Little do they know there’s still half a baguette in my bag…

First of all we would like to say Good Luck to Alexa! We hope your first day of clinical was awesome!

Today’s plan was to visit Chateau Chambord, as we weren’t able to get there yesterday. However the bus between Chambord & Blois only runs a couple of time a day and the earliest we could leave for the chateau was 12:35. We had an hour train ride to get to Blois, but that still left us plenty fo time in the morning…especially because we were up earlier as we (or at least Kristin) could not handle two 10 hour nights in a row.

So we set off into the center of Tours in search of breakfast. We ended up grabbing Justine a coffee from McDonalds and hitting a random bakery for some pastry yumminess. As a side note on coffee, the serving size here is maybe half that of home. They just have the tiniest little cup in the morning, as opposed to the extra-large size from Timmys. Justine though she could fit 3 of the cups she got into her regular gigantic mug (because at home she only uses soup bowl sized mugs…according to Kristin… Justine claims they are just tall, & perfect). But back to our food: we each munched on a beignet as they looked delicious. Kristin had an apple one and Justine’s had raspberry filling. Yum!

We also picked up a baguette, broke it in half & shoved it in Kristin’s backpack for later. To accompany that baguette we picked up apples and cookies at a market. What a good lunch we will have! And for the record, we had zero issues at the grocery store this time. We went and got a ticket for our apples like a pro.

We were also interested in finding a post office to send off the Paris postcards we are still carrying around. We found one, but for some reason it was not open…despite it being a Monday & within the hours of operation. But don’t worry, our train to Blois got in 45 minutes before our bus to Chambord was set to leave so we hit up La Poste there 🙂

We munched on our apples during the bus ride. The bus was nice, with comfy seats, so we didn’t mind the half hour ride. As we pulled up to our stop we got our first glimpse of the chateau. Just that quick peek had us excited for more. After purchasing our tickets we rounded the bend and came face to face with this:
Pretty incredible, eh? So incredible it didn’t even look real. As a sign of us being part of a generation raised with technology we immediately decided it looked like it was CGI. But as we got closer and entered the central courtyard we had to admit that it was in fact really there. Chateau de Chambord is the largest and one of the most recognizable chateau in the Loire Valley. It was built for King Francis I to be near his mistress. He used it as a hunting lodge while maintain royal residence at other chateau in the area. It is not your average log house in the woods though. The chateau is composed of a central cross with corner apartments inserted into each of the wholes, creating a central square. It then had 2 wings, one being the royal apartments and the other being the chapel, that are connected around the front with all of the kitchens, servant quarters, etc. Confused? Think of a big open square but with a smaller solid square attached to the back wall. Still confused? Well now you’re on your own…try googling a arial image…
Following the death of Francis I the chateau remained abandoned for 80 years. Louis XIV restored the building and added large stables making it a modern hunting lodge and place to entertain. He used it for a few weeks every year until he left Chambord in favor of the bigger and grander Versailles. The chateau then changed hands several times between lesser nobles until the state bought it in 1930.

Upon entering the Keep (which is the solid smaller square, built around central cross shaped hallways) the first thing you notice is the staircase. It sits right in the center of the Keep where the cross intersects and runs all the way up through the building and out the ceiling to a roof top terrace. It is really stunning, made of carved white stone, but the real highlight is that it is a double helix. This means there are actually two staircases wrapping around each other on the way up. It was built as a way to see & be seen while walking through the chateau, but without ever having to actually meet or talk to anyone. We tested it out and sure enough we started on the same floor, ended on the same floor and saw each other through the window holes every third step, but never did we meet.

