france, journey, route, Travel

Goatee sweat is a thing, right?

Rowan is on the road, yes, she shall talk about herself in the third person.  She has over packed but still cannot separate herself from anything in her bag.  She is overheated but would rather be hot than cold.  She is wondering if the French eat vegetables and if so, where and when?  And fries or a side salad doesn’t count.

She is now on a travel adventure eastward heading for her next volunteering help exchange.  To arrive in Warsaw, Poland, by 13th July 2017.  Don’t ask what day that is, she is not even sure what day she is writing this.

Ha, by the way, I endeavoured to break this blog up into bite-size pieces using my aide-memoir, to create just the right length for your coffee and tea break reading, but even with this one separated from my Paris days… it’s chunky!

I’d planned Tours and Paris before I’d left London, to give myself a ‘ready, steady, go’ following the 2 weeks at the Chateau.  Well, I say planned, I’d booked the Airbnb.

Monday 19th June 2017 – Saumur to Tours 

Forget cankles, miraculously, I have no cankles.  I am amazed and very pleased, it can make me feel like an 80-year-old with water retention and tight ankle skin.  On holiday earlier in March I had cankles and fat feet all holiday and I came to terms with never wearing a strappy sandal while in a hot country again.  But surprisingly, right now, I have clearly defined petite, one of the few body parts that are, ankles.

The goatee sweat though, mon Dieu!  You get this, don’t you?  80% of the sweat draining out of your body at the moustache upper lip and soul patch!  First time in my life, I could do with a proper handkerchief or a cravat style something around my neck to constantly sweep over my face.  Hopefully, it looks like I’m glistening to someone else but I feel like it’s pouring out of me.

The heat wave of June 2017 has hit.  Most of Europe is ‘benefiting’ from it.  I am stunned to have highs of 38 in France when the usual high for this time of year is 24.  I have not experienced such high temperatures often, on previous occasions of anywhere near those degrees all I was doing was flipping the pages of a book I was reading on a chaise lounge and drinking the cocktail of choice that day.  Not trying to navigate French boulevards or the melee of touristic Paris in hope to find a quiet cafe for a Cognac – an element of this is an untruth.

I recollect Las Vegas was in the mid 30s or low 90s (depending where you come from), after I got off a stinky but cooled Greyhound bus, it just hits you like a truck when you step into the heat but all is OK  ‘it’s a different heat’, ‘a different sun’.  Who doesn’t love the dry heat and the bright high sun; pale strawberry blond people maybe and likely translucent Gaelic folk not used to seeing sunshine in the most northerly and westerly parts of the UK plus anyone who turns pink, then red then white again.  But excluding them, on the most part, the clear air, cloudless blue sky and rays to bask in is enjoyed by the masses especially me.

In contrast, relatively recently, I thought I’d dissolve in Bali and Singapore on my 40th birthday holiday present to myself – it was 95% humidity.  I was the bad witch from Wizard of Oz “I’m melting, I’m melting”.  Thank goodness the struggle was only between air-conditioned bus, tourist attraction, to deluxe air-conditioned restaurant and air fanned hotel bedroom.  Different type of holiday to what I’m doing now!  That said, I loved humidity and all.  Making a circular route results in variable hotel stops; swapping between coastal and mountainous regions which gave us the respite between temperatures.  It’s a small enough country to do this easily.  The rains were a warm deluge for 90 minutes and then forgotten.  Bali is a luscious tropical paradise that you should visit now before the locals lose the battle against the plastic world.  Singapore is no more than a layover, a fantastic break from the plane.  Don’t stay more than 3 days, there are other places in the world that have more je ne sais quoi.

The week in Tours and Paris was reminiscent of my time in Bali rather than Las Vegas.  It was sweaty!  The difference being Airbnb, local public transport, walking and very little air conditioning.  I can’t remember how many times I crossed the road to walk in the shade.  For those that know me, I’m normally walking towards the sun while wanting to cover myself in baby oil.  I’m not an advert for suntan lotion or SPFs over 15 but I told my sister I’d buy some as I don’t want to risk anything or look like leather before I’m 50.

