France Day 18 - "Better than Versailles"

Trip Start Jun 25, 2008
Trip End Sep 01, 2008

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

  Yes, today was better than Versailles I think. But that's my family man side talkin' ... not the history and art appreciation side (and thats because that side very rarely speaks!).

With a break in the clouds, we hop in the car and head to Saulges, a town recommended to us by the Huet family. A quick fourty minute drive from Chateau-Gontier and we are here. And gone. Oops, better turn around. Saulges is a SMALL town. We find some signs to a campsite and head in that direction. A couple of minutes later we are in a parking lot, next to large grassy area with a small playground for the kids. Janice and I walk and talk as the kids play ... and then I spot a small river with a cool bridge and signpost pointing towards some sort of landmark. We holler for the kids and set about to do some exploring.

Across a way-cool bridge, and we find a way-cool shrine to the Virgin Mary. According to the sign (from what we guess ... its in French) this thing was put up in 650ad. Wowza! I think the sign says something about a hermit too... but, um ... thats all we can gather. Its a beautiful place for a shrine though. Up on a small hill, the water flows down, through the shrine,and then down to a little cave below. I'm guessing the water is supposed to be holy or something the way its kept. I show the kids a place you can buy candles and say a prayer. They are loving it, so we pony up two euros and grab some candles. (Poor Leo would have loved to be here!) ... Soon after I drop the money in the bucket, I realize that all of the other fires have blown out from the wind. DOH! ... Aha, but one remains tucked up in a corner of the shrine. I help the kids light there candles and after they've placed them, I do my good deed of the day and light some of the other, previously burnt out candles. Then, some walking around the park and hiking.

The idea strikes me that we aren't far from the Huet family, so I phone them up ... "Mr. Bean?" ... "Ah..., alo Asher!" ... and I ask if they'd like to join us at our next stop on this mini-road trip for lunch. I'm not sure Vincent is too excited about the idea, so I threaten him that we won't be friends anymore if he says no. ... This seems to have the reverse effect, as he laughs ... almost as if to say, "Do you promise?" .... : ) ... after a bit of talking, we decide to meet in Ste. Suzanne for a picnic! Samuel overhears me talking to Vincent and screams with excitement, "Daddy! Are we going to see Leo?!" ... "Yes, son..." ... "That was funny that you told them we aren't going to be their friends anymore dad." ... I love that little guy.

The Styrsky kids have already devoured the little food we packed for the day, so we need to make a quick stop to a local store or boulangerrie to pick up some grub. Back in the car, and on towards Ste. Suzanne. On the way out of town, Janice snaps a photo of the 'now leaving Ste. Suzanne' sign. These little things are everywhere and very very helpful. There are so many towns throughout the countryside, ...some very large, some tiny. These signs help us figure out exactly where we are. ... On the way out of town, we pass by what looks to be a large attraction. Grottes de Saulges, and I remember that these caves are the reason Guenola suggested we come here. Perhaps on the way back we will make a stop. For now, we must make our lunch date in Ste. Suzanne.

We expect Ste. Suzanne to be another small town, but as we round the corner, we see before us a beautiful city, with well preserved stone walls, and what looks to be the remains of a castle atop a rolling French hill. Its gorgeous. ... We pull in to town and find a grocery store and boulangerrie on the same block. Perfect! Except, ... one bit of bad news. The grocery store also has a fresh butchery in operation ... which means, the rillettes fast must be broken,... I know Vincent will want rillettes, so I do it for him. Honestly. Promise. ... Ok. I'm lying.

The plan is to meet at the church in the city, but as we head that way, I turn and see that the Huets have just arrived and parked in the same parking lot as us. Perfect! As we greet one another, the dark clouds finally let loose some rain on us. A strange French custom ... apparently the husband in a French family always wears shorts and t-shirt, even on a rainy day. Very strange. Thankfully, as the Huets lead us towards The Ramparts of the city where we will picnic, the clouds seem to part before our very eyes and we eat for a good hour with no rain! All around us dark clouds, and tons of wind. But no rain. I'm loving it. And the view! Amazing. I can just feel the medieval history all around us. This place is just like out of a movie. Right on top of the mountain, with a view in all direction that stretches for miles. You can see how the city was built right around the castle walls to support all the goings-on of the royalty and such. A small river below. Just amazing. And the sky. I was obsessed. The wind and the dark clouds and the sun and the cool air ... a great afternoon.

As we walk around The Ramparts towards the castle entrance (check out pics of Sam and Leo acting like statues ... very cute little friends), I joke with the Huets that the next time they choose a day for a picnic they should really make sure the weather is nicer. : ) ... They all take turns teasing me for my horrible French. I am definitely the 'ignorant American' in our group. The French language absolutely eludes my comprehension. I just don't get it. My tongue doesn't get it. My brain doesn't get it. ... Say la vi. Is that French? What does it mean? No clue. ah... google helps, got it now!

We make our way to the castle entrance with the expectation to just look from the outside (we are traveling cheap as possible!) ... but are delighted to find it is GRATUIT (that means 'free' to all my non-French speaking friends out there ... sheesh, come on now, learn French already will you!) ... some remodel work being done, but no problem for us. The price is perfect. We spend the next hour or so walking around and exploring the remains of this old castle. Also, on display is the history and artwork of a French cartoonist. Great work. If I could speak or read French I would definitely buy the stuff. Francois Dermaut is the name.

Before saying goodbye to the Huet's, we all enjoy a nice round of drinks at a local bar. Poor Ella... Vincent offered her an orange drink even though today is her last day of time out. He is sooo mean! ... hehe...

Goodbye to the Huets for today. We will meet again at least one more time before we leave France. Its great to have been able to develop a good friendship with these guys. Franck refers to Vincent as his closest friend, "his brother".

We continue on our day trip by heading back through Saulges, this time stopping at the caves park. We decide against paying to enter the caves and instead enjoy walking around the streams and fields and watch the rock climbers in action. "She's not very good.", say the kids, as we watch one woman struggle up the face of a cliff. Tough crowd.

Its a magical day. Janice captured the feeling wonderfully in the video of me and the kids walking in the field. Peaceful and fun.

Its true what I told Vincent today in Ste. Suzanne, ... "These types of places, and these experiences ... they beat a place like Versailles hands down in my book."
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