The reception rooms & bed chambers set in the Keep were elegantly decorated in much the same style as we have seen in other large houses. There was a wider variety of wall coverings here, not just velvet or silk single-color patterns but also crazy florals with so much going on it made you a little dizzy. Some rooms were set up to mimic what they would have looked like in other eras, while others acted more as museums with collections of artifacts related to past inhabitants. We really liked this style of bed…with the double curtains it was like your bed was completely hidden:

The highlight of the chateau would be climbing to the top of the central staircase and walking around the terrace. The views of the top of the building were even better than the views of the gardens! The roof was filled with towers, turrets and chimneys. These were very intricate, which is probably what gave the chateau that “it can’t be real” look from down below. But from the ground there is no way you could have seen all of the little details, so it’s lucky we were able to go up top for a closer look!
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We did eventually pull our eyes away to look at the surrounding grounds. They no longer have the landscaped gardens they once featured, but we got a good look at the estate surrounding it. Chambord is in the center of a large park. In an effort to keep it a private hunting grounds the kings enclosed it in a 32 km wall. This makes it the largest enclosed park in the world.

After a wander though the gift shop in the chateau and through the ones in the small village we made our way to some handy bleachers across the canal and facing the chateau. They don’t like you to step on the grass here so the bleachers were a perfect place to relax and look at Chambord. We laid in the sunshine for awhile as the limited Chambord-Blois bus timetable meant we had time to kill. Kristin read some handy Rick Steves info on our next destination out loud so we would be prepared for tomorrow. Then it was back on the bus to Blois. And then (after a short wait) back on the train to Tours. Once we reached Tours we went to the Info/Tickets area to get our train ride for tomorrow sorted out (we needed to have reservations on one of our trains). The line turned into quite the heated situation! One lady spent forever at one of the counters arguing with the attendant…then 2 more attendants that had joined her. Then everyone in line was complaining and yelling at the lady and yelling at the attendants…. It was craziness! We really wish we could have understood what was going on…

We had supper at a place we had noticed yesterday on our walk home. Justine had a delicious pasta dish topped with ample shrimp & mussels. Mussels seem a big thing here. We each considered having a plate of mussels but decided no for today. We know (from our Rick Steves reading) that mussels are also big in Bruges. Kristin had a omlette as they are a very French thing & a very Kristin thing…it seemed only right to have one before she left France. It was wonderfully cheesy!

Tonight is finishing up with some planning for the next leg of our trip. There are hostels to book, trains to reserve and kinks to iron out. But soon we will be ready to rock & roll off onto our next adventure!

Love, Luck & Laying in the Sun,

There once was a rooster named Maurice…but everyone called him Morris

Today, after an early night and a late morning (Justine slept for 10 hours!) we were ready to start our next set of adventures. We set off to visit the town of Blois. It is a smallish place, about an hours train ride from Tours, centered around a large chateau and church. It is also the gateway to Chateau Chambord, however the buses between the town & the estate were not running today. That’s ok though…we got the information for getting to there tomorrow and saw the sights of Blois.

It turned out to be lucky we came to Blois today because even though we couldn’t get to Chambord, the main sights in Blois were all free! Do not ask us why this is…because we have no idea. All we know is that when we went up to the ticket desk they told us to enter free of charge.

Our first free visit was to the Chateau Royal de Blois. From the outside this house didn’t look overly grand, especially from the side view. But once you had entered the central courtyard you understood how it could have been a home of French kings. King Francis I in 1515 was the first French king to spend time at the already built chateau. King Henry III lived in Blois when he was driven from Paris during the Wars of Religion and it was here he had his arch-enemy the Duke of Guise assassinated. Afterwards, the castle was the home of King Henry IV and his wife Marie de Medici exiled herself here upon his death.

