Saturday, August 14, 2004

La Loire

We were on the way to Amboise from Dinan, leaving the countryside of Normandy and Bretagne behind for the Loire valley.

The day was going to be a long one: up early to catch the bus to Rennes, and several trains from Rennes to Amboise. But we were now half-way there, and we were beginning to relax in our seats as the train sped towards the Loire.

There was a woman sitting in front of us with her daughter. Or perhaps it was her grand daughter. The woman was white and quite large. The girl was black and skinny and young.

Out the windows, fields and forest were speeding by. And then the train went over a bridge and out over a wide, slow-moving river that glistened in the sun.

The woman called the girl to the window.

Vites! she said.

The girl dashed over and sat next to the woman by the window. The woman leaned over close to the girl and pushed their heads to the window.

Regardes! she said. C'est La Loire!

Trip to France - Day 9
crossing the Loire

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A Long Trip to Amboise

We knew the drip from Dinan to Amboise was going to be a difficult one. We hadn't been able to figure out exactly how we were going to do it before we got there, because the train and bus schedules that we could find on the web were just not sufficient.

But Madame Ronsseray who runs Le Logis du Jerzual in Dinan helped us iron out the most vexing piece: how to get to Rennes in time to catch the train to Amboise. She called us a taxi in the morning to take us to the bus stop. The bus slowly threaded its way along two-lane roads thru the countryside of Bretagne.

The view out the windows was even more pastoral than the view out the trains had been. There was no graffiti. There were no power lines or gravel-lined railroad tracks. There were no train stations. Just the narrow strip of asphalt and green fields on either side.

Several times, the bus has to slow down and wait for a break in the traffic so that we could pass some bicyclists sharing the road. The last stop on the route was the train station in Rennes.

But that was just the beginning. From Rennes we took the TGV to LeMans. The ride was very smooth, and we got there quickly. Then we waited an hour or so for the next train to Tours. Although it wasn't a TGV, it too was smooth and the time passed quickly. Then we waited an hour or so for the train to Amboise, which wasn't many stops up the line from Tours to Paris.

By the time was got to Amboise, it was evening. And we had a walk ahead of us to find the hotel, which proved elusive in spite of the fact that two guys at the train station explained how to get there and highlighted the route on a map of the city for us.

Once we got settled in, we had dinner and we walked along the banks of the slow-moving Loire. And then, as we had been doing so many times on this trip, before daylight had left the sky, we collapsed into our beds and went to sleep.

Trip to France - Day 9
Dinan to Amboise

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A Taxi to the Bus Stop

It was drizzling when we woke up. It was early in the morning (although not too early to have croissants and jam and coffee before we left). And the light of the cloud-filled day was dim.

We had walked from the train station to Le Logis du Jerzual only yesterday afternoon, but Madame RonseraiRonsseray didn't even ask if we were planning to walk or not today. She just arranged for a taxi to take us to the bus station.

We had spoken to her before about how travelling to Amboise was going to be difficult, since it was Sunday and the train schedules didn't work out (one arriving at Rennes after the second would leave for Amboise). And she had told us that there was a bus and that she would look into its schedule, which she did. The bus she found would take us to Rennes instead of the train. And from there we could catch the train to Amboise.

All the details were falling in place. Although it was raining, a taxi would soon arrive to pick us up. And although it was going to be a very long day getting to Amboise, we no longer needed to worry whether we might not be able to get where we needed to go.

When the taxi arrived, the drizzle had turned to rain. We were grateful that Madame RonseraiRonsseray had not asked. We handed the driver our bags, thinking how miserable it would have been walking back up the steep cobblestone streets in search of the bus station on foot. We climbed into the dry car happy to let the driver take us there, even though the distance was small.

The bus station turned out to be a bus stop at the edge of a plaza in the middle of Dinan. It was Sunday, but traffic on the road was beginning to pick up as if it were a weekday. Cars came into the plaza and drove around the circle past the bus stop and disappeared in some other direction into the city. The driver drove around the circle and stopped in front of the bus stop. He went to the trunk and got our bags and put them under the shelter out of the rain. And he showed me the schedules that were hanging on the plexiglass walls, explaining that the buses were running on their Sunday schedule and pointing out the next arrival time.

He told me how much I owed him, and I offered him a 10€ bill. He wouldn't take it, and gave me some change. In the end, I think he took less from me than he had told me it cost. And then he drove thirty feet up the road and pulled next to another taxi that was sitting there.

Meanwhile, I turned and walked back to the schedules. I pointed to show Trudy what the driver had shown me, but I couldn't find the arrival time. I stepped back to get a better look (not having my reading glasses), and as I did so a man who had been standing nearby watching our arrival walked up and gestured to a different schedule from the one I was pointing at.

Ici, he said with a friendly smile on his face, and he pointed at the next bus arrival time.

Merci! I said.

A few minutes later, a bus pulled up. We stashed our bags underneath, climbed on, paid the bus driver, and settled into three comfortable seats near the front.

We were on our way to Rennes.

Trip to France - Day 9

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I Could Taste It

Years ago, when studying for a final exam in Real Analysis, spending many hours of many days cloistered in a cubicle in the corner of the library studying theorems and proofs, I briefly felt a hint of what it must be like to be a mathematician.

It was only brief, lasting an evening, or a day perhaps at most. The pieces (little pieces) fell into place. Theorems decomposed themselves into Lemmas, and the steps to proving the Lemmas seemed less like forcing the mathematics to yield the desired result and more like shedding light on what was obvious.

It was only a glimpse. Just a moment. But I could taste it.

This evening, while standing at the gates in the walls of old Dinan, after having walked along the periphery to reach them, I briefly felt a hint of what it must have been like to live in the days when those walls were built.

It was only a moment, lasting a few minutes at most. We stood there outside the archway next to great hinge-posts the size of a man's forearm where once great gates hung from the stone. Our heads were bent back looking at the ramparts overhead. We stood between the two towers that flanked the approach to the city.

At this place, the Dukes of Brittany defended their claims to the land. And for a moment, feeling tiny before the walls and the gate, feeling how hopeless it might be if the gates were shut and the walls held against me, I understood what it might have been like back then to stake a different claim.

It was only a glimpse. Just a moment. But I could taste it.

Trip to France - Day 8

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