We finally touched down this morning at 7am Paris time, after a very long 24 hours flight. I think between us we have gotten about 10 hours sleep, but we're both very excited and had the adrenalin pumping after we landed. The flight was mostly smooth, with some bumps around Java, and then in the bay of Bengal. The bay was a little worse than normal, but in a plane the size of the 380, it smooths them out a bit.
We got our luggage without too much fuss. The only challenge was seeing the bags on the conveyor belt, as all of the passengers were standing as close to the belt without being on top of it. Tess sat aside so to reduce the crowding, as there were more and more people pushing in all the time.
Once we got the bags, it was a quick trip to the rental car desk, to fill in the paperwork and collect our vehicle. We got given a Renault Captur, which is a small SUV. There's just enough room in the boot for one of our suitcases and one backpack. The rest fits on the back seat. Tess has elected me to drive first, seeing as I have driven a car in Europe before. Strangely enough, it didn't feel as awkward as last time, and before too long we were on the motorway heading to our first stop.
I made a suggestion to Tess, that on the way to our first destination in Chartres, we stop in a the Chateau Vaux le Viscomte. It took about an hour to get to, and we got there about 10 mins before opening time. Tess had no idea what it was we were going to see, and she was very excited when we arrived - to the point where she was taking pictures of the chateau through the car windows. I reminded here I'd stop here and she didn't have to panic as we weren't going to miss out on photos.
We waited our 10mins, and two buses pulled up with tour groups. Luckily for us, they had some slower moving passengers on them, so Tess and I got inside the chateau faster than they could. This mean that we could move around more freely, as we wouldn't have to contend with the groups in the same room. We took some pictures of the front of the Chateau, which were surrounded by the gloomy grey skies. It was lucky that the fog surrounding the airport and Paris had lifted by the time we'd gotten here.
The Chateau is very pretty. It has multiple stories and looks a bit like a classical style building with many columns in its facade. It was probably the first palatial style chateau in France. It was built by the equivalent of the Minister for Finance (Nicholas Fouquet) for the crown of Louis XiV. During this time, he built Vaux le Vicomte, with the help of three experts, Charles le Brun - a painter, Louis le Vau - an architect, and Andre le Notre - a gardener. With the skills of all three, the chateau was built over a 20 year period, and was the finest of its time. So much so, that King Louis got a bit jealous, and decided (with some pushing from agitators around him) to lock Nicholas Fouquet away.
Young Nick was tried, and argued his own defence. He got off with a condition that he leave France. Before he was able to do this, King Louis executed his own powers and had Mr Fouquet put in prison for life. There is some speculation that this story was the basis for the Man in the Iron Mask story.
The chateau itself has subsequently had a sad history, where it was passed from one person to the next, to the point where it was almost disposed of, but has subsequently been saved. The new owners spent 20 years bringing the gardens back up to their exquisite style, and have tried to recover items which were in the Chateau when Nicholas was the owner. They haven't been able to do this entirely, but the furniture they do have is representative of the period.
Most of the rooms were quite dark as all the wooden shutters were closed to protect the precious tapestries and paintings which were fading. You could however sense the grandeur that must have been part of the original state of the construction. The rooms were also small, which was done to help keep them heated. We went through several of the rooms, each telling you what they were designed for (eg Fouquet's chamber), until we came out onto a concourse which had pictures of the previous owners and their family, as well as some paintings and sketches of Fouquet's trial.
We had paid a supplement of 3 euros, which enabled us to climb up into the attic of the chateau, and then into the bell tower. This was quite small, and although it had been refurbished, the wood on the stairs seemed to be original, and didn't fill me with great confidence that it was designed for someone of my .......stature. It was also quite humid in the roof. We had to let others down the staircase before we could climb the last section, which took you outside onto the bell tower.
From here we could see the stables and other structures which formed part of the property to one side, and on the other, the sprawling gardens with their water features, statues and bright flowers. Way off in the garden was a canal, which was shown to have a big fountain in some of the paintings we saw of the old Vaux from Fouquet's time. If the fountains still exist, they weren't turned on. We stayed up here for a while and looked out and relaxed, until the bell tower unexpectedly sounded 11am. That certainly got our attention.
We then came back down into the attic again, and down the large white marble staircase to the ground floor. Here was the great hall, which had great tapestries and frescoes. In the next room was the Hercules room, which had frescos on the ceiling, along with molded cornices showing Hercules fighting various beasts.
The next room was quite possibly my favourite. It was a very large round room, almost entirely with marble. The pillars between wall sections were a pink marble, and the rest seemed to be white. In each alcove, was a bust of a famous Roman emperor or general. These included Caeser, Augustus, Pompeii and Tiberius just to name a few. The fresco in this room was meant to show an eagle soaring in the sky. Unfortunately this one is in dire need of restoration, as most of the pain is peeling off the plaster. You can still tell what it is meant to be, but the detail is damaged.
The next room was the Kings chambers. Apparently, anyone who built a stately residence such as this, had to build a room for the monarch, in case they dropped by for a cup of tea. This was also very well decorated, and after seeing Versailles (which was built after Vaux by the same three gentlemen that helped Fouquet), I could tell that it was catered particularly for Louis XIV. There was a separate balustrade in between the main part of the room and the bed. In Versailles it was explained that this was to ensure only the very, very highly respected people (and servants) were allowed close to the King. Others would be in the main part of the room.
The balance of the rooms were a little less special, and had less furniture etc in them. The kitchens were quite large - they were probably bigger than the house I live in. After this we walked through the basement, and out into the gardens.
Sleep deprivation was starting to catch Tess and myself. We looked at each other and decided neither of us had the willpower to wander amongst the massive gardens around the chateau. We went via the gift shop and then back to the car, as we had another hour and a bit until we got to our first hotel, in Chartres.
The rain came and went on our drive, and when we finally got to town it was late afternoon. We went for a small walk to familiarise ourselves, and to withdraw money (the French toll booths did not want to take ANY of the credit cards I had. Not even the prepaid ones with Euros on them - Grrrrr, that cause some discomfort at the toll booth!).
We went for dinner shortly afterwards, and were sat on a table for 2, which was very close to another table for 2. That table ended up having a couple from Queensland sitting on it. They were actually ex-pat Brits, and were very talkative. Nothing like someone feeling like they've made a new friend to spoil a romantic dinner!
After dinner, which was about 9.30, we though we'd go back to the hotel room, and put our feet up after a long day and wait until darkness came. This would mean we could go see the Chartres illuminations, which was pretty much the purpose for coming to Chartres. Well, not entirely, but a big reason.
Anyway, after what amount to 42 hours with 4 hours of sleep, the sandman decided that us putting our feet up would turn into more of a deep slumber that was intended and we missed it. Oh well!
If you made it this far, thank you! Unfortunately we haven't had much luck with the internet here in our next stop, but I'll catch up soon.