Tuesday, May 11:  Dordogne Valley to Loire Valley

Packed up and reluctantly departed Sarlat. Lots to do and see here in the Dordogne Valley, our room was a lot of fun, and the weather had turned in our favor. But first Pat made a trip out for a couple of items and came home with placemats and napkins for twelve.

Left town just before 11 AM, and made a beeline for the motorway. Trip was uneventful, and I was finally confident enough to go slightly over the posted 130 km/hr speed limit. We had a delightful lunch at a service area (ordered using no English, except for the word “fish” in response to a query about the contents of the quiche), along with a busload of French soldiers. Arrived at our hotel in Amboise directly, though Robert claims a wrong turn within a kilometer of our departure in Sarlat still counts against me and he can safely continue to claim “Dad always gets lost.” Long drive all the same, we arrived just before 4 PM.

Hotel la Breche is about ten minutes walk away from the action, close to the train station. To get into town we must cross two bridges across the Loire, which utilize an island in the middle for the crossing. Since the Loire has often separated opposing armies (like the English and the French), this island has been used for signing treaties and the like through the ages. We have part of a small building on the garden, fronted by a pond with four pet ducks, just across the garden from the main building. Lots of room.

Plenty of time to bag a castle before dinner, so off we went. Chenonceau is the third most popular castle in France, and it is obvious why. (Photo 119) Long scenic entry, huge gardens, picturesque chateau, dramatic setting astride the Cher River. You’ve seen photographs of this one. Typical three-story decorative castle, but it is in the river, connected by a short drawbridge. A bridge spans the remainder of the river, but it was later built upon to form a three-story wing above the river. The matching bookend on the other side of the river was never built. The first floor of the bridge section, known as the gallery, is a grand ballroom space. So big, even Kathy Samms would have trouble filling it with guests. Lots of history -- Francois I, Catherine of Medici, World War I hospital in the gallery, scene of World War II prisoner swaps as the river was the border of occupied France.

We parked 50 meters from the entrance, despite warnings from Rick of a fifteen minute walk during the busy season. As we walked in, throngs poured out. By the time we left, we had the front entry and gardens practically to ourselves. The boys did have the hedge maze to themselves, though it was too easy, and we didn’t lose them. Rick’s no-brainer advice to go early or late was right-on, but so obvious he doesn’t get credit for another guidebook.

However, the hotel dinner might qualify for a guidebook purchase. Too beat to search out dinner across the river, and of a mind to let the boys run back to the room at any time, we did the set menu at the hotel. Great price and the starter course and dessert were each a buffet. Rob loaded up, while Robert was too tired to even consider the range of tantalizing desserts, he only had a small apple. The curry chicken was very mild, but at least it was an attempt at some less-subtle flavors than we’ve seen lately.

David and I made a foray on foot (Pat and I split a bottle of wine at dinner) to the Internet cafe across the river. It was full of gamers, all playing the same game on the network. But with no words spoken, they spied my laptop and pulled out an Ethernet cord for me to use. Fast connection, and 2 euro later I’d transferred mail and photos. David was a tad disappointed though that he couldn’t get on a station. On the way home, a photographer spoke to us on the bridge. Discovering we were American, he let on he was Australian, and inquired about the accident scene we had walked by at the far end of the bridge. Then he said he was a paramedic, told us about all his rescues in Melbourne, warned us about all the freight trains on the nearby line, lamented the shortage of diesel fuel (just nine years supply left), and extolled the virtues of fuel from hydrogen. I tried to hustle David along as the conversation continued along the bridge. Eventually he stopped walking (but not talking) and returned to his bag of photo gear.

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Photo 117  Chenonceau
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Photo 118  Chenonceau

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Photo 119  Chenonceau