Tuesday, June 14, 2011

France's Château Country, the Loire Valley (Langeais, Chenonceau, Chaumont, Blois, Chambord, Cheverny, Amboise, Villandry, Azay le Rideau, Abbaye de Fontevraud, & Chinon)

Day 7 continued (Thursday, September 3, 2009)

From Fougeres, I began the very long drive towards the Loire Valley. Throughout the nearly three hour journey, the sun was in a constant battle with the clouds, but it appeared as though the sun was going to win, or at least I hoped so. Seeing blue skies while in the Loire Valley was extremely important to me as visiting and photographing the many château was one of the things I was most looking forward to during my visit to France.

My first stop within the Loire Valley was Château de Langeais, which was rebuilt in 1465 on the ruins of a 10th century fortress. This chateau is most famous for a well-known incident that occurred within its walls. In 1491, King Charles VIII secretly married the 14-year old Anne, the Duchess of Brittany at Langeais, a union which forever changed French history. Prior to the marriage, Brittany was complete independent of France, but afterward, it became a part of France.
Entrance to Chateau de Langeais.
View from Chateau de Langeais.
Chateau de Langeais.
Interior of Chateau de Langeais.
One of the many bedrooms at Chateau de Langeais.
Chateau de Langeais.

I thought that Château de Langeais had many interesting rooms, almost all of which were filled with period furniture from the 1400 or 1500’s. I also found it very helpful that there was an English explanation sheet in every one of the rooms.

Next, I headed over to Château de Chenonceau, which is known as the “mac daddy” of all of the château in the Loire Valley. In fact, after Versailles and Fontainebleau, Chenonceau is the third-most-visited château in all of France. Chenonceau was built between 1515 and 1521 by Thomas Bohier, Chamberlain for King Charles VIII of France. Eventually, the château was taken by the Crown due to outstanding debts, and was later gifted from King Henry II to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. Diane made many extensive changes to the building and added many of the flower gardens that can be seen today. Unfortunately for Diane, the King died a few years later, which allowed his widowed Queen Catherine de' Medici to force her out. Don't feel too bad for Diane though, because Catherine had Diane trade her beloved Château de Chenonceau for Château de Chaumont; not too shabby of a deal if you ask me!

Of the many château that I had planned on visiting, I was most excited to photograph Chenonceau because of its setting over the Cher River. The château was literally built on top of the river, so on sunny days, one is able to obtain the most gorgeous reflection shots of the château.

Unfortunately, I got quite lost trying to find Chenonceau as my navigation system kept thinking I was on a different road than I was actually on. In fact, my navigation system became so confused that at one point, it had me go through a toll booth, only to turn around and go through it again. Needless to say, I wasn’t too thrilled about paying for a toll twice when I hadn't really needed to pay for it at all.

When I finally arrived at Chenonceau, there was still a bit of sun in the sky, so I walked as quickly as I possibly could down the very long tree-canopied path in order to reach the château. As I reached the end of the path, I nearly shrieked in disbelief; the beautiful château was covered in scaffolding on three sides of its exterior. I had not been anticipating nor had I read anything regarding renovation of the château, so I was beyond pissed. It was bad enough that I had hurried like crazy to arrive at the château prior to the sun disappearing, but the fact that this was one of the places in France I was most excited to photograph made seeing the ugly scaffolding 100 times worse. It always seems that no matter where one is in Europe, there are always a few monuments undergoing massive renovation. Unfortunately, this was the case with Chenonceau.
First view of Chateau de Chenonceau and the lovely scaffolding.
The evil scaffolding.

However, I figured that even with the scaffolding, I could still attempt to take some of the beautiful reflection shots. As I walked over to one of the side gardens, I soon realized that this too would not be feasible; because of the construction, they had blocked off the walkways from which one could normally attain the reflection shots. In addition, no one was able to cross the bridge in order to walk to the other side, where people most often photograph the reflection. By this point, I was beginning to believe that it just wasn’t meant to be, and I should just let my anger and disappointment go. Instead, I toured the interior of the château for about 45 minutes. The house was filled many visitors, but I was still able to see all of the rooms, including the awesome 16th century kitchen and the gorgeous gallery, which spanned the length of the river.  I eventually left the château, feeling slightly disappointed with my visit, but also feeling thankful that it wasn’t a beautiful day out, or else I really would have been sad that I had not been able to photograph the reflections under a clear blue sky.
Chateau de Chenonceau 
Chateau de Chenonceau 
Chateau de Chenonceau 
The famous gallery of Chateau de Chenonceau.
Bedroom in Chateau de Chenonceau.
16th century kitchen at Chateau de Chenonceau.
16th century kitchen at Chateau de Chenonceau.  
Staircase at Chateau de Chenonceau.
Another bedroom at Chateau de Chenonceau.
Beautiful gardens at Chateau de Chenonceau.
Gardens at Chateau de Chenonceau. 
 Gardens at Chateau de Chenonceau.
Gardens at Chateau de Chenonceau.

