Saturday, December 3, 2011

Verneuil sur Avre, day five

Today we decided to take a small dip into the Loire Valley. We had a look around the web the night before and decided to go to the nearest chateaux and only really as far as Chartres. It was, in some ways, self preservation because the whole 'begin with a three hour drive' business hasn't quite worked for us so far.
What has gone our way, however, is the weather, and today was no exception. Following on from revolting weather (when we stayed in our little cottage), the day dawned like a golden lion stretching, and we set off in bright blue. I had (on the advice of the Loire Valley tourist website) designed a little tour. Hmmm.
We arrived in Anet at about ten in the morning and immediately found the chateau of Diane de Poitiers; a huge thing at the top of the town that has a ruddy great deer and two hunting dogs over the entry gate. Very exciting - out first chateau. So we sought out the tourist office to find out more. The lovely lady there, with watery eyes, told us (with the faintest look of surprise - perhaps she had never seen tourists before in December) that the chateau was closed to tourists until February when it opened only on the weekend. Damn. We walked around it (or tried to - very difficult) and then walked up to the gothic church (Paris was thrilled). Then we found a garden on the map and walked there. This too was closed, though there was no reasons given for this. It was not a great beginning (though great pain chocolat from the baker).
On to Dreux and the Royal Chapel. The countryside now changed from farm land to forest. I think I had read somewhere that Diane de Poitiers and her friends liked to hunt so that might explain the change. I was hoping for leaping deer at last. Alas ...
The Royal Chapel (or the Chapelle Royale) is a spectacular church set on the hill above Dreux (possibly the dreariest named town in the world). Up we went. To discover that this too was closed. Not only for winter, but pretty much the whole year - opened only really during the summer months. I doggedly took photos through the trees. We walked down the hill into Dreux to find the tourist office and get some decent information. Paris wacked his head on a sign. They are much shorter than him; the French. Or perhaps they have less hair and can see more. Before we found the tourist office, we found the local market which was lively and full of dead chickens and ducks with heads and legs (Zelda and I contemplated vegetarianism again, how squeamish are we?). A whole stall with oysters (all kinds, who knows what the differences were, and all still closed to the outside world). And then we were beguilded by a laneway that then took us into the centre of the town (and the tourist office). In there, a lovely young girl looked again with watery eyes at me, and apologised. 'But nothing is open here this time of the year. Except the  town church.' 'Great,' I thought. 'That's not going to fly with the troops.' So I asked about the next site on my tour: Maintenon. 'Oh no,' she said. 'That too is shut.' She did give me a fat, shiny flyer for my troubles with all the sites we couldn't see in glossy colour and sent me on my way. The bells had just struck twelve and it was time to hurry home for lunch.
When I returned with my news, Paris looked darkly at the suggestion of the church, and then asked about lunch. 'Righto', I said. We found a boulangerie. I ordered (can you believe it?) and managed to get all the things that had been asked of me. We sat in the deserted square, albeit in sunshine, and ate. Our only companions were furtive children with large baguettes hurrying home across the square, and professional types striding passed, they too with baguettes, clearly having been held up at the office.
Ah the French lunch hour. How we love you.
So to Chartres then. We figured it was a large town. Maybe there would be things to see. Actually, it is a beautiful town with a soaring cathederal and glorious architecture everywhere. But we were a bit numb to see it. It is the problem of not having a clear destination. We were aimless and kinda slow. The French hate people who walk slow almost as much as they hate people who drive slow. We were close to being given notifications. In self defence, we went into a shop to buy water, and then walked around again. When it was looking dangerous for us again (slowness, Niccolo mistaking a post box for a bin ...), we slunk into a cafe to drink hot chocolate. We were surrounded by what looked like groovy, intellectual types, with cool hair and very thin cigarettes. But for all I know, they were discussing game shows.
So, having failed to find anything but churches open, we turned around with sorry tails and headed back home. On the way we did see a pink/burnt orange sunset (even Paris said: 'Pretty'), and two deer grazing at the edge of a woodland. They were not leaping, but still. I feel that at least one thing can be crossed off the list.
I cooked an approximation of a French stew (Niccolo had thirds, I think he might be craving protein). We watched a film called Bride Wars. It was as bad as the title clearly suggested.
Ding dong, sang the bells as I went out to lock our gate and door. Yes, I replied. Ding dong.

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