“Gare du Nord” or “Guard it All"
Trip Start Aug 17, 2012
14Trip End Sep 13, 2012
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better this time around! Some of you may have heard our stories in the past of
almost getting pick-pocketed (twice) on our honeymoon shortly after landing in
Paris 10 years ago. Needless to say, it left an undesirable lasting impression
on France! However, anxious to see some other sights in the country we decided
to give it another chance and thus far have thoroughly enjoyed it!
But to start off….what is a European trip without a little
"adventure"? Our first destination in France is the Loire Valley to see some of
the famous Chateaus and enjoy the French countryside
from Amsterdam to Paris require train reservations and book up fairly quickly
so we had to get a little later arrival to the Loire Valley than originally
desired. On top of that, our train from Amsterdam to Pairs was delayed by 20
minutes. Keep in mind we have to make a change in the Paris subway from one
train station to the next with our big packs!
The Thalys (high speed train) from Amsterdam to Paris was
very nice and even included a light lunch. They made up for some of the delay
on the way but we still arrived a little late to Paris. We are briskly (not
running yet) making our way down the platform and into the main station to find
the Metro lines (subway) as well as figuring out where to buy tickets. We found
our Metro lines and the electronic ticket kiosk. While we were trying to figure
out which ticket we needed to buy for the Metro a guy behind us offers to
help…but he doesn't speak very good English. We were in a hurry and, although
with some skepticism, we let him “help us” purchase the tickets
short….we paid too much for them. Since his English was broken and our French
was even worse we’re honestly not sure if we’d been “had” or if he was
seriously trying to help us. But in the heat of the moment there was no time to
ponder we had to get going!!!!
After circling through the Metro line ( we were initially
going in the wrong direction) we got on an extremely crowded subway train and
started counting our stops (and the number of minutes to get there! Yikes! We
might be cutting it close!)
(Side note: we have observed that corn on the cob is a
popular lunchtime snack)
KEEP IN MIND THAT WE ARE CONSTANTLY WATCHING EACH OTHER’s
PACKS AND CHECKING OUR POCKETS TO MAKE SURE WE DON’T GET ANYTHING STOLEN!!
As we neared our stop, the subway train thinned out. After getting off the subway, we began
to realize that we still have a long journey to get to the train platform and
our departure time is rapidly approaching. We picked up the pace a little and
finally made it on to the train, just in time! Whew!
At this time I would like to remind everyone that we had to
get a later arrival to Loire Valley than we had originally planned due to train
reservations booking up. Our original plan for the Loire Valley was to take a
taxicab from the train station to our hotel, which was a little outside of town
in the countryside. They have free bikes to use while you are staying there and
it’s very popular to ride bikes from town to town or to different chateaus. We
were planning to do a combination of biking, taxis, and possibly a bus tour of
into the Loire Valley a little more we began to realize that it might be better
to rent a car, which we were able to reserve in advance. HOWEVER, for any of
you that would like to travel to the Loire Valley in the future and desire to
rent a car, it is a bad idea to arrive after 5 pm on a Saturday or almost any
time on a Sunday! The car rental places are closed! And you can’t arrange for a
late pick up (at least not with Hertz!) So we were forced to catch a taxi to
the hotel and deal with care rental later.
It’s not a comforting feeling when you give the hotel
address to the taxi driver and he responds with a long whistle!!!! With no
other option we cringed at the thought of paying 45 Euros and climbed in. Upon
arrival the taxi driver felt sorry for us and said only 40 Euros. We gave him a
Despite the hectic day of transportation, the hotel and
surrounding countryside was a welcome sight and looked amazing. The hotel
reception welcomed us very graciously and quickly got us checked in to our room
and calmed our nerves by saying “we won’t worry about the car rental
tonight…..we’ll find you something tomorrow”
restaurant and the reception had already reserved us a table for later that
evening. We had time to freshen up with hot showers and get out of sweaty
clothes. Now things were getting a lot better!
We had a wonderful French dinner that evening, complete with
a sampling of regional cheeses! The zucchini soup and Kelley’s veal were
amazing! The next morning we discovered that Avis car rental at the train
station was open on Sunday evenings and we were able to get a car reserved!
Determined to not let one rough day of travel ruin the trip, we picked up a
wonderful picnic lunch and hopped on our bikes to ride through the French
countryside! It was so beautiful! Rolling fields everywhere! Lots of corn!
