Thursday, May 31, 2007

Chateau Tours

We had an early start this morning catching up with our tour guide for a tour of the Chateau. We were set out to visit 5 chateaus with lunch in between and a short wine tasting in the growing region. We were running a little behind and were searching for a small bite to eat. We came up on a small farmer’s market that we meandered through. Here were bales of cherries, apricots and bananas, loads of white asparagus and artichokes, a few butchery trucks, a fish vendor, a salumi artisan as well as a few cheese artisans. After trying an assortment of cheeses and salumi, we realized we were short of time and utensils so we had to decide fast. We first found a chewy baguette, then some unpasteurized fromage blanc, that was tangy and filled with a grassy and garlicky flavor, and then finally, a banana to complete our breakfast. You know, the US dollar is very weak when exchanging for Euro so obviously everything is expensive for us. With more than 2 weeks to go, Nicole and I are paying a lot closer attention to the finances for the trip. The cost of our breakfast….3,50 Euros. Not bad!

The Chateau tour brings us out in the countryside that I had originally thought we would see. These stone fortresses were sometimes built on peninsulas in the rivers and were almost always surrounded by some sort of body of water. The walls were high, the towers high and the gardens vast. You have to think that before the Renaissance period, battle was a part of everyday life and the royalty in the chateau had to develop all forms of security and protection. Each chateau provided a small view into French history, but more on a personal level. There was a story behind each room and each picture. Every piece of furniture and tapestry made the image of life back then a little more real for us to imagine. The kitchens were the best for me. They seemed so medieval with large pots hanging over an open fire, enormous cutlery like various types of butcher knives and hacksaws, and huge meat hooks to hang and bleed the various types of game that was caught. The one cooking element that was used back then and is still used today was the wood burning oven. It looked exactly as it does now in California Pizza Kitchen.

The best Chateau had to be Leonardo da Vinci’s. He spent the last 3 years of his life there. We learned about his various contributions to civilization like the bicycle, the tank, transmission, the clock, the canon, the parachute, the helicopter, the airplane and the machine gun. Almost all his ideas preceded the true inventions, but he lacked the means to create the energy to produce such things. Most of his ideas needed an engine. All we could think was that he never got any sleep. His mind must have been burning with thought and ways to solve his engineering issues.
Another Chateau of note was Villandry. Here we saw an enormous garden about the size of 4 professional baseball fields. Each garden was perfectly manicured and each design carried a different meaning. In one garden, the bushes were trimmed and shaped to form symbols of love, passion, suffering and revenge. Another had a wide array of vegetables and herbs that would make any farmer jealous and another with a childlike maze of hedgerow bushes. Nicole and I lost ourselves in that maze just like in the movies.

All throughout the Loire Valley you will find a chateau. To build these castles they need stone. The builders tunneled through mountain to take that stone and the result was a cave. You will find a countless number of caves in the mountains of Tours and that is where they ripen cheese and store their wines.

We stopped in for a lunch at yet another brasserie. Again we had mixed results. Nicole had a simple, yet excellent salad with warm, breaded goat cheese on top and I started with an amazing salad that was topped with a crostini of sorts that was layered with warm mozzarella cheese, chorizo and tomato slices. This is where the disappointment started….I had Cabillaud in papillote which is notoriously French and is usually spot on because the fish is steamed in its own juices and the few aromatics that are placed in the foil wrap. Well, these guys managed to screw it up by burning this “papillote” into 1940s Berlin. The fish was stuck to the foil and Nicole even asked me to close it up because of the burning smell that was engulfing our table. Nicole’s skirt steak was too chewy for her to eat and her shallot “confit” was practically raw sitting atop her steak. This was no good what we are starting to learn may be typical of the brasserie genre. Our dessert was nice though. I had a decadent and light chocolate mousse and Nicole a moist fruit laden cake called Raspberry Claufoutis. This part of the meal made us forget about the last.

We headed back on our tour of chateaus enjoyed some wine along the way. Our tour guide was so knowledgeable about history and culture that I think he was able to give me insight on why I carry a French last name even though my family is mostly Dutch and Indonesian. He said that in the early centuries that there were many great minds in France that were not of the Catholic faith that were forced to leave France in order to find a home in a safe place. Those that left and that protested the Catholic faith went to places like the Netherlands and Germany where they became Protestants. This made sense to me…not sure if it is the answer why, but it made sense.
After our 9 hour tour Nicole and I needed a nap. We got some shut eye back at the hotel, but woke up with that passion of mine….hunger.

Being mindful of our budget we searched the best street food available. We walked down the Moroccan or Turkish part of town and found various vendors with a revolving side of meat filling up their windows. We stopped into Le Kasbah. Overall, this is a nice area with no real seedy element. If that side of town exists, this is it. We reluctantly enter the small “stand” and are a little confused because there is no menu and the extent of our French is “Bon Jour and Merci”. We are a bit surprised, but we are greeted with such a warm welcome by the young man behind the counter named Ismet. He is so happy that we are there and asking us about all the big movies of Hollywood with great enthusiasm. This definitely eases Nicole and me a bit. I point to the revolving meat and ask for two and I request for mine to be a bit spicy. We sit down contemplating the next day over a Cola Light and a Fanta Orange. My eyes light up as I see what is arriving….a huge mound of sizzling hot and crispy fries tossed with the perfect amount of salt and a huge Panini like sandwich. The bread is flat with a firm bite on the outside, but is completely soft on the inside. It is the perfect structure for the mound of filling. What Ismet shaved off with his 14 inch scimitar was a mixture of chicken thighs and veal shoulder marinated with tons of garlic, oregano, turmeric and some other spices that he wouldn’t reveal to me. This revolving meat mixture must have been cooking for at least 12 hours by the time we got to it at 11pm. The meat was succulent and tender because it simply rotated itself and basted itself in its own fat. This was an impressive meal all for 5 Euros. What a bargain!! Now, I am not sure if we have this at home, it is called Shwarma, but if we do, check it out!

See you in a few.


Anonymous said...

i'm so hungrey, i love your writing coo bird i really feel as though i'm with you i can picture it all. after i finish reading i feel very ful too,

love and kisses

Anonymous said...

Nicole & Anthony,

We love the fact that you have taken us along on your trip. We are "savoring" every moment. Thank you.

Love, Mom & Pop

Anonymous said...

Hey guys its Pete and Crissy. It sounds like you are having a great time, and that someone bought a thesaurus....nice work. So Jealous....I want to be chain smoking and hating the combination of luggage and train stations. C'est la vie....we cant believe you didnt go to Pino Pizza in Paris.....awesome. Have fun, looking forward to more

Anonymous said...

Hi Coo & Nicole:Last night I read the entire blog and finished by 2:00 AM. Was so "involved" in the stories that I could not fall asleep. At 3:00 AM I decided to take a sleeping pill and woke up when my alarm went off. Both of you must be gaining some weight from all the goodies. When in Holland, all of a sudden our clothes seem to shrink,but we are looking forward to our trip in September. We are enjoying your blog so immensely, we don't know what to read once you are home again. Today we received Nicole's card from Paris. Thank you so much, or better yet Merci Beaucoup!

Love, Pap & Mom

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