France, here we come!

First sighting of Amboise, France

First sighting of Amboise, France

Even upon leaving London, we were appreciative of our hotel location in South Kensington – popped straight on the tube, and before we knew it we were at Kings Cross/St Pancras. It was a bit of a walk to where the Eurostar boards, but on a travel day when there is a lot of sitting, a bit of a stroll is quite welcome.

On a side note: found the perfect way to get rid of some pounds (GBP, not weight – still looking for the answer to that one!). Finally found a mini LED light for my e-reader! Very happy – these days my old eyes need very good light to read, and some champagne bars just don’t cut it in that department!!

The Eurostar is definitely the way to travel between London and Paris. You have the same international feel of travelling to another country, but the departure terminal is just a large train station with passport requirements and much less waiting around. We forked out for first class seats, but booked early enough to get a great bargain. The comfort, speed, service and convenience made this the most painless transfer between countries I’ve experienced

Upon arrival at Gare du Nord I was thrust back into the French milieu and had to dabble in the language without the chance of a refresher before hand. Stumbled through with much smiling and atrocious grammar! We arrived at the station right on time, and lined up with the many other visitors for tickets to our next destination. We opted for ‘un carnet’ for the metro – 10 individual tickets, each getting you one single trip on the metro, no matter how far your destination within the city. We only needed one each to get to Montparnasse where we were to catch the TGV (fast train), but the rest will come in handy on our return to Paris in a few days (and will save us lining up again!).

We were early for the next leg of the journey (always a good thing), so we waited it out at a café/brasserie at the station. Nothing too thrilling, I can tell you, and as with all such food outlets at transport hubs, overpriced, but the wait staff were sweet and patient with our mangling of their language. Salads and wine all round, with a mental adjustment to the exchange rate of the Euro to the Aussie dollar – works out better than that of Sterling!

Have completely fallen in love with the whole fast train experience in France. Admittedly, we didn’t go cattle class – but if you book ahead on these trips, the first class carriages are just as cheap as the others bought at last minute. We were cruising along, electrical devices plugged in and charging, and enjoying making the big decisions – playing on the laptop/ipad or reading on the e-reader.

All of a sudden, we were in Tours, and picking up our hire car. So glad we took our GPS – with this trusty piece of equipment (maps installed at home beforehand, of course), there are no more marriage-jeopardising intense ‘conversations’ about how to get out of a town with a navigator holding a map lacking in detail and a driver in a foreign car on the wrong side of the road! ‘Turn left here, here, HERE!!!’ – You ALL know what I’m talking about…

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We found our accommodation, Les Fleurons, in Amboise without too much difficulty, and once again we were pleased we had done our homework. This little place was in the most perfect location – nestled at the foot of the castle, with views of the turbulent Loire River. Our hosts, Tim and Carolyn Knowlman (expat Brits), were warm, friendly and helpful, just lovely people. Having forewarned them that we are vegetarians, Tim had contacted a number of fine restaurants in the town to check out options for us, ensuring they would have something to offer the eccentric visitors! Their efficient and cheerful assistance on a number of occasions added to the ease and pleasure of our stay.

After some small time admiring our room (antique furniture, new bathroom) and our view (up high and across the river to the island), we went for a wander. Amboise is a gorgeous little town, and while, yes, every old town in France has an element of the gorgeousness to it, this one was perfect in terms of scale, restaurants, shopping and sites. We enjoyed a pre-dinner champagne at Le Shaker, the bar on the central island with its unsurpassed view of the castle at sunset. Only en France can you go to a place for a pre-dinner drink and the ‘house’ champagne is Moët! They provided delish accompanying complimentary nibbles, too – crudité and salmon mousse on toast. I always need something to tide me over till dinner in these ‘late to dine’ countries!

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We ventured back to our side of the river to Le Lion d’Or (The Golden Lion). It is mentioned in the Michelin guide, and they are working at gaining a Michelin star. Tim made a reservation for us and let them know in advance that we were vegetarian, which meant they went to some effort and we actually had amazing food; entrée of white asparagus and quail eggs with a creamy sauce (no fancy description here, as we had no menu for what we had), followed by a plate of vegetables – a parsnip puree, pea and (maybe) celeriac puree, baby carrot, roast artichoke, green asparagus and a caramelised vinaigrette. We had to pass on dessert – simply no room! A bottle of local Sancerre rouge (from pinor noir family) went down a treat. The walk back to our B&B was perfect – the sun was casting its last dwindling rays at the castle walls, and we were walking hand in hand along the River Loire. Bliss.

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We stayed at Les Fleurons B&B in Amboise

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About bontaks

Nic is the the ‘Bon’ part of ‘Bontaks.’ Together we are Nic and John – two travel-addicted teachers who enjoy every opportunity to go places, meet people and experience life.

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