Monday, October 22, 2007

9/15 - 9/24 The Loire Valley

On Saturday, 9/15, I took the train to Orleans to meet my parents for our walking tour. All around France, there are walking trails, Grande Randonnees or "GRs", maintained by the Federation Francaise de la Randonnee Pedestre. We followed a section of the GR3 which covers the Loire Valley. My dad loves France and my parents have enjoyed village-to-village walking tours around Provence. It's one of their favorite activities so for my dad's birthday, I suggested we do a walking tour together. It was an opportunity to spend time with my parents and see a completely different part of France.

nstead of getting off at Orleans, I panicked and got off at Les Aubres Orleans. I heard "Orleans" and saw a lot of people getting off so I didn't want to miss my stop. The funny thing is that when I got to the lobby of the station, I saw my parents. I thought, "How nice that they came to pick me up," but in reality, they had done exactly what I had. It was a lucky coincidence.

Orleans is a cute town with a charming downtown square. Cafes, restaurants and a carousel attract young people and families alike. Since it's not far from Paris, it's a nice weekend destination. The next day we started our walk in Meung sur Loire and followed the river to Beaugency. I took a nap while my parents explored the town. Somehow, the day we were there was the only day that certain buildings were open to the public. So I missed my one chance to see Caesar's Tower, the Abbey Church of Notre-Dame and other historical attractions. My timing was impeccable.

Following the blazes, we walked onto Lestoire planning to have lunch. Turns out there is literally nothing in Lestoire. The woman at the town hall (maybe the mayor?) offered to drive us to Avary but we chose to walk. When people talk about the French, there's often this misconception that they're snobby and look down at Americans. I've never found this to be true and, in fact, more often than not, people were very helpful and curious about our adventure.

Our plans took us to Chambord which is known for being home to the largest estate in Europe and its Chateau. King Francis I had the chateau built as a hunting lodge and Henry II and Louis XIV often visited until Versailles was erected. Chambord is 156m long and 56m tall with 77 staircases, 282 fireplaces (the mouths of which were all taller than I) and 426 rooms. It's quite a hunting lodge. The estate itself is the size of Inner Paris. While blueprints no longer exist, it is thought that Leonardo da Vinci is the architect.

The next few towns were quite residential. Everyday the scenery changed, from forest land to open farm fields. We walked past many grapevines and every night we tried a different local wine.

Aside from a couple of days of rain, the weather was perfect. It drizzled for our walk from Cellettes to Chauds sur Loire. As we passed a private estate, the owner stopped us so he could inform us of the significance of the road we were taking. It turns out the pathway was used by Charlemagne. The estate owner also told us that he was a son of the American Revolution, as his family had helped fight the British.

My part of the trip ended at Amboise. My parents had another week of walking and went on to Tours. Our last day together was a little hectic since it poured and we ended up walking a lot more than we planned. Two things I learned that day: 1) my high school lacrosse windbreaker is not waterproof and 2) a 17-year old guide book can miss updates to the GR.

This part of my two-month trip was one of the most important to me. You probably couldn't guess from the photo but my dad just turned 80 years old. Parts of the walk were difficult and I thought it would be stressful for him. My dad reassured me that he was really enjoying himself and the fact that this may be their last trip to France (my parents travel quite a lot and have many destinations on their list) made it especially dear to him. Our parents do so much for us and I've often found it difficult to find a way to show mine how grateful I am for our relationship. My parents recently told me that they both felt this was their best trip to France. Mission accomplished.

My photos are here. My dad is a much better photographer than I am and his photos are here.

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