Ambling to Amboise

An ambling ambition

This was supposed to be a leisurely trip to Amboise.  An ambling ambition.  The idea was that we would get a late morning train for Amboise and visit the château. Its within easy reach of Tours where we were staying and that leisure time would include a snack at the Mie Caline outlet close to the station.  Sure enough wrapped around a bacon and cheddar filled baguette everything seems to be going swimmingly.

As often before on this trip, I had used the very useful app to buy two tickets, located the train and boarded with ease.

The train was quiet and comfortable and tempted with the strong wifi I got involved in some catch-up messaging. Mistake! 

Starting to feel drowsy, I closed my eyes.

Yes, I had been aware that the train had stopped but since it seemed we had only just left I paid no attention.  Rousing a little later P. remarked that she had seen a château en passant and I figured perhaps that was Chenonceau.  However looking at the time I realised it was later than I had thought and the train station had been Amboise!!


A quick walk up the train - to find the conductor who turned out to be extra-specially nice.  He confirmed that we had indeed missed Amboise and were now approaching Blois-Chambord.  If we were quick, he suggested, we could get out and take the next train back in the Tours direction which was due shortly.  Offering to pay any supplement due, the conductor declined and added the comment that if asked I should simply explain again as I had done to him. 

We did, descended at Blois-Chambord, and after that rush of adrenaline caught the next train back a few moments later.

The journey was short and we had a lovely afternoon in Amboise.

En plus/More

  • Check out the OuiSNCF app on the App Store or Android. Have used it several times and it's really useful.
  • If you're in Tours, Amboise is probably the closest Château to. visit by train.  Yes there is a walk from the station but it is gentle.  The old town of Amboise bordering the castle wall is lovely with plenty of eating places. 
  • Amboise has plenty of connections with Leonardo da Vinci including his castle and burial chamber.

La cigale chante

Want one of these! A mechanical cicada that makes that nostalgic sound characteristic of warm summer evenings in the south of France.
It's available online and I've just placed an order. This, some bright lights, a bunch of lavender and a glass of pastis...winter will be that little bit shorter.

Back in Bordeaux

The direct flight from Belfast to Bordeaux was a relaxing journey. In fact it was so relaxing that we didn't hurry ourselves off the plane which meant that we were among the last to go through passport control and into the baggage reclaim area. It seemed unusually quiet and I noticed that not only was the tapis no longer rolling but our bags were nowhere to be seen.

Language in the baggage area

Now since one of the main ideas behind this trip was to brush up on my French I went with the flow and decided to ask some of the customs and security personnel for help. They directed me to a phone and I explained to a sympathetic member of ground crew staff that our bags were missing. She invited me to come over to another section of the airport to fill in the necessary paperwork.

I did notice one bag still left on the rolling carpet but it wasn't ours. The Belfast sign went out.
What if the bags had been placed on another rack.  Sure enough, at the back of the baggage area were two lonely cases. Relieved, we claimed them and offering thanks to those who had helped us made our way outside.

Hôtel Regina

There waiting was a Bordeaux bus. A fare to the city centre was very good value, approx €1,50 each.
Way to go!  A long way to go.  Had we known or planned better we could have got off at Merignac school and switched to the tram.  One of the stops on the line was 3 minutes on foot from our destination, an AirBnB near Gaviniès. But of course we didn't and as it was early enough in the day it was nice to see some sights and get our bearings.  How lovely to pass Le Musée des Beaux-Arts, where I had visited a Surrealism exhibition back in the summer of 1971 and what pleasure to arrive at the Gare Saint-Jean and see across the road the Hotel Regina.

Back in that summer of 1971, as a young student teacher, I had a placement as a moniteur in a holiday centre for youngsters from Bordeaux.  I arrived in the city exhausted and too late to meet my lift that was to take me out to the centre at Martillac. I walked across the road and booked into this hotel making a huge dent in the pocket money that I had brought to see me through the month.  On top of that the weather then was hot and humid and I spent most of the night trying to stay cool in the shower.  That memory and this hotel has stayed with me through the years.


The bus had set us down at the train station but the tram service was disrupted for major and indeterminate improvement works. We knew we were going to have to get a taxi but needed a bite to eat first.  Paul is a pastry, hot-food business that we've appreciated wherever we have come across it and so a couple of goats cheese and courgette tourtes with some coffee went down a treat. Then out onto the concourse for a taxi.
Our chauffeur was an interesting and chatty Bordelais. He explained the recent public works, the street system and parking permitted on both sides of one way streets to slow down the traffic. It was clear he was proud of his city.  And that language was coming back.

Our AirBnB hosts texted us info on where to find the keys for the apartment. This was our first ever stay in an AirBnB and while it was not by any means hotel standard I liked the authenticity of staying in a typical apartment in a suburban street of a French town.  Families were going about their business, workers were in nearby cafés and we spotted a couple of local restaurants and a supermarket.

