Talking to myself on another Lyon level

I did it before but only behind closed doors. Talking to myself that is. I suddenly realised I was walking down a street, speaking at normal volume and playing both parts of a conversation. I’ve only been travelling solo for 3 and a half weeks! The previous tendency was great I s’pose; my easy method to focus thoughts and actions – highly recommend it. Talking to yourself that is.

Whether I’m thinking of blog ideas, destinations, things I need to do like train tickets or sights and sounds. This is now all discussed out loud with me, myself and I. I still have the decency to look a little embarrassed when caught out. It’s when I carry on regardless with a bottle of alcohol in my hand that you need to worry.

I will start easy with this blog – I will definitely return to Lyon! So many activities I didn’t get round to, including the many pubs and eating establishments. Ideal for a city break with your other half and/or friends to catch up, to enjoy the social, the array of wines, the walk-anywhere city centre, soft harmonious tones of the buildings, the large river running through it and then even more out of town activities in the region.

You can fly with the above 3 airlines direct to Lyon from main city airports in the UK. The average price of return flight is £100; as always it depends on when you book.

Interrail logoMy train was Paris to Lyon, the first opportunity to use my Interrailing ticket. As explained before, I paid one lump sum for the global ticket itself to travel 7 independent days (for as long as I like each day, I could train 24 hours if I wished) within a 1-month duration.

Interrail Pass Ticket Cover 2017This cost me 318 Euro which in today’s weak Great British pound is £284.27. So logic says that each journey no matter how short or long should be an average of 45.43 Euro / £40.61 one-way 2nd class per person plus the seat reservation at the time of my booking. I purchased the Interrailing ticket the day prior to my journey so you really can leave your decisions to the last moment. I paid an additional 10 Euro for my seat reservation, primarily because I was travelling ‘at speed’. The intercity express and similar fast trains all have a higher reservation fee. It transpires though that this was to be my highest additional cost for all 7 days of train journeys.

You could drive towards Lyon through many a gorgeous town or village but I think after 5 hours you could join the French in saying each looked very similar to the last and “not another Chateau”. London to Lyon is 10 hours by car! That does not sound enjoyable to me but each to their own…

TGV DuplexThe train Paris to Lyon is an eye opening average 200mph 320kmph for just 2 hours on a TGV DUPLEX [Tay-Zhay-Vay] and well, here you go, it means Train à Grande Vitesse, “high-speed train”. Obvious! I’m downstairs on my double decker and it’s a full house, a busy route. I realise that the ceiling is lower than usual, the air was limited and the windows don’t open so overall this was the sauna carriage.

My first double decker train since oh I can’t remember. I loved AMTRAK-ing from Chicago to Los Angeles in the late 1990’s and I don’t think I’ve been on a double decker train since. Every seat booked, thankfully I have a table for my overpriced lunch I’d bought at the station. By the time I’ve eaten, got online and started faffing with my blog I’d forgotten about the oppressive heat in the room. I also have a plug socket for my laptop and I must have been having a ditz day because I hadn’t noted when the station was coming up. Consequently a frantic clear up of my belongings which didn’t need to quite be so rushed resulted in a UK adapter stuck in the plug socket for the next resident of the seat.

Week 3 and lost property already. Travelling lessons are learned from this though.

1) know your train end destination
2) don’t buy food at the train station
3) check your seat for all belongings – like the tannoy spells out
4) recognise when I’m in a ditz mood and register the above points that you do naturally when thinking straight

I arrive at Lyon Part-Dieu, which was built to accommodate the TGV and has become the principal railway station for extra-regional trains.  The station name reminds me of Hot Shots! Part Deux.  All of us has a little silly sense of humour don’t they?  I don’t know why this makes me smile. The meanings are so very different; one translates to ‘by-god’ and the other is ‘part two’ of a 1990s parody spoof film with Charlie Sheen. Winning!

Gare de Lyon Part-Dieu is quite a big station, easy to wander around for a decent time with 2 backpacks wondering indecisively whats the best route to the hostel. I can say this now but that was one serious blond day.

Lyon is France’s third-largest city after Paris and Marseille and the inhabitants of the city are called Lyonnais The city is known for cuisine & gastronomy, historical & architectural landmarks plus it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1998. Lyon hosts the international headquarters of Interpol, Euronews and International Agency for Research on Cancer. Much more to this destination than you would think. Plus, did you know Lyon is twinned with Birmingham, UK, has been since 1951.

My first hostel accommodation and I am extremely impressed.  Booked online, I am staying at the Away Hostel and Coffee Shop.  It had taken that bit longer to work out the best way to get across by bus, metro or tram. Too much choice when I am being indecisive and ditzy is not a good combo. I found the local transport website afterward – always the way – and this is a quick search engine in case you’re stuck.  I’m impressed with all the ticket machines having multiple language options. I can’t remember if the London TFL ticket machines do or not, I had no reason to acknowledge. Can someone in London confirm for me? Once again the transport system is cheaper than London, no surprise.

It’s a little dreary and drizzling today so the city isn’t giving its best first impressions but all is forgotten when I arrive at a bright, airy, white hostel. The receptionist is funny and friendly, he and his fellow receptionist were styling their man buns. I cast my eye across the chill-out area, acknowledge the man bun was popular that day in Lyon. I come to love this cafe and chill-out area especially for their resident discounted 2 Euro 50 glass of red wine, quick internet speed and an easy atmosphere so I could work without too much distraction. I have been so very lucky to work with my client over the last couple of weeks during the Chateau volunteering and Paris, I’ve completed over 30 hours paid work which is icing on the cake that I’m truly grateful for.

The efforts to make the beds in the dorms more private are inspired. A simple design, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner. The hostel does have singles, doubles, and quads. However, in the larger dorms, my bed is still a bunk bed but enclosed fully on one side and at the foot. A little shelf and plug socket, individual reading lamp and under bed storage. It was a large room, more white paint and lots of floor space. No air con during the height wave is a little surprising but we had the choice to open 2 huge sash/French windows for a preference of air over the musty human smell. The breeze was essential at night even if we were drunkenly serenaded at 3 am on Saturday. The pictures are exactly as per the dorm except of course more boarders luggage, shoes, and aroma. But I’m very happy with my choice, I paid only 23 Euro per night. If you are travelling with a budget solo or with friends or family, I highly recommend.

I appreciate now, this was to be my best experience so far out of 7 hostels. Even if I did fall on my ass in the shower but I’ll come to that later…

Where the hell did these hills come from!?! The city is surrounded.

The west incline is Fourviere known as ‘the hill that prays’ and this is the location for the highly decorated Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere, several convents, the palace of the Archbishop, the Tour Metallique which is an unmissable TV tower replicating the top of the Eiffel Tower (and you know what I thought of Tour Eiffel), Cathedral Saint Jean Baptiste and lastly the funicular railway as it really is a steep hill! Walkable but steps, steps, steps.

Basilica - Lyon 'hill that prays'

To the north is the Croix-Rousse, known as “the hill that works”. This area is traditionally home to many small silk workshops, an industry for which the city was once renowned. Thanks to the silk trade, the city became an important industrial town during the 19th century. In 1831 and 1834, the canuts (silk workers) of Lyon staged two major uprisings for better working conditions and pay. The city was built with the silk manufacturers and traders in mind. Traboules are passages through buildings that would be used to shorten and ease the walking/cycling/horse routes to transport goods. Later, during World War II, Lyon was a centre for the occupying German forces, as well as a stronghold of resistance. These traboules through houses enabled the local people to escape Gestapo raids. On 3 September 1944, the city was liberated by the 1st Free French Division and the Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur. The city is now home to a resistance museum.

This leads me so quickly to my Lyon Travel 5

The Basilica is one of the most bling religious buildings I have ever stepped foot into but first, the train! The only method I was reaching the top of the steep slope on a hot day. Www.frenchmoments.eu states if you want to climb Fourviere Hill from Lyon Old Town (le Vieux-Lyon) then you must be ready to face one of the Fourvière Hill’s famous “ Montées” (slopes). There are several rises which link different parts of the “ Vieux-Lyon” to Fourvière Hill and some of them are stairs. The longest one is the Montée des Carmes-Carmes, combined with the Carmes Nicolas de Lange. You must use them if you want to join de Basilica from the Saint-Paul area in the northern part of the old town. But you had better be ready to climb their 798 steps!

The website also suggests you could use Montee des Chazaux which links the central part of Fourvière Hill to the Saint-Jean district in Lyon Old Town. Even if quite short at 228 steps, it is said to be a difficult climb. Of course, I would not choose 798 steps even if my last blog said I was going to love stairs. There’s just no way that’s happening if the alternative is the world’s first urban funicular railway. Ok so it’s not the exact same trains or tracks as was built between Lyon and La Croix-Rousse in 1862 but….

The basilica is simply beautiful. It stands on the hill majestically overlooking the river and the city but peaceful as it is solely white stone reminiscent of Paris’ Sacre Coeur, it doesn’t look over bearing. The interior is stunning. The simple white exterior belies the craftsmanship of the interiors. So pleasing to a magpie such as I am. I love all things sparkling, a real sparkle that is. I don’t think I’ve seen this much gold gilt in a church. It’s not gaudy at all. The attention to detail and mosaic effect appeals to me. Each wall depicting a different tale all shiny and glittery.

However, both elaborate constructions have been the target of controversy and speculation over the years. One author, Bertrand Taithe, made the statement back in 2001 that: “The reaction to the communes of Paris and Lyon were triumphalist IMG_20170628_174154030.jpgmonuments, the Sacré-Coeur of Montmartre and the basilica of Fourvière, dominating both cities. These buildings were erected with private funds, as gigantic ex-votos, to thank God for victory over the socialists and in expiation of the sins of modern France.”

Fourvière actually contains two churches, one on top of the other. The upper sanctuary is very ornate, while the lower is a much simpler design pictured with the yellow ceiling.  Once again it is unbelievable that the work is achieved without electricity or motor powered machinery.  The large weighty glittering basilica sits on top.  This was referred to simply as the crypt.

Construction began in 1872 and finished in 1884, however, finishing details to the interior were not completed until as late as 1964.

Lyon panorama view

Just around the corner of the basilica front door is an awesome jaw to the floor 180-degree panorama. The clear blue skies resulted in visibility for miles across the French landscape. I couldn’t see Mont Blanc but on the clearest of days, it is possible to see in the distance. A great place for stand still and just take in the expanse of space.

After much gawping, you can amble back down the hill to the cobbled streets in the Old Town. I took a rest to catch up on people watching and blogging in some lovely pubs. I usually avoid anything that looks too wine bar like. I prefer traditional even if its fake vintage. I have read this is a city of 4,000 bars and restaurants with 15 Michelin stars. The city is full of students and tourists and most definitely caters well for them. Wikipedia states there are 33 universities and institutes for tertiary education and it is said to have over 120,000 students in the city and surrounding areas.

If you like ale or beer then try the local lager with Picon. It makes the lager caramel coloured and gives the lager a faint orangy bitter taste. The citrus is very faint so don’t be put off. The addition of Sirop de Picon is a tradition in the east and north of France. I’ve never heard of it before now but it is really easy to drink so if you see it, try it!

