Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Part 3: Paris, Loire valley castles

Map of trip to France
27.7: Munich -> Strasbourg
28.7: Strasbourg -> Verdun -> Reims -> Paris
29.7: Paris
30.7: Paris
31.7: Paris
1.8: Paris -> Disneyland -> Paris
2.8: Paris
3.8: Paris -> Chambord castle -> Blois -> Tours
4.8: Tours -> Villandry castle -> Azay Le Rideau -> Tours
5.8: Tours -> Azay Le Rideau -> Chenonceau castle -> Tours
6.8: Tours -> Rigny-Usse castle -> Tours
7.8: Tours -> Les Sables D Olonne -> Bretignolles-sur-Mer
8.8: Bretignolles-sur-Mer
9.8: Bretignolles-sur-Mer -> St Gilles Croix de Vie -> Bretignolles-sur-Mer
10.8: Bretignolles-sur-Mer
11.8: Bretignolles-sur-Mer -> Lyon
12.8: Lyon
13.8: Lyon -> Geneva

2.8: Paris
Hotel Etap, Paris.
Weather: overcast and cold. It rains in the morning. Only in the evening the clouds cover opens up and we get some blue sky and sunshine. A bit warmer in the evening.

This morning we sleep until late. At 12pm we go out of the hotel and walk to the nearby shopping complex. I'm carrying my notebook computer with me as I'm planning to use the WLAN hotspot of the McDonalds restaurant of the shopping complex.

After a brief lunch in the Chinese restaurant of the shopping complex, I head to the McDonalds restaurant where I order a dessert and a drink. The Internet connection through the WLAN hotspot works fine and I manage to download my emails, but after 20 minutes an angry black guy (restaurant staff) asks me something in French (essentially he wants to know what I'm doing). Shortly after that the WLAN connection stops working. I can only guess that in the French McDonalds restaurants you are not allowed to use the free WLAN access for more than 20 minutes. In any case, if this is how they treat you, I'll avoid French McDonals restaurants from now on.

Since I haven't finished doing the Internet stuff, I head towards the nearby Internet cafe (the one I found the day before yesterday). The weather forecast is not good for the north of France. There is currently a low pressure area crossing the north of France, so the weather over the next few days will be unstable, cold and rainy. Since during a holiday I don't want to be locked in a hotel room while outside it is raining, I decide to skip Normandie and Bretagne and head towards the south of France instead. I'll however avoid the Mediterranean area where temperatures are above 30°C. Our next stop will be the Loire valley, after that we might spend some time on a beach. We'll use Tours to explore the Loire valley. There are two Etap hotels in Tours, one outside of town and one in the city centre.

I get back to the hotel, where I meet Shirley and the kids (we had split in the shopping complex, with Shirley doing some shopping while I was using the Internet). It's about 3 something pm. We go to the room where I finish to sort out the photos of yesterday. Then I go out with Alissia for some shopping and return to the hotel. At 5:30pm I go to the lobby and make a reservation for the Etap hotel in Tours (two nights). At 6:30pm, since Shirley is still sleeping with the kids and in the meantime the sky has opened up, I go out and head towards Paris.

At 6:50pm I'm in Hotel de Ville (central Paris). Great light and blue sky. Until 10:20pm I'm in town taking photos.

3.8: Paris -> Chambord castle -> Blois -> Tours
Hotel Etap, Tours Centre. 49 Euro for a room with two beds + one. This time we ask for a bigger room and we also get one. Parking is free. The room is not a standard Etap hotel room. It has an attached toilet with bathtub + shower, TV, no telephone, no WLAN. Location is about 1km from the city centre. The room has an own A/C unit with thermostat, which however does not work perfectly.
Weather: overcast and fresh in Paris. Still overcast when we arrive in Chambord at 3pm, but then at 4:30pm the sky opens up and the sun shines. Noticeably warmer than in Paris (the temperature in the Loire valley tops out at 26-27°C. Blue sky wit many clouds, strong wind. In the evening the weather forecast in the TV shows very high temperatures (35°C) along the mediterranean coast and a cool north of France with top temperatures of just 20-21°C. In the centre of France the temperatures are good (around 25°C).

We get up before 10am, pack our things and are ready in the car shortly before 12pm. I enter the Chambord as destination in the GPS navigation system. This predicts that we will arrive at 2:05 pm. We will however only arrive in Chambord one hour later due to the heavy traffic and traffic jams on the motorway. It turns out that this is the weekend in which many French start their holidays and we are on the motorway (the A10) from Paris to Spain, a very popular route.

At 3:05pm we are in Chambord. It is quite easy to find the castle. Parking is available next to it, usually for 3 Euro/day but is free today. Chambord castle is beautiful - both the building and the park around it. We only spend two hours at the castle and have some lunch in a cafe, and could have easily spent the whole day here. It is a very nice setting.