From Chenonceau, I began the drive to my chosen accommodation for the next two nights;
Château des Ormeaux. For many, many years prior to my trip, I had dreamed of spending the night at a château in France. I’m not sure of the exact reasoning, but I’m sure that a huge part of my desire to do so came from the fact that I am obsessed with the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when many of France’s châteaus were built. After reviewing many different château accommodations on  Trip Advisor, I ended up selecting Château des Ormeaux based on its high number of positive reviews and also the fact that it was very centrally located for many of the château in the Loire Valley. I ended up spending about double (130 Euros per night or about $200) what I usually spend on accommodation, but since this was such a dream of mine, I was willing to be flexible with the budget to ensure it happened!

Unfortunately, just as with my journey to Chenonceau, I got lost several times before actually arriving at the château. My first mistake was entering the address of the château incorrectly into the navigation system. When I ended up in the middle of the city of Amboise, I figured there was a problem as I knew the château was located in the countryside. Once I had finally found the correct address and entered it, my navigation system became very confused as it kept telling me to turn onto streets that were not actually roads, but fields of farms. Feeling beyond frustrated and without a phone to call for directions, I somehow managed to eventually find the place myself.

Upon arrival however, no one answered the door. It was extremely quiet, so I wondered if they (the proprietors) had already gone home. I looked around for a bit, not knowing exactly what to do, when I decided to walk into a side door, which I thought might have been a guest room. Luckily, it was actually the proprietors’ private residence, and fortunately, they weren’t too upset that I had walked into their private quarters. Their room was connected to the main part of the château, which was located within the former cellars of the house, and had been converted into living space. From what I understood after speaking with the proprietors, the château was built in the early 1800's and was lived in up until the 1960's. When they bought the château during the 1990's, it had been vacant for over 30 years. As a result, they had to complete a massive restoration and remodel before opening the doors to guests.
View of Chateau des Ormeaux from the road.
Exterior of Chateau des Ormeaux.
Exterior of Chateau des Ormeaux.

One of the very kind proprietors showed me to my room, which looked exactly as it had appeared on their website; elegant, comfortable, and full of character. After settling into the room, I headed downstairs where I checked out the several dozen menus that the château had collected from various restaurants in the area. After carefully reviewing each one and after speaking with one of the proprietors about my very high standards of food, I settled on a place called Auberge de la Croix Blanche, which was located about a 15 minute drive away from the château. The man was nice enough to call ahead for me and made reservations at 20:00; I wasn't used to this level of service, considering that I generally stay at very inexpensive places that tend not to offer this kind of help.
My room at Chateau des Ormeaux. 
My room at Chateau des Ormeaux.
One of the sitting rooms at Chateau des Ormeaux.
Beautiful detail from Chateau des Ormeaux.

Auberge de la Croix Blanche was located in a tiny town along the Loire River, which was quite easy to find from the main road. When I arrived, I was warmly greeted and seated within a very atmospheric but comfortable and family-friendly environment. After conferring with the menu for some time, I decided to order an entrée called carré de porcelet rôti aux girolles et pomme de terre râpée (square of roasted pork with mushrooms and potatoes) and a dessert called beignet glacé à la framboise (doughnut with raspberry ice cream).
Exterior of Auberge de la Croix Blanche.
Prior to my food arriving, the waitress brought out two “free” appetizers, known in French as amuse bouche (mouth amuser). Amuse bouches are always served prior to the meal, in an attempt to excite the taste buds for the upcoming food. One of the amuse bouches was a bacon covered prune (I think) and the second was a savory custard-like sauce that was made from mustard and several other flavors, which I couldn’t distinguish. The custard was surprisingly good; very light, smooth, and refreshing; almost as though it was a palate cleanser.

