Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Guédelon, Medieval Castle Under Construction

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Sunday, May 22, 2016

I was awakened during the night by the sounds of a thunderstorm. Those never last long in the Loire Valley, and it soon eased to a gentle rain. By morning, the rain had ended and the sky was overcast. The four of us enjoyed coffee, fresh orange juice, and a variety of pastries before packing for an overnight jaunt to Briare.

Religieuse, or nun. A delightful pastry.
Mathieu brought the car up just as the drizzle resumed. We drove along the Loire toward Gien, enjoying the views of the river through rain-splashed windows. It was time for lunch when we reached Gien. We chose La Bella Vita again, as Craig had never eaten there and the rest of us knew how tasty their food was. We splashed through puddles and entered the cozy restaurant, where we were seated in a plush booth next to two women who had a 15-month-old boy with them. The little fellow took quite a shine to both Mathieu and Craig. He even shared his tiny toy motorcycle with them. He kept calling Craig "uncle", which we all thought was simply adorable.

We enjoyed our leisurely lunch, with Darcy and I sharing a pizza called "la fermiere", which translates to "the farmer". It was a delicious combination of potatoes, chicken, onions, and cheese on a light, crisp crust that had been slathered with cream. Craig chose the pizza tartiflette, which was the one I had devoured on a previous visit. Mathieu was very happy with his salmon salad, though he did have room for some of our pizza. 

The rest of our drive didn't take long. We continued through some lovely countryside until we reached the site of Guédelon, medieval castle under construction. I had been longing to visit for quite some time, and even though a light rain was falling, we all looked forward to the living history before us. We purchased rain ponchos in the gift shop and set out to explore the building site. Though the rain never let up, we doggedly sloshed through puddles and mud that was sometimes yellow, sometimes orange, sometimes rust. However, even a dreary, soggy day could not deter us from marveling at the castle construction.

Entering the construction site of  Guedelon Castle.

It's possible to tour most of the rooms inside.
Guédelon is being constructed using the methods and tools of the medieval age. A force of talented artisans work with replicas of age-old tools to quarry, cut, and dress the stone used to build the castle. Workers in medieval costume perform tasks of pottery making, rope braiding, planing lumber, mixing paint, and a multitude of other jobs that are essential to the building of a castle.

A worker making tools for dressing stone.
A very hardworking horse carted loads of freshly quarried stone. There were men and women working in the tower, using a pulley system to take tools and supplies up and down. A human-powered wheel was used to raise and lower platforms and heavier items. In spite of the rain, the construction site was a hive of activity!

The horse delivers a cart-load of stone.

Ongoing construction at Guedelon Castle.

All of this lumber was planed by hand. 

A lovely scene at Guedelon Castle in France.
We toured as much of the interior of the castle as was permitted. It was a marvel! Some rooms had lovely painted details of flowers and scrolls. The chapel was beautiful, with accents of carved stone. We saw how the heavy wooden doors were constructed and locked against intruders. There was so much to see!

The paints were made on site.

Window seats for reading or reflection.

This is how to bolt a medieval door!

Lovely stonework in the chapel at Guedelon.
Following pathways through the forest, we discovered displays and other interesting aspects of the ongoing work. There were huts in which colorful rocks were crushed to a fine powder for use as paint. We saw a woman dyeing wool in a huge vat over a smoldering fire. We watched a potter using a wheel to create beautiful bowls, pots, and jars. The wheel was powered by a long pole that he inserted into a notch, pushing the wheel as if stirring a huge pot, until it spun at an amazing speed. It was over a minute before the wheel needed another push. We all enjoyed our visit tremendously and are interested in returning to see how far the building has progressed. 

The hut where fabric is woven and dyed.

Colorful hanks of yarn are hung to dry.

This is where paints and dyes are made from plants and stones.

A talented potter at Guedelon.

Every thickness of rope and twine
 are made at the building site.

A lovely view of the castle from the forest.
At 5:00, we ended our tour and drove the short distance to a wonderful B & B that Darcy had found. It was an absolutely charming stone house situated right on the canal, above one of the locks. I wish the weather had been nice enough to permit us to walk along the canal or sit on the beautiful terrace overlooking the river. As it was, I kept jumping up to peek out the window, hoping to see a boat or barge going through the lock. 

A view of the lock in front of the B & B near Briare.
Our connecting rooms were a delight! The decor was tastefully done and the entire place was scrupulously clean. The old beams and sloping walls created a welcoming ambiance. The bathrooms were large and as clean as the rest of the place. And of course, the views out the windows were lovely.

