Monday Sept 5, 2016

Imagine waking up in a quiet, flower-smothered, picture-perfect French village … in a rambling, stunningly-renovated boutique hotel that’s been welcoming guests for more than 250 years … in a big soft bed beneath dormer-windows that look out onto narrow cobblestone lanes and courtyards. Imagine that village was called something lyrical and lovely, like Chenonceaux (pronounced ‘share-non-so’) … and that little on-the-footpath hotel was called something romantic and evocative, like Auberge du Bon Laboureur (Inn of the Good Ploughman) … and that soft bed was yours not just for one night but for three? Imagine that barely 10-minutes-walk away, buried amongst ancient trees on the other side of town, was a spectacular 16th century castle, complete with moats and turrets and ramparts and battered suits-of-armour.

Imagine …

Well, we don’t have to imagine it – because this is exactly what we Mad Midlife Kiwis found ourselves doing this morning. It was more than a little wonderful, more than a little hard to believe, more than a little like a fairytale. And it hasn’t finished yet. We drove down into France’s legendary Loire Valley only yesterday, and we’re here for a couple more days. When I get time, I’ll tell you more about it. But, first, there are a couple of earlier blog-chapters I need to catch up on.

On Friday, we travelled to the outskirts of Paris to the magnificent Palace of Versailles, with its magnificent Hall of Mirrors and exquisite gardens. Versailles was built in the 1600s by the ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV – who had his hunting lodge converted into one of history’s most costly and extravagant royal residences. (Two subsequent Louis, the XV and the XVI, also called Versailles home.) Three million people visit this crammed-with-paintings palace each year (well, they did before the recent terror-attacks), and we happily joined them.

Later that evening we enjoyed a classy Bateaux Parisienne dinner-cruise on the River Seine, while the dazzling ‘City of Lights’ floated gently past our big panorama windows. Ahh, yes …

Then, come Saturday, we had ourselves an art-appreciation day! Our first destination lay 80km west of Paris in the village of Giverney, where we eyeballed the house-and-garden scenes (like the waterlily pond and the Japanese bridge) so faithfully represented by Claude Monet’s famous paintings. Later, on returning to Paris, we visited the Musée de l’Orangerie – an art gallery featuring impressionists and post-impressionist paintings by Monet (his dazzling ‘Les Nympheas’ series), Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Piere-Auguste Renoir, Henri Rousseau, and other big names.

STILL TO COME: We bid “Au revoir!” to Paris, and journey to the green and golden landscapes of France’s Loire – dubbed the ‘Valley of 1000 Châteaux’. Whatever you do, stay tuned …

PEOPLE-NEWS: Three more Quacky Yellow Ducks have spread their wings and flown to new owners …

  • Alan (Clarke) gets our Lost & Found’ Award – for losing and finding not just his sunhat (which he mislaid in the coach) … and his reading glasses (which fell out of his pocket and were spotted by our driver) … but also his sunglasses (which were dropped on the footpath, picked up by a total stranger, and placed on the roof of a nearby car where they were seen by an eagle-eye in our group).
  • Lorraine takes home our Skipping a Lecture’ Award – for dropping her ticket to Chaumont Castle (deliberately, we think) somewhere in the grounds and having to get a replacement. (As punishment, Lorraine may yet have to go back and repeat the entire one-and-a-half hour tour with Florien, our incredibly boring German castle-guide.)
  • Mike ran away with our Faulty Towers’ Award – for, well, it went like this: the kettle in Mike’s room wouldn’t work, no matter which power-point he tried … so he took the kettle to the hotel kitchen and asked one of the chefs to try it … with the result that it blew the fuse, and the hotel kitchen was without power for half an hour. (Thanks to Mike, we nearly missed out on dinner last night!)

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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