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Exploring a little of the Loire and Bordeaux

Tours, Saumur, Oradour-sur-Glane and Bordeaux. Lots of walking, driving and history.

sunny

Have quite a bit to catch up on. Been too busy either wandering around, enjoying a drink, or just... I don't know, doing other things than sitting in front of a bloody laptop screen. I'm on tour here, people!

Between Orleans and Tours lies the Chateau de Chambord. I really have to make sure I upload a photo eventually, because although it was on my list of things to definitely see and do on this trip, looking at photos on a screen is one thing, seeing it all in real life is another. The building itself was beautiful, but what was found inside was just the icing on the cake. Of course, one or two rooms were going through refurbishment, including what was the King's private chambers, so I didn't get to see how exquisite that may have been. I'm glad I visited before high-season, as though it was busy in April, I have no doubt it was quiet compared to the heaving masses that would visit during the summer.

Would I recommend it? Definitely. Not too expensive and wandering the chateau, and then the gardens, are definitely worth a couple of hours, and the cost of entry. Can't remember what it was, but nothing too obscene.

My drive from the chateau to Tours took me past one of the best sights so far. Purposely missing the autoroute, I travelled the D-roads and was taken along the Loire and eventually through the town of Blois. I could have stopped to take a photo, and although I did stop my car, I simply... looked, printing it into the memory bank. Absolutely magnificent. I honestly don't have the description to describe it. A clear blue sky. Sun shining. River flowing. And an ancient city quietly resting on the other side. That's a memory that I'll take back once all this is over.

Tours was probably the first city I visited where I hadn't done all that much research. Sure, I'd had a look at Wikivoyage and other online sites, but I travelled with the intention of simply wandering around. My little private Airbnb apartment was barely a ten minute walk from one of the main squares, which was absolutely heaving with students drinking when I wandered in that afternoon.

I had three nights in Tours, but only one full day there, as I intended to travel somewhere else the next day. What can I say about Tours? Not as pretty as Orléans but probably a better preserved old quarter, as I enjoyed spending time wandering the narrow streets. The cathedral was grand, as always, though I had to delay my usual wanderings as I turned up just when Sunday mass was about to start! There is also a large basilica on the other side of town, which while a newer building, did not lack for grandeur.

As for nights out, I think Tours had a lot of Irish bars. Maybe I'm exaggerating, but I'm sure I hadn't seen as many in one city up until then. Probably to do with the large student population. Hopes of meeting plenty of English speakers didn't exactly come to fruition, as I did read up that a couple of pubs would be full of English or American students at least, but I didn't have too much luck. That will be a minor problem at times regarding solo travelling, given that I am generally avoiding hostels (mostly.)

My second day saw me hop on a train and head west for around 45 minutes to a smaller town called Saumur. I'll be honest, the only reason I was visiting was to see the Museé des Blindes, which is basically a tank museum. Silly old me decided to just follow the signs to the museum, which led me climbing up quite the hill, though it did lead me past a magnificent chateau that overlooks Saumur. It must have taken me well over an hour to walk to the museum, and after consulting Google maps, I realised I'd probably gone the very, very long way.

As for the museum, I'm still trying to decide if this museum, or the Tank Museum in the UK, is better. The number of German tanks the museum in Saumur has was fantastic. All four variants of Panzer, a Panther, Tiger and even a King Tiger tank! There were plenty of French tanks, as well, plus a couple of rooms dedicated to Cold War weaponry, Soviet and American tanks, before the last couple of rooms had modern era tanks, including British, American and even an Israeli tank. Thankfully each tank also had a description in English, so in addition to a million pictures, I did quite a bit of reading. For anyone interested in military history and weaponry, go!

Leaving Tours, it was time to head south to Bordeaux. But as it was a long drive, I chose to break it up into two parts, intending to stop in a little town along the way.

That little town is called Oradour-sur-Glane.

I'm not going to go into great detail about my visit, and very few photos were taken. If you want to know, just look up the town name and the events of June 10th, 1944. The old town, now ruins, has been left a reminder of atrocities, not just in France, but across Europe during WWII. The one thing I remember is the near silence. People kept quiet. There was no laughter and the new road was far enough away you didn't hear cars. The only sound was of birds chirping. I'd been intending to visit since seeing it mentioned during the documentary series 'The World at War', and I'm glad I did. It probably doesn't have the same impact as Auschwitz, which I have visited previously, but there is something more... personal, I think, about Oradour-sur-Glane. The scale isn't the same at all but... I probably can't explain what I mean, to be honest.

