Why do I stay up past midnight writing this blog? Because I hate myself. I also love all of you. I’m also committed to this thing, so let’s get started.
After Bayeux, the next place I would be staying in was the town of Amboise, which is just east of the city of Tours in central France. To get there, I had to go back to Paris and then connect get on a train in the direction of Tours. Back in Paris I went over to an internet cafe that I had looked up while in Bayeux and typed up the first post on Paris. I also got a meal from McDonald’s because, well, science needed to be conducted. One interesting thing about McDonald’s locations in France is that they have these electronic kiosks with touchscreens where you can select your order in several different languages. It’s a nice touch, and allows you to jump the language barrier if you’re like me and you don’t speak French. I might have mentioned these kiosks in a previous post, but at this time of night I really don’t remember.
At Paris’ Gare Austerlitz train station, I got on my train and departed for Amboise. The town of Amboise is on the Loire River, and in the greater area of the Loire Valley. This part of France was historically the border between northern and southern France and during the Hundred Years War the French kings and nobles built a number of castles here to defend the region from the English, who had taken over most of northern France. After the expulsion of the English from France, defensive structures were no longer needed, and country chateaus were built throughout the Loire Valley. Amboise itself posses a former castle-turned-chateau and for a short period was the seat of the French monarchy. It also has a few good connections to the various chateaus in the region around it, which is why I decided to stay there during my brief time in the Loire Valley. My host picked me up from the train station and brought me back to her house. My room was on the top floor of an old, three-story building right by the city center. There was another guest bed up there besides mine, but no one else was staying there at the time so I had the entire floor to myself. Quiet, peaceful, and scenic, you can’t ask for much more in terms of accommodations. My host informed me that later that evening on the island in the Loire River there was going to be some sort of bicycle event and I decided to pay a visit. I made my way over to the island, and along the way was swarmed by a mass of bugs. I’m not sure if it was mating season or just a bad time of day, but the entire time I was walking across the bridge I was swatting them away from my face. On the island and away from the river the bugs cleared out and I my way over to the park where the bicycle festival was happening. Several hundred people on bicycles were gathered and a short while after I arrived the event began. From what I understand, the event was sort of like the cycling equivalent of a fun run and not overly competitive. The cyclists rode off in waves of forty or so, and were going… somewhere. I couldn’t see in the dark the route they were following and after a few minutes I left to return to the house. As I crossed the bridge however, I looked behind me and saw that the first wave was closing in on me. I followed them and the cyclists that came after and saw that their route took them into the castle. From there I couldn’t follow any further so I don’t know where they finished their ride. I returned to the house and went to bed.
The next day was my only full day in the Loire Valley and I got a very full day of sightseeing in. I got up early and first paid a visit to the Sunday morning market which was by the river. Half of the market is dedicated to food and the other half to clothing and various other things. If I was staying in town for a longer period of time I might have bought something, but on such a short stay I couldn’t justify it. I then spent an hour or so just walking around Amboise’s old town and getting photos. Right next to the castle is the City Hall Museum, which is free, so I took a quick look in there before moving on to the castle itself. Like many of its contemporaries, Amboise’s castle/chateau was originally a purely military structure but got converted to a vacation home once the English were no longer a threat to the region. It’s nowhere as grand as Versailles, but it was a royal residence for a number of years so it has plenty of fine furniture and well tended gardens. The views from the ramparts are also great, albeit you can only see in a broad northerly direction. After I finished with the castle I was ready for the day’s main event. Several miles southeast of Amboise is the famous chateau of Chenonceau, and from some online research it looked possible to ride a bicycle out to it. My host had let me borrow a bicycle, so with a free ride confidence that I could navigate the French road system, I headed off. Now, to say that my bicycle was not in optimal condition would be an understatement. The brakes were squeaky, the lowest gears did not work, and the tires were a little under-inflated. Still, I wasn’t going to argue with free. There are signs with Amboise pointing the way to Chenonceau, so I followed those for awhile but after about two miles I knew I had taken a wrong turn somewhere because the signs now indicated that I was heading towards Blois, a town to the east of Amboise and not in the direction I wanted to go. I turned around and retraced my path back to a city map in a park, where I determined where I had gone wrong and recalculated my path. This process should have been quick, but for some reason this map was lacking any sort of “you are here” indicator, so I first had to figure out where I was on the map. With the route out of Amboise figured out, I set off again and managed to reach the French countryside. There are signs on the roads directing you to Chenonceau, though there are periods where you go for awhile without any signs or it’s not quite clear which way to go. If anyone in the French transportation administration is reading this, please consider adding a few more signs along the route to reduce potential confusion. The ride to Chenonceau of scenic and took my past suburban neighborhoods, farmland, horses, and fields of sunflowers. It also had more climbing and descending than I expected. For some reason I was under the impression that the Loire Valley was mostly flat, so I got more exercise than I thought I would that day. It took about an hour for me to reach Chenonceau, including the stops I took for photos and water. But it was well worth it, because I was at one of the grandest of all the Loire Valley chateaus. Chenonceau is literally built on a bridge over the Cher River, and belonged to the French king Henry II. Henry gave Chenonceau to his favorite mistress, but when Henry died his (understandably pissed-off) wife kicked the mistress out and took over the place, building it into what we see today. Being built on a bridge, Chenonceau has a pair of long hallways that served as ballrooms and showrooms while the chateau was still in use. The chefs had their kitchens with the support columns and arches of the bridge and various royal rooms occupied the upper levels and the part of the chateau built on land. I spent a little over two hours at Chenonceau and it was after 6:00pm when I left. If my bicycle had lights on it I might have stayed longer, but it was best to return while I could still clearly see the road and the landmarks I would need to navigate back to Amboise. I arrived back in Amboise tired but satisfied, however a few minutes after getting back to the house I starting feeling intense pain from my left knee. Every time I extended my leg, by walking, standing up, or doing any sort of movement, pain erupted out of my knee when it reached a particular angle. I was very concerned that I had seriously injured myself, which could seriously compromise my plans for the rest of my Europe trip. At the same time, I was not going to accept that I had somehow crippled myself and for the rest of the day I was intermittently doing stretches and light exercise with my left leg. In retrospect this may or may not have been the right thing to do, but it seemed to work. Before I went to bed my knee was feeling a little better. In the morning it seemed to be back to the same level of pain as the day before, but with more stretching and just walking around, the pain subsided and I was able to move freely again. I’m really not sure what happened, but it was a scary few hours where it was looking like I might have been seriously hurt.
Not much happened on the day after the Chenonceau trip, other than me stretching and walking around town. My time in the Loire Valley had been brief, but enjoyable, aside from the knee issues. This is a region I think I’d like to revisit someday and see more of. The next city I visited after Amboise was Lyon, which will be covered in the next post. I don’t know when that post will be written, but hopefully soon. Tomorrow I leave Florence and go to Padova (aka Padua). If I have access to a decent computer there I’ll give it a try.