This leg of our trip finds us in the Loire Valley – the Garden of France. I think the whole valley is a UNESCO site. This is where the rich folk of Paris decided to build their vacation homes. They are somewhere between castles and palaces. Unlike most vacation homes these are HUGE. With the whole royal/feudal system kaput there is no way anyone could finance the upkeep required so they let tourists like us wander them for a fee. We decided to check out the granddaddy of all – Chambord. All 422 rooms and 352 fireplaces.
Chambord cuts a stunning view as visitors drive up the forested entry. As we have found with most grand buildings – it included scaffolding. Our entry fee was greatly reduced since we stopped at a Tourist Information center in a nearby town and were given a coupon. This coupon reduced the adult fee by 2Euro and all children and students were free. Without the coupon we each would have paid 11Euro. The free part usually only applies to European residents – the coupon did not make such a stipulation. Euphoric from such a deal we shelled out money to get a childs audio tour for Brody.
Chambord has a very unique design for the main part. The keep is in the shape of a cross and everything is symmetrical. The building centers around a double-helix staircase possibly designed by Leonardo DaVinci. Today the Chateaux is sparsely furnished save for walls of royal portraits whose subjects greatly resemble members of 80s hair bands. There has been some effort to decorate certain rooms. However, this too pays homage to an 80s icon, dress designer Laura Ashley and her floral patterns. A majority of the rooms had floral wall paper, curtains, sheets and upholstery in matching fabric. Not coordinating fabric – MATCHING fabric.
The other obsessive element was the initial of the Francoise I and his salamander patronus carved everywhere. Brody says his symbol would be a Jaguar which is much more manly than a salamander.
Here is a thought for Chambord. In Indiana, every year there is a designer’s showcase. Each room of a local mansion is decorated by a different interior design individual or firm. Tickets are sold for people to look at the great ideas designers come up with for the house. Wouldn’t Paris designers jump at the chance to decorate a room in the Chambord? People from all over would flock to the Valley to see the castle decorated and spruced up to its full potential. Then again, it’s a UNESCO site and there are probably rules about doing anything modern and spiffy.
Our next stop was Max Vouche Chocolaterie for a tour. Once again I attempted to use my horrendous French skills to get tour tickets. They had to get another helper who spoke some English to finalize the transaction. The entire tour was in French but we had an English handout. The film (in French) showed their cocoa bean processing facility in Sao Tome and Principe. The facility was essentially a thatch covered pavilion where locals did everything by hand in bare feet. This film could also be used by any child labor abolitionist group, specifically the part where young children worked at splitting open the pods and harvesting the beans. The children hold a pod in their hand and wield a machete to hack right into it. I don’t think workers under 18 can even make toast in the US.
Our evening was spent rounding out the 80s theme of the day by watching Highlander. Back in the day, I watched this film about 78 times so there was no problem telling the children exactly when to “cover your ears” and “close your eyes”. There can be only one!