Thursday, March 3, 2011

Stay tuned

Hi, I'm Michelle, and I'm a blogging slacker. Honestly, I got burnt out on photo editing so I just quit doing it for a while. Then our computer monitor died. I am now awaiting the arrival of a new monitor, and a new computer to go with it, as new monitors don't tend to play nice with old computers that have old graphics cards and old-school connectors. Never fear, you will eventually get to see the rest of our trip photos, and hopefully that will happen before we go on another vacation and collect another couple thousand photos that I will have to edit!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Chateau and Jardins de Villandry

Day five wasn't quite over yet. We had another chateau visit to make on our way back home for the night. This time we weren't quite as interested in seeing the chateau as we were in seeing the gardens.

I won't even bother telling you about the history of this place as we skipped right over the castle and headed out into the many gardens. You can see an aerial view of the complex here.

We began in the vegetable garden. If I were to have a vegetable garden, I'd definitely want it to look like this one!

At the entrance to each little section of vegetable garden there was a sign with a map detailing all the various plants used in that garden.

The vegetable garden is composed of nine separate squares, each with its own geometric pattern. There are various places on the property where you can get high enough to see the patterns. These shot was taken from the herb garden, located above and adjacent to the veg garden.

We continued through the Herb Garden and on to the maze. I think we skipped this particular maze and moved right on in to the Sun Garden. It was a little more "wild" than the vegetable and herb gardens. There were two themes in this garden. One was "sun", with red and orange and yellow flowers, and the other was "cloud" with blue and purple flowers.

After the Sun Garden, we walked the border of the Water Garden.

After walked past the Water Garden, we took a path up a hill and into the woods. It eventually led back to a high wall with a promenade area from which you could look over the grounds.

You could see down into the Love Garden from the overlook. The Love Garden is broken into four areas, each representing a different type of Love. Each of the four areas has a different stylized symbol and color. Starting in the upper left in the photo below is Tender Love (pink hearts), then going clockwise, we have Passionate, Fickle, and Tragic Love (red daggers).

And that ended our visit at Villandry. We hopped back in our car and headed back to our chateau via the city of Tours. We decided to stop at one of the huge supermarkets, E. Leclerc, in Tours to do our grocery shopping for the rest of our stay in the Loire. We always have fun exploring supermarkets in Europe. The cheese and bread selections are amazing, and everything else is a bit of an adventure. On this particular trip, we learned that the French don't refrigerate their milk. We drank plenty of it and lived to tell the tale.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Chateau d'Azay-le-Rideau

We left Chinon and drove northeast to Azay-le-Rideau to see this next chateau. This is a smaller chateau, but it has a cool setting on a little island in the middle of the Indre river. It was built in the early 1500s in the Italianate style. It started raining on us when we arrived so we spent some time touring the inside before going back outside to walk around the building.

These fluorescent clad bicyclists kept walking into our photos.

The building had some pretty nifty stone carvings on the facade and on the fireplaces inside.

There were a few rooms inside that were well decorated.

You could walk all the way around the building and the dammed up portion of the river that created the little pond that it sits in.

On our way back to the car park we spotted this house that was completely covered in colorful ivy. All I could think about was, ooh, that's pretty, and wow, I bet their house is full of bugs.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chateau de Chinon

We began day 5 of our vacation with a drive over to Chinon. It took about an hour to get there from our little rental chateau. Chinon is a town that developed in the Middle Ages. There is a HUGE fortress on the hill overlooking the town.

We parked our car down in the middle of the town and hiked up the hill to get to the chateau. Like many of the castles in Europe, it has a long history of construction and destruction and reconstruction. This one had a decent display showing the various parts of the fortress and when they were added or removed. Most of the buildings were empty and you could walk through them and explore at your leisure. There was a neat display featuring Jean of Arc artifacts while we were there (she visited this castle once upon a time).

I learned shortly before taking this trip that I had French ancestors, including a couple of Huguenots. The Huguenots were French Protestants who spoke out against the Catholic church. Eventually both sides got angry enough with each other that it turned into a religious war. Anyway, the Huguenots tended to be a bit destructive, and this is one of the sites that they did some damage to during the wars in the late 1500s. It wasn't the last site we'd see in this area that my zealous ancestors destroyed. I was a bit conflicted about whether to be excited when I found something that my ancestors were involved in, or to be disappointed that I never got to see the amazing things they destroyed in their original condition.

We went back down into the town center to have lunch. We found a nice little restaurant and watched the school kids walking home for lunch, and then back to school again. After lunch, we got back in the car and headed down the road to our next stop for the day.

Montrichard and Cave des Roches

After we'd finished up at Chenonceau, we decided to check out an underground mushroom farm we'd heard about in Bourre, a few towns away. We found the place, but their tour schedule wasn't quite as advertised, and we ended up buying tickets for tour a couple hours later than we were expecting. We debated with each other in the car for a while about what to do in the meantime. I voted "nap in car" and Jeff voted "tour tour tour". Jeff won and I was reluctantly dragged back to the town of Montrichard.

