Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Good Life

Day 123

Once I got my act together I headed out to get a bus to Chambord. Chambord is another fabulous palace that was built mostly by Francis I in 1519. It was meant to be a hunting lodge. There are 77 staircases, 282 fireplaces and 426 rooms. This place is massive. Not only is the building massive, but the park that surronds it is the same size as inner Paris.

King Francis I began construction in 1519, but it was not finished until about 200 years later when Louis XIV (the sun king) took over the project. This place is just immense and breath taking. I wanted to know everything about it and treated myself to an audio guide.

After entering the keep the first thing I saw was a magnificent double helix staircase. This was odd as most fancy staircases were built on the outside to show them off. It is also thought that Leonardo di Vinci might have designed it.

Even though this place was seriously massive you had to be really special to the king to be invited to say here. The rest of the people traveling with him got stuck sleeping outside or with locals.

I did get a bit confused while walking around here. Most of the rooms have been meticulously restored, just not all to the same period. Several different people lived here and the rooms were a real mix of styles. I’ve tried to arrange this chronologically.

After King Francis death in 1547 the building was a construction site. Still, he managed to leave a permanent mark on the building by engraving his symbol, the salamander, every where. The palace didn’t even have much furniture. Apparently it was too expensive to keep every single one of the kings residences fully furnished. The king traveled constantly to be seen by his subjects and might only visit some of his homes once or twice. Furniture would either be brought in or made on the spot for only the duration of the visit.

By 1634 when Gaston ‘d Orleans, King Louis XIII brother, was given the castle it was in a state of severe disrepair. He decided to continue construction and refurbished the existing building in the same manner that it had begun in. This gave it a look of continuity that many palaces lack.

The work was still not quite done when he died in 1600. At this point Louis XIV had ascended the throne and took interest in the structure. He only stayed at Chambord 9 times during his reign, but saw to it that the building was finished. It is easy to see where his building took place because his emblem, the sun, decorates the walls.

Chambords next occupant was Stanislaus Leszcyski, the exiled king of Poland from 1725 – 1733. I don’t think that he had a lasting affect on the palace because he wasn’t much mentioned, just really a few paintings. In 1748 the Marquess of Saxony moved in for two years. He updated the building a bit and even built a theater. He apparently threw the wildest parties in France.

In 1792, at the beginning of the revolution, most of the furnishings that had been left by everyone over the centuries was cleared out. The building was in decay. This was furthered when Napoleon used Chambord as barracks. In 1815 it was put up for sale and in 1921 given by public conscription to the Duke of Bordeaux, the man who would have been King Henri V, but never was. The French government bought the palace from his heirs in 1930.

During WWII there was great fear that Paris would be bombed. In order to protect the priceless artwork palaces in the more rural areas were used to store the pieces. Chambord acted as a sorting center for pieces from the Louvre and the Cluney Museum.

Today Chambord is mostly restored and is fabulous. Its massive size made it feel like it wasn’t over run with tourists. I was so excited to be here that I almost wanted to dance in the ballroom, I just didn’t want them to throw me out for being a crazy person.

Once I had finished I had some time to wander the grounds. I made sure to take a picture from every angle. There were also some stunt horses hanging out and I spent some time admiring them.

I didn’t want to get myself lost though and decided after some time to just sit at the bus stop and update my journal. There was a woman there with her 40 year old or so son. Her son clearly had some sort of mental deficiency. He waved to the bike riders as they passed and kissed my hand. I kept having to stop him from touching my hair. His mom would move him away and then apologize to me. I didn’t mind though. I tried to tell him my name and asked for his. Keep in mind that he didn’t quite understand that I don’t speak French.

Me: My name is Kathryn (while pointing to myself)

Him: mumbling

Me: My name is Kathryn (while pointing to myself)

Him: My name is Kathryn

Me: (I smiled) No, I’m Kathryn

Him: No, I’m Kathryn

He spent some time mimicking me and seemed to really enjoy it. This really helped to pass the time waiting for the bus. Soon it had arrived and it was time for the next palace.

Cheverney is another of the Loire palaces. It belongs to the Hurault family and has since the 13th century. Well, the land anyway. The palace was built in 1630. It’s not a fraction of the size of Chambord, but still worth a look. It was lived in up until the mid 1980’s. There wasn’t an audio guide this time, but a rather detailed pamphlet.

Most of the rooms had been decorated in the 1800’s in a 17th century style. In one of the upstairs rooms there had a whole array of toys, including a wooden horse from Napoleon III’s time. The current marquise’s boring looking wedding dress was on display. Some of the tapestries were the best preserved ones I have seen yet. There was also a document signed by George Washington in which the family is mentioned. The library was the best. I would have loved to run my fingers over the old books. I don’ t think they would have been in English though.

This was a much smaller palace and I had to be back early for the bus back to Blois, it was the last one of the day.

While I was waiting a bridal party came out of the church. The women were all wearing really crazy hats.

Back in Blois I made a quick stop at the only internet café in town to figure out how to get to my next hostel. I spent some time blogging on the uber slow, but free computers there before calling it a night.

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