Dinan

Another of our favorite places is Dinan, in the northern part of Brittany. We came here two years ago and just loved it. Dinan is a medieval city, with walls and towers and many buildings looking just as they did 600-800 years ago, when they were built (the recorded history of one building goes back to 1224!). We returned this year and were not disappointed; in fact, we enjoyed this visit more. We did a couple new things, walked to a beautiful nearby town and, as before, just enjoyed being in this place.

Around Dinan

Dinan is a pretty interesting place to just stroll about. It has many buildings that have been here for hundreds of years.

 

A main street in Dinan.

 
 

Another old building.

Gotta love a door like this…

Look outside long enough and you’ll see all kinds of interesting things.

Early in the morning. A couple people setting up tables and a street-cleaner doing his thing. And he did it well: the streets he cleaned – by hand – were immaculate by 8 a.m.

Walking the Walls of Dinan

Dinan has been here a long time, and has the walls to prove it.

One of several remaining towers in Dinan’s walls.

One of four gates through the walls of Dinan.
Another gate in Dinan’s walls.

You have to give this bush credit for making a go of it.

But the walls were always places of solitude.

Our River Cruise

We read of a boat that daily comes from St. Malo up the Rance River to Dinan and thought that would be a cool thing to do. Maybe so, but it was also complicated, requiring taking a train to St. Malo early enough to get the boat, and there are no direct trains; figuring out the schedule which changes depending on tides at St. Malo (which is on the Atlantic coast); and then finding out that there wasn’t even a boat scheduled for two of the three days we were in Dinan. So we walked down to the port where the boat arrived to see if we could get some more information and found  a one-hour boat ride on the Rance from the port, four times a day. Sign us up! We had a great boat “cruise” on the Rance.

The port of Dinan, on the Rance River. That’s what I call a bridge!

Here’s our cruise boat. This is probably as close to a cruise as we’ll ever get.

A closer view of the bridge.

 

The view from our seats on the river cruise from the port of Dinan.

 

There has been a bridge at this spot, in the neighboring town of Lèhon, for a thousand years; this exact bridge has been here about 600 of those years.

We even got to go through a lock on our river cruise.

And we saw this abbaye, which inspired a visit to it the next day.

That was our first morning in Dinan, and I’m not sure we could have found a better way to spend it. Tomorrow I’ll post about our visit to Lehon, where we saw the abbaye.

Posted in Rambles | 1 Comment

La Rochelle

This is the fifth time we’ve visited La Rochelle and it confirmed for us that this place is one of our favorite places in the world (except maybe that first night: ). La Rochelle is quite a historic city, with many buildings from the 1600s and 1700s still in place. (For more on La Rochelle, check this post from previous trips: 2016 -1, 2016-2, 2015, 2013). For this post, I’m mostly just going to present some pictures.

We even get beautiful sunsets! This is from the balcony of our room.

Our hotel in La Rochelle is about a mile west of the city center, which means we get some exercise walking into town. Over the stays here, we have done this walk many times and we still enjoy every step. Here’s the walk as we see it going into town.

Getting closer…

That pointy building is called the Lantern. Built in the 1600s, today no one knows its original purpose.

Looking back (westward) from the same location.

Closer…

This is next to the only sandy beach on this side of La Rochelle. It’s also next to a Michelin 2-star restaurant, but with the set menu at $180 per person (wine not included), we haven’t visited there yet.

Across a dam and canal ordered to be built by Eleanor of Acquitaine (an amazing woman: queen of France, then queen of England).

Closer…

La Rochelle is full of sailing schools. We would see hundreds of boats from the schools going out into the bay.

The towers that flank the entrance to the main harbor, and have done so since the 1400s.

Finally, the entrance into the harbor area.

Made it! Along the right are the many boats that sail to islands in the area, or sail out on tourist excursions.

Buildings of La Rochelle

Nice clock tower, eh?

La Rochelle has many streets like this one. It’s not that La Rochelle has been restored; it has been maintained over hundreds of years, so it looks as it did in the 1600s (except for neon signs and cars).

Many of the stores on the several main streets in La Rochelle still have old signs over them.

That’s a quick look at La Rochelle, 2018 version. It still is one of our favorite places in the world.

Posted in Rambles | 3 Comments

La Rochelle Part 1: Fine Gourmet Dining

This is our fifth stay in La Rochelle. One thing we realized almost immediately on our first stay is that La Rochelle is devoted to seafood. It’s on the Atlantic, and has a long history of being a home for a large fleet of fishing boats, and a center of shellfish farmers, first and foremost being mussels, in French: moules. I was not a great fan of mussels before I arrived in La Rochelle; now, I’ll have them just about every chance I get.