Talking about pubs, I cannot believe I see this named pub whilst pottering around the town on day 1. The location is following me. Out of all the names in the world, this is quite surreal. Clearly, the owner is an ex-pat Brit and brought the name with them. I do miss London but I don’t wish I was there. This is how it should be!

I fell in love with the tonal colour scheme of the buildings. Whether residential or business the district/region government have it right. The street art specifically. A series of impressively large murals painted by the CitéCréation cooperative are dotted around the city, and tell the story of Lyon’s neighbourhoods and its most famous citizens. There are around 100, some of which you can follow on a trail like a huge pictorial guidebook.

The wall depicting the history of the Canuts (silk weavers) in the Croix-Rousse neighbourhood (Boulevard des Canuts and Rue Denfert Rochereau) was the first to be painted 30 years ago and is updated every 10 years. The Fresque des Lyonnais (Quai Saint-Vincent and Rue de la Martinière) represents 30 people who “made Lyon”, including author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the first film-makers in history Auguste and Louis Lumière, director Bertrand Tavernier and master chef Paul Bocuse.

Lyon has established itself as a cultural hub with an innovative list of events, don’t instantly think of Paris for culture. I would recommend Lyon instead:

And don’t forget the sport! This year Lyon hosted 2017 Lyon Open (also known as the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Lyon); a men’s tennis tournament played on outdoor clay courts. It was the 1st edition of the Lyon Open and part of the ATP World Tour 250 series of the 2017 ATP World Tour. Phew… hope you got all that!

The Parc Olympique Lyonnais was the location for the 2016 European Rugby Champions Cup Final and in 2018 will hold the UEFA Europa League Final.

I didn’t have time to visit the Lyon Printing Museum nor the Resistance Museum so I’ll pop in next spring for another visit. The tourism website is a wealth of information and the offers they give for the 48 or 72 city passes may well be a good saving on this occasion.

I felt excited to be leaving but wishing I could stretch out my time and my budget. Unlike a holiday I cannot visit every museum and purchase lots of fridge magnets or arty postcards. I ordered what would soon be my last big cup of good cappuccino and a quick bite without checking my train time. At the time, I felt confident it was a good hour away and the hostel cafe staff assured me I had ages yet.

As soon as I settled into my coffee, I caught a glance of my train time, 20 minutes sooner than I remembered. What a doughnut! Thankfully the hostel cafe staff continue to assure me I’ve loads of time and the trolley bus was the simplest route with no changes.

Dear lord, I was holding my breath throughout that journey. Not only because the French clearly have a smaller area of personal space than I do but the trolley bus travels at what feels like 2 miles an hour. I was about to miss my first train. It was a small seat reservation fee but I hadn’t yet got the mindset that another train will come and I can just book the next train.  Missing this train had a knock on effect to my connection in Geneva and the hostel in Zurich wasn’t cheap. The route from Lyon Opera House to the station is badly planned for my purpose, whilst it was nice to have a slow tour of the streets of Lyon. The interweb worked wonders and I found the departing platform which was closest to the station door I entered!  The travel gods once again with me.

Last lesson I told myself loudly “give yourself more time to get to the station, waiting near or in the station is more relaxing than rushing.”

A delightful couple of days that in hindsight could have been a whole week or more but I have to maximise my InterRailing ticket and now I’m in south east France then to me, my natural next step is another city whose name has held a curiosity to me. Think watches, Lindt chocolate, clear crisp water, and cheese. I’m headed to Zurich, Switzerland.

Ah yes, my hilarious moment at the hostel that I must feedback to them. The showers don’t have a foot grip nor any thing to grab when both feet decided they had enough of holding the weight for the first 30 minutes of the day. I went down like a sack of spuds. So funny. I can remember going down in slow mo. My first naked fall of my trip.

Now that I write that, I think my first naked shower fall ever. I vaguely remember someone on the outside asking if I was ok but I was trying not to laugh at my misfortune and carry on washing my hair, now with a cowboy stance. I wonder what the person outside heard.  I’m so so lucky I just came out with 3 small bruises, it could have been much worse. I don’t bruise as often as I used to.  I’m careful in every shower now. Maybe I should wear those plastic sandals in my backpack that I am carrying exactly for that purpose. Ah, an insight into the conversations I have with me, myself and I.

ah mais oui Paree…*insert own French accent

Why has it taken me so long to visit one of the closest country capitals of the world to London?  Who knows, not me.  Wherever you live in the UK, it is simple to travel to Paris whether the French like it or not.

You can opt for flying via many UK cities, a short average flight of 90 minutes and prices as low as £25. Skyscanner recommends booking approximately 17 weeks prior to your preferred dates for the best rates.  Thank you to Skyscanner; these are all the airlines offering direct flights from UK cities.

Alternatively, travel by car ferry which can be a reasonable price for larger groups especially if you have a camper van or caravan.  The Telegraph has a great article with recommendations for the cheapest ferry services and routes available [April 2017].   Car train is possible with the Euro Tunnel then drive to the city, though, I would not recommend driving into Paris personally.

My favoured, of course, is the Eurostar.  A high-speed railway service connecting London with Avignon, Brussels, Lille, Lyon, Marseille and Paris. All the trains traverse the Channel Tunnel between the UK and France.  Prices from £58.00 return, you can opt from 3 class of carriage and you arrive bang in the centre of the City of Lights.

IMG_20170621_163326178Obviously, I am already in France and so travelled via train from Tours; a relaxing journey watching the Loire Valley countryside however delayed by nearly 60 minutes, no idea why but more time to watch the fields of gold.

 

 

Thursday 22nd June 2017 – La Ville Lumière

I had a feeling that Paris may not be the city for me however there are parts of the city and architecture I loved. I’m not going to win Francophile of the year but I’m pleased to have finally visited.

Paris is said to be one of the world’s most romantic cities, I’m going solo and usually deliberately avoid places where I could be surrounded by PDA so here’s hoping there’s not too much of this ‘showing affection’ going on. As I’m writing this after departing, I can say I saw no men on bended knee with bouquet of flowers and ring in hand or is that too cliché?  No silhouette of couples embracing in the distant horizon (likely due to soaring temperatures; “no, darling, too sweaty!”).

IMG_20170622_152118781.jpgI have to say straight off, don’t believe the hyperbole, Tour Eiffel is not Paris’ raison d’etre.  It was a little anticlimactic, however saying this, I have to give it some dues.  It is such a significant symbol of France and Paris that you can’t help have a fleeting moment similar to seeing Big Ben or Statue of Liberty. Just those moments were not so fleeting.  These attractions are imprinted in our memories a long time before we even consider exploring their location.

Paris is a walking city, don’t be tempted by the Metro in the very centre of the city, even though I am a fan. Don’t purchase the 24-hour or 48-hour city passes unless you’re really going to take full advantage of the discounts, museums and art galleries. Instead, I recommend an amble, a saunter, down unknown avenues, look up at the buildings, people-watch locals and soak in zee atmosphere.

IMG_20170622_122906502

Priorities – lunch! When in Paris…. Croque Madame, salad and french fries s’il vous plait [zee-vu-play].  Next stop – Tour Eiffel.  I was surprised by how many cordons there were. I had hoped to walk under it. I was happy to take sideways shade from the rays and then saw some people paddling in a pool nearby. It was as if my hot feet decided to hot-foot me there. I could sit on the side, feet in the cooling ‘milky?’ water (yes that is water under my feet) with a direct view of the tower and enjoyed watching people wearing my sunglasses!

This hilarious chap was extremely happy to be in the water with his t-shirt rolled up like a 1980s crop top over his beer gut and too tight banana hammock speedos – not exactly couture. Ever so often he’d walk further into the water, a camp splash with his hand and return back to lounging against the side.  Very funny.  But nope, couldn’t stay, I’m no voyeur.

IMG_20170622_152805318I know, I’ve just said don’t go on the Metro but it did keep me amused too. Not only am I a hoarder but I really do love train travel. It’s a bit unexpected because when I was a small child I’d cry that people would kiss and hug through the carriage window – I was sure the person on the platform would get sucked under the train. Over active imagination don’t ya think! These days there is less kissing through open train door windows and I am tear free. I bought a ‘carnet’ of tickets to get me from my Airbnb and back again each day, in between, I used my feet.

A great source of easy to read travel information is Wiki Travel’s Paris web page. Sometimes the internet is an overload of information but this is clear and simple for getting into and getting around Paris.  By the way, I have always loved the design of the Metro signage.

The reasons I opted for a ‘carnet’:

  • 10 reduced price single tickets.
  • The ticket is valid for unlimited metro, RER, bus or tram transfers within 2 hours for RER/Metro and 90 minutes for bus/tram. This would be all I need for the longer distances across the city.  However, a quick note, RER/Metro and Bus/Tram are 2 separate systems that use the same tickets so it does mean you have to use a new ticket you transfer from bus to metro or vice versa.
  • I still have tickets left and they don’t expire so I may consider popping back in on my way to the UK.

Remember this was the best choice for me as a solo traveller. I’ve read that if you need children’s tickets then Mobilis, Navigo or Paris Visite passes can be a bargain.

Ultimately if you can navigate the London Tube, which is the oldest underground train network and I’m guessing probably the biggest network when looking at numbers of lines within a square acreage, then you can easily ride the Metro, the Subway, the U-bahn and the Skytrain. I was spoilt by the London Underground modernity and when I get on a more basic train like some in Berlin or Paris, I feel like I’ve gone back in time. A quick note that the Londoners and tourists do pay for that modernity, it is also one of the most expensive to use.

Specifically, on the Paris Metro, I am loving the way people open the door and step off a slow but still moving Metro carriage – oh so blase and cavalier! So French.  After enjoying this short entertaining journey to get to the city centre; I walked and walked and walked!

Champs Elysees trafficThe boulevards and avenues are long and wide. The traffic is intense. The smell of smoke is everywhere. I cannot believe I’m saying this, are you sitting down? I have become one of those hypocritical ex-smokers that can sniff the odour from a mile away and dislikes it!  At the Chateau, I had a few regular cigarettes due to the quaffing of red wine followed by next morning regret.  It does taste and smell disgusting. Only taken 20 years for me to reach this very opposite conclusion.

My lifestyle now may be the success to overcome the final hurdle. Besides my first 2 weeks, I’m not drinking much (ok, so my recent social media may look like this is a lie but it’s all in your definition of ‘much’) and smoking while drinking is my last dissociation to make. I love the social, the pub, glass in one and ciggie in the other. For years now though, I only partake in the menthol cigarette, these are already banned in Brazil and Germany, with the phasing out in other European countries between now and 2020, well then it’d be the black market for me if I carry on the habit. I really don’t miss it day-to-day and if I fall off the wagon once in a blue moon, I won’t be beating myself over it.

The faces I make when I first get a whiff of smoke, well that’s a funny unexpected picture! I don’t have any control over the scrunched up nose and scouring eyes for the source, who’d have thunk it, certainly not me. Seems I need to string pot pourri from my sunglasses and next time you see me, I could be drinking red wine and confidently sans cigarette. Ooooo, what a thought?  We’ll see.

Thursday was one hell of a full day, I walked from the Tower towards Hotel National Des Invalides and Musee de l’Armee, over my favourite Paris bridge Port Alexandre III, Grand Palais sitting opposite the Petit Palais (it is not small!) on to the Champs Elysees all the way to Arc de Triomphe. I saw an impromptu army band rendition of the French national anthem and a dramatic cloud/sun combination sky when seeing the Arc. The Arc is impressive, the sheer scale of the statues and the carving. An impressive monument to those who fought and died, for the French, in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. Though I’m not entirely sure why so many of the men in the relief are depicted naked.

