Villandry & Blois (France 2015)

villandry2Just barely getting under the wire before the new year – determined to finish stories of our trip to France. Next up,  Switzerland and Germany from September, 2016.

We spent our last day in two places. First, Villandry, famed for its garden. I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of blooms. The tulips had been beheaded and they were planting other things. There were some wonderful water features, some with swans. villandry5And I loved the trees trimmed to look like bumpers in a pinball machine. We wandered in the maze for a bit, then hit the road for Blois.villandry4

Blois is a big city, probably the biggest we saw on this trip, outside of Paris. We parked and had a coffee at an outdoor patio. The waitress was rather chilly but then…a flyby bird pooped on my shirt. We had a good laugh and she brought me a rag and water.

blois2blois4blois-castleWe walked past the castle. It’s a medieval / Renaissance monster, but I’m all castled out. We’ll go in another time. We did peek in through the gates to see the statue of Louis XII, one of the early owners. A lot of famous French kings lived here. My eye was caught by this downspout.

I want to add a word about Daniella and Florent, our hosts in Chinon for a week. We loved our stay at their B&B, the Agnes Sorel. They were both kind and helpful. Daniella and I had several nice talks in French – I’ll never be fluent but what fun to try. Anyone heading to Chin-un (as the GPS called it), it’s a great base from which to explore the marvelous French castles and countryside of the Loire Valley. We really missed the comfort there when we spent our last night near the Paris airport in a bed that sloped towards the edges. Au Revoir. Je reviens…


Amboise and Loches (France, Spring 2015)

a to marketI have neglected this blog…been finishing a novel. But I need to march on through our French trip.  Today I’m writing about Amboise, one of my favorite places on our vacation.

There was a castle, of course.  As our hostess at the B&B in Chinon said, “when you travel in Europe it’s much the same – another road, another castle.”

I thought this castle special,but first we started in the town on market day. Not a market for tourists but with interesting cheese and vegetables, and locals shopping with baskets and on bikes.a bike shopping

a weird cheese











Check out these moldy cheeses. Like oysters.

After the market, we hiked all the way around the castle walls. The front is high on a cliff over the river and it’s walled on three sides. Some of the walls are from very early – 900 or so. I love the Medieval period and these walls definitely felt old.

a castle walls









a castle on river

Once we got inside the walls, we got lost; the area is large and it took us a while to stumble onto the main building and the royal apartments.  Nice views, Renaissance, nothing much to write home about.


a castle in arch




I did love the niche where carving took the place of wallpaper. BUT the donjon (dungeon) was a definite must see and the oldest part of the castle, not restored almost gave me a heart attack. More about that next time…

a carved wallpaper




Chambord (France, Spring 2015)

Chambord CastleAs predicted, today it’s raining, but not wanting to miss a day, we drove to Chambord. Renaissance chateau and what a setting.  On the grounds, acres of grounds, a “pond” had been built for boating. And all those fairy-tale towers. That was one of the attractions: we were able to climb up to the roof using a famous double-helix of stairs, that means those going up didn’t meet those coming down, although we could peek through tiny windows at other tourists.Chambord Towers

The castle was built for Francois I as a “hunting lodge.” Evidently never furnished because it had too many windows and high ceilings and was impossible to heat. When Francois came to hunt, beds, tables, hangings, even food had to be brought along, the last because there was no local village. Very practical! In addition the surrounding land was swampy and summers brought out the mosquitoes.

After years of restoration and abandonment, it was given to one of the final “kings” of France (after Napoleon – a very confusing part of French history); the man ruled for 7 days, was overthrown and went into in exile for 40 years, he eventually came back. We saw his coaches – OMG, pomp still. You’d think after exile he’d take the hint that the monarchy was over…

Chambord coach

A historical tidbit: He was born 7 months after his father died. There was no courtier in the room at his birth, so other pretenders to the throne said he was not a French prince. My hubby joked about his portrait: if you squint he looks like his father but perhaps more resembles the guard.

The castle, unlike Versailles, is mainly empty. The view from the roof to the courtyard was fun. And Chambord courtyardwe were entertained by a horse troupe as we left. The stables were originally for over 1000 horses. Seems extreme until you remember everything – travel, hunting, plowing, fighting – was done with horses.Chambord horse

Chambord was easily the most castle beautiful site we’ve seen, but not my favorite. There’s such a surface on Renaissance castles, it’s had to imagine anyone living in them. I have always imagined their public lives to be as false as their housing and because in castles, we usually don’t get to see the private rooms, it’s hard to imagine how they lived. It does say something that members of the court stood around while the queen was giving birth…

Although the grounds were crowded with families, we remarked on how quiet the French kids are on the whole. Drive home through fields and fields. Strange red tipped plants. Also some fluffy grain. I suspect my mother, a Kansas girl, could have identified it. Sun and shadow and green. Wonderful. Nap. Then out but the supermarket is closed. We have pizza. Good pizza. But how big is a 33 cm pizza? Too big! Dinner is done about 9:00. We’re becoming French 🙂 Chambord field

Montresor Village (France, Spring 2015)

Montresor WallI thought I was going to detail this village after the zoo – we visited on the same day – but there were too many nice animal shots.

