Sunday, September 30, 2012

Loches...a hidden gem

Our stay in the Loire Valley was about 3 miles from Loches, France.  A small town in the heart of Chateaux country...sometimes called the valley of kings.  We stayed here not because of Loches but because of our gite.  I was not familiar with Loches and thee is not a whole lot about this village available when researching areas of France.  However, we found the countryside, the village residents and the old architecture some of the best we experienced.

We would often take walks or short drives at sunset....often the best time with the long shadows to bring out the character in a landscape or a building.  One of my favorite buildings was the "Horlogerie" on a street corner headed out of town (pictured directly above).  If you are wondering what a Horlogerie is ...the signs on each side of the door are a clue.

"A watchmaker's workshop"


Friday, September 28, 2012

One of the most beautiful in the Loire Valley

It was about a 20 mile drive from our gite in the Loire Valley.  I was told by several people not to miss Chenonceau.  I can see why.  This chateau is truly one of the most beautiful and well kept in the Loire Valley.  Try to picture the pastoral setting for this chateau.  As I took the image of the stately plane trees  directly above I was facing away from the chateau so directly behind me was the chateau.  What a nice site to see when after a hard day's work, returning home down the tree lined lane to the cozy little cottage know as Chenonceau!  Cozy and cottage ....NOT!  It was a magnificent remnant of how the privileged few lived during this time period in France....15 to 1600's.  Within these walls were stories of mistresses, assassinations, elegant parties for the nobility, kings and queens and future kings and queens of France.

More about the "plane trees" when we visit Provence as our trip progresses.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Providing Shelter after 500 Years

Aside from the obvious updates in the kitchen...the gite has stood for over 500 years and still provides shelter to travelers.  After the day's activities we would return "Home" and wonder how many past inhabitants our French Farm Cottage had held in her arms providing shelter, a home, possibly multiple generations over the centuries.  The bottom floor retains it's stone walls...the white stone of the Loire Valley.  I mention the white stone because as you travel south inFrance the stone gradually turns to a golden color due to the geologic forces at work.  But in this area, as we will see, even the legendary chateaus are built of this Loire white stone.  All the exposed timbers and foundation walls are original.  Upstairs, there was a window that fascinated me.  With the outside shutter closed to shield from the elements, we felt completely secure at night as we made our way to bed.  The white linen curtain gave a soft diffusion to the outside when the shutter was open and you could see for miles across the Loire valley.

With the view of the yard in the picture made it very easy to awake early to begin our next adventure.... visiting the Loire Valley.


Monday, September 17, 2012

First Sight of "La Roseliere"

Marina and Pierre...pictured above...arrived at the Gite.  They had named it La Roseliere...Rose Garden.  They opened the heavy wooden gate and we saw it.  We immediately fell in love with what we saw!

This was a completely authentically restored french farm cottage that was built in the 1500's.  We were in awe of Marina and Pierre's abilities to do such a thing.  Pierre was an iron worker....a very artistic iron worker and all of the iron work at the cottage was by his own hands over a 5 year period.  Pierre was employed by Euro Disney to create iron work needed there.  Marina was from Russia...had visited France several years ago for the university...met Pierre, fell in love and never left.  They had two wonderful sons - Danille and Jean Marie.  Marina's artistic touch was evident inside and out...with the flowers, gardens, yard, cherry trees, lavender and perfect accents inside.

We lived in this fairly tale cottage for a week and will never forget the warm hospitality that they showed us.  Seriously, if any of the readers ever visit the Loire Valley in me and I will put you in contact with them to stay there.

The cottage was surrounded by quiet, flowing wheat fields which added to the charm of this once in a lifetime   chance for us.  More about Marina in another post but my next post will take you inside the cottage.


Friday, September 14, 2012

On the road in France

The train pulled into Tours...our destination in the western part of France deep in the heart of the Loire Valley.  My nerves were a bit on edge....this would be the first time I had attempted to drive in a foreign country.  We would pick up the car here and 3 and a half weeks later...drop it off in Provence before heading to Paris.

