Bonnétable & Torcé-en-vallé

Aaron slept downstairs by the fire last night, to make sure it went out and didn’t set the castle on fire… It looked quite cozy when we left him there and went to bed. All of us slept in this morning, and poor Holly woke up with a sore throat. She could barely talk. After getting some breakfast she seemed to perk up a bit though.

We got a visitor in the castle this morning, an uninvited and unwilling one. A little bird flew in trough the kitchen door and couldn’t find its way back out again. Kelly was able to catch it in his hands and went outside to let it go, but it didn’t want to fly. The bird seemed physically fine, but maybe it was a bit traumatized. It just stayed on Kelly’s hand for a long time and held on to him. After a while, Kelly managed to set the bird down outside in the garden.

Later in the day we went to Bonnétable to get out of the castle and to get some lunch; I drove the car today as well. I prefer driving and Aaron seems to prefer not to, so that works out well. We jokingly call Bonnétable “bunny table”, in small part because it’s easier to say, but mainly because it sounds much funnier. There’s another town nearby called Sillé-le-Philippe that Aaron and Holly have renamed to “Silly Little Philippe”…

For lunch we meant to go to The Four Seasons in Bonnétable, or Les 4 Saisons as it’s actually named. When we got there, the restaurant was empty but for one table, and it didn’t feel like a great place to eat. It just didn’t have a nice atmosphere. Well, the waitress told us that the kitchen was closing up and they were done with lunch service, and maybe that was for the best. The waitress suggested that we go to a pizzeria down the street instead. I have to admit that my expectations for the pizza place were as low as they could get, but we were pleasantly surprised already when we came in through the front door. We had been wondering where all the town’s people were, and apparently they were all at the pizza place! The rest of the town felt a bit deserted, but at the pizzeria it was lively with lots of locals having a meal, laughing and chatting. We ordered pizza and it was good; we ordered dessert and it was even better. A miscommunication between me and the super friendly waitress lead to me and Kelly getting two giant desserts (éclairs) instead of one to share, but when we had resolved our communication issues with some assistance from the table next to us, we ended up getting one dessert for free. We were also treated to some green apple liqueur as a digestif, and Xavi, who behaved exemplary, got a bag of candy. He’s very easy to bring to a restaurant – just give him a piece of paper and a pen to write numbers with, and he’s happy for a long time! The waitress at the restaurant was really friendly and nice to us (our experience in most places; the French do not deserve any of their poor reputation) and we left from there incredibly full and very happy.

We went grocery shopping on our way back to the castle. We bought enough food to last us for the remainder of our time here (and then some…). We met the landlord, Eric, at the grocery store, and he advised us to go to the boulangerie (= bakery) in Torcé-en-Vallée to get bread, rather than buying it in the supermarket.

Swedish export at the supermarket: skorpor!

When we got back, we went to the mill where Eric, who is the castle’s owner, lives. He has a bunch of chickens and geese, and Holly’s been feeding them the leftovers from their meals. Kelly, Holly and Xavi went inside the pen to give them all our leftovers from the last couple of days.

The mill, where Eric lives

Pretty little waterfall!

Holly, Kelly & Xavi feeding the chickens and the geese

Well, hello there!


Aaron and I wanted to go for a walk, so we decided to walk to the village, Torcé-en-Vallée, to buy some bread at the boulangerie, as per Eric’s suggestion. We ran into him outside his house, and talked for a bit. He’s very nice and extremely helpful. We have managed to run into him almost wherever we go, a couple of times in Le Mans (and we were only there once!) and as mentioned, earlier today at the supermarket in Bonnétable. Now, he showed me and Aaron his horses. His wife and him have an Arabian horse and a little pony, but neither of them ride the horses. The Arab came galloping when he called for it, and it was so beautiful and majestic that it made me think of Gandalf’s Shadowfax in Lord of the Rings…

This is NOT Shadowfax. This is the pony… Shadowfax didn’t want to be in the picture.

We told Eric that we were going to walk into town to buy some bread, and asked him how long he thought it would take. He guessed about 20 minutes one way, which was exactly the kind of walk I wanted to go on. Perfect! And so we took off. We walked on a beautiful trail/dirt road in between the fields and groves of trees; the birds were singing and the sun was shining. It was beautiful.

