Saturday, July 23, 2011

LTDF Day Four

I was actually looking forward to getting on the bike again. It felt good after the day rest and we knew it was only a 7 km ride. The other two days were 45-60 km days so today would be a piece of cake. We started out from Amboise with a light grey sky but no rain. It makes a big difference. On our way out of Amboise we stumbled across the market so stopped to enjoy a few snacks and purchase a new scarf for me. We couldn’t find the route and cycled round and round until we finally saw the cyclist signs and we were off.

About an hour of riding later we stopped to consult the map. Surely we should be there by now? We were headed for some town named Montlouis and couldn’t find it anywhere on the map. As I folded the map back up, proclaiming it useless, I noticed Montlouis. It was on the map all right; about 7 km in the wrong direction. So began a rather long adventure through the countryside, over farmer’s fields, down busy streets and along rutted lines that looked more like deer trails than bike paths. We eventually picked up the bicycle path again and heaved a sigh of relief.

It was at this point it began to rain. No, there was no thunder and lightening, only the familiar feel of my clothing soaking through to the bone. We discovered the bike trail we had picked up wasn’t really a bike path at all but more of an alternative in times of need. We waded through deep puddles, negotiated inch deep mud, waved to the Romani (gypsies) regarding us with suspicious looks as we rolled through their encampments. What were they doing on the bike path? We knew we were heading in the right direction, however, so we persevered and gritted our teeth to prevent them butchering our tongue as we bumped over roots and stones for several kilometers.

I just want everyone to know this WAS NOT my vision. When planning this trip several years ago, I foresaw a pleasant glide down smooth paths, past glorious fields of sunflowers lifting their faces to the hot sunshine. We would be dressed in tank tops and shorts, our bodies slathered in sunscreen, our eyes covered in shades. We’d complain about the heat and be thankful for the cool breeze that whipped our hair back as we flew along.

Finally, after three hours and at least 20 km, we saw the chateau in the distance and knew the ride was coming to an end. We checked in to our hotel, parked the bikes in their shed, picked up some food and headed for the chateau.

Chenonceau is the grandest chateau in the valley and it had some great stories to share. Henri II gave this to Diane de Poitiers, his favourite female. Catherine de Medici, his wife, was less than pleased, bided her time till he died in a jousting tournament accident and then took the chateau back. The chateau is truly picturesque, built right over top of the River Cher. The couple who built it in the 16th century had their motto carved into a few places: “If I get to the end of this construction job, I will be remembered”. You have to love people with a sense of humour. Lots of the rooms had been restored and the tour seemed to go on a long time.

Some notable stops included: the gallery over the River Cher, the kitchens, Louis XIV’s drawing room, Louise of Lorraine’s bedroom and the vegetable/flower garden. During the Second World War, the River Cher was the line of demarcation between the occupied north and the allied south. Because the chateau spanned the river, one end was on the Nazi occupied side and one end was not. The Résistance used the gallery to help many people escape to the free zone. Meanwhile the Germans kept artillery handy should they need to blow up the chateau at any time. WWII was not the only threat the chateau faced. During the revolution, the owner was a certain Madame Louise Dupin. She was a smart lady who entertained many intellects of the day at the chateau. Her kindness and generosity were widely known and these personality traits are believed to be the reason the chateau was spared. Her picture hangs in Louis XIV’s drawing room at the chateau along with a HUGE painting of Louis XIV in an eye-popping frame. It was a gift from Louis to his uncle.

Louise of Lorraine’s bedroom was bizarre. Her husband, King Henri III was assassinated in 1589 and she spent the rest of her life in mourning. She lived at the chateau surrounded by nuns who all wore white so she became known as the “White Queen”. If they had seen her bedroom they would have called her the “Black Queen” because the entire room is painted black with black drapes and black décor. It is creepy.

We toured the kitchens which were located in the bottom of the first two piers that support building over the river. There are stairs in between the two sides to get from one pier to the next. In between is where the produce barges would pull up to deliver food. The kitchens were very well presented with butcher blocks, pots and pans and spits in the fireplaces.

The last place we wandered was the gardens. They had some neat ideas, like apple tree hedges. The trees were only knee high and circled the garden plots. Isn’t that bizarre? We definitely need to try that. They also had beautiful rows of flowers and vegetables. They had planted tomato plants and put a trim of marigolds around the base. It was quite lovely. They had all sorts of gourds and squash, some snaking around the lattice work or hanging from the top.

The best part of the whole day was the fact we weren’t sore! Hallelujah for small blessings!