We left for our grand adventure right on time at noon on Friday afternoon – it was about 4 hours to Orleans – our first stop. We fit most of the stuff in the trunk – only the kids’ activity bags were by their feet and our lunch and directions by my feet. Usually, André is the driver in the beginning so I can play waitress for lunch. For some reason, Zander started to totally freak out because he had his bag by his feet. It is so frustrating to start out an amazing adventure with a kid having a tantrum! Once he settled down (10 minutes later – and, believe you me, that’s a lot when trapped in a vehicle with him), he was great the rest of the way. He loves listening to me read and we are working our way through The Chronicles of Narnia together. We started with The Magician’s Nephew- which is chronologically first, but not the first story (I always thought that was strange so here was my chance to do it right!). Callie is slightly interested in the stories but, when she gets bored, she joins Griffin in listening to her CD player.
On we drove through an interesting region of France we had never seen before. I think this area might give Montana a run for it’s money on ‘big sky country’ fame. Of course, I’ve never been to Montana, so who really knows, but this area of France has gorgeous open vistas. It was raining on and off all day long so it was very cloudy and the open sky really made it easy to appreciate how much area these cloud formations cover! We were passing through the Loire Valley which is famous for its multiple castles. We didn’t see all that many from the road – but we passed signs for lots and lots of them. It’s funny how there are all these French towns that are the namesakes of North American cities. New Orleans was named after Orleans – and now, New Orleans is much, much more well known. Montreal is also a city in France that no one has ever heard of – but everyone knows Montreal, Canada! I wonder if the residents here feel cheated….
The last hour of the journey proved to be a big challenge for Callie – she decided she was bored and whining would be a great way to deal with it – but somehow – someway – we made it.
Well, we decided to stop at Orleans since it was the largest city that was on our way to the gite. As soon as we got into the town I saw what I can only call a European fusion restaurant. I mean, check it out, right, they have crepes (France), pizza and panini (Italy), couscous and pita (Middle eastern), shoarma and chika chika (???). I wonder who owns this place? And is it possible that it could actually be good? I also spied (but was unable to get a photo of) an eatery named FLUNCH. It either reminds me of a. flunking lunch or b. vomiting. Neither sound particularly appetizing!
We also passed this lovely church before reaching the main event – the Holy Cross cathedral. The cathedral is particularly famous because of its association with Joan of Arc who saved the city of Orleans in 1429. The cathedral has been in existence, however, since 375 AD and people took refuge there in 451 when Atilla and the Huns attacked (they also got hit in 1568 by the Huguenots – it is kind of amazing to realize these names from the past are real). Several kings were even coronated here – my favorite is King Charles the Bald, 848. Like many other cathedrals, it has been built and rebuilt many times over the years. Yes, we are still visiting cathedrals and we haven’t yet seen two that are the same. I never fail to get excited when we are driving through a town and spy the tall crenellated towers looming over us! Here are a few views of the cathedral – I particularly liked the front door of this place, this is actually called (I learned from my brochure) a narthex and was originally supposed to be much larger, but when they tried to put the towers up, cracks appeared and they had to scale back their plans. Works for me, detailed without being overly ornate. Also we learned the difference between a basilique, a church and a cathedral (thanks wikipedia, as usual). Cathedrals “contain a seat of a bishop and are the central church of a diocese, conference or episcopate.” A church is just a building where people attend mass and a basilique or basilica is a ‘large and important church given special ceremonial rites by the Pope.” So, does that mean some cathedrals are also basilicas???
We headed inside and wandered around. We got lucky and someone was actually practicing on the organ when we came in. I say practicing, rather than, playing, since it wasn’t the most beautiful music we ever heard. This was a shame since it left the kids with the wrong impression about how beautiful organ music can be. They were soon comforted, though, because this cathedral had a model. Zander, in particular, enjoys looking at the models of the cathedrals and we always take the time to look at them. We couldn’t, however, climb up to the top of this cathedral – total bummer! Joan of Arc is all over this cathedral. Not only is the road outside named “Rue de Joan of Arc”, there is a statue of her outside. Then, inside there is a large shrine and all the main stained glass windows on each side of the transept feature Joan's story. It turns out these windows were put in in the late 1800’s and then bombed out during the 1939-45 War. They were only fully restored in the 1990’s. One side is her life, her visions etc.. and the windows all along the other side feature her triumphant procession into Orleans after breaking the siege of Orleans in 1429. Every year on May 8th they re-enact this and people come from all over France and the world to celebrate. I thought it was neat that, right alongside Joan’s shrine, were 2 placards – commemorating the American and British soldiers who died defending France, on French soil, during the First World War. Over one million British were killed in France – one million! And half a million Americans! I’m appalled enough at over 10 thousand or more Americans and most likely hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq – can you imagine?
After the cathedral we took some time to wander around Orleans itself. We played a rousing game of follow the leader and then headed down winding cobblestone streets towards the river. I thought Orleans was interesting architecturally because it is such a mixture of styles. I saw roman ruins and timbered houses and granite block houses all on the same street. Right, you can see André and the kids looking at one of the really neat houses we passed. Then we came to the river. It must flood here quite often since the sides are sandbagged and there is a huge berth left between the banks of the river and the place where the cars drive and the houses are. We went down to sit on a dock and got the chance to observe a thriving colony of rats running around and even swimming in the water by the edge of the river – they were so cute. I know, I know – they are vermin, right? They carry disease, they are destructive etc… etc… but they are also incredibly intelligent – and fuzzy! See the Loire below. (Hope the fact you now know it is writhing with rats doesn’t spoil your viewing pleasure).
We headed out of town by about 5:30 for what we thought was to be a 2 hour drive to our gite. Well, traffic and disorientation conspired so it took us over an hour to just find our way out of Orleans and then, our google map directions were a bit weak, to say the least. We did have to stop and eat as well and, by the time we finally arrived, it was 10pm! Here is was, the first day of our 12 day fabulous adventure and I found myself turning to André and saying “Why are we doing this again? Maybe we should just turn around and go home.” The gite was in the middle of nowhere – making it even harder to locate in the dark - and had 4 bedrooms – it was a huge house! We had a great sleep and had almost escaped when Zander, playing a sliding game on the slippery tiles, slammed into a lamp post and broke it. We’ll see how much that ends up costing us….
Here are a couple of photos of Crisse – the little town we slept in. The first is the church. We saw many churches with the black tile roof and copula in this area in the smaller towns. The second two are views of the small cemetery just outside of town. We have been to quite a few French cemeteries by now but the ornate crosses at Crisse were unique. It seemed like they were all created in between around 1918 and 1920. It made me wonder if there was some local blacksmith artist that lived there and created them for the townspeople.
I leave you with a cow. It is interesting how, in Franche Comte – where we live – all the cows (and I do mean all the cows) are brown and white Montbeliards. This is because they make Comté! Here, there are still tons of farms and cows – but they are red, white, black and white and I even saw quite a few that were obviously just mixes of multiple cow breeds. I guess they don’t have Comté to worry about – so their cows can be colorful.
Tomorrow off to Mont St Michel – and the ferry to Ireland!