I picked up the Ford Fiesta diesel from Avis at Gien, about 20km from Briare. It took a little while to get used to the LH Drive, but I only put the wipers on instead of the blinkers a couple of times. While in Briare we met another cruising couple who have spent many years in Europe on their barge. They recommended that we see some of the Chateaux in the Loire Valley before heading east, so we did. With their Michelin Guide in hand, we headed towards Orleans on a mixture of country roads and 6-lane highways. After lunch at a road-stop we continued but somehow got onto a minor road through and around Orleans. No matter, we weren't lost, just dislocated. Eventually we found our way to Chambord, supposedly the best of them. We were struck by the bizarre towers, domes and chimneys - very odd from our point of view.
Having seen Fontainebleau, we weren't in a rush to join the crowds, so decided to move on to the next, Cheverny. This was a much more modest chateau, but more attractive. There were crowds there too, but not nearly as many as at Chambord.
Next on the list was Chaumont, a bit further west. After a few wrong turns we arrived in Chaumont, in time to view the gardens which were part of a competition on the theme 'Spirituality". Some were indeed impressive, but others ... Anyway it was an interesting afternoon.
We tried to get into the local hotel but it was full. Similarly for the hotels in Blois mentioned in the Lonely Planet, but through one of them we managed to find the Tour Hotel in Chausee-Sainte-Victor. This was a Two-star hotel but recently re-furbished and quite comfortable, with a reasonable breakfast. From there we were quickly onto the A10 motorway heading back to Montargis which we had passed through on "Anja". Travelling along the motorway gave us an entirely different landscape, broadacre farming, with the occasional nuclear power plant on the horizon.
We had a bright sunny day to wander around Montargis, enjoying our lunch of quiches on the canal bank. Here the bridges are decorated with flower boxes (as elsewhere) but they also had some floating in the river.
Getting to and from Montargis was interesting as a nearby town was having a huge garage sale - a bricolage - and many streets were closed. As a result we went through a few unplanned detours before finding our way. Even then we finished up on a different road to what we had planned, so went back through Joigny and Migennes. It was interesting to come into these towns, as the outskirts extended quite a distance. Our impression from the river was that they were quite small towns.
In any case, it didn't matter which road we took, we got to Troyes without difficulty and found our hotel for two nights, Mr Bed. This was all we could find on-line as it was a weekend. It was about 3km out of town in an industrial zone. The room was fairly small, with a tiny drop-in bathroom module, but it worked. Breakfast had pretty good with a good selection of cereal, bread and of course croissants. Importantly, it had free Wifi in the room.
I had chosen Troyes as a stopover on the way to Strasbourg, purely based on distance from Montargis. It turned out to be one of the highlights of our holiday! As 'Lonely Planet' puts it, this is one of the best preserved mediaeval towns in France. The most distinguishing feature is the great number, more than 400, of half-timbered houses in the town centre. It is obviously a great tourist attraction, there are dozens of eateries. mainly outdoors, filled with hundreds of patrons every night.
A definite highlight for both of us, one we would love to see again is the Museum of Tools where more than 10,000 pieces, (tools of various trades from hundreds of years ago) are spectacularly displayed. Files, saws, hammers, axes, planes, measuring devices, the list goes on. Tools used by plasterers, roofers, coopers, farriers, plumbers, shoemakers, glovemakers; the various tools of each trade displayed together in huge glass cases. It is a fascinating display and history lesson of trades long lost.
Other places of interest were the cathedral and Museum of Natural History. A special exhibition of Charles Darwin included his desk and some of his writing. Again in the basement was a display of the pre-history of the region with Palaeolithic, Bronze-age and Roman artefacts.
After leaving Troyes we headed towards Nancy, again on a mixture of rural roads and motorways. We got to Nancy around 4pm, but it took an hour to find our hotel as we were stymied by one-way streets, tramways and general disorientation. (Needless to say, we didn't have GPS in the car). The Hotel St Georges was fairly close to Place Stanislas and comfortable. Our room had a huge bathroom but no aircon or wifi.
We had dinner in a cafe on the Place Stanislas where we watched a great son-et-lumiere display on the facade of the Nancy Town Hall. Next day was spent walking around the old town.
We had a bit of difficulty finding our way out of Nancy but after some advice we were again out on rural roads, passing through small towns and farmlands. Eventually we went through the 7 km long Maurice-Lemaire tunnel under the Vosges Mountains on our way to Strasbourg. We stopped off at Selestat, another mediaeval town.
Again on entry to Strasbourg, we weren't where we thought we were and again spent a long time going around in circles, blocked by one-way streets and tramways. This time e were staying for 4 days to have a relaxed look around. Our stay was in the Best Western Hotel, about 300m from the central rail station.
Strasbourg has an ancient centre, with many half-timbered buildings.
The main tourist attraction is the Cathedral, with its 142m spire and Astronomical Clock.
We took an evening canal tour which was great, then next day we climbed the 230 steps to the base of the spire. This viewing platform gave a great view of Strasbourg, quite a large city that is not obvious from the old town centre.
Having three nights here we were able to relax and rest at times before we left for Paris.