Last week my daughter had an interview in Le Mans. She drives but hasn’t had much motorway experience and since a five hour motorway drive probably isn’t the best preparation for an interview I offered to drive her. Before my halo starts to dazzle all and sundry, I fancied spending a night in Tours, which I’d only ever driven through hurrying to or from Calais, and visiting one or two of the Loire châteaux.
The old part of Tours is very pretty and deserves a much longer visit. I had no idea there was such a thing as an official list of Les Arbres Remarquable de France, but there is, and one of them is a magnificent cedar in the garden of the Musée des Beaux Arts. The cathedral alone justifies a visit to Tours, it’s a beautiful gothic structure with a stunning facade and beautiful stained glass windows. How so much 13th century glass survived the revolution and various wars, heaven only knows, but what really took my breath away was the Rose window described somewhat snottily as ‘dating from 200 years later than the windows in the sanctury.” OK, so it’s a mere 600 years old but with the setting sun coming through it, it was fabulous.
We also lost our hearts to this tomb for the children of Charles VIII and Anne de Bretagne:The next day was spent visiting Châteaux des Amboise and Chenonceau – both gorgeous and both crowded, especially Chenonceau which we went to in the afternoon.
I appreciate that these châteaux cost a fortune to maintain and they need lots of visitors and their entrance fees to keep them going, but, at the risk of sounding like Mrs Grumpy I’ve got to ask, Why do so many of the visitors bring young children with them? I’ve got children, they were young once, and we went to all sorts of places. Places I thought all of us would enjoy; the Natural History and Science museums, animal parks and gardens, ruins and woods, I don’t think any of them were dragged around to look at houses, picture galleries or historical interiors until they were at least eight or nine because they’d have been profoundly uninterested. And an uninterested child is usually a pain in the neck – to their parents and to a lot of the people around them.
At Chenonceau there were children in pushchairs who were being carried up to the first and second floors, while their only slightly older brothers and sisters plodded behind. They weren’t enjoying themselves, their parents looked at the end of their tethers, it was stinking hot and more than one fractious quarrel between small siblings broke out. You couldn’t help thinking that their parents would have had a much nicer time if they’d taken it in turns to entertain the children in the child-friendly grounds while the other had a look around on their own.
Fair enough, sometimes children do have to tag along with their parents; what got this Mrs Grumpy really hot under her collar were the photographers. Every viewpoint has a crowd standing there and fiddling with a camera with an extremelylong lens for ages, you get the feeling that some people have lost the ability to see anything with their eyes, they can only view through a camera. In the cathedral in Tours there were people walking in and up the aisle with their cameras pressed to their faces, clicking away, never stopping to gaze, to admire, to wonder, to be moved; just press, click, frame the next shot.
Chenonceau is famous for the gallery that straddles the river Cher –
and on the far side it opens onto a lovely shady walk along the river. For the first fifty metres the path was crowded with tourists snapping away, after that there was literally no-one. No-one who felt like seeing the Château from a distance, no-one who thought the woods were part of the experience of the visit, no-one who was simply enjoying the pleasure of walking by a river on a beautiful day. All they wanted was to take their photos; depressingly you also know that no matter how long the lens was, most of them probably weren’t that good anyway.
The final straw was coming down a narrow stone staircase from the second floor which was only just wide enough to allow two streams of people going in both directions. A man had stopped on the second step, blocking the way completely, and was focusing his camera on the very ordinary stone ceiling. I snarled to my daughter, not very sotto voce, ‘Why doesn’t he buy an effing postcard?’ He must have been or understood English for the camera disappeared immediately.
Result! But not the best one.
My daughter got the job.