The second part of our trip involved traveling a few hours south of Paris to the Loire Valley to visit chateaus (specifically three due to restraints with a roaming toddler). There, we met up with some dear friends who drove all the way from Paris to meet us at Leonardo da Vinci's house (aka Clos Lucé). We went to see the Chateau d'Amboise afterwards, which was just a walk away. The chateau was located inside the adorable historic town of Amboise, that had the most delicious pastries and hot chocolate inside one of the oldest patisserie around. The next day, we traveled to see the Chateau & Jardins de Villandry -- our little one enjoyed frolicking around the many perfectly manicured gardens as though he were the little white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland and then proceeded to discover a hidden playground with a group of school children who lovingly took him in as one of their own. The last chateau we "visited" was more of a sighting, as it was already closed by the time we arrived (sigh). It was the Chateau de Chenonceau, located on the water and known as one of the most beautiful of chateaus. We ended up taking a detour down towards the water to see it longingly from afar.
During the extent of our travels in the Loire Valley, we stayed in the tiny town of Oisly at La Pillebourdiere. This facility used to be a barn house, which has been converted into five rooms, each unique and newly renovated. It is a bed and breakfast owned by the kindest, sweetest woman who could be just about anybody's Grandma. Little J was spoiled rotten by her. Her name was Sue and she made us a complete breakfast each morning with much care and affection-- from crispy croissants picked up from the local baker to freshly brewed coffee and tea, all the way down to her homemade yogurt, fruits and freshly squeezed orange juice. She also played tour guide in recommending the tastiest restaurants to tourist suggestions, along with personalized discount coupons. Unfortunately, she will be retiring back in England in the next couple of years, so if you are interested in staying here, please book asap!
From there on, we headed 4 hours east towards the city of Lyon-- thee birthplace of gastronomy. Lyon had a mild resemblance to Paris, but on a much smaller, simpler scale, though still quite beautiful. We stayed in Lyon for a night to try the local Lyonnais cuisine, but were a bit disappointed. Perhaps the flavor of the foods were more suitable for the locals than tourists, but found the traditional cuisine to be rather heavy (think calf brains and innards cooked in butter). It wasn't bad, but probably not something we would go back to for a second helping. The non-traditional food however, was probably more suitable for our Californian palate.
What I love most about venturing outside the country is meeting new people. The people of Lyon were very friendly and accommodating. The saying that all French people are rude is like saying all Americans are obese-- I believe that there are rude people everywhere, and sure we encountered some during our vacation, but it reminds me that we live in an imperfect world with broken people in need of love...I believe it's something we can all relate on. While dining at a restaurant, we met a colorful group of people, one being a darling older woman with a cute dog who turned out to be part of the touring cast for a play that was showing in the city. And then back at our hotel, there was a girl interning from China! She was ecstatic to discover that our roots were from the same Motherland. My favorite part of the city was trekking up the winding hill with our stroller (we took turns) to see the Basilique de Fourvière, the most breathtaking church I've seen. The interior was gilded with gold and accented with hand-painted stars. In order to keep Little J occupied, I had him look for all the hidden stars, which he made loud and clear once they were found.
From there on, we hit the road once again to travel Southbound towards the Provence region...