i had such a great day i just had to come back in and write it all down before it disappears!
this morning, benoît dropped me off at the train station where after a near miss (wrong station! yikes! teeny marathon dash to the other station via the lille metro), i made my tgv (what a great ride so quick and smooth and the countryside is gorgeous) to st pierre des corps changed trains for tours and arrived here around 11:30. tours is beautiful and since la crise (the worldwide economic crisis--bet you could have figured that out!) the vacation time here is very quiet. which suits me just fine. this means the lines at the châteaux are non-existent and the streets are slow-paced and mellow. the whole town is just lovely--at least the part i've seen and i walked a bit looking for my hotel this morning (got misdirected--my own fault). my hotel is on la rue colbert which i think i told you last time i wrote, and it's a lively sweet ancient little street with loads of little exotic restaurants (libyan, indian, marrocan), cafés, bars, and people strolling along. the hotel is kooky as are so many 2 star places in france with a nutty propriataire who is just a doll. i have 2 single beds and the smallest tv i've ever seen in a hotel room--i'm not sure you can actually see the screen from the bed which is five feet away. however, none of it matters when you've gotten a gazillion incredible places to wrap your head around and the view out the window is divine.
so i hadn't gotten my touring options all figured out--there are several companies who send tourists out on bus excursions to see the various castles in the region. i'd emailed one of them because i liked their brochure the best--the companies all basically offer the same services but in different orders and for teeny cost differences. so when i arrived here, my first thought was to get that all figured out so i could relax into the day. to my disappointment (then!! it changed, i tell you), i wasn't able to assure a spot on a trip for tomorrow which sort of put the kibosh on my plan of today in tours--see the museum, wander the town, get to know the place--but i was able to secure a seat for this afternoon. and that's where all the fun begins!
i went and got myself situated in a café for a bit and studied some brochures and made some phone calls and secured a seat for wednesday to see azay le rideau, villandry and chenonceau (3 places i would have been extremely disappointed not to visit). so when it came time to get to the tourist office to meet my driver for the afternoon, i was ready and feeling really happy. and this lovely young man named frédéric comes up--he's (as it turns out) of continental indian descent but adopted by french parents when he was just a teeny baby so yes he's kind of gorgeous with (ok) limpid brown eyes (i'm not kidding) and a terrific, well, million watt smile. and of course i jumped into the seat in front and we started talking as if we'd known each other forever. crazy how quickly a connection can happen. i found out he's a writer--published 6 books, awaiting his 7th to come out this winter, he's a hotelier in senegal--owns a 10 room place on the beach, drives for the touring companies to earn money in the summer months and then heads south to africa to live in his hotel, also owns a couple of apartments in tours, studied law and taught it but decided not to become a lawyer because he prefers writing--he's just fascinating. all this i discovered in the 45 minutes to amboise. once we hit amboise (and i'll tell you, the countryside around here is indescribably beautiful, only a place like this could have been the right cradle for all these amazing castles to grow; the loire river is a national treasure, kept wild and free flowing; there are no dams and it is so exquisite. beautiful rocks and grasses growing everywhere on its banks and on the teeny islands that dot the length of it. i can't do it justice.), this funny parisienne called marie jumped in and the three of us talked the rest of the voyage. we just chattered away in french about all kinds of things. and i tell you my french improved by light years in just a few short hours.
we visited chambord which must be what heaven looks like. seriously. i can't even try to describe how incredibly lovely and overwhelming this castle is. it was built for françois 1er as a HUNTING LODGE! i have to cap it because it's so insane. and more insane? he was there only twice in his life. TWICE!!!!! but the place is divine and you can go up this incredible spiral staircase (designed by leonardo da vinci--he was françois 1er's great friend who because of da vinci was really the guy who brought the renaissance to france) and although the château is essentially empty of things to look at, it is an incredible experience just to wander through room after room (i think there are 400 though you can only go into like 75 of them) and then going up onto the top terrasse and looking up at the chiminées that go up even higher and are so richly decorated. well like i said, heaven. i really hate that i didn't have a camera for this château. i bought postcards which is my default position on remembrances but i would have filled up an entire camera with just shots of the roof. plus the day was just stunning with lots of dangerous clouds skidding across a cerulean sky--it never rained but it threatened a bit--just not at chambord. maybe it's not allowed to rain there.....
