“Sleeping Beauty” – by Debbie Ambrous

s8April 24, 2014 – Château d’Ussé – The grandest approach to the castle is along the narrow lane turning from the road situated high above the Loire River, from the direction of Brehemont where we stayed in a lovely French cottage.  Farms with barns stacked full of hay, and green fields with horses and ducks are down below on one side of the road, while views of the wide river are on the opposite side.  A wise person keeps his eyes on the narrow road, watching for the many bicycles and cars.  Husband Jim was the designated wise person behind the wheel, and I was the roving photographer looking at the beauty flashing by, with no pull-over spot.  I called for a quick left when I saw a perfect combination of stone-built barns, white ducks, chestnut-colored horses and tall green trees in the background.  After Jim did a perfect 180-degree turn with only inches to spare, I clicked and recorded the pastoral beauty.  When I walked to the car, an elderly gentleman rode his bicycle quickly past in the early morning light, smiling and returning my greeting.  It happened so fast that I had no time to adjust my camera, and I didn’t want to offend him either.

I sat quietly in my seat, with no other quick-stop alerts for the designated wise person driver until we stopped at the bridge over the Indre River, which flows below the chateau.  We lingered to enjoy the view, and who should appear but the the gentleman I greeted a few minutes earlier? He wheeled alongside us on his bicycle, pedaling along on his merry way.

He was so nice!  I wished that I had a bicycle to follow him.

He was so nice! I wished that I had a bicycle to follow him.

My camera was ready, and when I raised it for his picture he beamed and waved to me broadly.  He even turned again to wave when he was near the bridge.  I still smile when I think about him.

Welcome to the Château d’Ussé!  It is currently the property of the Duke de Blacas.  The first known owner was a fierce Viking, Gelduin I, who erected a wooden fortress around 1004.  Since Jim’s ancestry is Finnish with Vikings likely in the mix, I’m intrigued by this history.  Jim’s mother Aili was the fiercest, lovable Viking I will ever meet!  I could easily imagine her in the fortified castle.  Her piercing eyes alone could have kept enemies under control and caused the staff to toe the line, not to mention any dreamy-eyed daughters-in-law.  Aili would have perfectly cooked the venison presented by the hunters, and her Finnish baking would have rivaled any French boulangerie.

Now that I’ve paid tribute to my mother-in-law Aili who passed away too many years ago, I feel safe to proceed with the description of the Chateau’s gardens.s7  Hoping not to offend her even after all these years, I tip-toe quietly away and say here on this page in a whisper: “She did not have a green thumb.”   Smiling at this thought, I remember the bright tulips, irises, calla lilies, wisteria, pansies and lilacs in the formal gardens of the chateau that were designed by Le Notre, the famous architect of the gardens of Versailles.

Legend tells that while staying at Chateau d’Ussé, the writer Charles Perrault (17th century) was inspired by the romantic feature of the chateau and wrote the tale of Sleeping Beauty.

The Guard Room:s18

The ceiling is painted in imitation marble and it dates back to the renovations done in the 17th century.  This room contains many of the souvenirs brought back from Count de Blacas’ travels.  The collection of weaponry and oriental objects were brought back in the 19th century from a trip around the world by the Count Stanislas de Blacas, an ancestor of the present owner. The Duke of Blacas (1770-1839) was a friend and adviser to King Louis XVIII and King Charles X. s19 The genealogical family tree of the Duke of Duras, owner of the chateau in 1807 is displayed on the wall.

The Central Gallery:s23

In the 15th century, this was a passageway with arches which opened onto the courtyard.  Here, one can see the Chateau’s finest collection of Flemish tapestries (Brussels), woven in the 18th century by Davis Teniers, a 17th century painter, married to Bruegel’s granddaughter.  They show typical, daily life in Flanders with some bawdy details for that time period.


Flemish tapestries - woven in the 18th century.  I was taken with the detail and bright colors depicting ordinary life.

Flemish tapestries – woven in the 18th century. I was taken with the detail and bright colors depicting ordinary life.

s27s28A bust of Louis XIV by Bernini is in the center of the gallery.  The original is in the Palace of Versailles.