I can say, hand on heart, that Orléans has a challenge after my visit to Bordeaux. What an absolutely gorgeous city! I think the only let down was the fact the Garonne didn't flow blue but it was a rather ugly brown colour. Other than that, can't have too many complaints. My Airbnb hosts were fantastic. Marie knew a little English, Pat not much at all, but they could understand me at least, and we managed to make it work. They provided breakfast each morning too, which was great, where I had some good conversations with a fellow traveller. She knew me as 'the Australian', and I honestly think we never swapped names! She was of French extraction, but had been living in Germany for 25 years, so her English had a heavy German accent, which I found amusing. Anyway, we shared stories of travelling and what we would be doing next.

As for Bordeaux, in addition to all the usual attractions, there was so many English themed pubs! And it was helpful that I heard more English spoken since leaving Bayeux, though I'm always willing to practice my crap French anyway. On my second night, I did meet up with a couple of young French students, shared a couple of drinks and a chat while watching some football, and had some chats with guys behind the bar, particularly about why so many pubs had British names, such as 'The Brixton', Le Frog and Rosbif', and I must suggest visiting this pub as they brew their own stuff, and also 'The Cock and Bull'. I found Bordeaux surprisingly cheap as well, though that may have been helped by the long 'Happy Hour' most pubs had each night

And so ends France: Part 1, as I will be visiting two more times during this epic trip.

Posted by benjamin2981 05:48 Archived in France Tagged history memorial museum cathedral chateau tour drinking bordeaux tanks saumur chateau_chambord military_history oradour Comments (0)

Day 11 / 12 - Orléans, or How I'm now a Jeanne D'Arc devotee

Drove - 124 miles from Le Mans to Orléans via Chartres / 19881 steps (11th) / 16784 steps (12th)

sunny

I’ll admit, Le Mans had been a surprise. First by how pretty it was, but I’d also made some friends, a couple who I’ve already been keeping in touch with. I guess that’s the whole point to solo travel, to meet new people, but considering my French is bloody awful (I can read it better than speak or understand), I’ve been lucky in that I’ve met people who speak decent English.

But after yet only another couple of days, it was time to hit the highway. This time I was heading the closest to Paris I probably will during this trip, hitting the autoroute towards Chartres. Admittedly, I was only going to the city for one thing, to see it’s cathedral. I’m sure those of you still reading this are thinking ‘But Benjamin, you are not religious. Why all the cathedrals?’ Because they’re architecturally stunning and you don’t have to be a devotee to God to understand the symbolism.

I managed to find a spot to park in the only free car park in Chartres then walked up a monster of a hill. After picking up a map from the tourist office, I headed straight for the cathedral. I will now have to compare that one to Le Mans, and there are ever more cathedrals the longer I travel. The one in Chartres is magnificent though, and I can only recommend it. But there is more to Chartres than just the cathedral, and I did spend a couple of hours wandering the streets, grabbed a spot of lunch (a baguette filled with everything, I didn’t even realise!) and completed what I guess was the ‘tourist trail’, taking a few photo’s but generally just appreciating how peaceful it was. I reckon Parisians head to Chartres to get away from the hectic lifestyle of the capital!

Leaving Chartres, I avoided the autoroute that would take me to Orléans, instead sticking to the N or D roads, hoping I’d be provided with some sights on the way. Well, while I did pass through one or two pretty villages, the one word to describe most if it is… flat. Just lots and lots of farmland. And there were a lot, and I mean a lot, of wind turbines. Kind of kills the view…

Then there were the trucks I got stuck behind, and driving a right-hand drive car in Europe can make one slightly apprehensive when trying to pass, as I’m on the wrong side to see past, though I’ve managed well so far. I just don’t take big risks, making sure there is definitely nothing on the horizon before passing.

Thankfully the sat-nav didn’t try to take me around the houses going into Orléans, pretty much taking me through the town and straight to my place. Caterine had messaged that she would be heading off to Paris, but she was still home when I arrived, so at least we got to meet each other. Her English was fantastic, so communicating was a breeze, and she was friendly and very informative about what I could see in the city. We probably spoke for around fifteen minutes before she left for Paris.

That left me a house to myself. I will admit something. The driving does make me tired, as I feel I’m having to concentrate just that little bit more, particularly regarding speed limits, and French drivers love to tailgate (and not just me, I notice it when cars are going in the opposite direction.) There’s more to it than just that, but most days of driving results in me not doing too much that first night. So I headed to the local supermarket, grabbed some food and a couple of beers, and spent the night catching up on things I may have missed. Or, even better, watching things that are geoblocked on Youtube back in the UK!

The next two days were about one simple thing, or one person. Jeanne D’Arc, better known as Joan of Arc to the English speaking world. I don’t think I’ll ever visit a city as devoted to one icon as Orléans is to Jeanne D’Arc.

