Our next destination was the city of Tours, which is centrally located in the middle of the Loire Valley area. Kevin’s mom and Carl rented an apartment in an ideal location at the end of a pedestrian mall, but also just a minute or two walk away from the Loire River. Shortly after our arrival, we did a city tour in a cute little train/tram which drove us around the city, pointing out various historical buildings and landmarks. The conductor informed us that our trip might be cut a bit short due to the Gay Pride parade which was being held in the city in the same day. On the tour, we saw the Town Hall building, Hotel de Ville, where several civil weddings were being performed (in France, as in Germany, you are required to have the civil, official, wedding at a state building, and then people traditionally have a church wedding as well. We also saw a magnificent cathedral, which we would return to several times as well. Afterwards, we walked through a market that we had driven by, and sat down for a coffee at an open square on the edge of Old Town. After sitting for a while, we heard the parade coming our way—suddenly, the serene area was transformed into party central as the impressively long parade danced its way through. Afterwards, we wandered around the town and ended up back at the Cathedral, where, wouldn’t you know it, the parade came through again.
On our second day, we drove to the nearby city of Amboise, where we saw a couple of châteaus—French castles. We visited the Château du Clos Lucé, which is where Da Vinci spent the last 3 years of his life. He travelled by donkey over the Alps, bringing several unfinished paintings and disciples with him. We saw the inspiration at the end of his life, learned about his thoughts of his own impending mortality, and learned a great deal about his inventions and spirit for innovation. His application of new concepts and tools to a variety of topics—travel, architecture, and even military—was fascinating. Best of all, in the gardens outside the chapel, many of his inventions were brought to life with life sized designs, some of which could be operated. Afterwards, we headed back through town and crossed the river to gain a splendid view of the main Château Amboise. The riverside café offered a perfect view of the château and the bridge—to us, the view of the outside of the châteaus is typically more interesting and creates longer lasting memories than the inside, which all start to look the same pretty soon.
As we were in a wine region, we visited many different wineries and wine tasting over our 4 days there. Visiting the winery itself was an option, but seemed less preferred rather than just visiting a nearby wine cellar, when comparing to a region like Napa or Sonoma. In France, bottles of wine traditionally didn’t state what type of grape was used, rather just the region was named and you were expected to know what type of wine was produced (for instance, in the Loire region, the red wines were typically Cab Franc). And, this was one of the few occasions where English or basic French and pointing wasn’t enough—we sat through an entire wine tasting in French, as probably described the aromas and flavors, which was totally lost on us—but he just kept on talking! The wine tastings were always free, but they come with an expectation to buy at least bottle. We brought plenty of great wine back with us to Germany (no extra baggage fees on trains!)
On the next day, we travelled about an hour away to the region around the city of Saumur. In addition to the wine region and the river, this region also was the area where massive amounts of Tufa stone were mined, creating vast caves which have been used for a variety of purposes. Over time, troglodytes lived in these areas, often with complete living areas built directly into the slabs of rock, and they are still used this way today. We visited a mushroom museum, as the caves offer a pristine climate in which to grow mushrooms, due to the cool, damp area.
Nearby, an artist used the white-stones caves as a canvas for his work—he sculpted the beautiful churches and villages from the surrounding area directly into the stone. Each sculpture presented information about how long it took to perform the work and what was particularly difficult about this piece. The pictures are beautiful—take a look for yourself! Kevin was so enthralled with these sculptures that he wanted to buy the “do it at home kit”, probably meant for kids, which included a block to stone and carving tools. Sadly, Deanna talked him out of it.
We spent our last day at a countryside cooking school. Normally, the class is held at their countryside home, however due to an unfortunate accident, they are hosting the classes at the equally rustic old post office in a nearby village. The menu to prepare was previously discussed and agreed upon: white asparagus risotto, quail brushed with roasted cumin, and a molten chocolate cake. We also made an olive tapenade, a traditional French dish of peas and braised lettuce, and an amazing tasting ice cream.
While the cooking style and instruction was not traditional snooty French, we used fresh ingredients from the local area along with concepts that Wayne & Aaron have learned in their extensive travels throughout Europe. We learned a great deal, but more importantly, had another amazing experience that we will remember for years to come. And we learned that the butchers there leave the heads on the quail to prove their freshness.
On our last night, we took one more stroll through Tours, and visited a few local landmarks. A beautiful fountain memorializes the loss of life in WWI and WWII, and just down the road, a US-placed sculpture commemorates the work of American soldiers during WWI. Then we strolled down the river, where we had been several times before, one last time through the hip river-side café and concert venue, where many students gather late into the night to spend time in this wonderful city.