Steve Watson


      Information: Travels: France: Normandie and the Loire Valley







Drove from Paris to HONFLEUR.


I've left Paris , which I quite enjoyed, though it wasn't as fascinating as some other places I've been. I still prefer both Rome and Beijing over all other places. It's amazing, nevertheless, to see so many places that I've read so much about and feel like I've seen in person from seeing them on TV so often. The Eiffel Tower is a good example. And it's much more convenient on TV!

The little VW Golf that I've rented is quite nice as a car, but I'm not that happy with it yet. I don't really like the car. It's got a very high first gear that needs a lot of revving to get it started, and it has the worst visibility when trying to reverse. The roads are good though, and I've had no real trouble finding my way - well, none that is the fault of the French rather than myself. It was a bit nerve-wracking on the motorways at first with everyone doing 130-140 in areas marked 110. Again, I get us to it. I hope I have no emergencies: I'm still reaching to the wrong side to change gears.

I thought the French countryside that I drove through - when I was brave enough to take my eyes from the road - was very beautiful, and Honfleur itself is a perfect chocolate box village. The marina area is ringed with restaurants and is very pleasant. (My hotel, I now realise, is one of those self-check in places: it's a bit cold, but very convenient.)


Map of Normandie


Map of Honfleur

A sketch map of the town. My hotel is just a bit further out of town than the red square.


Port of Honfleur

It somehow has the feel of a working fishing village, but it's completely devoted to tourism.







Drove along the coast a bit to see what was to be seen. It was a bit difficult to see anything since all the parking anywhere interesting was 'payant' zoned. Nevertheless, I got to see DEAUVILLE and TROUVILLE and a bunch of other places. Walked along the beach at Trouville and waded for about 30 minutes at HOULGATE. The driving was pretty difficult, since the roads were very narrow and winding. Not really worth the effort I think.

The beach at Houlgate

The water was cold but the sun was warm. There were people playing on the beach and parents trying to keep their kids out of trouble long enough for them to relax. A typical off-season holiday beach scene.


Decided to head inland to BAYEUX. That was quite nice, and the tapestry when I found it was also interesting. There's a lot more story in it than I realised, and many of the scenes include amusing or obscene details. I have to remark that the actual quality of the embroidery is not that great, but I suppose it's really the historical information that's interesting. A couple of things to note: 1, the bishop Odo was shown using a club, because although a clergyman might not shed blood, there was nothing in the rules agains knocking someone senseless; and 2, is it really the first notice that we've had of the yoking of donkeys? That seems unlikely.

Bayeux Tapestry

A detail from the tapestry showing the English and the French (not really) practising their horsemanship.


Bayeux Cathedral

An unexpectedly impressive pile.


I'm getting mighty fed up with the toll roads too. It costs a lot just to drive around these places, never mind the fuel and the ticket prices.
I had my first croque-monsieur. I don't want to hear the bloody French complaining about the unhealthiness of McDonald's ever again! This was almost pure toasted cheese. It also came with chips and I was offered ketchup!  Mon Dieu, as they say.



Millstream Views in Bayeux

A very pleasant view while I'm eating my croque-monsieur.







I stayed at home and inside today. It was raining until about 2pm and it was freezing cold all day. I did venture out for dinner at the Lutetia, which was ok. Had a terrine followed by a fish in delicious pepper sauce and a floating island dessert. The latter was a soft meringue blob actually floating on a light caramel custard. Nice, but more of a kids' dish, I'd say.

Bought Jeffrey Brown's 'Foundation and Second Empire ', one of the authorised continuators of Asimov's Foundation series; a kindle book for $1.99 to while away the inevitable longueurs of the solo traveller. Kindle is really a boon for this sort of thing.






Off early in the morning. Decided to just wing it as far as the route went, and it was mostly ok. One annoying wrong turn took me 20 miles (sic.) to undo. The worst episode was when the toll machine wouldn't accept my card and I was stuck there trying to get comprehension from the staff there - and very conscious of holding folks up for no reason that I could understand. When I got to Tours I went into town to get cash out on the credit card, and there was absolutely no problem, so I've got no idea what happened there. When I got to the hotel in Amboise I checked my accounts and I've got miles of money in there. Bloody annoying. Now I'll be even more anxious every time I approach those blasted toll booths.

The room I've got is great. It's a relief not to have to duck and hunch and shuffle everywhere. This looks like it was actually designed for grown-up non-dwarfs. I've had to rearrange the furniture a bit in order to make it usable, but I'm sure they mind that. Shame that the car parking is so inconvenient. It's really just public parking and is about 3 minutes walk from the hotel.


Since I'm here to see the big houses, here's a map to show where they are in relation to each other .


Map of the town of Amboise

The hotel is marked with a red circle by the receptionist, with directions to nearby free public parking .


There was plenty of time to out and about and see the sights of Amboise . It's a very pretty little town and the chateau is impressive. Although, I have to say, for such a large building, it doesn't seem to have very much usable space. The rooms are very ordinary sizes.


Grounds of the Chateau of Amboise

All but the East boundary have a sheer drop beyond the wall. The East has a tall wall and what lies beyond is not visible. Note that Leonardo da Vinci is now buried in the St Hubert Chapel, his bones having been identified in the demolition debris of his original burial place, the church of St Florentin,  which is not something I knew before. The original site is now marked by a bust of the great man.




The Chateau of Amboise

The flags are particularly mediaeval. I see the Fleur de Lys (the royal emblem) on the blue ground but what is the emblem on the white ground? .