And we have found a favorite place for moules. This is fine dining at its best. Situated right on the water is Le P’tit Bleu, and we love this place. We ate dinner twice here this trip, and probably would have a third time, but we know a lovely small restaurant that we always go to for dinner the last night we’re here.

C’mon, what’s not to like about a fancy place like this?

The “dining room.” It sits right on the harbor.

The view from our table, of all the other seafood restaurants on the harbor.

Moules. They put a bunch in aluminum wrapper, with some amazing seasonings, and grill them. They arrive so hot we have to wait a few minutes to start the feast.

The menu is limited – things that can be done up on a grill: moules, grilled sardines, grilled calamari (we share an order of this, with our moules, and it is also fabulous), oysters, etc. No frites, though, as they have no place to fry them. In fact, they won’t allow a customer to bring frites from one of the nearby frites stands to the dining area, as they want to keep the gulls away and frites will draw them like flies.

As for value, each order of moules, and that’s a lot of moules, is 6.95€ – about $8. A similar-sized portion, though with frites, at restaurants right across the street, is 14.50€. And you can’t sit right on the water there. We get a nice bottle of Muscadet and a couple large rolls that we use to soak up the broth from the moules; that’s a tasty fill-us-up meal for about $40. Love it!

Any wonder why we keep coming back to this crazy place? Honestly, we’ve been looking forward to moules at Le P’tit Bleu for two years!

Posted in Ambles | Leave a comment

Just Another Adventure…

We had an…um…”interesting” day of travel yesterday. More than once we fell back on the “when something goes wrong” philosophy of our friends Marv and Becky who, when they encounter something crazy, say, “Someday we’ll look back on this and laugh, so we might as well laugh about it now.” Wise words…

Driving to La Rochelle

Off we went, only a few minutes later than planned. Now, we knew we would be traveling on toll roads and we knew what the tolls would be at each of the three toll booths. We also knew that our fancy-schmancy, chip-equipped Alaska Airlines Visa card would not work at the toll booths, so we had cash.  (I should point out that it is difficult for us newbies as we approach the toll-booth lanes to tell which lane takes cash, and there might be a lane with a person to take our non-automatic card, but you can’t tell which lane, if any, that person is in until you’re committed to another lane.) First toll booth, no problem. Second toll booth, I inadvertently entered a lane that took credit cards only. Merde! I knew this was going to be a problem. But I pulled out my wallet and grabbed my Boeing Employees Credit Union fancy-schmancy, chip-equipped Visa card and…it worked! This is a big deal to have a working card for the tolls and we were quite happy about it.

Half an hour later we went through the place where drivers pick up a ticket to start the next toll portion. No problem. An hour or so later, we left the autoroute so had to pay our toll. We roll up to the booth, confident because I’ve got a working card (and cash as a backup). I insert my toll ticket and the machine spits it out. Merde! Tried again. Same thing. Again, same thing: says it can’t read my ticket. Now we had this happen to us a few years ago so I knew what to do: push the red Help! button and talk to the voice at the other end.

“Bonjour,” says the voice. “Bonjour,” says I (remember, every transaction in France starts with bonjour). “J’ai un problem. Est-ce vous parlez Anglais?” “Oui, a little.” I explain that the machine rejects my card and she says, as I expected, “Read me the last five numbers printed on your ticket.” (When you get the ticket as you come into the toll road, it prints on it a big long number that records where and when you entered, so they can tell how far you’ve driven, hence, what you have to pay.) I look at the ticket, and there are no numbers printed on. I tell her, “There are no numbers,” and get the response, “What do you mean there are no numbers?” I explain and she asks, “Where did you get on the autoroute?” The booths are all named and she thought I would just happen to remember the name of the place where I’d gotten the faulty ticket. Right. Fortunately, after failing to remember that little bit of esoterica, I say, “It was south of Tours.” “Oh, okay,” and the machine flashes the correct toll (19.30€, about $22), and she says, “Now you can insert your card., Au revoir,” and signs off. Phew.

Not so fast. At that moment, a window in the ticket-taking, toll-paying machine opens and a very nice employee asks if we’re having a problem. I explain it to him, he looks at the ticket, points to a blank spot on it and says there should be numbers printed there. “No numbers,” I say. “No, no numbers. It happens,” he responds, takes the ticket and disappears. I then insert my credit card to pay.

Not so fast. Evidently, as I talked to the now-gone employee, the machine has timed out, and now it will not let me even insert the card or a 20€ bill. If there hadn’t been a solid gate down in front of the car, I would have just left without paying. I push the red Help! button again, get another person, and explain to him the problem. He, of course, says, “Read me the number on your ticket,” to which I reply, with just a little exasperation in my voice, “I don’t have the ticket because an employee took it and, anyway, if I had the ticket, there were no numbers on it.” “What do you mean, no numbers?” “We got on the autoroute south of Tours, and the toll is 19.30€,” said I. “Okay…” That amount appears on the machine, I put the card in, it works, the gate goes up and off we go.

