So I have to admit, day 3 of Loire Valley started out a little rough. We had been out late the night before in Tours and then continued the party in our room after we got home. Leeson and I woke up a little late and were moving pretty slow so by the time we got down to breakfast we had about 3 minutes to down some coffee and shove some food in our mouths before we had to, you guessed it, get back on the bus. We headed off towards Chateau de Blois. It was the residence of several French kings; it is also the place where Joan of Arc went in 1429 to be blessed by the Archbishop of Reims before departing with her army to drive the English from Orleans. Built in the middle of the town of Blois, the chateau of Blois comprises several buildings constructed from the 13th to the 17th century around the main courtyard. The four wings are built in four different styles: Gothic, Flamboyant, Renaissance, and Classicism. Its most famous piece of architecture is the magnificent spiral staircase in the Francois I (Renaissance) wing. The main entrance is through the Louis XIII (Flamboyant) wing. This wing, of red brick and grey stone, forms the main entrance to the chateau, and features a statue of the mounted king above it. As you walk through you enter the courtyard and your eye is immediately drawn to the spiral staircase of the Francois I wing. It is a beautiful piece of architecture. This wing contains the apartments of Francois I and afterward Catherine de Medici. Catherine de Medici passed away here January 5, 1589. We were given a short overview of the chateau and allowed to walk around on our own. Unfortunately it had started raining so we did not spend much time outside. An interesting thing to note is that, according to legend, the assassination of the Duke de Guise occurred here in the King's bedchamber. The Duke collapsed at the foot of the King's bed after being stabbed by eight assassins who were acting on the King's orders. The Duke had in fact been planning a coup d'etat in order to take over the kingdom.
By this time it was lunchtime and since we barely ate breakfast we were starving. It was Sunday and typically everything is closed on Sundays in France, but we found a cafe that was open and had lunch (Croque Monsieur for me!). After lunch we headed out towards the final stop of the weekend...Chambord.
King Francois I was 25 years old in 1519 when he initiated the huge enterprise of building Chateau de Chambord (this guy gets around). As soon as he acceded to the throne in 1515, Francois I set out to reconquer the Italian province of Milan, which his predecessor, Louis XII, had lost. On his return to France, the ambitious young king and very keen huntsman, stimulated by his victory at Marignano and influenced by Italy's Renaissance architecture, undertook to build Chambord. Chambord was intended as a hunting lodge but its architecture makes it an extravagant chateau since it is 156 meters long and 56 meters tall with 77 staircases, 282 fireplaces, and 426 rooms. Francois I reigned for 32 years, during which he only spent 72 days at Chambord; he never saw his project completed for on his death in 1547 only the keep and royal wing had been finished. It was his son, Henry II, and Louis XIV, both likewise very fond of hunting, who were responsible for making Chambord the way it looks today. It has also been designated a world heritage site by UNESCO.
We arrived at Chambord and I have to tell you, I have never seen something so extravagant in my life. It is HUGE! The first thing you notice are what seems like endless rows of chimneys of different designs and heights. It is truly incredible. We walked in and in the center of the keep is the famous double staircase. It links the chateau's three floors and also supports the lantern surmounted by a fleur-de-lys. The staircase comprises of two concentric spiral flights of stairs that wind independently around a hollow central column, so if two people each take one flight they can see each other through the openings in the central column but will never meet! On each floor, four hallways forming a cross lead off from the staircase, separating off four virtually identical sets of living quarters. This very innovative layout for France and the ingeniousness of the central staircase suggests that Leonardo da Vinci, who had come to France in 1516 at the request of Francois I, may have helped inspire the project.
Robin, Katharine, Leeson, Briana, Brian, and I all started walking around the staircase and through the center of it. You could walk into the center column and look up and see the window holes stretching all the way up. We decided this was a perfect photo op. We made Brian lie on the floor of the column and we all poked our heads through different windows and take our picture. It came out really cute. Thanks Brian!
We wandered around some more to the different rooms where we saw plenty of the fireplaces and animal heads mounted everywhere. I still can't believe this place was only the King's hunting lodge and he only spent 72 days here! There are inscriptions and carvings on the ceilings and doors everywhere of "F"'s (for Francois) and salamanders, a mythical creature able to live in fire and was the King's emblem. So I keep telling you about King Francois, which probably no one has ever heard of. But, if anyone has seen the movie Ever After with Drew Barrymore, you'll remember that the King's name was Francis (and in French, Francois) and his son, the prince, was named Henry. You'll also remember that Leonardo da Vinci was a guest of the King. Starting to make sense now? ;)
We walked out to the panoramic walkway and could see just some of the park that surrounds Chambord. The estate covers 5440 hectares (13442 acres), the same area as inner Paris, and is surrounded by a wall 32km long with six gates. It is the largest enclosed forest park in Europe and a national game reserve containing many types of animals including wild boar and deer. In person it is massive. And we had seen plenty of the boars and deer mounted on the walls, but that was as close to seeing them as we got. As our time wound down and we started heading out and had to cross the gravel courtyard. So of course Leeson and Briana, being Leeson and Briana, did some gravel angels. Love those girls...
And of course, as we were walking out, the rain started pouring. We suffered in it long enough to take a group picture and then hightailed it back to the bus. Our Loire Valley trip was over but I saw things had experiences that I will never forget. And in true Cinderella form this was, for now, The End.