The 1st week HelpXing in France was an average temperature of 22 and the 2nd week about 25, an improvement from what I left in London and I love summer clear skies, the longer days and most people exuding their joie de vie.  The sun changes the atmosphere in London, however, I am certainly not missing the tube, London Underground in the summer can be unbearable.  The aim is to look nonchalant as you feel that one trickle of sweat, like a dramatic tear, slowly crawling, almost tickling your spine till it uncomfortably passes the top of your knickers.  Go bus!

The days at the Chateau had been warming up and on the Monday 19th, we woke to a relatively balmy morning.  Nothing spectacular but then it’s the speed of how hot it was getting, by lunch time the last thing I wanted to do was put on socks and proper walking shoes.  Then what do I do with my coat!  I need it for October, merde, that feels like a decade away.

I say my goodbyes which feels unusual for only 2 weeks of being together although the time felt longer.  Fritz gives me a much-appreciated lift to the station.  I’d packed really effectively though no miracle weight reduction!  That said…. how many kgs do you think I’m complaining about?  For 3 seasons, I’m proud of me, 13kg is a-ma-zing.  I know people who take that for a 4-day weekend.  The hand luggage is my annoyance.  In autumn, it won’t be an issue, I’ll be wearing and appreciating more layers on my body, not in my bag.  Therefore less in the 2nd bag that currently makes me lean to one side.  I like a backpack because it sits centrally on your body.  I get a sore lower back with an over the shoulder side thing going on or this bag in my hand.  I’ve taken to wearing the smaller one on my front.  Saw ladies in London do this but I’m big busted with a large chassis.  It is not a good look for me but the less painful carrying method; whichever way you look at me, I am very wide and very deep.  *chortle, no double entendre

Train just 70 miles to Tours and a less than 1-mile walk to the Airbnb which felt like 3. To confirm it was 37 degrees, I needed a trolley for my bags and the goatee sweat began in earnest.  I arrived at the house with a bright round rouged face, a visage similar to the purple one out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; the host must have wondered who she’d confirmed to stay.  The house was a great location without bags, a short 10-minute walk to the centre of town and the attractions of Tours.  She does the quick tour of amenities, helped me to a 3rd-floor attic room which was exactly as pictured on the website.  Simple double bed, wood floor, table and chair.  Even with the window open, there is no breeze and proof that heat rises to the top of the house.  I mention the floor creaking, my la bete noire, those kinds of noises drive me potty.  I do not need my every move recorded by squeaks and creaks.  I have that made up syndrome Misophonia that in essence is sound-rage.  Don’t even get me started on the rustle of a plastic bag or those that eat loudly.

The host family were Chinese, spoke only a little French and even less English.  Rapport building by smiling, pointing and nodding is not simple yet in actuality, I like it, this can be a benefit, I need a bedroom to sleep in and some local knowledge but I don’t need to become the host family’s adopted sister or daughter.  There’s a line.  I remembered a selfie before I left though, thought I could make a thing of photos with my hosts.  I’ll write a separate blog about my Airbnb experiences as this is my virgin solo stay at someone’s home.  I am pleased to say that my clutter is about the same as this family and my bathroom was cleaner.

I have the benefit of being a lodger for the last 4 years.  I got used to living in someone else’s space and belongings.  I compartmentalised, I’d deliberately made the change from living alone so I could reduce my costs, pay off all my debt and go on fantastic long haul holidays.  It was a success.  Intermittently, I daydreamed about buying my Nissan Figaro, my own 2-bedroom house somewhere close to London and scroll through the middle-class-late-30s Tinder which is called www.rightmove.com.  My ‘close to London’ price range was a bijou 2-bed in Croydon so bubble popped and holiday window shopping would resume.

red hot RowanBack to Tours – French pronunciation is attached in this lovely YouTube.com clip but imagine when I say it, a Midlands twang inadvertently comes out and I can’t help but keep the S.  I would have loved to lie down all afternoon but this wasn’t going to lower my body temperature.  A gentle walk around the town to take in the overview is best; first stop – coffee.  Attempted an awful French request for cappuccino and water to then find out the lady serving me was definitely not a local.  She smiled at my effort and then put me out of my misery.  A pretty coffee shop called Myah Cafe with a small courtyard at the back.  I’d definitely recommend for a coffee, brunch or lunch.  Free wi-fi is a must and really appreciated when in reality it is simple to use, I blitz some messages with friends about this picture of me looking hot and we can all agree not in the sense ‘dang, she’s hot’.

