Weather: bright sunshine with a refreshing breeze
Air Temperature: 18C, 68F
Cruising up the Loire River was a delight from the moment we turned eastwards at about 0600. The river is surprisingly narrow so there was a distinct feeling of speed and movement as we glided through the still misty French countryside.
There was a short delay because the French clearing officers hadn’t got out of bed, but we were soon on our way to Angers. About 20 guests took advantage of the shuttle bus that was ran in and out of Nantes, but a large party set off in three coaches to explore the city where Arthur Wellesley (who would become the first Duke of Wellington) did his military training – an irony that he would later beat the French so soundly at Waterloo.
At Angers the chief attraction was the Apocalypse Tapestry that was made between 1373 and 1381. Before we saw that though, we admired the parterre garden set out in what had been the moat of the castle at Angers; it was unusual because it wasn’t as formal as many French gardens, having softer and more malleable plants than is normal. Using the ex-moat for this is an inspired idea because people can admire it from above and enjoy it properly.
The Tapestry is fabulous – I for one could hardly get enough of it and managed to go round twice. The lighting is extremely low to preserve the colours, but once your eye is in, the strong pastel shades (if that makes sense) are a joy. The Tapestry is a step-by-step run through the Book of Revelations so it shows all the extraordinary twists of the tale, awesome monsters and sensitively shaded nuances that you would expect. St John is in every panel as the narrator, so it echoes medieval drama as much as medieval art. I was especially pleased to see it since I had been lecturing on reactions to the C14th plague the day before and this seemed to me to be another good example.
In the castle that houses the Tapestry we had a leisurely lunch that included a mysterious pink drink of dubious alcoholic quantity and an even more mysterious orange mousse served with chicken, which we had assumed to be either carrot or swede but actually wasn’t either. It remained a mystery. After this rather substantial meal we valiantly set off on an hour-long walking tour of the town.
Our first stop was the Adam Building, so called because of the numerous biblical scenes (and monsters) on the side of a C15th house, the chief of which had been an image of Adam and Eve. Some of the images raised much hilarity, but I’m too much of a lady to elaborate.
Then to the cathedral of Saint-Maurice, which was being set up for a concert so the luckless guide had to compete with much banging and shouting in the background. The main attraction for the guests here was the C12th windows, which are in remarkably good condition having somehow survived short-sighted birds, high winds and war-time occupation. Our fellow lecturers, Lucy and Ray Hallman-Russell, treated their groups to a spirited rendition of Lude Sing Cuckoo, which got a resounding round of applause from locals as well as guests.
We got back to the ship in time for a welcome cup of tea and to find the staff lined up literally to welcome us back: they were holding up letters spelling out that amiable greeting.