The cozy sleeping area at our gite in Briare, France.

The kettle and packets of coffee
 and tea were a nice surprise. 

The other bedroom at the gite.

Another view at the B & B in Briare, France.
After a short rest, we drove to the town of Briare, just five minutes away. We would have walked, had the weather been more cooperative. Being Sunday, not all of the restaurants were open, but we found a bistro on the waterfront where we had our evening meal. Aside from Mathieu, we all chose the plat du jour, which was a turkey cutlet in a mushroom cream sauce, with buttered pasta on the side. In France, when you see a menu offering "poultry" as a selection, you can be fairly certain that you are being offered turkey. For dessert, I chose a crepe made with peaches, toasted almonds, and Grand Marnier. Yum! Or as the French would say "miam!" Darcy had a very colorful crepe made with swirls of chocolate and mint liqueur and topped with mint ice cream. Mathieu ordered a chocolate and banana crepe, while Craig chose a sundae of pears and chocolate. 

A colorful crepe for dessert.
Before driving back to the B & B, we walked along the Pont du Canal. The canal bridge is a fascinating feat of engineering, built in the 1800's by Gustave Eiffel. We walked the length of the bridge and back again, becoming chilled in the damp breeze. We were glad to return to the cozy gite along the canal and settle in for the night. A rousing game of "Pass the Pigs" was a fun way to end the day. 

Darcy walks along the Pont du Canal.

Craig, Mathieu, and Darcy on the canal bridge.

Travel Tip: Pack some lightweight galoshes!


Lovely Loches, a Medieval Village in France.

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Saturday, May 21, 2016

It was great for all of us to be together again, and preparing to go out for an adventure. We started the day with coffee and freshly-squeezed orange juice and were soon on our way to Auchan, where we would pick up a helmet for Darcy. Helmets are necessary when riding Segway, which is exactly what we were planning to do that day! Darcy is of small stature, and based on past experience we knew the helmets provided by the Segway company would be too loose on her.

The mega market, Auchan, was bustling with customers. We stopped first at Paul for pastries and coffee, where I thoroughly enjoyed my Nutella beignets and a frothy cafe creme. Our shopping didn't take much time, and soon we were on the highway heading for the medieval town of Loches.The two-hour drive was beautiful, once we had exited the toll road and were on the smaller, local roads which ran through gorgeous farmland and tiny, picturesque villages.

Cafe creme and beignets at Paul.
Loches was crowded, as the Saturday market was just about to end. Shoppers were still exploring the various booths set up in the square. There were so many that they spilled into the narrow side streets which radiated off the main square. What an array of goods met our eyes! And how I wished we had time to linger and shop. There were plants and flowers, fruits and vegetables, clothing, ceramics, leather items, candles, jewelry, shoes, purses, sweets of all kinds - and so much more! 

Wandering the market streets in Loches, France.
We found a restaurant called la Farfallaoverlooking the square. We just had time for lunch before our Segway tour was to begin. Darcy and I shared a wonderful pasta dish made with pesto, Parmesan, and sun-dried tomatoes. It was fantastic! Craig chose a pasta dish which featured salmon, and Mathieu opted for a large salad that looked quite delicious. We passed around the breadbasket which was filled with tender, crusty, chewy slices of fresh baguette.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch at la Farfalla in Loches.
After that delightful repast, we began exploring a bit as we made our way to the area in which we were to meet our Segway guide. I can barely find words to describe how overwhelmingly beautiful the village of Loches is. Narrow cobblestone streets twist and turn, bordered by the charming old houses built of the golden tufa stone that is so popular in that area. Many homes had roses or other flowering plants climbing the limestone walls. Charm simply oozes from every molecule of that town! 

Loches, France is a beautiful, ancient village.

I'd love to spend a few days exploring!
We were soon outfitted with helmets and Segway machines. Our guide, Nik, led the way along narrow pathways, through a park, and across ancient streets as we headed for the top of the hill. We were gently showered with blossoms of pink, yellow, and mauve as we rolled along beneath flowering trees. It seemed like a fantasy. 

The ancient architecture of Loches.
A lovely view over Loches, France.
Nik was a good guide. He watched over us carefully and narrated our tour with information about the sights we were gazing at in wonder. He was patient when I wanted to stop at various spots along the way to take photos. He guided us to the top of the hill where the Donjon stands. It's a 1,000-year-old structure that was first a fortress and later a prison. The views from up there were magnificent!

1,000 years of history.

Hundreds of years ago,
 we would have been standing in the moat!

