Monday, June 19, 2017

Chateau spotting along the Loire River in France

The Loire Valley is known for its spectacular chateaux and there're something like 300 of them. Chateau de Chaumont-sur-Loire dates back to the 10th century.
 Entrance to Chateau Chaumont.
 Courtyard view.
I've been to hundreds of castles and seen many, many horse stables but, this one at Chateau Chaumont dates back to the 1870's is a real beaut.
 The collection of harness and saddlery equipment is considered the finest in France.
Arriving in Blois you don't have to ask for directions to Chateau Blois because the 564 room castle isn't hard to find as it dominates the town center.
Residence to several French kings, over the years parts of Chateau Blois were done in Classic, Renaissance and Gothic style. Notice the spiral staircase in the courtyard.
 Same courtyard but different building style.
A road runs along each side of the River Loire and you have to plan accordingly because bridges are far apart and if you are on wrong side--it could set you back lots of miles--especially if you are cycling! I snapped a photo of this chateau on the other side of the river and am pretty sure it wasn't open to the public---which most are not.
Chateau Chambord is the most famous chateau in the Loire Valley and one of the most visited sites in France. Built between 1519-1547 by King Francis I to be a hunting lodge the king rarely used the 440 room getaway.
Done in French Renaissance style, the Chateau Chambord opens at 9AM. I arrive at 9AM and the tour buses were already rolling in. It receives more than 700,000 visitors a year. What's funny is that it's located about six miles from the River Loire--so no river view.
 Backside where tourists enter the chateau.
Side view of Chateau Chambord. Didn't think the grounds were anything special. However, a 13,000 acre park (formerly the king's hunting park) encompasses the chateau. The French government has owned the chateau, grounds and hunting park since 1930.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Citadel of Blaye, La Rochelle, Chateau Amboise, France

In my last blog I visited Fort Medoc and then hopped on a ferry to cross the Gironde estuary over to Blaye (population 4,900).  It's low tide and the imposing Citadel of Blaye can be seen from Blaye's ferry landing. Built between 1685-1689 on a 115 foot tall rocky outcrop the citadel enjoys a commanding view of the surrounding area.  
This sign "Citadel of Vauban 1689" greets visitors entering the fortress. Vauban, the famous French military engineer, designed the citadel.  Matter of fact, Vauban (1633-1707) was responsible for designing or upgrading over 600 fortifications around France.  Remember, back then there were no trains, paved roads etc. and Vauban cris-crossed France via horse or horse drawn carriage.
 One of two entrances to the citadel. Covering 95-acres, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage site.
A cannon still poised to cause some damage. Actually, that forested land you see in the picture is a spit of land in the middle of the estuary. Vauban had a fort built on that spit of land (Fort Pate). Why did Vauban have Fort Pate built as well as Fort Medoc on the other side of Gironde estuary? Back then the citadel's cannons only had a range of three miles. With the estuary being five miles wide, additional coverage was needed to make sure the dreaded English or Spanish fleets didn't slip through.
 Grounds of the citadel. One of the onsite buildings has been converted into a small hotel.
 What are these structures? Cannons were mounted atop.
 La Rochelle, population 80,000, is a seaport on the Bay of Biscay--part of the Atlantic Ocean. A couple of medieval towers guard the entrance to the old town port.
This guy cracks me up. Normally, street performers have a routine where they stand motionless like a statue. This guy created a routine where it isn't as tiring--SITTING motionless in a chair. I thought maybe he was taking a break but, returning 20 minutes later he was in the same position.
I'm not happy a happy camper with news from La Rochelle's tourist office.  A few years ago the National Geographic Channel ran a documentary series titled "Nazi Megastructures" One episode featured La Rochelle and the massive concrete roof structure the Nazis built to protect its U-boat fleet. The concrete pens for a dozen or so submarines offered protection from Allied bombing.  The U-boats were causing immense damage and loss of life to Allied shipping across the Atlantic.  The Allies never did destroy the concrete roof. Anyway, the tourist center said the site was off-limits and I couldn't get anywhere close to snap a picture.

The photo above is not of a church spire but, a lighthouse. Built in the 15th century, the conical-shaped "Tower of the Lantern" was also used as a prison in the 17th and 18th centuries housing over 100 prisoners.
Wow, when you cross the bridge over the Loire river leading to Ambosie (population 13,000) you can't help but notice Chateau Amboise lording over the town. The castle was home to the French royal court and dates back to the 1400's.  
I was lugging my bike up the steep stairs to the castle's entrance and at the halfway point I said, "no more" and locked it up here.
 Heading to the building entrance.
 The council chamber.
The castle gardens. There's a chapel on the grounds and believe it or not, Leonardo da Vinci is buried in the chapel. King Francis I of France extended an invitation to Leonardo da Vinci and the famous Italian inventor/painter spent the last three years of his life (1516-1519) in a small chateau (Clos Luce) a quarter mile away.
 A view of the meandering Loire from the castle walls.
 Side view of the castle.
Walkway one has to complete to enter the main castle complex.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Bordeaux, France

 This is Place de la Bourse (built 1730) in Bordeaux, France (population 245,000)
 Bordeaux's last remaining medieval city gate.
 Impressive fountain/statue near Bordeaux's riverfront.
 Lots of impressive buildings in Bordeaux dating from the 18th century.
 Don't think you'd catch me going for a swim in the brownish Garonne River flowing past Bordeaux.
I'm maybe 40 miles from Bordeaux and vineyards are everywhere. Bordeaux is home to the largest wine growing area in France. The Spring of 2017 won't soon be forgotten here as heavy rains and hailstorms caused an estimated one BILLION dollars in damage to the vineyards. This is where the most expensive wines in the world hail from such as Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. So many wineries abound with many having impressive chateaus on the grounds to lure visitors in for tastings.
I'm about 50 miles from Bordeaux, 60 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and, smack dab in the middle of the Gironde Estuary-- the largest estuary in Europe. An estuary is a partially enclosed coastal body of water. Here you have water from the Atlantic Ocean mixing it up with two rivers resulting in swampy, marsh-like conditions.  I've specifically come here to see Fort Medoc. Why? It was built by Vauban, the French military engineer. This is the fort entrance on the land side.
Regular readers of my blog know I am a big, big fan of Marquis Vauban. The complex was built between 1689 and 1721 on orders of King Louis XIV. Why here? The French were worried the British or Spanish would sail up the estuary toward Bordeaux.  The site turned into a wasteland and in the last 50 years locals have started renovating some of the remaining structures.
 This was the powder building where gunpowder was stored.
My visit here is only an appetizer.  Upon leaving, my bike and I will catch a ferry to the other side to see Citadel of Blaye, a fortress designed by Vauban.
 The ferry is approaching.
This ferry transports vehicles and is unusual (at least to me) in that it loads and unloads from the side instead of from the front or back.
 When high tide comes in nets are lowered into the water to scoop up fish.
It's about five miles to reach the other side. This is a shot of Fort Medoc from the ferry. A new dock (on the site of the original dock) was installed in 2015.