Tuesday May 24 2011
Just one more push…a word about camping in France.
It’s not KOA, National Forest or National Park camping like in the US. The places are generally quite nice and predominantly used by retired folks in European sized campers (about a half as big as the normal US motor home or trailer.) They all have little playgrounds of varying quality and usually some other activity like mini-golf (which Henry and I played this morning), ping-pong, Wi-Fi, or a volleyball court. Most have real restaurants, like the one we ate at tonight. We’ve paid between 16 euro and 36 euro (the Chateaus costing more) per night. And they all have hot showers blocks with push buttons that provide about 20 seconds of hot water. So on the mornings when the air in the shower house is still chilly when after twenty seconds ends it’s really hard to resist the desire for just one more push.
Croissants, pain-au-chocolate, a quick round of mini-golf with Henry and we hit the road. We have dual GPS guidance (ours from home and the one that came with the car…we call the Hans and Leisel) which allows us to avoid the freeways and confidently travel the backroads, skipping the toll booths and seeing the villages and countryside. This morning we drove by several Loire valley strawberry farms while they were being harvested that looked so good I was tempted to pull over and beg them to sell me some. I missed a turn the GPS twins recommended but decided to drive on as the backroads all seemed to be pretty closely interconnected and luckily came across a farmers stand. We picked up 2 pints of perfect, freshly picked, heirloom variety (not gigantic, tasteless varieties) that were absolutely delicious. Lizzy was wild about them and almost ate a whole pint all by herself.
We continued on passing through cute little village after village that subtly shifted in architectural style at the kilometers ticked away before finally arriving at the Guedelon Castle site (Point B) in Burgundy.
This is the castle, almost halfway done, which has been under construction for just the last 15 years using only 13th century tools and techniques. It was awesome. What was surprising was that laying the stones was actually the easy part, quarrying, shaping and cutting the stones is the hard part. They had workstations set up for each of the components for building the castle—quarrying the stone, shaping the stones, basket weavers, woodcutters, carpenters, tilemakers, cloth dyers, blacksmith (stone cutters wear out several tools a day they say), mortar pit, farm, stable, and the old wooden fort that usually existed before the castle. (Watch the video at their website for a better feel) I wish we spoke better French, because people were asking the workers questions about their jobs and materials.
Henry’s favorite was watching them make the mortar….the kids are volunteers, the big guy is full time.
… Lizzy liked the donkeys and the wandering dogs…
…Anna liked the basketweaver…
At the tavern we all enjoyed perhaps the cheapest meal for four ever eaten in Europe since the introduction of the Euro—a surprising delicious 4 euro chicken stew and a bunch of hard rolls. There were tons of schoolchildren and a decent number of tourists there and we had a great time. They guys seemed to be well on their way toward realizing someones insane dream…maybe it would work in America :)
We drove another hour to Vezelay (point C) with it’s pilgrimage church famous for relics purported to be Mary Magdalenes bones (the Da Vinci Code referenced the apochryphal belief that she ended up in Provence, France).
There was some sort of service going on with cowled women doing some sequence of bows and such so I took the squeal-prone kids out and let Anna further investigate (not close enough to take a picture without intruding).
After Vezelay we continued east through Burgundy on the denouement of our French tour and stopped for the night in Beaune. Rick had recommended some expensive-ish restaurants here in wine country, but when we saw that the campground restaurant was open, pretty busy, reasonably priced and that there were other kids there we decided to side with convenience and give it a try. Turned out to be pretty good…especially the huge salads that preceeded our main courses. People say American portions are big, but when you order a “Menu” (a 3 course value meal) we got a lot more food than we would have at an American restaurant.