Sunday, June 23, 2002

Paris, France

Just a glimpse of the famous bell towers... but first...

Hotel des Invalides 
Here's a close up of that golden tower we took pictures of from the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. We didn't actually go in (seeing Napolean's tomb didn't excite us all that much), but we walked around the Hotel. The grounds and the architecture are impressive!

This is the other side of the Hotel. We were once again struck by the amount of detail that went into these buildings.

Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris 

We were shocked to learn that this amazing structure was once scheduled for demolition! Thank goodness for the popularity of Victor Hugo's Hunchback to Notre-Dame -- our tour pamphlet credits this book and it's author for spearheading the restoration movement that saved it from being turned into rubble.

Stryga (at Notre Dame):   Contrary to popular belief, this is NOT a gargoyle! We learned that gargoyles are the critters designed to act as drainspouts on gothic buildings -- this stone creation is certainly not equipped to do that! The large, fanciful creatures like this one are known collectively as Chimera -- as an individual, this one is known as Stryga. The tour pamphlet suggests that he looks pensive, but I think he's rather mischevious. After all, he IS sticking his tongue out at the city of Paris!

This is looking west from near the top of the Cathedrale.

Looking northwest-ish(?)

Sacre-Couer from Cathedrale de Notre-Dame.  Just another view of the Basillica on the hill.

This is from the VERY top of the bell tower, looking east. You can see the green statues that were in the previous picture (actually, it's two pictures back) in the bottom left of this picture -- that should give you an idea of how much further up we've climbed!

Just another view of the city of Paris.

These are just three of the many stained glass windows in the Cathedrale. The soft glow that they cast over the inside of the building somehow seems to warm the cold, stone architecture. The mood inside is one of quiet reflection -- it is somehow unthinkable to speak any louder than a whisper.

This is a closer view of those windows, with the giant chandelier in the foreground.

Amboise / Veretz, France

Clos Luce 
This is the manor house that Leonardo da Vinci spent the final three years of his life in. Commissioned by Francios I, Leonardo left Italy in 1516 accompanied by Frencesco de Melzi and his servant Battista De Villanis, his belongings packed on the back of a mule. Amongst his belongings he carried three of his favorite paintings -- the Mona Lisa, Saint Anne, and Saint John the Baptist. On the 23rd of April, 1519, he wrote "No being disappears into the void", wrote his will, and commended his soul to God. On his deathbed he is reported to have wept for having "offended his creator and the men of this world through not working at his art as he should have."

One of the rooms in Clos Luce. This room was probably used by da Vinci as an art studio -- it is likely that he finished his painting of John the Baptist here.

This is the room where Francios I and da Vinci conversed and philosophized. All the furnishings in this room date from the Renaissance.

Another view of the reception room.

Leaving Amboise, we rode to Veretz for lunch before our final ride to Tours to return our equipment and make our (separate) ways onward. Here's the group (left to right):   Susan, Josh, Jan, David, Cassie, Doug, Chuck, Deanna, Glenny, and (our guides) Virginie and Jonothan.   We distrubed the quiet solitude of a lovely French couple who had come to the banks of the Loire for a peaceful picnic... to get rid of us, they offered to take this group picture.

Saturday, June 22, 2002

Chenonceau / Amboise, France

This chateau has been nicknamed the "Chateau of Six Women" and is home to the most legendary cat-fight every fought (explanation to follow in other pictures...). Building on the rubble of a fortified mill from 1515-1522, Thomas and Katherine Bohier's motto was "S'il vient a ooint, me sowiendra" meaning "If I manage to build it, I will be remembered."

In 1526, just two years after her husband, Katherine died, leaving the chateau in the hands of Antoine, the eldest of their nine children. He immediately found himself involved in an investigation by the King which resulted in his having to return 90,000 livres to the treasury (apparently there was some skimming going on by the King's financiers, some of whom Antoine was linked to). His property was also seized -- thus becoming the property of Charles V.

Diane de Poitiers Garden at Chenonceau: Upon his accession as the king, Henry II presented Chenonceau to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. Diane had a lavish garden built on the site, and lived here (and in the other properties that Henry II gave her!) until the death of the king in 1559. She also designed the arches that held up the bridge across the Cher.

Catharine de Medici’s garden: Upon her husband's death, Catherine de Medici promptly tossed her rival out of the chateau, built her own lavish gardens, and ordered the giant hall to be built upon the bridge Diane had designed. Four other famous French women:Louise de Lorraine (wife of Henry III) confined herself to her apartments here which were decorated with funeral symbols and only wore white (the color of mourning) until her death in 1601; Queen Margot (wife of Henry IV), Elisabeth of France (wife of Phillip II of Spain), Mary Stuart (wife of Francois II), and Elisabeth of Austria (wife of Charles IX) also made this their home.

