You know how when you’re on a train and you see one of those nicely dressed young men in white shirts with name badges come towards you and you think “please don’t sit next to me”?
I won’t name the particular brand of religious missionary I’m talking about but you know the ones I mean. Well, today, I was kinda happy when one of the two young man who hopped on the train asked me a directionl question in French, to which I couldn’t reply, and then said, “Do you speak English?”. “Yes”, I replied and offered him a seat.
While normally at home I’d run a thousand miles before chatting to one of these blokes, I found that sitting on a train that I knew I had to get off soon, in a country I knew I was leaving, I felt freed from all of the usual inhibitions and was happy to engage in a chat about life, the universe and everything.
“What’s it like being a missionary in a country that’s largely Catholic?”, I asked him, to which he replied it’s better talking to Catholics than atheists because they actually believe in something. And when I mentioned to him I’d noticed how many flowers there were in cemeteries here, he said, “I don’t want to sound like I’m preaching” – “yeah, right” I thought – at which point he launched into a bit of a sales pitch about the attitude of his church towards life after death.
That said, he wasn’t hard sell. In fact, he seemed quite nice and left me only with a website card (in French) as a gesture of our chat together. As an experience it was quite interesting. I don’t think I’ve been christened without my knowledge, but of course you never know.
I had to catch the train to Fontainebleau where I was being met by my friend David. “We’re on a castle crawl”, I told him, though he didn’t instantly understand the meaning of what I was saying until I explained it was like a pub crawl.
David had invited me to spend a couple of days in the Loire Valley to enjoy food, wine, and the wonderful castles of this area. As we drove along we listened to the music we both enjoy, chatted at length, and even stopped off at a McDonalds where I ate an “Australian Speciality” hamburger. It can’t have been all that Australia with hardly a sign of beetroot, pineapple or fried egg in site, but it was still pretty enjoyable.
And then soon afterwards, we started seeing castles. I don’t know exactly how many there are in the area, but David has given me the awesome task of choosing those which we would view tomorrow.
We visited two castles today: Chambord and Chateau Royal at Blois. Chambord is a castle and a half. It’s very grand, and very beautiful. Blois is a little more simple, but still remarkably beautiful. As we walked around, David, who knows a lot about these buildings and French history more generally, filled me in some of the many details about who was doing what to whom and why.
What impressed me most about both buildings was the way in which you could walk around largely unhindered. Although there were security officers and guards, there was no one telling you “don’t do this” and “don’t do that” which was a breath of fresh air. We spent maybe four or five hours today wandering around these castles and I enjoyed the experience immensely.
Tonight we’re in the town of Tours where we’ve enjoyed a bottle of wine, some steak, and I’ve eaten bone marrow on toast. David thought it was horrendous, but I’m always willing to give new foods a try. With the exception of whale and some of those Asian specialities where they eat live animals, I like to try new food experiences.
What a great day!