then we got back in the van for cheverny which a grand château still owned and inhabited by the same family who's had it for 6 centuries. yep. 6. and it's wonderful because the downstairs 2 levels are open for the public and the family lives on the 3rd floor, but the space you can go through has photos of the family alongside paintings of the marquis from 3 hundred years ago. the walls and ceilings are all completely covered by gorgeous decorative painting and it's just very romantic and beautiful. plus the grounds are lovely and there's an orangérie you can walk to through the gardens. they also do this crazy thing at 5 every day. they are a hunting château and that's played a huge role in all the castles on the loire since most of them weren't really defense properties but more pleasure palaces (hence chambord's role as a hunting lodge) so the marquis still maintains something like 50 hounds and they feed them at 5 daily. so this enormous crowd gathers around the pen full of baying, howling, barking dogs and then the trainer comes out, cracks a huge whip and the dogs come running down to their dinner. what's hysterical is the huge sound and then the complete cessation of noise once they've gotten their dinner.
so after wandering the grounds for a bit and enjoying every moment (the other folks on the tour were delightful--two couples from australia and one from the us--i really had fun with all of them), we got back in the van and headed back into tours. it was such a great drive. marie and frédéric and i just continued talking as though we'd all known each other for ages. and finally i said to him, i want to read something you've written. i know! what temerity! and he said, well i can bring you a copy later tonight. and i said that would be wonderful, around what time? and he said 9:30. so ok! it was on! well, something was anyway.
marie and i had dinner together which was lovely. she's very chatty and it was easy to talk to her. also great for my french! the food was very good and very traditional à la tourraine which was exactly what i wanted. and at some point as the dinner slowly meandered to an end, i mentioned that frédéric had said he'd bring by a book for me. so she very kindly told me to go back to the hotel to see if he'd show up. which was totally unguaranteed. i mean i was hoping but also trying to prepare myself for a teeny bit of disappointment. you know how it is when you travel and you form that connection and you don't want it to end but it's going to have to? that's how it is with frédéric. but he did arrive. pretty promptly at 9:30 and we went to a bar next door to my hotel and we talked for nearly 3 hours.
he's really something. it was overall a great conversation what with all the how do you say's? and the i'm not sure how to explain thises. but we muddled through and it was so delightful. i've got 2 of his books now. he wanted to bring me two because they're so different from each other. one's an epistolary novel written by test message to nicolas sarcozy and the other's autobiographicalish about a young man growing up in brest. so we closed down the bar next door (well at least we closed down the terrace) and when we got to the door of my hotel i said oh you promised to sign the books and he said well we'll do it tomorrow! i said great and was going to give him my phone number which i then realized i'd left charging in my room. but he said he'd just come by much like today i guess. and then we did the bises (two kisses, one on each cheek) and he left and i kind of floated up to my room, sat down and started writing this nearly an hour ago!
so tomorrow i'm having a leisurely day in tours, no châteaux, just the breakfast here in the hotel, then visiting the marché and then i think i'll take the ipod tour of tours! it's a two hour walk and that will fill the day nicely. the sad thing about tuesdays in tours is that loads of museums etc are closed, so my original plan of a free day today would have fit that bill a bit better but i wouldn't trade the day i had today for anything.
well, although i'm still riding high on my day, i'm going to try to go to sleep...well first i'm going to read a bit of frédéric's book so i can tell him what i think when i see him..........
alors bonne nuit (ou bonne journée), mes amis, faites des beaux rêves (sweet dreams) et je vous parlerai plus tard!
je vous embrasse!