19 April 2017 – Off to the Loire Valley and Amboise (a day of misadventure) …… [France]

19 April 2017 – Off to the Loire Valley and Amboise (a day of misadventure) …… [France]

When you are traveling, some days just don’t work out how you imagine… this was one of ‘those’ days!  Middle of the night interruptions by French police, an overnight train that was very late, a travel sick 5-year-old and a missed train connection made for an interesting day.  On the upside we made it to the beautiful Loire Valley, had some delicious French food and were staying in the most beautiful 17th Century château, and this was the sunset……

We were traveling on the overnight train from Venice to Paris in a sleeper car. Despite having done dozens of long-distance and international trains this was our first time on an overnight train with the kids.  They had gone off to sleep easily and Anto and I were perched up in the very top bunks, over 1.8m in the air but had actually slept not too badly.  Until we both woke up around 1.30am feeling rather hot as we’d had the heat turned up high in our cabin to dry us out and warm up after the freezing day in Venice.

Once we stripped off some layers it was back to sleep after a toilet stop for Soren, which was challenging when climbing down ladders in the dark and finding your way through multiple carriages. We then all slept pretty well, despite the rocking around it was quite relaxing. Next thing Anto and I woke up at about quarter to 6 when the French police were loudly announcing themselves down the corridor and requesting entry into each cabin.  They inspected our passports (which had been taken the previous night) after turning on all the lights and comparing our dishevelled half-asleep selves to our passport photos. I can tell you mine got a good hard look!

Passports thankfully back in our possession we were all back asleep, the kids had luckily slept through the whole thing. The people in the next cabin were getting in quite a bit of trouble (which meant lots of angry French police yelling) for not opening their door, probably because they were sleeping.

I next woke up at 8.20am when we pulled into a station I was pretty sure they had announced as Dijon, which was supposed to be the last stop before Paris. We were supposed to be into Dijon at 7 am so that was a bit concerning as we had a connecting train (down to the Loire Valley) to catch. The kids and Anto slept until quarter to 9, our latest sleep-in of the trip…….. when we were crammed into tiny bunks on a rocking train. Go figure!

One we put semi-fresh clothes on it was down to the breakfast restaurant cart along with most of the train. The seating area was mostly taken up with people playing cards and wasting time so people trying to eat couldn’t actually get a table. The line for food and coffee was long, and a lot of the food had run out but we passed the time watching the French countryside and fields of yellow mustard plants roll by.

We finally obtained some croissants and coffee and tried to make our way back to our cabin which was challenging with the kids and hot coffee and pastries. The same people were still refusing to give up their seats as we departed, so we figured it was a losing battle waiting for one.

Back in our cabin for our first French breakfast. We were finally back in France! At this point Astrid was complaining of being tired and had a little rest and Soren was watching some TV on the tablet, and Anto and I were repacking all the stuff we’d managed to drag out last night, before our transfer to the next train.

Just after we had it all repacked and back into our 3 bags, Astrid turned green and puked all over herself and the seat. I saw what was happening about 2 seconds too late but grabbed a spare plastic bag just in time for most of it. Luckily we had copious amounts of disposable sheets to wipe up the resulting mess. Our cabin was now covered in croissant, and vomit, and smelt like chicken from the previous nights dinner. Being cooped up in a tiny cabin was now definitely no longer fun and we still had an hour to go……….

The train was due in at 9:55am to Gare de Lyon in Paris and we had an 11:27am train to Orléans. It was pretty clear we were running late but it was hard to know how late as they weren’t a fan of doing announcements on this train. We had to both change stations to Gare d’Austerlitz and get our tickets printed . We had pre-purchased all our tickets in Australia but none of the tickets could be printed until our first French train.

Originally we were planning a relaxed day, where we were going to spend the time between trains walking to the park near Gare d’Austerlitz and grabbing some food (we’d been hanging out for great French pastries) before the next few hours of travel. We were now concerned we weren’t even going to make the train. We were very slowly rolling into Gare de Lyon, getting later by the second. When we finally arrived we tried for as quick of an exit as possible with luggage and 2 small kids, now an hour and 5 minutes late.

As we got off most of the tracks were taped off with police tape and police (with machine guns) were directing everyone directly off the train and there were ambulances, a lot of security, and armed military personnel everywhere.  Only people getting off the couple of incoming trains were being allowed to move out of the station. All we could make out was there was a ‘security incident’ and given recent events in France we were happy to getting well clear and made a dash for Gare d’Austerlitz which is across the river, approximately an 800m walk. Luckily we were dumped out on the correct side of the train station or we wouldn’t have had much hope of making the train.