The King’s Bedroom:

Under the reign of Louis XIV, some of the larger castles were obliged to prepare rooms for the King.  The original silks on the wall were woven in the 18th century in the factories of Tours, with Chinese patterns.

Some of the well-furnished rooms have wax-work figures with period costumes that bring life to the rooms. - King's Bedroom Salon

Some of the well-furnished rooms have wax-work figures with period costumes that bring life to the rooms. – King’s Bedroom Salon

Canopy bed "a la polonaise" - made fashionable by Louis XIV's wife

Canopy bed “a la polonaise” – made fashionable by Louis XIV’s wife

I have only mentioned a few of my favorite rooms, leaving much for your imagination, and even more for you to see for yourself.  Next, we will meet Sleeping Beauty in the rampart walk, high in the tower above the pretty village.







Sleeping Beauty can be viewed through large windows in each room around the rampart walk.

Sleeping Beauty can be viewed through large windows in each room around the rampart walk.

On the opposite side, one can view the village, fields and forest.

On the opposite side, one can view the village, fields, river and forest.

I took a short break from writing the blog and joined Jim in the living room where he was eating dry roasted Shur-Fine peanuts from the grocery outlet and watching CNN for his daily dose of news.  I rattled off the gist of the story of the Sleeping Beauty Castle, and he asked, “Now, you are not going to say my mother cast the spell on Sleeping Beauty, are you?”  Hmm, never thought of that!

No, I will not follow a story-line with my mother-in-law in that role.  Although, you might just be surprised at the audacious thing Jim’s brother-in-law John Alwyn did.  He presented a broom with a saddle to Aili as a gift!  He really handed over this outrageous present to her with his big-boy smile, risking life and limb and hoping she would laugh it off.  He is braver, or perhaps more foolish than I am!

At the conclusion of our tour of the chateau, I told Jim that I had just one more picture to take in the garden.  He’s heard me say that one many times!  I wanted a picture of the hard-working gardener in the front garden digging flower bulbs.  Can you imagine the hundreds of pansies and other flowers that he plants?  Think of the sweat and aching muscles after days of digging, hoeing, watering and pruning!  His work, along with the others working in the gardens, produces beautiful results through the entire year.s2

Jim leaned over to see where my Canon was aimed and said with a grin, “Seems like you have a thing for chubby guys!”  My goodness, Jim, you are certainly an observant, designated wise person.

May Aili’s firm Viking stance with generous love continue within this family and the generations to come!

                                                                                            THE END  


“Hairstyle by Fidji” – by Debbie Ambrous

Hairstyle by Fidji suitable only for Hell's Kitchen

Hairstyle by Fidji suitable only for Hell’s Kitchen

Tours, France – May 31, 2014:  A day that will go down in hairstyling infamy occurred here with no historic plaque recording the event, and thankfully no pictures!  Jim, the ever helpful husband, was in the budget hotel room watching the world news while I was addressing the more critical issue of what to do with my sopping wet hair.   I steamed and fumed while looking for the hairdryer; it is quite amazing that my hair didn’t dry d’une manière naturelle.   During a commercial, Jim appeared in the doorway to ask a ridiculous question.  “Are you ready to go yet?

Do I look like I’m ready to go?  Never mind!  Where did this hotel hide the hairdryer?”  With a smug look on his face he pointed to an apparatus on the wall.  IMG_3591Eyeing the device, I thought it seemed like something that would be attached to a hospital room wall; any patients in their right minds would hope the contraption would never be used on their personal bodies.  And, oh please, do not show a video of what would happen during the procedure!

Quickly realizing that I needed my glasses to examine the French hairdryer, I said to Jim, “Do something useful, and please find my glasses!”  I know you are smart and don’t need my help, but I will tell you anyway:  “Always have your glasses handy in the bathroom!”  For further instructions on this, I would suggest reading “Umpteenth Second Honeymoon”, if you have not previously perused this gem set once upon a time in Destin, Florida.