Streets, shops, café’s, you name it, there is something named after her. And there are numerous statues around the city as well. In addition, there is a festival every May 8th that celebrates her liberation of the city in 1429. Her house (rebuilt after being destroyed in WWII) is probably a site of pilgrimage for some. I found it a little disappointing, as there was only a movie played that showed the story of her life, along with a timeline and one or two other small things. I thought they would have had a recreation of what it might have looked like at the time.

The main cathedral has a shrine devoted to her, considering she is a saint. The stained glass windows along both sides tell her life story in ten stages. There was another church I visited, the Notre Dame des Miracles, which doesn’t look like a church from the outside, but inside, there was more devotion to her. In fact, I think it was slightly more moving than the cathedral.

I think it’s safe to say that Orléans will never forget Jeanne D’Arc!

Other than anything relating to her, I visited my first art museum of the trip. I don’t know art, but I did spend a couple of hours looking at some very pretty paintings. And I don’t know about you, but is contemporary just… I don’t know, weird in comparison? Anyway, there were a couple of rooms that left me staggered, the number of paintings, how large and full of life they were. I remember one in particular, not its name, but I do remember the eyes. It was like they were watching you in return.

Even the streets were beautiful. Walking down the Rue Jeanne D’Arc or the Rue Royale had me stopping to take pictures. I’m sure a lot of it was rebuilt after the war, but I’m fairly sure they’ve done it to match what it must have looked like before.

I even walked through a garden, though only because I found it amusing it was named after Louis Pasteur. Again, out of season as I missed the opportunity to ride a little train that goes around the park. (Joking, as it’s for kids… or am I?)

Finally, one cannot talk of travelling and not mention food and drinking. The happening place is Rue de Bourgogne (Burgundy. I didn’t even attempt to pronounce it the French way and ruin it) though, for scenery, a stop down by the Loire is a must on a sunny afternoon.

Anyway, Rue de Bourgogne is full of pubs, clubs and restaurants, it’s where I spent both evenings. Most pubs and bars had a 3 hour long ‘happy hour’, while I enjoyed a real ‘French’ lunch my first day. Can’t remember the name of the restaurant (and having trouble finding it on Google) but I had a 3 course meal (entreé, plats du jour and dessert) with a pint of beer, for only €22. Didn’t have to eat again that day! And the lady who served me, who suffered through my poor French, while she spoke a little English, was a delight. A real laugh, no doubt at my expense probably!

And so ends my three night/ two day stay in Orléans. Long enough to soak in the culture, see the sights, and enjoy myself. Thing is, if Schengen wasn’t the thorn it can be and is, I would have spent longer and driven around visiting nearby chateau’s, but alas, I have ninety days to cram in as much as I can. Next stop is Tours, where I’ve organised one day to tour the city, and Monday, I have booked a train ticket to visit Saumur, a town around 40 minutes train ride away.

Looking forward to it!

Posted by benjamin2981 08:20 Archived in France Tagged road_trip walking history driving orleans museum cathedral nightlife joan_of_arc airbnb chartres jeanne_darc Comments (0)

Day Eight & Nine, Le Mans - April 8th / 9th 2019

Fougères to Le Mans (7th) – 88 miles / 22169 steps (8th) / 15455 steps (9th)

sunny

I’m not really sure where to begin!

Well, there was little point explaining much for day seven. After enjoying another lively discussion with Remy and Christine at breakfast, it was time to leave Fougères. I had my first experience of trying to find a petrol station on a Sunday, as I didn’t pass one leaving Fougères, so figured I could fill up in Laval before getting on the autoroute towards Le Mans. Although I didn’t come close to even the light coming on, it was something I will have to be aware. Most of my journeys are not longer than a couple of hundred miles to begin with, but I will fill up more often than not before the longer stretches. (Luckily my first really long journey isn’t until after Morocco in May.)

Anyway, finding my Airbnb host in Le Mans was simple enough, my sat-nav not sending me around the houses for once. And I really have lucked in with my hosts so far! Simone is a delight, with a wicked sense of humour. Within a couple of hours of arriving, she asks ‘Would you like a biere?’ Now, bear this in mind, she is a 70 year old woman, who just happens to love hosting people!

So we head off down the road to a local bar, where I’m introduced to some locals, and one guy, Antoine, spoke good English and had just finished his own travels in the USA. Must have spent a good couple of hours (if not longer, to be honest) before we headed back, with another friend in tow, Laura, who is also staying with Simone. I’m then treated to some home-cooked Vietnamese food before heading to bed. Not a bad introduction!

Monday was all about exploring Le Mans itself, leaving the motor racing aspect to the Tuesday. However, one thing I’ve learned rather quickly is that many stores and museums are closed on a Monday in France. The big stores remain open, and the more popular museums likely are too, but I was told by the lady in the tourist office that most in Le Mans would be shut. Still, my first port of call was the cathedral, better known as the Cathédrale St-Julien. The only word to describe it is… Wow! It’s not just the fact it’s bloody enormous, but the inside was a treasure trove of sights too. Seen one or two cathedrals during my travels and have to say the one in Le Mans is certainly one of the better examples.