Next, my entrée arrived. The portion size of my de porcelet rôti aux girolles et pomme de terre râpée was ridiculously large, especially by French standards. The square of pork was placed atop a bed of chanterelle mushrooms and thin string-like potatoes. The pork and potatoes were delicious, but I learned from this meal that I do not really care for chanterelle mushrooms, so I had a difficult time enjoying the sauce as it was so strongly flavored by the mushrooms.

Lastly, I was served dessert. I was completely blown away when my plate arrived; the beignet glacé à la framboise was the most visually interesting dessert I had ever seen. It had obviously been made by a very creative and inventive chef who appreciated color, texture, and flavor. The combination of flavors that the chef used worked very well together and made for an extremely interesting and unique presentation; it was art for the eye, but unfortunately, I have no proof of pictures as I didn't have my camera on me. After this experience, I vowed to always photograph my food, no matter how many people stare at me or think I am strange.

If you are ever near Amboise, you must eat at this restaurant; in the end, it was the dining highlight of my trip to France.

Day 8 (Friday, September 4, 2009)

Unfortunately, my alarm did not go off this morning, so I ended up waking up about 45 minutes later than originally planned. As a result, I had to rush around like a madman in order to have enough time to eat breakfast by the cut off time of 10:00. Breakfast was served in the very large dining room, which was oozing with character and elegance, and which also had an awesome view of the property. As is typical at bed and breakfasts in France, I was served croissants and baguettes, along with several kinds of fruit, yogurt, cereal, and many different varieties of their homemade jam.

The weather appeared to be cooperating that morning, with mostly blue skies, so I was hopeful it would stay that way for the remainder of the day, but considering the unpredictability of the weather the day before, I wasn’t so sure!

After quickly gulping down breakfast in about 12 minutes, I left and headed towards my first château visit of the day. Château du Chaumont-sur-Loire was located about 20 minutes from my château on the opposite side of the Loire River.

When I went to the ticket counter to purchase my entrance ticket, I spoke in French (as I usually do). The women responded in English, and then asked where I was from. After telling her that I was from the United States, she asked which state/area I was from. When I told her that I lived in Washington state, near Seattle, she became very excited and said “there is a very famous movie about that city!” I said “yes, of course; Sleepless in Seattle!” She nodded her head and had a huge smile on her face, and then asked if I was enjoying my stay in France. I told her absolutely yes, and that I really love France. Her huge smile continued to grow as she wished me a good day, and I went on my way. It is so pleasant to have these types of interactions and experiences when traveling; I hadn’t yet encountered a huge number of Americans in France (even in Normandy) so I am sure that was probably why she was so excited to see an American.

From the ticket counter, it was a very long and uphill walk to the château. When I finally reached the top, I immediately saw the beautiful château, which was lit-up perfectly by the sun. Knowing the unpredictability of the weather, I made sure to snap my exterior shots of the château right then and there. Another photographer was doing the same exact thing as I was, paying very close attention to the positioning of the sun.

Chaumont was built during the 15th and 16th centuries, and like Chenonceau, was lived in by both Catherine de Medicis (the King’s wife) and Diane de Poiters (the King’s mistress). After the King died, Catherine forced Diane to give her Chenonceau, and in its place, Diane was given Chaumont. The rooms of the chateau, most of which were only moderately interesting, had been restored in the 19th century and were in relatively good condition. I more so enjoyed the exterior of the chateau which was very beautiful, with its bright white and very clean-looking stone.
Chateau de Chaumont 
Chateau de Chaumont 
Chateau de Chaumont
Interior room of Chateau de Chaumont.
One of the many staircases at Chateau de Chaumont.
Beautiful fleur de lis tile at Chateau de Chaumont.

From Chaumont, I drove to the town of Blois, in order to visit the Château Royal de Blois. The medieval château is a beautiful mismatch of different buildings from several time periods, and has had a long and interesting history. King Louis XII was born in Blois in 1462, and it later became the political capital of the kingdom under his reign. During the beginning of the 1500's, the King began reconstruction of the main wing of the entry and also created Italian-style gardens. Later Kings had additional wings built, eventually turning it into the massive complex that it is today. Interestingly enough, it was within the walls of Château Royal de Blois where Queen Catherine de Medicis died. Unfortunately, by the time the French Revolution rolled around, the château had been neglected for almost 130 years and was in a terrible state of disrepair. It was scheduled to be demolished, but was thankfully saved and later became a military barracks. Finally, during the reign of King Louis-Philippe in 1841, the château was deemed an important historical monument and was completely restored.

