Monday, May 07, 2012

The Super Best Tour Ever (Erm...)

Today, I had the pleasure of a visit from the very lovely Mary Kay from Out and About in Paris, who basically came all the way to Tours to cheer me, a stranger, up. Which is just about the nicest thing ever, so thank you Mary Kay! This was only the second blogger I've met, and once again, the Internet didn't disappoint. Mary Kay was great company, very easy to talk to, very polite about my Super Best Tour Ever of Tours, and she bought me lunch! What more can I say? Once again, it's fascinating to get to know the person behind the blog - as we discussed, it's strange in some ways to know so much about a virtual stranger, yet in other ways to be getting the "inside scoop", as there are always so many things that don't get blogged about that often you can be burning to find out about your fellow bloggers! We had beautiful, sunny weather by some miracle, so I gave Mary Kay the Super Best Tour of Tours Ever, also known as my slightly random excursion around the few sights that Tours, which is a charming enough place but not really packed with excitement for your casual visitor. If you want a sensible account of the day, hopefully MK will blog it at some point, otherwise here is a map drawn by a five year-old me, which you can feel free to use to recreate your own Super Best Tour of Tours Ever (or maybe hire me as a guide??)
I can't get these on the same line, so you'll just have to imagine:

We started off not far from the choo-choo train on the bottom-right, also known as the Gare de Tours, built in the 19th century by Victor Laloux, a Tourangeaux architect who also built several other buildings in Tours and the Musée d'Orsay, which supposedly looks a bit like the Gare de Tours, but you can tell your friends that the Gare de Tours came first! And hence is known as the Original Famous Gare de Tours.
Not a great photo, but I couldn't find any better ones in my files (I should note, these are all illustrated with old photos) From here, we walked up the street, past the legendary Bakery With the World's Biggest Pastries (which I forgot to point out, sorry MK) to the gardens of the Musée des Beaux Arts, where I showed MK the "exceptional tree", a huge cedar planted in the time of Napoleon I and Fritz the Elephant, who was travelling around with Barnum and Bailey when he became dangerous and was shot and stuffed in ?1904 and now spends all his time in the Beaux Arts gardens. I was amused by a little sign near Fritz saying "The Musée des Beaux Arts doesn't only have a cedar tree and Fritz the elephant, we also have works by Rembrandt, Mantegna, Rubens..." Priorities, people, priorities... Come for Fritz and stay for Rembrandt! Then it was on right next door to the cathedral, which I've been to many times but is still one of my favourite places in Tours, because it's pretty and I like cathedrals. The cathedral is clearly marked on my map as the square thing with bunny ears next to the giant elephant. In real life, it looks like this:
We then proceeded down Rue Colbert, a nice pedestrianised street with lots of restaurants and an Irish bar (indicated on the map with a wonky shamrock) where I informed MK she could go for Genuine Irish Men and Genuine Irish Cider. Unfortunately, it was shut on a Monday morning (whyyyyyy?) so we didn't pick up either. Rue Colbert also has the building where Joan of Arc got her armour made before kicking the arses of those evil Englishers (as indicated by a completely convincing sword and shield on the map. It's on the wrong side of the street, I should add for those of you following along on your iphones.)
From there, we walked through "Kebab Alley", so baptised by me due to the number of places you can stumble into out of a pub at 2 am for chips and meat (I would never...) and into Place Plum, known to its Mum and Dad as Place Plumereau, helpfully indicated with a sort of plum-looking thing on the map. Also a big wine glass, because the Maison des Vins de Loire (shut on Mondays, unfortunately) is near here, and this is also ground zero for drinking and clubs. This is the old town area, full of half-timbered medieval buildings, the best icecream shop in Tours, a tabac (cig shop) where dodgy people always ask you for change, and, in summer, lots of al fresco tables to enjoy a meal or a drink at in the long summer nights.
Place Plum
From here, we walked through the Place du Monstre, which is officially called the Place du Grand Marché, but everyone refers to it as the Place du Monstre for obvious reasons (and cos that's a much cooler name)
then through Les Halles, the markets, which were a bit deserted on a Monday, but I did get to point out what rilettes were to MK (a sort of potted meat which is one of the regional specialities), so not entirely a waste of time. Then we checked out the old and the new St Martin's Basilica, where we visited the Saint's tomb and I regaled MK with tales of how the sneaky folk of Tours tricked Martin into becoming their Bishop by luring him out of his monastery on the pretence of needing him to heal a sick person, and then how when he died somewhere else they did a night raid to steal back his body and bring him back to Tours by boat for burial. I don't know how holy all that was, but it makes for a good story! This is the yellow and black blob on the map, which is meant to be a bishop's hat.
Part of the ruined Basilica
The 19th century Basilica, also by Victor Laloux From here, we went back to Rue Nationale, which was destroyed during the war and, as I pointed out, looks like it never got rebuilt because it is all completely ripped up for the tram, construction on which just keeps going and going and getting on everyone's nerves with no sign of stopping. This was at Christmas - the lights and tree are gone, but the roadworks remain:
We had lunch at Les Farfadets, a traditional Tours-style restaurant that I've been to a few times. I had one of their huge potato-and-pork-covered "salads" while MK had something that looked much more restrained! We sat outside, which was exciting after the weather we've been having, and had a leisurely lunch washed down with Chinon rosé and good conversation, very agreeable! Lunch took so long that, by the time it was over, it was time to head back towards the station, passing by the Mairie/Hôtel de Ville, another Victor Laloux creation (you can see photos of the interior in this post). This is shown on the map with blue lines, because there's fountains outside (disfigured by roadworks now)
Then it was time to say thank you very much to MK for her visit and put her back on the train to Paris. I am really very touched that she came all this way to hang out with me, and I hope she enjoyed her visit as much as I did!
Some virtual flowers, real ones are in order really though!


