Tuesday through Wednesday, June 14 through June 15, 2011.
Journal Excerpt: Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Writing this date makes me think how I'd stared at it many a time while I was planning this trip and it had a different feel to it then. It was very abstract. It was a bright jewel in the strand of days within a week in the future: close enough to be concerned about, but not close enough to be able to put myself there―to feel like a real day instead of a fairy tale fantasy day. Now, instead of a pearl set into a necklace that comprises a future strand, it is an afternoon, an evening, where I sit in a hotel room in Angers, France and type on my netbook after a long day of sightseeing. Halfway through my journey.
On Tuesday the 14th, the day after my tour of Fontevraud with Mr. Pierre Romanet, I left Saumur for Angers. I was glad to get away. Saumur had turned out to be quite a challenge--although I will always cherish the day spent touring the Loire Valley with Pierre and remember fondly the kind bus driver who helped the “Anglais en la chapeau blanc” get a taxi.
I took the TGV 60137 train to the Angers St. Laud station. The journey took just over an hour, and then I had a 20-minute walk to my hotel, the Hotel Mercure Angers Centre Foch. I only got turned around once in my navigation, mistrusting my sense of direction, but was back on track and at the hotel well before lunch. I walked through a beautiful and modern city center. Angers was rebuilt after destruction by U.S. Bombs in WWII. Why did the U.S. Bomb poor Angers? It was the headquarters of a portion of the German command in France, that's why. The train station and the neighborhood around it were destroyed, but the people of Angers were grateful to be freed from the Nazis. The city certainly did a beautiful job of reconstruction by creating public spaces that I wanted to linger in and establishing multiple museums by re-purposing churches and old houses.
Angers is an ancient city first mentioned by Ptolemy in 150 A.D. as Juliomagus, meaning “Julius's market” (Julius from the Latin and magus from the Celtic for market). After several other villages formed and were also named Juliomagus, the name was updated to Juliomagus Andecavorum, which means "Juliomagus of the Andecavi" for the local tribe. (Julius and Caesar were popular names throughout proto-Europe. I found references to Julius Caesar everywhere I went, most surprisingly in Zaragoza, Spain. You must wait for a future post to learn more about that.)
Eventually the city name morphed into Civitas Andecavorum, or “city of the Andecavi.” After centuries of translation, modernization, and simplification through its use by writers and speakers, it became “Andegavis” in the 9th century, then “Angiers” in the 12th century. Finally simplified to Angers. (I love etymologies, don't you?)
The city sits just south of the confluence of three rivers: the Loir, the Mayenne, and the Sarthe. This confluence results in the river Maine, which crosses Angers from the northeast to the southwest and meets the Loire south of town. Like so many ancient European towns, Angers covers the site of ancient encampments and is built on the site of an old Roman fortress. And, as in other towns, history continued to be heaped onto this pre-history in increments of hundreds of years: From ancient Celtic walls and fire pits to the occupation of castles and churches by Nazi commanders in World War II, and beyond. It is all there.
But to back up to what historians know of the beginnings of the city: In the 5th century BCE, the Celtic Andecavi made a home north of the Loire, which eventually grew into a hill fort. Some time later, Roman culture entered, and the hill fort became a large town with villas, baths, amphitheater, and a temple devoted to Mithra. As Germanic tribes invaded, the people of the town had to move to high ground and build a wall. This was the highest point in the city, and is in the same location as the Chateau d'Angers is today, hanging above the river Maine.
Angers received its first Bishop in 372, the same time that Saint Martin “The Reluctant Bishop” was elected Bishop of Tours. But Anger's first abbey was not constructed until the 7th century. I imagine that in the intervening time, the city was a mix of pagans and Christians. The Merovingians, from a Frankish tribe and later a powerful dynasty, arrived and built a second abbey in the 8th century. Angers grew to be an important city, weathering the conflicts between Brittany and Normandy during the 9th century and in 870 surviving the seizure by Hastein of the Vikings who ruled most of the next three years until he was kicked out by the Carolingian emperor. There is so much history! But more about Angers later.
I had a delightful lunch in the Mercure Hotel restaurant where the staff were pleasant and expedient. I was in desperate need of clean clothes and asked the server if there was a laundry service. He explained that there was a laundromat a few blocks away in downtown Angers. I was tired but determined, so I pulled my laundry together and headed back out. Once I knew I was on the right street, I asked directions from a passerby. (It's hard to remember that I carried a “dumb phone” in those days and had no access to GPS or map data.) I located the laundromat and came face-to-face with a wall of front-loading machines that had instructions in French and coin operation. With help from a lovely lady who showed me how to use the machine (it had been 25 years since I'd used a laundromat) and helped me find the right coins, I finished my laundry in a couple hours. When I finally got back to the hotel and put away my now clean clothes, the most I could accomplish was to eat dinner and hike up to the Promenade du Bout du Monde (the “End of the World Promenade,” referring to the 14th-century Apocalypse Tapestry housed at the chateau). At the visitor's center I bought a City Visit 24-hr pass, which covers all the museums in the city at a discount, and then crossed the street to the Chateau d'Angers to take a quick peek in preparation for the full tour the next day .
