June 1, 2010

Surprise! Surprise! - May 29 - 30

We changed our touring plans for the day because of the cold, wind and rain, but we still wanted to go out for dinner. Unfortunately, the Relais du Château was completely booked, so they recommended we go to l'Hotellerie St. Jean. Imagine a "Motel 8" type of establishment at the edge of town, close to a busy road, offering rooms at 55 euros per night. Showers extra. Did I mention that it was a dark and stormy night?

We entered the dining room at 19h 40 and were the only ones there! This did not bode well and we feared another "meal misadventure". But we were hungry and things smelled good.

The "mise en bouche" that came with our Kir drinks were thin slices of toasted baguette with a garlic and chive dip - yummy.

By the time our appys arrived, the restaurant was almost full. I had a scoop of crab mixture next to a scoop of avocado mixture, slice of mango and salad - delicious! I found the little cubes of watermelon strewn throughout very refreshing.

Karl had half a lobster and he, too, said it was delicious!

My main course was suckling pig (minus the head biting on an apple). It came wrapped around a lovely stuffing and the second slice stayed warm in a little casserole on the side. This was accompanied by mashed potatoes generously mixed with leeks and some sliced carrots and mushrooms.

Karl had the sauvageon, which is wild duck, with boiled potatoes and veggies. He loved it!

Our cheese plates varied only in that Karl had the chèvre with pepper and I had the chèvre with fine herbs.

My sweet was a chocolate mousse between two butterscotch wafers, trimmed with a strawberry.

Karl had the chocolate fondant with a scoop of mango sorbet and a strawberry.

We came out of there completely surprised by the quality and presentation of the food and vowed to return, not necessarily on a rainy evening since the view towards the Thouars castle is beautiful and would present a great photo opportunity.


Next day was Mother's Day. We headed towards Moncontour to visit a great battle scene from the 100 Years' War but had hoped to grab a quick bite for lunch beforehand. You could have shot a cannon through that town and not hit a soul. The only live form we saw was a marmelade cat slowly making his way across one of the back streets. We really wondered where everyone could be.

Then we spotted two tourists sitting at a small table out on a patio, each with a cup of coffee. We figured we could at least get a refreshment. When we entered the place, an elderly gentleman was sitting behind the counter, holding the fort. I asked if we were still in time for "déjeuner" (lunch). He simply nodded and pointed us towards the door that said "Toilettes". I turned back and said that's not what we wanted, and mimed a hand going towards the mouth in case he didn't understand my French. He nodded again and came right up to the toilet door and opened it, with a big smile on his face. He mumbled something to the effect, "Things are not always as they seem."

When the 2nd door, after the toilets, was opened, we came upon a great big family reunion! The table was set in a U-shape, much like at a wedding. All conversation stopped as they examined the newcomers who had suddenly dropped in on their intimate gathering. We then noticed a table in the far corner where 3 other people who didn't belong to the big group were eating.

We asked the woman serving what was happening, if this was a Mother's Day celebration, and she said it was actually a First Communion celebration for Camille. Sure enough, the young lady was in the middle of the group opening all sorts of presents like jewellery boxes, hair attire, a necklace and money from all the male cousins and uncles.

We were invited to help ourselves to the salad buffet which had about 10 different platters of potato salad, cous-cous, marinated mushrooms, prawns, etc. We thought that might have been it, but it was soon followed by a plate of roast veal (we definitely recognized this one), thick and delicious gravy, sautéed mushrooms, and French green beans. (If we eat these in France, do we need to specifiy that they're French green beans?)

We were offered cheese and then Karl had apple pie and I had cherry sorbet. Again we left thinking what a very pleasant surprise that meal turned out to be!

As we made our way to the car, we noticed Camille's Mom and Aunt re-entering the restaurant, carrying a huge platter of cream puffs (profiteroles) stacked up in a pyramid shape with a chocolate cross on top. We should have stayed longer and they might have offered to share!


Oh yes, the reason we were in Moncontour in the first place. On Monday, October 3, 1560, the bloodiest battle ever to take place on French soil was recorded. It was during the 100 Years' War when Protestants and Catholics were in heated battle. They claim that 20,000 people were killed within hours. There were so many bodies that they made huge fires and burned the bodies because it was impossible to bury them all. The stench lingered for days.

The plain where this took place is now covered with lush vegetation and belies the tragedy that took place centuries ago. The only landmark left is the lookout tower from the castle, which wasn't even involved in the battle. It simply witnessed the tragedy.


On our way home we stopped to check out the "Dolmens", ancient megalithic burial chambers.

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