That Line A tram was very close and the city itself a good half hour walk away. But Day 1 was to get settled in.  That little restaurant on the corner looked just right.  Did I need to book?  La patronne thought it would be better if I did and asked me my name.
"I'll reserve a table for you outside," she said.
And she did...
We were back in Bordeaux.

CfB programme 2018-19

Our Belfast cercle, now numbering around 100 members, has launched its new season programme. With more events than ever before it seems likely that it is set to attract many more recruits.  In fact there are 12 meetings, not counting a special event that features readings of Seamus Heaney poems in English and in French and some Extra ! offerings outside of but related to its main programme.
The first of those events got underway on Wednesday 12 October at the Cercle's usual meeting place, The Dark Horse Coffee House in the heart of Belfast's Cathedral Quarter.  Here's a link reporting the September meeting on the Cercle's website.  The cobbled streets around the Dark Horse form a busy area that's popular with visitors to the city.  That night was no exception and it was fun  to meet up with a large group of French-speaking Canadians out-on-the-town.
Back to the programme...
Whether in English, French or both languages the talks are clearly labelled. In keeping with previous seasons two of the meetings will be conducted in French.  Mind you this shouldn't put off those who are not particularly fluent as pains are taken to include everyone regardless of their linguistic proficiency. The first of these Francophone meetings is a Cercle de lecture which focusses on a discussion of Françoise DORNER's La douceur assassine - a lovely book that's not too long and while dealing with themes of loss and jealousy is written in straightforward, accessible French.  Incidentally there is a film adaptation of the novel entitled Mr Morgan's Last Love starring Michael Caine and Clémence Poésy which would be worth a watch prior to the discussion.
The second Francophone event is a café-causerie - another discussion forum for which the theme is Les objets qui nous tiennent à cœur.  Here the idea is for participants to bring an item that's dear to them - that could be a photo, a piece of jewellery, a book, a song or even just a memory.  They then share why that item is something they love.
Check out the programme here.  There is plenty to engage those with an interest in French society with talks on Émile DURKHEIM, the father of sociology, a 50 year retrospective on the events of May 1968 and Feminism in France: Before and after de Beauvoir.
There are talks on Art, Literature and a couple of dégustations with tastings of Pastis and Beaujolais nouveau. Talking of tastings, the Cercle is planning on returning to the nearby Ulster University Academy training restaurant for its annual French-themed dinner.
It's quite a while away but the final event in June 2019 is really two-in-one as it will be a walking and a virtual tour of Belfast in French - that and of course all the other events are something to look forward to through the approaching dark winter evenings.

Membership of the Cercle is now open at £20 for individuals, £35 for joint membership and £10 for students in full-time education. There's a registration form online.

French Bouquet on VirginMedia

Just subscribed to French Bouquet via the WorldBox app on VirginMedia channel 834.  It provides France 2, 3, 5 and a cartoon channel for £6.99 a month. It also carries BFMTV whose news broadcast is onscreen as I write.
Not sure yet how it works for recordings if at all as it is a streaming service but will check that out. You can cancel subscription after 30 days but as the upcoming shows look great I think I'll keep using.

Update Feb 2019
VirginMedia recently removed the WorldBox app so French Bouquet is no longer available on its platform. That's a pity because TV5MONDE has also withdrawn its content from both Virgin and Sky. It's still available to stream free of charge and programmes are available through catchup.


Ever had a coffee that was too hot to drink? What about one that was too hot to hold?
That latter sometimes proves to be the case when we serve it in some cherished French porcelain Mazagran drinking cups.

The ones pictured above are part of a set purchased as a gift way back in 1974. They were bought in Vierzon at a weekly fair at which various artisans plied their wares. I haven't been able to trace where exactly they were produced but each carries the mark "Atelier de Tabalou" and I'm wondering if they come from the Limoges area, home to other fine porcelain products.

Mazagran refers to both the drinking cup and a type of coffee popular in Algeria. There's a little more detail over at this wikipedia link.

One way of cooling the coffee and the cup is to place a long handled spoon in the hot liquid - it dissipates the heat. I find though that if I hold the cup at its base, holding a finger under the rim for stability it's easy enough to manage.  Nice too on a cold day to cup the Mazagran between your hands to warm them. Sometimes visitors express surprise at the absence of a handle and look at us as if we weren't wise especially if the heat gets to them.

I have another set that are a bit taller / deeper and that makes it a little more difficult to clean the bottom of the bowl. That isn't a problem with these ones though they do pose the different challenge of protecting the delicate gilding and decoration. Requiring that extra bit of care, I tend not to trust the dishwasher with their cleansing.

That way, even as they are approaching their half century they look as if they will provide many more years of pleasurable use.

Time for one.