After traveling, doing laundry, eating two large meals, and briefly visiting the chateau, I headed to bed. I was tired, but excited about seeing the interior of the chateau the next day. I intended to sleep in because I had the entire next day to explore. I slept well until my alarm went off at 6:30 am.
At first I didn't know where the sound came from. It was a distant beeping. Eventually, I roused myself and staggered in the direction of the bathroom. The beeping got louder. It was coming from my toiletry kit. Ah! My travel alarm clock. I must have turned it on while I was rummaging around in the bag getting ready for bed the night before. I shut it off and returned to bed. As I fell back into a light sleep, I vowed that I would from now on pull out the little clock and put it on my nightstand even if I didn't intend to use it. That way I would remember to check whether the alarm was on or not. It was good that the alarm went off that morning, though, because it reminded me that I could use it on Friday. I planned to visit two museums on Thursday, but I wanted to tour the third and final museum Friday morning before catching the train to my next stop, Le Mans.
Journal Excerpt, Wednesday, 06/15/2011 (cont'd): Today I let myself sleep in a bit and do yoga in bed, which almost always means I drift off a bit in the beginning. I hit the shower at 8:00am but didn't make it to breakfast until after 9 am. The staff in general is charming here. The young man running the dining room, was quite cheerful, helping me in my sleepy confusion about where to get coffee.
“Un cafe?” I asked after looking around and not seeing a pot. He also hadn't been there to greet me when I came in, so I had the time to get confused. He explained, “Find yourself a seat and I will bring it to you.”
“How simple!” I said.
He laughed. "Yes! How simple.” He asked if I wanted it black and took off after I said yes.
I'm still looking for the romantic ideal of the writer on her own, exploring the world, who meets quirky people who want to help her and she is able to hire help when the locals are too quirky. She has support from people who adore her wherever she goes... Well, sometimes it happens: This gentlemen was very accommodating.
I was the last one eating breakfast and I didn't want to overstay my welcome. I ate less than usual. (Admittedly, it was not just to hurry myself. I've felt like I've been gaining weight with all the cream sauces―even the yogurt is more like cream than back home, and there is no “low fat” or “non-fat” here.) I then retreated to my room. Unfortunately, the cleaning staff was in the hall and it looked like they were in my room, so I went back down stairs and sat in the lounge preparing for what I would do today.
The young man spotted me and told me he'd be happy to fetch me anything from the breakfast kitchen. I should just ask. I thanked him, figuring I was good. I went upstairs again after about 20 minutes. The crew was still there, but my door looked clear. “Bon jour!” I said as I walked down the hall between the cleaning people. I dodged into my room and pulled together what I needed for the day, brushed my teeth, peed, etc. But I was worried about my left eye lid. I had an infection there that had grown from a minor bump to a second larger bump that looked nasty. I though I should be cautious. I didn't think I needed to see a doctor. I thought the infection would heal on its own naturally as long as I kept my hands clean and didn't rub. That's what got it going after I was attacked in my hotel room in Caen by a black fly.
He bit me both nights, and I never saw the bugger. I didn't realize he was still there the second day, or I would have hunted him down and killed him. I had made the mistake of opening my windows near the bay the first night, and that must have been when he came in. He bit me all around the hairline above my eye on the right side that first night, and nicked me good in the thigh, too. The second night he bit me near the corner of my left eye. It itched, and I rubbed it. And I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing. I probably got some dirt in there. So, long story short, it got infected. It feels better now, but I thought it would be wise to call the insurance company and get the name of an English-speaking doctor in Angers and in Le Mans just in case things made a turn for the worst.
I grabbed my cell phone and headed back downstairs to the lounge. I saw the same young man coming out of the breakfast room, his arms full of old mats and silverware.
“Is coffee still available?”
He assured me it was. I sat down and pulled out my paperwork and phone, and he was back with a steaming cup of freshly pressed coffee. Not the dregs from the bottom of the pot of drip coffee. Bless him! I sipped the coffee as I called the 800 number I got from Joy [Ed: from Tomato Travel back in Boulder, Colorado]. The number was supposed to get me support in France. However, I got an incorrect dial message. I had dialed 00 in front of the number as it had indicated on Joy's card. Hmm. So I decided to dial 001, the country code for the U.S. instead. Nope. That didn't work, either. A message told me it was not a toll free number and I would be charged. That sucked. I was pleased with myself that I had discovered this hole in my support network before I needed it in an emergency. I had another number I could call if I couldn't use the special in-country number, but I had to get an international operator on the line first and call collect. What a pain that would be in an emergency. I finished my coffee, vowing to try the international operator later to see if I could get through. I considered it a fire drill. Insurance. Call it what you will.
I left a couple of coins in gratitude for the young man. I assumed the coffee was part of my breakfast charge. I then headed out to the Chateau of the Dukes of Anjou.
I will always remember the excellent service I received at the Mercure Hotel in Angers. Such a contrast to that which I received at the Mercure Hotel in Saumur! I felt refreshed and ready to explore the chateau.
To be continued...
DK Eyewitness Travel Loire Valley, Copyright 2010, Dorling-Kindersley Limited, London, pp 72-75
Wikipedia on Angers