Peering through my tri-focals, I saw dangling, looped coils on each side, similar to the coils attached to a plastic bonnet used years ago as a hairdryer.  Pretty ladies stretched the plastic bonnet over their huge curlers and hot air dried their hair while they read fashion magazines. Do you remember the hairdryers with the bonnets and the beehive hairstyles?  You must have told me about it because surely I’m not that old!  I couldn’t have fooled anyone about my age when I stood there in a towel studying the fine print on Fidji the hairdryer via Asia.  In desperation, I yanked one of the coils from the unit.  Jim was back on the sofa watching the news.   What did he care if this thing sucked the hair off my head?  Suddenly, it came alive when the coil was outstretched like an Asian snake with a vacuum cleaner head.  If I stood in front of the commode with the long, white plastic tubing in a straight line, the dryer hummed and blew warm air, not hot!  If I loosened my grip on the loop, it stopped hissing on my helpless hair and died a natural Fidji death.

Notice hat on head, hiding Fidji hair.  Would you wear this wedding gown?

Notice hat on head, hiding Fidji hair. Would you wear this wedding gown?

No, the mirror did not extend to my hairstyling stance by the commode.  No, I do not want to remember what I looked like.  No, Jim never noticed what my hair looked like.

I put a hat on my head and tried to forget my hairstyle by Fidji.


Who styled her hair?

Who styled her hair?

These bridal shower ladies have the right idea!  Could you share some purple with me?

These bridal shower ladies have the right idea! Could you share some purple with me? – Tours, France

Jim and I spent the night in Tours before taking the train into Paris on our return home.  Tours is a good departure point for visiting the Loire Valley since there is a direct train, the TGV from the CDG airport, and the major car rental offices such as Avis are located at the St Pierre des Corps train station.  You can order your rail tickets in advance on www.Rail Europe.com, or through your favorite travel agent.  Previously, we have rented our car and driven from the CDG airport, but we don’t want to attempt the traffic around Paris, and especially the airport anymore.  Tours is a large city, but still much easier to navigate than Paris.

Ryan Air, the low-cost airline based in London, has round-trip and one-way flights from Tours to Dublin, London, Marrakesh and Marseilles.  We could have flown round-trip to Marseilles on the Mediterranean coast of France for less than $100.00.  I did a quick check today and found a fare of 47 euros round-trip on September dates.   Check the multiple cities within the Ryan Air system since you may find that you can visit many areas for less cost than you would expect after only one flight from the U.S.

The stained glass is notable for its rich, strong colors and for the amazing light filtering through. - located at Cathedral St. Gatien

The stained glass is notable for its rich, strong colors and for the amazing light filtering through.

t5t19When we stayed in Tours, we parked our car at the Best Western hotel on the outskirts of the town and took the city train to the historic center.  We chose this hotel for convenience, comfort and budget, rather than ambiance.   The front desk staff went out of their way to help us, providing information especially on the train which was super clean and modern.   A word of advice, American credit cards are not designed the same as European credit cards.  Quite often, we had problems using ours at machines.  Jim used ATM machines quite easily, so don’t fret about that, but toll booths and other such areas were difficult.  Have euros handy for this, especially coins.

Who is our mystery star?

Who is our mystery star?

In Tours, we saw the beautiful stained glass in Cathedral St. Gatien, and we meandered here and there along the ancient streets.  Then, we settled into seats at a tempting café at the place Plumereau, surrounded by medieval houses, local people and tourists.  We had at least one famous person with a huge diamond stud in his earlobe, just a few tables away from us – signing autographs.  I couldn’t approach him personally, not with my hairstyle by Fidji.

I have an extra special picture saved for last, some very good news!!!!  The sight of Dr Pepper in the window was enough to make a girl’s hair curl with desire.



Thank you always for joining us!  I am very grateful for the encouragement you have given, and for sharing the website with others.

Just leave a comment below.  It is always very nice to hear from such delightful readers.

Must rush away since it’s 10-2-4 time – Dr Pepper time!

Before I go for my Dr Pepper break, I want to remind some of my local readers about the great entertainment in Opp, Alabama, without a transatlantic flight.  Just CLICK “OPP FEST” to see the fun we got into.