Before returning home, I will have driven over 2200 miles through the winding back-roads of France.  The trusty GPS system will have taken us down single lane dirt roads, around tight hairpin curves in the Luberon Mountains, through picture perfect Dordogne villages, and a few super hi-way toll roads.  However I avoided the toll roads whenever possible since we wanted to experience the "real" countysides of France.

I rented a small Ford Fiesta to save some money and increase the gas mileage....the diesel fit the bill.  WOW!  My first view of the Fiesta allayed my fears of having to drive the Ford Fiestas that I remember from the 80's.  What a great little car!  And the electronic package was phenomenal.  My ipod playlists accompanied us through out the road trip thanks to the hardwire connection and complete interface of menus etc.  glowing orange on the dashboard.  I had about a 60 mile drive ahead of me before we would reach our Gite in Perusson, France near Loches.  Loaded up, nerves a bit dulled now by my thoughts of the adventure that lay ahead...I took a deep breath and headed out onto the streets.  After about 20 minutes of white knuckled, rapid eye movement from windshield to rear view mirror and back again, teeth gritting advancing though intersections wondering if I had the right of way...I became accustomed to my new world of round-abouts, kilometer to miles per hour calculations and quick translations of French to English road signs.  This was going to be fun!

The cloverleafs and exit ramps of Tours now faded into the rear view mirror and we found ourselves immersed into rolling hills of wheat fields with with scattered stone fences, family farms of off white stone cottages and barns (no wooden barns or houses like in the mid-west).  Fields of sheep dotted the hillsides as we sat quietly in the Fiesta gazing out the windows in all directions taking it all in. Before we left I set up playlists named:  Loire (often classical music to match the royal Chateaux scattered through the valley of the kings) , Dordogne (battle songs, ballads and songs of nature mirroring the battle castles of the 100 years war between France and England in the 1400's), Provence (love songs and romance that only Provencal vineyards and villages of the Luberon could match) and Paris (songs of festivals, folk, traditional French cafe music of the Latin Quarter).  Matching what I hope to see with songs to fit our time there.  These were the places where we would be spending our next 4 and half weeks.  Some songs were French, some were contemporary, some were folk and some instrumental...but above all they had to tell a story that hopefully matched our experiences.

We pulled up to the Gite in Perusson France.  Actually it was  outside Perruson about 3 miles in the middle of rolling wheat fields in every direction.  The place we were staying was an old country french farm cottage built in the 1500's called the Roseliere.  We stopped at the gate...we were there before the owner who would give us the keys upon arrival.  As we waited, we couldn't see the cottage yet...only the old stone rose covered fence/wall that separated it from the surrounding wheat fields.  I looked at Karen and said "I don't know what is on the other side of that wall but I have a feeling it will be phenomenal!


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Nashville, Lebanon, Chelsea, Austria, Opera

This is more about the experience than the images...Image are pretty much just snapshots but they help tell the story.

What does Nashville, Lebanon, Chelsea, Austria and the Opera have in common?  How do they relate?  That is the addicting part of travel...the world is drawn to your fingertips.

After our time in was time to move to our next adventure.  Even though I had traveled in Europe years ago...the rest of the trip (other than Paris) would be new not only to my wife but also to me.  We were departing the border village of Colmar to the heart of France....The Loire Valley.  Land of the Chateaux.  I had studied these amazing structures since high school and now they were about to become real to me.  We would be spending enough time in this area to really get to know the people, to talk about life and the differences we experience from the others who live in this beautiful country.  We were moving to the countryside and would remain in rural settings until our last 8 days in Paris.

Now for the pictures.  We boarded the train to Tours, France...a town in the Western part of France and it would be our first "Bullet Train"....the TGV - Train Grand Vitesse...High Speed Train.  These amazing machines are bound to rails but speed up to 300 miles per hour...a public rocket sled.  You really realize the speed of these behemoths when passing another train heading in the opposite direction. There is very little space between passing trains... literally 3 to 5 feet.  When you are traveling at upwards of 300 miles per hour and the train going in the other direction 5 feet away is moving at the same speed...a blink of the eye and it passes by.

