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5 Tips to enjoying the French Countryside

September 6, 2014 Brian Gurnham Chief Cork Officer

Having returned from a week in the Loire Valley I thought I would take this opportunity to share a few tips should you find yourself traveling to the area.  They are half serious, and half tongue in cheek – please no disparaging comments from Francophiles - we loved the Loire Valley and are already planning a month long return visit.

#1 – Learn how to find your seat on the TGV.  The TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) is the high speed train that connects many cities across France, travelling at speeds up to 200 mph.  We took this splendid wonder of technology from the Charles De Gaulle airport to Tours, about an hour and a half ride.  One of the advantages of the TGV is that every seat is a reserved seat.  Here within was the challenge for this limited French speaking traveler.  The seat number was listed on our ticket (easy enough) but the numbers repeat on every train car or “coach”.  OK, no big deal,



we looked at our ticket which also listed the coach number.  Sounds easy enough but oh wait, the coaches do not have the number visible anywhere.  Time to ask the friendly station attendant who examines my ticket and directs me to a large “B” area and tells me to board the coach that stops there.  We board per instructions, take our seats for only a moment when a pleasant older woman informs us that we are in her seat.  Despite my attempts to explain my limited French, she proceeded to go on and on about the mix up.  Finally we were rescued by a conductor who, when I indicated that I had “le même siège”, responded, “c'est impossible”.  And sure enough it was impossible and we were off by one coach.  It turns out that the secret lies in a small digital display that is somewhere over the train station platform.  It translates coach numbers (numbers from 1-30+) to loading locations (letters from A-H+).  Who knew?

#2 – Beware the rental car upgrade. 



Arriving at St. Pierre des Corps which acts as the TGV gare (train station) for the city of Tours, we enjoyed a fresh baguette and glass of wine while we awaited the return of the Enterprise car rental sales rep (see tip #3).  He generously offered us a free upgrade to a larger diesel vehicle, a Citroën Picasso.  Now to look at this car in the United States you would call it something less than a mid-size, however soon after leaving the gare, and traversing the narrow streets on our way to Amboise, I quickly learned that the Picasso seemed only slightly smaller than a Hummer.  And over the course of the next few days we learned that while diesel fuel is available, finding a gas station that offers it is a bit more challenging.  My advice?  Rent the smallest vehicle you can, and stick to regular gasoline.

#3 – Remember the lunch “hour” schedule.  Many shops and attractions are closed from noon to 2 or even 3pm.  Once you get used to this and plan accordingly it is a delightful practice.  But, if you arrive to rent your car at the train station at 12:01, or want to return you bike at 2:30 after a morning of riding, well suffice to say, be prepared to wait.



#4 – Not every French Bistro is amazing.  I will leave the names out but don't be drawn in by the romantic atmosphere of the corner bistro, with checked table cloths, outdoor seating, and overlooking the river.  The first night in Amboise we were, and regretted it.  Ask the locals and cozy up with Trip Advisor.  The second night, after consulting with our hosts and Trip Advisor, we went to La Fourchettte, a small quaint restaurant with a prix fixe menu that offered two selections, duck and cod.  Two hours later we had completed the most amazing meal accompanied by an equally amazing local Bourgueil (Cabernet Franc).

#5 Relax and be flexible. 



We awoke one morning to hear the sound of a babbling stream just outside our bedroom window.  The only problem was there hadn't been a stream there the night before.  Well you guessed it, a broken water main.  Not unexpected I guess with hundred plus year old infrastructure, but remember those narrow roads?  Well the hole that had been dug to begin repairs prevented us from leaving in our car.  The best response I could get from the utility worker was “après midi”.  OK time for Plan B, walk the two miles to town and visit the market instead of driving to Chinon.  So if you are going to visit the French countryside, make sure you have your lemons out of lemonade attitude front and center!

 

 

All in all each of these small challenges made for a more interesting trip.  When you travel to any country you have to expect differences – embrace them – it's part of the fun!

Cheers,

 

Brian Gurnham
Chief Cork Officer

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·  Loire Valley - The Garden of France
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