“Think of the Children” – by Debbie Ambrous

d7S’il te plait … Pense à moi! The French words mean: PLEASE THINK OF ME!  This colorful sign near a school in the small village reminded drivers in their cars to be careful, watch and think of the children.  The color-crayon drawings of young ones playing, jumping rope and kicking a ball was a reminder to slow down and watch very carefully since a child could dart into the road at any minute.

BACK TO SCHOOL –  It’s that time of the year!  School is beginning again and parents everywhere will be anxiously seeing their youngsters off for the first day of school, hoping they will be safe and happy.  School supplies, backpacks, new shoes and clothes are bought and ready.  d58No more splashing in the pool all day or riding bikes with friends in the sunshine until they are hot and sweaty all over.  New teachers are ready for the first day of school, hoping all of the students will be safe and happy. S’il te plait … Pense à moi!

d37DANIEL IS BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND – Readers have asked about Daniel, wanting to know when I would show more pictures.  His mom agreed to share her photos, and naturally I am proud to show them off and brag.

Daniel with his mom, Brittany

Daniel with his mom, Brittany

Our grandson Daniel who is sixteen months old will not be ready for school for a few years, but we are reminded of him when we see other children playing and beginning a new school year.

Daniel and his proud dad, Craig

Daniel and his proud dad, Craig

Traveling in France, we remember Daniel often when we hear the laughter of little ones as they chase each other, or skate in the park.  We always think of the future when Daniel might enjoy playing with small sailboats on a pond, or climbing higher and higher on an enormous tree house at Chateau Langeais.

Daniel would have fun like this little boy!

Daniel would have fun like this little boy! – Paris, France

Will he be delighted to look through a telescope to see a wild deer with spreading antlers on a hillside, or to see birds through the lens close-up as they fly in the air?

Jim is down below planning to take Daniel to each level.

Jim is looking up and planning to take Daniel to each level.



What will he think of Sleeping Beauty in the storybook depiction at Chateau Ussé?


d25Which flavors of ice cream will he like?

Will he be excited to see the knights’ shining armor?



Riding a carriage will be almost like Disneyland.  "Keep your hands and arms inside at all times."

Riding a carriage in Tours will be almost like Disneyland. “Keep your hands and arms inside at all times.”

Which flavor will be Daniel's favorite?

Which flavor will be Daniel’s favorite?

How about a ride on a double-decker carousel?

How about a ride on a double-decker carousel? Tours, France

Riding on flashy cars is always an attraction for young and old males!

Riding on flashy cars is always an attraction for young and old males! Saumur, France

d42d18Farm animals along the narrow country roads are an immediate draw for me.  Will he be anxious to see the horses, cows, ducks and chickens like his silly GranDeb?

"Ya'll slow down now! 10-4"

“Ya’ll slow down now! 10-4”

We just hope that all young ones will be able to learn and play with no hindrance, or harm.   Keep in mind the sign in France, and please, please look out for the children.  S’il te plait … Pense à moi!

I’m off to the kitchen to bake a peach cobbler.  d46Tomorrow I will be mailing a little shirt to a VIP in our family – Daniel!  If you are new to this blog, perhaps you would like to Click and see “All About Daniel” which shows pictures of Daniel when he was only a few weeks old.

d31Thank you for allowing a proud grandmother to brag about her only grandson.   Ya’ll come back!

I imagined Daniel before he was on his way.  Read the book A French Opportunity and you will find me on the front porch of a farmhouse in France hoping for a future grandson.

Daniel gives the book a thumbs up!

Daniel gives the book a thumbs up! CLICK FOR YOUR COPY

I am always so happy to see your comments.  Just write in the reply area below and brag about your grandchildren!

“Sweet Talking in Georgia” – by Debbie Ambrous

Fruit and Vegetable Stand - Warm Springs, Georgia

Fruit and Vegetable Stand – Warm Springs, Georgia

You will not find Georgia in the Michelin Atlas of roadways in France.  Georgia is the friendly neighbor to the east of our home State of Alabama, and Jim and I took a nice, short trip across the border to Atlanta with a stop at Pine Mountain and Warm Springs on our return.  We are constantly turning around, backing up and circling in our travels anyway, so I’m doing the same on the blog and planning to jump back into the French scene after enjoying the roadways of Georgia.

