No Wonder the Peasants Ended Up Revolting!
28.09.2013 - 02.10.2013
Yes I know I haven't written for a while but I have to have the experiences to be able to tell the stories. And now I'm on the plane home I've got the time to tell the stories.
So last time we talked it was Bordeaux and yummy wines. This time our adventures saw us in a little town called Mer between Blois and Orleans in the Loire valley. How you get a town called Mer in the middle of the country, nowhere near the sea which is what the word means in French, is beyond me. It was also beyond Google Maps, because every time I entered it in the search it put me on a seaboard somewhere in France nowhere near my destination.
The Loire is the valley of Middle Ages excess. It's the valley of Chateaux with a capital C. They're everywhere you drive, and the French seem very proud of them. That's understandable as a tourist offering, but a bit weird when you think about the French Revolution and modern France's fierce pride in that Revolution.
Frankly, by this stage, we were flagging after nearly 4 weeks of touristing, steeped in art and history. So, we decided it was a fair chance that seeing one chateau meant getting a pretty good idea of the whole Chateau-building obsession. (Yes it's definitely a first world problem to get chateau or history-fatigue.) But to do it justice, we went to two.
The first was Chambord which is arguably the biggest and most famous wedding cake you could see. This just happened to be so close to where we were staying that we had actually dined at a hotel in the grounds the night before. The immediate grounds were surprisingly plain and the castle itself was mainly empty when I expected it to be filled with recreations of the period.
However, it was amazing and from the top was a stunning view across the countryside. The most delightful, and totally unnecessary, feature was a set of massive dual spiral staircases weaving their way up through the entire centre of the building. We each walked one set of the stairs, and every metre or so was a window-sized opening into the central stairwell where we could see and talk to each other. My fevered brain instantly imagined ladies and gentlemen in sixteenth century dress flirtatiously running up and down stairs, playing tricks on each other. Maybe I should watch less period dramas!
Of course, much to Phil's delight, there was an abundance of gargoyles to photograph so that was bit of entertainment for him. My recollection is that this was built as a hunting lodge for the king. Some bloody hunting lodge - is all I can say. But what that meant was that it was surrounded by miles of beautiful forest with stags and wild boar etc and that was all inside the chateau walls. On two nights, we used that road to get to local towns for dinner and each night we saw wild boar foraging on the roadside!
The other chateau we visited was Cheverny, where you only see parts of the building because some French aristocrat and his family still live there. It was a bit weird looking at family photos of them in some of the rooms we were ushered through. It did prove our theory though. Seen one ...
Though there were a couple of oddities I wanted to share, apart from the oddity of grooms and kennel men in eighteenth century breeches etc. Apparently the Marquise of Whatsisname is a keen hunter and horseman. So there were these massive concrete kennels enclosures with a 'house' in the middle of them for these ENORMOUS beagles which are the hunting dogs. We watched them being fed. Firstly, one man with a whip went into the enclosure of about 50 dogs and with a few shouts and flicks of the whip had them all retreating into the kennel baying at the door but too scared to come out of the still open door.
After washing down the concrete he then returned with this massive wheelbarrow filled with about 40kg of dried dog food and at least as much again in huge poultry carcasses still with their combs etc on. This was dumped in the centre of the enclosure to increased baying and howling from the dogs now behind a closed door in the kennel.
He then returned with another group of about 50 more hounds who were let loose on this food while the others remained behind the door. Eventually the enclosed group were also allowed out and they were climbing all over each other to get to the food as well as fighting over carcasses. Clearly they were working dogs where a hierarchy is maintained, but I personally found it all somewhat cruel and a little sickening.
The other intriguing element is that the chateau was the basis for Herge's drawings in Tintin, the children's stories. Having had a stage of obsession for Tintin within our household back in late primary school days, we decided to tour the Tintin gallery which was quite clever and interactive and would be heaven for any Young Tintin reader. In fact, I have a great-nephew who is probably heading into the right age group to be introduced to Tintin, especially given his obsession with France!
While I stayed home writing for all of you, P went walking down by the River Loire and watched the locals kayaking and even better playing petanque in delightful parkland beside the river.
So he got some respite from his endless driving around. But secretly, I think he actually enjoyed hammering down the freeway at 130kph, even if it was on the "wrong" side of the road!