Paris fact-o-file from the non-Francophile – the city certainly has panache

  • The Paris region receives 30 million visitors annually, putting the region just ahead of London as the world’s top tourist destination, measured by hotel occupancy. The last 2 and half years have been uncertain times due to terror attacks in 2015, 2016 and 2017. However, the city has endured and overcome years of incidents and attacks previously. I have no doubt the city will continue to reign as world tourist city no 1!
  • Centre Georges Pompidou, commonly shortened to Centre Pompidou [photos on the right above], was designed by the architectural team of Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, along with Gianfranco Franchini. Richard Rogers also designed the Lloyd’s building in London [left]. Similarities, don’t you think?
  • IMG_20170624_172824075Even though I am not a fan of heights nor stairs, if you wish to take the active route to the top of the Eiffel Tower then you can climb 1,655 steps alternatively walk up the hill to the Basilica of the Sacre Coeur then finish with only 270 steps for an equally dramatic view of the city… so I’ve been told.
  • The first public screening of a movie was by brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere in December 1895. They used their invention ‘the cinematographe‘ to show 10 films of about 50 seconds each. There’s a link to the French origin of the English words cinema and Lumiere but apologies, I’m not completely au fait with this fact. *insert tongue in cheek
  • The Eiffel Tower was planned as a temporary installation only, intended to stand for 20 years after being built for the 1889 World Fair. I’m thinking it’s quite popular.
  • The tower is painted in three shades: lighter at the top, getting progressively darker towards the bottom to perfectly complement the Parisian sky. It was originally reddish-brown; this changed in 1968 to a bronze colour known as “Eiffel Tower Brown”. I’m not taken with any shade of brown – I recommend a bit more bling.
  • The music hall and cabaret are famous Paris institutions. The Moulin Rouge was opened in 1889. It was highly visible because of its large red imitation windmill on its roof and became the birthplace of the dance known as the French Cancan.
  • The painter Toulouse Lautrec became famous following his poster creations for The Moulin Rouge.
  • Only in France does the traffic have to give way to the right. This is a crazy rule but it is the only way the Arc du Triumph traffic keeps moving.
  • If Paris is awarded the games of the XXXIII Olympiad it will mark 100 years since the French capital last hosted.
  • A law to reduce the statutory working week in France from 39 hours to 35 hours was introduced in 2000. The country has one of the best work:life balance ethos in the world and the French sure know how to take a 2-hour lunch.

The day was fun-packed. The evening was not!

I lost all signal on my mobile phone. I do not react well when technology breaks down. I’m back at my Airbnb home by this point, I have wi-fi so I’m not completely without methods of communication to O2 support but it’s never easy is it. It all started because I couldn’t make any calls to the UK. The O2 support man recommended I come off the network and reconnect – in essence “have you tried to switch off and on again?”. I couldn’t get back on the network. I was furious. That was his contribution earlier in the day and he’d hung up very quickly. Over the course of the next 3 hours and on Friday morning for another 2 hours, I was repeating the same over and over again to O2 support.

  • “Yes, wi-fi is off.
  • Yes, data roaming is on.
  • Yes, I’ve 4 available networks.
  • Yes, I’ve tried to attach the phone to each in turn.
  • Yes, I can try again while we’re chatting.”

My fuse is extremely short when technology fails and when support staff don’t read the system notes they must have directly in front of them.  Though there’s no one to witness my strop but me.

I did NOT tell them I had dropped the bloody phone only just last week. The first time I’ve ever cracked a screen of a smart phone I’ve owned. It now has a sun burst of cracks from the bottom left-hand corner. I could have kicked myself at the time, trying to open a door with phone in hand. I now look at the bright side and hope that it looks too naff to steal. The phone had been working fine since its fate with the concrete floor so I was sure this wasn’t the issue. The EU roaming restrictions had not long been lifted and I bet this was connected.

Sob stories and nagging are tiring even if I’m doing it by messenger but I didn’t sleep well that evening, I really do rely on my mobile day-to-day.

Friday 23rd June 2017 – let’s stay a little longer

I was finally escalated to tier 2 O2 guru and I could have given her a virtual hug when she walked me through resetting my phone, I’d gone through the previous day, but she had the knowledge, I could tell. And I needed her on my side! There are switches and systems back in the UK that she can play with, I can’t believe that she didn’t have an override button. I really hope this is it. I played the ‘single female’ traveller needing constant contact with ‘people’ card. Plus I renewed with O2 because the wi-fi connectivity and availability in the EU was integral to my work. Both are true. I’m paying for 8MB of data so when I need the internet for work but cannot jump on a free public WLAN then I can use my mobile hotspot.

After 2 hours, the mobile is working. Drama over. What problem with my phone? All annoyances disappear with the flash of 3G or E symbol of my screen and now, I don’t even have to dial +44 to phone home. Not sure what my tier 2 guru did but I like her a lot.

I was supposed to be travelling today but I’ve extended my stay to depart on Monday. My #slowtravel can be much slower, no rush to my next destination and by the look of Zürich and Munich accommodation costs then those are the cities I’ll just stay a night or 2. I hadn’t even decided where I was going following Paris plus I’ve definitely not scratched the surface of the city sights and sounds.

I’d arrived in advance of a celebratory weekend, the city was hosting an Olympics 2024 two-day extravaganza to promote their host country bid and I believe to excite the locals too. I find the latter difficult, I’m stereotyping, but the French do not exude excitement. There was a great spirit amongst the children and teenagers I saw taking part in sports all over the city. It reminded me of my volunteering for London 2012. Being a Games Maker was truly an incredible honour and I was the one giving up a holiday in lieu of being a volunteer.

My additional 2 nights meant I could enjoy more wandering. I did get lost trying to find the Effiel Tower at night – how funny, I’ve already been there once, and the size of it and it is lit up. Very pretty at night, I can see the awe of it after the sun has gone down and the city’s nick name comes to life. I was impressed at how many people gather later in the evening, at any piece of public lawn or garden for conversation, drinks and picnic. Not straight after work as the Brits would do but after 9 pm. The longest day of the year was just 2 days previous, I had to wait quite late for the man to flick the light switch on.

I’m sure I’ve said before, I prefer to be out in the afternoon and evening, I was a little miffed with the museums closing at 6 pm. That was a shame. I am very used to London’s free museums so I found it hard to reason an entry fee when the sun was shining. Which museum would be worth it? I know how quickly I can squirrel around an exhibition, looking for what I like best and where the least tourists are. This approach doesn’t matter when it’s free.

When I reached the Louvre, it was just too nice a day to go indoors. The Louvre is the largest art museum in the world. It is reported to take days to truly appreciate all the exhibitions. If you do a whistle-stop tour, the BIG 3 – like the safari BIG 5 – are:

  • Mona Lisa, despite the crowds and the poor presentation. To see the Mona Lisa, head straight for the 13th-15th-century Italian paintings section (1st floor). Look for the crowd of people elbowing their way close to the painting. Good luck getting a picture without someone’s head in it.
  • Venus de Milo is a statue of a big armless woman not wearing a top and teasing some with a little bottom cleavage.  I shouldn’t mock, how it has survived since 130BC is a miracle.
  • Michelangelo’s Dying Slave statue is writhing, twisting Slave is clearly in agony, standing in ‘Contrapposto’ classic visual art pose…so I read.  Imagine drama queen reaction to stubbing a toe or standing on a pin.

If you like art and it’s a cooler or wet day then I’d recommend.  The museum is closed Tuesdays, open till 9:45 pm Wednesday & Friday, all other days 9-6 pm; adult admission 12€.

 

I would have liked to have seen The Thinker at Musee Rodin (do my ‘almost’ best thinking on the loo, this looks familiar).  Sadly, that’s how I found out what time most museums close, denied entry at 5.20pm. This was the difficulty with starting the touristing at lunch time.

I pottered around the Olympics 2024 activities, I’d missed the new, supposedly shockingly young, French President Emmanuel Macron joining in the activities.

These photos are borrowed from Google images, thank you!  I had seen so many armed police and army the day before, I guessed he was coming.  Plus, it is the Olympics!  Of course, the President needs to support this bid.

Instead, I took a River Seine cruise, had the back of the boat all to myself. Drank my beer and ate my very expensive M&Ms whilst absorbing snippets of Parisian life and history I didn’t know.  Oh, and past this running track on the river… completely normal, no?

paris-track-seine

Did you know?

  • “Axe Historique”, “Voie Triomphale” or “Voie Royale” is orientated at a 26° angle, following the course of the sun from east to west. A series of monuments placed along the axis.Paris Axe Historique
  • Paris was encircled by a new wall between 1784 and 1791.  The wall was highly unpopular, and, along with shortages of bread, fuelled gParis Eiffel Tower and Statue of Libertyrowing discontent which eventually exploded into the French Revolution.  Take note, Donald Trump!
  • Paris has 4 replicas of the Statue of Liberty.  I travelled past the one at Île aux Cygnes on my boat trip. She is said to look towards her sister statue in New York.
  • The French army was the first to use camouflage, which comes from the French verb ‘to make up for the stage’, and began to wear camouflage in 1915 during WWI.
  • In the 16th century, Paris became the book-publishing capital of Europe, and a long time later in the 18th century, it was the centre of the intellectual ferment known as the Enlightenment. It is said the book publishing was the huge draw to many writers and philosophers wanting to share their thoughts and ideas.

Rowan at Lovers Lock bridgeMy boat trip ended near the Lovers Lock Bridge – I gave it that moniker and there are no longer locks on it. I believe that the weight of the locks was damaging the bridge and soon, with all the extra weight, the bridge would be in the Seine. If you had the desire, you can still leave your lock ‘next to’ the bridge. It’s officially called The Pont des Arts or Passerelle des Arts. Recently replaced with glass panels, it’s almost impossible to leave a lock and, city officials said lovers can “celebrate their union with a selfie rather than by attaching locks”. City officials are serious and not romantic.

Solo traveller or couples, you’re better off heading to Luxembourg Gardens to watch the sun slowly setting. Many green chairs available for the public to sit by the pond or in the shade. I could have been somewhere tropical.

IMG_20170623_212252562_HDR

Saturday 24th June 2017 – Montmartre is the Paris I have in my mind

My favourite part of Paris, Montmartre lived up to my imagined Paris. The winding narrower streets and cul de sacs, hustle and bustle of locals and tourists, entrepreneurial market sellers and souvenir shops plus restaurants of every genre. Passing a traditional windmill was a real treat; to imagine the original city landscape.  I was delighted that I’d walked to the top of the hill without knowing it.  Stunning to reach Sacre Coeur at the top of the hill, how do they keep it so clean?  The view over the city is pretty stunning too!

My Paris travel 5, in no particular order

  • Montmartre and Sacre Coeur
  • dine on steak, fries and a glass of red wine – goes without saying 
  • River Seine Cruise
  • Tour Effiel at night
  • Pont Alexandre III

Sunday 25th June 2017 – old friend, good times

It was absolutely fabulous to catch with a dear drinking buddy of old. Oh, the wonders of Facebook. I’ve not seen the lovely Sabine for nearly 10 years and it’s as easy as ever to chat. We arranged a brunch tête-à-tête. Sabine travels A LOT for work, much more salubrious and luxurious trips than mine. Such luck that she was in Paris at the same time as me!