Somewhere near Lagrange, Georgia, we were moving along carefully in the July 4th weekend traffic.  Jim cleared his throat and said in a serious tone, “Uh, it’s time for us to think about where we put the Marta train tickets.”  With no hesitation I said, “I never saw the tickets.”  You will notice that I politely did not say, “YOU had the tickets.  What did YOU do with them?”  I could tell that he was testing the waters, hoping I knew something of their whereabouts.  Worry spread over his face and combined with traffic irritation, yielding a scrunched, scowling face.  No words uttered, but a lot of groaning was brewing in the driver’s seat.  It was time for lunch so I suggested that he stop at the next exit at a steak house for lunch.  The restaurant was nicely decorated with western gear and had comfortable seating.  I was hoping for a nice lunch before we hit the big city of Atlanta.  You will notice that I haven’t mentioned the name of our lunch stop.  For the sake of the story, I will call it the “Wrong Steer” since the food was greasy, flavorless and only a step above roadkill.

Back in the Jeep, Jim was calling to see if he could get a refund on the train tickets.  After the call, I said, “Don’t worry, honey.  We will just buy some more tickets.  It isn’t very much expense.  Don’t feel badly, I forget things all of the time.”  Honestly, I really said all of that.  Wasn’t I the Sweetest Georgia Peach from Alabama?  I only mention this because a guy flatteringly called me by that description years ago.  Definitely not a time to mention that one to Jim during the ticket fiasco!

Once we hit the big city with more one-way streets going the wrong way and most of the street names containing the word Peach.  “Yes, that’s Peachtree Street, and you just passed Peachtree Road.  Which Peach thing do we need to turn on?”  It was sometime when we were riding up and down those roads that I suddenly remembered that I forgot my eye drops and we had to find a pharmacy.  All of my sweet talk paid off!  Jim had to stifle any groans.

Sunset viewed from our hotel room at Atlanta Mid-Town W

Sunset viewed from our hotel room at W Atlanta Mid-Town

We found our hotel, the W Atlanta Mid-Town, a tall, dark-gray building standing proudly like a Heat player visiting from Miami among the other contenders.  We like the W hotels for their good service, casual atmosphere and many amenities.  Pets are welcome.

Lobby - viewed from second floor level

Lobby – viewed from second floor level

Business hotels can be a good buy on weekends unless special events are happening, or holidays.  We have booked a good value room for our anniversary, or as we say “second honeymoon” no matter what number it truly is.  (You may enjoy reading “Umpteenth Second Honeymoon” which has received the most clicks, so far. Click and I hope you enjoy, if you have not seen it previously.)

W Atlanta Mid-Town is near the Margaret Mitchell House (Birthplace of “Gone with the Wind”), Atlanta Botanical Garden, High Museum of Art/Alliance Theater, and with those aforementioned and forgotten Marta passes you can get to almost anything else without worrying about the one-way streets.

Our comfortable room with L-shaped sofa, corner vanity area with magnifying mirror, large walk-in shower, desk workspace and rather strangely a king-size bed with lights underneath.g15  It glowed very pretty in the colorful room creating a modern, contemporary space facing a wall of glass framing a beautiful sunset, and then during the night a glittering show of city lights.  During the night when I had a headache, I got up without turning on any lights, hoping not to disturb Jim.  I looked for my black purse with the Aleve, fumbling on the dark gray carpet and black furniture. Suddenly, I slammed my foot into the desk, and sharp pain attacked my toes and surged to my eyeballs!  Fully expecting to see my white toes on the black carpet, somehow I kept quiet so I wouldn’t disturb Jim.  But Jim still jumped from the bed to my side.  I said, “Why aren’t you lying in bed asleep?  I’m OK!!”  Edging back to his side of the bed like a scolded puppy, he said, “Well, how could I sleep with you practicing a drop-kick for the World Cup on the bedroom furniture?  How did you hit your foot with all of the light shining from under the bed?”  Still holding my mortally wounded foot in my hand, I complained, “Why on earth do they have lights under the bed which we cannot turn off?”  With a lilting, silly voice Jim answered, “Because they’re ro-mannn-tic!”  Gaining strength, I said: “What romance??  Unless the designers planned a sexy mood for dust bunnies, they’re wasting electricity!”

