Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Parc Floral and the University of Orléans

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Darci had already left for work when Craig and I awoke. It was lovely, clear morning with a hint of coolness in the gentle breeze. We had coffee with Mathieu and then walked down the street to one of our favorite bakeries. I selected a beautiful fraisier, which was a delicate combination of strawberries in a light, firm mousse atop a thin, crisp crust. It was as delicious as it was pretty. After breakfast we went out for a while to do a bit of shopping. When the groceries were taken home and put away, it was nearly time for us to meet Darci at the university where we would be joining her conversation class.

A delectable French pastry.
Mathieu kindly dropped us at the University before driving on to work. We walked across the campus, admiring the landscaping, and easily located the building in which we were to meet Darci. There was good attendance at class that day, and we thoroughly enjoyed meeting the students who were from many different countries. These bright, inquisitive engineering students were a pleasure to listen to and converse with. When class was over, Darci had some free time before the next lesson. As we were leaving the room, she invited anyone who also had some free time to join us for coffee. There were only two who were able to do so. Luca, who was from Italy, and Mohamed, from Algeria, accompanied us along the tree-shaded path which led to a nearby cafe. 

The lake at the University of Orléans.
A lively hour of conversation followed, as we sipped coffee or hot chocolate. We learned as much from Luca and Mohamed as they did from us. It was such a wonderful thing to discover another culture from the people who live it. All too soon, our time was up and Craig and I parted company with the others as they returned to the university. 

I walked along with Craig to Parc Floral, where we would meet with Darci and Mathieu after they had finished work. We were ready for lunch by then, and had planned to eat in the restaurant located at the botanical gardens. It was closed when we arrived, so I suggested the little snack bar at the miniature golf concession, which was a short stroll away through the lovely gardens. We placed our orders and found a shaded table, which was promptly set with china and cutlery. Craig enjoyed a pizza, which he said was delicious even though he knew it had come from the freezer and was not freshly made. I don't recall the name of my dish, but it was a delightful, flaky serving of puff pastry topped with a very fresh-tasting melange of vegetables and herbs in tomato sauce, and topped with meltingly soft slices of fresh mozzarella. And this was concession stand food! At home in America at a park, we would have been eating poor quality hot dogs or hamburgers off of paper plates. What a contrast!

Lunch at a French concession stand!
When Darci and Mathieu arrived, we first walked over to the iris gardens. They were in full bloom and were simply stunning! There was a huge variety of them in beautifully landscaped gardens.

Just a few of the gorgeous iris at Parc Floral, Orléans.

Lovely iris at Parc Floral.

Parc Floral, Orléans France is a must-see!
We then strolled back to the miniature gold course. It was a fun course, with a few nearly impossible holes to shoot for. We laughed a lot as we progressed through the game. It was a great way to spend the afternoon.

That evening, Arno joined us for supper, bringing along a bottle of wine. Darci made her fabulous roast duck, while I worked on the mashed potatoes and carrots with caramelized onion, coconut milk, butter, nutmeg. Mathieu had created the appetizers of tortilla rollups and toasted baguette with duck mousse. He also made lovely dessert of vanilla cake which was split and filled with pastry cream and fresh strawberries. It was a memorable meal. We finished the evening with a game of Phase ten, which everyone enjoyed.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Cruising the Canal

