After breakfast Robert and Pat headed across the river to see the house Leonardo da Vinci lived in during his last three years of life. David and I hit the Internet cafe (the best we’ve seen so far) and purchased an accurate street map of Paris in booklet form for our upcoming visit. It was cloudy when we woke, but upon exiting the Internet cafe, it was clear skies all around.
We met back at the hotel, nearly simultaneously, and both Pat and I had hit on the idea of visiting the charcuterie and patisserie down at the street corner for an informal lunch. Quiches, cold pizza, taboulie (Berit!), chocolate cake, eclairs and apple pie made for a pleasant midday break back in the garden outside our room.
Today’s main event: another castle. 30 or 40 kilometers of driving along the right bank of the Loire took us past Bloise to the hunting lodge of Francois I, Chambord. (Photo 122) 400 rooms and 365 fireplaces, seemingly with a chimney for each one! From the exterior it looks totally chaotic, and I think many photographers try to exaggerate this effect by the angle they choose. Once inside, the floor plan made abundant sense to a mathematician. Francois’ sister said she loved the castle, but when he was gone, she couldn’t understand how to get around inside. I think I gave the boys a similar experience. Pat choose to not go in, and so we three rushed through the eighty rooms open to the public, and I always knew just where we should end up but they were always flabbergasted to get back to the central staircase. Robert counted 41 fireplaces in our tour.
The main walls form a rectangle, three floors in front, and slightly around two corners, then one floor around the back. Attached to the front wall, inside the rectangle is the keep, square in shape, and filling but about 20% of the interior courtyard. It has a central staircase, doubled (one up, one down?), with the central core mostly walled in, but for window-like openings. At the top, protruding through the roof is an ornate “lantern” which admits light that fills the core. At each of the three floors, the staircase opens onto a large landing, with four broad hallways (10 meters wide) at right angles to each other. The resulting quadrants house large rooms, with smaller apartments on the corners. It all made perfect sense to a mathematician. With ceiling heights that could have been 6 or 8 meters, it gave a commanding sense of space. I pretended I was Francois as I descended the stairs regally when we left.
David was aghast when he finally realized that this was a retreat and not a principal residence. We walked the periphery of the roof of the keep, admiring the expansive views of the grounds and the windows, spires and chimneys that give the castle its distinctive appearance from afar. A “national house” of France, entry was downright cheap, and with eighty rooms open, we often had them to ourselves.
A river has been widened to form a long rectangular pond leading up to the castle and the woods around the property form the largest walled-in park in Europe. The opportunity to rent bikes was too good to pass up (the weather was perfect), so we shelved plans to take in the 5:00 feeding of the hunting dogs at our second stop, Cheverny. As it was, we ended up skipping the interior of Cheverny altogether since we would have only had fifteen minutes, and instead just looked at it’s backside through the fence. The bike ride was outstanding, even on subpar rental bikes, and it also gave me an excuse to finally unzip the leggings off my pants and convert them to shorts. (Photo 123)
Back home, we had dinner at Le Salamandre (Francois’ symbol was the salamander), on the island in the middle of the Loire. The street there was named Quai Marshal Foch, named after the “supreme commander” of the allies in WW I. Thierry Manoncourt had showed me that one of our relatives was descended from that same family. The boys had crepes for both a main course and for dessert and I had the best Beef Bourguignon I’ve ever had and a crepe for dessert. I’ve decided its difficult to get a bad meal in France, at least if you avoid the service areas and obvious tourist traps (like Carcassonne!). David and I took a nighttime stroll in to town to find a cash machine (“distributor of bills” in French) and by the time we got back to the hotel Pat was in bed, the key was in the room with her, the front gate was locked and the staff had gone home. I had to concoct a Class 4 route up the fence, around a post, and over a wall to get into the compound. (Photo 124)