Written by Guest Blogger: Roland Minda
This is a lavishly laudatory spouse review plus trip highlights. It was intended to be brief, but now a little indulgence as to length! (P.S. I often call my wife by her nickname, M2, for her name, Merle Minda.) This trip took us first to 5 glorious days in Paris, then to the wine town of Sancerre in the Loire district for a week while M2 attended her French immersion language school, and finished off with a driving trip in the immediate area, the “Berry.”
- In Sancerre, M2 began to provide empirical evidence that she could suddenly converse on the street totally in French with natives. This skill was critical during our driving thru tiny, obscure villages. The school—Coeur de France Ecole de Langues, Sancerre– had achieved a breakthrough in her language skills!
- After Sancerre we had reserved an automatic car. No automatic showed up. In fact, no reservation showed up! Somehow M2 arranged to rent a manual, conversing 100% in French.
- My esteemed driver (my wife) was able to adapt to a 5-gear shift European manual, something she had not done since the days of her first marriage years and years ago.
- Further, my cartographer/driver navigated thru challenging, detour-plagued roads, often jumping out of the car and accosting startled villagers with pleas for help in total French sentences, both complex and compound.
- And her careful selections of historic, majestic and literary sites attest to her love of the total French zeitgeist.
I must add, despite my appearing to be a one man claque, that Merle was a phenomenal travel leader. There were many so challenges, and I, her erstwhile former stalwart, no longer could provide heavy duty travel partnership. Yet M2 unflaggingly prevailed, and, putting it in the vernacular, was magnifique!
As to a few trip highlights, we were abroad a total of eighteen days, departing May 5 and returning May 23. We flew to Paris for five days, then took a train to Sancerre where Merle reveled in French language study for a week, and finally several days on the road in the Loire Valley.
In Paris we stayed in our usual, comfortably utilitarian left bank hotel, hung out in our familiar St. Germaine church environs, sampled Merle’s past restaurant favorites along with researched first-timers. We met with Check, her former Minneapolis French teacher now residing in Paris, and we had a sumptuous lunch with Terrance, the American turned Parisian boulevardier that Merle last year had brought to Minneapolis for a four day series of French-oriented appearances. Of course we toured several favorite museums, plus a first time visit to Les Invalides. The attraction was a detailed exhibit of Napoleon’s battle sites plus a presentation of Napoleon’s many civil codes. And we loved the sumptuous house museum, Musée Nissim Camando.
Thence we made our way on Saturday to a train station for a two hour journey to Sancerre. It was getting on-to and down-from the train when we realized Merle had made a rare travel packing mistake. Our authority on minimal packing had purchased two 24 inch Rick Steves’ bags instead of our standard Travel Pro 22 Inchers.! The increased weight became a constant reproach to our packing hubris. Fortunately fellow train travelers recognized our pitiable condition and often provided instant succor.
The school, along with several apartments where we stayed, was a felicitous choice. Coeur de France is in a 16th century chateau and set up for a maximum of 30 students. Aside from a few apartments in the school/chateau building where we stayed, most students resided in nearby dwellings owned by the school. All classes were held in the morning, and some days included afternoon tours such as a visit to a goat farm. (M2 is now addicted to goat cheese. I am somewhat ambivalent.)
The town of Sancerre is a genuine village, about 1,500 residents, where we daily walked a couple blocks to the town square and bought viands for our well- appointed kitchen. The Sancerre wine vineyards are limited to the immediate hills, thus accounting for its high price in America. We had dinner several nights in excellent restaurants located in the square, including a one star Michelin, which was a memorable gastronomic and presentation experience!
Our final activity was the four day challenge tour. On Saturday, May 18, we took a cab to a nearby town for our car rental. (This was also the location for our train stop.) It was at this juncture that Merle’s travails and triumphs began. This day we traveled many miles, by French road standards, to a hotel very close to a lovely chateau, now museum, owned by George Sand. You walk in, by tour only, and it is as though she is still living here. The dining room is set up for an elegant banquet, with place cards for distinguished guests, including Chopin, Liszt, Balzac, Flaubert, Delacroix and such, all her lovers, although not simultaneously. Chopin resided in this mansion for ten years.
Then on to the ancient, and still thriving, town of Bourges, population about 100,000. It is a town of 14th to 17th century wonders of cathedral, palace and perplexing, meandering streets that only with adroit planning could my driver find the incoming and exiting vistas. Yes, another unflappable Merlian triumph!
Our final stop was a magnificent, 15th century castle/chateau that is travel poster worthy, and with its current, 6th generation owner in residence. He is a charming Count where we shared wine and his fascinating explanation of the castle’s history along with a summary of the count’s lineage which extends back to the 11th century. And such a history! The count’s ancestors have had ownership since 1842. Earlier it was owned for a period in the latter 17th century by England’s Charles ll. (Don‘t ask how come– this treatise is already taxing the most loyal of viewers. It has to do with across channel royal mischief.)
On May 22 back to the train station and overnight at the Marriott Charles De Gaulle Airport, and the next day to our Minneapolis sanctuary. A trip that only slightly aging seniors with faith in the future and travel trained survival skills could have achieved.
And thank you for enduring this entire saga. RLM
NOTE: Roland Minda blogs at www.retirement-dance.com.