Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Day 2 - Dragging a Little and A Royal Abbey

Day 2 dawned bright and late for your jet-lagged Ramblers. After a very full Day 1.5, the crew did not manage to crawl out of bed until 10am. After puttering around, eating our local croissants and generally moving slowly, we hit the road around noon and asked Gabrielle to take us to Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud. The Abbaye was about an hour away by car, so we set out to drive across more French countryside to reach it. Given our late start, we detoured into Tours Centre (the center of Tours, and to Gabrielle's dismay) and had a little lunch at a local brasserie. Tours is a lovely small city of about one hundred thousand people.

Here is the beautiful fountain in the center of town.

And of course, what would a meal be without pictures?

The French can make even a simple salad look like a work of art.

Yes, even a simple salad is beautifully prepared. Your Ramblers also got their first lesson in tipping en franchise.   After lunch, we pulled out and Gabrielle got us back on the path to the abbey. The amount of traffic on a French interstate on a holiday weekend was a sight to behold because....well....it wasn't there. I guess gas prices north of $6 a gallon, lots of tolls and a great passenger rail system have their impacts.  Charlie Munger would be proud of the incentive system at work.

Upon our arrival at the abbey, we got the English audio tour devices and set out to explore. The abbey is under rehabilitation but it has been around since 1101 so let's give it a break. Why explore this abbey?  Well, partly because Rambler Hance has some people way back in the West family tree buried there--Henry II Plantagenet and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (according to the internet, "the Abbey Church was pillaged and looted by the Huguenots in 1562. There are stories that the royal remains were thrown into a nearby river and also that the monks reburied them in a secret location," but they were there at one time.)  Henry and his sons Richard the Lionheart and John of Lackland, who signed the Magna Carta, were all kings of England (now you know where Rambler Hance gets the 'tood').  The abbey was very successful and unusual for the times because men (monks) and women (nuns) were both housed there. Abbeys were quite the commercial enterprise and the Abbess (head was always a woman) had to be a shrewd business woman and politician to keep and feed several hundred people a day, and to maintain good relations with the local dignitaries, especially if they were important givers of money (similar to the job of a large university president today). After the French Revolution, many abbeys fell into disuse or were repurposed for other uses.  This one served as a French prison from the early 19th century until 1963 (the last prisoner left in 1985).  That obviously had a negative effect on some of the more beautiful components.  A major restoration project is underway.  Here are some pictures:

The effagies of Henry II Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine

The kitchen with Byzantine inspired architecture

The drive home was uneventful. Upon inquiry to the friendly hotel staff, we got dinner reservations at a local (Rochecorbon) restaurant. We ambled down the road and proceeded to walk into an empty restaurant. But not to fear, because French dining 101 says "no one is in a restaurant, and then all of a sudden it is full". Many restaurants are only open certain hours (11:30 -2:00 for lunch for example) and most customers show up at similar times. Once again, a we had a beautiful meal but a long meal.  (Rambler Darryl would be straining at the bit.) To interrupt patrons while they talk late in a meal with a bill or other questions is considered rude by the waiter as it interrupts the conversation; of course, by the end of our meal, we were playing games on our cell phones waiting for the bill to come. Your American Ramblers are still getting acquainted with the idea but it is happening slowly.  At the end of Day 2, we finally tracked down the waiter, got the bill and learned the second lesson in tipping en franchise. It is: THEY DON'T TIP unless the service was above and beyond. I guess we now know why the bartender practically jumped for joy, spouting "merci beaucoup" after your naive Ramblers left a 1 euro tip on a pair of 5 euro Coca-Colas.

Well, time for bed. Tomorrow is our tour with locals to several chateaus, a couple of wineries and a local French restaurant.

Until then, au revoir and keep rambling.

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