Cave dwellers below the Chateau

They actually look like quite comfortable homes. They are behind the houses on the street beside the chateau's hill, and you see them through narrow paths between those houses.


The Clos Luce, about 500m further up the Rue de la Concorde, is the place where Leonardo da Vinci came to die (actually, in service to the king of France when he died.) there's a rather uninteresting house and furniture, but the basement has some models (maquettes - ne touche pas) of his inventions and ideas. What an amazing fellow. The gardens were very nice too, but I'm not sure what they have to do with Leonardo.


Map of the Clos Luce

Formerly the Manoir du Cloux, given to Leonardo by Francois 1er in 1516. 


Light on Faces

'Art before science, and painting before the other arts, because it has a purpose that can be communicated to every generation in the universe.' 







Comfortable driving today out to Chenonceau and then to Chambord . Both beautiful palaces, but the first was very pretty, stuck out over the Loire , and the second was extraordinarily impressive. It's quite hard to get the full scenic nature in a little photo. Chenonceau also has a very impressive collection of paintings - including some by Tintoretto, Correggio, Veronese, Ribera, Murillo, Van Dyck, Rubens, and Poussin. Some of my favourite people. I also took the opportunity to wander about in the gardens and out into the woods beyond, circling back to the maze (designed by Catherine de Medici) and the Caryatides. That was very pleasant: the woods are light and open and are a bright green quite different from what I'm used to. 

Map of the grounds of the Chateau of Chenonceau


The Chateau of Chenonceau

Showing the bridge across the river Cher built by Diane de Poitiers in the XVIth C


The Ceilings of Chenonceau

Some fancy scutcheon overhead


The Floors of Chenonceau

The Gallery. It spans the bridge shown in the photo above . From the visitors guide: "In the Second World War, the river Cher corresponded to the line of demarcation The entrance to the Chateau was therefore in the occupied zone (right bank). The gallery where the south door gave access to the left bank made it possible for the Resistance to pass large numbers of people into the free zone." 


Marques Tower

The tower is the remodelled keep of the old castle that was otherwise completely destroyed in order to make room for the new château. You'd never get planning permission for that these days.



From the terraces overlooking Diane de Poitier's garden



In 1519 Francois 1er intended to build a hunting lodge; but it rather got away from him. 


Trophy room.

Some hunting was apparently done.


Louis XIV

A marble bust of an owner


Roof towers

These are impressive buildings in themselves, but they're just like finials on the main structure.


Ornamental ceiling vaults

In the halls of the 2nd floor.


Fancy tapestry

France is full of these - but they were all woven out of focus







Driving and visiting Azay-le-Rideau and Chinon. Both were nice. Azay was a beautiful construction and I was also fascinated by the woodwork in the attics. It's a fancy tie beam arrangement with some very nifty carpentry in the turn of the building. I'd like to get a design for that and I think dad would be fascinated. I'm wishing now that I'd read this section of Lavedan's book on French Architecture, or perhaps gotten around to reading any of that book on the Chateaux of the Loire that I set myself as preparatory reading. 

Map of the grounds of the Chateau of Azay-le-Rideau

 (a) The island in the river Indre, (b) two symmetrical outbuildings, (c) a semi-circular courtyard, and (d) a tree-lined avenue


The Chateau of Azay-le-Rideau

From the tree-lined avenue. The day is sunny but cool and fresh.


The Chateau of Azay-le-Rideau

From the park at the rear. I'm sitting on a bench in a well-kept lawn. This would be a great day and place for a picnic. There are some young families and couples doing exactly that. The park is actually a 'jardin anglais.' laid out in 1810. So, quite a recent addition..


The roof space and rafters

The whole roofspace was also used as living space for the servants.


Architectural feature

In the front courtyard


A stone salamander above the grand fireplace

 The salamander is the symbol of Francois 1er, and usually goes together with his motto "Nutrisco et Extinguo" (presumably 'the good' and 'the bad' respectively.) It's not clear to me why this should be a feature of the chateau, since it was only briefly the king's possession - apparently, he confiscated it when the owner went into disfavour and gave it to someone still in favour.


Chinon was less impressive. It's a great mediaeval fortress with a lot of historical value. Much of it to do with the Plantagenets and Eleanor of Aquitaine and so on. I can't say I give much of a hoot about them and their ridiculous dynastic squabbles. There's also a connection with Joan of Arc (whom we eventually burned, but they do not hold that against us) and a nice museum in the top floors of one of the remaining buildings. Apparently there was an Iron Age fort here too, but I don't see anything of that remaining, and only a very few burial remains are on display.

Map of the Chateau of Chinon

The new visitor centre seems to be built on the Fort St-Georges


The Tour du Trésor and the river Vienne from the Tour de l'Horloge

Note the external (now) fireplace.


A secret garden

Between.the Tour de Boissy and the Royal apartments


I think my problem with the sights so far (going back to Paris ) is that they are all far too recent, or of periods that I have no real interest in. I have to wonder now, where were the ancient remains of Paris when I was there. Presumably there are some such displayed somewhere, but they're not exactly advertised. And this reminds me of something else: I always wonder why we see so much about the ancient Britons in our bookshops and so very little about the ancient Gauls - so far as they can be distinguished from the general Celtic people. I thought that when I got to France I'd be able to find all sorts of books about this era that just didn't get into the English press and into Australian bookstores, but there's been nothing much. I find this odd.

There needs to be a short comment on the Internet here. It's a 'coffee shop' free wifi, and it's bloody awful. I can barely get the login screen up on the apple devices at all unless I'm in the restaurant, and with all the devices you have to log in repeatedly - sometimes as often as every minute. That can't be right.