Montresor CastleAnyway, it was late afternoon when we drove into Montresor. It is one of the “Most Beautiful Villages of France.” Yes, there is an association that goes around judging. Based on Montresor, I’d say they had the right idea.

Montresor Roof Tops




The town was bucolic, arranged on a hill with a castle and spreading down to the Indrois river. A Polish count bought and restored the castle.  Along the river is a little park, well laid out for walking with a dog.Montresor walkers

A sign pointed out the laundry houses along the river where women once came to wash their clothes – no care then for pollution!

Montresor RiverThere was also a sign warning of wild boar crossing. Sadly we didn’t see it.

As we strolled, we heard a cuckoo – first live one either of us had ever heard.

Home for a nap then out on the town of Chinon. Not really. We ate at a quiet pub.

Decided to include a picture of a Montresor doorway. The colors!

Montresor DoorwayI’m going to end with a picture of a painter. Not the kind you think…
Montresor Painter

Beauparc Zoo and Montresor (France, Spring 2015)

Zoo white tiger 2In a surprise move, we ditched a castle and went to the zoo. We are real zoo people – have talked about trying to visit all the famous zoos in the U.S. Well, wow. Just wow. This zoo was as good or better than San Diego. Lotsa ducks…hahaha. Fauves (big cats including a white tiger and white lion.) Sea lion show. Pandas. All the animals in multiples – for instance 7 Koala bears. A bird yawned to my surprise. So many singes, monkey types. Lots of hills, beautiful enclosures. It was a holiday; the zoo was packed with kids. Scroll down for some wild life, ending with a family that had “done” the zoo.

Above a White Tiger. Below, a Tiger Foot

Zoo Tiger FootRhinos – so unlovely and unloved…

Zoo RhinosPandas – Sleeping and at ease. They look more like cats than bears.

Zoo Panda Head

Sleeping Panda

Extra points if you can guess this mystery butt. Answer at the bottom of the page.

Zoo Koala ButtLaughing Tiger

Zoo laughing white tiger

A forlorn Monkey of some sort and a Baboon

Zoo monkey in field

Zoo Baboon

A Kangaroo Family

Zoo Roo and JoeyA Human Family

Zoo PicnicAnd yes, it was a Koala Bear.

Angers, Cointreau Tour (Spring 2015)

Angers Moat GardenAngers Tower and MoatToday is Angers Castle. The weather map showed a single black spot of rain: Angers. Sure enough, a sudden downpour while we’re buying tickets. But then a miracle. It clears up! The man who took our tickets when we entered had been drinking – hubby smelled his breath across the counter!

Angers began as a defensive castle. Massive walls with a rampart which we walk all the way round. There’s a decorative garden in the moat but up next to the ramparts, a kitchen garden. If they were besieged, they’d have parsley!

Angers Interior

The walls enclosed a huge area: chapel, living quarters from various centuries, some strange trees. Sun, sun, sun. The kids waving.


Angers Kids






Angers is famous for its Apocalypse Tapestry which shows the story from the Book of Revelation by Saint John the Divine. Originally 90 scenes, it was created in the late 1300’s. An estimated 84 man-years of effort to create.  It’s the oldest tapestry in France. You can see that it’s in a very dark hall, for preservation.  My picture is only of a portion. It goes on and on. Below are some of my favorite scenes.tapestry horseAngers tapestry fiery lions

tapestry startapestry angels









Angers Towers

Farewell to Angers, a powerhouse of a castle and on to the Cointreau distillery.


The liquor is made from sweet and bitter orange peel in big copper vats.

At 80% alcohol when first mashed and brewed, they add water and sugar bring it down to 40%. Cointreau VatMost interesting was the need to find the best oranges to make the same flavor year after year. The Cointreau bottle is trademarked. They had a wall of fake bottles. Only Russia and Brazil ignored the cease and desist order. China stopped making it, even though their bottle was the closest match – only one small difference.

After the tour, there was a tasting. We learned to mix the liquor and left happy, if a bit wobbly. Here’s hubby doing mixology…Cointreau Tasting