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Monday, May 23, 2016

What a fantastic day we had! Though we awoke to grey skies and light rain, we were determined to have a lovely day. Coffee came first, of course! We enjoyed having a kettle in our cozy room at the gite. There were two pretty mugs and a colorful tin box filled with packets of tea and instant coffee, as well as brightly wrapped cubes of sugar. We went downstairs to find the table beautifully laid for breakfast. Our hostess came in to greet us, asked if we desired some yogurt, and then quietly slipped away and left us to our petit dejeuner. There was a variety of breads from which to choose. A delightful seed bread, slightly sweetened, was our favorite. I also tried a slice of a tender yellow bread which had been made with corn flour. We had several jams and honey from which to choose, as well as a bowl of fresh fruit.  We drank coffee, hot chocolate, and orange juice. It was just what we wanted, since we would be having a big lunch on the cruise in Briare. Another couple came down to breakfast. They were from Germany and were bicycling through the area. The woman spoke French well and said they might want to stay an extra day due to the forecast. We also spoke with our hostess who said she and her husband have been running the B&B for four years. We told her how much we loved the rooms. Everything was perfect. We had a bit of time to kill after breakfast, so we taught Craig how to play Pass the Pigs. It was a fun way to pass the time.

One last view of the gite in Briare, France.
We left for the five minute drive to Briare in the chilly rain, glad that the luncheon cruise was "covered". We were very glad that Muriel was feeling well enough to join us, as this was to be or treat for her and Thierry. Sort of a payback for the many wonderful meals they have prepared for us over the years. They were waiting in their car near the basin. We opened our umbrellas and had only a short wait before we were admitted on board the boat. The high windows beside each group of tables began to fog over as the salon filled with new arrivals. Nearly all of them were French. No concession was made for those who didn't speak the language. It didn't matter, though, because we had Darci and Mathieu. Thierry knows some English and speaks it well. He can understand much more. I was seated across from Muriel and even though the boat was noisy with chattering diners and the rumble of the engines, both Craig and I managed to speak with her a bit. 

The boat on which we enjoyed a luncheon cruise. 

We are seated on the boat and ready to go!
As the boat pulled away from the dock, we were all thrilled when it went halfway into the Pont du Canal. We had just walked along it the night before. Then, our craft pulled forward and began to navigate the canal. I was delighted when I learned that we would be passing through three locks and then returning the same way. Our boat even went past the gite where we had stayed! Our hosts were standing outside, waving as we cruised by. 

Our captain guiding the boat out of the basin.

It was interesting to pass through the locks.

A view of the gite from the boat in Briare, France.
We were soon served glasses of kir and we raised our flutes in a toast to families and friendships. The first course appeared as we gazed out of the windows. Each small plate was arranged with cold cuts, pickles, and two slices of baguette on which were spread rillettes and tapenade. We were off to a good start.

It's time for a toast!

And for starters...
Thierry bought a bottle of Sancerre wine, which was very good. We also had a red wine that was provided by the cruise, in addition to a carafe of water. As we dined, we paused to take pictures, and sometimes to go out onto the small back deck which had a canopy over it. Most of my photos were shot through the window by the table, which not only had rain running down the outside, but also condensation on the inside. I think I got some interesting photos though, both inside and out.

A little wine to accompany our meal.

A shot of the B & B through a rainy window.
It was fascinating to go through the locks. I thought I might feel claustrophobic when we were lowered down into them, but it was fine. We next had the main course, which was paupiettes de veau in a mushroom cream sauce, creamy potatoes Dauphinois, and a vegetable medley which consisted of carrots, green beans, and salsify. Salsify was called oyster root by the colonists because it does have a slight oyster flavor. Everything was seasoned perfectly, and we all enjoyed that portion of the meal. Along the banks of the river we saw bright yellow wild iris, wild carrot in flower, and several other varieties of flowers.

The main course was delicious!
At some point, we each got up to take a peek outside from the deck, which was protected from the rain. It was fun to watch the operation of the locks. The mighty gates opened and closed as were raised and lowered according to the height of the canal. Before long, the cheese course was served. Thankfully, the servings were small, but even so, I couldn't finish mine. There was a slice of gruyere, a wedge of Camembert, and a slice of mild goat cheese, with bread to go with it. By then we had been through several locks and were not far from our starting point. 

Now, it's time for the cheese course! 

Passing through another lock.

We were interested in how the locks operate.

Closing the gates.

What an interesting way to travel!