It seemed like two hours, but in fact was probably ten minutes (to do something that should take ten seconds). The entire time we had a huge truck behind us and that must have been the most patient truck driver in the world, as not once did he honk or yell at us. I will say one thing, though, that shows we’ve become reasonably comfortable here: over the entire time, with one thing after another going wrong, we never panicked, thinking we’d be at the toll booth for days or that someone would come and arrest us for toll-road fraud; never got angry; never got frustrated. We just kept thinking, “We’ll get through this somehow,” and we did. Laugh we did not.

Always an adventure…

But wait, the day’s adventures are not over…

In La Rochelle we stay at a lovely hotel with a beautiful view of the water. One room is on the corner of the top floor and has an almost 180 view of the harbor. We lucked into staying in this room the first time we came here and have asked for it every time since. We were so pleased to again be in this room. But…an adventure lurked.

We love La Rochelle, and after we arrived, we took a nap, had some wine, walked into town, had dinner at our favorite “colorful” restaurant (more on that in a later post) and walked back to the hotel.

At 10 o’clock we were sitting on the balcony outside our room, enjoying a beautiful sunset on a warm evening and a lovely glass of wine when the automatic shades that cover the door from the room to the balcony started to close. I didn’t realize what was happening for a second and when I did realize, my old brain did some remarkable feats of thinking and I immediately realized that if those shades closed completely, we would be sitting on a balcony on the sixth floor with no way to open the shades and get back into the room! I jumped up and grabbed the shades and got it to stop about a foot above the ground. Then I crawled inside and tried to use the switch that raises and lowers the shades to get them back up. They went up about a foot and stopped.

So in this beautiful room, where we always leave the shades and windows up and open all night so we have fresh air and the sound of the waves, we have a shade with about two feet of opening.

I call the front desk, start to explain the situation and get the response, “I don’t speak English.” So I go down there, with Google Translate in hand. He comes up to the room, fiddls around and leaves, saying, “Ne marche pas.” Yes, that’s right, it wasn’t marching at all. C’est en panne: broken. So we prop the shades up as much as we could with a chair, open the door to the room to get some ventilation (the hotel might be a 3-star, but air-conditioning? Pas de climatesée). A night of miserable sleep followed.

Our sophisticated “fix” to allow some air into our room.

Laurie “stepping” out onto the balcony to enjoy the view.

This morning I went to the manager, who came up to the room and checked things over. She found that the master switch to power in the room was messed up a bit, and when she fixed it, the shades went up. So all we lost was one night of sleep. That’s all. Nothing more. Grrrrrrr.

When I pointed out to her that we had no way of knowing that the shades were going to automatically close at 10 pm (I didn’t even address why they would be set to do that), she said that when we checked in, the receptionist should have told us. “No, no one said anything to us about that.” She responded, “That’s not normal.” No, I guessed that being stuck on the balcony was not normal. I suspect someone got a talking-to soon thereafter.

Today looks cooler than yesterday, good for a long walk. We might walk off some frustration while we’re at at. Update: it just started to rain.

Update: there is actually a kind-of-logical explanation for what happened, which I will share with any fool who wants to hear it. The important bits are that someone should have explained to us that the shades are connected to the master switch (they didn’t), that they will close at 10 pm if the room key isn’t in the master switch (it wasn’t) and that when the card is put into the master switch, the shades should be controllable by the shade switch (they weren’t).

Posted in Ambles | Comments Off on Just Another Adventure…

Musée Nissim de Comando

As promised, yesterday we went to the Musée Nissim de Comando, one of our favorites. First, a little background on this gem.

Möise de Comando, born in 1860 in Istanbul into a wealthy Jewish banking family, moved with the family bank to Paris in the early 1900s. He became a passonate collector of furniture and art of the late 1700s; he believed that era was the most refined in history. Given his wealth and passion, he was able to build the finest collection of art and furniture of the 1700s in the world. In 1911 he decided to tear down the mansion in which he lived near Parc Monceau (this area was then one of the priciest in Paris and and remains so), and build a 1700s style house so he could live in, use and display his collection. When he died in 1935, he willed the house and collection to Paris; it is named after his son, killed in World War I.

Laurie and I love to visit places that have rooms restored or maintained in period style (any period, really). Musée Nissim de Comando is the apex of this type of museum; built in the 1900s and maintained since, it is essentially a perfect representation of the house of a wealthy family from the late 1700s. This was our second visit and we appreciated it more this time. I think last time we were gobsmacked by the place; this time we were able to absorb it better.

