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On Monday Jared and I set off on a road trip, which was to prove even more of an adventure than we had imagined.  Our goal was the Chantier Médiéval de Guédelon, about two hours southeast of Paris, where a medieval castle is under construction, using original materials and construction methods.  Jared had been fascinated by Guédelon since seeing a tv show about it, and I was happy to find an excuse for an outing.

We arrived at Saint-Amande-en-Puisaye around lunch time, so we ate at a friendly and toothsome crêperie.

Crêperie in Saint-Amande-en Puisaye

That was the closest place my GPS could find, but the restaurateur pointed us in the right direction for the final few kms.  I had expected to enjoy Guédelon, but it was much more impressive and interesting than I had supposed!  I’ll post a photo set on Picasa shortly; here’s a preview:

Guédelon

Guédelon

This is the castle itself, but there are also many out-buildings, in which craftspeople prepare the materials needed for the construction work.  Wood and clay and rough stone are all found on the site; only limestone for the finer stonework has to be quarried elsewhere.  As in any historical village, the staff are happy to tell you what they are doing.  Unlike most, they are actually doing useful and necessary work, on which the construction depends.  At times the anachronism is almost disorienting.  We have all wandered around marvelous medieval buildings.  But who among us has been present while one was built?

By the time we finished at Guédelon the 7 pm target was no longer feasible, so we were free to see something else if we wanted. Jared had noticed a mysterious roadside sign on the way up — “Pont Canal” (“Bridge Canal”) — and suggested that we explore it.  The GPS really shone at this task, by directing us through a maze of turns and tiny streets, with no signs except at the very end.  Initially we were a bit disappointed; there was indeed a bridge with a canal over it, but it wasn’t terribly impressive (though the massive flood gates on each side of the bridge were rather mysterious).

Pont Canal 1

Pont Canal 1

But no, after we climbed the little hill we realized what was really going on.  The “Pont Canal” is a massive iron bridge, built 1890-94, carrying the Briare canal across the entire width of the Loire River (and its flood plain)!

Pont Canal 2

Pont Canal 2

Needless to say, we walked across it, then back on the other side.  I’ll also post a photo set of the real Pont Canal, in a few days.

What a great road trip!

Tranport Travails:  I suggest you skip this paragraph unless you have a strong interest in Franz Kafka and/or the Marquis de Sade, or perhaps if you plan to rent a car yourself in Paris.  I had cleverly rented our car at an Avis agency in Montrouge just outside the périphérique near the Porte d’Orleans métro station, to avoid city driving. This worked perfectly for pickup; the only wrinkle being that the Montrouge office closes at 7 pm, so we would have to return the car at Gare Montparnasse if we ran later.  I wasn’t too worried, however, since I could see no reason why we couldn’t get back by closing time.  (Hah!)  The drive home was uneventful, except for darkness and rain, until we hit a detour off the A6.  At first I assumed it would bring us back to the highway right after repaving work.  But no!  We kept seeing “Deviation 2” signs, placed far beyond each decision point.  For a while we were luckily in the right lane, then we stopped seeing signs.  Our eager GPS of course urged us at each intersection to turn around and go back to the A6.  Finally, after not seeing a “Dev.” sign for too long we took an exit and tried to bushwack our way back to Paris.  At first the results were tragic: the streets got smaller and smaller, and it seemed as if we were entering one of the dread banlieus!  But finally we saw a sign to Paris and we knew that we were saved … so long as it wasn’t leading us back to the closed A6.  After an anxious twenty minutes we crossed the périphérique and headed for Montparnasse.  But wait!  We had to fill up the gas tank before turning the car in to avoid insane essence charges.  It was after 10 pm and the Total at Porte d’Orleans was closed. The GPS led us to gas station after gas station, all closed.  Finally we saw a lighted BP sign!  We were saved!  After a fill-up we confidently followed the GPS directions to the Montparnasse Avis.  The GPS led us around Gare Montparnasse by a circuitous route, then announced that we were almost there!  But, alas, I pointed out that right ahead of us was the same BP station, and no Avis.  Jared asked at the BP station, and they gave us further complex but vague directions, to an entirely different location.  We followed them to no avail until — joy! — we spotted an Avis sign!  We followed it into a parking garage, down several levels, and pulled up to the Avis drop-off!  Which was abandoned.  We wandered around the garage and eventually found an Avis office that had closed at 10:30, and had no key drop-off slot.  A call to Avis support failed because it had also closed for the night.  Finally we left the car in the garage and went to the elevator lobby, with a plan to return the key to the office the following morning. Waiting for the elevator Jared randomly read a French sign — which told people who were returning Avis cars to leave the key at their office in the station lobby!  We did so, then with huge relief exited the station and had a random meal at an odd French chain called Hippopotomus. At the start of the meal I pointed out that we had to be sure not to miss the métro, but that we had plenty of time.  At the end of the meal we realized that it was already past 12:30!  We ran down to the adjacent métro station and were delighted to find that trains were still running!

Métro Delight

Métro Delight

All potential tragedies averted, we realized that our evening’s adventures were pure comedy.