Our self-guided tour took us through the majority of the chateau. In the old kitchens there was a display of original stones & carvings from the facade of different wings of the chateau. The highlight of this was the gargoyles. It’s hilarious to see the grotesque faces they were all pulling, even the animal statues. Then we were whisked up a very cool spiral staircase…
…into the royal state rooms. We saw the King’s Hall, the Hall of the Guards and each of the King & Queen’s Galleries. The most interesting aspect of these rooms was the decoration of the walls and ceiling. In the previous royal residences we have visited the walls have always been covered in velvet or silk wallpapers. Here the walls were painted with intricate designs, that often carried over onto the roof, fireplaces and sometimes doors. It’s like I Spy to actually find the exit in this picture:
We really loved the look of the paintings, it was elegant and yet slightly more rustic. And every room was just bursting with color, so it was always very cheerful. This is how Kristin would decorate her palace…Justine is still more into the Louis XIV Versaillies style.

The King & Queen’s bedchambers were a high point, as they always seem to be in these chateaux/estates/palaces. The beds were intricately carved and there was not an inch of the rooms that wasn’t decorated. The rooms were beautiful, although the Queen’s bed was little ridiculously over-the-top with the patterns. It’s like another I Spy game:
Off the bedrooms was a small chapel area where the King could do his nightly prayer & meditation in peace. This is really only worth mentioning because it was a strikingly beautiful little closet…much nicer than the actual chapel that was attached to the building.

The final room was the Hall of the Estates General. This hall was built before 1220 and still has the original layout. It used to be the hall of justice for the courts of Blois and got it’s name when King Henri III had representatives of 3 estates (the novels, the clergy & the third estate) summoEd here for a meeting of the estates general. It is painted only in primary colors + green, but with yellow replaced by gold, and shines with such a happy, glowing air that it looked more like it should have housed parties…not courts. The ceiling featured about a million fleur-de-lis and even the floor is tiled with colorful patterns. In one corner stod a random but gorgeous wood staircase. And in another was a replica throne (we had seen the real one upstairs in the state rooms). We each made sure to take our turns ruling the nation of France.
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Outside and around the corner we visited the tour du Foix, which is a tower that still remains front he 13th century fortifications. It was really just a stone circular room, but the view from the walls around it was worth the walk (which was only like 30 steps). We liked how mish-mash-y the houses looked, not at all in perfect lines like in Paris. It was also quite picturesque with the rooftops & chimneys and the big church next door.

Our other stop in Blois was the Maison de la Magie…or for this of you who do not know French, the House of Magic. Great note about this place, it was free today too! This crazy place featured many odd things. First there was a small museum dedicated ot Harry Houdini. It had a recreation of rooms of his house and things he’d used in his tricks. Then there was a floor full of “tricks”. They were rearly just a collection of optical illusions, but some were really neat. There were lots of pictures…the kind that are all like “if you look at it this way it’s a bunny, but if you look at it this way it’s a duck” and “these stairs are going up, but wait they’re actually leading to a lower floor.” there were also things you looked straight into and saw your face upside down, or your feet, or your neighbor. It was kinda tripy. Then there were the fun house mirrors that made you short & fat or really curvy or, our favorite, tall & skinny. The top floor was the halloscope. When you reached th stop of the stairs there was a man who told you to hold onto the handrail then handed you glasses. But when you went to put them on you realized they were actually a contraption holding a mirror right under your eyes. Guided by the railing you walked through a room that had a whole underwater scene mounted to the roof. Looking forward you saw it reflected in the mirror so it felt like you should be walking on nothingness or through solid objects. It was a really interesting effect where your sense of sight seemed to be battling your sense of touch and all the while your poor brain was awfully confused.

We returned to Tours earlier than expected, since we couldn’t get to Chambord today. We decided to try to get to another estate instead. Chateau Chenonceaux is open the latest and has a train run almost right to it. It seemed like the obvious choice plus it was one of Jusine’s top chateaus to see. We hurried back to the hotel for internet access so we could find when the next train left. You might wonder why we didn’t just ask at the ticket counter but our hotel is so close ot the train station that it is almost less of a walk from the platforms to get there than to go to the main station counter. We found that there was a train leaving in 10 minutes! So we boogied back to the platform and were on the train with 4 minutes to spare.

