We’re approaching the end of our time with family and about to go it alone down to the South. A campaign from Rosine, with some encouragement from us, has seen Marie’s parents stay an extra night so we have lunch together before they depart back up to Normandy. We’re sad to see them go but looking forward to seeing them again in Tuscany in May.
For the afternoon we head into nearby Amboise to explore the Leonardo da Vinci museum. King Francois I, aged only 22 at the time, hired 65 year old Leonardo and in return for his daily chats, built him his own home where he could complete some of his most famous paintings, plan major building works and it turned out, live out the remaining three years of his life. We follow Rosine’s directions to free parking and set off to find the museum, all the while Marie egging me on to up the pace as she’s desperate for the loo. Upon reaching the entrance we’re told no prams inside, so having struggled to manoeuvre it up and down narrow pavements and pushed it up a hill, we’re now having to entrust it to the lady by the entrance and pop Zaza into the sling to carry her around. Eliza’s reasonably pleased by this change of events and decides to celebrate with some vocal practice and limb thrusts- not the most relaxing accompaniment to a narrow indoor museum, especially when squinting to read the tiny font of the English handout!
Disappointingly, the upstairs areas are closed, so we don’t get to see the bedrooms, which we were both looking forward to, but take interest in Leonardo’s work room with sketch books lining a wall cabinet, showing his secret language (so no one could copy/ steal his work) and some of his invention designs and work on optics.
A strength of the museum is the efforts they’ve gone to in making models of many of his invention designs. These include ball bearings (thank you Leonardo, us skaters owe a lot to you for that one!), a precursor to an army tank, some flying machine ideas and a clever way of extracting water from a river and delivering it up the top of a hill, without the use of a pump. We enjoy having a look at a number of these indoors and then a separate room is dedicated to even more but with Zaza fidgeting in the sling and a family who seem to keep stopping exactly where we’re heading, we soon give up and have a wander round the garden where there’s even more versions of these models. I’ve now seen my third tank and second helicopter flying device and am starting to tire and then realise that these outdoor ones are interactive which is pretty cool so whilst feeling a bit childish and get busy rotating them.
After this, we head out in search of a ‘salon de the’ in the direction of the Chateau. We have a nice walk past some troglodytic houses toward the Chateau and beneath it we find the patisserie and chocolatier that I’m keen to try out. We’re welcomed warmly and manoeuvre the pram through the tight spaces to enjoy some delicious chocolate treats. I’ve now lived out my French dream as we always seem to visit patisseries in the morning, when it’s too early for the beautiful brightly coloured dessert offerings, or in the afternoon mid-walk so choices have to be suitable for eating on the go. Having looked longingly at these options far too many times, it now takes me ages to make my final decision and I again feel a little child-like. It is as delicious as expected however and I’m delighted to spot a lady in her 50s or 60s dining alone toward the back of the room experiencing similar child-like glee with an ice cream sundae.
Time is now getting on as despite managing to avoid the tradition of arriving at the closing time of the attraction we want to see, it was still 3:30pm when we arrived in Amboise so we don’t have time for the Chateau and head along the little shopping streets in what we think is probably the direction of the car. 40 minutes later we are in the middle of blocks of flats turning on our mobile data to find a map, having realised we don’t have any landmarks to go by so can’t ask any passers by for help. This unfortunately brings us back to Rosine and Emmanuel’s at 7:30pm for dinner, we apologise for our lateness but are told it’s not late at all as dinner is never before 8pm in France so there is nothing to forgive.
The next morning we sleep in a little and miss the opportunity to visit the long-awaited Sunday market in Amboise… I’d read a week ago that it’s won awards including ‘best market in France’ so had really wanted to go and as a result we’d extended our stay in the Loire by a few days. Each day since this plan had been formed, one or other of Marie’s family had mentioned that it really wasn’t that great so Marie was somewhat less than keen to revisit Amboise so soon. Our morning in the house gave us time to visit Emmanuel’s basement office and hear about some of the impressive work he’s done. During our visit he’s been busy with international meetings via video-conferencing for his latest project which involves setting up a trade agreement with China for local producers. It’s fascinating to hear about his previous work with Nelson Mandela and to see the books he has authored and co-authored. I’m now feeling even more motivated to learn French so I can read them in full.
It’s time for our final meal together and goodbyes and we’re treated to what turns out to be our culinary highlight of the trip so far- Martinique Fish Curry – so good we even have the recipe to try ourselves when we get home. The meal is finished off with a delicious moist fruity cake with a rum and fruit sauce and it’s time to depart. We’re packed off with half of this cake, two jars of home made marmalade (completely delicious, made without using the peel and suddenly we both love marmalade for the first time in our lives), basque dried sausage and some fruits for the journey.
We’re now heading West for the final part of our Loire visit. Marie has booked surprise overnight troglodytic accommodation for us and Rosine has made some recommendations of pretty villages to visit on the way through. We take slightly overpriced motorways and then some pretty country roads where we have a near miss with a white van. I’m still pretty outraged by this one- we’re on the main country road at a steady speed coming up to some cyclists, when a white van decides to join the road into the side of us from a small side road on the left. We initially assume he’s pulling halfway across the road to nip in behind us, but he keeps going, we beep, he stops but gestures furiously at us, we do the same. He then ends up behind us as we travel to our pretty village stop in Candes-Saint-Martin and again beeps and gestures at us as we finally go our separate ways.