We’d met at a bi-annual soiree through friends of friends, many years ago; an institution, of surfing (for some), hot chocolates at the beach, drinking, pool, singing, fancy dress, walks to Rock and Rick Steins’s Padstow. A long weekend at the Oyster Catcher pub ‘with flats’ in a gorgeous cove along the north Cornish coast called Polzeath. Y’know where the British Princes used to frequent, never seen ’em though! I love that Sabine has recommended we rendezvous at a cafe called Paris London. Purely coincidental!

Of course, she says hello to all that know her, we caught up on where everyone is and how they’re doing. To be honest, this was more like a Facebook test. It was great to hear of another newbie 40-year-old thinking of an exciting life style change.  I’m not one needing reassurances and affirmation to do things but it is nice to hear someone say “you’re so lucky, the adventure sounds amazing”.

The brunch was fantastic. It could be considered pricey however that’s mostly due to the location and you get a lot for your Euro. The croissant yum! The french toast was delicious… as it should be with that name. I have to stop ordering cappuccino as they’re tiny. Not the same as a UK large cup of strong coffee with a frothy top. This is a smaller cup, half froth and the rest vaguely tastes of coffee.

After 4 hours of brunch and catching up, I headed off to purchase my ticket to my next stop.  I have decided against following my shared ‘Rowan’s rough route‘ already.  I found Luxembourg City accommodation was a little over budget, I cannot waiver on planned daily costs so soon into my travels or I’ll be home sooner than expected.  Plus I’d been told the countryside is lovely but there really isn’t much to do Luxembourg City.  I will go and could be proved different but for now, much amusement at my route sabotage already, I could have put a bet on!

Monday 26th June 2017 – next!

I have deja vu!  The bag is too big, the sun is shining, hot, hot, hot and I am heading to a train station and another location. I’m LOVING it.

Overwhelmed with so much choice and fellow traveller opinion I have had a change of heart from Luxembourg City. The route also influenced by my global Interrailing ticket.  I finally settled on travelling 7 days within one month. I was so sure I’d read that 5 days in one month was available but I was wrong. If you see it on any other websites – ignore – it is 5 independent travel in only 15 days. That’s pushing it and sounds exhausting!

The benefits of a global Interrail ticket are many: carte blanche, the freedom to book seat reservations right up to the day of travel, the multiple routes throughout Europe, variety of fast trains or regional trains, bus and boat. The ‘out of the box’ thinking was how can I really maximise my money spent and take some reasonably long, more costly, dramatic routes through Switzerland and Austria to soak up the scenery.

The aim is to reach Warsaw, Poland by 13th July. Without doubt the cost of an Interrailing pass has increased over the last 2 decades due to the popularity of backpacking and the overall cost to provide public transport is higher but the seat reservation fees are low and the available route map is big.

Some distances are way too long for a solo driver, to be honest even for 2 or 3 sharing a vehicle. I think people forget quite how small the UK is and what the Brits are used to driving. Take the comfortable window seat, a picnic lunch and watch the world go by. Alternative activities available – read a book, watch a movie, write a blog, catch up on sleep. Can’t do these if you’re driving and for long distance, a bus invariably means hours of grey tarmac. I’m not naive to try to dissuade you from Flixbus and Busabout as you can make up your own mind. Friends have used Busabout and loved their tour.

As you’d expect First Class gives you more space and bigger seats. The cost of the Interrailing pass is higher but the seat reservation costs, that vary route to route, can be the same as a 2nd class. When I’ve finished the pass I’ll tally up the costs and compare against the relevant fare if I’d booked last-minute single tickets along my route. See what savings I made by using an Interrail pass…. hopefully!

So? Are you thinking, where the hell is she? Probably not. My very initial thought when I started looking back in London was a location name that has intrigued me for years, way before the issuing of my first route plan.

Where am I heading? Bon Voyage to me. I’m en route to Lyon!

p.s. what was the connection with words in italics again?

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

Aston Martin, helicopters and 2CVs

Finally, to continue on from my week 1 experience of driving for the first time in years; a transport theme, purely by chance! It’s a little too easy to write about a fun-filled 7 days so you could almost say this is a novella. Week 2 at the Chateau de Jalesnes is equally as relaxing and so easy to form a rhythm and routine. Up for 8.30am, help yourself to a form of breakfast to your own personal preference (the good having oatmeal with fruit and nuts, me eating Nutella on toast – how did that fall into the trolley?), divvy up the tasks for the day and off we go. All of us still sleepy and not ready to dive into conversation just yet, we happily take our part but do so quietly.

The projects in the past range from building furniture for the Chateau, making wooden doors from scratch for the caves’ entrances into the moat, interiors renovation, painting and decorating, and much much more. It all depends on who’s allocating the jobs. Co-owner Jenny admits herself that when she’s looking after us HelpXers then there’s always more focus on the garden and grounds. This suits me fine as I’m forming a very good tan and I’ve only been here 8 days! The manual labour, as such, is good for the body even though I ache sometimes, it has most successfully switched off the constant brain chatter.

I think the familiarity of what we need to do makes us relax all the more. The Sunday day trip to Nantes had been a little anticlimactic, I’m not sure about visiting French towns or cities on Sundays when they ultimately ‘close up shop’, kinda lose a bit of magic and atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, please visit as you may love it but I have 2 days Tours later in the month and this is definitely a better option. We arrived in Nantes, literally abandoned the car after eventually finding a parking space and then trekked across the town and river to see an attraction of large-scale animatronics.

According to Wikipedia, The Machines of the Isle of Nantes (or Les Machines De l’île) is an artistic, touristic and cultural project. In the old covered buildings of the former shipyards that were at one time very busy in ship construction. Created by two artists, François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice the project’s aim is to promote the city’s image and tries to build an identity as a creative metropolis of dream and of fantasy. I’m sure the restaurants and attractions will soon entice tourists who need a break from wine tasting.

elephantWatching The Great Elephant ‘walk’ was impressive to see especially as the driver spurts water out of the trunk at little children – sounds quite macabre of me, so maternal. My video is brief but you can appreciate the mechanics behind the art, you will not appreciate my filming.  I made a boob but it’s funny to keep.

If you’re happy to pay to enter The Galarie des Machines, this is a ‘veritable bestiary of machines’. Not sure about Google Translate with that one! More animals include a spider that can seat 4 people on its abdomen, a heron with an 8 meter-long wingspan (perfect for my mate Debs!) and the giant ant. I steered clear, not exactly a fan of regular sized spiders and saving my pennies for the priorities – wine and food.

Monday 12th June 2017 – only real cherries are delicious

The fruit trees need weeding – yes, more weeding! This is what happens when Jenny hasn’t been to the Chateau for a good couple of months and the HelpXers are not so focused on the garden. The garden is a little overrun with these trailing weeds, they get everywhere. Good timing as summer has most definitely arrived and this weekend’s guests are dining in the garden. The finish of the garden is important for the French Chateau style. I found out a past HelpXer had designed the garden with the owners of the Chateau and you can really see the design replicates the French formal Chateau style from the balcony. Straight-lined geometric shapes, neatly trimmed trees and shrubs, gravel for paving, and the wildflowers adding colour and a little contrast.  Not as costly as the one recently in the news! 

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They have cherry, apple and lemon trees. I feel like I’m missing other fruits but I really can’t remember. It’s a sign that I need to take more notes. So easy to forget the smaller things when doing something new each day. A week can start to become one very long but very filled day, and I’m only on week 2! The details ‘make’ my shaggy dog stories and you ‘need’ details! I’ve taken to writing very short bullets each day with the desire to prompt the full memory. This didn’t work for my A levels but I’m hopeful. This blogging malarkey takes time you know, I knew but now actually appreciate, that for anyone who writes, it is a ‘job’ as well as a creative outlet. I need to be more applied to writing time and stop enjoying myself 🙂 It’s ever so contradictory of ‘holiday mode’; to be in a new place then lie in or stay inside for hours typing but it has to be done. Oops, did I say lie in?

As per usual Rowan conversation, I digress, sadly not enough for fruit pies but still, they need trimming back, tidying up and new wood chip. The formal wood chipped beds of the trees is important to the look. Thankfully whilst we were low on fruit in the Chateau garden, we had a very generous neighbour. Another of the owners, Micheal, popped into the Hi De Hi with what must have been 4kg of cherries, tasty, sweet and deep cherry red. Between 6 of us and happily sharing with anyone else who popped in; we devoured every last one. Too difficult to get the stone out and make pies. Actually…. how do they get the stone out for pies? Promoting a conversation about how a real cherry is tasty and desired but all artificial cherry flavours are not and those disgusting maraschino cherries are the worst! Like some say, I believe they are ‘the devil’s food’. This was discussed for at least erm, 3 or 4 minutes.

My good old mate Fiona once challenged me to rate many things in my top or bottom ‘5’; completely deliberately to distract me from the horrific hangover I was experiencing. Much appreciated! Maraschino cherries would be at the very bottom of all fruit based bottom 5’s or even ‘100’s’. I would rather eat durian over these little beggars.

Weirdly we noted that cherries are extortionate in all 5 of our countries so this farmer was making a tidy sum. Why are cherries so pricey, they are an abundant fruit and grow in quite a few countries? The land surrounding the Chateau was a mix of the neighboring farmer and his brother’s land plus also forestry which is part of the Chateau grounds. I was really pleased to see a public walkway was signed posted through Vernantes, the forest land, and fields of what looks like cannabis, yes, cannabis. In reality, hemp. From the same plant family and the familiar leaf shape that I’ve seen… in films… and on postcards. Two different walks of 4km or 10km I think, I had the urge to investigate further and the feeling passed quickly. I need to research long distance walks more for each destination, I’m never going to get rid of this extra 3 stone by sunbathing, eating cheese and drinking wine!

I happily weeded the tree beds and took this gorgeous picture (if I say so myself) you may have seen on social media. 19400491_10155559998879258_9156713285159959922_oIt was a cooler day with cloud cover, a great day for gardening. The wildflowers contrast well with the formality of the exterior of the building. Between 3 of us, we got the task done and it’s quite satisfying to have a goal to complete no matter how basic. The weather was still rain free so these trees needed some water. Last time I saw rain was early in week 1 but that’s it. We had an amazing lightning storm, hardly any thunder and then a fair bit of rain dumped itself over the garden for about 2 hours then disappeared as quickly as it came. I’ve tried to film the lightning and here are 2 options for you to view but it could be a case of “you had to see it yourself”, it really was spectacular. Hint – I’m filming landscape, you should be able to make out cloud formations and irregularly, you can see a tree skyline low in the picture. I appreciate its mainly black so no hard feelings if you’re not as impressed as I was in person.

Jenny and Clara had previously worked out to feed the fruit trees 30 litres of water, we needed to give it 4 minutes worth of water from the handy little-hidden water taps in the ground. A very simple task to drag the hose around and I could weed the planters around me. I didn’t do much more weeding in the end, proof the slightly hypnotic Monday morning daze affects me where ever I am it seems. I’ve been way from London only 1 week and it feels like much more, in a very good way.

