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February 26th 2012
Published: February 26th 2012
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We have now moved on to Orleans and say au revoir to Paris until June. We have been staying in accommodation arranged through the website "housetrip.com". This had been a great way to travel so far. Accommodation varies from studio apartments to bedrooms in family homes. The best part is that you get to meet the hosts, who have been incredibly generous and kind people. We have appreciated the chance to get know real people rather than having to deal only with hotel staff. We have enjoyed good conversation, great home cooked food and wonderful hospitality. Our hosts so far have really gone out of their way to help us. They have picked us up and dropped us off at trains stations, given advice about what to see and do and shared their lives with us. We will make some enduring friendships on this trip. Our Paris host, Andre, took us Gare d Austerlitz station, helped us with tickets and insisted on carrying some of our luggage.

The express train to Orleans was a good way to see some of the rural countryside surrounding Paris. There are plenty of green fields, villages and other sights along the way. The journey took about an hour. Christine, our Orleans host, met us at the Gare Fleury Les Aubrais and took us back to her house in central Orleans. The maison is two storeys with some small student accommodation on the property. It is very cozy and comfortable. We settled in quickly before Christine offered to drive us the one kilometre down to the town. She was picking up her daughter, Valentine, from the other station. Valentine is a doctor in Lyon doing the final year of her internship.

The first night in Orleans was memorable for the collapse of the bed we were sleeping on. Chistine thought that a bomb had gone off! The bedroom is upstairs so the sound reverberated through the whole house. Christine called in Christian, her handyman. He came around with tools and sat and chatted with Valentine for about an hour before getting to work on the bed. We thought that was "so French". "So French" has become a source of humour between us all as we joke about the different attitudes Australians and French have to things. Christian is a former soldier and retired private investigator, an interesting character to meet. Later on that second evening, Christine's son's girlfriend, Clementine, came over for dinner. She was a babysitter in England and has really good English, as does everyone in the family. We ate a meal of raclette, which is melted cheese over potatoes and different types of ham. It was great food and great company. Pierre-Louis, Christine's son, was practicing parachute jumping in a massive wind tunnel in Paris that night!

We have walked much of the city of Orleans. The city is on the Loire and the quarters of the town closest to the river are the oldest. The dominant landmark is the imposing cathedral, a massive 600 year old gothic masterpiece with flying buttresses, big square towers, ornate stone carvings and an interior about 10 degrees cooler that the outside, ie about freezing! Many of the houses in the old parts of town are made of timber and daub, painted brightly according to the part of the town. Many were plastered to increase fire resistance but in modern times the plaster is being removed and the restored houses repainted in colours determined by analysing ancient pigments in the timbers. The houses are privately owned but the authorities may instruct the owners to restore the property sometimes at crippling cost.

I have ridden my bike for the first time, along the Loire Valley. It was cold but the scenery is stunning. The river has a strong current passing beneath the beautiful bridges and past the town lock, in which the water is quite a bit higher than the river itself. In the lock are narrow river boats, some with folding masts which allow them to pass under the low bridges. There is a cycle path from Orleans to Nantes some 800 km along the valley to the sea.

On Sunday 26th we caught the train to Le Ferte Saint Aubin' a small town south of Orleans. There we saw lovely old houses made with thin bricks laid in herringbone style between heavy vertical timbers; quite different from Orleans' old buildings. Regional styles can vary over quite short distances. The chateau on the outskirts of the town is in the process of a multi-decade restoration. It has been a private residence for 350 years but most of it fell into serious disrepair over the years. The interior spaces are used to house collections of old furniture, dolls, tools, cooking equipment and other exhibits. There is a working stable with horses and the biggest chickens we have seen.


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