  1. Why is there something on the map that looks like a crazed pig?

  2. I just realised its the elephant. That tree is the one that your Mum failed to see despite walking 3/4 of the waty around it!

  3. Sure it's not an aardvark? Oh yeah, you probably got pretty much the same tour ha ha!

  4. Sounds like a lovely day! M x

  5. Thanks for the flowers, Gwan, and for taking me on the "Super Best Tour Ever of Tours", which really is the super best tour! I loved learning about all of the secret spots and insider's tips - it was a shame that the Irish pub was closed though. Seems strange for a Monday morning, right?! ;) But what you neglected to mention are the delicious homemade brownies and Chinon wine that you lugged around with you and generously bestowed upon me at the train station. With the glorious weather, tasty lunch and spending time with you - it was a wonderful day. Thank you!

    I hope that I'll have the opportunity to see you again soon - either in Tours or in Paris. I would be pleased to take you on the "Super Best Ever Tour" of my city. Just give me enough notice so that I can start researching Irish pubs!

    After I got home, I found the info about the place that makes handmade wallpaper. It's L'Atelier d'Offard at 21 avenue Maginot, Tours and is open the 1st Friday of each month.

    Big hugs and thanks again for a memorable day! It was a real pleasure to meet you in person.

  6. PS. I forgot to say that I'm definitely going to have to return to Tours to sample one of the World's Biggest Pastries. With a dead elephant, huge tree, monster, St. Martin's body, famous son Victor Laloux and the lovely Gwan - Tours has it all!

  7. I love it!!!! Isn't Mary-Kay wonderful? It was so sweet of her to come meet you to cheer you up!! I'm sure that brought your spirits up because she really is someone special, as I imagine you are.

    I'm so glad that you two hit it off, not that it is much of a surprise.

    so...when will you be in Paris, Miss Gwan? : )

  8. I am totally printing this map out when we travel to Tours for a visit! A monster, a martini, and a choo choo train - what more could you ask for ?

  9. MK - thanks for coming, it was a real pleasure! I know, where can a girl get a drink on a Monday morning??? I'm glad you enjoyed yourself and the brownies! Let me know if you head back for the wallpaper.

    Ella - very lovely. I am working on Paris, hoping to meet up with my Long Island friend before she goes back to the motherland, so I will keep you in the loop if we will be going wild in Paris soon!

    Chickster - I would love to see you following that map around the place lol!

  10. I want to go on your tour too! More for the elephant than the Rembrandts, though.


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