The Segway tour was a great way to see Loches.
We continued to roll along, passing many amazing sights. Loches simply took my breath away, with its troglodyte caves, architectural delights, sculptures, and more. At one point, we were actually able to enter a troglodyte cave on our machines, and we marveled at the work that had been done thousands of years ago to carve out the stone needed for the fortifications and homes of the village. There were several amazing, modern sculptures inside the cave that were a wonder in themselves. As we rode out of the cold, damp air of the cave, we were struck by the heat of the day. 

Another pretty sight in Loches.
After our tour ended, Darcy, Mathieu, Craig, and I found a sidewalk cafe where we could purchase cold drinks and ice cream. I never pass up an opportunity for French ice cream! I indulged in a yummy concoction of pear sorbet and dark chocolate ice cream, all topped with whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. Darcy and Mathieu shared an unusual sundae of chocolate mint and lemon ice cream. Craig seemed happy with his cold drink.

We were refreshed and ready for more exploring, so we walked up the hill to tour the Donjon. We trudged up and down many staircases; some of which were spirals cut into the stone, and had deeply worn places on the treads, created by countless feet climbing up and down those endless steps. One thousand years of history. It was all worth it, though, to view the interesting displays and learn the stories of this little corner of France. 

Looking down at the courtyard.

An interesting display inside the Donjon.
Before heading back to Orléans, we had dinner at the creperie, Cote Tour, in Loches. We didn't have reservations and were lucky to get a table. I ordered a gallette made with ham, red onions, potato, and creme fraiche. Craig had one stuffed with ham, egg, and Reblochon cheese. Darcy chose a mushroom and ham gallette, and Mathieu enjoyed an interesting combination of goat cheese, apples, walnuts, and honey. 

The terrace of the creperie in Loches.
A satisfying French meal in Loches.
On the way home, we drove the scenic route. I saw many tidy little farms, with cattle grazing in nearby fields through which sparkling streams meandered. There were trails crisscrossing the meadows and forest, and we saw people on horseback, out for an evening ride. It was such a charming, peaceful area and I could have lingered there for days.


Monday, August 29, 2016

Together Again

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Friday, May 20, 2016

At last! This was the day that Craig would arrive in France! We were all happy that he would soon be in Orléans, but at the same time we shared concerns that he could arrive late due to a transportation slow-down. Imagine Darcy's disappointment when that proved to be the case. She had been looking forward to meeting her dad at the train station and spending a bit of time with him before she went to work. Only about half the normal number of trains were leaving Paris, and Craig was caught up in a delay that set him back by a couple of hours.

Darcy was dejected as she boarded the tram which would take her to the university. At the same time, I boarded a tram that would carry me in the opposite direction, to Les Aubrais. My husband came in on the 2:00 train, tired but happy to have finally arrived after his long overnight flight. We hopped aboard a crowded tram for the ride across town. After a short, restful break in the apartment, we decided to do some shopping. We walked over the bridge to Halles Chatelet, where we browsed for a while, and then went down the street to Mr Bricolage. We purchased a fan there, for the bedroom, and as it was such a lovely day, we wandered over to the French Coffee Shop where we enjoyed a refreshing beverage. Craig was smiling happily as he looked at his surroundings. He was looking forward to a much-anticipated vacation and some quality time with his daughter. 

Craig was very happy to be back in Orleans.
After Craig and I returned to the apartment, it wasn't long before Darcy and Mathieu arrived home from their jobs. Happy greetings followed as we prepared to sit down to apero. We toasted one another with cold beer and then munched our way through chips, tiny cubes of cheese, the wonderful sausage I had purchased at the festival, and some squares of pizza warmed up from the night before.

Azur snuggled up to Craig right away. 
For the evening meal, we treated ourselves to Oh, Terroir. The four of us walked slowly through the cool, evening air to the restaurant and were then faced with the difficult decision of choosing from their enticing menu. I ordered the barbecue burger and fries, which was wonderful! The fresh, local ingredients truly made a difference in the quality of the meal. Darcy bought a little mason jar in which were nestled two tiny macarons which Craig and I shared. After returning to the apartment, we didn't stay up late. Craig was tired from his long travel, and we had an exciting day planned for the morrow.

Craig and Darcy share a moment on the way to the restaurant.

The food is always top quality at Oh Terroir. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Sad Start to a Lovely Day

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Thursday, May 19, 2016

Craig's travel day! I'm always a bit nervous when loved ones are traveling, so imagine my shock when I awoke to news of the EgyptAir plane crash. That's not something you want to hear about. Ever. My heart was breaking for the victims and their loved ones. It was a sober way to begin the day.

