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Published: July 29th 2019
Issy says that we should have a look around Tours, so we set off in our trusty little Golf. I thought she wanted to have a look at the town’s historic centre, but she's set the GPS to take us to an art shop. She says that she gets a bit bored sometimes when I go off on my own when she’d rather rest, so she thought she might stock up on art supplies so she can throw together a few masterpieces while I’m off doing my own thing. We park the car and walk to the art shop. Unfortunately it’s Sunday and the art shop is closed, but at least it was easy to park.
We walk into the historic centre past the very ancient looking Torre de Charlemagne. Tradition has it that the Emperor Charlemagne’s fourth wife died in Tours in 800 AD and was buried on this site, although this has never been verified. The tower itself was part of an ancient basilica and is thought to have been built in the eleventh century. The signs say that the views from the top are excellent. Unfortunately we’re not able to see this for ourselves as it‘s only
open from Monday to Saturday, and today is Sunday. Maybe this is just as well. One of its main claims to fame is that half of it collapsed into the street in 1928. Fortunately no one was injured, as cracks became noticeable before the collapse so nearby residents had time to be evacuated before it fell on them.
We go into the Basilica of Saint Martin who was the first Bishop of Tours. He died here in 397 AD and the Basilica is built on the site of his tomb. We want to visit the tomb, but it’s Sunday and there’s a mass in progress so the tomb is closed.
We wander through some other cute narrow streets and into the main square which is full of restaurants, most of which aren’t open yet, because it’s Sunday.
A street accordionist is playing “Never on Sunday”. We’re starting to see a theme here and decide that coming to Tours on a Sunday probably wasn’t our best ever idea. In any event we’re finding Tours a little underwhelming, so we decide to leave and go to the Chateau de Villandry. We check carefully to make sure that it’s open
The Chateau is near the Cher River and is about 20 kms east of Tours. It's built around the keep of an ancient fortress where King Phillip II of France once met with England’s King Richard the Lionheart for peace talks back in the late 12th century. From what I’ve been able to discover about Anglo-Franco relations from around this time, I suspect that these talks probably didn’t go all that well. It’s good to know however that people bothered with peace talks back in those times; I assumed that they just kept fighting until everyone on one of the sides was dead. The current chateau dates from the 17th century. Napoleon confiscated it from its nobleman owner after the French Revolution and handed it over to his brother. I’d always thought the French Revolution was all about getting rid of the royals and the nobility and getting their wealth into the hands of the peasants. Having the Emperor confiscate a chateau just so he can give it to his brother doesn’t sound like it was too much in keeping with the revolutionary spirit.
There’s a sign on the entrance that says that once you buy
a ticket it is compulsory to stay in the Chateau for a minimum of two hours. I wonder who keeps track of this and what they do to you if you try to sneak out early. It’s a medieval castle, so I’m sure there must be a dungeon here somewhere that they could put to good use. Now that I think about this a bit more I think it’s possible I could have made a mistake when I translated the sign.
The chateau is most famous for its massive and very spectacular formal gardens. Construction of these only started in 1906 when it was bought by a Spanish doctor and his wealthy American wife, who were committed to restoring the “French soul” of the original Renaissance structure. It seems a bit ironic that neither of them were French. It’s still in the family, and the current owner is the couple’s great grandson.
We’ve noticed today as always that whenever French people say “bonjour” to each other they sound like they’re singing. French seems to be very expressive and emotional, and so too do a lot of other southern European languages. We’d noticed the same singing thing on previous
trips when the Spanish say “hola” and the Italians say “bonjourno”. We wonder why English, particularly the Aussie version, is so boring and deadpan. I blame our stuffy English forebears for this lack of emotion in our language. I‘m not sure what sort of reaction you’d get if you said “gidday” to someone you were meeting for the first time in a singsong voice back in Melbourne, but whatever it was I suspect it wouldn’t be good.
We found our way to Villandry using the GPS on Issy’s phone. She tells me that it’s now dead, so we try to get the GPS in the car going. It seems to only speak French. We’re sure there must be a button somewhere that lets you set the language to English, but we can’t find it because the menus are also all in French. We give up on the GPS and decide instead to adopt a pre-technology approach to navigation and follow the river back to Amboise. It’s reassuring to know that the old methods still work.
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