Monday, 16 May 2011

The Loire Valley

This weekend I went to the Loire valley for a family wedding. We arrived late evening to a campsite just past Tours where we were greeted by R's family ready with wine and digestifs. After a warm welcome and a catch up we went to bed in the small hours ready for the big day.
The wedding was in a beautiful village on the Loire river where cars weren't allowed to drive into the centre. So we walked tranquilly into the village to the church. It was an impressive church very grand but not too ornate and you had to walk up the steps to its majestic entrance - a beautiful setting for a wedding. We were amongst the first to get there and so we got to see all the guests arriving and oh my they were a beautiful bunch. Fashionable and alluring young things turned up in incredible hats and effortless chic, and the older guests wore similarly stylish outfits, all immaculately turned out but with a bit of originality and character. The French really do now how to dress well. No canary yellow dresses here. It was a Russian Orthodox wedding which meant it was very different to any wedding I've been to before. The entire service was sung and they also had some tradition of wearing a crown (I couldn't see very well, we were right at the back). It was a beautiful service but, very, very long. Nearly 2 hours and we had to stand for most of it. It also felt quite exclusive and formal and not very welcoming. Children had to be quiet or else leave.

There was a break between the service and the reception so went back to the campsite to drop off the children and me as I was on babysitting duty that evening while the adults went to party at the reception (with lots of Vodka I am told). On the way back we stopped of at a chateau en route. Being in the Loire valley we were surrounded by all the chateaux so R wanted to profit from what we could. This one was the Chateau d'Ussé which was the inspiration behind Charles Perrault's 'Sleeping Beauty'. You can see why; it's magnificent, especially with all those turrets. You can just imagine Aurora going up one of the winding staircases to find the fateful spinning wheel.

The next morning, most of the family were up by 9 and were straight into normal mode despite the heavy night before. We had a typical French breakfast, full of croissants and bread and jam and instead of talking about insignificant things like the weather or what plans we had for the coming weeks, they moved straight into the important conversations - the recent assassination of Bin Laden and whether it was justifiable, the pros and cons of the French education system and the merits of other cultures. Not your standard Sunday morning conversations least of all on a hangover. Then that's the advantage of being French, you're taught to think about and argue ideas and take a interest in politics and the news. Say what you want about the French being arrogant, a lot of the time they're rightly so. It was a very interesting morning.

After these Big Discussions we pottered off to another chateau, Chateau Azay-le-Rideau which was a really splendid one although quite small. It's grounds were beautiful and great for the children, they played hide and seek everywhere and there were some brilliant climbing trees. It took my right back to my tree climbing days in the Oxford University Parks. 

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Wedding (inevitably)

I know it has been covered to death but I'm going to add my piece. I have been brought up a staunch anti-royalist and therefore didn't give two hoots about the wedding. Since the announcement of their engagement I've been asked so many times in France, 'Are you excited about the wedding?' 'How do you feel about the wedding?' I find this slightly bizarre as the French got rid of their monarchy over 200 years ago but they are fascinated by ours. The amount of coverage there has been here is mad. It's been in all the papers, magazines, television programmes for months. However my view changed and all thanks to Clare. About a month ago she announced her intention to hold a wedding party and though initially sceptical I gradually began to look forward to it more and more. I found knitting patterns for corgi's, all manner of union jack and Kate and William tack, started following the rumours about who was going to be designing the dress. And when it came to the big day, all I wanted to do was make sure I could watch it somewhere. So I met Clare and some other girls in an English pub to watch it. And got thoroughly into it. Although we were actually the only English people in there and they were showing it in French. Bof. Anyway, didn't she look beautiful, I mean absolutely stunning. What a lucky Prince William. Princess Beatrice let me down though, from this day forth I won't accept any comparisons between her and myself, she looked atrocious. Sorry Bea.
When the girls got home from school I showed them some highlights of the wedding, as they are obsessed with the idea of princesses, and they were both suitably wowed.
The party in the evening was a great success. Clare and her friend had made an amazing feast for us and luckily the rain held off so we managed to sit in the courtyard with bunting, a union jack table cloth and a life size cardboard cut-out of Kate and Will looking over us. A mini-Britain in Paris. Congratulations and thank you Clare for a wonderful night and bringing out the (little) royalist in me.