View from Catharine de Medici’s garden: Four other famous French women made this their home: Louise de Lorraine (wife of Henry III) confined herself to her apartments here which were decorated with funeral symbols and only wore white (the color of mourning) until her death in 1601; Queen Margot (wife of Henry IV), Elisabeth of France (wife of Phillip II of Spain), Mary Stuart (wife of Francois II), and Elisabeth of Austria (wife of Charles IX) also made this their home.

Another view of le Chateau des Dames from Catherine's garden. 

Ch√Ęteau at Amboise 
Construction of this chateau was started by Charles VIII and Louis XII and completed by Francois I. Legend has it that there are tunnels that connect this castle to Clos-Luce, the manor given by Francios I to Leonardo da Vinci during the final years of da Vinci's life. The tunnels are believed to have been created to allow Francios to visit da Vinci and the many inventions that he was working on for the king.

Another view of the chateau at Amboise.

The state room at Amboise. There is a twin to the fireplace seen here on the opposite end of the hall... the architecture is stunning!

A view from the top of the chateau looking across the Loire river.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Loches, France

The entry gate to the medieval town where we spent our rest day. Inside the arch at the bottom of the picture we saw where the portcullis was -- there were two of them, so unwanted visitors could be stopped from entering the city and trapped to keep them from leaving until the powers that be had decided their fate.

Under the reign of Phillip the Rash, this building was one of the places where the king resided. One of the rooms in the chateau is reported to be the place where Charles VII received Joan de Arc in 1429, and it is also here that the same Charles through lavishly decadent parties inan effort to win the affection of the "scandously wicked yet stunningly beautiful" Agnes Sorel. Many other famous French names are associated with the medieval town of Loches, but the name of Agnes Sorel is most prominent. Her tomb lies here, marking the depth of the impression that she made in her 28 years of life! (Since our visit in 2002, her tomb has apparently been moved to the nearby Collegiale Saint-Ours.)

The original iron-man.  I started with "the original buns of steel", but since that was the only portion left uncovered, I just couldn't make it work.  Apparently Napoleon was in good company, stature wise -- this full-size suit of armor couldn't have stood more than 5 feet tall.

 A view of the city of Loches taken from the top of the keep (the tower at the end of the castle).  Looking down from the keep, you have to wonder, though, how many men attempted to overtake this stronghold only to end up retreating, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y down the steep embankment they had just come up.   While up here we were told that pouring boiling oil from the top of the castle onto an advancing foe was a technique only used once in all of history as. Leave it to Hollywood to take that one episode and turn it into a regular occurrence!

I believe this is a view of the keep taken once we got back to our room (just outside of town) for the night.  While we explored this castle, our guide gave us a description of some of the more commonly used forms of torture. He claimed that the often first method of torture (and the most effective one) was to take out the implements of torture and describe their uses to the captive. Not surprisingly, this was sufficient to break many the waiting captive.  Another form of torture that was frequently used involved locking barefoot captives to long iron poles and tickling their feet with feathers. As our guide said, "For the first thiry seconds this is funny. After 30 minutes -- not so funny!"

Collegial Saint-Ours
The interior of the cathedral within the walls of the medieval city of Loches. We had the opportunity to revisit this site on the evening of the solstice -- a night that all of France devotes to free music festivals. The performance of classical vocal and instrumental music here brought tears to my eyes. I've never been so enveloped by the richness of sound... Simply breathtaking.

A close-up of the gorgeous stained glass windows that bathed the cathedral in the softest of light.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Cravant Les Coteaux, France

Cravant Les Coteaux
If we aren't mistaken, this is a ninth century church,and while it's architecture is inspiring, the real story is about a structure across the street from it. While we talked at considerable lengths about this structure, we didn't take a picture of it... which may or may not have been on purpose.

Here's the story: The structure in question stands about 10 feet tall and is about 2 feet in diameter -- column-shaped, with a rounded top. Our guide pointed out the plaque on the side of the column, then asked us to guess what it was there to commemorate. After naming various wars, seiges, famines, plagues, marriages, etc., he gave us a hint as to the signifigance of the structure we had been walking around, leaning against, and rubbing our hands on. "This used to have a wall about four feet tall that surrounded it," he explained,"and was a type of gathering place for the men in the village." Quirking an eyebrow, he went on to explain that this was one of the only pissatories still standing in France -- the others had been destroyed as more the conventional toilet became more popular in rural villages. We quietly passed around hand sanitizer and got back on our bikes...

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Usse / Chinon, France

This chateau was our first stop on our second day of riding and even from this distance, it seemed somehow magical. Apparently in 1696 Charles Perrault happened upon the estate of Usse and was equally inspired. It was here that he wrote the first of his fairy tales -- La belle au bois dormant -- The Sleeping Beauty. Today you can follow the haunting sound up the winding stairway, to the top of the tower and peek into the rooms which have been set up to depict the story of the Sleeping Beauty. Alas, the chateau is privately owned (part of it is still inhabited by the Blacas family) so we weren't allowed to take any pictures inside.

