Loire Valley and Nantes

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October 16th 2010
Published: October 16th 2010
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My time in France is coming to an end, in fact, I only have eight days left. I have hired a car for three days to tour through the Loire Valley. However, Caroline has given me instructions that I mustn't see all of the chateaus, but must leave some for a future trip. I comply and decide to leave the jewel in the crown, Chambord. As far as navigating through the Loire Valley, I have my not-so-trusty TomTom which turns out to be absolutely useless (I will replace the battery when I get to the UK).

Wednesday, 22 September, 2010
Francoise drops me off at AVIS outside of Gare St Jean in Bordeax and I then head towards La Rochelle on the peage (toll-motorway). It's about 6.00pm when I arrive in La Rochelle, however I am unable to enter the old town as entry by car is barred. It's a “no car day” and rather than park outside of the old town and walk in, I drive to Rochefort which is around 20 miles away. I get a hotel room and then head to the main square where I treat myself to a dinner of oysters, tournados and crème brulee washed down by white wine. The dinner is excellent, but I, and the other patrons are swarmed by mosquitoes and are continuously doing the Australian wave for the duration of the meal.

Thursday, 23 September, 2010
Today, I'm heading to Isle Olyron an island off La Rochelle, which is renowned for it's birdlife and seafood. The island is full of shrimp farms, oyster boats and generally anything to do with fishing. The shame is, that I am not going to be around at lunch-time, otherwise I would have been tempted to have mussels, oysters and french bread. My Nikon takes the necessary photos and then it is back to the peage for my journey to the Loire.

My rented Peugot hurtles up the peage at between 130-140km and hour and when I reach the Loire, I pay my requisite 16 Euro for the privilege. I'm almost in Azy-le-Rideau which is the first and only chateau that I have on my “castle list”. Strike one, the chateau isn't open, however I am able to walk the grounds and take my photo's and it does have beautiful grounds.

OK, where to next? I choose Chateau Chenonceau which was built in the 16th century. This is definitely one of the must-sees of the Loire and seems to be famous for it's ladies, Diane of Potiers, Catherine de Medeci and the luckless Queen Mary Stuart of Scotland.

It's now around 7.30pm and I decide to drive to Loches. Why? Who knows! I'm not disappointed and I arrive in Loches around 8.30pm; I check in to a hotel in the city and immediately head out for a drink and food. On my return, I switch on the light in my third floor room and find that I have company. There's a bat and the damn thing is flying around my bedroom. I have visions of Dracula (The George Hamilton Version) and immediately open the window to try and get rid of it. I'm ducking, weaving and swinging a towel, but I finally convince it to leave by the window and find some other neck to suck on.

Friday, 24 September, 2010
Up early again, I skip breakfast so that I can explore the Royal City of Loches. I't's a walled city and houses the Donjon and the Royal Lodge. The Royal Lodge is the palace that Joan of Arc met the Dauphin for the second time and convinced him to reach Paris where he would be crowned King. It would seem that prophetesses were two a penny at this time, so it took a lot of persuading for Charles to even meet with her once, never mind having a second or third meeting. But, after she took command of the army and gave the English a bit of a hammering at Orleans, she was definately due a second meeting. Joan should have stopped there, because it was her fate to be burned at the stake.

The Donjon is imposing and is one of those castles that changed hands a couple of times between the English and French. John Lackland, youngest son of Henry II of England gave the castle to Phillip of France in 1193, Richard the Lionheart took it back after a three hour siege in 1194, but Phillip took it back again after a 12 month siege in 1205. An English, French game of ping-pong. Since then, it has featured in numerous tortures and had many famous prisoners. Finally, in the early 1800's it was to become a state prison and closed down in 1926.

It's time to leave Loches and drive about 45 minutes to the town of Chinon. Again, a castle on a hill and the residence of none other than England's very own Henry II. For those that remember the movie, A Lion in Winter, I believe that Chinon would have been the setting. Henry kept Eleanor of Aquitaine prisoner at Chinon for around 16years. He was definitely an ex-pat and spent as much time in France as England. It is also the castle in which Charles met Joan of Arc the first time and where she convinced him that she should command his army.

Saturday, 25 September, 2010
On the road again, I drive down the left hand side of the Loire River towards Nantes passing numerous chateaus along the way. The cliff-side above the river is riddled with troglodyte caves, cut by stone masons and now being used for mushroom growing or as wine stores.

Finally, at around 10.30am, I cross over the river and head for the peage so that I can reach Nantes in time to be met by Dominique, Claire and two of their three children. Their house is a converted discotheque in Nantes and only four tram stops from the center. A tram runs every 5 minutes from the end of the street, so it is very easy to get in and explore the city.

In the afternoon, we drive to a town around 1 hour from Nantes to see their son Tristan playing in a Rugby Tournament. Tristan's team places a very respectable third out of sixteen teams.

I join the family for dinner and then head off to bed early with my book.