Here’s the house, from its courtyard. I could guess the house has about 12-15,000 sq ft, not including servants’ quarters. The house had between 10 and 15 full-time servants at any given time.

Rooms

Without further ado, some pictures of the rooms of this mansion.

The dining room:

The Sitting Room:

My favorite room: Moïse’s study/workroom. It even had a day-bed, for those days when a nap would be nice…(every day, in my opinion):

One view of the Library. The windows look out on a beautiful garden and, beyond the garden, Parc Monceau.

Comando had purchased these walls before the house was designed and wanted to use them in the library. Hence, the height and design of the floor was dictated by the walls he already owned.

A room in which guests were received:

The main Living Room:

The living room, above, has more furniture and objects d’art in it than when de Comando lived here, to show his collection better. Most of the other rooms are as when the family was here.

Laurie got some ideas for a bathroom remodel.

Details

As if the rooms and the furniture weren’t enough, here are some pictures of the details in the house which were, of course, perfect everywhere.



Doesn’t everybody have an elevator in their house?

Someone had to feed those folks…

Kitchen remodeling ideas for Laurie.

Now, it would be nice to say that Moïse de Comando lived happily every-after in this house of his dreams, but no. In his early 40s, he married a much younger woman and had two children. She then left him for an Italian count. Moïse was completely devoted to his two children and when his son was killed in World War I, he pretty much withdrew from the world. His brother, who had run the family bank, died, and Moïse, having no desire or need to run the bank, closed it down. He continued his collecting and particiated in several organizations devoted to collecting and books. He died in 1935, which may have been for the best, because in 1941 his daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren were deported to Auchwitz, where they died. Today, the de Comando family line no longer exists.

But this beautiful house stands as a monument to Moïse de Comando’s passion (and his financial ability to indulge that passion). We think this is the best of the “small, specialized” museums in Paris, we will certainly visit it again, and we honor Moïse de Comando for what he collected and built.

Posted in Paris | Comments Off on Musée Nissim de Comando

Culture Day!

We came into Paris yesterday for a couple reasons: 1.) an exhibit titled “Impressionists in London” at Petit Palais; 2.)  a planned return visit to Musée Nissim de Comando; and 3.) why wouldn’t we go to Paris if we have the chance? Today we went to the exhibit, and though I took no pictures, here’s a brief report:

It was great. Glad we went.

Laurie says I have to provide a little more detail. Ok, ok. Many of the Impressionists spent time in London, particularly around the 1870 – 1875 time frame, when Paris was a mess (Prussian invasion and the Paris Commune had roiled life in the region). This exhibition displayed paintings from the well-known Impressionists (Monet, Sisley, Pisarro) as well as many others who were part of that crowd:  Tissot, Daubigny, Dalou among them.

We loved the known Impressionists, of course,  and found a new favorite: James Tissot (born Jean-Jaques). Born in France, but evidently an almost-lifelong Anglophile, he moved to England after fighting in the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian war, and lived there until 1882 or 1883, when he returned to France following the death of his love Kathleen Newton. Before moving to England he studied painting in several French studios and learned the ways of Impressionism. While in England he painted scenes from English society and gained great renown (and income). We loved his paintings of this time; they reminded me of Auguste Renoir’s later paintings – Luncheon of the Boating Party, Dance in the City, Dance in the Country, Dance at Bougival. He will definitely get some attention from us. Here are a couple of our favorite paintings in the exhibit:

File:James Tissot - Too Early.jpg

I gotta say, we love this about Paris (and other big cities): there is always something cool going on, no matter what your interests are.

Tomorrow: Musée Nissim de Comando.

 

Posted in Ambles, Culture | 1 Comment

Moret-sur-Loing

In 2013, when we were planning for our first long-stay here, I read about towns around our 2013 homebase in Montigny-sur-Loing. The town of Moret-sur-Loing looked interesting, especially when I read that Alfred Sisley, long one of our favorite Impressionist painters, lived here, died here and is buried in the local cemetery. So we made an early trip to Moret, fell in love with it, have visited it many times since, and love it more every time we’re there. This morning, we made yet another visit, so I want to post a lot of pictures of our visit. In a country of beautiful and interesting small towns, this is our favorite. This post will be mostly pictures; hope that’s okay.

Does it get anymore beautiful? Any questions why Moret is our favorite place in this area and probably our favorite small town in the world?

Just beautiful…

This building was built by a wood carver. No surprise, eh? Built in the 1600s.

A close-up of the door.

A Renaissance building on the main street. See the plaque under the left window?

