Sunday, September 4, 2011

Azay Le Rideau 4th September 2011

Canoeing. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

This morning we awoke to blue skies and had our 8am breakfast in seemingly good weather. Our B&B hosts were stunned that we wanted breakfast so early on a Sunday and they didn't mention that the Boulangerie (bakery) doesn't open til after 8. Still, they made us apple cake and a very nice brekkie that we had in their loungeroom on the big dining room table.

Had a severe case of envy when we discovered their pewter cast chess set starring characters from Asterix. He and Obelix were king and queen, Vitalstatistix and Impedimentia were bishops, wild boars were knights and village huts were castles. Menhirs were pawns. On the other side: Caesar was king, Cleopatra was queen, centurions were bishops, horses were knights, roman tents were castles, eagle insignia were pawns. Coolest. Chest. Set. Ever.

It started to rain as I rode down to buy provisions for lunch. A baguette and 2 eclairs was the best I could do on a Sunday morning. We were picked up by a Cockney English bloke in a van and transported back to Savioneires to being our canoeing trip, just as the rain got heavier. After pushing the green plastic canoe straight down the river slope Solo Man style, he gave us a few scant instructions and off we went.

I thankfully decided to put on my waterproof cycling jacket which meant my top half stayed dry; otherwise, we were both soaked very early on. The water of the River Cher was really warm, probably about 24 degrees, warmer than the air.
Luke paddling and looking less than impressed with our choice of activity
The first leg of our journey, though rainy, was very pleasant. The Cher is slow flowing with clear water, lots of water weeds and an abundance of fish. Indeed, almost the only wildlife we saw the whole trip was giant river fish darting under the canoe. There's just so many, it's amazing. In France, there's very few "no fishing" signs, perhaps because their fish are still thriving, unlike Australia where we've nearly exhausted our fish stocks.

Saw a turquoise kingfisher from a distance, blue dragonfly/butterfly bugs and lots of water birds as well.

Within 2km, the arms and back started to hurt. And that was when the going was good. We tootled down the Cher until we hit some major rapids. I think this was the bit on the map that was circled with something written in red, in French. I suspect it said "Don't go that way, you bloody idiots!" Anyway, we did go that way and enjoyed a spot of white water rafting, shipped a fair bit of water but didn't die, so all's well that ends well.

After that we joined the Loire river which is heaps bigger and not as interesting. We cleared the rain but encountered the head wind. Would have preferred the rain. From there on it was a struggle to keep the boat heading straight. Poor Luke was fighting to steer it because it always veered right, blown by the wind. We got stuck in shallows, ploughed on, did our best to keep going. Started to swear and wonder what the bloody hell we were thinking, canoeing 17km when we could have just cycled it easily.

In theory we could have stopped on a river island and had a picnic lunch. Unfortunately the moment didn't really present itself so we kept on. We managed to get in sight of the Brehemont church and finish point, about 1km down the river.

And then the storm hit us. Cue the incredibly strong headwind, squalls of rain and very cold temperatures. We pulled up on an island and our cheerful French picnic became more of a Bear Grylls survival adventure. I was instantly cold and shivering heavily. We got into the lee of some trees and did our best to wait out the worst of it. I started to wonder what Bear Grylls would do, if I should try and construct a shelter from branches, leaves and dried snot. Intead I just squatted in the mud and shivered. Gulped down the eclairs and bread, rugged up, tried to dry off a bit and then we continued on.
The storm and the Bear Grylls survival island/picnic spot
That last 1km was the hardest. The wind became a gale and we actually had to steer the boat head on into waves with white caps. Both of us paddled like crazy but made little headway - and this is going downstream. Eventually we made it to the landing point, exhausted and relieved. Luke went to find the Velo rental people, I ended up lying flat on the boat landing, soaking up the sun, trying to warm up and dry out.

We made it to Brehemont. That concrete was WARM and good.
It was all very difficult but I'm glad we did it. The experience of floating down that river was great and we got to enjoy a different perspective of this country. But damn, I could have done without the wind.
The chateau at Azay Le Rideau

The bridge and mill at Chateau Le Rideau
We cycled the 10km to Azay Le Rideau easily, past fields of sunflowers and swampy backwaters. Once there were quickly paid our E8 to visit the Azay chateau which was built on an island in the Indre river in the 1600s. The chateau looks great on the outside but doesn't have much to offer inside. The highlight was actually touring the inside of the sloping slate roof, checking out the huge oak beams that hold the whole thing up. It's only just been opened to the public. The wood beams date back to the 1550s and yet they still look splintery, pale and fresh.
Obligatory pic with chateau
The winding stairwell
The roof beams were 500 years old
We did the standard tour, not much to see beyond paintings of royals and old furniture. We ran out of time to see the gardens because the grumpy staff were ushering us out, herding tourists like sheep towards the gate.
His Master's Voice. This was an art installation and it was huge.

At 7pm we had a drink at the riverside cafe and then went back to the lovely Hotel de Biencort where we are staying in the disabled room on the ground floor. Only one with twin beds... but nicely huge.
The weeping willow that promised itself it wouldn't cry.
We went to the Les Grottes troglodyte/cave restaurant for dinner, where we had been 3 years earlier. The food is still fantastic. Luke had scallops with leeks, "lamb skank" with garlic cream sauce (yes, it said Skank on the menu) and chocolate profiteroles. I had white fish buerre blanc (bon!) and the best creme brulee I have ever had. Both our desserts were huge... very un-French in a way but SOOO good. Mine was E19, Luke's was E26 - very cheap for France.

Mmmm, best creme brulee ever
Now we're in our room at the Hotel de Biencourt, doped up on anti-inflammatories. We're both feeling very sore and stiff in the shoulders and back. We'll be moving slow tomorrow as we head through the forest to Chinon.

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