Saturday, September 25, 2010

Visiting a brothel with my sister & other adventures

Worth it just for the blog title!

Anyway, my sister Jess visited me the week before last, finally getting around to blogging it because I was pretty tired & busy last week! We were really lucky to get some amazing weather and no strikes screwing things up, perfect timing!

Jess arrived in Tours on Thursday, & this was the first time we'd met up in about 2 1/2 years, owing to our various voyages around the world. After supplying her with a brioche and coffee and dropping off her suitcase, it was pretty much straight out to a cooking class, a bargain at 15 euro each! I had emailed the lady in advance asking if she could accommodate a vegetarian (yes) and if she spoke English (yes). As it turned out, she kept her end of the bargain by preparing a fish meal, but I didn't hear a word of English out of her & although she promised to try & speak slowly & clearly, I don't think she did anything differently! It was fine though, we arrived a bit early & she walked us through what we were going to do & I was able to translate for Jess. The final meal was pretty yummy too, sole soaked in a vinaigrette (which I would never have thought would work) and steamed carrots and some yummy little cheese cakey frittery things.

My effort at making lunch

Jess gets ready to tuck in.

After that, we came back home so Jess could have a bit of a nap, having had to get up pretty early to make the trip over, then spent the rest of the afternoon shopping & having a look at the sights of Tours. In the evening we went out to a cheese-themed restaurant that I had heard good things about to fulfil one of Jess's main goals for her France trip, namely eating a lot of cheese. We both had tartiflette, a dish from the Savoie region of France that is made up of layers of potatoes, cream, reblochon cheese and lardons (bacon bits, so none of those for Jess). I had had tartiflette when I lived in Haute-Savoie, but not since, and this was seriously as good or better than I remembered, absolutely delicious and washed down with a green salad, fresh baguette and lashings of lovely Chinon rosé wine. Jess loved it too!

Jess meets the Tours monster

The next day we got up earlyish and headed to Chinon, home of the aforementioned wine and a lovely little well-preserved medieval town (I've been before, you may recall). The goal was to head to a vineyard and do some wine-tasting (and buying). So it was off to the station to catch our 'train', which turned out to be a bus! This was really not made obvious on the tickets or the information board, so lucky we realised since the next one wasn't for hours. Our first call was the castle, which turns out to be where Joan of Arc recognised the dauphin of France as the true king, pretty cool!

We also made Jess's day by walking on some ramparts :

But we also encountered disappointment after trekking down to the castle basement lured by a sign saying 'underground passage', only to discover that you couldn't go in it.
However, this was not a wasted trip, because if we hadn't gone down to the basement we would never have seen the castle's feature mould! Seriously, this was hilarious - all dark, spotlight on this mould and not a word of explanation. Must be high-achieving mould...

Jess at the castle

Et moi aussi

View from the castle

After the castle and a lunchtime crepe and cider (yummy) we headed out on the 20-minute walk into the countryside to find the vineyard where we were going to do a wine-tasting. I think we did a good job finding it, since our instructions were to "go neither to the left nor to the right" - um, except for the bit where we had to make two right turns that she didn't tell us about! We're smart girls though, so we had no trouble and it was a pleasant walk into the Chinonese (?) countryside. The wine tasting was good, although it was a little bit like drawing teeth to get the guy to talk! All very good wine though, like everything I've had from Chinon. We got 3 bottles of rosé and one red (Chinon is particularly known for their reds, although they do rosés too and a small amount of white. Rosé is my favourite though.)

After that, we got the bus back to town and then crossed the river (the Vienne - this département has got a zillion rivers I swear) to chill out in the sun a bit and soak up a great view of the town :

Bridge over the Vienne

The Vienne

View of Chinon

After that, we still had some time to kill before the train back (a real train this time) so we went to the wine museum. Pure hilarity! It consisted of clumsy animatronic figures and a cheesy narration in English that sounded somewhere between a Birmingham accent and someone who'd been dropped on the head (and I know my dad will chime in to say that everyone from Birmingham sounds like they've been dropped on the head. Apologies if anyone reading it's from there, but it is a bit of an unfortunate one!) Oh, and it taught us how to make a barrel as well, we joked that we'll never be able to look at one the same way again (I could probably make a barrel too if I had a boy on hand to bring me wine BEFORE I WAS THIRSTY like the coopers in the display!) It finished off with a domestic scene between Rabelais and his wife, where we learnt some new words to live by - "drink and never die"! Well, it was amusing (glad I had a coupon for a euro off the entrance fee) and it ended with a wine tasting, so that was good! Bought another bottle of rosé there.

After a stop in a café (more rosé), we headed to the station, loaded up with cheese at the supermarket in Tours, and finally arrived home after a full day to stage our own little wine and cheese tasting (two goats cheeses, the famous Touraine St Maure and Petit Billy, gotta love that name, and a sheeps cheese) with my flatmate.

