Rental Cars, Toll Roads, and a Chateau in Amboise

Next stop-  The Loire Valley

We bid adieu to the noisy seagulls of Le Mont St. Michel with my $9 coffee in hand, and found our way to the bus stop.  We arrived in Rennes from Mont St. Michel on the bus, and picked up our rental car at EuropCar, which I had arranged through my CAA membership at home. I was guaranteed a Fiat 500L or something similar, and we ended up with a manual Hyundai – fully loaded including navigation! The 1 thing I was nervous about was navigating, as when we last drove in France was in 2012, and we used paper maps and it was a HUGE challenge. I had pre-loaded maps of Amboise, and the Loire Valley on my CityMaps2Go by Ulmon maps and Google maps, but to have voice navigation was going to be a very nice bonus, especially because Kalyna informed me that she was going to watch Netflix on her tablet and NOT be my navigator….. Guess what my response was!

While we were trying to figure out the car navigation, I inputted the Amboise address in my google map on my phone, and found out quickly that they had added the voice guidance feature to their offline maps!  So off we went to the Loire Valley with 2 voices guiding us.

Some advice when driving in France:

  • Have small bills for the Toll Roads- we were on a toll road for a distance, and the amount to pay at the end of it was €19.20 and all I had was a €50, and as the signs at each line are not clear as to which ones take credit card and which are cash, so as I was in the cash only line, the change I was given was all in €1 &2 coins! It was like I won big in Vegas, the sound the machine made as it dispensed all of my change.

    Which lane do we go to, to pay?

  • Also try to get food before you get onto the toll highways. The nice part to taking a toll highway is that there are regular rest stops, but if you want food, you need to stop at a rest stop with food, and the one we stopped at was CRAZY BUSY! The parking lot was huge, yet there was nowhere to park, so we ended up blocking in a semi truck in their parking lot, like many others, while we ran in and got food as quickly as we could then ate in our car.

    Where do we park?

  • Load Google maps on your phone before you leave for your trip. Now that voice guidance is available on offline maps, there is almost no need for navigation in your rental vehicle.

We arrived safely in Amboise and with only 1 hiccup when our 2 navigating voices had an arguement as  to which way to go, which cost us an extra trip on a toll road, a few loops around, and a side track on a remote- narrow and windy country road.  All things said, it was a successful journey, and Kalyna ended up helping to navigate and she surviced not getting to watch a movie on the way- something that this generation is clueless how to live without!

We checked in at our Chateau, Le Clos D’Amboise, which was a splurge for us on this trip. It was a chateau from Renaissance times, and was beautifully decorated. It also had a pool, which we were looking forward to being able to use after a nice day of driving in the country exploring the chateaux and castles. The weather was beautiful when we arrived, so we decided to have a much deserved pool break. To feel the sun and heat was such a nice feeling after so many days of clouds, cool temperatures and rain.

We arranged to meet up with Heather and Roger, whom we met in Mont St. Michel for dinner and enjoyed each others company as we got to know each other more. I especially liked eating with Heather as she is a fellow Sans Gluten traveler, as she is Celiac, so to feel not so ‘alone’ was a nice treat for me! It was also nice to drink wine with someone as Kalyna was not a wine drinker and had no desire to become one with me….

Look closely and you will see that the Galettes flaming with Grand Marnier

Amboise is a nice, small city with a lot to offer in a condensed area- hotels, shopping, eating, wine stores, a Chateau in the city center and is central to drive to many, many other Chateaux and wineries. I will tell you more about Amboise and its Chateau in another post, but here are some photos of our first impressions of this pretty city!

Great restaurants and shops on Rue Victor Hugo

Aerial view of Rue Victor Hugo and Amboise

Tomorrow we start to explore the Loire Valley and a few of its Chateaux!

 

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I saw DEAD People in Palermo! And so much more!

Dead people? YES we did see them, but first we eat and drink café!

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After a busy first day in Sicily, and even though we were exhausted by the time we returned to our room the night before, we still stayed up until almost 2am, so when I awoke after 8am, I felt refreshed, and HUNGRY! We were very happy when we entered the breakfast room to see a spread of Amazing food all set out for us at our own table! The day before, when we checked in,  I had told Rosario that I was “Celiaca” and ate “Senza Glutine”. I could see that he understood, and was MORE than accommodating, as the selection for me to eat was above and beyond my expectations! 20160917_020252In addition to the regular pastries, meat and cheeses, he had gluten free cookies, rice cakes, 2 kinds of GF crackers, and a soy drink that also was labeled as gluten free!