The plaque says that on the night of March 19, 1815, Napoleon slept here as he traveled to Paris after leaving his first exile on the island of Elba. Now, “Napoleon slept here” is similar to our “George Washington slept here” (if either of them actually slept in every place that claims that, they would both have lived to be 300 years old), but I think this one is fairly well documented.

Flowers…always beautiful flowers.

Alfred Sisley

Alfred Sisly painted some 500 pictures in Moret-sur-Loing and the surrounding area. In Moret and the surrounding towns there are plaques showing a picture he painted from that place. Here’s an example;

A plaque showing a painting by Alfred Sisley, one of the original (and, in our humble opinion, one of the best) Impressionists.

The view today from where Sisley set up his easel.

Pretty cool, eh?

Laurie and I have taken to visiting the graves of people we admire, so of course, we visited Sisley’s grave. Nice to tell him in person that we love his paintings.

Alfred Sisley’s grave. I know it looks odd, but after spending much of his life here and painting in the Forest of Fontainebleau, he asked that a stone from that forest be placed on his grave. Done.

Alfred Sisley’s grave. The quote says,” Objects must be enveloped in light as they are in nature.” There’s not a better definition of Impressionism.

It amazes us to think that Sisley’s paintings sold for the equivalent of a few hundred dollars in his time. Now? Sell your house for a small one.

L’Eglise Notre Dame

Moret’s church fascinates us. It is gothic, built in the late-twelfth century. Where many churches of that time are gone, or have been added to and changed, or over-restored, L’Eglise de Notre Dame just is. Not much changed, except for a few modifications to keep it standing, it shows what churches of that time looked like. We find it lovely.

An unrestored Gothic church. We find this church to be one of our favorites because it is so original and not gussied up.

And for our organ-playing friend, Margaret:

…a Renaissance organ. It stopped working in 1832, was restored in 2002. We will attend a concert on Aug 15 at which it will be played.

Some sights from the “back streets” of Moret:

A back street of Moret.

Don’t know…

The plaque below says “1638 Sucre d’Orge des Religeuses de Moret.” It was in this building that nuns created the barley-sugar candy for which Moret is famous (sort of). They invented it in 1638!

I know you can’t read this…

Another building by the wood carver seen before.

As I took the previous picture, this painter working next door motioned to take his picture, too. So I did. Don’t talk to me about the unfriendly French; we haven’t found any.

An old sign of a shop here. As we looked at it, a car pulled up, a young man jumped out and told us the sign was from a long-closed store that made wood furniture, and showed us how the shutters would have opened to display the products. Another unfriendly French person. Later we saw him ride by on a electric scooter; he gave us a friendly wave.

Just a couple more pictures…

During the flood of 2016, the water level reached the roof of the structure on the left.

This was July 14, Bastille Day – the equivalent of our 4th of July. As with our Independence Day, lots of picque-niques.

That’s Moret-sur-Loing. We will be back here, many times, I suspect. It’s a lovely small town, not overrun with tourists, though more people should come to see it. This is France at its best.

Posted in Ambles | Leave a comment

A “Cruise” on the Loing River

A great benefit of staying here for a longer time is that we can do things that we wouldn’t do if we were here for three or four weeks. Today is an example of that. In 2013 we stayed in the small town of Montigny-sur-Loing for five months; Montigny is about twenty-five minutes south of our current homebase in Samoise-sur-Seine. While there, we walked miles along the Loing Canal, which connects the Seine with another canal 45 miles south. Today, we got to float down it!

The Loing Canal is built to what are called the Freycinet specifications. These specifications, developed when Charles Louis de Freycinet was Minister of the Interior, were instituted in 1879. They called for the locks of a canal to be 40 meters long and 5.2 meters wide; as a result, boats were built to this standard and, as canals were converted to it, could travel through any Freycinet canal.

The problem now is that the Freycinet canals are too small for profitable commercial transport. A Freycinet péniche (barge) can be 39 meters long; we regularly see transports on the Seine that are double that and have seen a few that are 110 meters long (360 ft). Now the Freycinet canals, including the Loing, are used almost exclusively for pleasure boats.

Last Saturday we learned that there is a 90-minute boat ride on the Loing Canal, leaving not far from Montigny-sur-Loing, so today, we put on our nautical clothes and went along.

Our boat for the morning: the Zia.

Right off the dock: the Fromonville bridge. Originally it was a stone bridge (built around 1880) which was destroyed in 1940 in a futile attempt to slow the German army advance. The Eiffel Company designed and built this replacement post-war. Gotta say that I love iron bridges.

Can you see why we liked walking the canal in 2013? Calm, peaceful and beautiful. We walked probably 15 miles of this canal, a few miles at a time, repeating many sections.

