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Report 582: An Independent Driving Tour of Europe - 2001

By JaniceB from Ontario, Canada, Spring 2001

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Page 15 of 15: Chateau Chenonceau in Chenonceaux, Chartres & Home

Jul 03, 2001 19:53

Due to popular demand, weíre finally offering the final chapter to this travelogue. Weíve been home a couple of weeks, recovered from our jet lag, enjoyed some favourite North American foods (like toast-buttered-hot) and hearty fresh salads, connected (in person!) with family and friends and savoured our souvenirs. But we still havenít told you about our last few days in France ...

The day after we wrote our last transmission, we spent several hours at the Chateau Chenonceau in Chenonceaux, France. This chateau is also known as the Chateau of Women. It was built in the 1500ís, and, in a time when men had the primary role in fields such as architecture and finance, a number of prominent women were involved in the life of this chateau. One was Diane de Poitiers, a court favourite of Henri II. This French King gave her the chateau. (Interestingly, she also once stayed at our hotel, Chateau de la Voute!) One of the renovations she ordered was to have the chateau, which was located on the edge of the River Cher, connected to the opposite shore by a bridge. After the death of the king, the Dowager Queen, Catherine de Medici, re-took the chateau for the crown and had the bridge enclosed; it remains enclosed to this day. The chateau was cared for by series of royal women and it is considered to be the purest surviving example of the French Renaissance.

We enjoyed our visit to Chenonceau. We didnít rush our self-guided tour and peeped into every possible room, nook and cranny. Itís hard to imagine the lives of the people who lived here. Youíre shown glimpses in the paintings and furniture, not to mention the floor tiles that were worn smooth by the queenís Scottish guardsmen. But they seem so distant.

I felt this often during our weeks in Europe. Sometimes it was like watching TV only by reading the TV guide; you know something about the broadcasts, but not the details. I feel that Iíve studied the broad facts and trends of European history, but Iíve only seen hints of the many facets and nuances of European life. Sometimes we were separated from more intimate understanding by the limitations of travel (such as language barriers), but more often it was the separation of time (as in centuries).

Ah, well ...

Weíd made up our minds not to have any more late evening dinners; they donít contribute to easy sleep. Instead, we decided to enjoy our main meal at noon at the Chenonceau restaurant, líOrangerie. Itís located on the chateau grounds and is surrounded by beautiful lawns and trees. We sat on the patio in the shade of large umbrellas and enjoyed a wonderful dinner. I lost count of the silverware the waiters and waitresses brought us during the meal. There was a different piece of cutlery removed or placed for every course. We noted that, perhaps because tipping is not customary in much of Europe, we tended to be served by several individuals, not just one waiter or waitress. This made it much easier to obtain help during a meal. Not a bad system!

Driving to and from Chenonceau, we had a good view of the famous Loire Valley. I must admit that we werenít terribly impressed. Itís lovely rolling farmland, but we appreciated the beauty of the Dordogne hills and valleys much more.

During our last full day in Europe, we drove north to Paris through more rolling and then quite level farmland. The only stop we planned was in Chartres to see the world famous cathedral. The cathedral is, indeed, spectacular. It was built in the 12th and 13th centuries and has unbelievably stained glass windows. They were actually removed and stored for safekeeping during the last wars. I was particularly struck by the difference between the ones that have been cleaned and restored and those that havenít -- almost night and day. However, the restoration work is a slow process, partly because of the cost involved: many millions of dollars.

As beautiful as the cathedral is, we found it rather disappointing; it seemed little more than a tourist attraction. It has become a focus for manís achievement rather than the glory of God. In addition, the English tour guide recommended in a number of tour books and websites, was an enormous disappointment. Although he obviously knows everything there is to know about the cathedral and delivers his information in an easy-to-follow fashion, we found him to be rude, petty, inconsiderate of both paying tourists and other cathedral visitors, mocking of other countries and disrespectful of other faiths/faith practices (including the faith of those who built the cathedral). This experience put a sour note on this last day of our tour. We do not recommend the English tour guide. Go for the recorded audioguide or a good guidebook instead.

We spent our last night in Europe at a Comfort Inn near the Charles de Gaulle Airport -- packing and enjoying our last hotel room picnic supper (camembert cheese on biscuits). I wonít even mention the evening rush hour traffic we fought our way through as we travelled through the Paris suburbs.