Several fields have already been harvested – we think these were wheat.
Hay-bales, farmhouses, and tractors at work. We love it! We passed through
several small villages with several great photo-ops! We made it to the town of
Amboise, crossed the river and gazed at the large Chateau walls! We parked our
bikes and made our way up the entrance once approached by knights on horseback
Once inside the grounds were groomed perfectly with geometric patterns and an
assortment of colorful flowers and towering a trees, including one in
particular which was a Cedar of Lebanon. We found the perfect spot to sit and
enjoy our picnic lunch of sandwiches, chips, and fruit.
After that we strolled around the Chateau grounds a little
more and investigated the interiors. After that we were off to pick up our car
(first time ever renting a car for either of us in Europe so this is bound to
be an adventure!) Other than having a little trouble finding it in the train
station (going outside the main entrance and looking around is a good idea)
picking up the care was very easy. Now we had to get those bikes into the car
to take back to the hotel…….
and knowing that some of these European streets and parking spaces are
extremely tight, we decided to rent a compact car. Now even though it had four
doors, I still think we could pick that little car up and put it on the plane
with us to carry home! The four normal tires looked the spare tire to most
small American cars. I meant to pop the hood and see where on earth they had
put the engine but forgot to do that. Fortunately is was sort of a hatchback
and the rear seats could fold down. With a little rope to tie it down, off down
the French highway we went! I was driving – needed a little extra leg room to
work the clutch – and Kelley was navigating. After a making a few turns that
“just seemed right” and traversing through a couple of “roundabouts” we felt like
we were headed in the right direction. “The river’s on our left so that’s gotta
We eventually pulled into the hotel parking lot – I think we
only got turned around once and it wasn’t very far
of ourselves and our little Toyota car! We capped off the day with a plunge in
the outdoor hot tub, accompanied by a wonderful French family of four. That
evening we had dinner with a very nice couple from London – we discussed
politics, religion, southern accents, and common British phrases! It was a
lovely end to a great day!
The next morning we made our way back to Amboise in our
rental car to meet up with our tour guide for the chateau tours. The chateaus
were wonderful! I had studied several of these in Architecture school and was
anxious to see them in person rather than on a slide show! We started with
Chenonceau, which as the famous bride that spans the river. We were on tight
time schedules and had to make haste.
everything there is to know and about a destination and want to take it all in.
However we quickly realized that if we were going to see all of the chateau and
the gardens and get “the photograph”, then we had better pep it up a bit. No
more reading the guidebook – just move on to the next room, take a fast picture
and read about it later!
We both loved Chenonceau – the grounds especially were very
beautiful and “the photograph” standing along the river looking back towards
the side with the arches stretching to the other bank was as wonderful as
envisioned! It was time to move on to next one – Cheverny. Cheverny is still
privately owned a family that has had it for nearly 6 centuries. But several of
the main rooms are open for tours as well as the grounds and the kennels for
the hunting dogs! The dogs all have a “V” shaved onte their side. It must have
been naptime because there were all being very lazy! Just lying on top of each
other, swatting some flies and not care in the world about the gawking tourists
antique furnishings on display.
Last stop of Chambord – the largest of them all, but also
the most disappointing. This lavishness and waste of taxpayers’ money by the
king did not go over too well with the French. So now it is understandably
mostly an empty castle with hardly any furnishings or artwork on the walls. A
monstrosity in size, but that’s about it. Our tour guide and bus driver were
awesome – often pointing out other sides on the way for Kelley to take pictures
of. They even let her set up front when she started getting a little car sick! But
fortunately that didn’t last long so that’s good. We capped off the day back in
Amboise with a little souvenir shopping and dinner below the Chateaux Amboixe.
And, as just an update about Kelley’s hair straightner,
well, she has figured out how to use our convertor and has now donated the
220Volt one to the hotel that we were staying at. Also, on the hair note, we had to stop and buy some new body supplies. Kelley felt the hotel shampoo smelled
like the flea soap we bathe Maggie and Buddy in. She is enjoying her French made Dove products.
We have learned so many ways to flush toilets and to
daringly cross streets. I must go
now as it’s laundry night
again. So, Au Revoir for now.
Kelley and Jonathan