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France, Part II

Once we finished our week in Paris and Bayeux (click HERE to read that post), my husband and I headed to a city located in the Loire Valley region called Tours. This place is straight out of Harry Potter and Beauty and the Beast!

Shortly after arriving, we went to Les Halles de Tours—a popular food market.

I am by no means a picky eater. I will try just about anything and rarely complain about a meal.

Except when it comes to blue cheese. 

Blue cheese is the only food I’ve tried on multiple occasions and each time have grown to hate more and more. That day in Tours, my disdain for blue cheese hit a whole new level. The picture below shows a donut-shaped chunk of blue cheese. What you can’t see is that the blurry layer on top of the donut is fuzz. That’s right; this cheese is hairy. And apparently, people in some areas of France do in fact eat the extra layer of mold.

During our first full day, we decided to have a picnic lunch at the botanical garden. And by a picnic, I mean a baguette, meat, and cheese… our lunch-of-choice almost every day in France! I highly recommend this meal combo. It was cheap, easy to carry, and tasted delicious (no matter how many times we ate it).

We had low expectations for the botanical garden since the weather was cold, but it ended up being the sweetest garden we’ve visited! They had the cutest “mini ferme” (aka: tiny petting zoo) with little huts for the animals.

Later in the day, our baguette sandwiches wore off, and I was suddenly starving. And how do you curb your hunger when walking the streets in France?

Eat a pastry.

Below, in my opinion, is the best treat we had in Europe! In American terms, it was a Nutella stuffed donut covered in sugar. Those who know me, know that I’m a BIG fan of donuts. And this was the greatest donut. In fact, I made us go back for another one the next day.

Since we don’t last long in museums, we figured we should take advantage of our Nutella-induced sugar high and try the Musée du Compagnonnage. I don’t know if it was the sugar rush or the fact that this was the funkiest museum we’ve seen, but we loved it. So much so that we walked through it twice!

The museum showcases crafts and trade history. The key in the picture below doubles as a gun and the three pastry type models are made entirely of sugar. The pink castle was created in 1973 though, so I’m assuming it’s no longer edible.

The Loire Valley is famous for its abundance of châteaus (around 200 throughout the region). Based on a friend’s recommendation, we took a train to Blois and spent the next day exploring the Château de Blois. Each royal who lived there added their own architectural design, so today it’s an incredible combination of four distinct styles- complete with the most amazing exterior staircase!

The interior of the château is colorful and ornate. Check out the crazy tiled floor with the busy wallpaper in the picture below—not sure I would recommend the interior designer they used.

The next day we booked a tour through a company called “Ola Loire” to take us to three more châteaus. The guide was amazing, and if you ever visit the Loire Valley, I highly recommend them!

We started the morning at Château de Chambord. Our guide surprised us with coffee and pastries, complete with a wonderful view (shown in the picture below). This place is unbelievably huge. So big, in fact, that no one wanted to live there because it was too difficult to heat.

We thought the staircase at the last château was impressive until we saw the double-helix staircase featured in this place! It has two separate stairs so that you can walk up alongside someone else but not have to interact with them.

Our next stop was Château de Villesavin. It’s much smaller than Chambord and privately owned. The family still lives on the property and opened half of it as a museum. The tour also included a delicious home cooked lunch made by the owners!

Our lunch included local wine and cheese. Below is a picture of goat cheese aged in ash. It was surprisingly mild and tasted so much better than any other goat cheese we’ve eaten!

The final stop for the day was Château de Chenonceau. It’s beautiful, and the owner decorated the entire place with flowers grown on the property. Apparently, she puts out new flowers every two weeks so that the decor frequently changes and people have a reason to keep coming back.

The next day, we took a train from Tours to Lyon. After walking almost two miles carrying our very heavy backpacks we finally made it to our Airbnb.

And then we couldn’t get the door open.

After fifteen minutes of standing in the dark (the hallway light wasn’t working), we gave up and headed to a nearby café. Thankfully most cafés have wifi, so we sent a message to our host, hoping she could give us the secret.

Unfortunately, she took a while to respond, so we had to entertain ourselves somehow…and what better way than practicing frowning? It started when I told Cardin to make a sad face so I could take a picture of him with our Airbnb in the background, and ended with us laughing about how difficult it is to frown. You’d be surprised what suddenly becomes hilarious after two espressos and being stranded for an hour!

Thankfully, we successfully made it inside our Airbnb (turns out you just have to push really hard), so we spent the next day exploring Lyon.

During our château tour of the Loire Valley, we met another couple who had recently visited Lyon. They insisted we visit the Musée Miniature et Cinéma. It’s a museum full of movie set pieces—like a wand from Harry Potter and the hoverboard from Back to the Future. The best part about the museum though was the incredibly detailed miniature scenes the owner created. Check out the pictures below—you can hardly tell they’re tiny sets!

Later that day we took a funicular to the top of the hill to see the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. At the time we thought it was one of the most beautiful churches we’d ever seen…but now that we’ve seen the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, there’s no competition. It’s still an amazing church though!

