Saturday, June 20, 2009

France - where you can (almost) live on bread & water

Before we leave Angers, Michael takes a walk up the street to the local Boulanger for a couple of bagettes, almond croissants and brioche suisse. That is for the trip to Blaye that will take us much of the day, allowing for a stop or two. It is market day in Angers and we pass the locals busy buying their providores as we leave. Seems like there are heaps of butchers, baker, milkmen, fishmongers and probably even a candle-stick maker lining the wide avenue at the top of the Angers business district.

As we have commented a number of times recently, sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men . . . We had planned to visit the Cointreau distillery this morning on our way out of Angers. We find it in an industrial estate in the nearby town of Bartholemy d'Angers, but are unable to get on a tour - the young lass tells Michael that there are only 3 tours per day and that they are booked out weeks in advance - pity. I could not be bothered with visiting their boutique as you can buy Cointreau in the supermarkets here very cheaply. I guess I will just have to console myself with a visit to one of the Cognac distilleries in the area!!

Our next stop is at the Chateau de Montreuil-Bellay, a very impressive chateau in the Loire Valley. It is only a few kilometres off the main road and sits amidst a busy little town where many of the local population are dining at The Barbacane Restaurant across the road from - the barbican, what else! Unfortunately, the chateaux itself is shut - oh yes, of course, it is lunchtime! It does not open again until 2 pm and we don't want to wait that long. Turns out that this is one of the most important of the Loire Valley Chateaux and most impressive - we should have waited! Want to know more - then click the link so I don't bore Helen with the history!

We can however get in to have a look at l'Eglise Collegiate (the church) which although serving the fortified chateau, is outside its protective walls. There are wonderful examples of early art hanging in the church including one that Michael is pretty sure is a Tintoretto that has been damaged - partly scorched in a fire by the look of it. The church has been set for a wedding later today (Christy and Xavier) - all the best guys. So after wondering at the remaining wall decorations that have survived from medieval times, we push forward.

We are travelling through the Loire Valley - part of the salad bowl of France. Past fields and fields of corn crops that are being irrigated just like we do with the sugar cane back home. And past a crop that we have trouble identifying complete with a 16th century windmill keeping a watchful eye. As we get further south we see more mature examples of the crop and realise that it is sunflowers! Not yet in full bloom, but I can just imagine driving down one of the hills with millions of their bright yellow faces turned to follow the sun. And where the Australians could learn a thing or two about keeping travel routes cool - as much of the main road is planeted with over hanging mature tree canopies. Mm the bread and pastries are divine!

We make a very quick detour into Poitiers to buy more water as we have just finished the last. Quite a large city by the look of it, but no time today to stop and explore. Part of the road barrier along the motorway here seems to extol the driver to aspire to learning maybe?!

We are almost at Blaye when we very nearly become unstuck. Passing through the small town of Saint-Savin, 20 kms to the east of Blaye we come across lots of 'route barre' signs. It is the local Fete and most of the town centre has been shut. Now, that's OK if you are a local and know where the alternate roads go, but to the casual traveller, it is something else again! Kate does her best but still wants to direct us through back streets and the centre of town, so again, local knowledge prevails and I over-ride her, driving further out from the center. She eventually picks us up again and gives new directions. We need to cross the main road that we had just recently left. But, the overpass where she sends us is blocked as well - and it looks like it has been so for some time, with mounds of earth sprouting healthy vegetation barring our way. Again, I take to the back roads and this time, although I am definitely on paved roads, we are traversing through farms. I get Michael to reach for the map when - ah, she has us again and manages to find another crossing! Onward we travel!!

Blaye seems to be absolutely bustling - much much busier than when we were here in February. We arrive just after 6 pm, the sun still high in the summer (daylight saving) sky. Les is out and we are greeted by a new housekeeper. Wonder where Michele is? So, blog done, we are off to find some dinner - its now 8:30 pm and out the window I can see the shadow of the chimney pots on the building across the narrow street - ah, the sun is obviously moving towards the horizon at last.

We go around to The Petit Pont for dinner where we ate one night whe we were here in February. But boy, is it different this time. The two waitresses are totally run off their feet. There is an extensive menu to chose from and in the end we decide to stick to one of their set menus.
Salade de Gésiers confit (Gizzards confit salad) Michael
Terrine de Poissons Sauce Tartare (Terrine of Fish with Sauce Tartare) Maria
Poisson du Jour (Fish of the day - white fish - maybe dory?) Michael
Pavé Bœuf Sauce Poivre Gris (Grilled beef with Black pepper sauce Maria
Cholocat Mousse (Michael)
Créme Caramel (Maria)
The star of the night was my seafood terrine - a mix of white fish on the base with a shellfish layer on top of this. Divine! Tres bon!!
We finished with espresso coffees just as the dark has fallen fully at 11 pm. Crazy isn't it! The last table of people arrived well after ten and it was still twilight.
Huge music festival here tomorrow so I had better get to bed earlier rather than later if I want to enjoy it! Love to all.

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