This went on for a while, but when we started approaching a big road, I picked up my phone to see where we were. It turned out that we had been walking straight to the west, even though the village is located north of the castle. We were basically farther away from the village at this point, then we were when we started! So, we had to walk on the heavily trafficked road for quite a while, and someone honked at us even though we were practically walking in the ditch. Eventually we made it to the village, but it had taken more than double the amount of time we had planned on. At the outskirts of town we came upon a big rock that we’ve seen many times from the car, driving past it. Apparently it’s thought to have been put here about 5,000 years ago! I’m thinking it’s Torcé-en-Vallée’s only tourist attraction, so we took the opportunity to take a break and take some pictures.

The rock

Me on the rock

Aaron reading about the rock

This is the church in Torcé-en-Vallée


And then we went to the boulangerie and bought some bread. The lady in the bakery did not speak a word of English, but with Aaron’s help we got what we needed anyway. Mission accomplished! Then we walked back to the castle on the road that we normally drive, and even though it wasn’t as nice of a walk as the beginning of our earlier walk, it was a whole lot shorter. All in all, we walked for 7 kilometers (4.5 miles).

les-aulnays-longway

This is how we walked to the village…

les-aulnays-shorterway

… and this is how we walked back!

The walk back wasn’t too bad either.

While we were gone, Kelly took Xavi out in the rowboat on the moat. They were looking for fish and it sounded like they had a fun time!

Pics

Holly made another fabulous meal for dinner: lemon chicken piccata and rice pilaf. I’m going to be rolling home from this place. After dinner, Kelly and I went out to set a trap for the muskrats. Kelly saw a muskrat in the moat yesterday, and he also found a live animal trap in the dungeon. Put the two together, and he came up with the idea to set up the trap and see if he could catch a muskrat. The odds are pretty low though…

When we got back inside, Holly was preparing quinces for another tarte tatin! It takes a long time to get them ready, so we won’t have the tarte tatin until tomorrow. Then she had to go up to the attic to get the laundry that was hung to dry there (after we discovered the clothes lines the other day). She didn’t want to go by herself though – the attic is admittedly a bit creepy – so I went with her. The rest of the evening we sat and talked in front of the fireplace, drinking some sparkling dessert wine. It’s so quiet and peaceful in the castle at night, and the fire makes it very cozy :).

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Wine, cheese and a warm crackling fire

We decided to stay in and around the castle on Friday. We stocked up on food and wine yesterday so we could spend the entire day just hanging out, relaxing and eating. Holly started out by cooking a lovely brunch: bacon, scrambled eggs, fried tomatoes, coffee, tea, fresh pressed orange juice, croissants, pain au chocolat, strawberry marmalade, etc… It was fantastic!

We spent the whole rest of the day eating bread and cheese and drinking wine… It was raining outside so we just stayed inside; Aaron and Kelly brought in big logs of wood and Kelly made fires in both fireplaces on the first floor. Aaron, Kelly and Xavi were playing a board game. I played some on the grand piano. It was the most relaxing day I’ve had in a long time.

Lord and Lady Hubblé… 😉

Xavi wants to play the piano too!

Kelly & Holly enjoying their cheese and wine

Kelly is the fire master

Relaxed and happy Holly & Aaron ♥

Enormous fireplace in the sitting room

Holly cooked a fantastic dinner as well. She made Coq au Vine with mashed potatoes, and tarte tatin made with quince. I have never tried quince before and it was delicious!

Xavi is getting the most classic of American snacks: the peanut butter (and honey) sandwich!

Gourmet dinner in progress

Quince Tarte Tatin

Kelly is making it warm and cozy with a fire in the dining room fireplace

 

 

Château des Aulnays

Now let me tell you a bit more about the chateau. Château des Aulnays was first built during the 11th century by Alberic de Montmorency, first french supreme commander. However, none of that building remains today; according to Wikipedia, it was severely damaged by the English and had to be completely rebuilt. The current castle was built in the 14th century. It’s surrounded by water-filled moats and has arrowslits in all the walls, indicating that it was a castle built to be defended in wars. It was abandoned for some time before the current owner restored it and is now renting it out as accommodation and for events.