We went for a more relaxed start to the day on Saturday, starting off with a bit more shopping for Jess and then lunch (bruschetta for Jess and chèvre chaud salad for me mmm). I had put Chambord castle on the agenda, but we decided to stay in Tours instead of rushing around the countryside again. As it happened, last weekend was the 'journées du patrimoine' or 'heritage days', so we stopped by the tourist office to check out what was happening around town. Our attention was quickly caught by the fact that you could go visit the last legal brothel in Tours still preserved as it was when it was operational (in case that sentence is confusing, which I think it is, brothels are no longer legal - although they're debating making them so again - and it is no longer a brothel, but it's the last in Tours to survive in its original state). It was a pretty interesting tour, although unfortunately a bit difficult for us because all in French & I had to try and interpret for Jess, which is tough! One bitchy lady made a big deal of shushing me at one point, gave her a dirty look. I was trying to whisper and I think it was pretty obvious that we weren't just chitchatting through the whole thing, at least judging by the tour guide who asked me afterwards how I got on with translating! Anyway, amongst other things we learned that all the working girls had to register at the mayor's office and then after that they were basically prisoners in the brothel and only allowed out under escort for things like doctors' visits. If anyone disappeared from the brothel, the brothelkeepers would get into trouble with the police, so they kept a tight rein on them. There was even a windowless "punishment room" for recalcitrant girls. Sadly, since medical bills were the madam/pimp's responsibility, they would often just kick the girls out if they got sick or past it. Under the Nazi occupation, there was a German soldier stationed at every brothel who was responsible for keeping a register of who every soldier slept with, so that outbreaks of VD could be swiftly isolated and dealt with. The tour only consisted of two rooms, one of which was a sort of bar where you could come for a drink as well as to pick out girls, and the other of which had a secret two-way mirror into the first room - legend has it that the local priest would come to spy on badly-behaved parishioners, but it was most likely just for the shyer clientele. The brothel also had a system of bells meant to alert the prostitutes or the madam about the clients' movements, so that no-one should meet on the stairs.

After the war, the legal brothels were shut down, and it was meant to be used to rehouse people who had lost their homes after the war, but apparently no-one wanted to live there because of the odd configuration of the rooms (I think too many bedrooms, too few kitchen/bathroom facilities), so the last madam and her lover lingered on there for a while, from memory I think she died first and then he was basically squatting there until he died of syphilis. By that stage, the local residents rallied round to save this unusual piece of Tours history and it was bought by the Junior Chamber of Commerce, who are still there today.

Frescoes in the brothel :

So, that was something different & interesting, anyway! I don't think either of us had anticipated a brothel visit! By the way, we also stopped into the Tours archives on the way, which are in a very old building but they just look new inside. There was a small exhibition on early aviators in Tours, which neither of us was the least bit interested in! Some interesting photos of Tours before and right after the war though.

Saturday night we went out for dinner & I had the world's strongest onion soup. First bite, on a piece of bread, okay. Second spoonful, absolutely overwhelming! But my confit de canard was melt-in-your-mouth lovely. After that we went back to the guinguette, where we had also had a drink in the afternoon, and ended up sharing a bottle of wine with some very young French gentlemen! We were also amused by the band names - Bad Billy and F--king Butterflies! It was the last night of the guinguette, summer is officially over. :( Stopped in at another bar for a cider on the way home & got back about, dunno, 1?

Not a great photo, but the only one of us together - at the guinguette

Sunday was Jess's last morning in Tours, and I was a bit hungover I must admit. We tried and failed to find brunch (well, we did find one place that did brunch, but it was like a massive 3-course extravaganza) so just got a croissant for Jess and a bit of abject misery for me, before it was time to put Jess on the airport bus and crawl home to spend the rest of the day in bed. Fun time had by all I hope!


  1. Wow! Sounds like a great trip and what a great account of it! You must have been laughing a lot of the time! Loved all the photos, too. M x

  2. I will try to remember all the comments I thought of while I was reading this epic post.

    - I also love confit de canard and cheese and rose. I'm especially happy to hear that someone else likes rose, because I always feel like the only one!

    - The brothel museum sounds fascinating in a really sick way. Those poor girls!

    Glad you guys had such a nice visit!

  3. Epic, thanks! It was definitely long! Love rosé, it's not usually a problem here but at home it's so frustrating when places have only white or red on the menu!

  4. It was the best rose I'd ever had! Chinon all the way! I think it is hard to get hold of out of france though... =(
    Thanks for having me Jo! xox

  5. Pretty sure Dad booked me a flight to the UK with checked luggage - rosé for Christmas!:)

  6. Woo hoo! no restrictions from the EU either.... it's as much as you can carry!

  7. Its good to know I have two alcoholic daughters!

  8. In France, you're not an alcoholic, you're a connoisseur! I chanced upon a stat today at work - in 1970, French people drank 103.4 litres of wine a year EACH! Unfortunately it didn't specify whether they worked that stat out by including every man, woman and *child* in the head count or not! It's gone down significantly since then, but wow, that was basically an average 2 litres of wine every single week, and way more than that if kids were counted.


Feed the Comment Monster! Rawrrrr