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Posts tagged ‘France’

Azay-le-Rideau–Rigny-Ussé—Chinon

château_d'ussé_loire_valley-biking_France.jpgJust a quick post tonight as I am trying not to spend all these lovely evenings blogging. We had a more sensible biking day today: only 45 km. We biked from Azay-le-Rideau to Chinon, with a 2-hours stopover at Château d’Ussé. This truly fairytale château, standing tall above the landscape of the Loire Valley is said to have inspired Charles Perrault to write Sleeping Beauty. (At the vey least it must have inspired Walt Disney to build the princess a castle in California.) IMG_1715 The château is simply stunning, especially arriving by bike, just like it must have been for Prince Charmant arriving on horseback to save his beauty after a century of sleep. At the risk of using one too many superlatives, the castle is spectacular. The grounds and gardens are well kept, the chapel and its history spellbinding, and the caves and attics intriguing.

Sleeping Beauty's Tower

Sleeping Beauty’s Tower

However the way the rooms are staged is just a bit too cheesy, and oh, so French. I counted more than 40 mannequins, and I don’t mean the French kind that stroll down the haute couture runways. I’m talking old-time mannequins decked out in their finery, a few sultry glances and a few too many crazy grins. But in that French-way, it somehow manages to be just a little bit charming, and perfect for the under-10 set who are still hoping to grow up and be a princess.

chateau_ussé_mannequins_sleeping_beauty_france.jpg From Ussé we rode our final 22 km to Chinon and her fortress, which apparently was also an inspiration for some very fine writers; maybe you’ve heard of them: Monty Python? Chinon_fortress_chateau_France_loire_biking.jpg And now after a few too many wine dégustations, I’m sitting on my balcony watching the Vienne River settle as the frogs croak and riot and one discrete beaver surveys the bank. dégustation_wine_tasting_loire_valley_france_biking.jpg

Tours-Savonnières-Villandry-Azay-le-Rideau-Bréhémont

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With a little extra sleep and a homemade breakfast in our tummies, we headed out for an unhurried day of châteaux-ing. My plan was to spend an easy 39 km in our saddles, stopping wherever our wheels fancied. It took Superman a little time to adjust to this plan, as an American, he likes to set a goal, and go, go, go.

When I suggested we stop a mere 10 km into the ride in the charming village of Savonnières, he was less than enthusiastic. That’s when I decided that our motto of the day (the trip?) would be: “What would the French girls do?” Loire_Valley_biking_velo.jpg Savonnieres_loire_France.jpg Obviously we stopped…although not for a coffee, and looked around. And so the day unfolded with numerous stops and a slow meander through the stunning gardens of Villandry.

villandry_chateau_gardens_loire_france.jpg We meandered so slowly, that we almost missed lunch, which set Superman’s heart aflutter and resulted in a surprising stop at l’Etape Gourmande. From then, we were goners, and the day became all about lunch. l-etape_gourmande_restaurant_villandry_france_loire.jpg   l-etape_gourmande_restaurant_villandry_france_loire.jpg IMG_1613 l-etape_gourmande_restaurant_villandry_france_loire.jpg l-etape_gourmande_restaurant_villandry_france_loire.jpg l-etape_gourmande_restaurant_villandry_france_loire.jpg From lunch it was all downhill to Azay-le-Rideau, an attractive town with a handsome boutique hotel, but disappointingly, the château itself is under extensive renovation. azay-le-rideau_loire_a_velo_biking_France. jpg While it looked like this on our first visit years ago: Azay-le-rideau_château_douves It looks like this today, and will, until 2017. l-etape_gourmande_restaurant_azay-le-rideau_france_loire.jpg My advice: Château de l’Islette, A-l-R’s little sister, and just 3 km away… Chateau-de-l-Islette-8 We ended our day with a final 20 km ride and picnic on the riverbank of a picturesque hamlet called Bréhémont. loire_a_velo_biking_France_ brehemont.jpg

Blois-Amboise-Tours

loire_a_velo_amboise_Biking_in_France.jpgYesterdays we followed the ‘pays des châteaux’ cycling tracks from Blois to Chaumont-sur-Loire where the impressive château oversees the happenings of the tiny village, then continued on to Amboise and visited her marvelous majestic château, then crossed through the uniform vineyards of Montiouis, and 78 km later, arrived in Tours just in the nick-of-time to get Kitcat on her train back to Paris, and we hoped on to London. (Mais malheureusement, the Chunnel was closed due to a strike, so it appears she is stuck in Paris for the day…although there are certainly worst places one could be marooned.)

In any case, the day was filled with blue skies, beautiful scenery, tranquil moments, unexpected hills, friendly packs of cyclists, and a wonderfully warm reception from our delightful host at la Maison aux couleurs—who smiled and laughed with us, despite our rusty, basic French.

The highlights for me were:

  • cycling with my free-wheeling, happy daughter who is always up for a challenge and even a few steep hills,
  • a lunch of crêpes and cidre,
  • a quick mother-daughter stroll through the château Royal d’Amboise,
  • a golden, thirst quenching beer in Tours,
  • a surprise meeting with Amy L. from Paris,
  • and watching the late afternoon sun light up the vineyards and sparkle on the water.

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And now after eating too much ‘vrai’ pain perdu loving whipped up by our host, we are off to Azay le Rideau in the Indre Valley via Villandry.

Bye for now…à tout à l’heure!

Orléans to Blois: une histoire d’amitié

Our first day on the Loire à vélo was incroyable in so many ways.