Darcy was out the door early to work, so I had a lazy morning. I enjoyed coffee and cupcakes again for breakfast and then decided to finish shopping for baby clothes. I knew that after Craig arrived, we would be very busy and would not spend a lot of time browsing the shops. At Eurodif, there were many adorable things from which to choose and I made my selections, shopped a bit for myself, and then went over to Au Petit Duc for a pastry. I chose a lovely raspberry macaron and carried it home with the rest of my purchases. 

It was lunch time by then, so I heated the leftover bibimbap and enjoyed a tasty meal, with the raspberry macaron for dessert. I cleaned and straightened the house, and when Darcy arrived at 2:30, we walked over to the French Coffee Shop to meet Mathieu and Arno. The shop was crowded, as usual, but we were able to find a table outside in the sun. A cool breeze was blowing, which made us forget that we were susceptible to sunburn! We had a nice chat over our delicious coffee creations.

The leftover bibimpbap made a tasty lunch!

Peace, love, and great coffee!
We wandered together over to the stone shop and spent quite some time examining the unique and beautiful crystals there. Each one of us found at least one stone that we simply had to buy! From there, we decided to check out the new import shop. I don't recall the name of that delightful little place, but it was wonderful! It was packed with imported foods from America and several countries in Europe. The proprietor was very friendly, and offered us tasty samples of candy. Our favorite was an interesting layered truffle from Denmark which contained a surprising combination of flavors, such as raspberry, chocolate, licorice, and chili. We also bought some American Pop Rocks candy, which Arno had never before tried. He laughed and said it was like fireworks in his mouth! 

When we returned home, Darcy and Mathieu collaborated in creating a delightful pizza. Mathieu made his homemade pizza crust, while Darcy grilled some chicken. The other ingredients, such as onion, cream, honey, and Reblochon cheese came together beautifully and it was a delicious pizza! We ended with ice cream and a sitcom. It was another lovely day. 

This delightful pizza was put together by Darcy and Mathieu. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

So What If It's Raining!

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Another day of teaching for Darcy. We were able to have breakfast together, which consisted of more of her yummy chocolate cupcakes, and then she headed off to the university while I went shopping. I didn't have a particular destination in mind, so I just meandered through town, popping into any shop that looked inviting. I eventually walked all the way to Place D'Arc, where my final stop was CarreFour. I purchased several items, though it took much longer than it should have. The store had been rearranged a bit since my last visit and I had some difficulty finding the things I needed. 

In the produce department, I bagged some fresh vegetables and was attempting to use the little self-service weigh-and-tag machine. There were no instructions; it's really a simple device and I had used one the year before, but I couldn't seem to get it to work. After waiting for some time for an employee, I was able to flag someone down. I could see she was a bit annoyed at being interrupted by a foreigner who spoke toddler-level French, but she patiently began the process of weighing and tagging my veggies. I felt slightly gratified when the machine refused to work for her. I even understood when she said "C'est cassé" (It's broken). We found another machine which not only worked perfectly but also had a set of instructions that even I could have read! 

Those round zucchini! So cute! 
It was around that time, just as I was paying for my purchases, that I received a text from Arno. He wanted to know if I would like to meet him for a late lunch and a bit more shopping. We met at his home, where I left my purchases, and we made our way over to a bar near the Loire. We chose a variety of tapas to share and sat for quite a while munching our way through chips and guacamole, calamari, fries, ham, and chorizo. We spent a lot of time laughing over silly stories and jokes, completely oblivious to the darkening skies. By the time we left the bar, a heavy rain was falling! We stood beneath an awning, waiting for the rain to let up. When it eased a bit, we opened our umbrellas and walked a short couple of blocks to one of Arno's favorite shops. It was a place that sold polished stones, essential oils, and a few other items. I enjoyed our time there, and Arno surprised me with a lovely polished jasper. 

Later, Mathieu and Darcy met us at Arno's. We all relaxed over apero, and then went out for dinner. We ate at the Korean restaurant I have mentioned in a previous post. I ordered the bibimbap, and it was as delicious as I remembered. The restaurant was crowded. No one was dining outside, as the rain was still falling lightly. Just before we were served our dessert of chocolate eggrolls, which were incredible, a woman was seated near us who was wearing so much perfume that our eyes watered and we could barely breathe! Darcy and Arno had such a violent reaction that they had to go outside. As we were leaving, we noticed one of the servers frantically opening windows!

A delightful Korean dish - bibimbap.
Arno walked through the rain with us until we were almost home. Then we parted company and were soon settled into a warm, dry house. The next day would be Craig's travel day!