Friday, December 18, 2009

monday, day 4: portugal/loire valley

We left early the next morning, with bellies full of aletria that didn’t go down as well the second time, back to Tours, France. Turns out, we took the same plane to and from Porto as two other French kids our age from Le Mans! Deb rode back in their car, and I set my sights for prime castle viewing. Tours is the hub of action in the Loire River Valley, with some of countries most famous and influential castles within 20 miles in different directions. Château d’Usée actually inspired the story of the Sleeping Beauty!

After studying my guide book from my grandpa since July, I narrowed down my favorites and went first to see Chenonceau. I hopped a local train, and had a little bathroom fiasco on the way there- you would think I know how to use them by now, but maybe not so much. I got off in Onzain, on the brink of the castle gardens and grounds, with a new friend from Austria named Agnes. First was a medium sized labyrinth created with only immaculately trimmed bushes, and then a garden designed by Catherine de Medici. I walked up the castle, and could scarcely take it in. It was almost completely destroyed, during the hunger for noble blood in the French Revolution, but because of the kindness, generosity and cunning of its lady owner at the time it was spared form mob chaos; the small chapel inside was preserved from demolition when the priest disguised it as a tradesmen’s shop.

It poses in the middle of the river, accessed by only one entrance in the front (except for the secret escape used in wartime to smuggle soldiers across the river which divided which was German land). The place was pretty much designed and kept up by women, its most unique characteristic; many kings and queens lived and were birthed here, including a couple Henry’s, Catherine and Diane of Poitiers. I saw where they worshipped, ate, slept and ran the country; the kitchen had 5 parts, and was super cool. Each day the castle places out new bouquets of flowers, and because it was almost Christmas the entire chateau was donned in classy seasonal attire.

I came back to town, said bye to Agnes, and visited the Cathedral of Tours which was dark, without visitors and peaceful. I walked through the old town, complete with quaint Christmas market and elaborate Christmas lights and trees. Then I found my way to Marie and Kevin’s flat, other CSer’s who welcomed me for the night. They made me dinner, we watched TV and researched which chateau I would visit tomorrow before I left. I turned off the North African paper lamp in my own room with ska posters covering the walls, and enjoyed sleeping.

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