The town has a good feel, as a solo female traveller, I naturally think about atmosphere. Not imagine the worst just take in the surroundings, the people, the environment.  The town has been ‘around’ since becoming part of the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD and obviously, has evolved.  I’ve been trying to decide how detailed my blog should be with destination information and I’m sure this will evolve to.  For now, I’ve decided I’m going to give the top facts and recommendations.  Top 5’s or 7’s or 10’s of what, could be different from location to location but as you now know I’m good at lists so here goes…

Tours top facts

  • Can be known as the capital of the Loire châteaux, sometimes nicknamed “Little Paris” and also “Le Jardin de la France” (“The Garden of France”)
  • Tours is located between two rivers, the Loire to the north and the Cher to the south.  As you can imagine, past trade routes galore!
  • The buildings of Tours are white with blue slate, called Ardoise roofs
  • A Council of Tours in 813 decided that priests should preach sermons in vulgar languages because the common people could no longer understand classical Latin. Tusk!  This was the first official recognition of an early French language distinct from Latin and can be considered as the birth date of French.
  • It turned out okay!  Before the French Revolution, the inhabitants of Tours, Les Tourangeaux as was, were renowned for speaking the “purest” form of French in the entire country.  The court of France was in this region, Touraine as was, between 1430 and 1530 and the French spoken at that time has become the official language of the entire kingdom.
  • Unique to the Old City are its preserved half-timbered buildings at la Place Plumereau in the original medieval district, called le Vieux Tours.

Tours travel 5

Near the cathedral, in the garden of the ancient Palais des Archevêques now the Musée des Beaux-Arts, is a huge cedar tree ‘potentially’ planted by Napoleon.  It’s massive and very difficult to photograph.

  • The garden also has a stuffed elephant, Fritz. He escaped from the Barnum and Fritz the elephant at ToursBailey circus during their stay in Tours in 1902. He went mad and had to be shot down, but the city paid to honour him, and he was stuffed as a result.
  • My Airbnb was chosen simply to keep my budget low however if and when I return, I would happily book one of the more unique local options such as a tree house, boat or cave.
  • What could be more natural in the Loire Valley and the city of Tours but to make and taste local cuisine.  A cooking class, a culinary workshop and most important regional wine tasting.  A member of Cities de la Gastronomie since 2013, the Tours Tourism website recommends courses for individuals and groups.
  • I could not forget the Chateaux.  The French admit, there are so many in the region that they become immune to their magic.  Tours is a fantastic base to discover and investigate the 33 (yes! 33) within 1 hours drive of central Tours.  All reasonably priced to visit the building and gardens with an average 12 Euro adult entry fee. Recommend the www.tours-tourism.co.uk website for individual information of accessibility, opening hours, parking and entry fees etc.

IMG_20170620_164135335I got my bearings with the Loire River, a few moments sitting in the cool of the tourist information and then to find some groceries.  I’ve no desire to eat out every night and it’s so simple to eat well in France – the deli counter, the fruit and veg are overflowing with choice.  Bread is the holy grail.  I continue my own a la carte menu of baguette, Boursin cheese, the best-packaged ham I have ever tasted, salads, fruits, a nutty chocolate bar plus litres of San Pellegrino sparkling water, I like the bubbles.  I found out that no one else heard of the term ‘fizzy water’ last week.  To my chagrin, I hardly ever use that phrase but at that moment decided to sound even more English than normal.

I’m happy but hot; time to chill.  I have my duvet picnic and am very pleased to find a You Tube channel that has many of the up to date UK comedy panel shows.  What better way to catch up with exactly what’s happening in the UK but by watching Channel 4’s 8 out of 10 cats.