As I had mentioned in an earlier post....dogs and cats in Europe rule supreme.  Even on public transportation.  Chelsea the cat sat wide eyed on the head rest of the seat in front of us.  Moving up and down the aisle hoping for a stoke on the back as she passed by your seat.  Chelsea often climbed into empty seats to watch the countryside speed past.  I heard the lady in the 3rd photograph (reading her kindle) speak when she boarded the train and I could tell immediately she was from the southern United States.  With Chelsea as the subject of conversation, we began to talk.  I asked her where she was from and where she was headed.  "I'm from Nashville" she said in that famous southern drawl...but I am headed back home to Austria.  She told me an amazing story.  She attended Indiana University during her college days and studied music...piano to be specific.  During the last month of her college career, she was in the Music building practicing her piano...not sure what the future held for her.  "It is so difficult to get a job playing the piano" she said.  A lady walked into her soundproof music practice room and stood there listening as she played.  After she finished...the lady began to speak...and speak with a heavy German/Austrian accent.  It so happened that the lady was head mistress of a piano studio in Salzburg Austria.  "How would you like to live in Austria" she said.  "I  need a piano instructor and you fit the bill perfectly".  Stunned, the student from Nashville with an unsure future had just been offered a job in one of the most important music capitols of the world (the land of Mozart).  30 years later, she still lives and teaches in Salzburg.

Chelsea's owner (in the second picture above) had been listening to our conversation.  In broken English, he stood up, looked at us and said "I am an opera signer".  He was a Lebanese immigrant now living in France and had become an Opera singer in some of the venues of France.  So immediately, the Nashville/Austrian piano instructor, the Lebanese/French Opera singer, Chelsea the cat and a guy and his wife from the Midwest were deep in conversations about France, Austria, Music, Indiana and the love of animals...all on a train...drawn together like old friends.  This part of traveling is the most rewarding part of the experience.  And as a bonus I was able to be the translator between the Lebanese French speaker and the Nashville piano instructor.  It just didn't get any better than this!


Monday, September 10, 2012

Churches and the Medieval Period

My first glimpse of a "true" medieval cathedral on our trip was in Colmar about a block from our apartment.  I was mesmerized by the amount of detail work in both the exterior and interior of the massive building.  It is beyond my comprehension how these mammoth buildings were built with the tools of the 13th century.

The other "telling" details were the multiple gargoyles everywhere on the exterior.  With the superstitions of this period it seems that folks were "scared straight" into the faith.  The gargoyle in the picture above is actually holding a small baby in it's claws!


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Colors of Colmar

I am drawn to bright colors....must be something in my DNA.  That is why I take so many pictures with HDR processing.  The colors of Colmar were amazing.  Each building has it's own personality....from an Irish Bar to a cafe in the canal District.  As you can tell, I fell in love with Colmar.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Half Timbered History....

One thing that immediately struck me as I walked through the old city.  How much of a throw away society we live in here in the U.S.  Houses and buildings are built to become obsolete.  Often times cities tire of their football stadiums after a few years and float bonds to build new ones....arenas in this part of the world have lasted 1000's of years and stand as a testament to the craftsmanship of an earlier era.  Old Colmar is not a "contrived" city but a living city with real people who value their homes enough to keep them alive.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Arrival....Colmar...1st Impressions

Our first day in this amazing town began at breakfast and lasted into the night.  It rained...back in Indiana a rainy day on vacation would be disappointing.  Here in Colmar we walked and talked all day, stopping at outdoor cafes, fresh vegetable markets and let history flood in as we explored the old city.  Rain was only an afterthought...actually it added a luster to the town...the wet cobblestone streets reflecting the colors of the buildings.  This town was made for walking, exploring, touching.  So much texture on the walls of the historic old buildings, so much texture in the culture....I couldn't walk this town without stopping now and then just to touch.