Chapter Eleven: Azay, Joan, Eleanore & Angers

FD11K63Chapter Eleven:  Azay, Joan, Eleanore & Angers

Day Twelve – Boar Wars, A Chateau That Floats, Traveling In Joan Of Arc’s Footsteps (Without The Fire), Eleanor Really, Don’t Look Back In Angers, Get Me To The Church On Time and A Ferme Decision For Dinner

It was time for one last Gorge-athon for breakfast at Manoir de la Maison Blanche, and after saying goodbye to Annick, the horses, cats and dogs we were on our way to Angers, with a few stops scheduled along the way. Only Mary looked wide awake.

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Annick had been nice enough to purchase a “brioche for the road” for us.  She must have sensed we needed to eat every half hour or so.  Manoir de la Maison Blanche was a wonderful stop on our journey.  Fortunately, we were in a hurry, so nobody had to hear me play The Love Theme To Romeo and Juliet, the only song I know on the piano (I don’t know why it has stayed with me all these years).

P1030736We thought that Château de Azay-le-Rideau would be our first adventure of the day, but it would actually turn out to be our second.  Just a few kilometers from the chateau, as I rolled on down the highway, an unexpected visitor ran across our path. “Holy crap, it’s a boar,” Tracy said.  When I tried to explain to her that I knew this drive wasn’t the most scenic, she said, “Not a bore, you idiot, there was a wild boar running alongside the road.”  Quickly glancing in my rear view window, I saw the boar darting in and out of traffic like a New York City native. It was huge, and amazingly it did not get hit (at least while we were in the vicinity).  I don’t think I’d like to meet one of them face-to-face.

P1030745Arriving at Château de Azay-le-Rideau in a slight drizzle, we walked around the entire chateau before entering.   One of the Loire’s earliest chateaux, Château de Azay-le-Rideau was built in the 1500s on an island on the Indre River under the reign of King François I.  French novelist Honoré de Balzac called this chateau, “a faceted diamond framed by the Indre.”

P1030741Looking at it, Azay just seems to float on the water.  The walk around the chateau was peaceful as we were ahead of most of the crowds (and boars).

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After purchasing our tickets and audio guide, we entered via the Grand Staircase and went up to the Great Attic (they must have liked big things, I thought).   FD11K05The entire chateau had some very nice furnishings, beautiful tapestries, nice views out to the water.

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It took about an hour to visit, even with the spiral death stairs.

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There was no time to play cards there, because it was time to move on.

FD11K26Our next stop was Chinon where we would visit Joan of Arc’s old stomping ground, Château de Chinon.  This is where she stopped to chat with the future King Charles VII before she headed off to Orléans so Ingrid Bergman could play her in the movies centuries later.  We bought a discounted ticket here when we showed that we had also visited Château de Azay-le-Rideau earlier, so if you visit both, keep your ticket.  Tracy was just happy because their were more blue flowers.

P1030976Charles, who was not yet king, had some issues, so when the 18-year-old Joan paid a visit to give her an army as “she was sent by God to drive the English from France,” Charles received her, but decided to hide among the people of his Court.  He asked one of his courtiers to take his place and receive Joan.  Being a smart young lady, Joan saw through that rouse when she recognized the Dauphin.

FD11K41She eventually helped the Dauphin crowned as King.  The English were defeated at Orléans, but unfortunately for Joan, she was captured and turned over to the English.  In 1431, she was burned at the stake, as Charles did not come to her aid.  Now that’s gratitude for you!

Once again we were happy with our audio guides (included with the price of our ticket), and we walked the grounds that had some great views out to the Vienne River.

FD11K35Château de Chinon has undergone a gigantic restoration since our last visit more than a decade ago, and in a few of the rooms there were videos projected in an unconventional manner, showing the history of the place including Joan’s visit.

P1030762There were towers to climb and dungeons to explore..

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Kim and I climbed to the top if one tower and took a picture of Tracy.  She’s lucky we’re not pigeons.

FD11M16What goes up must come down, so we visited a dungeon and a room with a lovely tapestry.

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Henry II Plantagenêt, King of England, built the fortress and lived there until his death in 1189.   We would catch up with him after lunch.  After catching a glimpse of a nearby vineyard from yet another tower, it was time for some food.

P1030775The town of Chinon had been packed, so we parked above the castle.  We took the Panoramic Elevator down to the cute town of Chinon for lunch.

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The couples split up for lunch, so Tracy and I elected to sit down at Bistrot de la Place located on the main square.

P1030778Although the service was incredibly slow (even for France), Tracy enjoyed the zucchini soup, bruschetta, while I had a delicious Ravioli aux fromage. Meanwhile, Kim and Mary picked up lunch at a Farmers Market and walked around Chinon.

P1030780 After taking the elevator back up top, we asked the very nice ticket person at the chateau for directions to our next stop (Madame Bleu and Lady Garmin seemed to be on strike today and were of little help).

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Armed with better directions, it was not a long drive to Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud. I’m glad I listened to all of you on the board who said to definitely stop here, because this was one of the highlights of the trip. If you go, you should also purchase the audio guide because it is invaluable in telling the history of the abbey.

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We entered the huge, high-vaulted, Romanesque abbey church, which is quite a sight.  The abbey was built in the 1100s.  Henry II Plantaganet (1133-89), king of England and count of Anjou, along with queen Eleanor of Aquitaine  were among the royal benefactors of Fontevraud Abbey.   Both were buried in the abbey church and several other members of the royal family were buried with them later.