We made it to Gare d’Austerlitz and found the machine to get our tickets printed with 10 minutes until departure. This wasn’t quite enough time to safely obtain food, so it was quickly onto the train to Orléans, relieved that we had some hope of the rest of the day going to plan.

The train headed South towards the Loire Valley, with the rolling green countryside passing us by.  Astrid was still feeling unwell on the hour-long train. She fell asleep and all was well, until 5 minutes before we were due into Orléans and we woke her up to get organised to get off at our stop and she promptly went green and vomited everywhere in the middle of the train aisle.  There were several horrified young, well-dressed, French women as Anto ran to catch as much vomit as he could in his hands and I was scrubbing the aisle with paper towel from the train bathroom.  The life of parents travelling with young kids!

We managed to get it cleaned up as best we could and loaded up to get off at the correct stop. Anto had ended up with vomit in his hands and on his clothes and Astrid was covered. It was not a pretty sight!

We should have had 8 minutes before our next train and Orléans is a fairly small station so all should have been well. We’ve done train changes with far less time before.  Of course today our carriage was at the far end of the station and the adjacent train was going back to Paris. This meant a bolt down past 8 carriages with bags and kids, and around to the front of the platforms to find our track and train.  As we were checking the trains remaining it was 12:42 and our train should have departed at 12:44 but there was no train, other than the one going back to Paris.

Anto went to check with the ticket office and it was confirmed we were in the correct location and the train must have already departed, for once ahead of schedule. Luckily we had unreserved tickets and could get on the next train, which unfortunately wasn’t for another 2 hours. Tired, smelly and hungry the day was not going well!

We were actually coming back through Orléans in a few days time for some sight-seeing and we knew that  the old town is a tram ride from the train station and we were hungry, covered in vomit and had a pile of bags so opted to wander around the attached shopping to find some food.

Back in France finally, and everything felt familiar! We found a shopping centre cafe that looked reasonably priced and it was time for actual food.  Anto ordered a chicken baguette, the kids got a croque monsieur to share, and I got a champignon omlette with salad (which would have been fine if it wasn’t tiny with no dressing and I’d only eaten a croissant all day)……  I also somehow ended up with red wine. The day wasn’t going well given we were all mostly covered in vomit and hadn’t showered or changed clothes. Then again, we were in France!

The Orléans train station was pretty small but we did love that you could recharge your devices by peddling on  a bike!  It was somewhat annoying not being able to get out and explore a little more as Orléans looked very pretty, but knowing we were back after our next bike tour made it easier to accept a couple of hours of killing time in a train station.With 45 minutes still to kill, we wandered the shopping centre for a bit and found some chips for Astrid’s dodgy tummy and then spied a familiar patisserie chain  ‘Paul’s’ which is always good if not as brilliant as some of the smaller non-chain places. We picked up some patisserie and went back down to the train station to await our train. It was pretty chilly on the platform but our day improved significantly when I consumed a coffee eclair! Amazing French pastry, finally!  The day was looking up…….
Our train arrived early and we were on it in a jiffy so there was no chance of missing this one. We hoped the kids would rest on the 1 hour trip through to Amboise as there was still a long day ahead.  We had previously spent a day in the Loire Valley (back in 2012) and had been busting to get back for a better look.  As we whizzed through the Loire Valley on our train, we started spying all the quaint little French villages and green fields dotted with châteaus.  An exhausted Soren managed to nap and didn’t want to wake up as we were trying to get off, making it infinitely easier to exit a train stopping for 2 minutes, with a heap of luggage and a 3 and 5-year-old!

Off the train in Amboise and we’d established that the best way to get to the hotel was a bit under a 2km walk, not that far unless you have bags and a 3-year-old who doesn’t want to wake up.  On the upside the walk did take us across the Loire river, and the town was just as pretty as we remembered it with Château d’Amboise perched up on the hill.

We did love the bike rider resting in the sunshine on the banks of the Loire! We could relate to that feeling after a days riding…

As we found our hotel, Hôtel Le Clos d’Amboise, we saw our bikes being delivered by our Discover France guide. Our relaxing afternoon turned into a bit of a rush as we quickly had to get checked in, and then had our bike orientation. We still hadn’t showered or changed out of our smelly and vomity clothes.