A "ritzy" barge tied up in the basin.
As the cruise was coming to an end, dessert was brought to the table. It was a tiny chocolate caramel lava cake, sitting in a sweet pool of cream. Delightful! And then small cups of espresso accompanied by a little Gallette cookie. We had such a good time, with great company and a delicious meal. Who cares if it's raining?

The dreary day didn't dampen our spirits.

And for dessert - little lava cakes!
As the boat was nearing the dock, many of the people on board began to sing a rousing French song. I didn't understand the lyrics, though I enjoyed listening. We left the boat and all went into the gift shop. I found a tiny owl figurine for mom. Darci bought a striped French sailor jacket. As we were saying goodbye to Muriel and Thierry, she put a package into my hands, and one for Craig. She gave him some wonderful cookies, some of which are called croquet and are delightfully crunchy with a great flavor. I wasn't familiar with the rest, but Darci said they would be delicious! Muriel presented me with a cute little owl couple. Muriel and I both love owls. She is so sweet. We had enjoyed spending the afternoon with her and Thierry. 

Our boat returns home. 
On the way home we stopped at a pet store to pick up food for Azur. There was a beautiful Norwegian Forest kitten for sale for €1140!!! It was adorable, and so sweet. It kept trying to play with me through the glass. Later, Arno came over for snacks and drinks. We were still not very hungry, so we nibbled on sausage, cheese, chips, and some grape tomatoes that Darci drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Craig and Arno played a game, an app called Progress to 100. Darci had shown it to me before. It was a hoot watching them figure out how to answer each riddle. Darci showed Arno her amethyst collection, which he was very intrigued by. And he fell in love with her collection of I Spy books, so Darci loaned him a couple. All in all, it was a fabulous day. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Guédelon, Medieval Castle Under Construction

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Sunday, May 22, 2016

I was awakened during the night by the sounds of a thunderstorm. Those never last long in the Loire Valley, and it soon eased to a gentle rain. By morning, the rain had ended and the sky was overcast. The four of us enjoyed coffee, fresh orange juice, and a variety of pastries before packing for an overnight jaunt to Briare.

Religieuse, or nun. A delightful pastry.
Mathieu brought the car up just as the drizzle resumed. We drove along the Loire toward Gien, enjoying the views of the river through rain-splashed windows. It was time for lunch when we reached Gien. We chose La Bella Vita again, as Craig had never eaten there and the rest of us knew how tasty their food was. We splashed through puddles and entered the cozy restaurant, where we were seated in a plush booth next to two women who had a 15-month-old boy with them. The little fellow took quite a shine to both Mathieu and Craig. He even shared his tiny toy motorcycle with them. He kept calling Craig "uncle", which we all thought was simply adorable.

We enjoyed our leisurely lunch, with Darci and I sharing a pizza called "la fermiere", which translates to "the farmer". It was a delicious combination of potatoes, chicken, onions, and cheese on a light, crisp crust that had been slathered with cream. Craig chose the pizza tartiflette, which was the one I had devoured on a previous visit. Mathieu was very happy with his salmon salad, though he did have room for some of our pizza. 

The rest of our drive didn't take long. We continued through some lovely countryside until we reached the site of Guédelon, medieval castle under construction. I had been longing to visit for quite some time, and even though a light rain was falling, we all looked forward to the living history before us. We purchased rain ponchos in the gift shop and set out to explore the building site. Though the rain never let up, we doggedly sloshed through puddles and mud that was sometimes yellow, sometimes orange, sometimes rust. However, even a dreary, soggy day could not deter us from marveling at the castle construction.

Entering the construction site of  Guedelon Castle.

It's possible to tour most of the rooms inside.
Guédelon is being constructed using the methods and tools of the medieval age. A force of talented artisans work with replicas of age-old tools to quarry, cut, and dress the stone used to build the castle. Workers in medieval costume perform tasks of pottery making, rope braiding, planing lumber, mixing paint, and a multitude of other jobs that are essential to the building of a castle.

