Monday, December 5, 2011

Verneuil sur Avre, day seven

It was time to really get down into the Loire Valley. Our attempt to see some serious chateaux a couple of days ago was really very poor, and we weren't going to be around these parts much longer. But it was a drive ...
Samantha guided us to the Chateau Chambord (over two hours). We had dragged the kids out of bed so we could get into the Loire in good time but as it was, we didn't really get there till close to 12 noon. Mornings are a mystery. The weather was not fantastic, but even with the deep grey skies, things were good.
We drove through farm land again, and then, rather suddenly, we drove into a forested park. I had been reading about Chambord - it was built by Francis (or Francois) I who liked all things architecture and hunting. Hence the two loves combined. The park turns out to be considerable; the various residents continued to expand it for their pleasure. That must have pleased the peasants no end. ('You can see why they had a Revolution', said Paris.)
The chateau itself is huge; out of control (or, in Paris's words, 'large and pointless'). Paris is not the only person who thought this about the Chateau Chambord. Francois himself didn't even see it properly completed and stayed only 18 times (at about three days per stay). A pretty huge sometimes holiday house.
Some fun facts about Chateau Chambord. The toilet paper was pink (I mean, contemporarily). There were no toilets in Francois time. Everyone hated Chambord. Francois spent hardly any time there, subsequent monarchs thought there were too many mosquitos in summer and too much cold in winter (indeed, we were there in winter and it was very chilly indeed). The monarchs kept trying to give it away to other people onto whom they wanted to bestow honour. These people hated it too. The revolutionaries thought they might knock it down but it turns out they got too busy killing one another to worry too much about provincial architecture, and then state got quite interested in it, and at some point acquired it for posterity. Well, we quite liked it, but we didn't have to live in it ...
Famous for a double helix staircase (Zelda quite liked this, you can walk up each successive level seeing one another through the windows but never meeting), it has a central area which was weirdly pokey (real estate speak: what is wrong with me????!). Then there were wings all over the shop; easy to get lost. Francois himself only used the tiniest of areas, a couple of rooms in one of the wings. He thought it was cold too.
Too large as a hunting lodge all around. But amazing to look at.
It was raining when we left so we didn't walk around the gardens. We did look at the historical gift shop. I was seduced by the Eau du Chambord (a blackberry liqueur ... I think). I didn't buy it. More is the pity.
We headed for Chateau Cheverny. On the way, we looked for food. But it was Sunday and nothing much was open. The children began to get very crabby.
Chateau Cheverny was much more like a house, a proper hunting lodge for real (well, you know what I mean) people. We liked this one very much and were delighted to discover that while it had been in the same family for most of the last six centuries, there were two lapses. The first was when Diane de Poitiers claimed it while hers was being built in Anet (we tried to see this one, but it was closed for winter), and the second (and this is what we loved) was when the heirs to the chateau couldn't be bothered claiming it. How great is that? That is serious wealth. It was bought back by the ancestors of the current owners and all was well in the world. The current owners hang around the house rather creepily with hideously perfect photos of themselves and their children everywhere. Lots of portraits too of French royals, and the famous portrait of Louis XVI with the abnormally small head is here. Zelda began to get rather sulky at this point. I asked her why and she claimed it was because the French royals were not as mad and interesting as the English royals. It is tough to compete with a megolomanic who likes to behead his wives for fun. I need to dig up some over the top stories about French royals, it is clear.
The Chateau Cheverny also keeps one hundred French hounds, ready to hunt at the drop of a hat. They are all corralled in a kennel at the end of the property. You can see (or smell) why they are so far from the house. Noble looking beasts. They decided that Zelda looked like fine prey and all followed her to the far end of the kennel braying. She was spooked and flattered in equal measure.
There was serious rebellion afoot as there was no food to give the kids and it was now about 4pm. They hadn't eaten since a late breakfast and this was as close to deprevation as any of them had come for some time. Through the driving rain we surged and then, like a beacon in the gloom, Myles spied something called a Pat e Pain. It was a kind of fast food bakery. The kids wolfed down a pizza and some pastries. They were then able to sit in the car in some kind of civilised manner while we drove home.
Our last night in our little gate house. We all felt sad. The kids felt seriously sad as they had to make do with the food in the house. Cereal for dinner.

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