Once inside the courtyard of the château, I was surrounded by the four wings, all of which were completely different, in terms of architectural style. I personally thought that the François I wing was the most beautiful of the four, with it’s gorgeous and very interesting exterior spiral staircase. The rooms within the interior that I toured were of moderate interest, although it was obvious that massive restoration had occurred. It also seemed as though many liberties had been taken in terms of the artistic decoration; it appeared that someone had romanticized the French Renaissance period a bit too much as the colors and wall decoration did not appear to be at all authentic.
Front entrance to Chateau Royal de Blois.
Chateau Royal de Blois
Courtyard at Chateau Royal de Blois.
Chateau Royal de Blois

A ceiling inside of Chateau Royal de Blois.
Chateau Royal de Blois
Bedroom at  Chateau Royal de Blois.

From Chaumont, I continued my drive along, next stopping at the unbelievably massive Château de Chambord. This château is one of the largest, if not the largest, in the entire Loire Valley, containing 440 rooms, only 80 of which are open to the public. This giant château was the brainchild of King Francois I, who began construction of the building in 1518 as a weekend retreat for his passion; hunting. It ended up taking over 15 years and 1800 workers to finish the complex four-story château.
Massive Chateau de Chambord.
Entrance to Chateau de Chambord.

Aside from it’s size, Chambord is also famous for its double helix spiral staircase, which has been said was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci. This amazing staircase allows people to go up and down without passing one another on two separate staircases; quite a design feat nowadays, let alone 500 years ago!

Upon entrance to the château, I was blown away and quite overwhelmed with it’s size. There were so many different rooms to visit, and I had no idea where to start, so I decided to begin on the ground floor, and work my way up. The rooms within the château ranged from very modest and simple to extremely extravagant and detailed. I definitely got the impression though that this was first and foremost a hunting lodge; there was taxidermy on the walls everywhere and many of the public rooms were quite barren, evoking a truly rustic lodge feeling. I only spent about 90 minutes at the château, most of which I felt very rushed and overwhelmed. I would recommend that visitors put aside at least two to three hours, if not a half-day, to spend exploring this massive complex.
Double helix staircase at Chateau de Chambord.
Interior room at Chateau de Chambord.
Beautiful bedroom at Chateau de Chambord.
 Chateau de Chambord. 
Elaborate bedroom at Chateau de Chambord.
Double helix staircase at Chateau de Chambord.

During my visit, the weather changed from rainy and gray clouds to bright blue skies and sunshine, so I was hopeful I would be able to get some great exterior shots as I left. Unfortunately, with my luck, the rain showed up again just as I left. I was able to obtain some decent exterior shots as the sun was somewhat shining on the building, but overall, I wasn’t pleased. I secretly hoped to myself that the sun would come back out later that day so that I could return to take more photos.
Exterior of Chateau de Chambord.
View from one of the courtyards at Chateau de Chambord.
Chateau de Chambord.
Up on the roop of Chateau de Chambord.

Finally, my last château stop of the day was at Château du Cheverny. Prior to visiting, I had read about the very famous spectacle of the feeding of the hunting dogs, which occurs every day during the summer months at 17:00, and was immediately interested. Miraculously, the rain magically cleared up just as I pulled into the parking spot, and by the time I reached the château, the sun was out in full force. Before the sun decided to hide behind its curtains again, I made sure to take the exterior shots of the gorgeous place before it had the chance to change its mind. Cheverny was built and decorated between 1604 to 1634, and is in amazingly good condition, thanks in great part to the fact that it has been lived in by the same family (Hurault) for nearly four centuries. I absolutely loved the interior of the house, with its many baroque design and furniture elements; my favorite!
Beautiful exterior of Chateau de Cheverny. 
Beautiful exterior of Chateau de Cheverny. 
Chateau de Cheverny.
Bedroom at Chateau de Cheverny. 
Chateau de Cheverny.
Living room at Chateau de Cheverny. 
Chateau de Cheverny.
Library at Chateau de Cheverny.
Back exterior of Chateau de Cheverny.
Back exterior of Chateau de Cheverny.
Exterior of Chateau de Cheverny.
I made sure that I was at the dog kennel about 20 minutes prior to the 17:00 feeding; I figured it would be quite a popular event with lots of bystanders, and boy did I guess correctly! About 15 minutes prior to the feeding, the kennel was surrounded with dozens and dozens of people. There were so many freaking dogs in the kennel that it was completely overwhelming; I estimated that there was at least 60, but that guess may have been on the small side!
The many hunting dogs of Chateau de Cheverny.
The dogs were quite friendly.
Lonely looking pup.
So many of the dogs rested their heads on the backs of other dogs.

