The long road home

At the end of our ‘Day of the Chateaux’ and back on board, the Loire Princesse started her journey back towards Nantes, and our stay for the night was back in Chalonnes sur Loire.

Loire Princesse at her mooring
Loire Princesse at her mooring

The next morning there was another bus tour, and another wine tasting, and a drive along the levees along the Loire know as the Angevine. Given the previous long day and Dennis’ back protesting the idea of another few hours of bus riding, we opted out of the tour and decided to spend the half-day we had in port exploring Chalonnes sur Loire.

typical street in Chalonnes
typical street in Chalonnes

One of the nicer things about this river cruise was how ‘untouristy’ most of the places we visted really were – certainly there were plenty of tourists in and around the chateaux, but the towns themselves haven’t lost their local character and become full of nothing but shops selling postcards, refrigerator magnets and tee shirts.

Bateaux along the riverbank
Bateaux along the riverbank
local flower shop
local flower shop

Chalonnes sur Loire is decidedly NOT a tourist town and we enjoyed just strolling around and checking out the local market, the one tourist attraction – a mini-train vineyard tour, and finding our way into the business district to take care of a few chores like getting some extra Euros for our upcoming train trip.

Train visit to the vineyards
Train visit to the vineyards
the mini-train visiting the vineyards - Chalonnes' primary tourist venue
the mini-train visiting the vineyards – Chalonnes’ primary tourist venue

Like most other of the Loire towns we visited, Chalonnes has the requisite ruined fortifications and a charming riverside pedestrian walk that follows the riverside.

Access to pedestrian walk along the river
Access to pedestrian walk along the river
pedestrian walkway along the river
pedestrian walkway along the river

The public gardens were just beginning to bloom and the weekend market was in full swing.

part of the ruined fortifications Chalonnes sur Loire
part of the ruined fortifications Chalonnes sur Loire
municipal gardens
municipal gardens
The Loire from Challones sur Loire city park
The Loire from Challones sur Loire city park

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After our stroll, and taking care of our chores, the excursion group was back on board, and the Loire Princesse headed back to Nantes, accomplishing the return voyage in a matter of hours with the strong current adding to the speed. Our scheduled arrival was to be at 8:00 PM, we got into the dock by about 5:30, having left Chalonnes at around 1:00 PM.

Our last night on board – the Gala Night – was enlivened by an auction using the tokens won in the various quizzes and activities on board during the previous week, and followed by music and dancing. And, of course, the dreaded packing for departure the following day. We said goodbye to our new friends, as we knew we’d be among the first off in the morning since we had a 10 AM train to catch.

Bright and early, around 8:00, after we had our breakfast, and gathered up the last of our things, we headed out to the tram station right at our anchorage, only to find that there were literally thousands of people milling around – it was the day of the Nantes Marathon.

We took the first available tram, and were somewhat surprised to find it only went one stop further and quit. We (and a lot of other folks with luggage who were also headed to the train station) got out and started about a mile long bag drag (fortunately, sort of…the roads were closed so we had plenty of space and no traffic)

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The Nantes Marathon Route – we were bag dragging in a straight line up the main street.

 

Somewhere along the way to the train station, the marathon started and when we were within a couple of long blocks of the station (I could see it), we, along with about 20 other people who were also making their way to the station, were stopped cold by barricades and race officials who were blocking the road as the marathoners ran on cross streets across the main road. Everyone stood there for a while – maybe five minutes or so, I, at least, thinking that sooner or later the officials would hold up the pack to let all these people (and the crowd waiting was growing by the minute) make their way across to get to the train station. But no. So, a group of young guys just suddenly ran across through the marathoners.

The race officials went nuts, the marathoners were all yelling (in France, apparently, the thing to yell when you are upset is “la, la, la”) and everyone waiting sort of backed off. More time passes, more of the waiting people get restive and cut across, officials are running up and down the streets trying to keep people contained, then another group in our area makes a break and this time, Dennis goes with them. I was paralyzed with a combination of fear of authority and not wanting to be mown down by the runners. Dennis is on the opposite side of the marathoners now, and yelling at me to come on,  while the officials are yelling not to. Finally a little old lady with what looks like one of those shopping wheelie things makes a break for it and I follow her into the mob of oncoming runners who commence with the la, la, la yells. I don’t make eye contact or look left or right, just straight ahead and bag drag across the marathon as fast as I can go and in a few steps, make it to the other side, then we both bolt for the train station. There is one more cross street with runners between us and the station, but, thankfully, there is some modicum of sense in the officials at that cross street, and the marathoners are walking, and it is easy to make the crossing, and, whew, at last, the train station!

We were quite a bit early for our train, but so thankful to have gotten there without further mishap that we were happy to wait. Finally our TGV (very fast train) pulled in, we boarded and settled in for our couple of hour ride from Nantes to Lille, where, finally, we got our passports stamped!

We had heard some stories of people coming in, as we had, via cruise ship, and having trouble getting out of Europe by plane as their passports had never been stamped as having entered. We were happy to finally have it acknowledged that we had indeed been in Europe as we got stamped out of France and into England all in a matter of a few feet in the Lille train station! Then we were on the Eurostar and headed for our last stop, the Marriott at Heathrow, and home the next day.

Our ‘big’ flight, from Heathrow to San Francisco, was great – nice new plane, lie flat seats in business class, all in all as good an experience as you can have flying a domestic airline (most foreign carriers are better and the really good airlines like Singapore and Emirates are outstanding.) However, our San Francisco to Honolulu flight was hideous. The plane should have been retired 10 years ago, nothing worked from the seats to the “entertainment” – which would have been bad even if the sound had worked – to the food, and this was in what was allegedly domestic first class. I shudder to think what the coach folks were experiencing. The only good thing was we were early which made making our tight connection to the last flight of the day home to Kona a little easier, in spite of getting turned around in the Honolulu airport and taking a wrong turn down one of the newer concourses, as United has changed where their gates are in Honolulu. We were both frazzled and really tired when we finally got to the gate for Hawaiian, and really, really glad to get home at the end of our more than 20 hours on planes and in airports.