We stopped at the grocery store and found a package of French Sour Patch Kids. Sadly, we didn’t buy any, but I couldn’t resist taking a picture!

Another friend recommended we take a day trip to Annecy. It was a two-hour train ride, but worth it! Everything was so colorful and unique! Including the bow-shaped building, the Palais de I’lsle, featured in the picture below. It used to be a medieval castle and prison, but now it’s a history museum.

Our favorite site in Annecy was the Lake. It’s one of the cleanest lakes in Europe and such a fantastic shade of blue! Unfortunately, it was freezing, so enjoying lake activities wasn’t high on our list. But that didn’t stop Cardin from testing out the local workout equipment.

This region of France is known for a dish called Raclette. It’s essentially a plate of melted cheese served with meat and potatoes. Raclette is delicious, but also one of the most filling meals we’ve ever had—plus the cheese was bottomless, so they kept bringing us more plates!

We headed to Cannes the following day, but I need to pause and brag about my incredible husband. Not only is he the best travel partner, but he also carried his backpack, our daypack, and our lunch during our travel days—no matter how ridiculous it made him look….

Once we dropped our bags at our Airbnb in Cannes, we took a sunset stroll and happened upon the greatest insurance advertisement.

If I had to sum up the South of France in one picture, it would be this one:

There were yachts everywhere. The boats below are baby yachts compared to the majority of them. We’ve also decided our new goal is to make friend’s with someone who owns a yacht. That way we can go back to the South of France and blend in… rather than being slightly pitiful backpackers.

And of course, we had to check out the handprints near the Palais des Festivals et des Congres (where the film festival is held)Click the far right picture below to see Sylvester Stallone’s gigantic hand print!

We planned to relax at our Airbnb the next day but Cardin found a cooking class at a local, Michelin-rated restaurant. As we walked up to the building, we realized the restaurant was actually in an apartment!

The chef welcomed us into her home/restaurant and we chatted for three and a half hours. The chef has traveled all over the world, speaks several languages, and worked as a personal chef on yachts.

Once the sun went down and we realized we were sitting in the dark, we finally decided to start cooking. But as the chef attempted to stand up, she suddenly grabbed her back in pain. After years of harsh cooking environments, she gets sporadic back spasms.

Despite the pain, she taught us how to make a delicious French bistro dish called Poulet à lEstragon—or Tarragon ChickenIt’s essentially chicken covered in a lot of butter and white wine. It was amazing!

Plus we learned several helpful cooking tips!

For example, did you know that you’re not supposed to wash mushrooms, and instead you wipe them with a damp cloth? Mushrooms act as a sponge and absorb water, so if you rinse them, they’ll end up watery. I’ve been making watery mushrooms for years!

Also, notice the package of pain medication near the chef’s plate in the picture below—we felt so bad for her!

The next day we took a train to Monaco. As we exited the train station, we were confused as to where we were supposed to go. We started walking up an endless amount of stairs since the city is built on a hill. We hoped we would at least find a pretty view of the ocean, but instead, all we could see were houses…and more stairs.

Eventually, in a moment of “hanger,” I insisted we give up looking for a nice picnic spot and made us eat our lunch on the stairs.

As soon as we sat down, a bunch of kids started walking by and stared at us awkwardly eating our lunch on the sketchy stairs. We were a bit embarrassed by our pathetic lunch location, especially considering we were in Monaco, but that’s just how traveling goes sometimes.

So here’s a selfie of us eating our classic baguette, meat, and cheese combo on the stairs:

Once we finally realized that the Monte Carlo was on the coast and not up the millions of stairs, we started the long trek down. Check out the cutest scooter we found below!

We finally found the Monte Carlo Casino! It was beautiful, but we couldn’t help but laugh at the bird cages housing iPads with videos of birds on them. A unique display to say the least!

The Monte Carlo is near very expensive cafés, all of which we can’t afford, so instead, we decided to hunt for a less expensive treat: gelato.

Our GPS said a gelato place was next to a nearby café, so we walked inside and almost ended up in another casino. Until the security guards stopped us and requested that we check our backpack before entering.

In broken French, Cardin attempted to explain that we were looking for the gelato stand. And in even more broken English, the guard informed us that the gelato place is closed until May.

We must have looked a bit pitiful because the security guard ran after us to explain another gelato place was open down the road. He did this by holding his hand in a fist and licking the air above it as if he was eating ice cream and pointing to the other side of the street.

Unfortunately, that place was closed too… It took us another thirty minutes before we finally found gelato. And of course, it was overpriced, but at least we found some!

As soon as we bought our gelato, we started walking up another giant hill.

Surely the calories don’t count if you’re exercising while consuming them, right?

Once we reached the top, we realized there were approximately twenty-five gelato places up there. If only we had waited just a little bit longer!

The view was beautiful though!

We spent our last evening in France exploring Cannes and enjoying the sunny weather. After spending three weeks exploring the country, we were sad to leave, but so excited to start our adventure in Spain!

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