P1030787Soon we came upon four royal effigy tombs that date all the way back to the 12th and 13th centuries.  The tops of these tombs are painted with the effigy of the people who were once inside, including Elenore of Aquitaine, her husband, Henry II Plantagenet and their son King Richard I The Lionheart.  It is believed their remains were removed during the French Revolution.

P1030788The Grand-Moutier cloister dates from the 16th century and is a combination of Late Gothic and Early Renaissance styles.

FD11K74We visited the Cloister, Chapter House…

FD11K71…and the cool-looking 12th century Kitchen.  This Romanesque kitchen has a Byzantine style-cupola and a fish-scale pyramid roof.  It was built about the same time as the church and restored in the early 20th century.

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After playing a little hide-and-seek in the Cloisters and checking out some stained glass, our time at the abbey was complete.

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What was in the courtyard, I don’t know, but it looked like an amusement park ride.

P1030796Our next journey took us to our hotel for the night located in the city of Angers, a place I knew virtually nothing about except for the fact that it was on the way to Mont Saint-Michel, where we would go the following morning.  By the time we hit Angers, there was a driving rainstorm and traffic that rivaled some of the worst we have encountered in France.  It didn’t help that the one-way streets seemed to be conspiring against us as we tried to find our hotel. 

 Needless to say, with all this traffic, I needed some Angers Management. One guy honked at me, but I remembered my psychologist telling me not “to look back in Angers,” or something like that, so I stayed focused on the task at hand: getting us to the hotel without killing anyone.

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That said, driving around the city was kind of cool. It almost seemed like we were in the heart of mini-Paris minus the Tour Eiffel.  Even though it was raining, there were lots of people walking, and they all were pretty stylish, too. The shabby four would soon lower that common denominator.   We parked in a secure underground garage (locked at night) and, after I survived some sort of weird dizzy spell exiting the car, we schlepped our suitcases through the rain to our hotel, the Hotel Le Continental, 14 Rue Louis de Romain.

P1030820Rooms at this hotel are small (the bathroom was extra small with showers only a super model could love), but once again it was clean, although I think a previous occupant or two had not adhered to the no smoking policy. Of course, I always find smokers to be sooo considerate of others.

Unfortunately, we got to the city too late to see Château d’Angers, but we did want to explore the city a little bit since it had piqued everyone’s interest while driving to the hotel. So after we all freshened up and contorted like a wet pretzel to fit in the minuscule shower, we were off on foot, umbrellas at the ready, although the rain was letting up a bit.

P1030802Angers was full of young people (well, I guess most people are “young people” to us now), and there was plenty of shopping going on.

P1040017We scurried to La Cathédrale Saint-Maurice, which was built in the 12th and 13th centuries. The stained glass windows were beautiful, and we spent a fair amount of time admiring its interior.

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Then, suddenly, we had a terrible thought. It was almost two weeks into our trip and we hadn’t hit an Irish pub, a must for a Tom, Tracy, Kim and Mary trip.  Fortunately, there was one nearby, and on our way to it we spied a restaurant our hotel had recommended. We decided we would return after cocktails (I mean it was almost 7 p.m. for God’s sake). I think the place was called Le Dent, which I hoped would not be foreshadowing for our rental car.

P1030811In any event, after a Guiness, we went back to the hotel, got into some nicer clothes so we wouldn’t embarrass the Angerians (yeah, I know) and we headed out to our restaurant, and what a restaurant it turned out to be!

Sometimes it was hard for the four of us to make a firm decision for dinner, but Le Ferme (2 Place Freppel) had a great look from the outside, so this one was a no-brainer. When we arrived about 8 p.m., very few tables in the two rooms were occupied. When we left the place was packed.

P1030817Outside of our foursome, we heard no English spoken at La Ferme, so those of you who need an authentic “French experience” fix should like this place. Of course, even though we tried to introduce ourselves with our exceptional French accents, we were offered the English menu. I think they saw my little frown when they “discovered” our true nationality, so they offered me the French menu.

P1030814We were served an amuse-bouche (I think they did that because we bought a round of cocktails…yes shocking, I know).

P1030812Dinner was exquisite and there were even a couple of “wow” dishes. Kim and Mary started with salmon ravioli in lobster broth. Kim then ordered a lamb shank and Mary had the first “wow” dish, a whitefish with butter sauce and ratatouille on mashed potatoes.

I began with a “wow” appetizer, pan-fried scallops in a whiskey cream sauce with risotto. I could go back right now. I also ordered the delicious lamb shank with pommes frites. Tracy had a very good duck with roasted potatoes. I had a crazy pear dessert that was crazy good.

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Cocktails, appetizers, main courses and a bottle of wine came to 120€ for the four of us. It was a great way to end an eventful (and long) day.  The cathedral and town were lit up as we walked past it on the way back to the hotel, and I was kind of kicking myself for not researching Angers more before we came. I hope we can return here one day, as I really liked the entire vibe of the city.

P1030819I believe I was asleep before Tracy could say, “What time do we need to get up tomorrow?” That was fortunate for me, because my phone was programmed to wake us up very early. We needed to get to Mont St-Michel before the hordes of tourists descended upon a site I had wanted to visit since I was a kid.

Next: Day Thirteen – The Road Less Traveled, Stairway To Heaven, Sermon On The Mont, Addressing An Oversight, How Much Duck Could A Wood Duck Chuck, Another Oasis In A City and You Mean We Have To Walk This Far Again For Dinner

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