and Simon could join us for dinner, but it didn't work out. 

Dinner that evening was at the restaurant, Leonard da Vinci, where I had dined with Darcy and Mathieu in 2014. Darcy was very happy to be sharing one of her favorite restaurants with her dad. It turned out to be quite an experience, and not exactly what we had expected. We were seated on the upper level again, which is made up of two or three very cozy and nicely decorated rooms. There was a group of American tourists in the adjacent room. A tour group. The were obviously well into their cups and were talking loudly and boisterously. And then, they began to sing! Their tour guide and song-leader was apparently a well-known songwriter in France. They sang the hokiest of old American tunes, one after another. Darcy was mortified. She had wanted the evening to be perfect. We did the only thing we could do; we just laughed it off. In fact, at times we were laughing uncontrollably. Darcy even apologized to the waitress for the rowdy Americans. She responded in a somewhat resigned tone, saying that it occurs regularly in that restaurant. The food was good, though, as always. Craig, Mathieu, and Darcy ordered the pasta prepared with truffle cream, seared foie gras, and Italian ham, while I tried a new dish of pasta shells stuffed with seasoned veal. It was a delightful meal and I enjoyed being there with my family, making memories. 


Dinner at Leonard da Vinci restaurant in Tours, France.
With Craig, Darcy and Mathieu.

Delicious veal-stuffed shells.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Tour of Tours on Segway

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 29, 2015

Poor Craig was on vacation but didn't get to sleep in! He was a very good sport about it, though. That day, we awoke at 7:00, drank our coffee, and then popped into our neighborhood bakery for eclairs and chouquettes to munch in the car on the way to Tours. In France, it is very rare for people to eat in cars. There are almost no drive-thru restaurants. Food is meant to be savored and enjoyed, which is difficult to do while navigating a busy highway.

Mathieu was driving, which was a change for us, as we usually take the train. The view from the road was a whole different perspective. Since the car sat much lower than a train, there wasn't much to see. The scenery consisted mostly of field after field of the bright yellow colza. At one point, it looked like a brilliant yellow river as it curved along between stands of trees. I was surprised at how expensive the toll road was. Twelve euros one-way seemed a bit pricey! But it was a good road that was obviously well maintained.

Mathieu parked at the Tours train station, which had a very large underground parking garage. I got out of the car and waited near the fountain while everyone else negotiated the car park. I have a phobia of parking garages which is so bad that I once jumped out of a moving vehicle in a Chicago parking garage!  


The train station in Tours. My photo from 2014.
Walking toward the center of town, we came upon the huge outdoor market which was in full swing. We walked through, enjoying each enormous section. The colorful flower market booths were very busy with shoppers buying flowers, herbs, and bedding plants. The scent was wonderful! We came upon the clothing market, where I could have browsed for an hour or two. There were scarves, shoes, belts, and purses, in addition to just about any article of attire you could want. We continued on through the food market, the book stalls, and at the end discovered a flea market. We stopped to look at some bookends that Darcy was interested in and she got a good price on them when we also purchased a wooden cat figurine. Craig and I had somehow fallen into the tradition of purchasing some sort of cat themed item on each trip to France. 


The outdoor market in Tours, France.

Lots of beautiful flowers!

As we continued on toward the heart of Tours, Craig was enjoying his first look at the town he had heard so much about after I had visited last year. I even showed him the place along the tram line where I had fallen and injured my foot. Place Plumereau was becoming crowded with tourists as lunchtime approached. It was a lovely, sunny day, though cool, and many tables were already surrounded by people drinking coffee and chatting. We realized that we were going to have to grab a quick lunch if we were going to be on time for our upcoming Segway tour. We found a tiny kebab shop on a side street and ordered sandwiches and fries. The sandwiches were huge! Darcy and I could have shared one, for neither of us was able to finish. Mathieu had an interesting soft drink with his meal. It was a mojito-flavored 7up. I had never seen that flavor before. I hope it will be offered in America, because I tasted it and it was very refreshing.


A lovely street in Tours, France.

City hall in Tours, France.


Myself, Darcy, and Mathieu
 at Place Plumereau, Tours.