The Chateau de Chenonceaux was built on the site of an old mill on the River Cher. As in Blois, this Chateau was occupied by the same French kings. Henry II offered the chateau to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers who fell in love with it. When Henry died suddenly, his widow and now regent Catherine de’Medici had Diane expelled and made Chenoneau her new favorite residence. From the outside the chateau looks like it is straight out of a fairy tale. It is made of beautiful white stone with large turrets and a storybook tower out from. We were both immediately reminded of Rapunzel!
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Inside it was richly decorated with dark wood furniture and cloth wall coverings. The residents also seemed to be very fond of large wall tapestries, although we don’t really see the appeal. The bedrooms all feature gorgeous canopy beds and there was a very large, very well equipped kitchen for the era. We were too cheap to spring for the audio guide but Justine acted as tour guide reading the descriptions of each room in the free info pamphlet. Our favorite rooms were the Grand Hall (pictured below) and Louise du Lorraine’s bedroom. The Grand Hall was a long room that actually stretches over the river that runs right behind the chateau. The stone arches along the wall and the black & white tiles floor were elegant, yet fun and light feeling. Very fitting for the room where the balls used to be held! During WWI this hall was used as a hospital ward and during WWII this Hall was a means of escaping from the Nazi occupied zone on one side of the river to the free zone on the opposite bank. Louise du Lorraine’s bedroom was the complete opposite. It had dark walls, bed hangings and a feeling of sadness hanging over it. The paintings were very religious (as most were in this ear) but all very upsetting or depressing biblical scenes. This mood was created because she had retired to Chenonceaux following the assassination of her husband, Henry III. She lived here surrounded by nuns and dressed always in white, the royal mourning color. She became known as the “White Queen”.

The gardens of the Chenonceaux estate were just as beautiful as the house. The one river bank looked like untamed wilderness (a perfect hunting ground for the kings of old) while the other was perfectly manicured. There were 2 gardens, named after the two main mistresses of the house. The Diane de Poitiers Garden had beautiful rose trees that looked so nice they might have been fake. The Catherine de’Medici Garden had a jet-spray fountain in the middle and was surrounded by a low wall you could promenade along. This was a great vantage point for a side view of the castle.

The highlight of the garden though was a short walk away from the house. Once you had passed through a treed patch you reach the farm & vegetable garden. This was comprised a a clump of cute little cottages that had once been a working farm used to supply the chateau. Just past it was a vast garden setup in the most adorable way. It was full of flowers and vegetables and little paths and places to sit. There were archways with large gourds hanging from them that really just made us laugh…and not want to walk under them…what if one fell on your head?!
We spent a good length of time just wandering through and looking at all of the plants.
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If you walked long enough to reach the back of the garden you were rewarded with a meeting with a donkey 🙂

The weather network website had told us it was supposed to rain in the afternoon today. We had a nice sunny day. And it almost held out until we got home…almost. About 4 minutes before our train back to Tours showed up we started to get a few sprinkles. Then about 30 seconds before the train arrived (we could literally see it down the tracks, it just hadn’t reached us yet) it started to pour. But if we only got stuck in 30 seconds of rain all day we can’t complain too much!

For supper we returned to the central town square. We both feasted on a calzone. We realize that’s an Italian based dish, but it had a French twist! You see, they are obsessed with eggs here. They put them in everything. And our calzone had an egg in it…but not a scrambled or omlette style egg. No it was just a normal egg hanging out in the middle so when you cut in the yolk went everywhere. Weird!

Love, Luck & the Loire,

Lima Beans…or Leotards…

And after an exciting week in Paris…we are back to travel days… Sorry to hit you with a lame post, but try to remember how good the last couple of days were!

This morning we packed our stuff up and hopped on a train to Chartres. The ride was only an hour, so we were there in no time! There were no lockers at the r.ail station so we hitched up our packs and took them with us. The town itself was cute & ecclectic looking, with a random little fair ground in the middle. Right from the station exit you can see the cathedral rising above the small shops & bistros. That made it nice and easy to find. We decided we would like all of our sites to be like this…or perhaps we just need a magical giant, blinking arrow to float over where ever we want to go.