A Freycinet lock. This is now unused, but you can see how narrow it is. Our boat was about 1.5 feet narrower than the lock. Going out, the captain skillfully guided the boat through the lock without touching either side. Coming back, he didn’t do quite so well…

When the Loing Canal was active, an important cargo was sand; but not just any sand. Sand from this area is said to be among the purest in the wold: 99.9% silica. It has been used by the Murano glassmakers (Venice) for hundreds of years, and now is in demand worldwide for telescope glass.

Some houses along the river as we approached Nemours. River life looks nice, doesn’t it, except that in 2016 the water level along here rose about 15 ft from what you see, in the worst flood since 1910 and the third-worst in history. All these houses would have had water four or five feet deep on their main floors. Not so nice.

The river bank in Nemours. We walked along this beautiful promenade in 2013, so it was fun to see it from the river.

Another iron bridge, this time a pedestrian bridge.

On the way back, the City Hall at Fromonville. Once the local chateau, it was given to the town of Fromonville-Moncourt, which has a population of about 2,000. I think all of them could fit in the City Hall.

Back at the dock, our “shipmates” depart. You might notice a high proportion of gray-haired folks. It appeared that a local retirement home had an outing, as everyone knew everyone else, except us, the only non-French-speakers on board. However, we were given an excellent English (well, kind of English) written guide to the trip. We took the morning trip and early in the afternoon, we drove by the dock after visiting a local town and saw that, under a big tent, was another group of folks “of a certain age” as the French say (incudes us now), having lunch before boarding for the afternoon trip. Someone is doing a good job of marketing!

I gotta say, this was a totally fun thing to do. The Loing Canal was a big part of our stay here in 2013, and to float up and down it for 90 minutes was a great pleasure.

Posted in Ambles | 1 Comment

The Loire Valley Ramble: Three Chateaux

Last week we went back to the Loire Valley, a two-and-a-half hour drive south of Samois-sur-Seine, our current homebase. The Loire is famous for its many chateaux – some estimates put the number at somewhere around 3,000, for the Loire Valley alone. We visited three quite different chateaux this week, and the three illustrate different types of chateaux, and the challenges that the privately owned chateaux face.

The first chateau we visited was Villesavin. Villesavin represents many chateaux and their challenges. Privately owned, without a glorious history of ownership or visits from kings and queens, it has little access to state funding to maintain and restore it. As a result, this beautiful renaissance chateau has to rely on the funds generated by visitors, with some small assistance from the state. But also because Villesavin hasn’t the illustrious history, it is not high on the visit list of tourists. But visit it we did and we loved it.

The second chateau has all the advantages Villesavin lacks: Chateau Amboise was originally a fortress, then modified heavily by Francois I, was the home of Henri II, Charles VIII, Henry III and Henri IV. It is spectacularly sited where tourists can easily reach it. As a result, it gets lots of funding from France and lots of income from tourists. Note we loved Chateau Amboise, too.

The third chateau, Azay-le-Rideau, falls into a different category: though it hasn’t a royal history, it is the most beautiful Renaissance chateau in the world (our humble opinion) and because it was given to France in 1905, it has been maintained and restored ever since, so its condition can only be described as near-perfect. Azay-le-Rideau is our favorite.

Villesavin

Villesavin was built in the 16th century by Jean le Breton who was, purely by coincidence, King François 1st’s Secretary of Finance. Le Breton was also in charge of obtaining material for the king’s over-the-top Chateau Chambord, which was nearby. Might one think that maybe some funding and some materials were diverted to Villesavin? Just wondering…

Built in the 16th century means built in Renaissance style. By this time, the king was firmly in charge and the aristocracy fairly stable, which meant there was no need for the chateau to have a defensive role.The pictures show the pure Renaissance style of Villesavin. A closer look shows that the chateau is just tired – there has not been the necessary funds over its 400-year life to maintain it. A large restoration project was carried out fifty years ago, but we can only guess how much it would cost to bring a place like this back to its original condition. Because Villesavin is still privately owned, there is just not enough money to restore it.

And yet, we loved it. Many chateaux have been restored to better condition than they were when people actually lived in them. At Villesavin I suspect we saw a more realistic view of life in a chateau.

The façade of Villesavin.

Villesavin’s courtyard, at the back of the chateau.

An inkpot, with several feather quill pens.

Now this is what I call a kitchen!

Amboise

Chateau Amboise suffers from none of the disadvantages of Villesavin. It was built by kings – mostly François I in the 16th century; his successor kings and families lived here for centuries; it is smack on the Loire River so every tourist sees it; and it has seen many historic events. In fact, in the 15th and 16th centuries, this was the home of the French court. So France, seeing this as a national treasure, has maintained it and restored it. And like Villesavin, we loved it.