The ticket to enter the castle costs a whopping 9.50 Euro. Since it would take at least one hour to visit the castle interior and Shirley can't get in with the baby stroller (too many staircases), I skip visiting the castle interior

At 5:10pm we continue driving towards Tours, making a short stop in Blois. We are in Blois at 5:50pm, briefly stopping for a photo outside the city before entering it. It is not directly possible to reach the castle by car, so after some circling we park the car somewhere and I quickly walk towards the castle for a photo, while Shirley waits in the car with the children (who are both sleeping). The Blois castle is disappointing compared to the Chambord one (it's inside the city with no park or water surrounding it). The ticket to enter it costs 7.50 Euro. 

At 6:45pm we continue driving to Tours, arriving at the Etap hotel at 7:30pm. In the evening we don't do much, except having a dinner in the Ibis hotel opposite the Etap hotel. Good pasta dishes at the Ibis hotel by the way (9.20 Euro).

4.8: Tours -> Villandry castle -> Azay Le Rideau -> Tours
Hotel Etap, Tours Centre. It turns out that the WLAN service of Orange is available in the room (4.50 Euro for 60 minutes to be used over 24 hours, 10 Euro for unlimited use for one day). The service works fine and is fast in the morning at 11:30am (when I guess there are few guests in the hotel using it), but becomes unusable in the evening, probably because too many people are using it. WLAN sucks. It is not a problem accessing the Internet through a mobile phone, but access through a WLAN hotspot can easily degrade to the point of becoming unusable. By the way, another WLAN access network is the one of Swisscom (more expensive and stronger signal).
Weather: overcast and it rains the whole morning. The sky opens up in the afternoon and starting from 3:30pm it is mostly blue.

We get up at the usual time, but since it is overcast and raining outside, we simply stay in the hotel until after noon. Around 1pm it stops raining and it appears that the weather is starting to improve. Since we skipped breakfast and it's time for lunch, we go out. We carry the dirty laundry with us (the girl in the reception yesterday gave us the address of a laundry with washing machines).

After some searching we finally find the laundry. I put all dirty clothes into a machine and start the program. We then look for a restaurant, walking towards the train station. It is surprisingly not so easy to find a suitable place. Lots of cafes, lots of fast food places where you can buy sandwiches, but not so many restaurants serving freshly cooked warm food. Perhaps we are looking in the wrong area (around the train station) or perhaps it is part of the French culture to eat a lot of sandwiches. There is a McDonald opposite the train station (with WLAN access).

Since it's late and Shirley is hungry, we get some "fast" food in a bakery (we've been eating sandwiches and cakes quite frequently the past few days). I walk back to the laundry, since the washing program has finished and put all clothes into the dryer for 30 minutes. Then I get back to Shirley, who is still exploring the area. We spend some time shopping around, then at 2:30pm I get back to the laundry because the drying program has finished.

After 3pm I have finished sorting all clothes and placed them into the plastic bag. Then I get back to Shirley who by now is in the McDonalds restaurant and has a sandwich there.

At 3:40pm, since the weather is nice now, we drive to the Villandry castle, arriving there at 4:15pm. The castle itself is not that special, but the gardens surrounding the castle are beautiful (entry ticket is 6 Euro, 9 Euro for the castle and the gardens).

We are at the Villandry castle until 5:45pm, then get back to the car and drive to the Azay-Le-Rideau castle. Judging from the map of the DK guide, I was under the impression that this castle was very close to Villandry and on the way back to Tours. That is not the case and in fact we only arrive at the castle at 6:50pm, when it is already closed.

It's about 7pm when we start looking for a restaurant in Azay-Le-Rideau. Shirley would like to have some pasta, but all restaurants we find by walking around a bit near the castle only serve pasta (either tagliatelle or penne) with either Bolognese, Carbonara or Gorgonzola sauce, not exactly what Shirley would like to eat. Still it is surprising that three different restaurants all serve the same stuff. Perhaps they are serving pre-cooked food from the same supplier.

So we drive back to Tours, where at 8:15pm we have dinner in a Chinese restaurant near the train station. The chicken meat they serve is spoilt and the waiter refuses to do anything when I tell him that.

Tomorrow the weather should be good and I'm planning to visit two castles (Chenonceau and Azay-Le-Rideau). Not more than that because each castle visit takes a few hours. There are tours which do five castles in one day, but these must be rushing their customers from one place to the next, as it takes time to get from one castle to the next and even more time to explore a castle (calculate perhaps 2-3 hours at least for one castle, if you are planning to visit the interior, even more if you want to explore the park). In reality these are beautiful castles and you could easily spend the whole day just at one castle, as there is so much to do and see around the castle.

Copyright 2008 Alfred Molon