Tuesday 20th June 2017 – half a day in a cellar

A restless night and I bet I wasn’t the only one, we can all attest to being sleepy, feeling shattered and yet no ability to sleep no matter how many limbs are uncovered or sticking out from under a thin sheet.  The bed is very comfortable, the breeze from the fan was pleasant when on swing but sleep had been elusive, the insects were feasting.  I woke wanting to start again and very itchy.  It was easier to get up.

A cool shower which was strange, they had a very good shower that was incorporated into the bath taps and yet no hook or bracket on the wall to fix the shower head over your head.  Washing your hair is a much more complicated affair when you have one hand busy with the shower rose.  And not even a full-sized bath, only 2/3s I’d say.  I’m 5′ and I couldn’t have laid down in it.  In most baths, it’s a stretch for me to touch both ends with top of head and tips of toes.

In search of breakfast, I found another welcoming cafe called L’instant and even though it’s disappointing to shy away from my beloved sun, I was quite pleased when the owner was happily directing me down into a cool windowless cellar.  The reappearance of tuffeau stone.  I needed a plug socket.  I needed to focus on writing.  My website www.thevolunteervoyager.com includes my blog page and is hosted by Word Press; the best way to learn what you need to do and how to do anything is simply by using it.  This prolongs the process but each post, update and new page become simpler to complete. I’m very happy with the design and look – I only started it in the last week of March 2017, so far, so good.

Before I knew it most of the day had gone and the height of the sun – a mere 38 degrees – had passed.  Initially, I felt bad that I’d spent most of the morning and early afternoon inside but f-it, I remind myself I’m not on a vacation squeezing in the sights and sounds of each location.  I need to take the time to write, to complete paid work so I can carry on ‘voyaging‘ and of course, days off.  We all have time out at home, be it a nap on the sofa, a long lie in, an afternoon watching black and white movies or simply reading a book from cover to cover.

When I did step outside, I didn’t feel quite so bad as that ‘heat truck’ hit me and I headed to the closest stone building that would be cooler inside.  Cathédrale Saint-Gatien de Tours – the French do tall stone-walled buildings well and this is an extremely fine example of one.  As I step inside, I am gobsmacked by the height of the interior.  The architecture of churches and cathedrals astound me.  To build something so large without electricity, cranes nor JCB.  Not a health and safety officer in sight.  Saying that it is reported to have taken 270 years to complete.

This building is a real mix of styles because of the duration of construction.  Feels extraordinarily narrow in comparison to its height and you can recognise the past importance of a town or city by the size of its religious buildings.  Gorgeous stain glass windows.  Exquisite ornate facade especially arching over the entrance doors; extremely well conserved. And the exterior reminds me of Westminster Abbey due to the flying buttresses.  There is a lot more history to this town than I imagined or could share with you.  Check out this website for more info www.valdeloire-france.co.uk.

Museum-wise, there are quite a few, I recommend Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours (Museum of Fine Arts of Tours) for the sheer size of their collection.  They have >12,000 pieces of art and rotate what is displayed so you could see >1,000 pieces in the museum. Open Wednesday to Monday, the price is reasonable at 6 Euros full price, concessions 3 Euro and free entry on the first Sunday of the month.  Can’t argue with that!

For more information and exhibition details go to their website www.mba.tours.fr.  Don’t worry 99% of websites will automatically translate to English if you’re opening it whilst physically in the UK.  Big brother is watching you and Google knows where you are!

If you’re interested in books and the history of printing then the Musee de la Typographie (Museum of Typography) is a private treasure trove of printing and pre-print artefacts  It’s free!

All in all, I’m pleasantly surprised, you could stay a week in Tours and occupy yourself with activities in the city and surrounding areas, if you like driving it’s 5 hours from Calais or concentrate on the wine, go for the weekend via Ryanair.

