A quiet day again for the weekend, so plenty of reading and lazing about. In the evening we went for dinner at L'Auberge des Isles in Montreuil-Bellay, lovely restaurant by the Thouet river and under the walls of the chateau. Probably the best meal of the holiday, though Marcus' duck was a bit sinewy. Plenty of red wine and good cheer on offer.
Monday 1st August
Off to Nantes. Nantes has undergone a massive regeneration after the closure of the docks and shipbuilding industries, according to the Guardian they have done this through art and music but what we went to see was Les Machines de I'Ile, the centerpiece of which is an enormous mechanical walking elephant. It truly is a sight to see. We arrived just as the first ride on the beast was starting and watching it walk out of it's warehouse with 60-odd people on was something to behold.
We arrived early and apart from almost knocking a family over on a pedestrian crossing the journey was uneventful. Into the queue after elephant's departure (with almost knocked-over family just behind us; #awkward) and only a short wait to get tickets to the gallery and a ride on the elephant at 12.30 - this was a result as friends who had been there the Thursday before had to wait until 6.30 for their ride (and strangely took them 45 minutes longer to drive there even though they were 10km closer...)
Anyway looked round the gallery at all these weird and wonderful creations they have made, including a spider, caterpillar and ant that you can ride in or on. With each demo some members of the audience got to join in and with the flying Heron Marcus got to sit in one of the baskets - "but I don't know what they're saying to me!" he said to mum. "Doesn't matter" she said as she shoved him forward... He did look a tad nervous as the contraption moved, but he survived and said he enjoyed it.
Then it was our ride in the elephant - if you ever get the chance to go I would highly recommend it, especially if you have small children (or even big, grown up children), it's awesome.
Later we had lunch in a big, outdoor canteen. They only did one meal, salad, chicken and frites, but for 10 euros with half-a-carafe of wine or a beer thrown in you couldn't really complain (unless you're a vegetarian, but then the French seem to have a good attitude to that, essentially it's a shrug and 'fine, monsieur, please go and find somewhere else to eat, if you can...')
Then we went to the carousel, which was good but not as good as the elephant. After that we went to find a geocache as parental does that sort of thing and wanted to release travel bugs for Marcus and Charlie, and then to the castle for a mooch around. The castle was good in the sense that you could go into the courtyard and also walk the battlements and ramparts for free, you only had to pay if you wanted to look at the exhibitions.
Not much today either, though we did walk to the next town over, Louzy, to buy baguettes. This may not sound much but Louzy does not have a boulangerie, only a baguette vending machine. Yes, baguettes from a vending machine and, interestingly, they were probably the best baguettes we ate. Also did you know that France limits the price of baguettes, so they can't cost more that 0.85 euros? Every day's a school day.
First and last UNO of the holiday on Tuesday too. I'm not saying someone's reaction was a little over the top, but... And the Guru displayed a hitherto unknown level of subterfuge and vindictiveness - this was noted and filed away to return to at a later date...
Better in the backgammon, me up 57-55...
Wednesday we went to Futuroscope, a big amusement park near Poitiers. We were expecting a sort of sciencey place but in the end it was a more conventional place. Lots of the 4D rides, so moving chairs and water and air sprayed in your face - some of these were good, others less so. Also a few of the big IMAX cinema shows, and underwater one of which made the Guru feel seasick. Highlights for me were an excellent big screen BBC nature documentary shot in super high-def, it was so clear you were almost there with the mouse as it evaded the rattlesnakes and tarantulas, that and the dancing robots, where some bright spark had attached roller coaster chairs to those industrial robot arms that make cars, so flinging you around all over the place, they were cool.
Again too much food, we only really needed a snack for lunch but ended up in a place with huge plates of pasta, so feeling stuffed was not good preparation for an all you can eat buffet in the evening. Still, it was all nice food.
On the way home, near the gite, Julian's satnav again showed its cross country ambitions by taking us down increasingly local farm tracks until we ended up in a blocked off one way cart track in the middle of nowhere. A hairy reverse into a field over a narrow, rickety and by no means safe wooden "bridge" ensued, helpfully guided by yours truly - we made it, but only just, that's the problem with satnavs.
Rainy day so games and drinking all day. Final of the backgammon and the old timer takes it by 10 points in the end. Can't remember the final score but he was a worthy winner.
Saumur chateau in the morning, this was again a very interesting place, more a fortress than a fancy chateau that you think of in the Loire. Lovely views over the river from the battlements, lots of history there including visits from plenty of kings, indeed it was built by Henry Plantagenet (Count of Anjou and Henry II of England).
Lunch at a nice bistro in Saumur (with excellent;y suspicious sausages) and then it was time for goodbyes as we headed back to Paris on the train. Sad to leave and say au revoir to the parentals and brother + family. As always a long holiday was too short.
Trip back to Paris was uneventful, especially as we knew we were on the right train this time, and the IBIS hotel Montparnasse was much the same as we left it 2 weeks previously (the electronic key cards still didn't work). The Guru wanted to go for galettes in the evening and luckily the most famous galette shop in Paris (for Japanese people) was just around the corner, unfortunately it was closed for its annual August vacation, as were a lot of others, so we mooched down to the big crossing behind the station, near the famous and overly expensive Montparnasse 1900 bistro, we admired from afar and then went round the corner to a smaller, less salubrious and less expensive place.
Bus to the aiport, shopping and flight home. All regulation, no dramas.
Bloody hell Japan is hot and humid, can I go back to France, please...?