The Chartres Cathedral is the largest Notre Dame Cathedral in France. There have been 5 churches on this site throughout history. The current cathedral was built in 1193. Unfortunately the entire place is currently undergoing restoration, so there was scaffolding up in a couple of locations. It didn’t stop us from appreciately the grandeur though. The tall spires and the masses of flying butresses (what a fun word!) make for quite a spectacular sight.

Inside was no different. It was all lighted by candles in little red pots, placed all over the church. The high ceilings featured gorgeous gothic arches and many panels of stained glass. As opposed to some windows we have previously seen, these were no quite as bright, but were amazing for the detail they carried. The tiniest pieces were used to piece together incredibly intricate scenes. There was also a collection of detailed carving work along the outside of the altar area. It housed so many tiny statues. Interestingly, a lot were without heads. Scaffolding again obstructed our view of a few places, but we were able to see one fully restored section. The aged and blackening walls had be put back to their original shining white. This place will look amazing once it is all done!

The highlight of the cathedral would have to be the altar dedicated to Notre Dame, or Our Lady…being Mary. We were awed by the beauty of the candlelit chandeliers and how the light glittered off the golden statues and details.
The area housing Mary’s veil was also stunning. In 876 the cathedral acquired a piece of fabric believed to be the tunic worn by Mary at the time of Christ’s birth. When the church burned down in 1194 the fabric remained unharmed. The people of Chartres took this as a sign to quickly rebuild a larger and more grand cathedral to protect it. The new cathedral was completed in only 60 years (in comparison it took over 200 years to built the Notre Dame in Paris). In front of it was a large wrought iron gate with beautiful detailing and the case holding the veil was visually very interesting.

When we exited the cathedral we were greeted by a group of Roman soldiers….seriously. Lined up in front of the church was a group of men dressed as Roman Legionaries and two woman in toga-like dresses handing out flyers. I was a promotion for something…but we’re not sure what. The flyer was in French.

After gawking at the Romans we went in search of lunch. We ended up having Croque Monseiur at a little bistro in between the church & the train station. We then went back to the station to wait for our train. We could probably (and by probably we mean definately) have done our journey to Tours quicker but we chose to only take trains that didn’t require reservations. We were in no hurry so we decided we would rather save the money (as you have to pay for reservations) than get to Tours 2 or 3 hours earlier. This slower route meant a 2 hour lay-over (is it called that with trains or just with planes?) in Le Mans, but that was ok with us. Justine was having a tired day so she slept and Kristin entertained herself writing blog posts & playing on her iPad.

When we arrived in Tours we checked into our hotel. No, that is not a spelling mistake. We are in a hotel, not a hostel. The only hostel in Tours is way far away from the train station. This didn’t really work for us as the sights in the Loire Valley are far spread & we were planning on taking a train every day. So we’ve booked ourselves into a cheap hotel right by the station. It’s kinda dive-y looking from the outside and a little old & rundown on the inside, but it will do. We have our own room, with our own non-bunk beds and our own TV that actually gets an English channel (it’s CNN news, but we’ll make do).

We then went for a wander around Tours. It’s a nice town with a few busy shopping streets. We eventually settled on a place to eat right in the center town square. We sat out on the covered patio and enjoyed the relatively good weather.
Justine had Penne Primavera. It was yum, yum, yummy!
Kristin had the house specialty pizza, but it wasn’t a very traditional pizza. It was more like a baked pita with goat cheese, ham, lettuce & a creamy, chive-y, honey-y spread. She was trying to be adventurous like her mother & Dylan would want her to be…and it paid off! It was super delicious!

Now it’s early to bed to catch up on sleep lost to hours by the Eiffel Tower.

Love, Luck & Lima Beans,