Luckily the hotel was pretty impressive. We’d been looking forward to this hotel once we had seen it in the bike tour itinerary.  Our suite was in the converted stable building and was simply gorgeous.  The hotel is set in a 17th Century building and has the most amazing gardens. We weren’t going to suffer for the 2 nights we were staying here!

Our third (and final) bike tour of the trip was the Castles of the Loire Valley tour with Discover France.  We had also booked our Sardinian bike tour through Discover France, so were familiar with their orientation meetings.

Today we got to enjoy the beautiful sunshine in the gardens of the hotel as we ensured our bikes were set up correctly, and we went over the routes and maps with our guide.  The kids thoroughly enjoyed a run around the gardens during our meeting.

At 5.30pm we managed to get back to our room for showers and some clean(er) clothes and attempted to get a restaurant booking for that night, as we’d been recommended to do. There were plenty of good options recommended by both the bike tour and the hotel, but they either weren’t open tonight or were booked out. Our hotel found us something they recommended as kid friendly and with a table at 7pm so it seemed like a good plan given we were tired.

We’d been excited to do a little exploring of Amboise. It was a place Anto and I had been keen to go back to after a brief visit with a 1-year old Astrid.  We’d only had a couple of hours in Amboise, enough time to visit the Château d’Amboise and have a delicious lunch.

It was now after 6:30pm so we didn’t have a lot of time to explore Amboise, but we did have a quick walk around the old town and it was just as we remembered it from 4 years earlier. It was definitely much quieter at this time of night when many of the tourists who come just to see the Château had departed.

Our bike tour notes included a recommendation to visit the Bigot patisserie and chocolate shop. They were luckily still open, so we paid a visit and everything looked rather good so we purchased a few items to take away.

Wandering around the town we spotted the restaurant we had lunch at all those years ago (also not open today) and also spotted the ducks Astrid had fed near the car park we’d parked in. We’d visited in November so it was different seeing the town in the middle of Spring, with flowers and wisteria everywhere.

Amboise is certainly a cute town and we were glad we had a second night here to explore further. If we hadn’t been delayed in our arrival to Amboise I was hoping to revisit the Château d’Amboise, particularly to see the gardens in Spring. The Château is perched above the town as it is built on a spur above the Loire River, at an elevation of 81m.  The old town runs to the base of the castle walls and you can’t miss it from anywhere in town.  As we had already (minus Soren) visited the Château in 2012, and we had plenty more château to explore during our time in the Loire Valley,we didn’t end up going back on this trip.  Here are a few of my favourite pictures from our 2012 visit and my post about our Amboise and Loire valley visit…….

The views over the town are spectacular although the Château is far from the most impressive in the Loire Valley.

It was now dinner time.  The restaurant the hotel had booked for us did not have a menu that looked all that exciting, but it was a bit of a hidden gem as the food turned out to be pretty darn good, and we had an extremely friendly waitress.

Anto and I ordered several dishes and decided to share with the kids. I ordered a cauliflower and mushroom soup that was amazing for entrée, followed by a croque chèvre that was also really good. The kids approved of both judging from the amount they ate. Anto had a set menu of salad with salmon tartine, prawns and avocado, followed by a duck confit and crème brûlée. The seafood and duck loving kids did not mind Anto’s meal either!

The crème brûlée was pretty impressive as was the local Amboise rosé we tried (which conveniently had a picture of the château on the label in case we forgot where we were).

It was almost 9pm as we were finishing dinner, and like in Italy, people were just starting to wander out to start their dinners.  We however needed to get some over-tired kids back to the hotel.  The sun was starting to set and Amboise was looking rather lovely.

The town is set on the banks of the Loire River so we deliberately took the long way back to our hotel to check out the river at sunset……

Once the kids were in bed we had some left over tart citron from our patisserie visit in Orléans earlier in the day as well as the chocolates we had purchased from Bigot prior to dinner.  The chocolates did not disappoint!  There was a lot of riding to be done the next day so a bit of carb-loading was probably not an awful idea…..

Daily statistics for Wednesday 19 April 2017 in Paris and Amboise, France – the temperature range was 2 to 12 degrees celsius with 87% humidity.  The total walking for the day was 8.4km. Not a bad effort considering we’d been sitting on trains most of the day!

Up next ….. our first day of riding through the Loire Valley, a visit to Château de Chenonceau and its beautiful gardens, followed by a wander through some wine caves!

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