There are cellars underneath that look perfect for dungeons ;). If you go up one flight of stairs, you’ll find the living room, dining room, a small kitchen and a small bathroom with a shower and a washing machine. On the second floor there are two bedrooms, one of which is a library rather than a bedroom, and a modern bathroom in between the two. On the third floor you’ll find the entrance to the attic. One part of the attic can only be reached by a ladder, and the floorboards felt loose so we haven’t gone up there (yet). Kelly poked his head in there and said he saw a stuffed dog’s head mounted on the wall. I’m sure we’ll check it out more later… The other part of the attic is a room that you can go into. It’s possible to hang clothes to dry in there. There’s also a bunch of old stuff laying around in there, for example a box of dynamite…!

Château des Aulnays

Bridge over the moat

The moat

We are having it cozy in there while it’s raining outside 🙂

A secret door to the dungeons? We didn’t see it from the inside…



There’s a bell up there! And I rang it! 😀

The main entrance

Welcome inside!

 

Le Mans

This morning I woke up, opened my eyes and looked up at the antique bed canopy with colorful birds above my head.


Kelly had already gotten out of bed and gone downstairs; I could hear him and Aaron talking through the floor. The walls are really thick stone walls that don’t let any sound through, but through the floors and ceilings the sound travels pretty well. I went downstairs and gave Holly a big hug, and said hello to Xavi. It’s the first time that we’ve met Xavi and he’s 4 years old now!

We decided to squeeze into one of our rental cars (they are both among the tiniest cars I’ve ever seen) and drive to the city of Le Mans today. I was driving and Kelly gave me directions using Google Maps. We had lunch at Café de la Bourse right by Place de la République, and then met the babysitter that Aaron and Holly hired to look after Xavi for three hours. Then we headed to old town, also known as Cité Plantagenêt or Vieux Mans.

Le Mans is a very old city, located by the Sarthe River and the capital of the region. It was built by the Romans, and has a Roman city wall that is “one of the most complete circuits of Gallo-Roman city walls to survive.”

Here are some pictures of the old town:

Kelly, Aaron and Holly

A secret garden behind a door…

The Cathédrale St-Julien, dedicated to St Julian of Le Mans, who is honoured as the city’s first bishop.

The Roman wall

The Roman wall and tower

Aaron knows how to behave like a real Frenchman

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Aaron & Xavi at Place de la République

New trip – Château des Aulnays

Our friends Aaron and Holly, and their son Xavier, are currently living in France for a few months. They normally live in California, but Aaron, who works as a data scientist, had the opportunity to work remotely from anywhere in the world for 3 months. Holly, who is a French teacher, does not pass on any opportunity to go to France, so that’s how it came to be that they are spending 3 months living in various places in France.

For one of those months, they have rented a castle in the town of Torcé-en-Vallée in the department of Sarthe. Yes, they rented a castle. For a month. And they asked us: “Hey guys, want to come visit us in our castle?” And yes, we really wanted to do that :).

So after work on Wednesday September 28th, Kelly and I took the train to Arlanda and got on a flight with Norwegian to Paris Orly. There we picked up a rental car (pretty much the tiniest car I’ve ever been inside) and started driving towards Le Mans and the village of Torcé-en-Vallée. Well, at first we drove in the wrong direction… Google Maps had picked a completely random destination north of Paris and gave us directions towards it instead. But Kelly soon figured out that we were going the wrong way, and gave me the right directions to put us back on track – southwest.

It was a pretty uncomfortable 2 hour drive. The cruise control didn’t work and the car was the most uncomfortable car I’ve ever been in. It also had very bad headlights that made it hard to see, especially when turning sharply. I was surprised at how incredibly dark it was in every town. There were lamp posts, but they were turned off! Finally we came to Torcé-en-Vallée, which was a name we recognized as we knew that the castle is located just outside the village. We drove on dirt roads outside the village in between fields before we came upon a collection of very old buildings, and we saw the lights on in one from far away. We figured it must be the castle, because no one else seemed to be awake at that hour (it was midnight). We drove across the moat surrounding the castle, and there was Aaron coming out through the entrance to greet us. Holly and Xavi were asleep, but Aaron gave us a quick little tour of the castle and showed us our room. We went straight to bed and fell asleep almost immediately. I’ll take pictures and tell you more about the castle in future posts!

