First, Lee's additions to the last chapter: The most impressive sites are the French Catherdals. In Paris the Cathedral was restored, clean and polished, the statues and artwork went on forever. In Chartres theCathedral was probably as large, but not maintained. It gave an account of what happens if you don.t have a few million dollars to maintain these giant antique stone structures. Mold and moss grow on the outside, roofs leak causing plaster to fall on the inside. The statues and stained glass get a layer of black. It was still a beautiful landmark, there was a restoration project working on the front facade and the ceiling above the altar (not little at probably 10,000 sq ft, but less than 10% of total ceiling) was recently refurbished. It looks like a terriffic job to try to maintain these huge buildings, this one finished in 1260, the other side being the superb quality and engineering skills that created a structure that lasted this long. Trying to find dimensions in guide books, the Nave is 427' long,120' high. We visited St Pierre's Church, again finding much needed maintenance,with netting to protect people from falling plaster. I am not being critical of efforts to maintain these structures, but wonder where the millions of dollars eventually needed to keep them up will actually come from. Lee
Our first B &B in France was delightful. We sat with two French women at breakfast who helped us learn a few more phrases in French. Another couple from the south of France called ahead for our reservation for Sunday night in Amboise in the Loire Valley. Ming stopped by to share her recommendations for sightseeing in the Dordogne valley. We headed out with her for another morning of exploration. We lunched at a local restaurant crowded with families. I ordered salade Nicoise and Lee had rump steak. It was hard saying good-by to Ming, she felt like an old friend. She has traveled the world for over 20 years. Her long-time boyfriend is a professor of film in Bejing and doesn't like to travel. She is planning to write a guide for people in China who have just recently been able to travel. She loved practicing her English and I enjoyed hearing about her life.The drive to Amboise wasn't too difficult, we stayed on big roads with few towns, lots of fields of corn and sunflowers. Solitary hunters with guns could be seen walking across the distant fields. We couldn't find our hotel,not even the street. We parked and walked around the narrow cobblestoned streets of Amboise looking for 8 place Michel Debre. The GPS worked well to get us near, but can't deal with the maze of tiny streets. The owner had agreed to meet us at six to let us in. When we finally found him he spoke no English and our room turned out to be on the third floor above his tiny restaurant. He got in the car to help us drive there and deposited me and the luggage in front while he and Lee went to find a friend who would let us park the car where he could keep an eye on it. Since the only entry was through the restaurant, he gave us a key. We joked about putting out the sign board with an opening announcement for a new American Restaurant. Below are the entrance, the room and the view, not bad, just strange.
Even odder than making our way later through a darkened restaurant was the fact that there was another couple on the second floor, no locks on our room doors, no towels, no heat. Lee raided the kitchen for paper towels so we could shower. We weren't sure if our bathroom in the hall was shared. Our faith in Rick Steve's guidebook is waning. Monday morning we headed out to tour our first chateau, Chenonceau. Ifyou've ever seen pictures of a chateau with arches spanning a river, that's it. It took most of the day to tour the chateau with our audio-cassettes in English, then the two formal gardens, the maze, the wax museum, thevegetable garden.
One chateau a day is our limit. We got ready for our next challenge, getting to Chinon for the night. The learning curve for driving here is high. We both were stressed watching for signs, circles with numbers for speed limit, subtract 10 or 20 for rainy conditions, a slash through the number for end of limit, a town name in a circle with a slash for leaving the limits of the town, many symbols we still don't know. We have learned not to take yellow line roads with D#s, stick to red, and then there are the roundabouts, which replace crossroads in France. We've never heard the GPSsay the word "recalculating" quite so much. Once we were on the correct numbered road, but somehow suddenly going the wrong way. What else have we learned? Look for the name of the next town at each juncture, not the highway number which often isn't there. Let's hope it gets easier.
Lee: I finally went online and checked our guide books for "Driving in France". I think I have the street signs and speed limits sort of figured out. I had turned right on red after a French car began honking, but find this is NOT allowed. The speed limits may not be posted, if you pass a city entrance itis 50km (30mph) but may not be posted. Other limits depend on the color of the route sign (A "department road" is 90km, an "Auto Route" is 110 or 130)and if it is wet are reduced 10km. We tend to be going slower than others,but our guidebook says that tickets are given for ANY speed above the limit,and if 25km over the policeman will confiscate your license on the spot.There is an old rule allowing cars entering from the right to have right ofway, unless there is a diamond sign, then there are anti diamond signs too.France seems in the process of replacing all 4 way intersections with roundabouts. Cars here are all Diesel, we have a Peugeot 207, a 4 door hatch backsimilar to a Toyota Corrolla, it seems to get better than 50MPG, it will easily do any autoroute speed, but accelerates slowly and is standard shift.I am not sure why these are not sold in US, we are told we need a Hybrid carto get good mileage, but this is much simpler. Possibly they think Americans would not buy a car that accellerates slowly. Fuel here is about$6.50/gal for Diesel, $7.25 for gas.
Sherry: Our new plan for choosing hotels is to ask to see the room. The hotel AgnesSorel is so nice we're staying here two nights. Since arriving in Chinon yesterday we've walked all over town, toured the royal fortress, biked about20 miles to Saint Martin, and ordered real french food at a restaurant (coq au vin and duck parmienter). Tomorrow we start out for the Dordogne Valley.