A worker making tools for dressing stone.
A very hardworking horse carted loads of freshly quarried stone. There were men and women working in the tower, using a pulley system to take tools and supplies up and down. A human-powered wheel was used to raise and lower platforms and heavier items. In spite of the rain, the construction site was a hive of activity!

The horse delivers a cart-load of stone.

Ongoing construction at Guedelon Castle.

All of this lumber was planed by hand. 

A lovely scene at Guedelon Castle in France.
We toured as much of the interior of the castle as was permitted. It was a marvel! Some rooms had lovely painted details of flowers and scrolls. The chapel was beautiful, with accents of carved stone. We saw how the heavy wooden doors were constructed and locked against intruders. There was so much to see!

The paints were made on site.

Window seats for reading or reflection.

This is how to bolt a medieval door!

Lovely stonework in the chapel at Guedelon.
Following pathways through the forest, we discovered displays and other interesting aspects of the ongoing work. There were huts in which colorful rocks were crushed to a fine powder for use as paint. We saw a woman dyeing wool in a huge vat over a smoldering fire. We watched a potter using a wheel to create beautiful bowls, pots, and jars. The wheel was powered by a long pole that he inserted into a notch, pushing the wheel as if stirring a huge pot, until it spun at an amazing speed. It was over a minute before the wheel needed another push. We all enjoyed our visit tremendously and are interested in returning to see how far the building has progressed. 

The hut where fabric is woven and dyed.

Colorful hanks of yarn are hung to dry.

This is where paints and dyes are made from plants and stones.

A talented potter at Guedelon.

Every thickness of rope and twine
 are made at the building site.

A lovely view of the castle from the forest.
At 5:00, we ended our tour and drove the short distance to a wonderful B & B that Darci had found. It was an absolutely charming stone house situated right on the canal, above one of the locks. I wish the weather had been nice enough to permit us to walk along the canal or sit on the beautiful terrace overlooking the river. As it was, I kept jumping up to peek out the window, hoping to see a boat or barge going through the lock. 

A view of the lock in front of the B & B near Briare.
Our connecting rooms were a delight! The decor was tastefully done and the entire place was scrupulously clean. The old beams and sloping walls created a welcoming ambiance. The bathrooms were large and as clean as the rest of the place. And of course, the views out the windows were lovely.

The cozy sleeping area at our gite in Briare, France.

The kettle and packets of coffee
 and tea were a nice surprise. 

The other bedroom at the gite.

Another view at the B & B in Briare, France.
After a short rest, we drove to the town of Briare, just five minutes away. We would have walked, had the weather been more cooperative. Being Sunday, not all of the restaurants were open, but we found a bistro on the waterfront where we had our evening meal. Aside from Mathieu, we all chose the plat du jour, which was a turkey cutlet in a mushroom cream sauce, with buttered pasta on the side. In France, when you see a menu offering "poultry" as a selection, you can be fairly certain that you are being offered turkey. For dessert, I chose a crepe made with peaches, toasted almonds, and Grand Marnier. Yum! Or as the French would say "miam!" Darci had a very colorful crepe made with swirls of chocolate and mint liqueur and topped with mint ice cream. Mathieu ordered a chocolate and banana crepe, while Craig chose a sundae of pears and chocolate. 

A colorful crepe for dessert.
Before driving back to the B & B, we walked along the Pont du Canal. The canal bridge is a fascinating feat of engineering, built in the 1800's by Gustave Eiffel. We walked the length of the bridge and back again, becoming chilled in the damp breeze. We were glad to return to the cozy gite along the canal and settle in for the night. A rousing game of "Pass the Pigs" was a fun way to end the day. 

Darci walks along the Pont du Canal.

Craig, Mathieu, and Darci on the canal bridge.

Travel Tip: Pack some lightweight galoshes!