So does this make me a princess now? - Loire region, France
There’s a freedom that I’m absolutely addicted to, when you plan your own vacation and can just wander around, doing whatever the heck you like. However, the downside to this is that it may be more expensive than taking part of a tour planned by a traveling company. If we’ve ever had a coffee date, you may have had the misfortune of enduring my “why I hate tour buses” rant. However, my love for castles and spending less money easily surpasses this dislike.
Yes, I’m getting on with the story! France (unlike Canada), has a much longer history, which I admit is more interesting than most of Canadian history. I mean, they had castles and boho artists who lived off of wormwood alcohol. The WisconTwins found a tour to the Loire region, that would take us to 4 castles. The opportunity to be a princess? Heck yes! So, myself, KB, FarmBoy, Ashley, and Marcus quickly signed up, endured some sketchy metro rendez-vous, and jumped onto a bus!
Taking these buses again reminds me of how much I despised them when I was younger, and how much more I appreciate trains and even planes, surprisingly. You just had to keep chanting the mantra of “I’m going to be a princess, these castles better be worth it” over and over again in your head, while the tour guide enjoys the sound of his voice. They repeated the same information several times and in several languages (mainly French and Mandarin, and sometimes English), and sometimes their facts weren’t straight. I know that I really should not laugh at ‘English as a Second Langauge’ attempts, but sometimes they really are just too funny. One prime example was when they told us that their announcements were over and we could finally sleep, it came out as “you can close your eyes now.” …it was funny at the time.
But this blog entry is about castles, so let’s (finally!) get to it.
Stop #1: Chambord
I feel that this castle, besides from Versailles, is one of the most iconic and recognizable castles in France. It has a very classic “castle” shape, and I do believe that it served as inspiration for the castle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Now here’s a couple of things that I learned from this weekend - #1: You always think that castles are larger than they are, because it’s something they must have taught us when we were little and still wrote Princess as our dream profession. The grounds are definitely grand, but the castle itself is moderate. I suppose it’s easier to defend if it’s not super big.
Hands down, the most impressive detail of the interior was the double helix staircase, so that you people could walk up the staircase and never be able to meet while they were in the staircase. Other than that, it wasn’t as impressive as it could have been, especially because they have most of the rooms closed off to the public. What was lacking inside, the outside made up for it. They have smaller spiral staircases at each corner of the castle that were just as decorated as the rest of the building, and so we have a great time running down and trying to fun group photos. Yah, we were that group that did all the crazy stuff for photos.
Stop #2: Cheverny
At first glance, you would not call this a castle, because its exterior was not entirely made of stone, nor did it have towers and all that jazz. I guess since royalty lived there and it is quite grand inside, we can still call it a castle. This castle is purely french aesthetics, no traces of the Renaissance ever getting its grasp on this building. I did appreciate that they had a very specific path through the castle so that you saw the rooms in the correct order, but some of the employees were very strict about it. Here is the second lesson - If you don’t have an impressive garden, I’m less likely to enjoy the castle. Cheverny was quite nice, but once we got outside, it was the grounds that we enjoyed. Less people around, fountains, flowers, what’s not to love? Also, most of the lawns did not allow people to walk or sit on it, but that never stopped us. It almost became an unwritten rule for us to do something interdit (forbidden) each day, whether it be leaning on priceless tables, touching tapestries or walking on perfectly groomed lawns. Aren’t we such a pack of rebels? Oh, and this castle is famous for their hundreds of hounds for hunting. It’s extremely frightening when they feed because it’s just a swarm of powerful dogs, tearing into raw chicken. Yah.
3rd lesson of this trip - not a single day went past without some kind of wine tasting. This was our favourite lesson. We found a free wine tasting right next to the exit of the castle grounds, and we liked the red wine so much that we picked up a bottle for some after dinner drinks. If my mother is reading this, please be assured that I have not become an alcoholic! I just really like the wine, and having it for super cheap is simply the icing on the cake.
Stop #3: Chenonceau
Hands down, Chenonceau was everyone’s favourite castle. At first glance, it was already interesting. I mean, one section of the castle goes over a section of the river. I could gush forever, so I’ll just talk about the best thing about this castle - flowers. Flowers everywhere. There are two spectacular gardens on either side of the castle, both with a central fountain, and a flower and vegetable farm not far from that that had thousands of tulips. I wanted to break down and cry because it was so beautiful. But wait, there’s more! Because they have this flower garden, each room in the castle has an elaborate flower arrangement. Honestly, it really makes the difference, and you can smell the freshness of the flowers while you’re in the room. Nothing else that I say about this will make sense, so I’ll just leave some pictures.
Stop #4: Ambroise
Unlike the 3 previous castles, Ambroise castle is located in the heart of the city, near the Sunday markets and restaurants. The head tour guide gave me an hour and a half for lunch. Well, we already ate earlier, what should we do? Do another wine tasting, of course! For 3€, we got a free wine glass engraved with the name of the region, and got to try roughly 30 different wines from at least 20 different vineyards. We barely got to the end of it without feeling extremely merry and looking very flushed. It was a good decision because after Chenonceau, Ambroise was thet follow-up act that just couldn’t deliver. It was alright, castle-wise and grounds-wise, so we just spent most of our time taking some nice aerial shots of the city and the Loire river (that our trip was named after). The one redeeming quality to Ambroise was its chapel. It was an adequate chapel, but it was the fact that Leonardo da freakin’ Vinci was buried there. Final lesson of this trip - do your research or else you could miss something big. Thank goodness I was bored enough to wander inside or else I could have missed a huge Renaissance giant. Now if only I had enough time to back to Florence and see Michaelangelo’s tomb…
Really, nothing else happened after this point, besides a very long bus ride back to Lille, where I tried to sleep and drown out the really bad episodes of Mr. Bean. Don’t get me wrong, Rowan Atkinson is fabulous, but Mr. Bean just rubs me the wrong way.
I’ve never felt so royal in my life after this weekend, and it was definitely pricey, what with hidden costs, but totally worth it. Central France - finished!
Should have worn a sparkling pink crown all weekend,