Le Mans also had a rather well preserved old town, called Cité Plantagenêt. Though you won’t get lost along the narrow streets, the numerous old buildings certainly make you think you’ve gone back in time… until a car almost runs you over anyway. The old town is full of small shops, workshops, bars, cafes and, of course, most of them were closed. Go figure.

Heading down to the River Sarthe, one can also take in the remnants of what was once a Roman wall that surrounded the city long ago. What I did realise is that the old town and cathedral were built on a hill overlooking the river and everywhere else, as climbing back up the stairs towards the old town was a pain in the arse!

As it was a rather pleasant day, in fact probably the best day weather wise since leaving the UK, I hopped on a tram and headed to the outskirts of the city, to the Abbaye Royale de l’Epau. Knew nothing about it except it was an abbey, so paid the €5 entry, received an audioguide as well, and wandered the grounds. It was incredibly peaceful. There were not many visitors and the sounds of the city were left behind. I found myself just sitting down for a few minutes, enjoying the silence. Under-rated, if you ask me.

After the silence, I headed back into the city and sat at one of the many bars lining the Place de la Republique. It was rather warm in the afternoon and the top of my head is now paying for it, as I didn’t have a hat! I enjoyed a petit biere in a couple of the bars before wandering into a rather popular Irish pub called Mulligan’s.

And that’s why I woke up with a stonking headache this morning. I was sat by myself, just watching the TV with a pint, when I was approached by a girl as she heard me speaking English with the barman. I was invited to her table with a few others, and she ended up doing the interpreting, as most of the others could only speak a little anglais, and my francais is… well, probably not as good as their anglais. We must have sunk a couple of beers together in there before heading across the road towards another bar. I think I finally left at around 1 or 2 in the morning, couldn’t find a taxi, so I ended up walking for an hour or so back to my Airbnb.

For my second day, my wonderful host, Simone, had organised what was almost a personal guide to take me to the La Sarthe circuit. Katia was a motor-racing fanatic. Definitely put me to shame. She’d spent a few years living in the USA working in the Indycar series, actually living in Indianapolis itself, so her accent was definitely amusing to someone used to hearing accents of angleterre.

First stop was the La Sarthe museum, where I spent a good ninety minutes or so wandering around, taking too many photos of either very old cars, or very old racing cars. They had replicas of the De Dion Bouton, considered one of the very first automobiles ever made, and the very first Benz ‘motorwagen’. Being Le Mans, most of the cars were either originals or replicas of cars that had one raced the famous old track. We’re talking Bugatti’s, Bentley’s, Jaguar’s, Ferrari’s, Ford GT40s, up to the all-conquering Porsche and Audi teams. I think I took a photo of nearly every car. While I’m sure there are many collections that could rival, the only two I’ve seen that come close would be Donington Museum, which I believe has now closed, and the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart.

Katia then took me on a drive of the track, at least the public road bits, first passing Tertre Rouge, driving the entire length of the Hunaudieres straight, though we had to take roundabouts instead of chicanes, then the section from Mulsanne to Indianapolis and Arnage, before the track becomes ‘private’ and we headed off to lunch near the local karting track.

I’ll be honest, after all that excitement, and a three course lunch for only €12, I was knackered from the night before, and Katia had work to do, so she dropped me off back at Simone’s and I actually had a lie down! I did head back into town for a couple of beers, watched a bit of football (soccer), then headed back again, just in time to meet Simone, Laura and Katia for dinner, as the three knew each other as Katia and Laura had once been Airbnb guests of Simone’s. It was a good laugh, I couldn’t understand a lot of it, but Katia helped translate the important bits.

I’m actually writing this in Orleans, as I left Le Mans earlier this morning, having stopped in Chartres on the way (it was actually quite a detour, but worth it) which I might talk about in my next post.

PS – Maybe I’ve lucked in so far, but if you’re considering it, use Airbnb. My hosts have been sensational so far. Rose-Marie and I had trouble communicating, as my French is admittedly poor, but she was still lovely and very helpful. Christine and Remy were an utter delight, Simone was just awesome, while my current host, Catarine, was very friendly, though she’s had to disappear for a couple of days. Fingers crossed all the rest of my hosts are just as good!

PSS – I think daily updates are a bit much, so will probably just update at the end of each city visit or when I find enough words to describe what I’ve seen and done.

Posted by benjamin2981 11:54 Archived in France Tagged walking museum cathedral drinking old_town le_mans airbnb circuit_de_la_sarthe motor_racing Comments (0)

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