Day 48 - Sat May 21 to Chenonceaux (Loire)
(Jen) Today was our first relatively long drive - about 4.5 hours. Reek said to get out of Mont St. Michele early before all the day tripping tourons show up. We were out of the hotel by 8:40 and in line for the Abbey 10 minutes later waiting for the doors to open at 9. Given that we usually wake up about 10 and checkout at about 11, this was quite a feat for us. We were really glad we followed his advice though - we were the first people in the Abbey, just minutes ahead of a large Japanese tour group. We toured the entire Abbey having each and every room to ourselves - it was incredibly pleasant and fitting. By 10 we were in the car and on our way to Chenoceaux and not a moment too soon. On our way to the car people were just pilling into the little island, we counted about a dozen ginormous tour buses on our way out.
The big freeways here are pretty fun. They are well maintained, usually 2 or 3 lanes each way, with a speed limit of 130 kph or 110 kpf if it's raining. The freeways are different than in the states -- they are far less crowded (I assume the cost of gas <~$6/gallon> and tolls <~$5/hour> combined with the excellent railway system contributes to this) and the left lane is always available for passing. No one stays in the left lane.
About half way through our drive we stopped at a grocery for picnic supplies. It was a relatively large grocery so we found peanut butter - apparently the Europeans are not too enamored with peanut butter because the only other time we've seen it is in Madrid. Some raspberry jelly and "Harry's American Bread" (no kidding), some fruit, and we were in business. Oh, and Chris got some Cheetoh-like chips he thought were cheese that turned out to be peanut butter flavored. I made sandwiches in the car while Chris drove - the car is already a total pig sty with crumbs everywhere.
Outside the grocery we noticed a "Coiffure" (hair stylist) so I talked Chris into going. The woman didn't speak any English so communicated via pantomime and pointing at some hair style books. Chris looked horribly nervous, but it turned out great. It's boy hair after all, what can go wrong?
About an hour before our final destination, we stopped to view our first Chateau (the theme for the next 2 days). Chateau Chambord is quite breathtaking on the outside, but relatively boring on the inside. We rented audioguides and nearly fell asleep listening to them. In general Chateaus (like Chambord and Versailles) follow the theme of being huge, interesting and / or pretty on the outside, gigantic immaculate gardens with some sort of water - either river, man made pond or fountains. On the inside the rooms are huge with tall ceilings decorated with tapestries (lots of tapestries), paintings (often copies of what we've seen in museums), and the most gaudy wallpaper you've ever seen in your life.
One last stop before we hit our hotel - McDonald's. Chris had a craving. E12 for a Royal Cheese and 6-piece McNugget, both with soda and fries. That's about $16, what a total rip off. (Chris) The previous night Jen ate raw salmon in a dill sauce and I had weird potted meat in a hot cheesy sauce. That's where I draw the line. Some of our experiments have been excellent, but not at Mont St Michelle!
(Jen) Our hotel room for the evening on the other hand was a bargain. E47 and the bed is comfortable and the tub pretty large.
Day 49 - Sun May 22 to Azay-le-Rideau (Loire)
(Jen) Reek said we had to hit Chateau Chenonceaux (5 min from our hotel) by 8:45 to beat the crowds, since we faired so well with that plan yesterday at the Mont St. Michele Abbey, we played along. We were the first in line to buy tickets when they opened at 9 AM and once again we were right ahead of a tour group. We had nearly every room to ourselves again. I must say it makes sightseeing much more pleasant. We didn't rent an audioguide, but we received a 20 page booklet with our ticket with explanations which was very helpful. The inside of Chateau Chenonceaux was far more interesting than Chambord yesterday so we really enjoyed it. The outside is very pretty as well. It's built right over a river and we even spotted some fish (trout?) that were maybe 14" long. (Chris) If you're a guy and you were thinking about letting your woman trick you into seeing some French chateaus, Chenonceaux is the only one I would go to. Even though it's not the biggest, t's really cool. All the other ones are duds.
(Jen) Next was a stop at the Museum of Leonardo DaVinci that resides in a the small Chateau he lived in upon his death. The museum included quite a few models built by IBM based off of Leonardo's drawings. The models were made out of materials available during the time of Leonardo - some of them were cool. More Chris' thing than mine. (Chris) The models were cool but not worth the E12 entry fee. Leonardo sure invented a lot of stuff - more than Thomas Edison I bet, and when I get home I'm going to do some research to find out. Many of DaVinci's inventions involved the use of gears to increase leverage... it was pretty impressive, and even more so once you remember that he was also an acclaimed painter, sculptor, etc etc etc. Although a lot of his inventions really just seemed to be concepts, daydreams that he never had to prove out but someone created in one form or another after he died. Does that count as an invention?
(Jen) Another PB&J picnic and then a short drive to Chateau Langeais. We walked up and checked the place out, decided the outside view was enough, and moved on. Each Chateau costs about E7 / person to go inside and they start to feel the same... Next stop was our hotel in Azay-le-Rideau and then the Chateau by the same name right next it. Last (and least) was a quick stop at Chateau Usse which is the castle that inspired the Sleeping Beauty story. We didn't go inside and were underwhelmed by the outside (but took the obligatory picture anyway). I think we're becoming Chateau snobs.
To top of our evening we had a wonderful dinner at a small farmhouse 20 mins from our hotel. The most expensive dinner of our trip so far at E60 but well worth it. We had a goat cheese appetizer that was outstanding and Chris ordered duck which he liked quite a lot. I had fish which was also good. Chris thought it was better than Tortue in Hornfluer, I thought it was just behind. They even had a dog in the restaurant and we spied a fellow dinner sneak her plate off the table to let the dog lick it. Maybe Daniel's should try that. Makes for easier cleanup in the kitchen I bet. (Chris) The French restaurants have a way with sauces and combining interesting flavors... the goat cheese Jen mentions was accompanied by a fruit/tomato jelly and also some sort of green olive-oil-based sauce. It all went together wonderfully. The sauce on my entrée was so good that I ate the broccoli and cauliflower that came with (was also slightly browned ala Shawn). No joke!