Tuesday 13th June 2017 – Pies

Still watering trees and weeding, life is simple y’know. I even happily volunteer to do the supermarket shop for another stint in the driver’s seat. Music on and windows down. I really enjoy the jaunt down the country roads with little traffic and yes, I admit to mainly driving in the middle of the road. But I think I did that years ago on some of the smaller country roads to Sambourne and Warwick, back in the day. I shouldn’t have gone of my own though, I accidentally used all the loyalty points to pay for the shopping instead of requesting it be charged to their account. I couldn’t understand what the cashier was telling me so I just nodded and uh oh! Thankfully, they’ll just sign off my little boob as expenses. I need the French folk to speak veeerrrrryyyy sllllloooooowwwly and maybe I’ll get it. However, I can see how immersing yourself in the language and continually listen to the ‘other’ language helps. Helps my understanding a little that is; my speech and lack of accent remain awkward.

Jenny hosted dinner again for us, a yummy chilli or a salmon pea pasta combo. Or both. Then after all my talk of pies, Jenny coincidentally made an apple pie and a cherry pie. Michael and Jonathan joined us; we’ve not really seen much of them these 2 weeks as the Chateau is getting busier and busier.  I really do hope you look at their website, the idea of self-catering apartments is not the French way but if you’re wanting the deluxe accommodation with the benefit of kitchenette facilities then this is a subtle alternative to hotel life. Or a family and you want a base to stay for a longer time then this is a perfect solution.

Not forgetting if you know anyone who’s getting married and wants to do so abroad, the chapel is stunning. A captivating space for a civil blessing or maybe you’d even like the magical feeling of the forest. A short walk into the woods takes you to this guardhouse or bird coup, I’m really not sure what it was, imagine a trail in fairy lights with the bride and groom at the top of the stairs whilst the guests are watching from below. Daniel was unknowingly doing a good Burton catalogue pose when I snapped this pic.

 

 

We enjoy good conversation over dinner and once again generous with the Cote du Rhone. It’s really appreciated to be welcomed by the owners; definitely no ‘them and us’ and you can see this is working together not for!

Wednesday 14th June 2017 – oh look, a cloud

We’re all a little more with it by Wednesday – no hump days in the Loire Valley. That said, I cannot remember what I did with my morning. We’re mainly tidying up the grounds for the exclusive use group that is arriving tomorrow and Friday. Members of The Aston Martin Owners’ Club are coming. Not just for the Chateau but for Le Mans. Again Wiki as my source; the 24 Hours of Le Mans (24 Heures du Mans) is the world’s oldest active sports car race in endurance racing, held annually since 1923 near and in the town of Le Mans, France. It is one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world and is often called the “Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency”.

The circuit on which the 24 Hours of Le Mans is run is named the Circuit de la Sarthe, after the department that Le Mans is within. I didn’t know that the circuit consists of both permanent track and public roads that are temporarily closed for the race. Funnily, this weekend we were going to visit Le Mans – don’t think that will be happening!

Competing teams race in groups called “classes”, or cars of similar specification, while also competing simultaneously for outright placing amongst all classes. Originally, the race showcased cars as they were sold to the general public, then called “Sports Cars”, in contrast with the specialized racing cars used in Grand Prix motor racing. Over time, the competing vehicles evolved away from their publicly available road car roots, and today the race is made of two overall classes: prototypes, and Grand Touring cars (similar to sports cars sold to the public). These are further broken down into 2 sub-classes each, constructors’ prototypes, privateer prototypes and 2 subclasses of GT cars. Basically, it is popular with race team and spectators alike!

Aston Martin has been involved in the race since forever and I can imagine the Aston Martin Owners’ Club has been following the race as equally as long. As my career history is in hospitality including some high rollers, I’m interested to see the demographic and geographical reach. Nah, I’m just nosey. We’ve found out the couples have paid 4 figures for their weekends excluding their travel to France. Plus one set of guests, not sure how many, will be arriving into Tours by private jet. If you can own an Aston Martin, then I’m sure it is pocket-money to have VIP trackside hospitality and oh did I mention the helicopter ride to and from Le Mans each day.

The cost was too much for some of my fellow volunteers to understand but it’s not only about available disposable income, it’s about having a hobby that you really love! The cost becomes irrelevant. I’m sure some would pay above the odds to see a favourite band from side of stage and ‘meet & greet’ on the tour bus. Or maybe prime seats at a World Cup rugby final and a dip in the post-match bath – just me then. I would be happy to get a ride in the helicopter – I’ve only had 1 very short bumpy 15-minute heli-flight over the Evesham countryside many many moons ago but I would jump at the chance to do again and even have lessons.

I start Googling the cost of lessons and helicopters for sale. I really should be doing some work!

All this week I’ve been thoroughly chilled and this proves a challenge to then focus the mind. I have freelance project work throughout my afternoons or evenings which I complete remotely if you need any editing or marketing then I’m the freelancer for you – www.rowanvpaservices.wordpress.com. I am extremely grateful for the continued work and merrily complete my projects once I’ve got past setting myself up with laptop, windows wide open for a breeze, cup of tea, review Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – to get it out of my system – and then before you know it, I’ve been staring up at the clouds for about 10 minutes. Who needs mindfulness and meditation techniques?!?

Darn it, I really should be doing some work!

Thursday 15th June 2017 – Jenny leaves us to it!

What are we going to do? Our leader is off to have pre-birthday fun with her family. What’s that about? Jenny is always working before us and continues after we finish so to keep us motivated and busy, Jenny gives us a long list of activities to do in her absence. Unlikely we’d get it all done but better to have more. Before she headed off to her train, we all come together to tidy up this circular patch of wildflowers. The seeds have simply been picked up by the wind and taken over what should be a circle of small colourful flowering bulbs. We tried to pull out all the grasses and thistles to leave the flowering plants but now it just looked odd. So here’s a few pics of us ‘at work’…. eventually, the lawnmower came out and we went ‘crew cut’. It really would have looked weird leaving the 4 random flowering plants with a solo lemon tree in the middle with its one large lemon hanging low. No innuendo intended. You can tell the 2 of us who don’t want to catch the sun – the long sleeves Ray Bans club.

I have not done very well at taking candid photos of people as I challenged myself but I will try harder.

I’ve been allocated housekeeping tasks, reminds me of my first hotel job and also duty management when I worked for Hilton and IHG. Yet I still managed to forget which suites I sorted with flowers and those with fridges on and Ackerman’s sparkling wine in. I have always struggled with a good balance of daydream or work efficient. I am usually one or the other. That’s why I love working on my own, no-one wanting me ‘on’ when I need a time out. I could be lethal if I was switched to ‘work efficient’ all the time but to be honest, it sounds ever so tiring. The same long time friend of mine that knows I’ll happily rate anything in a top 5 also used to compare me to Joey from Friends when he is in own ‘Joey’ world…. could not, cannot, argue with her.

Whilst every dinner is great fun sometimes we’re all chatted out. I am very surprised I’ve enjoyed being surrounded by these guys as much as I have. It’s not personal but I’m very used to having more time to myself. All of us solo volunteers are similar in needing that individual time out to recharge. Clara and Nahuel bid their good nights as they are deep in the Twin Peaks box set – the proper original series! The boys are online or read. I manage to get the TV and my laptop to speak to each other, very pleased with my technical prowess and no remote control for said TV. Didn’t do my efforts justice really as I then watched an Adam Sandler film – cheese on a cheesy stick with cheese flakes. Remember, I do like cheese. Excluding visiting my parents’ house, I can’t remember the last time I watched something on a proper TV screen. Even at my old house, I watch everything on my trusty 17″ laptop that I have with me now.

Friday 16th June 2017 – I wonder if they’d let me drive an Aston Martin

The car park is filling up with the latest Aston Martins, however, my favoured one is an antique, a vintage convertible. I can get close up to it.  This is how to travel around vineyards of France, top down and ideally chauffeur – how else can I keep up the wine tasting if I have to drive. Very 007. james_bond_daniel_craig_astonDaniel Craig can be my chauffeur any day. I would love to just pootle around for 30 minutes, I would be careful, just for the wind in my hair and music on, top down time. You could say it’s similar to my desired car that was a little more in my price range back in London. I would have loved to buy a little Nissan Figaro, nissan_figaroin original beige, yes they say beige. I decided against the car and the stamp duty savings for travelling and here I am!  I’ll come back to the car or get one over here 🙂

We’d been requested to become a little more invisible than usual, simply to ensure the guests really feel the exclusivity of their hire. Very difficult to do when we’re eating dinner in our ‘back garden’ and 2 of the guests come walking through the farmers’ fields short cut after having had drinks in Vernantes, our closest village. Transpired one of the ladies was French Canadian but now both she and her Aston Martin loving husband live in Toron’o, just across town from our volunteer Diego. It’s a small world!

Additionally, I’d found out the group organisers were a 3rd party booker to venues back home, an events agency, sorry ‘lifestyle management and concierge services’ company that I’ve worked with in the past in London. Offices on Portland Place, just minutes from an old London workplace of mine. Small world indeed. I said nothing, I’m immersing myself in a completely different type of lifestyle thank you!

We’re starting to really jell as a group so it feels strange to think about my solo travels in 2 days. I know what I’m doing for the next week but after that I’m indecisive. So many choices to reach my short-term destination, my next HelpX placement. A teaching English school called AngloVille host an immersive English programme for children and adults, I have agreed to help at a 9-day course in Warsaw, Poland. I have to arrive by 13th July 2017. What I do between now and then is to be confirmed.

You know we’d jelled, with the help of 4 bottles of red wine and the rest of the beer, when the conversation of “how do you define love?” comes up!!! How we got there I have no idea, hilarious and left field to have such a deep and meaningful question come from the quietest of the group, Vivienne. Now I am notoriously single and have been for years so gawd knows how I will reply. I was also the last to be asked the question 🙂 I think they were respecting their elders – ha! It was really interesting to hear what individuals thought by no means are any of us drunk but wine lubricates the tongue – “being a better version of you, because of the other person”, “a feeling of home”, “putting the other person before yourself”. For me, I remembered the cartoons from the 00’s but I’m sure they’ve been around since the 70’s. You know the one where the man and woman were invariably naked – never found out why – and the strapline was always ‘Love is…’

It’s not a coincidence that the majority of solo travellers are also single, seems obvious really. Many hoping they’ll find a like-minded individual on their adventures no doubt. I wonder what the ratios are on this. No way of knowing how many international travellers meet a certain someone on the road. Not the best timing to meet someone right at the beginning of my exploration through Europe, but hey I’m open to suggestions. I’m feeling I am cougar material though and this will be difficult but I’ll cope…

We end the night by checking out the stars, trying to work out what was above our heads with the useful star iPad and iPhone app but nope, the attention span of a gnat. I like the idea of it learning more but if the only time I do look up is when I’ve been drinking then well, it’s never gonna stick is it.

We have a lie in tomorrow hence the flowing drinks over and after dinner, the residents are off to Le Mans and this means the helicopters are coming. Now you may wonder if the Chateau has a helipad. Of sorts – it’s called the back garden. Lots of flat grass areas for a little 4 seater to drop in. Little did we know that we’d be entertained quite so much by 8 helicopters coming!