The dogs, which are a cross between an English Foxhound and a French Poitou, were howling up a storm and barking like crazy. The sound was deafening, but the smell was a hundred times worse. Maybe I’m just sensitive, but the smell of 60 wet and dirty hound dogs was absolutely awful. I found myself gagging several times. The dogs, while seeming to be agitated (they knew it was getting close to dinner time) also seemed to be well adjusted in terms of their demeanor, as they constantly jumped on the cement barrier to receive pets and attention from the bystanders.

At about 15 minutes till 17:00, the trainer showed up, which put all of the dogs in a complete and utter tizzy. A second gate was opened up, which the dogs were all ushered into, although not without making a ridiculous amount of noise. While the dogs watched from the rooftop of their kennel, the trainer cleaned their kennels with loads of water, and then brought in a gigantic wheelbarrow filled with a massive amount of raw chicken. He dumped all of the chicken out, and then spread it around in a straight line. Next, he opened up a large bag of crunchy dog food, and spread that over the raw chicken. The dogs were FREAKING out while all of this was going on, clamoring over one another in order to watch the action. At times, I found the hysterics of it all to be humorous, but at other times, it bothered me severely as I realized that the dogs probably have no idea what it feels like not to have to compete for their food.
The dogs being ushered into the holding area.

Spreading out the raw meat.
Adding the dry dog food.

Although the trainer was finished preparing the food prior to 17:00, he did not allow the dogs out of the rooftop of the kennel until the moment the clock hit 17:00; apparently, it was a very exact science. When that gate finally opened, those 60 plus dogs went flying out into the kennel below them; it was complete and utter mass confusion and hysteria. Dogs were literally flying through the air and jumping over one another in order to get one of the chickens into their mouth. Once they did get a chicken into their mouth, they chomped it down in a matter of seconds; it was absolutely fascinating and scary at the same time to watch. I felt bad for the small females as it appeared that they did not get any meat, and had to rely on quickly eating the dry dog food before it was gobbled up by the males. I wondered if there was truly enough food for all of those dogs, but I guess if the dogs were starving or did not have enough food to eat, it would show in their appearance, and all looked relatively healthy. After watching that chaos, I had had enough of the dogs, so I headed back to the car.
The dogs came thundering out of the holding area.

The dogs were howling incredibly loud at this point.

The food was devoured within a minute or two. 

Originally, from Cheverny I was supposed to head back to my room at Château des Ormeaux. However, since the sun had come back out and appeared to be staying that way, I figured that I might as well try to drive all the way back to Chambord in hopes of obtaining better exterior shots of the chateau.

Much to my great happiness, when I showed up at Chambord 20 minutes later, there was still a shining sun in the sky. During the 30 plus minutes I spent outside photographing Chambord, I was able to get some unbelievably gorgeous shots. The early evening sun was at the perfect position, and lit-up the backside of the chateau so beautifully. Needless to say, I was a happy little camper!
Chateau de Chambord.
Beautiful Chateau de Chambord.
Chateau de Chambord.
Chateau de Chambord.

From Chambord, I began the 45 minute drive back to Château des Ormeaux, first stopping at a grocery store in Amboise to purchase sandwich material for dinner. After my very long day, I was in no mood to spend two plus hours at dinner, so sandwiches it was! I also purchased several snacks, including some potato chips, whose flavor was roast chicken. I absolutely love roast chicken, so I thought the flavor sounded intriguing. Back at the château, I tried the chips with dinner, and sure enough, they tasted exactly like roast chicken.  A little strange, but definitely the most delicious potato chips I have ever eaten; we need to get these things either imported or made in the US!