Soon, we were on our way to meet our Segway tour guide, David. Craig and I were pleased to discover that he spoke English quite well. He was easygoing and fun. It didn't take David long to realize that we had been truthful when we told him that we were experienced Segway riders. In no time, we were on our way! David led us on a tour of Tours which lasted an hour and a half and was absolutely amazing. I never stopped smiling! We traveled first along the Loire, past the university, and came to a point of the pathway where the walkway was very "steepy", as David would say. He told us that this would be a good place to see how fast we could go on the Segway and to experience how the machine will push back at you if you have maxed out. It is a self-limiting feature. David told me to go first, so I took off, enjoying the speed and grinning from ear to ear. I was expecting everyone else to follow and when I reached the bottom of the long incline, I turned and discovered that I was alone. I waited a few moments, as the trail was curved and I couldn't see the whole length of it. Soon, along came two people on bicycles, but no one else. I became concerned that there had been an accident, so I headed back the way I had come. Before long, there were my companions. It seemed that I had misunderstood David and was only supposed to have gone a short way. David told everyone else to wait, saying that I would soon notice I was all alone. 


Our Segway tour guide, David,
helps Craig adjust his helmet.
A Segway tour along the Loire in France.

David then guided us through the city streets, along shopfronts and then on to a bike/pedestrian bridge which took us to a lovely tree-shaded park on an island in the Loire. All along the way, we were treated to beautiful views of the river and the town. At one point, David curved suddenly into a u-turn behind a hedge and said, "let's hide!" Mathieu and I were a bit slow to hide completely, but David popped out and yelled "boo!" at Darcy and Craig and then burst out laughing. He was just so adorable and fun that we had to laugh, too. We went on through the park, which was very pretty, and then David led us down a narrow alley. The old houses there seemed a bit run down, but the wisteria blooming everywhere gave the area a charming look.


 le Château de Tours

We crossed another bridge, which took us back toward the center of town. David led us through the busy market, where we received many stares, comments, and questions. Segway tours are new to the area, so we created quite a sensation. It was fun weaving in and out of the market and through the crowds to Place Plumereau. We felt like celebrities as everyone stared, pointed, and photographed us. We also went to the train station, which was very busy outside. A train had just arrived and there were passengers towing their luggage along the walks. At a crosswalk one man, whom I was trying carefully to avoid, looked me straight in the eye with an angry glare and then purposely moved over just enough to clip one of my wheels with his suitcase. It could have tipped my Segway, but Darcy, who was directly behind me, said he got the worst of it when my wheel flipped his suitcase over!

Our tour was nearly over, but David guided us past the the beautiful St. Gatien's cathedral, where we paused to take some photos. We then stopped to view the 200-year-old cedar of Lebanon (the cat was still there!) and stretch our legs for a bit. We then headed back to our starting point. We had such fun on that tour! We gave David a large tip, which he tried to refuse, but he really deserved it.  He was a great guide and aside from being fun, he was knowledgeable and gave us interesting information along the way. 


Saint Gatien's Cathedral in Tours, France.
A 200-year-old Cedar of Lebanon
 in Tours, France.
Mathieu and Darcy taking a break.
  
If you visit France, you must try a Segway tour, if at all possible. It is tremendous fun and very easy to learn! The company we used was Freemove, which offers tours in Amboise, Tours, and Blois.


Look, ma, no hands! The Segway tour was such fun.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Long Travel Day

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 28, 2015

We had a very long travel day, making our way back to France. We all grabbed a hot drink in the hotel breakfast room before trundling our luggage along to the bus station. We had decided to take this alternate form of transportation for a couple of reasons. One, it would give us different views and perspective to be on the highway, and two, riding the bus would save the four of us a total of £100. It would mean adding one additional hour of travel time, which we felt would be worth it.

Near the bus station in Bath, Darcy and Mathieu discovered a Krispy Kreme donut shop! They walked over and picked up a dozen assorted donuts while Craig and I waited at the bus terminal. That was a tasty treat for all of us, but especially for Darcy and Mathieu, who had not had Krispy Kreme for a couple of years, at least. My favorite was the speculoos-filled donut. 


A shopping arcade in Bath.
Farewell, Bath! It's been fun.

The bus turned out to be very nice, more like a charter bus would be in America. It had tinted windows and plush, high-backed seats. I enjoyed looking out at the lovely English countryside, though it wasn't long before we were driving through the outskirts of London. After we arrived at the terminal, we walked through Paddington Station and took the Tube to St. Pancras where we soon boarded the Eurostar. Craig was quite impressed with the high-speed train and the idea that we were just a short ride away from Paris. On the train, we had seats that faced each other, with a table between us, which made it much more comfortable to read, snack, or play a game.


At Paddington Station in London.



The London Underground, aka The Tube.

Before we knew it, we had arrived at Gare du Nord, where we piled into a taxi for the ride across Paris to Gare d'Austerlitz. The train to Orléans wasn't crowded and it was a quiet, pleasant ride. At the station, we transferred to a tram for the trip across town to Darcy and Mathieu's home. At that point, we had been travelling for 15 hours and were more than ready for a bite to eat. We deposited our luggage inside the door and walked back across the bridge to Oh, Terroir where we had a delightful meal. We all somehow decided on the same dish, which was the delicious ham in Dijon sauce, served over spelt. Oh, Terroir is one of the only restaurants around here which allows free refills on drinks. We enjoyed the sparkling lemonade and the strawberry/blackberry drink. 