Last day in Lille

Monday morning meant conference and an early start for Aaron and Kelly, but another day of freedom and a well needed sleep-in for Holly and myself. I went to Holly’s hotel room at about 10 o’clock. She had ordered breakfast to the room, and it was more than she could eat, so she invited me to have some of her breakfast. There was so much food, that when I had finished eating and was full, there was still food left!

Holly and I went down to the reception at 11:30 to meet their AirBnB host. Holly has rented an apartment at AirBnB for the week, but since the host wasn’t able to deliver the keys until Monday, they had to stay the first night in a hotel. That turned out really convenient though, since it meant we were all staying in the same hotel the first night. Their host was a nice, friendly, young, French gentleman, who was tall and skinny like a beanpole, but who still carried ALL of Aaron and Holly’s luggage up and down several stairs as we walked to the apartment, and he refused to let us help. Holly was afraid that his body would break in half (she’s used to Aaron, who’s a big and strong guy).

The guy was French and Holly was delighted by the chance to chatter away in French, so the conversation was a flowing waterfall between them. I strained my ears and brain to the max to follow along, but I actually could follow what they were saying! I even managed to throw in a few words and sentences myself :). The apartment was not far away, just on the other side of the station area, and we went on a bridge over all the train tracks. The apartment building is connected to a huge mall and very close to the conference center, so the location couldn’t be more convenient. When we got to the apartment, French guy’s wife was there, so now there were three people speaking French, sometimes simultaneously. I still managed to follow, but by now it felt like my brain was in some sort of military boot camp, working as hard as it could. They were showing us around the apartment so there was context to aid my understanding: “Oh yeah, ‘aspirateur’ means vacuum cleaner, I vaguely remember learning that in school… like 20 years ago”. By the time they left, I could almost feel smoke coming out of my ears (okay, exaggeration, but I did feel mentally exhausted) but I was of course thrilled to get to practice French with actual French people, and not just by ordering wine from a waiter.

Nice living + dining room area

How cute! Like a hotel, only better 😉

Big windows!

View from the window

Aaron and Kelly came to the apartment on their lunch break. Aaron needed lunch, but Kelly was on a fasting day so he didn’t want to eat at all, and Holly and I were planning on having a fancier lunch later. At that point we were still full from the giant breakfast. So we went to the mall (in the building we were already in) and got Aaron something to eat. Then it was time for goodbyes, since I’m going back to Sweden today and the boys were going back to the conference. I’m so happy that we had this opportunity to spend a weekend together; it really means the world to me. Having such good friends so far away, we want to take every opportunity we can to see them, because who knows when the next time will be.

Holly was still with me, so we went out on the town :). Old town, to be specific. The plan was to go to some cute shops that we had seen on Sunday when they were closed, and then have a nice lunch before I had to go to the train. But, those shops were still closed and didn’t open until about three in the afternoon, so instead we were walking around for a bit and then had to shop and eat in a hurry. We had lunch at Le Pain Quotidien on 22 bis Rue Basse. Apparently I’ve still not understood that in France you don’t ask for changes or substitutions in a restaurant… Considering what happened at Meert yesterday, maybe I should have learned by now. But, I still cannot understand why it would be such a huge problem to bring me a glass of orange juice instead of apple juice? I mean, they have both of them, and all they do is pour it in a glass! But no. I ordered a meal that came with apple juice, and then apple juice is what I get. The food was good so I was happy anyway (I didn’t drink the apple juice though).

 

Holly at la Grand’Place

 
I bought some gifts for people back home – and for ourselves – such as honey, and truffle salt from Comtesse du Barry, a really fancy little specialty food store on 21 Rue Esquermoise, right next to Meert. Then it was time to go back to the hotel, grab my things, leave some cookies in the room for my sweetie 😉 and head to the train station. Holly helped me figure out which train to take and which train station to go from, because I was pretty stressed and didn’t want to try to do it in French. Then I had to say goodbye to Holly as well, and get on the train to Charles de Gaulle airport.