Day 9 (Saturday, September 5, 2009)

I reluctantly woke up to my last day at Château des Ormeaux, and headed downstairs for breakfast after getting ready. Most of the guests were already eating, but I was able to find a spot to sit in. Soon after I sat down, most of the guests finished eating and left the table. Not too far thereafter, a few more guests arrived and sat near my end of the table. Most of them were French, but there was an American sprinkled in the group, so I struck up a conversation with him. I ended up discovering that they were a large group traveling together, all of whom lived in Paris. The American had moved to Paris in order to live with his boyfriend, and had been lucky enough to find a job as a teacher. We talked a bit about the details of my trip, including my next stop in the Dordogne, which all of the men had nothing but good things to say about. After breakfast, I grabbed the luggage from my room and then sadly checked out. I would have loved to have stayed longer, but that place was definitely out of my budget!

From the château, I drove into the town of Amboise in order to visit it’s château. This former royal residence was built under the direction of Charles VIII and partially designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Unfortunately, King Charles VIII accidentally killed himself at this chateau when he walked into a door-jamb (strange, but true!).

Entrance to the château was a steep 9.50 Euros per person. I had read that the interior of the chateau wasn’t a standout, especially when compared to the more famous château of the Loire Valley. However, I had also read that the views from the château over Amboise merited the expensive entrance cost, so that is why I decided to go ahead and visit. Just as the guidebooks had indicated, the rooms of the château were boring and very uninteresting, the only exception being the multitude of fleur des lis that I found sprinkled throughout many design elements. The views from the château's balcony of Amboise and the surrounding countryside were absolutely beautiful; however, that being said, I don’t think the view made the 9.50 Euro entrance fee worth it. Unless you are really bored, I wouldn’t recommend a visit to this château, especially with the large amount of sightseeing options in the area.
Chateau de Amboise from a distance. 
I saw this tiny little door on the way up to the chateau and thought it was too cute not to photograph!
Chateau de Amboise
View of Amboise from the Chateau. 
Beautiful fleur de lis tile.
Flags flying at Chateau de Amboise. 
Chateau de Amboise. 
Another view of Amboise from the Chateau.
Interior of Chateau de Amboise.
Fireplace at Chateau de Amboise.
Chateau de Amboise.
Chateau de Amboise

My second stop of the day was to Château du Villandry, which is famous not for its château but instead for its impressive gardens. After walking in and purchasing my entrance ticket, I was instructed to climb up an interior staircase of the château, which eventually led me to the gardens. Upon first sight of the gardens, I was truly blow away and mesmerized by the beauty and color I saw before me. The gardens were laid-out in a completely symmetrical matter, with many different geometric patterns. The size and number of gardens were also quite astounding, appearing as though the property went on forever. I was so excited to begin photographing this amazing site, especially because its backdrop was the beautiful chateau with its creamy-colored limestone. Unfortunately, my excitement soon waned as the sun and blue skies disappeared about ten minutes into my visit. I attempted to be as patient as I could, and eventually, the sun did come back out again, but usually for increments of only a few minutes each time. After I had spent about an hour walking through the gardens, I finally left, feeling mostly satisfied with my work.
Gardens of Chateau du Villandry.
Chateau du Villandry and it's beautiful gardens.
Gardens of Chateau du Villandry.
Gardens of Chateau du Villandry.
A quiet walkway at Chateau du Villandry. 
Gardens of Chateau du Villandry.
Gardens of Chateau du Villandry.
Gardens of Chateau du Villandry.
Gardens of Chateau du Villandry.
Gardens of Chateau du Villandry.

Next, I drove to the nearby Château d’Azay le Rideau. I was quite looking forward to photographing this château specifically because of its setting on a pond. However, much to my great disappointment, 99% of my visit occurred under cloudy skies. I decided to walk through the interior part of the château first in hopes that the sun would be waiting for me upon my exit. I found the interior rooms to be of only moderate interest; having seen so many château over the last few days, something had to be very interesting or flashy in order to catch my attention.