We're back!

When we returned to the house, Craig got the full tour of the new digs. He was impressed with the layout and with the way Darcy and Mathieu had decorated their home. We chatted for a while, and then went to bed exhausted. But it had certainly been a fun trip!








Monday, August 10, 2015

Stonehenge!

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 27, 2015

How nice it was to sleep late and wake refreshed and ready for adventure. We all met for breakfast downstairs, and it was a decent hot breakfast with lots of items from which to choose. After walking into town, we had more coffee at Starbuck's and then did a bit of browsing in the shops. It was fun to wander around in such a lovely town as Bath. There was so much to see and do. Even simply viewing the amazing architecture was a thrill.

We had a wonderful lunch at Sally Lunn's. It was in a quaint, old building and is, in fact, the oldest home in Bath. We all ordered the House Blend tea, which was incredibly good. The shop is famous for the Sally Lunn bun and there is a story to go along with it.


Sally Lunn's, Bath UK
Craig and I at Sally Lunn's Eating House in Bath.

I ordered a bowl of pureed vegetable soup, which was very good. Served alongside the soup was a quarter of the famous bun which had been toasted and slathered with butter. I also had a half bun that was spread with lemon curd and served with clotted cream. It was amazingly delicious! Darcy and Mathieu chose the bun served with dilled cream cheese, smoked Scottish salmon, and lemon. It was superb. They had a dessert of apple cake with clotted cream. Craig ordered the vegetable soup and Welsh rarebit, which was served on a Sally Lunn bun. It was a fun and delectable meal. If you dine there, don't miss the little museum in the basement.  


Lunch was a treat at Sally Lunn's.

A Sally Lunn bun with lemon curd
 and clotted cream. Heavenly!

Craig, Mathieu, and Darcy in Bath UK.

After that fantastic lunch, it was time to board a tour bus to Stonehenge! I could hardly believe that another dream was about to come true. I had wanted to visit Stonehenge for as long as I could remember. In fact, we were all looking forward to it. Darcy had visited the ancient monument on an earlier trip to England but was still eager to view it again. We had a great driver, John, who had a wonderful sense of humour and was also very well organized. As we approached the visitor's center where we would board larger buses that would take us to the stones, I began to feel very emotional. This experience had been on my bucket list forever. I felt as if this were some sort of pilgrimage.

The visitors center is situated about a mile from the ancient stones. They can't be seen from that location, which is good. It's much more dramatic to come upon Stonehenge as you crest a low hill and see the standing stones in the distance. It is possible to disembark the bus at the halfway point and follow a path which will take you to the stones, passing at least one of the ancient burial mounds which are scattered across the gentle, green hills.

We left the bus with our audio guides in hand and began to follow the path that encircles the stones. The information on the audio guides is very thorough and if I wanted even more information, I was able to push another button to learn more about a particular subject. I learned more from that little device than I had ever discovered via any other source.


My first glimpse of Stonehenge.

The area was not as crowded as I had thought it would be. That may have been due to the exceptionally chilly weather.  It was quite breezy and very cold, even though the sun was shining. However, in spite of some discomfort, we were all awed by the monumental stones. And that is putting it mildly. It is truly a breathtaking experience. 


Stonehenge was absolutely amazing!

I am certain it was no accident that the standing stones were placed upon the hill in such a manner that they appear to tower over you when you are standing at the "front" and seem smaller when you are looking at them from the other side. We found it very sad that there has been vandalism to the stones in recent years that necessitated restricting access to them. It's impossible to walk among the stones. One can only stand in wonder and gaze at them. But that was enough, though I did wish we could have been there at a time when there were fewer visitors, perhaps very early or later in the day. I felt as if I needed some time alone with those ancient, mysterious rocks which have aroused curiosity for ages.


What an incredible visit to Stonehenge!

Darcy and Mathieu at Stonehenge.

We would have remained out there much longer, but wanted to visit the exhibition at the visitors center before heading back to the bus. We looked at an outdoor display which explained how the heavy stones had been transported. We also saw replicas of the huts that would have provided shelter for the workers all those years ago. They were circular, thatched huts which contained unique beds and shelves made from interwoven branches. They were very impressive. There was more to see, but we all wanted a hot drink before returning to the bus. I will never forget my visit to Stonehenge. It was everything I had dreamed it would be.