…a brief interlude here for some Zaza cuteness and updates…she’s currently laying next to be on the bed sticking her tongue out and trying desperately to suck her thumb, it’s adorably cute and it reminds me that we haven’t really written much about her developments of late. She’s spent the last week or two with the following missions:
1. Sucking her thumb in a soothing fashion- this proves quite the co-ordination challenge. As I’m typing she seems to now have success, but what prompted this paragraph was glancing over to see her looking quite puzzled as she had her thumb underneath her tongue in her mouth seemingly confused that something just didn’t feel right. Other times she’s jabbing it at various locations around her mouth hoping it goes in and when it does, it’s too far to the left or to the right for comfort.
2. Sitting up, or rather, remaining in a sitting position when placed in one and pulling herself forward, but too much forward, from a reclined position to a sitting position
3. Holding things- this is gradually developing with some encouragement. Hand-eye co-ordination isn’t a thing yet, in that she hasn’t realised she can use her eyes to help her hands find something. Instead her hands randomly touch and grab at things near to them and if she gets success, she seems to then take an interest in it and carry on. This means knives, forks and plates are at risk at tables, the teething toy is getting closer to being used for its intended purpose and the toy we’ve attached to her car seat is now of intermittent interest, depending on when her hand happens to land on it to remind her it’s there.
4. Making ALL the noises, bubbles and slobber- in fact as I’m now typing Marie is dressing her and she’s just done a raspberry like thing which has landed droplets all over her face and Marie’s. She’s got high pitched shouts, grrrs, gru’s, ai’s, nai’s, oohs and last night we’re pretty sure we had genuine laughter.
Anyway, back to Candes-Saint-Martin. We arrive slightly shaken by our incident with the van and I’m not feeling particularly taken by what we’ve seen of the village so far. It’s reasonably pretty, but there isn’t anything in particular that’s making me want to stop and explore and I’m quite excited about the surprise that’s coming later. Marie is quite taken aback at this and becomes concerned for our entire road trip as it involves a lot of driving and stopping to explore little villages. I reassure her that I’m probably just shaken up by the van and lets stop anyway and have a look around. Turns out there’s more to the village than initially meets the eye. Not sure where to explore, we initially follow the signs up to the ‘panorama’. We head uphill out of the village, round a bend and find in front of us, on a relatively narrow road, a pair of very noisy, territorial geese. Marie reaches for a nearby branch ‘just in case’ and we contemplate our options- do we turn back, do we try it anyway… I then kindly and lovingly suggest Marie sacrifice herself, going up ahead and trying to pass them and if they let her, I’ll follow with the buggy. This does seem relatively successful and once we’ve passed, they waddle off elsewhere.
We then have a nice uphill climb over cobbles for the buggy and we’ve reached the panoramic view of the Loire, beautifully set off by the large power plant in full view on the right!
It’s entirely not worth our battle of wills against the geese or the manouvering of the buggy back down a steep slope of cobbles, but without it we wouldn’t have found what we see next; troglodytes. We see big house with little outbuildings in the rock, we see houses coming out of the rock but best of all we see a couple of hollowed out, dilapidated ones, meaning we get a good close up of the internal architecture and stonework. We don’t stay too long though as the mattresses and other odds and sods inside leads me to wonder whether it’s an active squat and to not want to invade the privacy of anyone who may be living there.
After this, we explore the church one by one as we’re kinda done with buggy maneuvers. This is then followed by a nappy change on the floor of some public toilets as pretty much everything else is closed and a return to the car to continue on our trip.
Our next pitstop is in Saumur, a large town with lots of wine tasting opportunities. It’s too late in the day to explore fully and as we approach, Eliza decides life is terrible and the only option is to pull over for some feeding while Marie takes the photo opportunity to capture the chateau above.
It’s then finally the moment I’ve been waiting for. Just a short drive south of Saumur is Doué-la-Fontaine and inside this magical village lies our troglodytic accommodation. We arrive excited in anticipation and then have some confusion as we can’t seem to get in. Several rings of bells and phonecalls later, Marie finally gets and answer and the owners come to let us and another couple in for the night. It’s amazing, invisible from the street, but beyond a gate you descend some uneven steps into caves. First past a pottery studio, run by the owners of the accommodation, and then through a small door into a courtyard covered in little trees and plants of various colours with cave walls on each side, a dwelling at either end. The first we come to is ours for the night and we’re shown inside. It’s a cave with a high ceiling, extra large double bed and beautifully tiled bathroom with a large shower inside. Opposite the bed is a fire for us to use for the night and we’re all set, with soft lamp lighting all around.
It’s magnificent, far better than anything I’d imagined. We spend some time just relaxing in the room, I’m fully imagining life in such a dwelling and loving every minute of my make believe existence. A troglodyte restaurant has been recommended in the town for dinner so Marie has made a reservation. As we arrive we find the other couple staying in our accommodation at an elevated table in the corner. We’re treated to a bargain meal of many courses, with traditional bread and pork and bean based fillings and all drinks included. The staff are lovely, offering us a high chair with straps to try for Zaza, a towel when she needs changing and space and patience when she’s being quite vocal. It’s all cooked in front of us in a large wood fired oven, which Zaza enjoys taking a closer look at and we leave happy and full back to our cave of wonders.
We have a great night’s sleep and are treated to breakfast in the room the following morning. This is served in a beautiful range of handmade clay crockery and is pretty extensive, setting us up for the day and even providing us with snacks later as some joins us on our onward journey.