Chateau Amboise was originally a fortress, from which the king’s army could control movement on the Loire River, but by the time François I and then Charles VIII added to it, they were in firm control of France and so the need for fortifications went away. As a result, these kings concentrated on creating Amboise as a symbol of their power, rather than a means to maintain that power.

Chateau Amboise from across the Loire River.

Closer. As with many of these chateaux, I wonder how opposing armies would have liked looking up at what they had to conquer.

A building of the Renaissance: beautiful, geometric and symetrical. Emphasis on beautiful.

Beautiful windows – everywhere.

My kind of chair! The back was high to prevent the king from stabbings!

Amboise also has the distinct honor of being the burial place of Leonardo DaVinci. Yes, that Leonardo! François I brought Leonardo to Amboise in 1516, three years before his death. Françoise gave Leonardo a manor (Clos Lucé, about which a bit more below) and when Leonardo died in 1519, he asked that he be buried in a church in Amboise, which was done. But later the chapel in which he was buried was destroyed, and Leonardo’s tomb disappeared. In 1863, bones and an inscription that seemed to indicate they were the remains of Leonardo were found and he was re-interred in the chapel of Chateau Amboise, with a note that the remains are “presumed” to be his.

We were mightily impressed with Chateau Amboise: history, beauty, royalty, intrigue, gardens – Chateau Amboise has it all. This is a place we’ll visit again.

Clos Lucé

Leonardo’s home, given to him by Françoise I, is now a museum, with his bedroom, studio and other rooms fitted out as they might have been when he lived and worked here. Maybe…but we were not terribly impressed. First of all, it was jammed, and seemed to have an inordinately large number of 4-8 year-old kids, who were not suitably impressed by what they saw. And really, who can blame them? Were we interested in 16th century furniture when we were that old? No, so like these kids, we would have fidgeted and whined and asked when we could get a treat. Second problem was that large tour groups were allowed in, so we were stuck between groups of 35-40 people, in rooms so small the whole group could not get into the room. Fortunately, the gardens were lovely. But as the most expensive museum we’ve visited, we were highly disappointed. We left after about 90 minutes.

Leonardo DaVinci’s home for the last three years of his life (1516-1519). Looks beautiful, but not our favorite place. Not even on the list of favorite places.

Azay-le-Rideau

This is our top-of-the-list favorite chateau and one of our favorite buildings in the world. Azay-le-Rideau followed a different path than the previous two chateaux. It doesn’t have the long history of Amboise, and though it shares its Renaissance architecture with Villesavin, money has been (almost) no object in its maintenance and restoration – it was recently closed for two years for an extensive overhaul. The difference has been that in 1905, the owner of Azay gave the chateau to the French government, and the government, understanding that Azay is a perfect example of a Renaissance chateau, has maintained it since. This was our third visit here, and we will surely be here again, even if it means a special trip. We can sit in the beautiful gardens and spend a long time just looking at this beautiful gem. Because Azay was owned by just a few people over its hundreds of years (including the ubiquitous François I for a while), the rooms have been restored and furnished to illustrate life in the chateau from the 16th centure to the 19th.

We could sit in the garden and just look at the chateau Azay-le-Rideau. Just beautiful.

If you could visit only one chateau in the Loire Valley, I would recommend Azay. But Amboise has much more history associated with it and so I could recommend it, too. But I might point out that we’ve seen only half-a-dozen chateaux here. If there really are 3,000 chateaux here, we’ve got some work to do…

Le Grenadier

No, not another chateau. We stayed at a B & B named Le Grenadier, our second stay here. It is a great B & B: rooms are comfortable (Laurie says Madame Butterworth, our gracious host, has thought of everything a woman could want; I don’t know what that means); excellent breakfasts; a beautiful yard to enjoy, and, most of all, a place to relax after a hard day of chateau viewing.

Posted in Rambles | Leave a comment

Paris

We made a long sojourn into Paris last week – five days and nights. That’s the longest we’ve stayed there in years, and although it was the hottest stretch of the year – between 85 and 92! – we had a terrific time. We saw a jazz singer we love – twice, did some museum time, spent a wonderful day with friends, saw a parade, walked, just all kinds of good stuff. Here’s a recap:

Hetty Kate

In Seattle, we often attend house concerts of jazz singers (jazzvox.com, if you’re interested, and if you like jazz vocalists you should be interested). Last year we heard Hetty Kate sing and just loved her. Talking to Hetty after her performance then, she said she was moving to Paris. We’ve kept in touch with her and when we arrived, she told us that she was singing in a small club in Paris Saturday June 30. With Mary and Gilles, off we went to see Hetty.

I will leave until below our arrival in Paris. Hetty was just wonderful and the experience – seeing great jazz in a small Paris jazz club, well, pretty cool. Some pictures from that night:

Hetty Kate at work.
(Sorry for the not great photo; dim light and taken with my iPhone.)