That evening, we shopped a bit at Sainsbury's, which is a very popular grocery chain in the U.K. There, we were able to purchase items that are hard to find in France and the U.S. It was fun to wander through that store. I was pleased to find out that they all have honeybee hotels within them. Save the bees! 

Later, we had supper at a pub. Craig tried the fish and chips, I had a steak and ale pie, Mathieu enjoyed a pumpkin veggie burger, and Darcy chose the salmon. They tried more local brews while I sipped my ginger beer. It was a pleasant meal and we finished our evening with a game of Racko in our hotel room.


Steak and Ale pie at a pub in Bath.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Roman Baths

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 26, 2015

We packed a lot of sightseeing into one day. Visiting the Roman Baths in Bath, UK was one of the highlights of our visit to England. The historic complex is one of the most popular attractions in the United Kingdom and is not to be missed if you are anywhere in the area.


During Roman times this pool was covered
 with an arched, wooden roof.

The 2,000-year-old ruins were a marvel of engineering! The self-guided tour, using audio guides, allowed us to explore at our leisure. We wandered through the bathing temple and through the adjacent rooms completely fascinated by every aspect. 



The fascinating Roman Baths, Bath UK.

The Roman Baths were excavated between 1978 and 1983. We learned many interesting facts about how the rooms were built and utilized. We discovered how the hot spring water was piped into the baths, using methods that still operate today. If I am able to visit this area again in the future, I would love to spend some time at the Bath Spa to experience the healing waters of the hot springs. 


The great drain is viewed through a glass floor.

There are many interesting displays in the museum, such as intricate carvings and the largest cache of Roman coins ever discovered in Britain. The curse tablets were also quite fascinating. They were small leaves of lead alloy on which were inscribed curses invoking the goddess, Sulis Minerva, to punish perpetrators of such crimes as the theft of a bathing tunic, money, or jewelry.


Another view of the main pool.


The walls and columns would have been brightly painted in days gone by.

The Romans were undisputed as engineers and the Roman Baths are a fine example. We enjoyed learning of the clever methods they had devised to take advantage of the natural hot springs in the area, though the first shrine was actually built by the Celts.


One of many sculptures at the Roman baths.

That evening, we had to walk a bit before we were able to find an open restaurant. I hadn't realized that so many of the eateries in Bath would be closed on Sunday. Our meal at the Firehouse Rotisserie was pretty good. I enjoyed a Margarita pizza, while Mathieu had one that was topped with butternut squash, bleu cheese, and bacon. Craig chose a burger instead of pizza, while Darcy nibbled on a duck confit quesadilla. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Beautiful Bath

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 26, 2015

Bath is a beautiful place. The town sits in a little bowl of a valley, surrounded by gently rolling hills. It is known for the Roman baths and for its lovely 18th-century Georgian architecture. We began our explorations by taking a little bus tour, much as we had done in London. From our seats atop the double-decker bus, we had wonderful views of the ancient streets and all Bath has to offer. We were very glad to have brought along our jackets, for the weather had turned a bit breezy and there was a definite chill in the air. 


We enjoyed the lovely view while awaiting the bus.

There are many beautiful buildings in Bath.

Our bus tour was very informative, and we tried to listen attentively to the audio headsets while taking photos and admiring the view. The driver guided us to the rim of the bowl-shaped valley, where there is a hiking/bicycling path that begins in town. The drive was lovely. I admired the charming homes, many with beautifully tended gardens, and some with spectacular views of the town below. We learned about the Bath stone, which is the pale, golden limestone of which the buildings and homes in Bath city centre were constructed. The limestone is very difficult and expensive to clean, and for that reason, a law was passed forbidding anyone to burn smoky materials in their fireplaces.


The limestone on this home has been partially cleaned.



When our tour ended, we warmed ourselves over coffee and hot chocolate in a nearby Starbucks. It was much the same as a Starbucks anywhere, though the decor was more fitting to the locale and there were several British items on the menu, including the bacon buttie. We walked around for a bit, admiring the gorgeous scenery and occasionally peeking into some interesting shops.


These old warehouses along the river in Bath
have been restored into apartments.

We found a little cafe selling Cornish pasties and decided to stop there for a bite to eat. The temperature had warmed, so we took our food outside to a table and looked around as we ate. Some very determined pigeons joined us. One of them almost landed on the table! We finished quickly and continued our explorations. Soon, we were admiring the Bath Abbey. There were many people hanging around in the courtyard in front of the beautiful old cathedral; one of them was strumming a guitar. Because it was Sunday, there were services being held in the Abbey, so we did not venture inside.


Who can resist a Cornish pasty?



The beautiful Abbey in Bath, UK.


Another view of Bath Abbey.