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Published: July 27th 2019
We wake to find that it’s been raining overnight, and it is thankfully much cooler.
We meet Mark and Carol and head for the Chateau de Chambord which is about 40 kms north east of Amboise. As we pass through some small villages along the way Carol tells us that all these villages have their own festivals at some time during the year and that we should see if there are any on while we’re here. She says that they all have their own themes, and that the festival at the village next along the river from Amboise, for example, is called “The Festival of the Stuffed Tomato”.
We read that Chambord is the largest chateau in the Loire Valley and one of the most recognisable chateaus in the world. It was built by King Francis I of France over twenty eight years from 1519 to 1547, and was never fully completed. Its original architect was Italian, and there is some suggestion that Leonardo da Vinci, who lived near Amboise and was a friend of the King, may also have had a hand in some of its design.
The chateau is spectacular. Its towers certainly have an Italian
feel to them, although the architect’s intent was apparently to make the Chateau’s outline look a bit like the skyline of Constantinople. The central staircase is a double helix, so it’s really two staircases that only intersect at the landings. Although it has a moat around it, a central keep and four corner towers, it wasn’t built with the aim of defending its inhabitants, but rather as a hunting lodge for the king. The king only ever spent a total of seven weeks here in short hunting visits, as living here on a permanent basis wasn’t practical as the high ceilings and open windows meant it was virtually impossible to heat. There also weren’t any villages around it, so whenever the king and his entourage came here they had to bring their own food. It was also completely unfurnished, so again, every time the king and his fellow hunters decided they wanted to turn up here it became a major logistical exercise to have all their furniture, wall and floor coverings, and eating utensils brought here for them. A lot of the furniture made around this time was apparently designed to be disassembled so it could be transported more easily,
and thus meet the needs of the king and other ridiculously wealthy nomadic aristocrats. It seems that these brief hunting sorties were serious exercises usually involving upwards of two thousand people.
We wonder what the local peasant farmers and their families thought about all of this. They presumably lived a subsistence existence in tiny farmhouses. Compare this with the lives of the king and his wealthy mates who turned up every few years with food, plates and assemble-your-own furniture in tow, to spend a few days in a ridiculously over the top opulent chateau, which sat completely empty the rest of the time, and all just so they could shoot a few deer. I don’t think it’s all that surprising that France eventually had a revolution.
We finish walking around the chateau and adjourn to a cafe near the entrance. Getting a small snack lunch is not easy. Mark and Carol tell us that French people traditionally have their biggest meal at lunchtime and then only a snack in the evening. Lunch is apparently also usually accompanied by wine. The whole session typically takes two hours and the second hour is often spent snoozing. I’m not sure I’d
make a particularly effective Frenchman. If I had a large meal and wine for lunch I don’t think an hours’ snooze would do it for me; I think it’s more likely I’d wake up just in time for dinner.
Mark and Carol’s two daughters did some schooling here when they were young, and they tell us that their teacher used to get stuck into the wine at lunchtime and then go back to teaching their daughters in the afternoon. I hope all the important lessons were held in the morning. The teacher apparently didn’t like their girls very much, mostly because they used to correct her when she was trying to teach the rest of the class English.
It’s started raining again so we decide to do some drive-by chateau visiting, and hope that we can get some glimpses of some of these spectacular buildings from their car parks without needing to get out into the now pouring rain. This is only partially successful. It seems that a lot of the French aristocracy were keen to keep their mansions well hidden from the prying eyes of the peasants behind high walls and thick forests of vegetation, and we
are now getting a good feel for how the peasants probably felt about this.
We dine again in a small cafe on the edge of the square in Amboise. I learnt French at school, but my brain doesn’t do languages, so I can only remember the odd word and phrase. Carol seems to speak very good French. We finish dinner and I try to practice some of my long forgotten French by thanking the waiter and excusing myself for not speaking his language by telling him that I am Australian. He gives me a slightly odd look. Apparently I got the first bit right, but Carol tells me that I then told him that I am an Australian woman. I think that now might be a good time to leave.
Mark and Carol will be driving back to Augerolles early tomorrow morning so we retire to a bar for a farewell drink. We’ve had a great time with them.
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