We picked-up a rental car from the Gare Nord in the centre of Paris.
A couple of older Aussies held up the queue for ages insisting on smaller car, so we think we have them to thank for our free upgrade to a diesel Renault Leguna. The Aussies also insisted on a GPS, and when we saw them later on down the track they were cursing it for getting them lost in the most inconvenient places.(I so love Karma).
We drove out of Paris (just using our tourist maps, and a photocopy of a map of France) and got on all the right roads to head south for the Loire Valley. The French are very strict with their eating times for lunch, so cafes and restaurants only serve food between the hours of 12-2pm. Also during these times you will find shops, tourist attractions and information centers conveniently shut. So, unfortunately we had lunch at a McDonalds. Now this is a place we usually avoid like the plague, but imagine our surprise when the burgers were thick real meat patties, Gruyère cheese, and you could exchange the chips for a large salad! But, more importantly they served BEER with your lunch!! A good Kronenbourg 1664 at 5.5% alcohol no less. Mel was very, very happy, but it didn't do much for her map reading skills afterwards.
We got out at the city of Chartres to walk around and stretch our legs. The lovely medieval centrum is built around a large Gothic cathedral on a hill. One unique aspect about the town was that houses along the river had special openings build with steps down the river to act as wash houses for the occupants.
After driving south east for another few hours we stopped in the city of Tours for the night. A bloody nightmare of a city to get around without a map, made even more difficult by the main centrum being shut off for a festival. Hence, we worked out after taking several circuits of the place, why it is called Tours! Once we found accommodation, and started walking into the festival, the heavens opened and down came the rain (as usual for us), but everyone had packed up and gone home. Typical.
Next morning we headed to Carrefour. This is a French supermarket on an amazing scale. After you by-pass the typical boxed and canned stuff, your senses are suddenly awakened by the aroma of fresh pates, rows upon rows of cheese of every shape, texture and colour, hanging salamis, pastries, cakes and breads of every description and then to top it all off aisles and aisles of wine. Wines that you have ever only heard of in magazines or whispered in reverence, all just sitting there on a supermarket shelf. We duly stuffed the car boot with all sorts of delicacies for breakfasts, lunches and the occasional dinner.
Our good friend, the lovely Laura, had recommended that we visit the gardens of the Villandry Chateau. So after a picnic lunch by the river, in the sunshine no less, we were ready for a walk around the 40 acres of pristine gardens. Villandry was completed in approx 1536 and was the last of the large Chateaux built on the banks of the Loire during the Renaissance.
The Ornamental Gardens are made up of four squares representing an allegory of the “Gardens of Love” - Tender Love, Passionate Love, Fickle Love and Tragic Love.
There was also a Water Garden, Herb Garden (dedicated to aromatic, cooking and medicinal herbs) and the Kitchen Garden (based on the gardens of the middle ages where the monks in their Abbeys took pleasure in growing their vegetables in geometrical patterns).
A huge undertaking is needed as around the gardens there are 1,260 lime trees which take four men four months to prune and 52km of box hedging, not to mention over 250,000 flower and vegetable plants.
We again took a tour of Tours (this time with a map), trying to get back to our accommodation! Next morning we drove north-west to the town of Amboise to visit the Chateau du Clos Luce where Leonardo Da Vinci spent the last years of his life (mainly as a party planner for King Francois I). The Chateau wasn't much, but in the surrounding gardens they have life size working models of many of his inventions.
If any of you had seen the exhibition of the Da Vinci Machines as it toured New Zealand, it was these same machines but on a larger scale and in the appropriate settings. So you could use the Archimedes spiral to bring water up from the lake, spin the circular rotor of the helicopter,
walk across his many different types of military bridges, use paddle boats,
fire a cannon and walk inside the wooden tank.