Saturday 17th June 2017 – it’s just a helicopter

How exciting! I had no clue that we were having more than one helicopter coming. I didn’t even click that Le Mans is a good 15 minutes flight away and the guests numbered at least 35 or so. One helicopter would never be enough. Holiday brain! We’d enjoyed our breakfast and chilled, knowing that we needed to stay inside from around 10am mainly for our own safety than anything else. The Hi De Hi is very close to the makeshift helipads = the lawn! I was lay on my bed and then we hear the familiar sound of the rotor blades. It was like an episode of Air Wolf or Magnum PI or MacGuyver; ok it was nothing like that but they were so close.

One of my favourite scenes from the musical Miss Saigon is the full-size helicopter replica lowering onto the stage, highly recommend the show if you’re into musicals. It could be the technology or simply the flying, both I suppose. My reaction seeing a Chinook flying over London was a little excitable, y’know the ones with tandem rotors, I would love a flight in one of those. Why is it that I really don’t like heights but I love flying?

Of course, I have film that I’ll share on The Volunteer Voyager Facebook page.  Being in my bedroom was just by chance and happened to be ideal viewing as the windows open fully with no obstructions. The best arrival was when one pilot came a little too close to the tree-lined pathway in the garden and the air streams were clearly playing silly buggers as he was bobbing about a bit. Sorry no film of this, it was too good to miss him juggling a little. It seems like he nonchalantly swings the helicopter up and around to reposition himself to land further away from the trees, buildings, and people! These small helicopters are really responsive. I remember it costs thousands to learn how to fly.

I love this pic, it shows how close they swiftly settle vertically and land.  All in the timing! IMG_20170618_162326515

As I say we had 7 arrivals in quick succession, 1 landing, 1 already on the ground and filling up with guests then quickly up and off they go to the race. Alternating over about an hour. The last came to pick up their staff, just 2 people who’d been ground crew. That is waving a white cap in the air to indicate the landing area. You could tell they’d done this many times, very slick and quick. When the last helicopter arrived, we volunteers were already in the garden with our tasks. Vivienne got a great film from her vantage point where she’d been picking strawberries, fancy pants has added music so it does look even better.

It felt like everyone was on a little high after the helicopters had successfully picked everyone up with no damage and injury. The owners were very pleased with all the footage and pictures for their website, social media and of course, not every day you have one, let alone 8, land in your back garden. This was a first for the Chateau and I’m sure not the last.

We cracked on as there was much to do; the Chateau kitchen had been used the previous night by the caterer and also for guest breakfast. Job didn’t take long when there’s a couple of us doing and in return, we happily gained plates of cheese, hams and so many croissants. Plus half bottles of champagne and wine. Not a bad deal I think. With further icing on the cake being no guests on site, after our 4 hours were done we were all in the pool! The weather had been gradually getting hotter each day I was at the Chateau. I hadn’t anticipated a heat wave but when in my first week it had been a comfortable 23, I’d taken a photo of the local village pharmacy sign. In France, these green flashing pharmacy crosses always have the date, time and temperature. I was feeling happy when I took this pic that 23 was most definitely better than back in London. On the 17th we’d reached highs of 30. I love the heat and the sun but we all needed cooling down. I’d been in the pool before, it is heated however it had taken a few deep breaths to get my shoulders under the first time. On Saturday, I happily jumped straight in.

I’ve not really told you much about Lulu or LouLou – however, it’s spelled – she’s Jonathan and Michael’s golden lab puppy. A big playful but solemn looking girl who has moments of madness. I don’t think she’s even a year but is ‘big for her age’. In the previous week, she’d followed me to the deer and sheep. I was trying to feed the deer but she thought the young leafy plant branch I was holding was a toy for her. It was like it flipped a switch, next thing I know she’s running around at top speed towards the horse and donkey. Hearing me shout “no Lulu, no Lulu” over and over again was funny. She doesn’t know me from Adam so ignored me. Shades of the “Fenton” You Tube clip – you should watch the link if you’ve never seen it before. Next thing I know she’s rolling around in the horse manure and she knew she was being naughty. Thankfully the horse did too and ran after her, Lulu escaped but covered in horse poo. The joys of dog ownership, guess who needed a hose down later.

During the last 2 weeks, we easily see how Lulu loves all the attention she gets from IMG_20170617_153638606numerous people including us, the guests and even the delivery guys she meets at the front door. She loves to eat the water out of the sprinklers and her trick is stealing tools from the guys in the garden, she gnawed on a pair of secateurs for hours and some lost fake Birkenstocks that had been left after the wedding. She wants you to chase her to get them out of her mouth. If you have a dog, you know how cute they are when being naughty. I am a cat person but Lulu was a big softy.

On this occasion, we were all feeling particularly encouraging of getting Lulu in the pool. I had an inkling she wasn’t allowed in the water but …

She’s running around the pool like a lunatic because we’re all in high spirits. Eventually, she steps down onto the first step, stairs straight into the pool, then to the second step. Really she’s liking the splashing, trying to eat the water. We shouldn’t have got her in but all 6 of us trying to get her to swim to us was too funny. She is still learning to swim, would only go so far and then try to clamber 2 front paws onto your shoulders for support. She’s like me, I don’t like to be out of my depth either. I wish we’d got a photo. We didn’t get caught but we did get caught out by Michael as he’s giving her cuddles. Rule 2 broken! No Lulu in the pool. Hilarious. What a minute, what is rule 1?

poolBy this time we’ve the stubbies out and the music on. Ah, rule 1 broken! No glass near the pool let alone in it. Sooorrry, we didn’t know. I toddle off in my towel to fetch the plastic cups and Lulu decides the corner of my towel is another toy. I thought she was going to win for a minute and whip it straight off me. I should have told her off but I was too busy laughing. Michael had to come save me otherwise she could find it too much fun and do it more often. If I did ever get a dog then I would want one as playful as Lulu.

The day turned into a farewell bash as such, Vivienne and I arrived on the same day and we were both heading off on Monday. And a welcome dinner for Fritz, our new German arrival this afternoon. A last feast and lots of wine savoured as I don’t think my budget will stretch to continue eating the same array of foods and quantity of red I’ve consumed over the past 2 weeks. It’s funny when a new person arrives, we did the same to Daniel on Monday gone – the Spanish Inquisition. Firing questions left, right and centre. As expected most questions continue to relate to travel and food.

Things took a turn for the worse when someone, me, suggests drinking games. We didn’t even need the alcohol. Vivienne’s argument for not wanting to play the name game had us all in stitches. Most of you will know this game: start with the name of a famous person (Jennifer Anniston) and use the first letter of that surname (A) to name your next famous person (Angelina Jolie). Anyone who hesitates or goes blank or wrong has to drink! Vivienne states “ah but the Chinese don’t always use the western name!”, oh yes, we jeer, such as …. her example had us in stitches. Can you work out which famous Hollywood star this is “Brado Pitto”! As you can imagine, she lost her argument.

A good night had by all and a small suggestion, don’t mix Johnny Walker Red Label and peach iced tea. An awful idea.

Sunday 18th June 2017 – SOS, 999, 911, 112 – no wine, no wine

Helicopter, schmelicopter… saw 8 of them yesterday! Yeah, yeah, I can hear them…. I’m too busy lying down to get up 🙂 Isn’t it disappointing how blase we could become, and I remind you of the conversation we volunteers had about disposable income and what is ‘normal’ to a person. If you see something all the time, it’d be a shame for the sheen to wane after time.

I didn’t just lie there. I watched! Of course. This time we had 6, I think the guests at Le Mans could stay and view the race all night if they wanted though I’m not sure it’d be quite so captivating in the dark? Thankfully there are noise restrictions so guests returned late last night was by car, looking back I don’t think we’d have noticed what with the drinking games. This morning it looked like we had bigger helicopters but I haven’t got the ‘copter-spotter-esque levels just yet so I’m not confident. It was the landing – louder for sure, chairs went over and a poolside umbrella pole bent straight over and into the deep end of the pool.

Still exciting to watch, maybe it’s because they land and take off in such quick succession. I really couldn’t tell you but I enjoyed each one, even when they came back 6 hours later.

IMG_20170617_155554010The Chateau feels ever so calm after the flurry of excitement, the same thing happened yesterday. We had no major jobs to do, help to tidy up and clean, the kitchen again but no way near as messy as yesterday. A few of the volunteers had to set up the sprinklers, tables, and chairs for the evening dining later but all in all a really relaxing day ahead. Jonathan kindly shared the love after our morning’s work, this is how I’d like to finish each day of ‘work’ please.

We hadn’t known until the day before but a 2CV owners club were arriving in the afternoon as the finish to a day rally. The complete antithesis to helicopters and Aston Martins. Totally 35 2CVs cars and vans! This is only a few before I had to take shade from the sun. *fans oneself

 

Owner Jonathan has a green 2CV. All you’d need now is a beret-wearing man on a bike with a basket, a baguette and a string of onions. The Citroen 2CV or in French: “deux chevaux” or “deux chevaux-vapeur” translates to “two steam horses” or “two tax horsepower”. Conceived by Citroën Vice-President Pierre Boulanger in the 30s to help motorise a large number of farmers still using horses and carts but not introduced or manufactured till 1948. Thanks, Wiki!

AND my dad once owned one, why? I will have to ask. I would recommend never sitting in the middle of the back seat as the cushion is thin and the framework underneath could literally be a pain in the bum on a bumpy road. He would deliberately race of over the hump in the road to Knaphill when we lived in Bisley, Surrey. Not needing much encouragement but I’m sure I egged him on.

Fritz’s arrival was appreciated in many ways – on Sunday it was because he was able to drive a manual car and very very used to driving on the left. Designated drivers – Daniel and I – wanted a lazy day and didn’t really want to head out but some of the others were chomping at the bit to see something other than the chateau.

I had a few hours of paid work to do and then my treat would be a swim, a snooze in the sun and then…da daaaaa, Bread and butter pudI was making a bread and butter pudding using the many pain au chocolat we had. It’s relatively easy to make but guessing the right ratio of croissant to milky custard can make or break a good pudding. I was impressed with myself especially as this was a hard pudding to explain the taste sensation. Just for fun – the top 5 of puddings, easy and quick to rate. At no 5 – rich, thick, chocolate mouse, 4 – my mum’s rice pudding (even though she’d be surprised and invariably burnt the skin on top, that’s how I like it), 3 – rhubarb crumble and custard, 2 – a melt in the middle chocolate pud and 1 – bread and butter pudding!!! Love, love, love. Won’t bore you with the bottom 5 but let’s just say trifle is the worst.

Then, the news! The shop was closed and Daniel hadn’t had time to go earlier in the day. We had no wine. A little worrying and funny that Daniel asks me to message the guys out for the day to see if they can look for a shop. SOS, 999. I felt a little desperate sending it but I couldn’t deny I did fancy a glass. Sadly it is Sunday at 5pm. All shops in France are closed. I was surprised the Super U had been open till 2pm. Whilst we had a tasty BBQ with some spicy ‘frankfurter looking’ but ‘chorizo tasting’ sausages, it was a relatively quiet last night while I anticipate the next step in my journey.

