Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Châteaux in the Loire Valley

The 12th-century castle and fortress of Chinon aren't actually on the Loire, but rather on the banks of the Vienne river, which meets up with the Loire not too far away. It's been a center of activity for both the French and the English since the reign of Henry II and was one of the royal residences for several hundred years; Joan of Arc was here as well, though I didn't see any particular shrine or chapel commemorating it. However, I wasn't there for saints, but rather for the secular festivities that are the annual Marché médiéval, when the town decks itself out in le style Plantagenêt and minstrels, monks, and merrymakers descend on the old town to spend modern money.

Instead of going through the narrow stall-packed streets with Sebastien and Christophe and Damien I decided to start off by going up to the top of the hill to the old fortress and clock tower. There's a small elevator that takes people up (and down) and there's a good view of the old town area from the entrance to the fortress/castle area. Undoubtedly there is an even better one from further up and in, but that would have required an entrance fee, and I'd only brought a few euros with me.

So I walked back down instead.

There wasn't an entrance fee as such, but in order to get alcoholic liquid refreshment, you're obligated to buy a small plastic glass that is not at all grail-like, or else I might have been tempted to keep it as a souvenir. I left it with Seb to add to his collection. And anyway, I really didn't have (and don't have) any spare square centimeter in my luggage for things like that.

Turns out that the wine wasn't necessarily being decanted into the small plastic glasses, but into real glasses, but I suppose they weren't counting those sidewalk wine bars as the "taverns" selling beer and things. I didn't get anything to drink while I was walking around, mostly because I didn't want to get jostled and spill my drink onto anyone's costume. Even the stall vendors were all dressed up, though with some the nod to "medieval" was a coarse linen shirt over regular pants. Others seemed to really get into the costuming, and the woman from whom I bought a bar of donkey's-milk soap had the full silk-and-velvet slashed-sleeve and gold-trimmed hat ensemble. About a quarter of the tourists were dressed up as well, and groups of actors walked around carrying swords and axes and baskets of flowers (not all at once).

Naturally there were costumes and equipment for sale, for those children (and adults) who hadn't brought their own. Seb bought a Robin des Bois outfit for his godson and nephew Anakin, who preferred the outlaw over the pure white Knight Templar costume, his other option. I was happy to see Anakin along with Sebastien's sister Floriane and her husband Antoine, plus their new not-so-little baby girl Aria. I sat with them while they were all eating beef and lentils off of wooden trencher plates, and used my grail for some soi-disant Tuscan orange wine, a rosé flavored with orange and cinnamon. It was very refreshing, and helped me cool off before we headed back out into the mob.

There were demonstrations of sword fights and archery, and of crafts like carving wooden sabots and making quills out of goose feathers. There were stalls with candy and bread, some cheese and some salami, and lots of jewelry and such. I'd used the last of my euros on the wine, so didn't buy anything else, though the salami was tempting (as was the shoemaker).

I started getting hungry when we walked by the animals roasting over open fires, though I wasn't really interested in the tubercules, which are really only innocuous root vegetables (probably potatoes were on offer) but reminded me of the other medieval tradition of plague.

After we finished walking through the fair, we headed back to Tours, taking the longer way home past Sleeping Beauty's castle (the original from the Perrault fairy tale, not the Eurodisney version). We stopped to admire the chapel (me) and smoke and eat ice cream (the boys).

And we drove through the village of Azay-le-Rideau, which also has a lovely little château, though we didn't follow the Indre up to where it's built on an island in the middle of the river.

Instead, we drove back in the afternoon sunlight through fields of sunflowers, a lovely peaceful end to my time in the Loire Valley. Coming up: goats!

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