Friday, January 17, 2014

Castles Large and Small

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Tuesday, April 29, 2013

Craig and I got up earlier than usual so that we could meet Darcy at the train station for a day trip to Blois. Though the morning was overcast and chilly, the trip through the French countryside was still beautiful. By the time we reached Blois, the weather had become drizzly, but since we had remembered to bring umbrellas, we weren't really inconvenienced. Our first stop in the lovely town was a patisserie, of course. We carried our bag of goodies over to a nearby cafe, where we asked if we could consume them there, along with the coffee we would purchase. Soon, we were seated at a table in the cozy back room where we enjoyed our mid-morning snack. I tried a new pastry - a Paris Brest - and was not disappointed. It is made of choux pastry, split and filled with a rich toasted almond cream and topped with powdered sugar and more toasted almonds. I have a new favorite! The shape of the Paris Brest is said to resemble the wheel of a bike. The pastry was created in 1891 to commemorate a famous bicycle race between Paris and Brest.


Paris Brest and café crème. Worth the trip.

We toured Chateau Royal de Blois after finishing our snack. It was fairly small, as castles go. It has been home to 10 kings and 15 queens. The furnishings were quite lovely, and we enjoyed reading about the history of the chateau. We then made our way down to the bus stop for the shuttle to the Chateau de Chambord. The long drive along the Loire was very picturesque, even though the day was still overcast and rainy. As the bus pulled up to the entrance, we noticed a group of people on horseback and felt a bit sorry for them riding out in the rain. There are wonderful riding trails on the 13,000 acres surrounding the castle, through beautiful old forests.


Here's your ride. 


A royal bedchamber in Blois Chateau.

Just inside the entrance to the castle grounds there were many outbuildings and tents set up where vendors were selling souvenirs, wine, cheese, and other items. There were also several restaurants there, and we thought it would be a good idea to have a bite before touring the huge castle. We dined leisurely on gallettes, quiche Lorraine, and herb-roasted chicken before finally making our way into the magnificent chateau. Chambord is huge and very ornate. It is said there are 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 84 staircases. There are very few furnishings inside. The massive structure is extremely expensive to restore and maintain; it is an ongoing work. What we saw was really quite amazing.

The double-helix staircase, which is rumored to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci, is an architectural wonder! Also wondrous is the roofline of the huge castle. It was commissioned by Francois I to resemble the skyline of Constantinople. It is certainly very unique and interesting. The chateau was originally a hunting lodge, and there is a trophy gallery where many sets of antlers hang on the cold, stone walls. Outside, you will find a moat and acres of beautifully manicured and landscaped lawns surrounded by thick forest. Boats and bicycles are available for rent, though on this day it was too cold to even consider such a thing.


Chambord Castle. And to think it was once a hunting lodge!


A section of the double-helix staircase at Chambord.

Several hours later, we were chilled through. We sighed with relief after boarding the warm bus for the ride back to Blois. We had intended to wander around the town for a while, but the damp chill discouraged us. We headed toward the train station, stopping first at a patisserie where we warmed up over coffee and pastries, laughing as Craig practiced his French. He is of German heritage, and when he speaks French, it comes out with a German accent!

Upon returning to Orléans, we rested for a bit and then, with Mathieu, we all went to a bar where we met Fanny and her five-year-old daughter, Jade. Craig and I were delighted to meet these friends of Darcy and Mathieu whom we had heard so much about. We had brought along some bottles of bubble solution for Jade, and she was soon happily blowing bubbles in the bar. We invited Fanny and Jade to join us for dinner, but the invitation was politely declined, as they were leaving for a vacation in the Alscace, where Fanny has family.

Darcy had wanted to introduce me and her dad to her favorite pizza restaurant, but they were closed for some reason, so we walked a bit further to an old favorite, Volpone. We had our meal outside, where the tables were surrounded by heavy sheets of plastic. Space heaters were scattered about the enclosure, emitting a comforting warmth. The pizza was as wonderful as I remembered, especially with the pepper-infused oil to drizzle on top.

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