Monday 19th June 2017 – Au revoir folks, it’s been amazing

A strange morning, I only had time to help the wood chippers for an hour or so. I packed my bag, cursed the amount of stuff I’d got again, stripped and washed the bed linen then it was time to go. Grabbed a bit of lunch, goodbyes to the guys and Fritz gave me a lift to the train station.

I have to say how lucky I have been with my first HelpX experience. I think I will struggle with my expectations of the next one I’m doing in July. It has been such great fun.  What out for the location plus Jonathan and Michael on Channel 4’s Escape to the Chateau, coming soon. 

The time flies when you’ve gotta be at a particular timed train from Saumur, however, I wasn’t exactly going far. Just 70 miles to Tours for 2 nights to do a little sightseeing, Monday was my first afternoon of actually being a solo backpacker. Exciting further adventures ahead…. Rowan was actually on the road.

Chateau Life

My travels have started and although I didn’t go far, a short 283 miles as the crow flies to the Chateau de Jalesnes just outside the village of Vernantes and the town of Saumur.  I have had the best first 2 weeks!  I came with no expectations and I’m more willing to go with the flow than most but oh yes, the Chateau life is one I could get used to.  Impressive place and so lucky with my HelpX companions.
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It has finally dawned on me that my blogging is like my shaggy dog story telling.  “The background is essential.”  I used to write regularly to my old school friend Kathryn when I was at Glamorgan Uni and her in Liverpool.  Not forgetting many letters back and forth with my old uni partner in crime Karen when she and I had moved away from deepest darkest Treforest   My chatty writing style hasn’t changed, basically, this is me if I was talking to you with a cuppa or glass of wine.  This is a long one so more like a chat with a bottle or 2.
Monday 5th June 2017 – my backpack and me! 
Headed to Stansted Airport via Peckham Rye train and bus from Victoria Coach stations.  Within this two hour journey, just to get to the airport, I’d already cursed the amount of clothing I’d packed.  I’d hoped for a cooler day in the UK so I could wear some of the warmer clothing, however, this logic is completely flawed when you’re travelling in 25-degree heat at your destination.  Actually, it was flawed in London – Monday 5th was a humid day, I’m 3 stone too heavy to be carrying an extra 13kg.  I was wearing jeans…. mistake!  I need to seriously rethink the clothing, toiletries and shoe situation.  All the heavy items need culling.
I have also never backpacked or holidayed with my laptop – essential to my work and blogging   Not been too successful with the latter in my first 2 weeks, however, this will get better.  Yet, you’ll be pleased to hear the Rowan VPA Services work is coming in!
If some of you are wondering how I can be affording this indefinite travelling trip of mine then please check out my website www.rowanvpaservices.wordpress.com   Refer me to your colleagues, family, friends and bosses!  Imagine me as a ‘marketing tech girl Friday’.  I’ll come back to this another day – basically, my hope is to continue to volunteer, travel and work remotely as long as feels right; living in cities or towns I’d normally just take a long weekend to enjoy.
The London Victoria to Stansted airport journey via coach was productive because I had to finish an on-line work project before I got to foreign shores as I couldn’t guarantee the wifi ease and availability.  The initial journey was fantastic because the coach drove over Lambeth Bridge and Southwark Bridge past a good number of sights and sounds I could say a fond farewell to.  As soon as we’re in the outskirts of the city and on dual carriageway then I jump on my mobile wifi hotspot and complete my work before the airport.  One simple example of the technology I love and have available to me.
Stansted Airport is not in my top ‘anything’ of airports, as the security can be quick and smooth unless the bag detector takes your hand luggage down the manual checks conveyor belt….nooooooooo   I appreciate the security measures are for my benefit and for the safety of others.  However, the time it takes is painful.  A couple of years ago my friend Debbie and I nearly missed a flight to Salzberg because her bag contained an uneaten banana.  Forever to be known as ‘banana-gate’.  Thankfully, we got on the plane in fits of laughter but it was a close call.  We were not the only ones delayed by crazy slow manual checks of the baggage and the plane took off a little later than planned.  Lucky ladies!IMG_20170605_131016396
My error was 2 nail varnish not in the plastic bag and 2 lighters…. ooooOOO only permitted 1 per person.  The lighters, not the nail varnish.  Additionally, it was a training day.   Wrist slapped by the over zealous security woman.  I waited at least 35 minutes for the bag to be checked and I was practising my Zen for the rest of my time abroad.  I bet there will be other days when I have to wait patiently for trains and buses so I wasn’t going to let this first hurdle shorten my fuse.  But seriously, please Stansted, do something about the manual checking process – it’s just so inefficient!  
I’d planned to complete some last-minute emails which went out the window, call the folks – check, a very quick hello and cheerio to mum, eat a fish-finger sandwich as I was no way paying Ryanair for tasteless in-flight food when it costs so much!  And a bevvy, because, well, it’s an airport tradition!  Check – a pint of Guinness with my sarnie and wedges.  Priorities.

Obligatory plane pics have to be done!  

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Flying Stansted to Tours is basically up, coffee and down!  Popular because of the close proximity to Le Mans and the increasing number of Loire Valley holiday homes for the Brits and Irish.  Tours airport is tiny, not what I expected at all.  My plane arrived from London, as always the passengers jump up as if they’ll get off quicker but no chance; the awful recent terror incidents have rightly heightened immigration and passport control, however, this did not include increasing the number of immigration officers at the airport.  Imagine a small shed with 2 windows and 2 unsmiling French men. 
 
Bus shuttle or taxi to Tours train station is simple even if I did forget that I have to try my French – bad Rowan!  At least ‘to the train station’… a habit I need to break.  Google translate app is to be my best friend especially now they have audio I can attempt to repeat with perfect accent.
I am still in a little shock that I’m actually in France and trying to remember the last time I was in the country.  I was put off working for a French company in my early 20’s   Even my French colleagues were not that complimentary about the French.  
I visited France for family camping holidays in the 80’s and definitely a school trip potentially 1992 – I remember Joan of Arc church and Gros Horlorge of Rouen, the Bayeux Tapestry and WWII beaches and memorial.  I am sure this was the last time I was properly ‘in’ France.  You can’t count being on a Eurostar train zooming through the countryside heading for a fantastic long weekend in Bruges.  School friends may be able to help if I went skiing in France….my memory is atrocious and I just can’t recall.
I’m heading back to Tours after my HelpXing fortnight so I’m not in any rush to see the town centre whilst laden down with my backpack.  Tours to Saumur is by local regional train with the best/worst air conditioning I’ve ever experienced on public transport.  I have been in warmer walk-in fridges.  I got my ticket and train without hitch and a fair bit of international sign language.  I am on my way to meet my host Jenny, an Australian ex-pat living in Malaysia for half the year and co-owner (with 3 others) of the Chateau.  Not a bad way to enjoy a retirement.  
We’d already had a flurry of messages back and forth about the Chateau and how it all works for HelpXers in the previous couple of weeks however the challenge with this for me is always trust.  It irks the planner in me but when someone says they’ll pick you up then you have to have faith they’ll come when they say.  Of course, she did!
Why did I pick the Chateau?  The reviews of past HelpXers were all very good.  I wanted to visit Paris yet start my volunteer voyages as I mean to continue.  Not by holidaying but a different style of trip.  I hadn’t expected that we’d eat like Kings and be treated to wine and dips in the pool.  A very welcome cooling off when the body is overheating.   As my article explains, HelpX is an online tool where hosts can find helpers in exchange for food and board.  The ‘help’ they need can be anything from admin to fruit picking to animal care to hospitality.  The Chateau looked stunning in their website – 5* accommodation with high-end fully furnished suites and studios with integrated kitchen facilities.  Whilst I offered my hospitality marketing services, I hoped for outdoor opportunities to start the tanning!  I can confidently confirm 2 weeks on, I am a very dirty brown with extremely blond hair.  The sun and the outdoor jobs did not disappoint. 