20160917_02124720160917_020602We felt like queens with the delicious and generous spread of breakfast items, and whatever kind of café we desired!

On our agenda for the day were 2 important things plus a couple bonuses: Visit the Catacombe dei Cappuccini, the Cattedrale, revisit Quattro Canti, and the fountains from the night before before we pick up our bags then pick up our rental car at 4pm.

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Our needs are quite simple, but I must say that we are very easily distracted by some shops we were looking forward to seeing in Italy! We did take at least 1 quick pit stop to shop, AND a stop for café and an Affogato, after which we continued to get our sight seeing done.

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From the small amount we had seen so far, we didn’t feel that Sicily was much different from other places we had been in Italy, but then we came across the Cattedrale. It was different from other churches we had seen, including the lofty palm trees. The Normans started to build it in 1185, and also has Gothic, and medieval influences. It is said to be a pantheon for the Normans, and has 6 royal tombs inside the church, a museum, and crypts in the basement.  We paid the full admission price to be able to also climb the stairs to the roof, so that we could experience the breathtaking 360° views.

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The inside of the church was was beautiful and different from any other church we had seen in Italy before- evidence that Sicily absolutely is more of a melting pot of ethnicity than the rest of Italy.

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Cattedrale: √  Now to go and see dead people!

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We used our app City Maps2Go to supplement the signs that we periodically found to direct us to the Catacombes.

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You may be shocked to hear that once again we were distracted! This time by Yummy food!

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One of the Sicilian ‘street foods’ that I was wanting to try were Aracini balls, and as we passed by this nice looking Café with some yummy looking deserts, we went in to see if they had anything gluten free. Just my luck their Arancini balls filled with ragu were senza glutine! YUM! I was hooked! For those of you that do not know what Arancini is, they are rice balls that are filled with a variety of fillings, including cheese, ragu, meat and peas, etc, then deep fried. Another ‘food’ that is from Sicily are granitas, a semi frozen desert made from ice, water, and a variety of flavours, somewhat similar to sorbet, but better because it is Italian….. We each bought one to go, and continued on our way to find the Catacombes.

dsc_0225The Cappucin Catacombs, is the place where the living meet the dead! Not kidding!

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The pictures shown were found on Google Images! I DID NOT take them, as they were very specific about NOT taking any pictures or video once inside. That said, I was very annoyed to see others sneaking pictures.  I am a bit of a rule breaker, but when it comes to showing respect for other cultures, I try my best to observe and follow the rules. Yes, Mom, I would make you proud in this instance!

We paid the admission fee and went down the flights of stairs, and instantly you were in a place very unique and eery. There were rows, and rows, and rooms, and corridors of corpses in wooden caskets, display boxes, but mostly they were hanging! Yes, hanging! Some were all bones, and others you could still see some features! I swear that one was watching me! They were all fully clothed.

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There are several corridors dedicated to specific people including for whom this all began for, the Friars. Also were corridors for priests,  women,  families, and professionals including lawyers, surgeons, etc and a chapel for children.  The last body was that of a 2 year old girl named Rosalia Lombardo, who died in 1920. Her body is remarkably still intact as her body lays in a small casket, which is roped off and displayed on her own.  So, yes we did see dead people in Palermo!

Before we left for Italy, I found very little from Rick Steves on Sicily, but the one thing I did find  was of him visiting Palermo and the Cappucin Catacombes. If you want to see more, please watch his YouTube video.

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On we went to see the other things on our list including Quattro Canti, officially known as Piazza Vigliena. The octagonal square is the crossing of 2 main streets in Palermo, Via Maqueda and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele.

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The four corners each have a baroque building, each with almost an identical facade, but each has a fountain and a statue to represent each of the 4 seasons, the 4 Spanish Kings, and of the patronesses of Palermo. As this is not a traditional Piazza, to which is pedestrian only, if you are not paying attention to where you are, or know of any history of Palermo, you can walk or drive past this square without realizing where you are.

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Our final stop before collecting our rental car was  Fontana Pretoria, the large fountain that we briefly saw the night before.  The magnificent Fontana Pretoria is a work of art done by the Florentine sculptor Francesco Camilliani in 1554. One of the things that I love about Italy are the fountains. It is astonishing to me how 100’s of years ago with none of the technology we have today that they were able to build such beautiful fountains, all with unique statues.

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This square was once known as the “square of shame” because of the naked statues around the fountain. It is located next to Palermo’s Municipal building, which is in the heart of the historic center.

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The Piazza Pretoria, which was not shameless at all, was a wonderful place to end our quick 24 hours in Palermo.  I look forward to visiting Palermo again, and exploring the many beautiful sights!

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