Sunday, 26 September, 2010
Dominique and Claire suggest that we go to Le Croisic, a village around 75 minutes from Nantes and on the coast near St Nazaire. After our walk through the town we stop for lunch in a creperie for a typical Britagne meal of savoury crepe (gaullette) and a bottle of cidre. After lunch, we drive through the salt pans which are close to town. It seems there has been a big resurgence in specialty salts and it is now economically viable to extract the salt.

Monday, 27 September, 2010
I purchase a ten tram tickets and catch the tram into the center of Nantes with the intention of seeing the chateau. Unfortunately, the chateau is closed, but I'm able to walk the ramparts and take photographs, and then take a stroll through the old town to the cathedral. The cathedral is being cleaned and the front is sparkling white, while the back is a victim to pollution and the elements. After the cathedral, I walk by the river to Gare Maritime and catch the ferry to a village which is across the river. This place was the home to many of the french fishermen that fished the banks off New Foundland. It's lunch-time, so I have a three course meal which I accompany with a bottle of wine, I'm now pretty useless, so I catch the tram back to the house of Dominique and Claire and relax for the evening..

Tuesday, 28 September, 2010
Dominique has gone to work, but left me the keys to the Volvo, my plan is to visit St Malo and Mont St Michael. It's a 2 ½ hour drive to the North Coast of Brittany. On arrival, I find the old walled town that is next to the harbor. Later that evening, I am told that the town is not original as the town was
Mont St MichaelMont St MichaelMont St Michael

With Dennis and Sue
destroyed in World War II, however it was re-built post-war to its original plan. The buildings seem to be all grey granite and to be truthful, I think that it would be a dark cold place to live in winter.

After St Malo, I follow the coast that is littered with oyster, mussels and shellfish vendors. I make up my mind up that I will return the same way and have dinner. Anyway, I am on my way to Mont St Michael. Myself and Caroline had I visited the sister-one on the Cornish Coast in England 25 years earlier. I'm told later that St Michael is the second most visited monument in France after the Eiffel Tower. It's busy and the end of September, I wouldn't want to be here in August, I pay my entrance fee to the abbey at the very top and am lucky enough to get to watch and listen to a choir rehearsing.

I saw lots of restaurants on my way to Mont St Michael, but unfortunately for me they weren't open when I traveled back along the coast at 6.30pm. My dinner is in a little village just off the motorway on my way back to Nantes. Unfortunately for me, the food is pretty average.

Wednesday, 29 September, 2010
Nantes has a recent history of amazing street theater that revolves around giant machines. The first I saw was on YouTube when Ed Ackman sent me a URL. The video starred a Giant and an Elephant. It's well worth a look if you do a search. Anyway, today I an off to the Isle de Machines to ride on the elephant. It stands approximately six meters high and holds around 30 people. The Elephant is fantastic and the workshop that created and built the elephant has also made other machines that include a giant squid and a deep sea fish.

After the Elephant, I'm off to see a movie, I have found out that the French Cinemas show most Hollywood movies as Version Original (VO). This means that they are in English with French sub titles, however if it's a French film then its French..... It has only taken me three months to find this out. I see “The Town” starring Ben Afleck.

Thursday, 30 September, 2010
Again it is Nantes, so I catch the tram and walk through the food market and the old quarter. I am then ready to visit Nantes Castle. The castle museum takes you through the evolution of Nantes. To present day The city was initially a walled city dominated by the Chateau, however over time the walls were pulled down and eventually the city expanded out beyond the original walled area. What particularly interests me is that Nantes was a major port that prospered in the 1700's because of the slave trade. And during the French Revolution barges in the river were used to drown supporters of the King, this period is known as The Terror”

In the evening Dominique and Claire take me out to one of Nantes best restaurants, La Cigale. Dominique suggests that I have Steak Tartare for a main course, I follow his advice and find it to be absolutely fantastic, my starter was crab ravioli and I finish with my all time favorite, crème brulee all washed down by a very nice red wine. After dinner, Claire goes home and a friend of Dominiqe joins us , we go to the island for drinks. This is worth mentioning as there is an old warehouse that has been converted into nightclubs and bars, so you just pick the type of music you want to listen to and buy a very reasonably priced beer (3E), no entrance fee. And each bar/club is well frequented.

Friday, 1 October, 2010
I'm up early for my flight to Leeds, I say my goodbye's to Dominique, Claire, Tristan, Enora, and Marion. .Dominique drops me at the airport and I catch my RyanAir flight.

Thank you all for a great week in Nantes.

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16th October 2010

Must be almost time you headed home kevin!
16th October 2010

Hi from NZ
Hi Kevin, it was great seeing you in York, only a pity that is was for such a short time. As per the title I am safely back at Okiato and yesterday was sunbathing weather .... yeah! Today it's cloud and rain and warm woolies .... nah! Take care in India and beware the masage gurus!

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