Next day, we found the W hotel has a wonderful restaurant that serves fresh, local food.  TRACE has as its mission: “to create an updated Southern dining experience in the heart of the South by celebrating fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced and foraged from local farm to form healthy, signature dishes.” g3 With a helpful, friendly staff and delicious food, we expect TRACE to have great success.  Cem Vural, the Manager, was friendly and attentive to assure our enjoyment.g4  I especially enjoyed the Summer Pot Pie with Springer Mountain chicken, carrots, mushrooms, peas, potatoes and a flaky buttermilk biscuit crust.  Jim had rave reviews for the Seasonal Meatloaf with pork, cherries, savory herbs and whole grain slaw.  He still wants the recipe for the slaw!  Honestly, the menu is loaded with good stuff to eat at reasonable prices, especially considering this is a large city, business hotel.

We were very happy to have such a nice restaurant right there in the W hotel, and we thank the staff for a very pleasant dining experience.

Another fave: GA Shrimp & Grits

Another fave: GA Shrimp & Grits


On our way home, we spent one night near Pine Mountain, Georgia, a very pleasant town with antiques, good restaurants and a wonderful bakery.  While the pretty young lady packaged our pecan, raisin bread, Jim begged her to set up business in Opp.  I thought he would kneel at the altar of bread and ask her to knead dough in our kitchen.

g25g26Don’t miss The Bakery and Café at Rose Cottage since the atmosphere is more than you could ever hope for in a small town with food to match! g18 While you are there see the antique stores: Country Gardens, Sweet Home Antiques and Chanticleer. Visit Dog Gone Good Bargains that benefits the Humane Society of Harris County.  Many more stores line the pretty streets that had beds planted with tall stalks of corn and squash vines, mixed with flowers.

Murals are painted on many of the buildings

Murals are painted on many of the buildings

g33With a healthy amount of good food and shopping out of the way, we turned the Jeep toward Roosevelt’s Little White House.  We wanted to see the museum with its many exhibits of life during the Great Depression era and see much of the history that happened during our parents’ lifetime.  It was hard to imagine a President staying in the house which wasn’t much larger than our home and dying on a small bed in a room much smaller than ours.  FDR went in search of relief from polio to swim the springs’ naturally heated water.  I will not try to expand on all of this history, or provide an extensive review of our visit, but I would suggest that you look at the website and visit if possible.

Near the entry to the house, in a corner, is a wheelchair fashioned from a dining chair.g43  I almost cried when I saw it since it brought back memories from my childhood when my carpenter father did the same for my mother who was seriously ill for a long period of time.  Wheelchairs during that time, and earlier, had large wheels and were nothing like they are today.  My sweet dad built a small wheelchair from a dining chair, easier to move around our house.  I didn’t realize that a President did the same.

We had an enjoyable, late lunch at Mac’s Barbecue, in Warm Springs, Georgia with good prices in a laid-back atmosphere.g50

g55Our last stop was at The Crossroads Store, 6926 Whitesville Road, West Point, GA 31833 at Jones Crossroads with a historical marker.   Look it up! Don’t miss it!  It’s worth dropping by to see the antiques and the setting of the beautiful stone building, almost like a slice of France in Georgia.  I was very sorry that I had to rush.

Charming owners of Crossroads

Charming owners of Crossroads

Well, I’ve written more than usual.  Southerners tend to linger with their conversation and say good-bye at least a half-dozen times before they depart.  Departing, I must give a plug for my book.

Seriously, A French Opportunity is a concoction of Southern humor and French country life which any good person like you would enjoy.

g56CLICK THE DOGGIE to order your copy of the book in paperback or Kindle!

Thank you for visiting!