The next morning, we headed to the airport and went through the usual rigmarole. We opted to buy a upgrade for Momís ticket and got her booted forward to what passes for first class on Air Transat. While Dad and I sat with the plebes, Mom sat right behind the cockpit. Dad said that was so she could help them fly the plane, just like she helped him drive through Europe!

After an uneventful trip home (except for the change of planes in Montreal -- donít ask!), we were very, very happy to show our passports to the Canadian customs guy (he was actually friendly and smiled) and were met by a jubilant Krista (my sister). It took us about four or five days to readjust to this time zone, but readjust we did.

Now that weíve had a couple of weeks to distance ourselves from our five weeks away, there are a few things that stand out in our minds:

  • The amazing places we found to enter our Internet travelogue, including a hot, airless attic above a dog grooming shop (we had to walk through the dog hair and up a dark twisty staircase to get to it).
  • My surprise at actually seeing Frenchmen wearing berets and riding bicycles home with their baguettes in the bicycle basket.
  • The frightening way motorcyclists drive -- up the white line between lanes of fast moving traffic. They do this a lot!
  • The enormous help we had from the maps Iíd downloaded from the computer. I used www.mapblast.com, but there are others. Check them out for both Europe and North America. They were more helpful in some countries than others, but they really saved us from huge map frustration on more than a few occasions.
  • The rain in Venice.
  • The Brenner Pass.
  • The frustration of typing on non-English keyboards.
  • My delight at being able to understand and communicate in European French.
  • The glow of the setting sun on the Germany mountains across the lake from the Ludwig musical theatre at intermission; everyone who saw it gasped.
  • The thrill of hearing Norwegian Beurlings speak of the family that moved away to Canada 100 years ago (that's us!).

I posed a few questions to Mom and Dad last weekend. Here are our answers (Norway was not included because our visit there was in a class by itself!):

WHAT DID YOU MISS MOST WHILE IN EUROPE?

Mom ... A good salad.

Dad ... Knowing what was happening with family and friends.

Janice ... Good coffee.

IF YOU COULD GO BACK TO ONE REGION OF EUROPE FOR A COUPLE OF WEEKS, WHERE WOULD YOU GO?

Mom ... Switzerland or Holland.

Dad ... The rural areas of France.

Janice ... Normandy or the Dordogne, France.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE SIGHTSEEING SPOT?

Mom ... The Schilthorn in Switzerland [believe it or not!], Ludwigís castles and the Wies Church in Germany, the Dogeís Palace in Venice.

Dad ... The Schilthorn in Switzerland.

Janice ... Zaans Schans and the Frans Hals Museum in the Netherlands. [Actually, itís impossible to pick. Most were wonderful.]

WHERE WAS YOUR FAVOURITE SCENERY?

Mom ... Germany (hills and trees).

Dad ... Germany (hills and trees).

Janice ... Dordogne (hills and trees). [Slight pattern here!]

WHO WERE YOUR FAVOURITE EUROPEANS?

Mom ... the French.

Dad ... the French.

Janice ... the French. [More pattern! In fact, we were surprised to find that the French of Europe do not deserve their famous reputation for being rude and uncooperative. We found them to be unfailingly helpful, courteous and friendly.]

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE HOTEL?

Mom ... The bakeoven house cottage on the farm in Gelderland, Holland. It was private, clean and comfy with everything we might need at hand. Also the cows were friendly!

Dad ... The bakeoven house cottage in Gelderland.

Janice ... Itís almost impossible to choose; but I was delighted with the hotel in Venice. It was much better than Iíd anticipated. I also loved the hotel in Austria.

WHAT WERE YOUR FAVOURITE EUROPEAN FOODS?

Mom ... The cheese and breads, venison, fish, ravioli, gelato.

Dad ... Breakfast rolls with butter [he really liked those tough baguettes], cheese and meat on bread for breakfast [Of course, he'll eat anything if he can get a piece of bread under it!], sauerkraut.

Janice ... Great fish dinners and the different cheeses.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE OVERALL COUNTRY?

Mom ... Holland, Switzerland.

Dad ... Holland, Germany.

Janice ... Holland, France.

So thatís it. Weíve run out of reminiscences to share! Actually, thereís a lot more we could share, but we donít think we want to overload you any more than we have. If you want to know more, invite yourself over to watch Dadís seven hours of video, or look through my four books of photos, or just drop me an e-line!

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