Monday, February 08, 2010

Night train to Tours

Blog title in honour of the follow-up to the Great Train Bazaar by Paul Theroux, which I have been reading and the title of which I have forgotten. The journey being all, according to Theroux, whose son I am intermittently in love with when I see his bumbling self on the telly.

Anyway, I left Nice on Thursday night, on which, for accuracy's sake, I should probably call the night train to Paris, cos that's where it stopped. I settled on the train due to scheduling conflicts (stupid work) - if I'd taken a plane I would have arrived in Paris about 11 pm and had the stress of finding a hostel at night and then paying for it. It was a bit cheaper than flight + hostel + train to Tours would have been, but train travel here ain't that cheap. Anyway, I was in a first-class 4-bed women-only cabin, and it was not half bad actually. The berths were a reasonable size and fairly comfortable. They won points from the get-go by giving me a free bottle of water, a simple gesture guaranteed to elevate my happy bunny points by at least 20. If life was like a marathon with people thrusting bottles of water at me every km or so, I would be a happy girl indeed. Minus the running, obviously. The train was reasonably quiet, the only major drawbacks being that it was too hot and the blinds didn't close all the way to, leaving a strip of light at eye-level that flashed away with the motion of the train. I managed to sleep though, pretty lightly and not all night, but enough for me not to feel a complete wreck when we pulled into Paris at about 7.15 in the morning - this is more than I can say for many a night in my own bed, so can't complain.

After transiting across Paris and waiting for a little bit, it was train no. 2 to St. Pierre-les-Corps, just outside Tours, then train no. 3 to Tours proper, arriving about 10.30. My hostel - hotel, rather - was 1 minute from the train station and was bliss! a double bed in a private room. The landlady was lovvvvely and let me check in and shower at 12 pm - I didn't have a shower of my own and the shared bathroom was under repair during the day, so she even let me use the private bathroom of another (unoccupied) room. Très reconnaissante.

To fill the time between arrival and check-in, I went to Tours Cathedral, which is just lovely. As always, the façade was covered with scaffolding, and quite a bit of the interior was blocked off, but it was still amazing. It's probably the lightest cathedral I've been in in Europe (to my recollection, at least). I was lucky to have the only skerrick of sunshine I've seen so far on this trip while I was touring the cathedral, which streamed in through the lovely old stained glass windows and left multi-coloured splotches on the stone pillars inside. Talking of the stained glass, it was amawing, ranging from the 12th or 13th century to the 20th. And I had the place almost to myself, with only the occasionally loud bangings of the workmen to break the spell.

On Friday night I met up with some people off couchsurfing for a few drinks, which was nice. I didn't fancy spending Friday night alone, so it was great to meet some friendly locals and speak French all night, even if it was at times rather incomprehensible. (WHY the conversation turned to what to do on a French carousel - try to grab 'Mickey Mouse's tail' from the ceiling to receive a free ride) I will never know, but I suppose now I'm prepared should the occasion arrive.)

The centre for nightlife was in the old medieval town, where I also went the next day to wander about and check out the city. Some nice old medieval houses, and the remnants of a huge basilica to St Martin and its 19th-century reincarnation were the highlights. My fav part of the story of St Martin, Bishop of Tours way back in the day, like in the 4th century, was that (according to a wall plaque in the basilica), the people of Tours somehow tricked him into coming to their city and pretty much forced him to become their bishop. Doesn't really sound like the best way to get on God's side, but I suppose it all worked out in the end. His shrine is downstairs in the crypt and was (along with the nun-filled church upstairs) quite unusual in being full of extremely prayerful people. It's kind of sad when one can be surprised that a church is being used for prayer instead of solely by godless tourists, but there it is. The ceiling and the walls were covered with dedicatory plaques, many of them from soldiers and citizens giving thanks to St Martin for coming through various French wars intact. The tomb itself was relatively large and lavish, but housed only a small reliquary containing a thigh bone or something like that, which I believe was scavenged from the general destruction of the French Revolution, although it could be one of the many other upheavals that France has known, perhaps the wars of religion in the 16th century.

I spent another two nights in Tours, and visited the chateau of Chenonceau, one of the chateaux of the Loire Valley (although it's actually built on the Cher), and then caught an early train this morning to Paris, where I visited the Musée de Cluny and where I'm spending the night before heading home to Nice tomorrow evening. The rest of my exciting adventures will have to await another day, however, because my hour at the internet café is almost up...


  1. Stained glass is "amawing" eh! Is that another way of saying gobsmacking?

  2. It's another way of saying that zs and ws are reversed on French keyboards, smart-arse :)


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