We parked the car and walked around the main street of the town for a while. It was fairly picturesque.

Everything was closed because it was Sunday, but we did luck out and found an ATM that was affiliated with our bank back in the US (no ATM fees) and that saved us a trip into the city of Tours later that day.

We also stopped at a little winery that we'd spotted while driving around. We tasted a few of the local Loire wines, and picked up a couple of bottles for drinking with dinner over the next few days.

Eventually we made it back over to Cave des Roches for our tour of the mushroom farm. There is a huge underground stone quarry located in Bourre that produced much of the stone used to build the great chateaux of the Loire. At some point in the late 19th century, the owners of the facility decided to try their hand at growing mushrooms in some of the many unused corridors underground. They spent the better part of a century growing button mushrooms here, and then they decided to start focusing on more highly prized varieties instead.

The tour was given in French, so we didn't quite catch everything we were told. We were able to understand most of the production numbers and the names of the types of mushrooms produced.

These are Pieds Bleus:

These are Pleurotes Jaunes:

These are Pleurotes Grises:

These are Champignons de Paris:

The best part came when we arrived at the Shiitake growing area. Apparently Shiitake mushrooms are VERY rare in France. The reaction of the mostly French crowd to the rarity of the Shiitakes was pretty funny. Ooooh, aaaah. I was thinking, hmm, I'll bring you guys some of our Shiitakes and trade you for some really good cheese, foie gras, wine, mustard, etc.

We spent about an hour in the underground quarry. It was quite chilly in there, but not terribly damp, and it was HUGE. I'm pretty sure a person could get lost in there for days. We took enough turns on the tour that I was lost by the time we were ready to leave. Good thing we had a tour guide!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Chateau de Chenonceau

We began our first full day in the Loire with a drive south through the farm land surrounding our little chateau, across the Loire river, and on south through a forest and more farm land to the town of Chenonceaux. Just outside this little town is Chateau de Chenonceau and its extensive network of gardens and grounds.

Chenonceau in its current state was built in the early 1500s. It's been home to many people over the years, but its most famous residents were probably Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici. Diane was the mistress of Henry II, and Catherine was his wife. Diane was kicked out of the chateau when Henry II died, and Catherine moved in. Nice story, isn't it?

We parked in the parking lots near the town and followed a path through the trees to get to the chateau. We decided to start our tour inside the chateau and save the gardens for the afternoon.

This is one of the more feminine or fairy tale-ish castles we've been to in Europe, and it's extremely popular with tourists. At most of the other very popular sites we've been to, you usually buy a ticket and get to wait until a certain entry time before you're allowed to start your tour. Not so for Chenonceau. This place was a free for all, tour as you please sort of place, and it was wall-to-wall bodies inside. Therefore we were only able to get decent photographs of things like the ceiling or objects high up on the walls.

For example... we give you the upper half of the chapel!

and... another ceiling!

This is the gallery over the river. Things opened up a bit there.

We got lucky in the kitchen and managed to get a picture of the HUGE stove in the middle of the room.

I'm not sure which took longer to create, the painting or the frame?

There were extremely elaborate and beautiful flower arrangements decorating many of the rooms, but as Jeff was the one holding the camera during our visit, we didn't get any photos of those. (Boys don't notice these things.) I'd also instructed him to not take photos of EVERYTHING so I wouldn't have to scrapbook 2000 photos after this trip. Anyway, if you want to see more of the inside of Chenonceau, I recommend you look at the 360 degree room tours on their website.

We finished our tour of the inside of the chateau and headed over to the Orangerie building to grab a bite to eat in the cafeteria. We were pleasantly surprised to find that they offered some pretty tasty meals there and Jeff enjoyed some nice roast medallions of pork while I had some roast chicken. We split a garden salad and some fresh strawberries as well.

After lunch we went back outside to walk around the castle and tour the gardens.

There is a "small" garden to one side of the chateau that is named Catherine's garden. It's full of beautiful rose trees.

On the other side of the chateau is Diane's garden. It's bigger than Catherine's garden.

For some reason unbeknownst to us, we are frequently asked to either a) take photos of other people, or b) provide directions when we're on vacation in Europe. I guess we look trustworthy or perhaps just not lost all the time. We rarely ask for anyone to take our photo in return, but after we took a picture for another American couple, they offered to take ours, and so we went ahead and let them. It came out pretty nice.

We reached the far end of Catherine's garden and decided to take a different path back through the forest towards the parking lot and our rental car.

As we were walking back, we found this little maze in the middle of the forest. Of course we had to play in it for a while. It wasn't particularly challenging, but mazes like this are always fun to run through.

And so ends our visit to Chenonceau, but the day wasn't over quite yet... stay tuned.