old Hi De Hi

After 13 hours since leaving my old home, I was now in ‘The Hi De Hi’.  The nickname given to the volunteers’ accommodation.  A converted stable for goats and sheep (I think…) back in the day, this is where the owners lived during conversion of the Chateau and now for us helpers.  3 twin bedrooms with a communal lounge and kitchen.  Two owners of the Chateau are British and yes the accommodation block looks like it belongs in the sitcom anytime between ’80-’88.  Note, we definitely didn’t get suits like these 2!
The lovely current HelpXers had waited for me to arrive before they had dinner.  Jenny did the quick towels, linens, duvet, bedroom and bathroom tour then left me to it.  
My fellow volunteers are Toms from Riga, Latvia and Clara and Nahuel from Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Clara had made a fantastic creamy cheesy aubergine pie with an array of salads.  This was just the start of feasting every day.  That night we drank good red wine and thankfully the guys didn’t mind speaking English!  I’m so lucky that it’s one of the universal languages.  I can piece together some Spanish if I understand the context but I wouldn’t know where to start speaking either Latvian or South American Spanish.  I was definitely on a high and was blathering to them ever so quickly I am sure they probably didn’t understand half of my chatter.
I slept very well that Monday night, spark out; a very deep satisfying 8 hours. 
Tuesday 6th June 2017 – I love cheese
Volunteering starts are 8.30am invariably, however, the hosts are not at all strict about when you work.  The deal is 4 hours ‘work’ a day in exchange for free food and board.  This is a great partnership for all.  The Chateau needs to keep the grounds and building looking fabulous and the rotation of HelpXers means they get experienced tradesman like carpenters to people like me with very general skills in the garden but I can do housekeeping tasks with my eyes closed.  Funnily, all of us volunteers were not big morning people but Jenny was.  Thankfully not in an annoying smug way; in a let’s get to it way.  The owners like to allocate tasks to HelpXers that they would do themselves but just don’t have the time for one reason or another.  Mainly ‘cos they’re crazy busy already and each little job is not that little!  
First thing on the list – wedding the veg patch.  This was hilarious.  The seeds were not long sprouting so I have absolutely no idea what I was pulling out.  After about 4 weeks growth then a plant actually looks like a mini version of itself but when I was tackling this hmmm weed and vegetable was a little too similar.  Thankfully I had Jenny giving me the odd direction and advice but it was extremely relaxed.  The pain part was my body’s lack of muscle or being used to any kind of gardening.  At one point it was easier to lie down and rip out the weeds whilst prone of the grass.  After 2 hours my hands were in pain, after 3 hours my hamstrings and just nearing lunch, dear god my lower back didn’t know what the hell I was doing.  Tomorrow was going to be painful!  That said, I was still pleased to be prone of the garden lawn and look up at the Chateau and very blue skies and this glowing yellow ball….two weeks ago I’d not see it properly this year, I vaguely remember its called ‘sun’.
Lunch was A-MAZ-ING each day – all the good foods from France.  Baguette, ham, cheese, cheese, cheese and oh, more cheese!  Can I just say I love cheese!  I wish I’d taken a photo but I became a Pavlov dog – 12.30 ding ding, lunch time.  My stomach was always growling around quarter past.  HelpXers and the Chateau housekeepers – Satiana and Marie-Noelle – all enjoy lunch together in the Hi De Hi, poor ladies have to put up with our English conversation but thankfully we had more people coming… with French skills!  
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Over the course of my time at the Chateau we were also joined by; Vivienne from Beijing, China plus Diego from Toronto, Canada, Daniel from Christchurch, New Zealand and Fritz from Dingolfing (what a great town name!), Germany.  A fantastic mix of people and that was just 2 weeks!!  I was edging the average age up but not by much and no-one really cares about age in this scenario anyways.
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4 hours goes by in a flash when the brain switches into autopilot and daydream mode. The best ideas come when you’re not really thinking.  Clears the mind.  Plus a bit of banter with the team and back to that thing called ‘sun’… always makes me feel great.  
Afternoons and evenings are our own to do with as we wish.  Chatting, cooking, relaxing with a bottle of red, baking, sleeping, walking, food shopping, NetFlix and chill (in the actual sense, not the naughty option) were activities we successfully achieved between us.  The hotter it got, the more sleeping was preferred.  It wasn’t like we had super late nights but this manual labouring lark is hard work in the 30-degree heat.
Jenny hosted dinner for us HelpXers and some of the investors in the Chateau – you can own shares in one of the apartments/studios and benefit from 8 weeks use per year plus profits from each sale throughout the rest of the year.  More info here for anyone who’s interested.  The owners have won awards for the investment set-up.  
We gorged on a pudding of strawberry Eton mess made with strawberries from the garden, the third portion took me over the edge and I had to lie down!  Everyone is ever so friendly and welcoming, the owners have always used HelpX since buying the Chateau 4 years ago and restoring over a 2 year period.  It had stood 90% empty for 14 years before they purchased it.  The actual building was constructed in the 17th century and I’m sure once connected to Royalty or at least the Ackerman family – a very very important name in the region and the sparkling wine world.   
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Wednesday 7th June 2017 – Weeding = pain
Ha, rolling out of bed was the only option, there was no way I could bend or squat.  Thankfully I don’t have the inclination to do either.  My hamstrings had taken a beating.  I’m sure my weeding action shouldn’t be bent over at the waist, not matter how short I am.  My body hasn’t done a proper day’s manual work ever… and now I’m feeling it!  Today’s task was completely different… cleaning windows!  Insert own version of George Formby’s song.  The management had been let down by a contractor to clean the Chateau windows however they had an exclusive use wedding from Friday to Sunday in all apartments and so this job was crazy…. how many windows cleaned by Vivienne and me over 2 and 1/2 days…. hard to be exact as they’re different sizes but I’d say 50 and that’s just each room window, not counting the individual panes of glass.  Another task that can switch any over thinking off and naturally spend a lot of time looking up at glorious clear blue skies.  It was funny that Vivienne and I were the shortest people in the HelpXers and yet got to clean these extremely tall classic chateau windows.  
IMG_20170615_193247391We take it in turns to cook tea/dinner and I can’t stress enough how generous the Chateau was… we ate like kings and queens.  Benefiting also from croissant and wine that would be thrown out otherwise.  The Chateau allocates 7 Euro per person, per day to the food bill.  We’d head off to the local Super U for food and the delicious 2 Euro bottle of red I’ve already been raving about.  Granted…cringe…. this red was not local.  An easy to drink Cotes du Rhone and I’m trying to find a photo of the label to share with you all.
The Middle Loire Valley region is dominated by Chenin blanc and Cabernet franc wines found in the regions around Touraine, SaumurChinon and Vouvray. Most famous in the local area is the art of fine sparkling wines.  As I mentioned the Ackerman family were key to the creation of a sparkling wine comparable to Champagne.  It is delicious, not too dry, sweeter than Champagne and smooth.  We tried some bubbles at a different winery on Saturday but the 4 of us were not so keen.
Did I mention, this location is so calm and quiet.  The only sound I connect with is the mass of birdsong at sunrise and over breakfast then later in the day… the neighbouring farmer’s automatic sprinklers kick in.  This is hemp growing in the farmer’s fields and also a pleasant walking shortcut to Vernantes.  They also had an entertaining menagerie of animals at their farm…. peacock, goose, goat, donkey, bunnies, ‘3 French hens’ (I bet you sing it!), horse, ram and a deer!! Never found out why and felt sorry for the deer and sheep when they look out of their enclosure to a lush green forest. Plus the peacock sounded like a cat meowing, very confusing for 5 cat lovers in the Hi De Hi.  
Vernantes has 2 churches – of course, 3 bars, boulangerie, Super U (supermarket), Boucherie and banks that always seemed closed.  Typical French village.  A lot of Tuffeau stone  — which is the local limestone of the Loire Valley of France.  Many buildings are pale soft cream in colour as they are made from the stone which is easy to IMG_20170613_123239716excavate from just metres from the surface.  Many buildings have cellars and caverns simply because the stone was used to build a house, barn and even Chateau de Jalesnes. That’s why it has a moat!  A moat that has never had water in it.
Thursday 8th June 2017 – just call me George Formby
More window cleaning, many many windows, more cheese, more heat, more sleep, more Cotes du Rhone vino and new for today…photo taking.  I’m trying not to snap and go but its easier to edit and secretly use a little filter later on.  I have decided from now on that I’ll try to look for the unusual photo op or angle.  I’d got a really good look around the Chateau during my window cleaning so naturally, time to take some photos too.  The chapel is stunning and the restoration the team have achieved is so well finished.  Plus I couldn’t possibly forget playful puppy Lulu – so cute, especially when being naughty.  
 
This day seems to be a blur so, clearly, I was extra chilled out on this day.  It’s at this point I find my ITV Player and BBC iPlayer don’t work outside of the UK.  How will I get my fix of Midsummer Murders and Death in Paradise?  How do I get round this?  Without charges!
Friday 9th June 2017 – Instagram stalking 
Found out the wedding couple and party were quite active on the old Instagram   The groom is an Australian rugby player currently playing for Stade Francais – a tall fella at 6’7 – called Hugh Pyle.  They have a great Instagram hashtag its hard to be original but #celiasaysihugh did make me smile.  With guests a mix of antipodeans, Brits and a.n.other … they sounded like they were having an absolute blast over the next 4 days.  Funnily, one of the guests was travelling in France and decided to stay volunteer after the wedding.  That’s a first for the Chateau; Daniel, our New Zealand arrival moved from the Chateau to the welcoming Hi De Hi. 
Daniel did bring a great question to the table with him – how do you bark like a dog in your language?  The results were in and I’ll update you further as I travel 😉
 
British and the Kiwis – woof woof
Argentinian Spanish – wow wow
Chinese – wo wo
German – vow vow 
The days are started to blend together so easily.  Whilst I am working remotely and intermittently as ‘Rowan VPA Services’, the beauty of the work is its dedicated online project work so I have clear understanding of my client’s need and it’s not a long prolonged conversation among many colleagues and lots of opinions.  Two factors I definitely don’t miss from working permanently!  The only decisions and opinion we have to discuss these days are what is for dinner and what foods are called in each other’s languages.  There is a mutual appreciation for travelling and food for all 6 of us.  Toms has returned back to Latvia and Fritz is yet to arrive.
One question for any medical professionals…. due to my body being completely unaware of physical activity and I’ve had to use my hands a lot.  I’m now suffering from numb or tingling fingers… I say suffering, it just feels weird.  My left-hand little finger and the ring finger.  It must be a trapped nerve somewhere in my arm causing the symptom of numbness.  I’m just not exactly sure how to resolve it.  Any ideas?
Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th June 2017 – driving a car is like riding a bike
2 days of rest to explore the region, the Chateau generously allow HelpXers drive their Chateau car/van.  Used to get the shopping, take the recycling to the dump and escape to the sights and sounds of the region.  We opted for Saumur and Nantes.  Clara was ready to go as driver extraordinaire, used to driving on the right-hand side of the road but not used to a manual since passing her test.  After a couple of false starts, she turned to me, a questioning look on her face…. we’d already joked about me knowing how to drive a manual but I drive on the left-hand side of the road.  I’d not shared my non-driving spell of 7 years because what was the point of having a car in London.  My lovely Fiat Punto Grande sat idle for a large proportion of 2 years and so I sold the car and solely relied on the amazing public transport network of London.  It may be expensive but a bus or tube every 2-3 minutes cannot be grumbled about.  I am looking forward to riding the Cross Rail when it opens.
Clara and I swapped seats and I am gobsmacked by how I didn’t even take a second to remember what to do.  However, more importantly, I had Diego tapping my right shoulder to remind me which lane I should be heading for, Clara telling me when I was way too right and heading for a kerb and lastly whacking my left hand on the driver’s door about 10 times reminded me I needed to change gear on the other side.  
We successfully filled up the car with diesel and headed to Saumur.  A very cute little town on the Loire River with a dramatic bridge.  A huge Chateau with a great panorama of the flat lands of the Valley.  As well as the wine, the Saumur area is famous for the ‘dancing horses’,  Well, that’s my name for them.  The river is dirty but reminds me of the Thames in a way.  
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We pottered about, taking in the cafes and markets, ate a picnic lunch in the garden and then headed to Bouvet Ladubay for wine tasting.  
I’m not a massive fan of Champagne and Sparkling Wine but my taste buds have changed, I like some especially Nyetimber English Sparkling Wine. For only 4 Euros we had a 30-minute tour around the cellars and 4 different sparkling wines to taste.  One of the four tastings was ok but not as nice as the Ackerman we’d enjoyed at Jenny’s on Tuesday.  There are many wine cellars to choose from in and around Saumur, and I couldn’t even guess how many throughout the Loire Valley.  
Old habits, I’d tasted all 4 and then remembered I was driving.  The weather was hot and bubbles usually go straight to my head.  Oops!  At least home at the Chateau was all of 20 minutes drive.  
Sunday was an adventure onto the dual carriageway.  In hindsight, we should have taken a longer route and enjoyed driving through the smaller towns and villages to reach Nantes.  It was 2 hrs by the highway as we’d not taken into account the toll stops and more diesel needed.  The town route certainly would have been cheaper, tolls totalled 26.50 Euro for there and back.  I think that’s a lot, don’t you?
After the long journey there (its not that far but remember this is day 2 of driving and the French don’t use indicators and they drive really close to your arse) Nantes was a little anticlimactic.
IMG_20170611_144039788They had these fantastic steampunk animals that you can ride in however only the elephant was free to view and I’m happy we stuck around long enough to see it walking.  Reminds me of the film Moulin Rouge… sing with me “come what may….” (ignore the reference if you’re not a Ewan McGregor/Moulin Rouge fan – I am both).  I have a video to share of the elephant in motion, when my internet is a little more reliable.
France closes down on a Sunday!  Yes, you can visit churches, cathedral,  some museums, gardens, restaurants but where were the people?  There wasn’t the French atmosphere I was expecting, however, don’t get me wrong it’s not completely bad.  I really liked the architecture of Passage Pommeraye and the fountain at Place Royale   I think if you were staying in Nantes the town would liven up but I also think there are better towns to visit in the region.  
The funniest part of the day was all 4 of us forgetting where the car was parked.  We’d had issues finding a space, there may not be many people in town but there are cars parked everywhere!  It took 4 of us to piece together where it was because each street looks so similar.  It took us about 20 minutes of tracking back from where we’d had a coffee/loo stop on arrival.  So funny as us 2 girls turned one corner and the 2 boys turned into the other end of the street and we all did a mini cheer as we walked to the abandoned van (my parallel parking had been dire). 
It was nice to get back behind the wheel, however, I’m an advocate of train travel all the way!  Why drive when someone else can do it for you.
Week 2 coming soon….