Wednesday 21st June 2017 – I’m not ‘on holiday’ so just chill

It was a short of time in Tours, I felt bad that I’d not done all I could have in the surrounding areas and then I remembered Paul Young’s 1980s classic hit lyric “where ever I lay my hat, that’s my home.”  When at home, we don’t spend our evenings and weekends discovering all the sights and sounds of the surrounding area, feeling desperate if we missed something.  A lot of us could agree that this is the absolute opposite of the truth; that we rarely take advantage of what’s on our doorstep.  So I stopped feeling bad and wondered if I’d be back.  I await my next chauffeur in the train station public house supping on some delicious Leffe Ruby – wrong country but you cannot cause a fracas over Belgium and their beers.

British train companies need to heed the price.  Was only £13.50 for a single and booked just 5 days before travel.  I am using www.voyages-sncf.com or www.trainline.eu to book tickets I can pick up from the station or check seat reservations and train timetables when I have to head to a station ticket desk and do in person. Both amalgamate most of European train providers fees and timetables; almost a one stop shop for rates and information. My other ‘go to’ expert for all train information is this fantastically detailed website called www.seat61.com.  If you have a question about train travel – anywhere in the world – I guarantee this blogger and entrepreneur has the information for you! He started blogging before it was de rigueur and made a business of his website since 2007.

I am Airbnb again, a short Metro ride to Boulogne – Jean Jaures, one the outskirts of the city due to my desired budget and the benefit of a 1st-time booker £30.00 credit. I know! It’s my 2nd stay but I booked this one first.

The building was red brick with floral French Juliet balconies and one huge front door. You can see a door handle in the photo and this was at my chest height. I know I’m short but that is a big door. This is Paris so no lift of course, thankfully my host lived on the 2nd floor. My train had been late by 45 minutes, so maybe those French trains are not so dissimilar to the UK’s Southern Rail. My only understanding of the conductor’s tannoy messages was ‘security’ so no complaints from me. My host Claudie and I had been in message contact with each other via the Airbnb site and she stayed in for me to eventually arrive.

The apartment was just as the website images, I’d happily have picked it up and moved it to London to live in. I loved Claudie’s pictures of Audrey Hepburn and a fantastic toilet roll holder. A chic retired French school teacher with style. She’d regularly hosted international students in the past and was used to leaving her guests ‘to it’. The spare room had basic furniture and another creaky wooden floor but the mattress was comfortable, no need for a duvet plus the large French windows and traditional balustrade allowed me to watch the TV in the flat opposite! I jest, I could see it and hear it but I didn’t like their programme choices. I could use the kitchen to cook dinner and store food in the fridge if I wanted but I much prefer to have a lazy morning, snack on a banana and then I’m out for the day and evening. My bad eating habits will definitely be another post, another day.

I arrived, once again, sweaty, red and headed straight to another shower with no fixture on the wall. No rush to sight see but a walk to the local brasserie called Le Parc because…. I hope you’ve guessed it. There is a huge, stunning park nearby, Bois de Boulogne. No English spoken at this bistro but we battled through. I do not understand why countries like to set up tables and chairs nears roads. If you have a view of a river, lake, sea or park, a city view but just the road and the traffic with their smelly exhausts, as you can tell, not a fan.

They look at me strange when I ask to sit inside and then place me on a table next to 6 others when there was no one else in the room. A group of 4 North Americans and 2 French. All interchanging between French and English at varying levels of competency. They stopped their conversation to listen to my order, way to make a girl feel gauche.

Not cordon bleu but delicious traditional cuisine that I’ve had many times before; veal in a mushroom and cream sauce with French fries. Would have loved a mangetout accompaniment but the staff were not that friendly and I couldn’t get my Google Translate out quick enough. A litre of ‘fizzy water’ and glass of red to rehydrate and I wonder who started the French cafe look. The rattan chairs, red decoration and white paper ‘tablecloths’, large outside umbrellas. French bistro style regulation. If it wasn’t for the heat, I’d feel like I was in a Cafe Rouge back in the UK, I love their pate.

Sated and sleepy, I’m in Paris. Bonne nuit, lots to do tomorrow!

One little test for you, did you spot how many French words, or words with known French origin, that are common in the English language that I’ve used?

Don’t look back but I did give you a stylistic hint!

p.s. more Tours pics

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