Us and Hetty

Hetty told us that the following Tuesday she was singing in the bar at a (very nice) hotel, so off we went again – this time just Laurie and I. We met Hetty an hour before she started and shared a bottle of Sancerre wine with her, and heard her tales of performing and trying to get known in the Paris jazz scene. We stayed for her first set and were again blown away by how good she is. It was great fun to have a chance to get to know her better and hear her sing again.

Hetty again, in a different venue.

Though Hetty is based in Paris now, she sings all over the world. If she gets to your city, you really need to go see her. You will not regret it; she is just fabulous!

The Parade

Arriving at our Metro (subway) stop to see Hetty, we were astonished to hear music – lots of REALLY LOUD music from multiple bands – while we were still underground in the Metro station. We climbed the stairs and ascended into the mayhem of the Paris Gay Pride Parade! And mayhem it was: many tens of thousands of people; music trucks everywhere, in the parade and not; and because it was over 90 degrees, people in every state of dress and undress. I’m telling you, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a 6’5″ guy dressed as Roman woman, wearing 5″ heels!

Ah, a family portrait…

Don’t ask me; I don’t know.

Something I never thought I’d see: a drag belly-dancer.

Friends

For the second time this year, we were able to introduce Paris to friends who had never been there. Mark and Kathy, friends from Seattle, were in Paris for one day at the end of a sixteen day trip to Italy (for a wedding), Austria and Switzerland. We met them in the morning and just kind of toured around the parts of Paris we like best – mostly along the Seine. We also went to the Eiffel Tower, which is a mess, as there is a huge amount of construction work underway. At the end of their trip, and after a particularly stressful travel day the previous day coming from Geneva, Mark and Kathy were just happy to go where we wanted to go…slowly.

Mark and Kathy standing in front of some minor tourist attraction.

After dinner, we walked our favorite walk in Paris, around Ile Saint Louis. The evening weather was perfect: warm and comfortable, and we enjoyed what was – weatherwise – the nicest evening in Paris we can remember, and we’ve had a lot of evenings here. I told Mark and Kathy, “It’s an evening like this that will bring you back to Paris.” Actually, that evening will bring us back to Paris!
Proof:

Looking down the main street of Ile Saint-Louis at sunset.

Notre-Dame, sunset, the Seine on a beautiful night; hard to beat.

Institute du Monde Arab

The Institute du Monde Arab is a center for study of the world loosely designated as the “Arab World:” the Middle East mostly, but also including parts of North Africa and the now-extinct Ottoman Empire. This area was the birthplace of the three major Western religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The museum that’s part of the Institute does a beautiful job of showing the birth, growth and connections of the three religions. We’ve visited it before and did again this trip, largely because of an exhibit on the construction and history of the Suez Canal, but also because we love the permanent exhibit of the art from this part of the world.

View from the terrace of the Institute du Monde Arab

This is one of hundreds of windows in the Institute du Monde Arab. The geometric shapes open and close according to the position of the sun and the temperature, to keep the interior as cool as possible.

Corot at the Museé Marmottan

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875)) is known largely for his beautiful landscapes – he’s arguably the best and best-known landscape artist of the 19th century. During his career, though, he painted portraits of people he knew, though he exhibited only a few of them, and sold them only to friends for their private collection. The Marmottan presented the first exhibition dedicated to his portraits, and we like the Marmottan, so off we went. Corot probably could have made a living as a portraitist – his portraits are that good. This was an interesting look into an almost unknown side of this famous artist.

If you’re a fan of Impressionist art, the Marmottan is a must-visit. The son of Claude Monet donated his entire collection to the museum, which created a large space just for them. It’s pretty spectacular; though we’ve seen them three or four times before, we toured it again. Monet was nothing short of a genius, and that shows in this collection.

Promenade Plantée

From 1859 to 1969 a railroad ran on an elevated track from Bastille east to Vincennes. Abandoned in 1969, it sat unused until the late 1980s, when the city started to re-purpose it as a pedestrian walk. It was landscaped, water features added, stairs installed at intersections, and then the eastern end, where the path is not elevated (in fact, it runs through several tunnels) was made into a park. Not far from our Paris homebase, it’s a perfect walk for us.

When it gets too hot, take a book and read in the shade.

It seems that I’ve left out some things, but that covers the highlights. I could mention our train trip home where, among other things, the train broke down one station away from the one we needed to reach, but what the heck, this post is long enough. We were a little concerned at going into Paris on such a hot week, for that long (Paris is, no matter how beautiful, a big, noisy, crowded city and so can wear you out). But we had a great time, and are so glad we went. We’re already looking forward to getting back.

Posted in Ambles | 2 Comments