Approaching the chateau from the gardens -- the towers closest to us in the picture are the towers where the scenes of the story of the Sleeping Beauty have been set up. Throughout the two towers, the haunting strains of the Sleeping Beauty Waltz can be heard. It's a bit like getting the chance to step into a fairytale. All that was missing was the opportunity to dress up and make-believe that I was that beautiful princess... Ah well, a girl can dream!

While we were able to tour most of this chateau, we weren't allowed beyond this tower inside. What we discovered later is that the part of the chateau behind the tower is where the Blacas family lives -- guess I wouldn't want hundreds of drooling tourists to wander through my house day after day, either!

The towers of La Belle Au Bois Dormant.

On our way to Chinon (a quick 15 km from Usse), we stopped for a quick break next to this field. I just loved the bright red poppies , therefore we have a picture of them! 

This is a city with a deep, long history. In Gregoire de Tours, mention is made of a seige in 446 by Adgidius the Roman governor of Gaul. In the tenth century it belonged to the Counts of Blois who were fighting against the Count of Anjou. Richard the Lionheart (a Frenchman, not a Britan!) died here after sustaining mortal wounds at Chalus. On the evening of March 9, 1429, Joan de Arc made her apperance at the chateau and correctly identified the dauphin despite his attempts to disguise himself (seen as one of her miracles, but truth be known, his face was imprinted on every coin, so recognizing him might have been as simple as our recognition of George Washington!) The stories these walls could tell... However, our exhaustion pushed us to our hotel rather than up yet another tightly winding staircase.

This is a view of the chateau at Chinon from across the Vienne River. The tower on the end is the same clock tower as in the previous picture.

A closer look at the clock tower from across the river.

We just liked the old world feel of this street -- we walked up and down it several times as we went from our hotel to the city square. Minus the cars in the background, it was almost as if we had stepped back in time. The cars almost served to highlight the age of the city, though. The streets had clearly been designed before cars were a concern -- in many places, there was barely room for one car to squeeze by!

Jean d'Arc  
We "stumbled" upon this statue (after having been pointed in that direction by our guides!) just before we got to the Vienne river (which we crossed to take two of the previous pictures). It was here in 1429 that the peasant girl correctly identified the dauphin, starting the reconquest of France from the English.

Monday, June 17, 2002

Villandry / Azay-le-Rideau / Langeais, France

This was the first of the castles that we visited on the biking portion of our trip. There is an actual moat around the chateau (French for castle), but most of our time was focused on the incredible gardens. They are not strictly ornamental -- the vegetables grown in the kitchen garden are sold and the proceeds are used to help with the upkeep of the chateau.

Imagine a clandestine rendezvous in one of these arbors, enveloped in the delicate fragrance of the perfect roses... ah, l'amour!

One of the gardens at Villandry was this carefully designed maze of hedges. We took this picture from the platform built in the center of the maze -- yes, we made it in and out (although the out was much simpler than the in!!!).

This is the large drawing room, decorated in 18th centruy furnishings. We walked in here and all the sudden I had felt the need to rush home and work on my dollhouse -- just shrink these pieces down, and they'd be perfect!

This was taken from one of the rooms in the chateau. These are the gardens of love -- each of the four main squares (of which only two are clear in this picture, both on the left side of the picture, one on the bottom, the other in the middle) represent a different type of love (tragic love, inconstant love, tender love, and passionate love).

This is taken looking back at the chateau from a walkway overlooking the gardens of love.

The furthest end of the grounds at Villandry were occupied by this water garden and several swans.

This castle was surrounded by a moat on three sides. No swans swimming here, but we did spy some rather fearsome fish -- descendants of a former moat monster...?!

Just a beautiful old bridge... at least, that's what we could think AFTER we had ridden across it.  It was rather narrow and heavily traveled, sometimes only inches came between us and the rather large trucks headed into Langeais!

This is what remains of the oldest stone structure in France -- built aroung the end of the 10th century by Foulques Nerra. Today it stands behind the chateau at Langeais (somehow we didn't manage to get a picture of that castle from the outside -- only a picture of one of the rooms inside. Sorry!)

This is the one picture we got of the chateau that is still intact at Langeais. On December 6th, 1491, Anne of Brittany and Charles VIII were united in marriage, unequivocally uniting the French kingdom and the duchy of Brittany. One of the rooms upstairs in the chateau is decorated to depict what the ceremony must have looked like -- complete with models of the Duchess, Charles VIII and the Pope. It was quite extraordinary to be standing in a room where history was taking place a full year before Christopher Colombus set out on his voyage that led to the "discovery" of the Americas!