As I walked out of the château, I saw that it was still cloudy and gray out. I walked around to the back of the château, and made my way across the very large open field and found a bench to sit on. I decided to sit upon this bench for a long time, in a hopeful attempt that the sun would appear at some point. Unfortunately, 20 minutes passed, and there was still no sign that the sun was going to be appearing anytime soon. I begrudgingly got up, and took photos of the château. I was able to get a few reflection shots, which made me feel somewhat better. After waiting a few minutes more, I finally left. Wouldn’t you know that as soon as I walked to the car and got in, the sun decided to come out, and not just for a few minutes, mind you. No, it was out in full force for the rest of the day. I was beyond frustrated, but I had other places to visit, so I headed out.
Entrance to Chateau d'Azay le Rideau.
Side view of the chateau from one of the windows.
Beautiful fireplace at Chateau d'Azay le Rideau. 
Chateau d'Azay le Rideau 
Another shot of Chateau d'Azay Rideau. 
Chateau d'Azay Rideau

Afterward, I drove about 45 minutes to Abbaye de Fontevraud. This abbey was built in the 12th century, and holds the tombs of King Henry II of England and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. The abbey was operated as a double monastery, having both monks and nuns living within the grounds. The building functioned as an abbey until the French Revolution, after which the order was dissolved. The abbey eventually changed its use to a prison, operating as such from 1804 to 1963 when it was finally turned over to the French Ministry of Culture. By that point, the abbey was in horrible condition, but was later restored.

My first impression of the abbey was that I thought its exterior was quite beautiful, especially because it's stone was so unbelievably clean. The interior of the abbey seemed very barren and empty, although I did enjoying photographing the many interesting architectural lines and shapes. Towards the end of my visit, I came across a temporary exhibit on carousel art; more specifically, the seats of wooden animals. It was quite a fascinating display, especially because most of the carousels I was familiar with as a child only had horses, and this exhibit had all sorts of animals, including zebras, tigers, pigs, and cats.
Inside the abbey.
Beautiful details from the abbey. 
Abbaye de Fontevraud
Interesting display of old carousels at Abbaye de Fontevraud.
One of the courtyards at Abbaye de Fontevraud. 
Abbaye de Fontevraud
Abbaye de Fontevraud
Inside Abbaye de Fontevraud.
Front entrance to the abbey.
Abbaye de Fontevraud
Abbaye de Fontevraud

After I was finished touring the abbey, I drove to Chinon, where I had a room reserved at Hotel Diderot. Upon arrival in Chinon, my initial impressions were not too positive, but before making too many judgments, I decided I should wait until I walked around town later that evening. The exterior of the hotel was completely charming, and probably the most beautiful in the entire town. It’s location was slightly strange though, being on the outskirts of the historic core in an area that had both very modern and historic buildings. The friendly owner greeted me immediately, and brought me up to my room, which was located in the part of the building that was from the 15th century.
Front of Hotel Diderot in Chinon.

After dropping off my bags, I walked into town, where I planned to just grab a light snack for dinner. For some reason, however, I was very tired and in no mood to go searching for food. In the distance, I saw a pizza place, and after looking at the very inexpensive menu posted outside, I decided to go ahead and eat there. About five minutes into my dining experience, I regretted making that decision. The restaurant was filled with English speaking tourists, and I knew that the food would end up tasting terrible. Just as I had predicted, the pizza was absolutely awful. In fact, it was probably the worst pizza I had ever consumed in all of Europe, which is quite shameful. Needless to say, I got out of that restaurant with my head hanging as quickly as I could.

Next, I continued walking through town, in hopes of being able to photograph Château de Chinon from a distance. No matter where I stood within the city streets, I was unable to obtain a good shot. As a result, I tried to walk up to the château, but all of the access points were closed. My first impressions of the city were not altered much during my walk; out of all of the many cities I had visited in France up to that point, Chinon was definitely the least favorite. Although much of France is beautiful and shabby-chic, I consider Chinon to be shabby-not-so-chic. The city appeared very run down to me and just sort of sad and depressing. In hindsight, I would have much more preferred to stay in a small hotel or château out in the countryside, as there really wasn’t any particular reason why I needed to stay in Chinon. However, don't let my comments detract you from staying at Hotel Diderot, as it is definitely a charming place with lots of character.
Bridge in Chinon.
Chateau de Chinon. 
Chateau de Chinon.

After three days of chateau sightseeing, I was ready to head onto something very different. The next morning I was to begin the long drive to the Dordogne, the region I was most looking forward to visit on my trip.

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