Robert Frost

The best way out is always through.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Day 5: Castle Chenonceau, back in the Loire

Here is a view of the garden patio out of our room windows/sliding doors. When I woke up this Tuesday morning I was so looking forward to the full breakfast included in the price for the room. Breakfast was listed in our room information booklet as being provided generously from 8am-10:30am. We hustled and packed ourselves up and we readied for the delightful breakfast in the old mill house off the garden. As we walked into the mill house breakfast room, we saw about three other families and I was happy to see it all seemed as sweetly described on the website. So imagine my disappointment when a harried and blustery French woman appeared from the kitchen, with a phone cradled to ear with her shoulder because her arms were flailing and she was telling us, "no, no, no, no!" What had we done? I was thinking. In quick shrieking French she ushered us out. I looked at my watch that showed it was only just before ten. The incident drew the attention of the others in the room who looked as clueless as us. Realizing that we were not exactly understanding her words she paused and told us in broken English that we need to go to the cafe next door. I still stared at her wondering how to ask if it was still included in the room rate when she seemed to read my mind and said, "He knows you no pay more." A-okay.

A little put off by this seeming rejection, but not wanting my disappointment to match the gloomy day and weigh down my troops I said, "Well this should be interesting" And thankfully it was. We walked in the "coffee shop" as it stated in English on the outside sign and were met with a very friendly and welcoming Frenchman who owned the small three table cafe. He already had our table set with breads, spreads, milk, and fresh squeezed orange juice. How encouraging it all was. He spoke a little English to welcome us and set a carafe of hot coffee on the table and asked the girls if they wanted hot chocolate (a staple for breakfast for French children--not so much for our children) Sara said yes, just to try it. He made Sara's day by automatically providing crepes and then topped it off by having Nutella available when we asked for it. Then to top it all off, when the girls pined for the possibility of finally having some eggs for breakfast, he overheard and noted it would cost extra (not offered on the menu even at the B & B) but he would be glad to make us an omelette. We ordered some up and I noticed only paid a fraction of what eggs cost most anywhere else. Sophia, again, refused to eat but enjoyed herself running around the cafe (no one else was there at this late morning hour) feeling freed from the stroller.

Once we were done, I had hoped we could stroll around the nooks and crannies of Honfleur, but the easy rain of the early morning had turned into a constant downpour. If it had been just David and I, this stroll would still have happened, but with three kids who didn't want to see the town in the rain and the possibility of physically getting under the weather we (much to my dismay and one of my few regrets of the trip) left the town of Honfleur hoping to return and enjoy it in the future.

At this point Sophia still had not eaten yet. So we had to find a McDonald's. Chicken nuggets were the order of the day. So I mustered some of my French hoping McDonald's was understood as a name universally. Lo' and behold I hit another language wall, and was corrected. The helpful lady at the B&B pointed out that they didn't call it by it's full name, it had been Frenchified to McDo's (pronounced: Macdough's). So to McDo's we went and stocked up on nuggets for Sophia for the day and headed back South to the Loire ready to tour a castle or two.

I read up on the choices in my Rick Steve's guide and chose Chenonceau. A beautiful castle on the River Cher by the town of Chenonceaux built grandly in the 1400s. Called the "The Ladies Castle" because of it's illustrious history of housing not only the King Henry II's mistress, Diane de Poitiers, but then once he passed on, his powerful Queen kicked out the industrious de Poitiers (moving her to a slightly less grand chateau) and moved in with grand plans of her own extending this castle over the river (quite a marvel). Versailles of course is the most grand castle to be visited in France, but the girls thoroughly enjoyed that they saw every inch of this well displayed castle and took pictures of each of the bedrooms four poster beds dressed with their elaborate draperies.

We toured the pretty grounds and gardens and enjoyed getting around on foot after all our time in the trusty station wagon. There was even a hedge maze that entertained the girls until we all realized our hunger was growing and so the search for food was on. Again I turned to Rick Steves, our intrepid guide, and found our answer in Relais Chenonceaux, located in the town near the castle. Now, I could have just left it out of our tale but it is necessary to mention it as it provided us our second best French eating experience. The restaurant was situated in a very quaint and heavily timbered hotel. The ten or so tables were nearly all full yet, as our crew tromped in I noticed the utter quiet of the full room. We sounded like a herd of goats, girls bickering, me knocking the stroller against the walls of the almost too tight entry, and David carrying our wiped out, sleepy Sophia. Um, we most certainly stood out and I had that moment of, "hey lets just back out and find a McDo's again", as the whispering dining crowd looked up at us.
But I knew we were all too hungry to walk back the car we parked in a lot a block away in this small little village. I just had to suck up the fact that we were about to give all the French folks a tale to tell of the stereotypical rowdy Americans that interrupted their lovely evenings. Our waitress was abrupt and unfriendly (yikes) but, when the co-owner served the drinks and helped us in her near perfect English make out the menu a wave of relief washed over me. Sophia slept through the meal (yes, I wanted her to eat but the quiet was blessing). The girls ordered from the kids menu, a plate of sausage and fries (they deemed it the best of the trip), with an ever so cool short skinny glass of Coke (they longed for refills, but that again is an American convenience), and a dessert of their choice (Sara-B&N crepe, of course, and Anna always ice cream). Then I did a foolish American thing. I dared to ask for the possibility of a sausage meal to go. I had baggies and knew later would have a hungry toddler. I should have just casually ordered an extra plate and left off the "to go" part but the unamused waitress answered me with a "Pffft! Non." Point 1 French Waitress, Point 0 entitled American. So, David and I ordered two different meals and subtly split our tasty baked fish, and chicken. But before I had a chance to dig in I got the opportunity to make a huff with said waitress. I noticed not a smudge, but a hunk of dried food on my fork, and as I satisfactorily brought it to her attention she looked a bit aghast and quickly returned with a perfectly clean fork and a softer attitude. All Points even and done with-yea! We downed it all with a bottle of wine (our splurge for the day) while the girls finished off a bottle of water and shared our desserts (apple tart and ice cream). It seemed on cue that Sophia woke up as we were finishing our desserts. She sat on David's lap staring bleary eyed at the surroundings, silently taking it all in.

As we left the restaurant with a kind adieu from the proprietress, I stole some more glances of the small well situated village. I was, as many times before, so thankful for all our experiences as the distinct privilege they were, to be spending these adventures (however small) together, in some of the most beautiful surroundings France could provide. We chilled at the gite and again enjoyed cookies, leftover pastry, and Gilmore Girls before we headed to bed, ready to sleep in a bit the next morning.


Abbeysmum said...

Hi Jenny, I found you Via days on the claise, happy to see you are all enjoying France...don't know what is wrong with your "live feed" device BUT I am streaming from Toowoomba Queensland Australia..NOT Liverpool NSW as it is indicating, as you will see I logged on and off a few times to check it was my connection that was showing up...strange

Mar-Cee-Ah said...

Great writing, Jenny!

Jenny said...

Hello Hello Abbeysmum! Thank you for the visit. I will try to correct the feed b/c just a little while back I noticed that I show up as coming from Illinois and I most certainly post from Texas. But as I am not hip to the ways of the computer so, it will take me a while. I am so excited to have someone from Australia cast a glance on my blog. Thank you for the comment. These France/Spain posts are tales from our trip this past summer (June '08).

Mar-Cee-Ah! you are so kind and I take it as a high compliment coming from someone I consider very eloquent in turning a phrase. Happy blogging grandma-to-be!


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