The bus flew past, and for a moment I was too stunned to react. Then I yelled, but if anything, the driver accelerated. “I can’t believe it,” I told Pat, “We’re not going.”
Six months of anticipation. For naught.
Pat uncharacteristically whipped into problem solving mode, something that is neither his strength nor his role, but he knew how much this trip meant to me.
-“It’s 10 miles.”
-“We’ll take the next bus.”
-“The next one’s tomorrow.”
-“Can we stay an extra day?”
-“Yes… No.” (Yes, we could. No, I didn’t want to.)
I had come to the town of Saumur in the Loire Valley for one reason: to see the grave of Eleanor of Aquitaine at Fontevraud Abbey. Sans car, Saumur is the closest village to the abbey with a bus connection.
Pat suggested we ask for help at the Tourist Information center. We had stopped there on our way from the train station, and a woman had given me the bus schedule to Fontevraud.
“Why not,” I shrugged.
As we walked, I admitted the trip to Saumur wasn’t a complete loss. Our arrival evening, we had eaten a delicious meal in the square surrounded by crooked, 500-year-old, post and beam buildings and a massive stone church. The server recommended a local wine, which we had loved.
That night, I googled the vineyard and discovered it was five miles away. A plan was hatched: We would rent bikes and go there. The next day under a cloudless sky, we pedaled through caves, past 1000-year-old churches and around miles of grape-ladened vines.
We arrived at Château de Targé just as three other couples were starting a tasting. One couple was British but lived in the UAE, and this was their honeymoon. One pair was Dutch. The third was German. Each had come to Château de Targé after drinking their wine the night before. Four disjointed dinners had connected eight travelers for one mesmerizing hour. Ah, the miracle of the grape.
Ultimately, Pat and I bought two bottles, stuffed one into each of our backpacks, waved goodbye and pedaled off.
On the way back to Saumur, we stopped at a church and chatted with a Scottish couple who were staying in the village. In a field, we met a Frenchman who was napping in his car. He asked if it was true that American policemen drove cars with automatic transmissions, and we assured him it was. He shook his head in disbelief. Those were the only words we exchanged.
We parked our bikes in one of the caves that are famous in this area of the Loire. For a moment, we basked in the cool respite of a blazing hot day. A glorious day.
The second–and final–day of our trip was devoted to Fontevraud. As the bus careened out of sight, Pat nudged me. “C’mon. We can solve this.”
Recently, I’ve come to rely on Tourist Information offices. The people who staff them are founts of knowledge about obscure sites you might otherwise overlook. And they excel at transportation solutions.
We explained our dilemma to the same woman who had given us the bus schedule two days earlier. “I can call a taxi. It will cost 30 euros.”
Before I could react, Pat said, “Thank you. That’s perfect.”
Within the hour, I was standing at the gravesite of Eleanor: Duchess of Aquitaine. Queen of France. Queen of England. Mother of Richard the Lion-Hearted. “There’s no reason to rush,” I told Pat, “I only came to stand here.”
The abbey grounds were the size of a village. With two hours to kill before the return bus, we strolled through the kitchen gardens and past a network of outbuildings. For several minutes, we sat alone in a copse of trees. I recounted Eleanor’s life for Pat. He gamely listened.
The abbey was everything I’d hoped it would be. Yet if I’m honest with myself, it was a travel day indistinguishable from so many of the past seven years. I’m quite certain in ten years time if someone asks me about the Loire, I’ll recount a serendipitous day when strangers came together for one brief moment as friends–and tasted wine.
A day the travel Gods smiled.
Categories: Life in Paris