Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ups and Downs in the Loire Valley

We spent 36 hours in the Loire Valley this weekend. Well, more like 32 hours and a long afternoon at Ikea. More on that later. 

So yes, it sounds lovely to just rent a car and drive off to the Loire with no agenda, no itinerary, and nothing planned save a place to spend the night.  However, on Saturday night when we realized that our chambre d'hotes (B&B) was literally in the middle of nowhere, the closest several restaurants were closed, and the next closest restaurants were completely booked, we wished we had planned just a bit. After driving back, forth, up, down, and generally all around going nowhere, in the rain, at night, with Baby Oil sitting pretty in a poopy diaper, we got desperate and went to the bar in Cinq-Mars-en-Pile, the nearest town.  Which we quickly renamed Sh*t-Pile-on-Mars.  The bar was the only open establishment and while they had a menu, they informed us that they were not serving food that evening. Only darts.

They pointed us down the road where we found this:

That's right, a pizza truck.  From whence came the worst pizza of all time.
Turns your stomach a bit, right? We didn't actually eat it.

I'm not really doing this story justice, because I am leaving out the part where we were lost for an hour and a half in the afternoon trying to find our hotel, which may or may not have involved some fairly juvenile yelling on our parts about someone's skills (or lack thereof) as navigator.  Also, I did not mention that as I'm the only one who knows how to drive stick, I was doing all of the driving, which is atypical for us. Ultimately, we concluded that what we really need to make our marriage work is for Mr. Oil to learn to drive stick.  So I can get back to navigating.  Role reversal is not our forte.  But one of the many, many reasons that I forgave Mr. Oil for getting us lost (yes, yes, honey, I know it wasn't your fault) is because he later said to me, "You know, we are really so lucky, after all, we have our health and we didn't get in a car accident."  Go us!

After the Sh*t-Pile-on-Mars dinner disaster, it seemed that the universe was determined to make it up to us. Breakfast at our hotel was fantastic - the best croissants we've had in France, homemade brioche, and fresh homemade yogurt, all with an assortment of homemade jams - apricot, nectarine, strawberry and plum.  The couple that runs the B&B also lives there and this is their drool-worthy kitchen:
But you have to live in the middle of nowhere, 10 minutes from Sh*t-Pile-on-Mars

Just to be clear - this is their private kitchen. Not the place where we ate breakfast. But it was just so lovely that I had to get a photo. With delicious French carbohydrates filling our stomachs, we headed to our first chateau of the day, eager to take advantage of the sunny day.  The universe completely made up for the previous evening when we got to Villandry.  Home to the only remaining large-scale decorative kitchen garden in the Loire, Villandry boasts the most amazing garden we've ever seen.  Something like more than 85,000 plants laid out in intricate geometric designs, mixing and matching flowers with actual vegetables like peppers, cabbage, and more.  We very much enjoyed that also arriving early on a Sunday morning to tour these beautiful gardens were a group of Harley-Davidson motorcyclists.  Yup, that's right, the bikers do the chateau thing too. Gotta love France.
View from the chateau rooftop
After a quick stop in Amboise for lunch - sadly, we didn't have time to tour either of the chateaux - we went to everyone's favorite migraine-inducing destination - Ikea.  Our "fully furnished" Paris apartment came with nary a dresser, nor a full set of sheets.  European beds have these weird sizes and we spent at least 30 minutes debating what size sheets we needed.  We really don't understand why we are so confused by the sheet thing - you know, between the two of us we have a whole bunch of university degrees, yet we cannot figure out what size our bed is.  Nine bajillion years later, we had spent an insane amount of money on not that much stuff.  The only highlight of the Ikea experience was when we let Baby Oil sit on the floor for a bit to play (poor kid had spent the whole day in the car seat or stroller) and he was immediately set upon by two cute little girls.  Ladies' man at 8 months old. We are so proud.

And in a new section we'll call "Baby Oil's Favorite Part of the Trip", it was probably eating grass at Azay-le-Rideau.
Or eating the chair in this restaurant.

Or playing with the menu in Amboise.

Nah, definitely eating the grass.  I sure hope he realizes just how cultured he is - not every baby gets to eat chateau grass!