Someone had forgotten their camera on my seat in the train. When I arrived at Charles de Gaulle, I found some staff, gave them the camera, and managed to explain the whole situation in French, no cheating! (I didn’t have internet so using Google Translate was out of the question). They asked me some follow up questions and I managed to answer those as well. I felt very proud of that, so it was a nice ending to my stay in France :). The terminal at CDG from which I departed was pretty boring; I had hoped to do some shopping, but there wasn’t much of a selection. Instead the most interesting thing that happened was that I was asked to fill out a long survey about my stay in Paris. And that wasn’t all that interesting. I flew to Stockholm with SAS and it was an uneventful flight. I was a little disappointed that the flight crew spoke Swedish instead of French… I had a really amazing time in Paris and Lille, and with the best possible company, so it was sad to leave. But when I got home to Uppsala, there was at least one guy who wasn’t sad at all – Carlos, who greeted me at the door and wanted to do nothing but cuddle and cuddle and… eat. 

Oh, it’s pretty good to be home too ♥

  

Excusez-moi, how do you say “rare” in French?

After a few hours of walking around old town, and a brief break at the hotel where we discussed the ongoing Greek referendum regarding their way out of financial ruin, we were ready to eat again. This time it was a lot more frustrating for Kelly to find another blow-your-socks-off-eatery, because it turns out that EVERYTHING in France is closed on Sundays, and in Lille apparently that goes for restaurants as well. Any place he researched (and he researched a lot) turned out to be closed. Finally, randomly, we stumbled upon an open restaurant that looked very promising, La Part des Anges on 50 Rue de la Monnaie. People were sitting down to eat outside on the sidewalk, and someone had a cheese platter that looked amazing. The atmosphere was casual and friendly.

We got a table upstairs. The walls were covered not with paint or wallpaper, but with pieces of crates for wine bottles, and the ceilings were low. We quickly found on the menu what we all had been craving: steak frites. The waitress came around and asked if we spoke French or English; Holly said in flawless French that she and I spoke French and the boys English. I felt embarrassed and added that we only speak a little bit of French, which then made me embarrassed because I had just insulted Holly and her level of French… Don’t ask me why, but this evening we were all a bit – I don’t know what to call it – extra chatty? Complicated? Giggly! More so than usual. Or maybe it was just me. Anyway, we might not have been behaving quite like normal customers on this occasion. So we were giggly and probably pretty weird to start with, and then we started placing our orders. The waitress said something to me, in French, and I had no idea what she said but at this point it made sense for her to ask how I wanted the meat cooked, so I just said looked at her and said: “Rouge” (eng. “red”). “That’s cute,” she said with a wry smile and in a New Zealander accent, which made Holly erupt in laughter. I had no idea if I had just answered something completely random to a question that wasn’t the question I thought, or if I had just answered it wrong. After a (too) long discussion about the situation, we established the following:
1. There is terminology in French for how to cook meat, which doesn’t easily translate to English “Rare-Medium-Well-done”. I didn’t figure out the whole scale, but “Bleu” means it just barely touched the pan, “saignant” means rare (bloody), and after that, I started to get less interested.
2. The waiter at Café Constant in Paris, who told us that a rare steak was ordered by saying “rouge”, must have been messing with us. That’s just evil. It’s scary enough as it is to try to speak French… I definitely don’t need someone to teach me the wrong words for things!
3. Our waitress had studied in New Zealand. And was super nice.

When the food arrived, it was fantastic, as was the wine. We continued our giggly conversation throughout the evening and at one point the waitress (whom we involved as much as her job would allow) said that she wished she could just sit down and hang out with us :). When she made a move to clear the plates, I had one bite of steak left, and I pointed at it and said “You see that little piece of meat? I’m going to eat that.” Apparently this was a hilarious thing to say.

Well, I eventually finished my steak and then we ordered desserts. I ordered “Ile flottante, crème anglaise et caramel” which translates to “Floating island with custard and caramel”. It was tasty but not amazing. The island was made of meringue. Aaron ordered “Jeu de textures autour du chocolat” which means something like “Texture set around chocolate” and turned out to be a foresty-looking, horseradish-tasting… well… interesting dessert to say the least.

 

Super Mario dessert 😉

 
After this fantastic meal we stumbled back to the hotel. Tomorrow the boys go to their conference, and I go back to Sweden! I wish I didn’t have to…