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However, as it is late and I’m exhausted, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

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The real story of the day lies in not what we saw, but with whom we saw it. It was a day to remember the value of friendship and importance of making time in our busy lives to spend with friends and family; because in the end those relationships make the ride worthwhile.

I was so touched that the French girls and my flexible and optimistic daughter, Kitcat found the time to ride 65 km with us along the wild riverbanks to the shuttered village of Baule, to the flower-filled city of Beaugency, to the country churches and finally to our friendly hotel in the shadow of the stately château in Blois.

The great thing about traveling with the French girls is, well,  they are French. And the French understand how to do a cross-country bike trip. They are really good at finding the beauty in the small things, and have no problem making a lot of stops along the way to make sure we see, smell and taste that beauty.

Bistros and cafés are key. They like their coffee (grand and with crème) and they like it in a sympa setting, preferably with some homemade crumble.

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They also will go up some pretty steep village hills (even if they have to walk their bikes) in search of the one fantastic restaurant open on a Monday afternoon. Plus, when they are on vacation, they insist on having wine with lunch, and are quick to remind you that, “No, no, it’s good for you (as) we need a little sugar.” And that they “never drink at lunch, but (they) catch up when they can.”

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And after a hearty, relaxing meal, they hop back on their bikes (“Oh! Mes fesses!”) and ride for another 3 hours, all without having trained a single day for the ride.

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Marie-Françoise and Hélène are nothing if not optimistic. They are total goofballs, and full of smiles and beans. Nothing like the awful French we Americans are so scared we will encounter as we travel through France.

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So, I am feeling like my Tour de la Loire is off to an awfully good start. And feeling very blessed to have such wonderful friends.

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Finding Paris in Chicago

I have been traveling non-stop since I returned from Paris and collecting photos of “French America”.

I came across this awkwardly shaped piece of the Notre Dame de Paris embedded in the Tribune Tower. Inspired by the Button Tower of the cathedral at Rouen, France, “the Tribune Tower exemplifies the way American architects have elevated office buildings to sacred status.” 

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The base of the Tribune Tower contains 120 stones from important locations all around the world, including the Parthenon, in Greece; the pyramids, in Egypt; the Taj Mahal, in India; the Alamo, in San Antonio; the Great Wall of China; Injun Joe Cave in Missouri, and of course a piece from Paris’ grand dame.

Is that a gargoyle’s nose? I hope so.

I love Chicago’s architecture. Who doesn’t? So much tradition blended with startling metal and glass. It is especially fabulous on a rare blue-skied spring day. It was wonderful to catch up with my lovely girls and take Kitcat out for her first legal drink stateside.

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Cheers!

Another Distributeur…Crossing the Line, Encore…

What the heck? First the DAB, and now this? France you’re killin’ me! S’il vous plaît, stick to your artisans. They make France so wonderfully French.

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Distributeur Automatique de Baguette

baguette_dispenser_automatique_distributeur_de_pain_paris_1.jpgThe French are know for some pretty innovative breakthroughs: hot air balloon and hairdryers, pasteurization and pencil, mayonnaise and the metric system, and bicycles, Braille and bras. The Gauls gave us the guillotine and are also accountable for the Etch-a-Sketch. But the jury is still out on the recent brainchild of French baker, inventor and entrepreneur, Jean-Louis Hecht, the 2014 winner of the Concours Lépine—the French invention challenge held each spring at the Foire de Paris.

His invention? Le Distributeur Automatique de Baguette (DAB) or what I like to call the Baguette ATM.

When this contraption popped up in my Facebook newsfeed a few weeks ago, I was stunned. Zut alors! A baguette vending machine in the land of artisanal bakers? Sacrilege! I knew I had to see this with my own eyes to believe it.

A quick Google search yielded two addresses: one in the 19eme arrondissement and one in the 15eme. The automatic boulangerie in the 15eme turned out to be a short walk from my Pilates studio, so I grabbed my good friend Rachel and we made the trek.

When we arrived at La Panamette, 32 rue Paul Barruel, we found two dispensers filled with partially baked baguettes—one ready and willing to dispense. We drop our €1 coin, and after 10 seconds, it dropped our baton. I was expecting something more dramatic, and certainly more aromatic, unfortunately it was rather anticlimactic. The machines, swathed in bright pictures of a beret-clad lad wielding his wand among the wheat, were not much different than the chip and candy dispensers from home.

While online reviews promise “crisp and steaming” or “warm and crusty” bread, ours was warm(ish) and chewy, on the verge of being crisp, a super marché quality baguette.

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That said, I understand the concept. It addresses a real need. While I wasn’t won over by the taste and texture of this bread, these round-the-clock boulangeries do allow people who work evenings or early mornings to enjoy fresh, warm bread when their friendly bakers lock up shop. In fact, his closed bakery doors are what inspired Hecht, a baker of 57 years, to design the DAB in the first place. Living over his boulangerie, in Hombourg-Haut, he was often disturbed by desperate customers knocking on his door after hours demanding bread. Wanting to spend uninterrupted time with his family and not wanting to worry about closing up for vacation, the idea was born. In addition to more sleep and quality family time, Hecht also hopes that his machines will shorten the queues for buying bread and reclaim the towns of France where the baker has disappeared.

I personally love the anticipation of lining up at my local boulangerie and inspecting the visual and scented edible art, but maybe that’s just an expat experience. To me the DAB is purely a novelty in this land that does bread so well. I’ll wait in line and stick to the real deal.

…lining up for a baguette...

…lining up for a baguette…

Meanwhile, I’m keeping my eyes peeled for the machines dispensing Dom Pérignon in juice boxes.